Who doesn’t love a great dish of mac and cheese? But sometimes it can be a little bland to eat it plain all the time so wonder why we didn’t grow up learning what to add to mac and cheese to spice it up?
Or was that just me…
Heck, I didn’t start adding stuff to mac until my own children were 13 years old and 18 years old. Just never thought about it until that day I decided to throw in some chopped onions I had leftover into my bowl of mac and cheese.
OMGosh! Why didn’t I think of this before!
This is one of the most simple dishes you can make. Especially if you just buy a box of mac and cheese then all you need is a little salt, milk, and butter. And these items you probably keep on hand all the time. Even if you just keep basic pantry items.
If you don’t buy the box with all the stuff then all you need would be whatever short noodle you have on hand and cheese. I like to use rotini, elbow, shell and even penne. There is another noodle I like to use but the name of it is not coming to my mind right now. I just call them piggy tails. That’s what they look like to me.
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I never buy macaroni just for the purpose of making mac and cheese. I buy pastas depending on what I’m having for my main dishes so I make mac and cheese with whatever short noodle I have available. As far as the cheese, I just use block cheese like Velveeta or just the generic. Which is another staple I keep all the time. My favorite is actually So Cheezy, the Save-A-Lot brand. You could even get you some jarred cheese.
Either way this is a quick and super cheap way to put together a side. I mean all you have to do is boil about 2 cups of noodles for 10 minutes. Add about teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of butter. Then add cheese and milk to your desired creaminess. In 15 minutes you have it ready for the table.
But you don’t have to serve it plain every time. There are so many things you can do to upgrade mac and cheese dishes.
Some of these can be as simple as throwing in some chopped onions. You wouldn’t believe what a difference just adding onions make. Well, that is if you like onions.
Or it can be as detailed as using cream of mushroom soup, chopped green peppers, chopped onions, and then sprinkling bread crumbs on the top and baking it in the oven.
You can upgrade it to just make your side dish different or you can even make it into a main dish like we did with this Taco Beef Mac & Cheese.
Let’s stop wasting time and talk about what to add to mac and cheese to make it less boring for you and your family.
Upgrade Your Mac and Cheese Dishes with These Hacks: Simple Throw-Ins
Alright the absolute simplest way to spruce up your mac and cheese is to add in a single ingredient. You can do this if you are not really sure what kind of stuff you think would taste good with mac and cheese.
If you want to really lean on the caution side you could even fix the mac and cheese plain and then add your choice ingredients to a bowl of mac and cheese to see how you will like it. If it’s terrible then you’ve only wasted a bowl. If it’s great then you can add your ingredients to the whole pot!
- Onions – diced, chopped or sliced thin
- Peppers (green, red, or orange) – sliced thin or chopped
- Jalapenos – straight from the jar is the easiest way or you can slice whole pieces
- Broccoli – raw or steamed
- Cauliflower – raw or steamed
- Peas – canned or frozen
- Corn – canned or frozen
- Mushrooms – chopped or sliced then, depending how big they are
- Spinach – this could be chopped or sautéed
- Olives – oh that was hard for me to write down but I gotta think of what you may like too
- Hot Dogs – cut these up in chunks. You can heat and then slice or you could slice and fry for a little bit in a pan before adding.
- Ham – chopped
- Bacon bits – you can buy the packages of bacon bits or even the pre-cooked bacon and crumble. Just trying to keep it quick here.
- Tuna – just open the can, drain, and mix in right in while breaking up the tuna
- Ground Beef – we love to mix in leftover taco meat into mac and cheese. I will purposely plan to have mac and cheese within the next couple of nights after having tacos because we always have leftover meat. Another awesome leftover add in would be sloppy joe meat.
- Shredded Chicken – again this could be leftovers from previous night meal
- Eggs – scrambled or boiled
- Sausage – how about a little breakfast flare in the mac
- Smoked Sausage – just slice and then fry for a few minutes on medium heat to bring out the flavor
- Pepperoni – chopped
- Salami – chopped
- Crab Meat
- Beans – these can be kidney beans, chili beans, black beans, or any other bean you may like
- Chili – leftover or canned
- Crackers – crushed
- Salad Noodles – I’m not sure what these are called but they are those little squiggly looking dried noodles that are about like crackers. Typically you see them being put on salads.
- Spices – like parsley, thyme, garlic, or even combined spices like Cajun Seasoning and Taco Seasoning
What to Add to Mac and Cheese to Take it Up a Notch from Simple
We’ve talked about some little simple things and even some spices to add to mac and cheese to give it a little flare.
Now let’s take it up a few notches and start combining a couple of those simple ingredients. This is where you get to start having a little fun with it. Try combinations. If you want you can start with two and then you can get a little braver and choose ingredient number three.
