Jalapeno Popper Mac & Cheese

$6.98 recipe / $1.16 serving

Can I single handedly undo all of the healthy things I accomplished with the Quinoa and Black Bean Tacos? Challenge accepted. (I know, it’s like I have split food personalities sometimes.)

This is a super ooey-gooey white cheese mac with spicy jalapenos and zesty green chiles. I could have made it more “popper” like by topping it with some buttered bread crumbs and baking it in the oven, but I’m a little impatient when it comes to mac and cheese. If I just finished cooking it on the stove top, I really don’t want to wait another half hour for it to come out of the oven (am I right?). I also contemplated topping it with bits of crisp bacon, but again that would have delayed my enjoyment of this creamy delight. But those are both tasty options if you’ve got time to spare.

This mac n cheese whips up really fast and doesn’t require a roux based cheese sauce, which can be tricky for new cooks (or just those new to cheese sauces). It’s super rich, so I estimated a serving to be just a cup. That’s all I needed before the cheese sensors in my brain quieted down and drifted into a satiated slumber.

Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese

Jalapeno Popper Mac & Cheese

4.7 from 3 reviews
jalapeno popper mac & cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $6.98
Cost Per Serving: $1.16
Serves: 6
  • 12 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni* $1.80
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil $0.02
  • 1 clove garlic, minced $0.08
  • 1 cup milk $0.25
  • 4 oz. cream cheese $0.93
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan $0.42
  • ½ cup sour cream $0.43
  • 1 (4 oz.) can sliced jalapenos $0.89
  • 1 (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (mild) $0.89
  • ¼ tsp salt $0.02
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese $1.25
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and then add the pasta. Let it continue to boil until it is soft (about 10 minutes).
  2. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a medium sauce pot, cook the garlic in vegetable oil for about 1-2 minutes or just until soft and fragrant. Add the milk, cream cheese, and grated parmesan. Continue to stir and cook over medium heat until the cream cheese is warm and softened. Use a whisk to stir the ingredients together until smooth.
  3. Turn the heat down to low and then whisk in the sour cream. Drain the jalapenos and green chiles and then stir into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add ¼ tsp of salt if needed.
  4. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it in a colander. Return the drained pasta to the pot (heat turned off), pour the sauce over top, and stir until well mixed. Sprinkle the shredded pepper jack over top and then stir in. The heat from the sauce and noodles should be enough to melt the cheese. Serve hot!
*I used Dreamfield pasta as a feeble attempt to make this not so unhealthy. *eye roll*

Jalapeno Popper Mac n Cheese

Step By Step Photos

garlic and oilFirst get your pasta cooking (I forgot to take a picture of that), then begin the sauce. Saute a clove of minced garlic in vegetable oil over medium heat for about 1-2 minutes or just until it softens a bit.

milk cheeseThen add the milk, cream cheese, and parmesan. Stir and cook this mixture over medium heat until the cream cheese is warm and softened enough to whisk into the milk. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.

sour creamThen turn the heat down to low and whisk in the sour cream.

jalapenos chilesDrain the liquid from the jalapenos and chiles (my chiles didn’t really have any excess moistures, but if they do, go ahead and drain them). Stir the jalapenos and chiles in the sauce.

finished sauceThen it will look like this. Give it a taste and add a little (1/4 tsp) of salt if needed.

add pastaWhen the pasta is finished cooking, drain it in a colander and then return it to the pot with the heat turned off. Pour the sauce on top and stir until combined.

pepper jackLastly, add the shredded pepper jack and stir it in until the heat from the pasta and sauce melts it.

Jalapeno Popper Mac n CheeseAnd then it’s as ooey and gooey as it gets! Enjoy (but not too much)!

Jalapeno Mac n Cheese

…I think my next recipe better be a big salad. :P


  1. Scott says:

    I just made this for myself and my fiancee, she’s allergic to Monterey Jack cheese so I subbed White Cheddar for her half. I will say it might be a good idea to change this recipe (and other multi-serving pasta recipes) to 1 LB instead of 12 oz, since most pasta comes boxes that size. I guesstimated the amounts and it turned out good, but I’m not sure if it was dead on your recipe or not since I didn’t realize until I’d already started cooking and had to adjust measurements quickly.

  2. Yoli says:

    Hi Beth,
    How do you think this would fare using Spaghetti Squash in place of the elbow macaroni?

  3. Helen S. says:

    This is a favorite, but the first batch I made was too spicy for my taste. I thought I had a high tolerance, but this totally knocked me off my spiciness pedestal. The next time I halved the peppers and chiles and that brought it to the perfect level for me.

