When we transition from Summer to Fall in Western PA, the temperature can change from the 80˚s to the 60˚s in a single day. On days like these, I feel the need for comfort food. My Grandma used to make a mac and cheese dish with ground beef, green peppers, tomatoes, and topped with American cheese.
Yum! That dish was always so good the next day. I expanded on her recipe to make a new one, straying away from boxed mac and cheese and adding a few things. Can you say bacon and jalapeño?
Cook a 16 oz. box of pasta of your choice according to box.
Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to a 5 or 9 quart pot and place on Traeger. Set to 400˚ or high heat. Once heated, add ground beef and start to brown. When almost browned, add onion, pepper, and garlic.
NOTE: I started in a 12" skillet. BIG MISTAKE. It was not big enough.
As soon as I added the vegetables, even Leela knew I was in trouble: Not enough space! I grabbed my big 9 quart Lodge cast iron pot and moved everything into it.
Moving on... When the vegetables are softened, add the spinach, jalapeño, basil, and tomatoes, and let the spinach cook down until well-wilted. Then add the cooked pasta.
By the way, bake a few slices of bacon along with this. I place a slice or two above the pot and let the fat drip in, because who doesn’t like a little bacon grease for flavor?
Since you're already makin' the bacon, bake a few extra slices for Leela. She'll love you forever. Or at least until she wants another slice... Which will be before she finishes the first slice.
Meanwhile, shred around three cups of cheese.
I used a cup each of smoked gouda, aged sharp provolone, and sharp cheddar.
Sprinkle the cheese mix with a hefty pinch of nutmeg, salt, and pepper and add the heavy cream and cream cheese. Stir to mix.
Bake for at least 30 - 45 minutes. Stir everything up adding a little more salt and pepper to taste...AND BEER! Leela told me it needed something more. I thought "Why the hell not?!"
Don't forget the beer.
I had a Newcastle Brown Ale on hand and poured it in. No, not all of it. Hey, I'm cooking and I'm thirsty so I saved a few sips for me! Let that simmer a bit longer while enjoying your tasty beverage.
Topping it Off
On the kitchen stovetop, melt butter in a skillet then add some Panko until toasted. Chop fresh parsley. Top the mac and cheese with the panko, parsley, bacon, and jalapeño. Continue baking 15 to 20 minutes more.
I put the grill on the Keep Warm setting since Sean wasn’t home yet. And we like to eat dinner together. Now I'm heading out to enjoy dinner with my gang.
A family that dines together wines together.
🐶 Leela Storm’s Suggested Pairings
🍽 Kitchen Critique
My mom, aunt, and I used to love making my Grandma’s simple delicious mac-n-cheese recipe. As I mentioned, it was one that was better a day or two after baking. Looking at my recipe, I realize I really strayed quite a bit from the original. But, that's the beauty of having a great family recipe as inspiration.
Needless to say, the dish is always a hit with the family - so it's a staple on The Hotel's menu - and doesn't set me back much in terms of time or complexity.
The panko lends a great texture to the creamy cheese and noodles. And the bacon... Well, bacon is as bacon does, providing crispy bits of salty goodness along with flavor from the fat.
Oh yeah - do yourself a favor and make enough for leftovers. Two batches if needed!
Don't be afraid to put a new twist on a tried-and-true original family dish.
- It’s ok to throw your own twist on your Grandma’s recipe.
- As always... Grandma recipes rock.
- Listen to Leela’s advice - she's a very wise doggy.
- Leela says don't forget to have extra jalapeños and hot sauce ready for those Hotel guests who like it hot!