30 Days 30 Ways of Mac and Cheese, comfort food, family, food is love, from scratch cooking, housewife, macaroni and cheese chases away the winter chill, main dish, mother of boys, pasta, Wisconsin cheese
Winter on the 45th Parallel brings freezing temperatures, big, fluffy lake-effect snowflakes, and blustery winds–the perfect weather to get out there and embrace the cold by sledding, skiing, snow-shoeing, and ice skating. After a day of frolicking in the snowdrifts, I’m definitely ready for a big bowl of comfort food to warm me up from the frigid weather.
Nothing says comfort quite like putting cheese in All the Things. Luckily, my 45th Parallel neighbors-to-the-west in Wisconsin know a thing or two about making cheese–they’re passionate about it–which is a good thing, because I’m passionate about eating cheese.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is hosting their annual event called 30 Days, 30 Ways of Mac and Cheese, in which a sumptuous new macaroni and cheese recipe is featured for thirty days. When I was asked to develop a new, fun macaroni and cheese recipe, I jumped at the chance. Cooking for four hungry sons and a Bacon Slayer on a daily basis can be a challenge, but macaroni and cheese is always a slam-dunk meal in our house. That said, I’m known for changing up their favorite meals just for fun; usually, they’re pretty good sports about it.
You should have seen the faces on my family the first time I served this version of mac and cheese! They were Instant Fans after one bite of the tender macaroni drenched in a creamy Wisconsin cheese sauce, and peppered with all the flavors of a queso dip. Queso Macaroni and Cheese is the perfect bowl of warm comfort on a cold winter day.
To make Queso Mac and Cheese, gather some elbow macaroni, Wisconsin American cheese, Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar cheese, 2% milk, onion, unsalted butter, sweet red peppers, garlic, a jalapeño pepper, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, all-purpose flour, and Chorizo sausage.
This recipe has a few stages of preparation, but rest assure that it comes together quite quickly.
Start by freshly grating the Wisconsin cheeses–the American adds a smooth and creamy quality, while the sharp cheddar adds a little bite to the sauce. How can you tell if you’re buying real Wisconsin cheese? Real Wisconsin cheese will bear one of the logos shown above on the package.
Lop the stem off of the jalapeño pepper, and use a small spoon to scrape out the membranes and seeds, which hold most of the “heat” of the pepper. I highly recommend wearing gloves when chopping hot peppers. While I realize that jalapeños have a relatively low ranking on the Scoville scale, the capsaicin in the pepper will pack a heck of a wallop if you rub your eye after handling the peppers.
Dice the jalapeño, sweet red pepper, onion, and garlic to ready them for the cheese sauce.
Brown the Chorizo in a large sauce pan set over medium heat, breaking it into small pieces as is cooks.
Once the Chorizo is nicely browned, transfer it to a small dish.
Next, melt the unsalted butter in the pan set over medium heat, and sauté the diced vegetables for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Turn off the heat, and whatever you do, do not rinse out, wipe, or otherwise clean the pan because those little bits-of-yum on the bottom are going to kick up the flavor of the cheese sauce.
Add the veggies to the Chorizo and let them get to know each other for a bit while making the cheese sauce.
Stir the flour into the milk with a fork until smooth.
Turn the heat under to pan back up to medium, pour in the milk mixture, and whisk in all of those good spices. Continue to whisk the sauce base over medium heat until it thickens to a gravy-like consistency.
Remove the pan from the heat, and gradually stir in the Wisconsin American and Sharp Cheddar cheeses.
The cheese sauce will be smooth and wonderful. Give it a quick taste and adjust the seasonings–bearing in mind that the Chorizo and veggies will add more flavor. If you happen to have a hunk of crusty bread or a tortilla chip lying around, then I highly recommend using them to taste-test the sauce.
Stir in the Chorizo and sautéed vegetables into the cheese sauce to combine. Pop the cooked macaroni into the sauce, stirring well to coat.
At this point, the Queso Mac & Cheese is ready to be scooped into bowls, and served with still more cheese and a few pepper slices…or…OR!
Make a lovely Baked Queso Mac for a crowd by spooning the mac and cheese into a buttered 12″ x 8″ x 2″ glass baking dish, and sprinkling the top with a mixture of one cup of crushed tortilla chips with one-half cup of additional shredded Wisconsin cheddar. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 350°F, or until the cheese topping in melted and the sauce is bubbling.
Fact: if you serve this dish to a room full of hungry sports fans that are over for the Big Game, they will actually divert their eyes from the television long enough to sing your praises. That along with a big bowl Queso Macaroni and Cheese will warm your heart on a cold winter day.
Queso Macaroni and Cheese
16 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked 2 minutes short of al dente
4 oz. ground Chorizo sausage, browned & crumbled
1 large jalapeno pepper, stem & seeds removed then diced
½ C. sweet red bell pepper, diced
¼ C. yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbs. salted butter
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground mustard
1 ½ C. Milk (2% or Whole Milk are best)
1 C. Wisconsin Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 ½ C. Wisconsin American Cheese, shredded
Optional Toppings for Serving:
1 C. Corn Tortilla Chips, crushed
½ C. Wisconsin Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot. Boil the elbow macaroni according to package directions, until it is soft but still retains a bit of firmness to the bite.
- Drain the pasta well and return it to the stock pot; set aside.
- In a large sauce pan, brown the Chorizo over medium heat, crumbling as it cooks. Transfer the browned Chorizo to a small bowl.
- Add the salted butter to the saucepan. Once the butter is melted and frothy, add the diced onion, jalapeno, and sweet red peppers: sautéing for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft.
- Add the minced garlic to the vegetable mix, and sauté for an additional 30 seconds. Briefly turn off the heat before transferring all of the vegetables to the bowl with the Chorizo.
- Stir the flour into the milk with a fork to break up any lumps. Pour the mixture into the sauce pan set over medium heat, and then whisk in the cumin, cayenne, and ground mustard to combine; continue whisking until the sauce thickens.
- Once the sauce thickens, remove the sauce pan from the heat, and gradually stir the shredded cheeses into the sauce until completely melted and smooth.
- Fold the ground Chorizo and sautéed vegetables into the cheese sauce to make up the Queso sauce.
- Pour the Queso sauce over the cooked macaroni in the stock pot, stirring well to coat.
- Scoop macaroni and cheese into individual bowls and serve immediately; garnish with crushed corn tortilla chips, and additional cheddar cheese, if desired.
Variation - When serving Queso Macaroni and Cheese for a crowd, transfer it to a lightly buttered 12 x 8 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Combine one cup of crushed corn tortilla chips with one-half cup of shredded cheddar, and sprinkle over top of the macaroni. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and the cheese in the topping has melted. Serve to guests “Queso Bar Style” with additional sliced jalapenos, sweet red peppers, sour cream, guacamole, and salsa.