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Spicing up mac n' cheese

I want to make mac and cheese but give it a bit of a kick. I was thinking of adding salsa to it, I was wondering if anyone's tried this and if so, at what point in the cooking process to add the salsa. Cheers!

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  1. I've added all kinds of things to homemade mac n cheese. For salsa, I'd probably heat it up separately, and then just stir it in at the end for stove top mac n cheese. If you're baking the mac n cheese, don't bother heating the salsa, just stir it in right before pouring the mac n cheese into the casserole dish. Top with breadcrumbs (or whatever you prefer) and bake as usual.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jen76

      Marash pepper has a slight kick, and gives mac and cheese a warm, smokey flavor. i would also try minced jalapenos....

      1. re: mariacarmen

        I love marash pepper. The fruity, fairly mild, slightly oily quality of it is fantastic with so many things. It's so much more than heat. My husband is kinda panicking because we just ran out and he puts it on almost everything.

    2. l add red pepper flakes to the mac/cheese to spice it up. Also always add a cup or two of diced Pomi tomatoes to make it less dense, thus lighter when you eat it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        I use red pepper flakes and a bit of mustard.

        My recipe is one that was posted on the home cooking board- no cheese sauce and no boiling pasta. Basically, all the ingredients are mixed (cold) with the raw pasta. Good recipe for adding other flavors b/c you don't have to worry about when to add.

      2. chipotle in adobo is excellent in mac and cheese!

        1 Reply
        1. re: mojoeater

          I love adding some minced chipotle in adobo to my mac. I actually prefer it to standard mac n cheese.

        2. I love adding serrano chiles along with portobella mushrooms with garlic and shallots..
          I've added salsa at the end when its done as a topping..

          1. We prefer salsa verde to traditional tomato based salsa but yes it had another creaminess and flavor to mac n cheese. We also enjoy curried mac n cheese with bits of paneer added to the cheese list.

            1. Roasted Chilies of all kinds, shredded or diced works great. Poblanos, Jalapenos, Anaheims, Hatch are some of my favorites.

              1. I second the chipotle. There is a recipe on epicurious for chipotle mac & cheese with garlic breadcrumbs. oh. my. god. It is so good. Be careful though--those chipotles can be hot--start out with a little--you can always add more.

                3 Replies
                1. re: sparkareno

                  I couldn't find this one on Epi but it sounds really good! I just opened a can of chipotles so I know what i'm making soon!

                  1. re: geminigirl

                    It is called Macaroni and Cheese with Garlic Bread Crumbs, plain and chipotle.
                    Sorry I don't know how to do a link. Like I said be careful---maybe I am a wimp---start off with a little chipotle. You can always add more.

                    1. re: sparkareno

                      This link might work: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                      Taste a little chipotle before adding it and you can determine whether it is hot to you. To me it is just right!

                2. We usually add medallions of spicy sausage that have been pan fried before being added in. I'm sure it would work diced up too if you didn't like the bigger medallions.

                  1. We've always put Tobasco in the mac for kick. You have to add it after the cheese or the sauce will curdle.

                    1. Rick Bayless has a wonderful mac 'n' cheese recipe with a poblano tomato salsa. It is now my go to mac 'n' cheese recipe. I make my own salsa but for something quick and easy, you could use store bought. Just add the salsa to your white sauce, blend, and then add cheese. I usually take some buttered fresh bread crumbs, sprinkle on top of the entire thing and bake for a while.

                      1. Thanks for all the suggestions. What I've got to work with this time round is a jar of salsa, so for now I'll proceed with that. But some of the other suggestions have given me ideas.

                        1. My mac and cheese expert friend raves about this recipe that uses jalapenos.

                          Roaring Fork Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese

                          From Robert McGrath, chef-owner of Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona

                          1 tablespoon corn oil
                          1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
                          1/4 cup diced red onion
                          1 tablespoon minced garlic
                          2 cups macaroni, cooked
                          1/2 cup poblano chili, roasted, peeled, seeded and pureed
                          1/2 cup Pepper Jack cheese, grated
                          1/2 cup heavy cream
                          kosher salt and cracked black pepper

                          Heat oil in a heavy pan over moderately high heat.
                          Saute bell pepper, onion and garlic until tender.
                          Add macaroni, poblano puree, Pepper Jack cheese and cream.
                          Stir until combined thoroughly.
                          Season to taste with salt and pepper.
                          Makes two servings.


                          1. try adding a *little* chipotle in adobo. and maybe a little roasted corn if the mood strikes you. also, stir in some grilled scallions and/or use for garnish at the end.

                            1. If I'm trying to "spice up" Kraft Mac N Cheese, I'll add a good chunk of Fritos Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese dip.

