Spicy Southwest Mac and Cheese

One of the meals that we ate when we were in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a spicy mac and cheese with sausage and red peppers. It was a nice change of pace from traditional mac and cheese, so we decided to try and replicate the recipe ourselves. Making homemade macaroni and cheese isn’t very difficult and tastes better than anything that you can get out of a box, but we rarely take the time to do it. Fortunately, it is easy to find seasoned varieties of sausage in the grocery store these days, so we didn’t have to go to the trouble of making our own sausage. We found a nice Cajun spiced andouille sausage that paired nicely with the chipotle chili. One nice thing about a recipe like this is that you can easily modify it to feed a larger crowd or reduce it for a meal for one or two. We decided to cook ours in individual crock bowls, but cooking it in a casserole dish would certainly be ideal as well. You can also use different types of pasta for the dish, but we used a Cellentani noodle as it has ridges to help hold the cheese. This is definitely a recipe that we would do again in the future.

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Picante Macaroni and Cheese with Sausage in Scottsdale

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups of Cellentani Noodles (or elbow macaroni)
  • 2 tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 4 cups Milk
  • 1 Red Pepper – sliced into strips
  • 2 Links of Andouille Sausage – cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 tbsp Chipotle Chili Powder (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 2 tbsp All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 1/2 cups Four Cheese Blend
  • 1/2 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Sausage and Red Peppers

INSTRUCTIONS

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil, red pepper, and sausage. Even though the sausage is already cooked, frying it will caramelize it and add more flavor. Cook the sausage and pepper for about 5 to 7 minutes until the sausage is browned and the pepper is soft. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat and then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Be sure not to let the roux start to brown. Heat 2 cups of the milk in a microwave for 90 seconds and then slowly whisk it into the roux, making sure to whisk out any lumps. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Microwave the rest of the milk for 90 seconds and then whisk that into the rest of the milk mixture. Add the chipotle powder, mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper, ensuring to mix thoroughly. Add 3 cups of the cheese, whisking until it is smooth and creamy. Stir in the pasta, sausage, and peppers until the pasta is completely coated with the cheese sauce. Spoon 1/4 of the pasta into 4 oven proof bowls that have been sprayed with a non-stick spray (or transfer to a medium casserole dish). Top with the remaining cheese and bread crumbs and bake in an oven at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 4.

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Whisking Cheese Sauce
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Pasta, Sausage, Peppers, and Cheese Sauce
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Individual Serving before Topping with Cheese and Bread Crumbs
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Enjoy a Creamy Dish of Mac and Cheese

 

Scottsdale, Arizona

Located on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, Scottsdale is a resort and retirement community that is a relaxing place to visit. In some ways, it reminds us of Hilton Head, South Carolina, only it doesn’t have the beaches. What it does have is a lot of excellent golf courses, upscale resorts, and restaurants galore. Summertime is actually their off-season due to the intense heat and the possibilities of a haboob, which is dust storm that can blanket the entire area with a wall of sand.

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Old Town Scottsdale
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Southwestern Artwork
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Beautiful Flowers
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Oldest Standing Church in Scottsdale

The downtown area of Scottsdale has a historic old town that will transport you back into the days of cowboys and give you a glimpse into the old west or southwest. There are plenty of souvenir stores selling Indian jewelry, pottery, and other trinkets to take home with you. There is also a large art district where you can go an art walk and enjoy all of the different galleries with traditional southwestern art as well as contemporary and traditional art. Not to worry, there is also a boutique shopping district, should you desire to do some shopping for non-tourist related items.

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Storefronts
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Old Western Touches
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Whimsical Touches
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Interesting Statues

The other thing that you can find are plenty of restaurants and bars. If you are daring, you can stop in at one of the several saloons that are downtown and even listen to some good old western music. Needless to say, we had to give more than one of the saloons a try, if for nothing else to get out of the 108 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Cold beers and margaritas were definitely needed in order to beat the heat.

