Good grief! Normally I am not an indecisive person, but I could NOT make up my mind on which recipe to post tonight. First it was going to be Pineapple Teriyaki Ham or a Quinoa Fruit Pudding. Then, I decided on the very simple Grilled Avocadoes, which I discovered for the first time yesterday. But, as my daughter and I walked through the grocery store tonight, and she asked me what I planned for dinner, I came up with Pepper Popper Mac & Cheese. One taste told me that the other recipes could wait because this one was just too good to sit along the sideline. It had to be shared immediately! Really, it demanded to be posted tonight. Who was I to argue?!
Now, I know that I just shared a similar recipe not that long ago, but I am in the midst of my current obsession: Pepper Poppers. Remember a while back when I just couldn't enough Buffalo Chicken recipes? Yeah, same thing.
Also, I think I've mentioned before that I don't care for mac & cheese. Well, processed, pre-packaged mac & cheese, that is. So, when I say we're having mac & cheese for dinner, my family just knows that I mean a homemade variety. Thank goodness they are always game to try something new, because they didn't even bat an eye when I told them tonight's idea!
Here's your Cast of Characters.
1 Lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled into large pieces, and divided
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (not pictured)
3 Heaping tbsp. flour
4 Cups milk
2 Tsp. Lawry's season salt
1/2 Tsp. black pepper
1/2 Tsp. Tony Chacere's Creole seasoning
2 Cups sharp, shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 Lb. box of shell pasta
1 - 8 Oz. cream cheese
2 Cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1 - 4 Oz. can diced jalapenos
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large pot, bring water to a boil and cook shells according to package directions.
Melt butter in a large skillet, over medium heat, and add flour. Cook and stir constantly for 2 minutes, making a golden roux.
Slowly whisk in milk, making sure to break up any lumps, until creamy.
Add in Lawry's, pepper and creole seasoning, along with 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese.
Turn to medium-high heat, and whisk until smooth. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together cream cheese, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese.
Once pasta has been drained, put it back in the pot. Stir in cheese sauce and all but 1/2 cup of bacon, making sure to coat the shells well and disperse bacon evenly. Pour into prepared 9 x 13 pan.
Use 2 spoons to scoop and scrape cream cheese mixture into little dots all over the shells. Then, gently press dots into the shell mixture.
Sprinkle remaining cheese, then bacon over the top.
Bake, uncovered, for 20 - 25 minutes, until bubbly, heated through and starting to brown on top.
See all the white, creamy parts? That's the "popper" filling, & what makes the whole dish wonderful!