  4. Mandi says:

    I’ve made this twice and absolutely LOVE it. I am going to make this for my gentleman friend soon, and I was thinking of slicing up some chicken breast to add a bit more protein and then baking it with these Italian bread crumbs I’ve had in my pantry for way too long. I’m a baby chef, though, so I’m not sure how long and at what temperature I should bake this at? I don’t want to burn or overlook anything. :( I am also browsing through your book right now looking for a good side dish option!

    Thanks again for publishing a wonderful book!

    • Hmm, well the mac n’ cheese is alredy cooked, so you really just want to brown the bread crumbs on top and make sure it’s all hot. I would do 375 and just keep an eye on the top and take it out when it’s browned (also, usually people toss the bread crumbs in melted butter first otherwise they’ll be kind of dry. :)

  5. Katie says:

    Beth ! This was so delicious and probably the easiest quickest recipe I’ve ever made! I didn’t even have canned jalapeños so I just used green chilies and when you use fat free sour cream, skim milk, low fat cream cheese and reduced fat cheese its really not toooo unhealthy and was still so creamy and flavorful! I even had veggie cavatapi so there were secret healthy veggies in every bite, sooooooooooooo yum!

  6. Christine T says:

    Made the recipe exactly as posted and it was as fabulous as it looks. Served as a side dish with “Mexican” meatloaf and it rocked. Love your blog. Haven’t had a recipe yet turn out anything but awesome.

  7. Sabrina C says:

    Beth- I have been a fan of everything so far but this was not so great! I sounded like an amazing dish, but when I tried it, it was entirely too spicy and kind of watery. Maybe I did something wrong. :(

    • Sorry to hear :( I guess spiciness is pretty subjective… and not really sure why yours may have ended up runny – mine was so thick!

  8. Hey Beth! I recently quit my day job, and sadly my food-experimenting budget had to be cut to cover medical insurance. Some friends recommended your blog as a place to find good, cheap and (sometimes) healthy recipes; I expect to be a frequent visitor. =) This recipe in particular was awesome!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I commented earlier about baking the macaroni. I followed your advice and it turned out fantastic, everyone loved it. It’s such a delicious, easy, and affordable dish to make. Thank you for sharing this. :)

  10. T. Joiner – It’s fairly spicy and you’re right, subbing the pepper jack will help quite a bit. You can use Monterrey Jack cheese instead, it’s the same thing as pepper jack, but without the peppers :) That way you’ll still get that nice, smooth meltiness!

  11. T. Joiner says:

    This sounds and looks awesome! How spicy is this recipe? I don’t want it to be too spicy because my daughter and I don’t like a whole lot of spice (jalepenos are about as spicy as I can stand). Also, what would be a good substitute for the pepper jack cheese? If I use jalepenos, I’ll cut the pepper jack cheese.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You could also toast the breadcrumbs up in a frying pan with a little butter then just sprinkle them over the top if you don’t want to bake the dish.

    I make a similar (non roux) mac and cheese in a double boiler with just heavy cream and shredded cheese(s) of choice, along with a little bit of mustard powder.

    I’ve heard that putting a little cream of tartar in it as well will help keep the cheese from separating.

  13. Awesome!! Thanks for letting us know how it turned out, Samantha! :D

  14. So I did end up making this tonight. And it was delicious! I used the Greek yogurt and fresh chiles/Jalepenos, as well as light cream cheese and skim milk, and added some chopped broccoli (a la your broccoli shells and cheese!) just to make it as healthy as humanly possible :P I used 4 diced and de-seeded chiles and 2 chopped and de-seeded Jalepenos. That gave it the perfect kick! However, in the future, I will probably either chop the Jalepenos smaller or maybe leave them really big so I can eat around them. I really hate the taste of peppers (bell, hot peppers, whatever) but I like the hotness they add.

  15. Samantha – all good questions, but I’m afraid I don’t have solid answers! Fresh jalapenos and chiles not only have a different heat level, but they have a different flavor because they’re not pickled like the canned varieties. So, they’ll likely give a completely different flavor to the dish. I’d start with a very small amount as they’re usually quite a bit hotter. I haven’t done a lot of cooking with Greek yogurt, but it doesn’t make up a large part of the sauce, so I suspect it will still work well.

  16. This looks amazing! I want to make it for dinner tomorrow, but I do have a few questions. If I were to use fresh chiles and Jalepeno instead of canned (I have a fabulous little Asian market right by me and they always have such things) how much should I substitute? Also, would you Greek yogurt work as a sour cream replacement? I usually use Greek yogurt for all my sour cream-y needs but I’ve never cooked with it! Thanks :)

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