Southwestern Mac and Cheese

I think it is really funny that Mac and Cheese is one of those “kid foods” that my kids still don’t like. The attitude is all don’t want, don’t like, no thanks I’m not hungry when it comes to Mac and Cheese.

This isn’t a post about how I finally found an amazing Mac and Cheese recipe that my picky kids will eat. Nope. This post is about this tasty Southwestern Mac and Cheese recipe that I love and that I eat all by myself.

We have made some serious progress with the dinner time pickiness, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t nights that I crave something no one else will eat. And I’m not stressing about that.

I hope Logan and Madeline will like this Southwestern Mac and Cheese someday, because I think it is really tasty and a fun twist on a classic. I love to make fancy out of the ordinary Mac and Cheese recipes. If I’m the only one eating it, I might as well make it how I like.

southwestern mac and cheese recipe

3 Steps to Fancy Mac n Cheese

It’s time to get creative in the kitchen. Try these three, simple ways towards creative mac n cheese recipes. Sure we all love the traditional recipe, but it’s fun to mix things up once in a while.

fancy up the cheese

Master a basic cheese sauce and utilize that recipe over and over again, but each time you can experiment with different cheeses. Adjusting and tweaking the flavors to fit your mood at the time.

In this recipe for Baked Gruyere and Butternut Squash Mac n Cheese, Gruyere is accented by Mascarpone and Parmesan Cheese creates a rich, velvety sauce in this recipe. You could dream up infinite cheese combinations for your sauce.

Lacking inspiration?  Look up some of your favorites cheeses in The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity to find complimentary combinations.

use different pasta shapes

Embrace your inner child, or appeal to your own children with fun and different pasta shapes. Just because it’s “Macaroni” and Cheese, doesn’t mean you have to actually use macaroni pasta. In fact, I rarely do. I love shells, rotini, penne, wagon wheels and more.

add a few mix-ins

Adding accent meats and vegetables turns mac n cheese into a delicious, one pot meal with lots of flavor and color. I like to add steamed broccoli or chopped spinach to my mac n cheese, but this time I decided to experiment with squash. My two favorite meat mix-ins are ham and bacon. They both go so well with cheesy sauce, but experiment with others as well.

More Mac and Cheese Recipes


Southwestern Mac and Cheese

Yield: serves 8

Prep Time:15 minutes

Cook Time:30 minutes

Total Time:45 minutes


1 lb. penne, cooked according to package instructions and drained
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon southwestern seasoning (or a mix of cumin, chili powder, chipotle, garlic, salt, and pepper)
5 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups pepper jack cheese
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 - 4.5 ounce can diced roasted green chiles
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13 pan; set aside.

Add butter to a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and spices, then cook while stirring for 2 minutes or until mixed.

Add the milk, 1 cup at a time, while whisking. Continue whisking until all of the milk has been added and the mixture is smooth. Cook for 3 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken.

Add the cheeses. Stir the sauce and cook until the cheese has melted and combined with the milk mixture. Gently stir in the pasta, tomatoes, and green chiles. Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared pan. Combine the melted butter and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the top of the pasta with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.

adapted from McCormick