So, as you may know I’ve been traveling quite a bit.
And traveling sometimes makes it difficult to fully participle in the holidays as much as I would like.
Even right now, I’m writing this post from my an airplane. I love my life, both personally and professionally, and what I find the hardest is wanting to give 100% to both all of the time.
To be totally honest, I was starting to be a little Thanksgiving Grinch about all the effort the holidays require. For the past few years, by the time the meal rolls around, I am totally exhausted and would rather just eat a plate in front of the TV instead of visiting with people.
Well, that sentiment just won’t do.
So I’m working on systems that help me be the most productive with my time so that I can be the most present in my life.
Because I’m traveling until the day before Thanksgiving, I needed to figure out how to balance the desire to cook outrageously delicious holiday foods with my current schedule.
The solution? Make-ahead dishes that I could freeze!
I knew I wanted to create an adult-style mac and cheese that was spicy and creamy, with a sauce I could make ahead and freeze.
The key was in the cheeses!
Cream cheese and American cheese are a super hero power combination in the World of Mac and Cheese.
Whether your cheese is in a block or in slices, just cut it into small pieces so that it melts quickly and smoothly.
The sauce comes together VERY easily and is velvety and silky!
Plus it’s a little like fondue—with a Kentucky twang.
Just image all that spicy bourbon sauce coating the noodles!
If you’re making the recipe all the way through start to finish, you should be done in about 20 to 25 minutes.
And your mac and cheese will be a SHOW STOPPER!
The reheatable make-ahead version is just as quick, but you have to remember to thaw the cheese sauce before using it (don’t worry about the sauce separating as it thaws).
My mom always says that “done is better than perfect.” And so this year I am taking her advice.
Instead of running myself ragged trying to create the “perfect” Thanksgiving, I am gonna create some really good dishes and save my energy for visiting.
Spicy Bourbon Mac + Cheese
- 1 pound medium pasta shells or cavatappi noodles
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2½ cups whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
- One 8-ounce block cream cheese, at room temperature
- 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces white American cheese, shredded or diced
- 4 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1 cup fried onion straws, ground to the texture of bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according the package directions until al dente—about 7 to 9 minutes. You want it to be a little undercooked.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a high-sided 10-inch sautée pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until golden brown—about 1 minute. Then slowly whisk in the milk. Reduce the heat to low, then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until it becomes a thin gravy—about 3 minutes.
- Add the ground mustard and stir to combine, then add the cream cheese and stir until it is fully incorporated. Stir in the pepper jack, American cheese, and bourbon (if desired), and cook until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Taste the sauce and season it with salt and pepper as needed.
- Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to thoroughly combine. The sauce may look a little soupy, but that’s ok! Pour the pasta mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, top with the fried onions and bake until the top of the mac and cheese is golden and crisp—about 10 minutes. Serve immediately!
- To make this recipe ahead of time, skip the steps for cooking the noodles until you are ready to serve. Make the cheese sauce as directed, then cool and store in an airtight container in the freezer. When you are ready to eat the mac and cheese, thaw the sauce in the refrigerator and cook the noodles as indicated above. Once thawed, gently reheat the sauce in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until hot. Add the noodles to the sauce and finish the recipe as directed.