Here are some ideas:
- Chopped onions and chopped peppers
- Broccoli and shredded chicken
- Chopped pepperoni and salami
- Crumbled sausage and scrambled egg
- Smoked sausage and chopped onions
- Black beans and jalapenos – top it with a little sour cream
- Taco Beef and chopped onions – for this my son likes for me to just cook the pasta and then mix in the browned beef. Which is quite a bit different from the recipe but that’s it. He will spoon some in a bowl and add some shredded cheese to the top. If it is piping hot enough to melt cheese then he will just stir it up. If not he will pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. Super, super easy and tastes pretty good. This just goes to show that you can take a recipe and tweak it however you like.
The two ingredient possibilities are endless. Just combine a couple ingredients you like and see what you can come up with.
Create Your Own Masterpiece to Upgrade Your Mac and Cheese
Alright, before we get into just handing you over some recipes lets give you a few steps to create your own masterpieces.
Oh, and please share those with me in the comments!
Using the ingredients above and even some you’ve come up with on your own let’s do this.
Step 1: Choose a Protein or Two or Three
Remember this is your creation so you can do whatever if you like so go as easy or crazy as you like. How about we do this with an example.
So, for proteins this could be meats or beans or any other protein you like. I’m not a foodie so I couldn’t even tell you what all is considered a protein. You probably know better than I do.
But for this example I am going to choose leftover taco meat and black beans as my proteins.
Step 2: Throw in Some Veggies
Alright, you have your protein now lets flavor it up or maybe healthy it up a little by adding in some veggies.
For our example, we will add in some chopped onions and diced green peppers. I am dicing my green peppers cause I want my green peppers to be a little smaller than my onions. We just like to eat our peppers smaller and our onions larger for flavor. That’s the only reason. And then I want to throw in some canned corn, drained, of course. I’m using canned because I’m throwing all these ingredients after I have fixed my mac and cheese. If I were in a super spicy mood I would probably dice me up a few jalapenos from a jar but for this example we will leave them out.
Step 3: Spice or Sauce it Up
Throw in some spices if you wish. You may feel that what you have already added is enough flavor but you can always add in some spices or sauces.
For our little dish I’m gonna add some salsa. Not a lot. Just enough to give a little extra flavor.
Step 4: Top with Crunch
Here is another optional step. Just depending if you want that crunch. I like the crunch and my favorite to use is the Italian breadcrumbs or just plain panko. For this dish we will add plain panko and put it in the oven on broil just enough for it to brown on top.
That’s it! That’s all you have to do to create your own masterpiece.
Now what all did we do for our mac and cheese dish here:
- Prepared the mac and cheese like normal, and then added…
- Leftover taco beef
- Black beans
- Chopped onions
- Diced green peppers
- Canned corn, drained
- Then put the mixture into a baking dishing and topped it with…
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Then put it in the oven on low broil just until the breadcrumbs brown
See how easy that was and it gives you a completely different dish than just your basic mac and cheese.
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Mac and Cheese Upgrades that Take 30 Minutes or Less
Alright, now I know some folks will just want recipes and that’s fine too. So, I have scoured the internet to find you some recipes that will fit into our busy lifestyles.
If you like you some bacon then you will love this recipe. Where bacon and crackers are added to this baked dish. This recipes takes 30 minutes to get on the table.
This super simple recipe is only 15 minutes. To achieve this you will want to cook your hot dogs while your macaroni is cooking so you can be ready to just throw it together.
Here you have a really easy mac and cheese recipe with sausage and diced tomatoes plus a few other little ole ingredients. You are also given additional substitution ideas to make this more suitable for your own taste.
The Spruce Eats have created several mac and cheese recipes so here are twelve that they consider to be their very best.
This one is also from The Spruce Eats. The image for this recipe is the feature image for the twelve best macaroni and cheese recipes they listed above but this recipe was not listed. I thought it looked really good so I went on the hunt for it. Found it! Yes, I have your back!
I love Tasty recipes. I mean you have simple recipes and a video. This recipe has bacon, Monterey jack cheese and mozzarella cheese. One thing they didn’t add that you find tasty, get it “tasty”, ok not that funny. Anyhow you could add a bit of sour cream on the top.
Just to Recap
Alright let’s do a real quick recap of what we have here.
First, you learned about single ingredients that you can stir into your mac and cheese to make it different.
Then, you learned how you can take your dish up a notch by combing two or more ingredients together.
After that you learned how to create your own masterpiece by following these steps:
- Step 1: Choose Your Protein or Two or Three
- Step 2: Throw in Some Veggies
- Step 3: Spice or Sauce it Up
- Step 4: Top with Crunch
Then finally, you were given some recipes from others who have created their own masterpieces before you.
So, there you go. Don’t forget to let me know how you upgraded your own mac and cheese.
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