Creole-style Mac and Cheese is a quick meal with a spicy twist. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kitchen Curious: What makes Creole-style Mac and Cheese a winner?

There are two areas of my culinary life that I’m working to improve these days: getting a handle on spicy heat and overcoming my skepticism of the Instant Pot.

Last year, I literally cooked my family out of the house when I used handful upon handful of Naga Morich peppers to make a hot sauce. This variety of capsicum registers among the highest on the Scoville scale for heat, and as I cooked them down, the volatile fumes blasted everywhere. It was a five-alarm pepper emergency that left us coughing and gasping for breath. I should mention that my husband was just days into a recovery from retinal surgery. Sorry, honey!

As for the Instant Pot, that was my husband’s idea. I was perfectly content with my slow cooker. And the pressure cooker I was accustomed to didn’t have a gazillion buttons to push. Plus, I’ve read all sorts of horror stories. I don’t want to burn my face or shoot rice into the ceiling when releasing the pressure valve.

But an old dog can learn new tricks. So when I ran across a mac and cheese recipe that called for the heat of peppers and cooking under pressure, my ears perked up.

“The Spicy Food Lovers’ Cookbook” by Michael Hultquist (Page Street Publishing Co., 2018) brings the zing to 75 tasty dishes.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Creole-style Mac and Cheese recipe in the newly published “The Spicy Food Lovers’ Cookbook” by Michael Hultquist is a winner on many levels. Louisiana-style hot sauce, jalapeños, Creole seasoning and pepper jack cheese combine for a nice, multilayered — but still mediated — spice twist on a familiar favorite. And it’s a one-pot dish that’s 4-minutes-until-done (once the pressure sets in), which should perk up the ears of busy home cooks.

One step where I deviated from the recipe was post-pressure cooking, when it’s time to add the milk and cheese. Enough liquid remained from the cooking process that I didn’t need to add any milk. After stirring in the cheese, I re-secured the lid on the pressure cooker and let the dish rest about 5 minutes. The pasta soaked up all the remaining liquid. If you like a slightly runnier mac and cheese, go ahead and add the milk. Err on the judicious side, though. You can always add more.

The ingredient list is fairly flexible. I opted for medium-sized pasta shells for their nooks and crannies as much as for looks, chicken broth instead of water for flavor, and just 2 cups cheese, because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

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