Spicy Mac and Cheese for Lent

When spring rolls around, well hopefully it will soon, we look forward to Easter and some warmer weather.   In our house this time of year means the annual Lenten favorites are prepared  on Friday evenings.  Our recipe binder is bursting with fish, shrimp and scallop entrees. There is also the traditional macaroni  and cheese, the blue cheese mac and cheese and now this spicy delight.  
Last weekend, Giada from across the street and I co chaired a used book sale at our kids school.  We had been preparing for this for a couple of weeks with advertising, prepping signs and getting student volunteers.  Friday was just the beginning of our 20 hour stint in the school cafeteria lifting, arranging, moving and selling books to benefit the after the prom party.  We both arrived at the school  around 1:30  in the afternoon.  By 4 p.m. the  books had all been moved into the cafeteria and the sorting had begun.  We officially opened our doors around 5 p.m. for the early bird buyers.  By 7 p.m., closing time for day one, we had made about $200 and were both pretty beat.  Muscles ached, backs were sore and we still had to drive home, eat dinner, get some rest to get back to the school by 8:30 the next day. 
Luckily for us Hubby had made dinner and had everything ready to go.  He picked up a salad and some Gorgonzola bread, roasted some butternut squash and prepared this tasty new Lenten favorite.  Once we arrived home and after a quick cleanup, Giada and her hubby crossed the street bringing with them a nice bottle of wine and dessert.  Dinner was delicious, but the we were quite tired.  Thank you to my Hubby for making us dinner.   
P.s.  He even made cookies on Saturday and brought them over to the sale.  What a guy!
 Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese


    Kosher salt
    1 pound elbow macaroni
    8 tablespoons unsalted butter
    3 jalapenos, 2 finely chopped and 1 thinly sliced
    2 1/2 cups half-and-half
    1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
    8 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded (about 3 cups)
    3 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 1 cup)
    1/2 cup pickled jalapenos, finely chopped, and 1/3 cup pickled jalapeno juice
    1/8 to1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 cup panko bread crumbs


      Set an oven rack 6 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
      Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until it is al dente, about 6 minutes. Strain, reserving 1 3/4 cups of the pasta water. Set aside.
      Melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; transfer half the melted butter to a medium bowl and reserve. Add the chopped jalapenos to the saucepan, toss to coat and cook until softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to a small bowl and reserve.
      Wipe out the saucepan and add the half-and-half. Cook over medium heat until it just comes to a simmer. Continue simmering until the half-and-half is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Whisk in the Cheddar and Gruyere until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.
      Add the macaroni and reserved pasta water and stir to combine. (The mixture will look very loose, but the pasta will suck up a lot of the sauce as it bakes.) Gently fold in the reserved cooked jalapenos, pickled jalapenos and pickled jalapeno juice. Season with salt and cayenne if needed. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Toss the bread crumbs in the bowl with the reserved melted butter and a sprinkle of salt. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and cheese. Lay the sliced jalapenos evenly on top of the bread crumbs. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the bread crumbs are lightly browned and crispy, about 10 minutes.

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