                              If I'm doing a more sophisticated version of Mac N Cheese (i.e., not out of a box), I'll garnish the thing with shavings of a well-aged Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese (e.g. Widmer's), and some garlic powder, and stick it under the broiler for a minute for so before eating.

                              1. I love adding BACON to my mac n cheese, it's soooo yummy!!!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mangoslices

                                  YES! I made a smoked gouda mac & cheese with bacon (I used penne) this week and I could not stop eating it until I scraped the bottom of the pan...so good!

                                2. And don't forget trying different cheeses. I like to use my family recipe for baked macaroni and cheese. It calls for cheddar, but I often sub other kinds for part of the cheddar. Sage Derby, pepper Jack, Gouda - there are countless possibilities. Smoked paprika is a nice addition.

                                  1. I don't know the name of the show, but I just saw something on TV where a food truck was selling grilled cheese sandwiches with a mac n cheese filling. It also had, besides the cheese and mac n cheese, some pulled pork and carmelized onions. That's a grilled cheese sandwich I could really enjoy.

                                    1. Garam masala (the more Punjabi kind with cumin and coriander), or even left over 'juice' from a bottle of mango pickle, add when adding the cheese. You can also add a handful of steamed chopped veggies (e.g. carrots and green peas) to round the whole thing out.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Rasam

                                        How about a little bacon or smoked sausage?

                                      2. Aleppo pepper gives it a nice "bite" without smokiness like chipotle if you're not looking for that. And bacon is always a good addition. :-)

                                        1. I make the mac'n'cheese from epicurious with chipotle in adobo and garlic bread crumbs on top.

                                          Also, the cheese is important - I use dubliner irish cheddar when I'm making basic mac'n'cheese.

                                          ..sigh...not much of that this year (too unhealthy) but boy is it good!

                                            1. I add mustard powder to mine, and then love love love a few dashes of Sriracha!! If I was adding salsa, I would probably add it at the end as a topper versus putting it in the mix.

                                              1. We sometimes cut up hotdogs into mac and cheese just like Mom did.

                                                1. This reminded me that I always used to top my bowl of mac-n-cheese at Luby's with the salsa at the condiments bar.

                                                  1. I like to use either curry powder, or Old Bay.

                                                    1. A couple of shots of Worcestershire sauce and a spoonful or two of jalapeno relish spices it up nicely for me and if I have to make the box version my secret is to replace the milk with sour cream.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: willdupre

                                                        hmm, interesting, do you do an equal sub of milk to sour cream?

                                                      2. Careful! Careful! There are lots of wonderful things that can be added to enhance Macaroni and Cheese, but much hot stuff should be on the table for the individual to add. I like rich habanero sauce on mine, but my wife would have a fit if I added it to hers.
                                                        Here is my recipe that I call:
                                                        Skillet Macaroni and Cheese with Sausage

                                                        • 2 cups pasta (macaroni or egg noodles), uncooked
                                                        • 1/2 tsp each dried garlic and salt (for cooking pasta)

                                                        • 1/2 lb bison sausage or ground beef (preferable grass fed)
                                                        • 1 onion, coursly chopped
                                                        • 1/2 cup sweet pepper, coursly chopped
                                                        • 2 tbsp dried tart cherries, soaked a few minutes
                                                        • 4 slices dried tomato, broken up
                                                        • 1 tsp each fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregeno etc. if available, chopped
                                                        • 2 tablespoons olive oil

                                                        • 1/4 cup wine *
                                                        • 1/2 cup sour cream or creamed cheese
                                                        • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
                                                        • 1/8 tsp each salt, pepper, chili powder, kelp

                                                        • 1 cup shredded cheese

                                                        Cook pasta uncovered in garlic and salt water; drain and set aside.

                                                        In a skillet, saute beef, onions, peppers, cherries, and herbs over medium heat. Drain beef if necessary.

                                                        Add the cooked pasta, Parmesan, liquid and spices. Stir until blended.

                                                        Serve topped with the grated cheese. Add a sprinkle of paprika for color and a sprig of rosemary or parsley in the center for garnish.
                                                        Serves 4.

                                                        Goes very nicely with roasted asparagus served on each side.

                                                        * The wine (you choose the type) and the fresh rosemary is the secret key ingredient. It sets this ordinary recipe apart from the mundane.

                                                        1. Having spotted this post yesterday, I eyed the garden basket at lunchtime and found 3 mild peppers, red, green and yellow. I roasted and scraped the red one, but tiring of this, just tossed the other two in the boiling pastai water, cutting them in small strips and adding after the cheese had been mixed in. Made a colorful as well as a good tasting M&C. Next time I'll try some onion, too.