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Old Fashioned Saloon
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Historic Building and Friendly Lounge
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Country Western Music
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Unique Interior of Patties

Walking around the downtown Scottsdale area provides wonderful scenery, interesting artwork, and at this time of year, plenty of beautiful flowering plants. Whether you come to the area to play a few rounds of golf, sit by the pool and relax, or enjoy the abundant food options that are available, you won’t be disappointed. We would probably recommend that you come during the fall when the temperatures are more hospitable, but if you can stand the heat, there are plenty of deals for those who venture to come here during the summer.

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True Cowboy Bar
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More Flowers
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Downtown Artwork
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Fun and Games
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Old Town Sign

Road Trips are an American Tradition

Most people who grew up in the United States have memories of strapping themselves into the backseat of the car and taking a road trip to someplace for vacation. Unlike Europe, there aren’t convenient transportation options, so the only affordable way to get anywhere is to drive. We certainly took our kids on many different road trips, whether to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Carlsbad Caverns, or Disneyland. We used to tease the kids that it was survival of the fittest, whoever survived the trip in the back of the car would get to enjoy the vacation, that we would leave with three and arrive with two. We used all sorts of tricks to keep them entertained on the long drives, like the license plate game, count the number of different animals that they could see, or handheld games (this was before the world of smart phones, DVD players, and true gaming systems). If we had the time, we would stop at some of the odd places that you find along the way, the aligator farms, bug museums, and other tourist traps that are just there to take your money, but provide a diversion on a long drive.

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Driving South on I-25
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New Mexico Rock Formation
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Arizona Mountains

With that in mind, we decided to drive to Scottsdale, Arizona, this weekend to spend a week discovering what the city has to offer. Oddly enough, we have not been to Arizona, other than to drive through a portion of it, so we were looking forward to seeing something different. Unfortunately, it was a twelve hour drive without stops and we decided to power through and make it with limited breaks for food and bio-breaks. So, hop in the car with us and join us for a road trip from Colorado to Arizona through the American Southwest.

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View from the Car
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Driving Through New Mexico
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Arizona Border

We drove south through southern Colorado, which was very scenic as most drives down along the front range are. There are parts of Colorado that are not particularly interesting to see, but driving down I-25 towards the New Mexico border is actually a fairly pretty drive, but there are few towns along the way. Once you reach Trinidad, you are almost out of Colorado and you are leaving the majority of the mountains behind you. At this point we have been on the road for about two hours and it is an hour to our first driver change.

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Heading to Southern Colorado
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Bear Crossing – Only in Colorado
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Last of the Colorado Mountains

Once you enter New Mexico, you head down to lower elevations and the scenery becomes more stark in general. The drive takes you all the way from the northern border of New Mexico to the southern border, so you will get to see a wide variety of the natural beauty that the state has to offer. Instead of the large mountains of Colorado, there are colorful plateaus along side desert scenery. Instead of passenger trains, you will see freight trains carrying cargo, coal, and livestock across the country. Once you reach the southern border, you enter Arizona and we are now only four hours to our destination having driven an exhausting eight hours since getting on the road.

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First View of New Mexico
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Just Desert and Highway
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Freight Train

The drive through Arizona is fairly boring as you leave New Mexico and there isn’t anything but prairie desert land until you get near Flagstaff. From there you have some mountains once again, although nothing like those that you find in Colorado and Utah. As we near the Phoenix area, the sky turns dark with a combination of smoke and clouds. There is a wildfire burning in the area and we spend part of the drive covered in smoke. Then the famous Saguaro cactus made their appearance, which are so big that it is hard to explain what they actually look like in-person versus just seeing photos of them. Finally, we reach Scottsdale after twelve and a half hours and we were definitely tired of sitting in the car. It certainly didn’t take us long to fall asleep once we reached our room.

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Arizona Desert
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Mountains, Clouds, and Smoke
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Saguaro Cactus

Road trips might be a badge of honor, something to brag about having survived, but they can also be times for families to bond. Given our time in Europe, we prefer the ease of travel there and wish that we had the same conveniences here, but it is what it is. Since we don’t, in order to truly see this wonderful country, road trips will continue to be a necessity, whether you view them as a blessing or a curse.

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New Mexico Plateaus
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Smoke Rising Above the Desert