Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

There are SO MANY THINGS to tell you today. First, yesterday was huge. If you like Life As A Strawberry on Facebook (which, um, you all should) you know that YESTERDAY I broke my record for most single-day page views! Over 1,300 people looked at my recipes yesterday, and I gotta say, numbers like that feel pretty.darn.good.

Granted, I have nothing to compare it to, and I’m sure most of the more well-established bloggers out there would trounce me numbers-wise, but still. NO RAIN will be found anywhere near my parade.

The next thing you should know is that I make THE BEST mac and cheese. Ever. That’s not bragging – it’s the truth, confirmed by nearly everyone I ever hung out with on a Saturday night in college and all my immediate family members. Mac and cheese is also my FAVORITE kind of comfort food – warm, simple, and oh-so-delicious.

So I got to thinking – I should spend some time honoring the awesomeness that is macaroni and cheese. So, friends, I officially welcome you to the best idea I’ve ever had: THIS is MAC AND CHEESE WEEK. Get ready for five days of twists and turns on a classic. It will be excellent.

So, to kick it all off, let’s start with my classic recipe: spicy mac and cheese! It’s got a light kick and great flavor, and soon it’ll be a regular on your weeknight rotation.

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese
YIELD: Serves 4
  • 1 lb. of your favorite pasta (I used elbow macaroni)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups milk (I use skim)
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (reserve ⅓ cup of this for topping the macaroni before you bake it)
  • ½ tsp mustard powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, plus ⅛ tsp. for topping
  • ¼ tsp. paprika, plus ⅛ tsp. for topping
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  1. Cook pasta according to package or recipe directions (I use VERY salty water) until it is a few minutes (6 min. are usually good) less than al dente – the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so having very al dente pasta when you put the pasta in to bake will ensure your macaroni isn’t mushy or overcooked!
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour to make a roux and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Whisk the milk into the roux a little at a time, making sure to work out all the clumps so you have a smooth sauce. Cook over medium heat until milk has thickened, about 8 minutes.
  4. Remove sauce from heat. Stir in 2 and ⅔ cups of the cheddar cheese with a spoon or spatula. Stir until cheese is melted.
  5. Stir mustard powder, cayenne, paprika, and black pepper into sauce.
  6. Stir pasta into sauce. Take a bite. Pat yourself on the back.
  7. Pour pasta into a baking dish (I used a cast iron skillet). Top with the extra ⅛ tsp. of cayenne and paprika and the extra ⅓ cup of shredded cheddar cheese. (Here is a picture of me failing to take a picture of the cheese-sprinkling in action…ugh)
  8. Bake at 350 for 15-25 minutes or until cheese has melted and edges are crispy.




Monday – Jessie’s Famous Spicy Mac and Cheese

Tuesday – White Cheddar Avocado Mac and Cheese

Wednesday – Beer Mac and Cheese

Thursday – White Cheddar Arugula Pesto Mac and Cheese

Friday – Hard Apple Cider Mac and Cheese. With Bacon. 

Spicy Mac and Cheese


  1. Catherine says

    Hi Jessie, I tried your spicy mac and cheese recipe tonight. It tops any other mac and cheese recipe I have tried. The cheese sauce was perfectly creamy !! I do not understand why Jill, who replied on August 28, 2013, did not have favourable results. I can assure you it was not your recipe but clearly an error she made in following your very easy and detailed instrustions. Please continue to have fun in the kitchen and share your
    recipes with others on line. THIS RECIPE IS MY NEW FAVORITE FOR MAC AND CHEESE, all my others get
    tosssed in the bin !!

  2. Yesi says

    Anyone who knows me, knows I can’t cook. I stumbled upon this page and the pics along with your detailed instructions tempted me to try it. I made it and I couldn’t believe that I made delicious mac and cheese! My husband was even surprised that it yummy! Thanks for your recipe!!!

  3. Melissa says

    Made this tonight, my kids loved it. Though a big part of me wishes I made mommy a special white pasta batch and been even naughtier. Delish.

    • Jessie says

      I’m glad you liked it! This is my most-requested recipe at potlucks. Thanks for letting me know how it turned out!

