Our picky-eating 10-year-old daughter's favorite food is macaroni and cheese. Except there's one critical caveat. It must come from a blue box. A blue box with a packet of cheese powder. You know the ones. If I offer her the organic version she can tell the difference immediately and pushes it away. If I make a batch of macaroni and cheese from scratch, with cheese that doesn't come in powder form, she turns her nose up at it and won't touch it, no matter how creamy and delicious it is. Despite all of my attempts to convert her, I have lost the macaroni and cheese battle. For now. I still hold out hope that one day when she is grown she might appreciate the sheer ecstasy that is a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese.
In my cookbook, which hits the shelves on Tuesday, I share about growing up with food insecurity and the ways in which foods like macaroni and cheese from a blue box kept me going. I talk about my need to nourish people, most especially my children. And I discuss the bittersweet irony of my daughter choosing blue boxes of macaroni and cheese over anything her cookbook author mom might make for her.
This recipe for jalapeño popper macaroni and cheese is in the book, too. It's a grown-up version of macaroni and cheese — comfort food with a kick, as I like to say — for those in the house who actually appreciate a good macaroni and cheese made from scratch. I'm hopeful many of my readers will enjoy it, too.
P.S. Come see me at the Bear Tooth in Anchorage on Monday, Feb. 26, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., where I will be signing books. There will be copies of "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook" available at the event.
Jalapeno popper macaroni and cheese
From "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook"
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
3 cups elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 large jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup panko crumbs, toasted
In a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat, stir together the water, 1 cup of the milk, the pasta and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring often to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, continuing to stir often, for 9 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the jalapeño pepper for 2 minutes, or until fragrant and tender. Turn off the heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup milk with the cornstarch and garlic powder. Add to the pasta mixture, stirring until it begins to thicken. Add the cheddar and cream cheese and mix until creamy and smooth. If the mixture is too thick, gradually add more water to make it creamier. Add the jalapeño and butter and toss to combine. Season with more salt as needed. Sprinkle the top of the macaroni with the toasted panko and serve promptly while hot.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.