Kicked Up Macaroni and Cheese

mac and cheese feature

Springtime was a bit of a tease this past weekend in the South. The weather was stunning in the North Carolina mountains with crystal clear, dark blue skies and billowy white clouds.  A cool breeze reminded us that we were still in the month of March, but days like these are a sign that warmer temperatures will soon be with us for the long stretch of spring and summer.

With the official start of spring in just two days, I am excited about the change of seasons and how that will impact what I am able to cook with the availability of local fresh produce and fruit.  While some foods seem to be more appropriate for certain seasons, like acorn squash in the winter or beautiful, ripe strawberries in the spring, there are other foods that we enjoy year-round, no matter what the weather.  Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese are perfect on a cold, snowy day with meatloaf and veggies or at a summer barbecue served with grilled pork chops or steak and salad.  If the dish is hearty enough, it can be served as the main course.

A great mac and cheese recipe goes with almost anything and can be served by itself

A great mac and cheese recipe goes with almost anything and can be served by itself

There are countless macaroni and cheese recipes, some cheesier and creamier than others, however, many of them are uniform in flavor throughout and don’t have any real pop.  Typically, mac and cheese piled high is bite after bite with the first taste the same as the last.  I decided to change that with this recipe and made Kicked Up Mac and Cheese with a bit of a Latin flair.

Roasted poblano peppers and fresh corn add texture and interesting flavor to the recipe

Roasted poblano peppers and fresh corn add texture and interesting flavor to the recipe

Be sure to achieve a nice char on the corn for better flavor

Be sure to achieve a nice char on the corn for better flavor

This version includes the roasted corn

This version includes the roasted corn

The flavors are perfectly balanced in this dish with the combination of a bit of heat from the Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder and the subtle smokiness from the Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg cheese.  I added smoked chorizo and chopped, roasted poblano pepper for texture and a unique taste in each bite.  When local fresh corn is in season, be sure to try the recipe with the addition of roasted yellow corn.  It will certainly become one of your favorite unique mac and cheese recipes.

This recipe has become our go to for mac and cheese

This recipe has become our go to for mac and cheese

The béchamel sauce made with three cheeses creates the creamy base for your other ingredients.  Jarlsberg, Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg, and Gruyère are a rich and savory blend of cheeses.  Topped with Jarlsberg and Gruyère, when baked, they create a gorgeous cheesy crust that begs you to take a bite.  Of course, you will never be able to take just one bite of this indulgent mac and cheese.

BTW, Jarlsberg is sponsoring a great giveaway on Facebook that you might be interested in.  It ends March 31, 2013, so hurry over to enter.

A little bit of Chorizo makes mac and cheese better

A little bit of chorizo makes mac and cheese better

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Kicked Up Macaroni and Cheese

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour


For Mac and cheese:
1 roasted poblano pepper, diced (about 1/4 cup)
2 links smoked chorizo sausage (6 ounces), 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup roasted, fresh yellow corn (optional)
8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked al dente (about 4 minutes less than suggested cooking time)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half and half
Several grinds freshly ground white pepper (approx. 1/8 teaspoon)
6 ounces grated Jarlsberg
6 ounces grated Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg
6 ounces grated Gruyère
3/4 to 1 teaspoon Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder, to taste

For topping:
1 cup grated Jarlsberg (approximately 3 ounces)
1 cup grated Gruyère (approximately 3 ounces)

Special equipment:
Four 16-ounce mini casserole dishes


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease four individual 16-ounce mini-casserole dishes (alternatively, you could use a 2-quart casserole dish, but you will have to adjust cooking time).

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl (or four, if you are using the roasted corn). Set aside.

Mix together the two cheeses for the topping and set aside.

Melt butter over medium-low heat. When the butter stops foaming, quickly add the flour and stir with a whisk to combine, making a roux. Reduce the heat to low, add the Kosher salt and stir constantly for a few minutes. In a steady stream, add the milk, while stirring constantly, followed by the half and half. Turn the heat to medium and cook the mixture, continuing to stir with a whisk, until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the freshly ground white pepper, grated Jarlsberg, Hickory Smoked Jarlsberg, and Gruyère. Stir over low heat until the cheese is melted. Add the Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder, to taste. Check for seasonings.

