Give mac and cheese new life this spring

Childhood favorite can be reimagined with different cheeses, meats, spices and sauces

Macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and it’s ideal no matter if the weather is hot or cold.

A creamy blend of pasta and cheese sauce topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, mac and cheese is a staple of childhood meals.

For some adults, a grown-up version is a must. They experiment with various cheeses and sauces. They add vegetables and meats — including the silky texture of lobster and crab, the crunch and smokiness of bacon and healthy nutrition of broccoli and tomato. They try different spices, such as curry, and various toppings, including whole-grain breadcrumbs and panko.

But no matter what, they try not to stray too far from the basics — a white sauce in which cheese is melted, pasta and fresh bread that’s been toasted into crumbs.

In a basic white sauce, a generous amount of butter is melted in a saucepan, then flour is stirred in to make a paste. After the flour has cooked for a time, hot milk is whisked in. The starch from the cooked flour expands in the milk, creating a creamy sauce.

The type of cheese used will affect the sauce’s texture. Pungent cheeses add a bit of a bite, important to some because the sauce and pasta will absorb a lot of flavor.

Undercook the pasta so it is slightly crunchy in the center, then rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking and wash off the excess starch. The pasta will finish cooking as it bakes and the sauce will seep into the hollows, providing a creamy delicious experience in every bite.

While these adult versions are delightful as main courses, you can always go back to the childhood versions as either an entree or side dish.

Following are grown-up versions of macaroni and cheese from



Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped

1/4 cup flour

1-3/4 cups milk

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 pound pasta), cooked according to package directions

Melt butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Add onion and jalapeno and cook three minutes to soften. Add flour and cook and stir one minute. Gradually whisk in milk and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and simmer several minutes to thicken.

Cut cream cheese in to chunks and add to Dutch oven. Stir until melted. Add mozzarella and stir until melted. Add cheddar, remove from heat, and stir until melted. Stir in salt and pepper. Add pasta and bacon, reserving some for topping, and mix well. Transfer mixture to a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Combine panko and melted butter and sprinkle on top. Sprinkle reserved bacon on top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.



Lobster Mac and Cheese

5 or 6 lobster tails, cooked and chopped

4-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, freshly shredded

1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

8 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons flour

5 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder, optional

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, optional


1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi pasta, cooked

Flat leaf parsley, chopped, optional

  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, until thickened. Slowly whisk in milk, a little at a time. Stir in three cups cheddar cheese, Gruyere cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder and nutmeg and stir until combined.

Stir together cooked pasta, lobster and sauce and transfer to a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Sprinkle with flat leaf parsley, if desired, and serve.




Garlic Shrimp Mac and Cheese

1 pound peeled shrimp or prawns

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups warm milk

2.5 cups hot tap water

8 ounces elbow macaroni, uncooked

1.5 cups cheese (cheddar, Gruyere or other), freshly grated

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, freshly grated

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

For topping:

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix together panko, Parmesan and olive oil for topping. Set aside.

Heat oil and melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep skillet or pot over high heat. Add shrimp, sprinkle with pepper, then cook one minute. Add garlic and cook another minute, until shrimp has changed color but is not fully cooked. Transfer to a bowl.

Turn heat down to medium. Melt remaining butter in the skillet. Add flour and cook one minute. Pour milk in slowly, stirring as you go. Once incorporated and lump free, stir in salt, pepper, garlic powder and mustard powder, then water.

Once hot, add macaroni. Cook eight minutes, stirring regularly, until pasta is almost cooked through. Take pan off the heat, add cheeses and stir through.

Add shrimp, then taste and adjust for salt, if needed.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then broil two to three minutes,  until the top is golden. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired, and serve immediately.




Creamy Broccoli Mac and Cheese

8 ounces medium pasta shells

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons flour

1-1/3 cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 cups chopped broccoli florets

6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook two minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Whisk in flour for about one minute, until lightly browned. Gradually whisk in milk, half and half and Dijon, stirring for three to four minutes, until slightly thickened. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in pasta, broccoli and cheese until well combined. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings.




Smokey Gouda Mac and Cheese

2 cups dry macaroni, cooked in well salted water until just al dente and drained

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk



2 cups grated smoked Gouda cheese, plus more for topping

Melt butter in a pan, then add flour. Whisk to combine, then cook a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add milk and whisk to combine, continuing to heat until the milk comes to a simmer and is thickened.

Take pan off the heat and add cheese, stirring until all of the cheese is incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Mix macaroni with sauce and pour into a large baking dish or individual dishes. Bake in a 350-degree oven about 30 minutes, until bubbling throughout.

Sprinkle more cheese on top and put under the broiler until the cheese is browned.

Makes four servings.




30-Minute Taco Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound small pasta shells, cooked according to package directions

1/2 cup unsalted butter

Scant 1/2 cup flour

4 cups unsweetened cashew milk (or 2% or whole milk)

1 ounce taco seasoning

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

1 medium Roma tomato, diced small

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely minced

Set two tablespoons sliced green onions aside.

Place butter in a large oven-safe skillet and heat over medium-high heat to melt.

Add flour and whisk constantly until mixture turns light brown and has bubbled about two minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly and making sure to smooth out any lumps that form. Add taco seasoning and pepper and whisk until smooth.

Add three cups cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Add pasta, black beans, green onions, and stir to combine and evenly coat. Evenly sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Broil one to two minutes, until the top layer of cheese has melted and is bubbling. If desired, allow cheese to brown slightly.

Evenly sprinkle with tomatoes, reserved green onions and cilantro and serve immediately.





Blue Cheese Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

8 strips bacon, diced

1 12-ounce can 2% evaporated milk

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne

8 ounces elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon, butter

5 ounces crumbled blue cheese

4 ounces freshly-grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat for five to seven minutes, stirring frequently, until crispy.

In bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, egg, salt, pepper and cayenne until combined. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of generously-salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain, then return to the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the butter and toss until the butter is melted.

Pour in evaporated milk mixture and stir until combined. Continue cooking over medium-high heat three to five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce comes to a simmer.

Remove pan from heat and add cheeses. Stir until melted, then stir in cooked bacon. Serve immediately, garnished with extra bacon and blue cheese if desired.

Makes three to four servings.



Tuscan Chicken Mac and Cheese

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts pounded to 1-inch thickness, or 4 boneless and skinless chicken thigh fillets



1/2 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smokey)

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 small yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely diced

1/3 cup white wine, optional

9 ounces jarred sun dried tomato strips in oil (reserve 2 tablespoons of the oil)

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth

3 cups milk, light cream or half and half

2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs

3 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked

3 cups baby spinach leaves

1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/2 cup grated cheddar or Gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, dried parsley and two teaspoons oil. Heat remaining oil in a large pot or pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sear on both sides until golden brown, cooked through and no longer pink in the middle. Transfer chicken to a warm plate, tent with foil and set aside.

To the same pan, add butter. Fry onion and garlic about two minutes, until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally. Add wine and simmer five minutes, until it begins to reduce. Add sun dried tomatoes with reserved oil and cook one to two minutes.

Stir flour into the pot and cook one minute. Add broth, 2-1/2 cups milk, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a very low simmer, then add macaroni and stir occasionally as it comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and stir regularly while it cooks nine to 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens and the macaroni is just cooked. Add spinach and stir through until wilted.

Take the pot off the heat and stir in cheese. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce it too thick, add the remaining milk in 1/4 cup increments, until the desired thickness, keeping in mind the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Slice chicken into strips and stir chicken and its juices through the pasta.  Sprinkle with parsley, stir and serve.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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