This morning, I was reading a cookbook in bed when Will came in and climbed in beside me. Soon, Paige joined us too. They both cuddled up, letting me hug them tight. We laughed and joked and even leafed through some of the cookbook together. Today was a snow day, so there was no school to get to and no rush on our morning, so we could just live in those moments — finding joy in a simple morning cuddle.
For 2013, I made a commitment to finding joy in life. It’s a simple thing we should all do naturally, but I am the first to admit that in the past I didn’t. I let myself get into this awful cycle of working too much, being stressed/tired/upset too much and ultimately not doing enough living. And without really living, how can you find the everyday joy? After that horrific day last month though, everything changed for me. Little moments of joy, like the one the kids and I shared this morning, matter so much.
I never want to regret missing a moment. Or choosing something less significant over the laughter and smiles of my kids.
Part and parcel with joy is comfort — perhaps that’s why they are often spoken of together in music and writing. Heck, there’s great comfort in experiencing joy regularly.
There’s also great comfort in a nice bowl of macaroni and cheese. Call me crazy, but this childhood staple is a wonderful thing.
Making Salsa con Queso Macaroni and Cheese
Of course, even a wonderful thing can be take on new meaning when it incorporates other favorite things. Now, prepare yourself because I have a confession to make. And it’s about something I really love, but it’s definitively in the guilty pleasure category of food. Salsa con queso. And not the organic salsa con queso with ingredients you can pronounce. No, there’s something about the hardcore bad for you, so-yellow-it’s-orange salsa con queso with many unmentionables that I just love.
It’s shameful, I know. And I try really hard not to indulge in it too often. Cause really, reading the ingredients is kind of gross.
Fortunately, after a little tinkering and playing in the kitchen, I’ve managed to recreate the flavor of my favorite salsa con queso at home with real, recognizable ingredients … in (you guessed it!) macaroni and cheese. Seriously, this cheese sauce tastes just like really-bad-for-you salsa con queso. But it’s so much better cause you make it all yourself.
Score one for comfort and joy.
Making it is pretty simple — you really just whip up an easy cheese sauce with Monterrey jack and cheddar and then stir in some salsa. Then mix it with cooked pasta, pour into an oven-safe pan and sprinkle crunchy tortilla chips and more cheese on top. Then bake it until it’s all bubbly and the cheese is melted. Seriously incredible stuff.
Try it. It’s also great for game day.
- 1 lb macaroni
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 8 oz freshly grated Monterey Jack Cheese
- 8 oz freshly grated cheddar cheese, divided
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup medium salsa
- 1 cup crumbled tortilla chips
- Cook the macaroni according to package directions.
- While the macaroni is cooking, heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Whisk in the flour and cook until the mixture is smooth and liquid-y. Whisk in the milk and ground mustard. Cook, whisking occasionally, until well combined and hot.
- Whisk in Monterey Jack Cheese until smooth (if necessary, raise the heat on the burner a little to aid the cheese in melting). Add 4 ounces of cheddar cheese and whisk until combined. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Whisk in the salsa.
- Combine the cooked macaroni and the cheese sauce and pour into an ungreased 9×13-inch glass baking pan. It will be soupy – but don’t worry, the sauce will thicken upon standing and baking. Smooth into one layer.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese and tortilla chips on top.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until hot, bubbly and all the cheese is melted.
- Serve immediately.
For a spicier version, stir 1 freshly minced jalapeno pepper into the cheese sauce before combining with the pasta.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.