Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese (for a crowd)

I mentioned it earlier this week, but last weekend I traveled to NC for Scott's birthday. This was not the only thing that we celebrated. Every year during the first weekend in October, Durham hosts a World of Beer Beerfest. I've attended for now 5 of the past 6 years (I skipped out last year because I was writing that blasted thesis). Beerfest is a great event to try a number of different beers from all over the world. You get to see a lot of microbreweries as well as new and different flavors from the ones you see on tap and on shelves everywhere. During my first Beerfest, I voted for Sam Adams Irish Red to become a widely distributed flavor (it won!). This year my favorite beer was from a Durham local brewery, Bull City Burger, called Bountiful Backyard Ale; it had a very strong flavor of jalapenos! Now I gotta figure out if I can get it somewhere in IL or if I'm going to have get it shipped here... :)

Being back for Beerfest reminded me of all the fun times I've had there. Wanna take a trip down memory lane with me?


Friends travel from SC to celebrate Beerfest!

Sometimes you need rainboots for the muddy ground at Beerfest!

Packed beer tents.

Aww. Delicious beer in the sun.

Pretzel necklaces are a necessity!

Lots of fun with great friends

Sadly none of the above pictures are from this year. I was off my picture-taking game, apparently...

Anyway, because of Beerfest a number of our other friends were back in NC as well. It was great to see so many people from grad school and catch up on life while drinking some beers. We started the weekend out by grilling at some of our friends' new house. I made Scott look through my Pinterest account and pick out something for us to make and share. He chose this jalapeno popper mac and cheese. We adapted the recipe quite a bit to increase the amount, removed the chicken since we were serving it as a side, and lightened it with half and half instead of heavy cream.

This is quite an indulgent dish, but as I kept saying all weekend, calories don't count during Beerfest weekend (or if you eat while you are standing up). So make it for your next picnic or to share over some football on Sunday or to get your stomach expanded in time for the holidays.

I apologize for the half-eaten picture. Scott's job (besides making sure that the bacon didn't burn and crushing the goldfish) was to remind me to take a picture before we left his house. He forgot. So did I. But I think since I took this picture about 20 minutes after we arrived at the party, you can get a good idea of how much everyone enjoyed it.

Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese (significantly adapted from Lauren's Latest)
1 1/2 lbs elbow macaroni noodles
6 slices bacon (plus 3 tbsp bacon grease after cooking)
1 large onion, diced
3-4 jalapenos, diced
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
9 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups 2% or whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper, to taste
4 oz Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1/4 cup hot sauce (I used Frank's buffalo sauce)
4 cups Mexican four blend shredded cheese
1 1/2 cups crushed cheddar cheese goldfish (or other cheese cracker)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Boil the macaroni noodles for approximately 2 minutes less than the package indicates. You don't want them to be too soft because they will cook more in the oven. Drain and return pot to stove.

Meanwhile, cut the bacon into small pieces using kitchen shears and then cook over medium heat in a skillet until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Discard all except approximately 3 tbsp of bacon grease. Add the onion and jalapeno to the grease and cook until tender.

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large pot in which you cooked the pasta. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and half and half and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce thickens about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the neufchatel cheese and hot sauce until melted and mixed completely. Stir in the onions and jalapenos and 3 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Add the drained pasta and mix completely. Pour the pasta mixture into a large baking dish has been coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the last 1/2 cup shredded cheese on top. Coat with the crushed crackers and crumbled bacon.

Bake about 30 minutes until hot through.

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