Southwestern Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese

Can you believe I never had mac & cheese growing up? I was actually first introduced to the blue box in college by my good friend Susie. We lived together the summer in between our sophomore and junior years and used to come home from our respective labs during our lunch break to dine on mac & cheese or frozen pizza together (preferably when Change of Heart was on). Our dinners were not much different, although I remember trying to cook once – we somehow butchered a chicken recipe from the Joy of Cooking. From then on our main culinary goal of the summer was to get invited to many BBQs as possible!

Now homemade mac & cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods and I’m always dreaming up new versions to enjoy. I recently bought a huge block of Cabot pepper jack cheese from Costco and knew it was just begging to become part of some cheesy pasta goodness. This particular recipe is about as light as I like to go with homemade mac & cheese. I used milk instead of heavy cream, whole wheat macaroni, and packed it full of flavorful veggies with a Southwestern flare. I always have jarred roasted red peppers in the pantry, but it would certainly be easy to buy fresh ones and roast them alongside the poblanos.

Southwestern Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese
Printable Recipe

2 poblano chiles
1 pound whole wheat macaroni
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package chicken sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
2 cups cooked corn

Heat broiler. Place poblano chiles on a cookie sheet and char chiles under the broiler for 10 minutes, turning several times with tongs, until blackened on all sides. Enclose in a paper bag and steam 10 minutes; seed, peel, and chop chiles.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Briefly, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender and drain.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add chicken sausage and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until browned; remove from skillet and keep warm. Add onion and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender; add garlic and sauté one additional minute.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and cook one minute or until mixture starts to brown. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and mix in pepper jack cheese, cheddar cheese, and salt. Heat 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth.

Mix pasta, cheese sauce, roasted poblano peppers, browned chicken sausage, onion mixture, roasted red peppers, and corn until well combined. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition: 668 calories, 21.3g fat, 7.8g fiber, 29.9g protein per serving
Cost: $2.27 per serving

39 Responses to Southwestern Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese

  1. I can’t believe you didn’t have the ‘blue box’ until college! It was one of my favorites as a kid :) Love how you’ve lightened up this mac and cheese. Pepper jack is amazing and I’m sure it makes this so delicious, and of course I love the addition of chicken sausage!

  2. I rarely ate mac & cheese as a kid – other than the occasional Annie’s boxed variety – but now I love to make lightened versions of the classic comfort food. Your creative southwestern spin sounds so tasty!

  3. i really don’t eat a whole lot of mac & cheese, probably because i ate it so much as a kid. however, when i do make it, i use pepper jack. i love that you added sausage–great recipe!

  4. This looks like and easy but healthy meal to make. I’m wondering if adding shrimp to the mix would add some more protein as well? Either way, it inspires me to get creative with my mac and cheese!

  5. I didn’t think it was possible to love mac and cheese anymore! Or pepper jack cheese! You just put 2 of my very favorite things together :) It looks delicious!

  6. I agree with Sues, I LOVE pepper jack cheese…and never thought of putting it in mac and cheese!! This looks amazing, especially kicked up a notch for more of an adult flavor. Beats easy mac any day :)

  7. I definitely can’t imagine you ever messing up any recipe lol. Or eating mac and cheese out of a blue box. 😛

    This looks delicious! I love stuffing my mac and cheese full of veggies and interesting flavors…you definitely did right by that cabot!

  8. That looks amazing! Wow, not until college??!!

    Sadly, my niece and nephews will ONLY eat the blue box cheese – even if their Aunt B. makes it from scratch!

    I just bought Cabot’s hot habanero cheese – it is out of this world, but a little goes a long way!

    Hope you have a great weekend!!

  9. I never had mac n cheese until college either! Or maybe once when my mom was busy for the evening and my dad had to fix something up for me. This one looks absolutely delicious–I can’t find any pepper jack in Paris and I love it!

  10. Kerstin, this looks great and sounds fabulous. I love the Southwestern touches you’ve added to your mac ‘n’ cheese. My grandsons will eat this up – litrally. They are our excuse for such indulgences :-). Can’t wait to try this. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

  11. YUM! I bet the pepper jack/cheddar combo is awesome! I love adding veggies to mac n cheese. Have you tried Ellie Kriegers 4 cheese macaroni? She uses squash in the recipe and it is awesome!

  12. What a wonderful version of mac and cheese. My daughter and I would go crazy for this. Btw, how did you do in the competition? I thought about you all of that week but then forgot to watch on Sunday. Is there any way to watch it now? Is it on Youtube? I hope you won.



  13. Wow–can’t believe you never had mac n cheese growing up! Better catch up for all the missed years–looks like you could make a dent with this recipe. Yum!

  14. Seriously … you put up a Mac n Cheese recipe, which never fails to draw me in like a moth to a flame! This one looks like another winner. And good for u, getting the chance to go to Lithuania … especially when u have someone to take you around and explore the real cuisine of the place!

  15. Kerstin, I never ate mac ‘n cheese growing up either, not even in college. Hey, I saw you on the Food Network Challenge. What an honor to have your recipes picked from thousands of entries. It was so cool to see you, and congrats you did great! Keep up the good work.

  16. Wow, a mac ‘n cheese-less childhood? Crazy, it was definitely on the menu when I was a kid. Oh well, you don’t seem to have suffered much because you can whip up a tasty recipe either way!

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