  4. Jill says

    I made this tonight and am sorry to say, I was very disappointed. It was dry; the ratio of pasta to cheese sauce was way too high. 1/2 lb. of elbow macaroni would’ve made it perfect. 1 lb was way too much. Was that a typo by chance? Also, 1 lb. makes enough to feed an army–a lot more than four servings. I filled an entire 9×13 pan with mac and cheese. It’s easily 8 very generous servings, not 4.

    • Jessie says

      Hi Jill,

      I’m so sorry to hear that this recipe didn’t work for you! There were no typos, though – this is the recipe I use on a regular basis, and it has always been well received. Personally, I don’t love it when pasta is swimming in sauce, so my recipes are never meant to drench the pasta. I know many people who do like a pool of sauce in their pasta dish, though, so if that is the case I recommend adding 2/3 cup or so more milk to the sauce and an extra handful of cheese.

      Since I’m not in the kitchen with you, it’s hard to say why your mac and cheese turned out differently than mine does from the same recipe. But what I can do is help you troubleshoot to figure out what may have happened! In my experience, there are a few different things that could cause this recipe as-written to be dry. If I heat the milk for too long, the sauce will thicken too much and I won’t have enough to coat the pasta, which causes some dryness. If I add too much cheese to the sauce, that will also result in a too-thick sauce that will yield the same effect. In this recipe, it’s important to reserve the designated portion of cheese to top the pasta, rather than adding all of the cheese called for to the sauce (I have a note about this in the recipe directions). The other thing that can cause a dry mac and cheese is overbaking. If I leave it in the oven too long it will dry out. This can especially be a problem when I make the pasta in advance and refrigerate it until I’m ready to bake – I counteract this problem by adding an extra 1/2 cup or so of milk to the sauce to account for the amount of sauce the noodles will soak up as it sits. Did you find the pasta too dry before or after you baked it? If the sauce ratio was fine before baking (which in my experience, it always has been) then I might suggest a shorter baking time or that you bake it in a deep dish with less surface area. I rarely bake this pasta in a 9×13 pan because I find that the thinner layer of pasta is easily overcooked, especially if I’m not paying close attention to the oven. But that’s just me. With regards to the serving sizes, I apologize if my recommendation was misleading. In my family, I make a pound of pasta and it’s perfect for four of us. However, when we have mac and cheese (or any pasta dish, really) it’s usually the only thing we eat. No side dishes or salads or anything. If you served this pasta alongside other dishes, then your per-person serving of pasta would of course be smaller. For us, we each have a large bowl for dinner and usually end up with few or no leftovers. But every family is different! I hope that this helps and that you will come back and try a few more recipes!


      • Jill says

        Hi Jessie, Thanks for your detailed reply. It was dry before I put it in the pan for the oven, while I was mixing the pasta into the sauce. I did reserve the cheese for the top; in fact I added more cheese to the top because it was too sparse to cover the 9×13 pan. I used a 9×13 pan because I didn’t have anything else that could hold all that pasta. You must have a large 12-14 inch cast iron skillet. 😉 I baked it for 15 min and my oven thermometer registered 350, so the oven wasn’t too hot. Anyway, my guess is we just have different preferences on the ratio of sauce to pasta. I plan to try it another time and just halve the amount of pasta. The sauce had good flavor when I tasted it before adding the pasta. But it became a very thin layer when spread across all that pasta so it didn’t have the ooey-gooey goodness I love about mac and cheese. I did serve it as a side with rotisserie chicken and spinach. It would still be a very large serving in my opinion as an entree, but everyone is different. Thanks for the reply. I’ll try it again sometime with less pasta.

  5. says

    Mac and cheese for 5 days straight? SUCH an amazing idea! :) Although, I’d be a bit frightened by how much my hips would expand by the end of the week 😀 That’s what happened to me after I started my cookie project! But so worth it! :) Also, congrats on your page views!

  6. Mont says

    Hi there!
    Amazing recipe, but I’m not sure where to get a cast iron skillet. I know it’s not needed, but I’ve seen loads of people lately using these in their recipes and was curious as to how I could get my own!
    May I know where/how you got yours from?



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