                                                          1. I'd add it either after the cheese is added or before (but after the bechamel has formed)

                                                            I'd try adding something like Thai Red Curry Paste, or a different chili paste, or even chili sauce before adding something like salsa though. Even easier would be just adding cayenne pepper.

                                                            1. I found this in ReadyMade magazine a few years ago. It's now standard and well-loved:


                                                              Serves 6 to 8
                                                              Goodbye, blue box. Hello, acquired taste for basil, onions, and tomatoes. Carnivores might also add thinly sliced Serrano ham, chopped and layered on the bottom of hte casserole dish.

                                                              1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
                                                              1 large red onion, cut into thick slices
                                                              3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
                                                              3/4 lb elbow macaroni
                                                              6 Tbs butter
                                                              3 Tbs flour
                                                              2 1/4 cups milk
                                                              3/4 lb sharp white cheddar cheese coarsly grated
                                                              Black pepper to taste
                                                              Cayenne pepper to taste
                                                              Hot pepper sauce, such as tobasco, to taste
                                                              1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or goat cheese
                                                              1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped basil leaves
                                                              1/4 cup plain bread crumbs seasonsed with ground pepper and thyme

                                                              Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish and set aside.

                                                              Arrange tomotoes and onion slices on a large baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

                                                              Roast, stirring occaisionally until vegetables are golden and have given up most of their liquid, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside, and reduce heat to 350 degrees.

                                                              Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain in a colander.

                                                              Using the same pot you used to cook the mac in, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir the mixture constantly until it turns a deep golden brown (this will help thicken the cheese sauce).

                                                              Stir in milk and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to stir until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

                                                              Remove from heat and add cheddar cheese, stirring until melted. Season to taste with salt, blackpepper, cayenne and hot sauce.

                                                              Pour in macaroni, tomatoes, onions, Gorgonzola, and basil. Stir to coat everything well with sauce, then turn out into prepared dish.

                                                              Sprinkle with seasoned bread crumbs and bake until top begins to brown and sauce bubbles, about 30 minutes.

                                                              My notes:
                                                              - 3/4 lbs of cheese is a weird amount, a little extra cheese never hurt anyone.
                                                              - I just buy a little container of Gorgonzola, you know the ones, and dump the whole thing in. see prior note.
                                                              - so far, I haven't used the hot sauce, just Cayenne.
                                                              - Prosciutto is yummy in this.
                                                              - The other recipe on the same page of readymade was for bourbon vanilla milkshakes (mix 3 cups ice cream, 1 cup milk, a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 cup bourbon in a blender) which seems like a perfectly reasonable beverage with this.
                                                              - I just realized I make this for pretty much every gathering, I'd apologize if it were bad mad and cheese.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: r3b3cca

                                                                Dang! That sounds good esp. w/ the bourbon milkshakes! Gotta keep that on the horizon!

                                                              2. I just read about a mac n cheese recipe that was made inside a pie crust and stuffed with caramelized onions. Has anyone tried this?

                                                                The last mac n cheese I baked included crabmeat and bay seasoning and was a real hit with the troops. I served it in a lettuce wrap appetizer size.

                                                                1. I like to add some hot sauce ane mustard powder to kick it up a bit. I add it when I make the bechamel sauce base before I add the cheese. If it is too bland, just add more to taste.

                                                                  1. I make a basic mac & cheese (bechamel sauce w/gruyere, cheddar, and parmigiano-reggiano). If I wanted to "hot" it up, I'd add dried red pepper flakes to the bechamel between the butter and the flour.

                                                                    I also put dried bread cubes tossed in melted butter on top before baking; you could heat some dried ground ancho in the butter (or another chili you like, incl. chipotle, which I happen not to like).

                                                                    1. just had some mac andcheese recently that was flavorless, found an easy fix that worked and also cheesed it up. took some pub cheese w/jalapenos (from trader joes) and nuked it into the already cooked mac an cheese- instant spice up and cheesee

                                                                      1. I agree about chipotles- just one, finely chopped is enough to impart great flavor to a batch of mac & cheese; for more kick a little of the adobo sauce will do plenty.

                                                                        The ever-popular bacon add-in is always super tasty, as is kielbasa. For kids, hot dogs.

                                                                        Have made a nice sophisticated one with garlic, thyme and some white wine or dry sherry in the bechamel. Gives a fondue-like flavor.

                                                                        1. Browned and crumbled andouille or chorizo sausage for that desired 'kick'.

                                                                          1. I always add a pinch of curry to my mac and cheese. And everyone always loves it.