Immediately pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni mixture, stirring to thoroughly combine. (The mixture will be a little loose, but will thicken as the macaroni absorbs the sauce while baking.) Distribute evenly into the mini casserole dishes. Top with the grated cheeses and place the casserole dishes on a baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until mixture is bubbly and beginning to brown around the edges. Place under the broiler for a few minutes, checking constantly, until topping is the desired doneness. Serve immediately.

Original recipe by Gwen Pratesi

14 Responses to “Kicked Up Macaroni and Cheese”

  1. 1

    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — March 18, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    So much goodness in here!!

    • Gwen replied: — March 23rd, 2013 @ 9:22 am

      Yes, there is. :-)

  2. 2

    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 18, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    Must refrain from making this right now… must eat healthy food. Oh, screw it. I need mac and cheese!

    • Gwen replied: — March 23rd, 2013 @ 9:23 am

      Hi Brian,

      This is definitely not on the diet plan, but worth the splurge every now and then.


  3. 3

    Cook In / Dine Out — March 18, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

    Wow! That looks simply amazing. I love mac & cheese and enjoy playing with variations on it. When you make bechamel, do you preheat the milk? I’ve seen recipes that insist you do this, but when I’ve added it cold, it’s usually turned out just fine. The corn is a nice addition. I made a corn-based mac & cheese last summer. Check it out if you’re interested:

    • Gwen replied: — March 23rd, 2013 @ 9:27 am


      I do not warm my milk for the sauce, but I will have it sit out awhile before adding it to the roux. I treat any cold liquids or flours/grains (that I keep in the freezer) as I do eggs and let them come to room temperature before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.


  4. 4

    Joan Nova — March 18, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

    Definitely not Kraft’s! Absolutely delicious “kick up”.

    • Gwen replied: — March 23rd, 2013 @ 9:28 am

      Hi Joan,

      Thank you and it is definitely not Kraft’s. That boxed stuff is scary.


  5. 5

    Joshua Hampton (Cooking Classes San Diego) — March 19, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    This is indeed one kicked-up mac and cheese. It looks gorgeous, so gorgeous my wife will be mad at me for ruining her diet.

    • Gwen replied: — March 23rd, 2013 @ 9:29 am

      Hi Joshua,

      Thank you and yes, it might spoil a diet, but it’s worth the calories. :-) Diet tomorrow.


  6. 6

    Lisa — March 22, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

    Holy Macaroni and Cheese, Gwen! I think you just broke through all macaroni and cheese barriers with this loaded beauty! I love all the additional goodies like the poblanos, grilled corn and chorizo. Screw all other mac n’ cheese recipes – yours is the bomb-diggity and I DO mean bomb-diggity!

  7. 7

    Gwen — March 23, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    Hi Lisa,

    LOL! Yes, it has great flavor with the three cheeses and additional goodies. As I mentioned in the post, I get bored with mac and cheese after a few bites, unless it has something else going on besides cheese and macaroni and this recipe definitely keeps me interested bite and bite.


  8. 8

    Jamie — March 30, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    Wowee! This starts out like my Mac & Cheese but boy do you kick it out of the ballpark. Yowzers! This is not only a meal in itself but maybe the ulitimate comfort food? Gorgeous!!!

  9. 9

    Ron Hughes — June 17, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

    A wonderful sounding dish since I like things “hot!” I would suggest though, that one can use crushed soda=crackers(Saltines are my choice) to create a creamy sauce and one that will congeal when refrigerated that can be used as a cold dish! Just crush the crackers into mix, I layer mine, and I only use heavy cream. Since I prefer to use thin spaghetti over large noodles, I also let some of those noodles become crispy on the top of the dish when broiling!

    Hope this gives some of you more ideas!

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