Growing up, I spent every summer at Camp Mystic in the hill country outside of Austin. These years brought me together with my best lifelong friends and instilled in me a deep love for Texas at a young age. Of the myriad Mystic memories I hold dear, many seem to be linked to my stomach. Anyone who has spent any time Mystic would agree when I say that the food is absolutely out of this world.
While every year at Mystic is incredible in its own way, one’s last summer as a camper is particularly special. That year, we were given various responsibilities including leading the younger girls and serving meals to all of the campers. Because of this, we spent a lot of time in the dining hall together, where some of my all-time favorite memories were made.
Richard Eastland, the well-loved chef at Mystic, never forgot to thank and treat us that summer with special snacks to munch on while we set up for each meal. And one of Richard’s go-to crowd pleasers? Jalapeño poppers. These gooey, slightly spicy treats were always demolished before the thought to savor them even crossed our minds.
Given that summer is on its way, I’ve found myself dreaming of those perfect Mystic days. As a way to pay homage to Richard and his surprise treats, I whipped up a recipe that’s just as yummy as the original dish. The reaction on my boyfriend’s face when I told him what I had in store was just as enthusiastic as when I’d spy Richard with a hot platter of this classic comfort food.
I made this recipe super simple (and a bit healthier) with a box of Banza’s chickpea pasta mac-and-cheese. While this version is gluten free and adds a punch of protein, any boxed variety will do. With the addition of more shredded cheese, jalapeños, breadcrumbs and bacon, this dish has everything you need for a drool-worthy side dish.
And the best part? Like most casseroles, this baked mac-and-cheese tastes even better the next day. So go ahead and whip up a batch the day before your next summer barbecue, and you’re in business.
So while this recipe was inspired by a memorable summer treat, it’s also an indulgent and comforting dish that’s ideal any time of year. Plus, the simple ingredients are the perfect way to spice up basic boxed mac-and-cheese. And who knows? This may just become a summer tradition of your own!
- 1 box Banza Mac & Cheese (shells & white cheddar variety), or any boxed version of your choice
- 1 ½ cups fiesta blend shredded cheese, plus more for topping
- 2 tbs butter
- 2 small jalapeños, one diced, one thinly sliced
- splash of milk
- 4 pieces of bacon, cooked & crumbled
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
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