The Land O'Lakes Blog

— Bringing inspiration to those who share our love of good food. —
Southwestern Macaroni & Cheese: The Perfect Potluck Pitch-In!

Southwestern Macaroni & Cheese: The Perfect Potluck Pitch-In!

September 15, 2011
Blog Author Image


Potluck season is finally here! In fact we have planned a potluck for this weekend.  I always have a question about what to bring. I thought this time I would make a quick, easy side dish, Southwestern Macaroni & Cheese, that everyone could enjoy!
There will be 4 adults and 4 little boys under the age of 5 (insert appropriate gasp and wish us well!).  It’s always a challenge to find the right recipe that even our pickiest eaters will dig into. This makes PERFECT sense! Oh, I also forgot to mention that 3 out of the 4 boys are Gluten-Free - but I do have a great solution here that works for this group - I’ll share more about that later! 
I’m not an expert chef, so I always tend to get a little nervous about my prep and cooking times.  It was a relief to find the “prep time” and “total time” for this recipe were on the mark!   I actually felt at ease leaving this recipe to do until the last minute BECAUSE it is a quick, easy recipe to put together.  With the 25-30 minute cook time, it actually gives me perfect timing to get everyone ready to head out the door to the pot luck!  Now, if only my kids could be that organized with their “prep” and “total” times!
I prefer to get my ingredients together while the pasta is cooking to help with time management.
Let’s get started by heating the oven to 350 degrees and getting all the ingredients ready. I cook the pasta according to the package directions.  When the pasta is cooked I drain off the water and then place it into a lightly greased 1 1/2qt. casserole. 

We always have helpers at our house! This recipe is great to let kids help make because there is just a few ingredients and it’s easy to make. 

If I only could get them to stop eating the ingredients though while they help.

Meanwhile, combine the American cheese slices and milk in a 2-quart saucepan. Cook this over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5-8 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Next, stir in the salsa and continue stirring the cheese sauce.  We are the lucky recipients of a picky eater, so making this with a mild salsa to reduce the “kick” a bit helps encourage a trial bite or two.

Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and then stir to combine the pasta and cheese sauce.

Top the pasta with black beans and shredded pepper jack cheese.  To reduce the “kick” even more, you could substitute cheddar cheese for the pepper jack cheese.

I usually cover my macaroni and cheese with aluminum foil for about the first 15 minutes of the baking time and remove it the last 10 minutes.  This helps to prevent the cheese from browning too quickly.  The total baking time is 25-30 minutes.  Wish I could lie and tell you that having a clean oven helps.... but sorry the evidence is against me! 

Add chopped tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro to the top if you like.

I also have found that this is an easy mid-week dinner to make, too - I have added in chicken and voila! It’s main course material.
As mentioned before, we have several friends who are gluten-free.  This recipe can EASILY be made to accommodate a gluten-free diet.  I just simply replace the traditional pasta with gluten-free rice pasta.


As our calendar is now starting to fill up with evening potlucks, pitch-ins and cookouts planning to take Southwestern Macaroni & Cheese guarantees bringing home an empty dish. 
Please feel free to share with others and leave me a comment. I’m looking forward to hearing how you liked Southwestern  Macaroni & Cheese.

Come back in a few days when Amanda will share a fun cupcake idea.

Alex is paid to write for the Land O’Lakes Recipe Buzz® Blog.

Back to Top

Leave a Comment

Please note, all submissions are screened for content deemed appropriate by Land O'Lakes. Comments are published within 3 business days.


Can't wait to try this recipe. My sons love a little spice to their Mac and cheese

Posted January 04, 2014 by Mary

please have a print version that does not include pictures etc

Posted December 19, 2012 by m elliott
Test Kitchen Comment
From: Cindy
Thanks for your comment. Here is an idea. If you click on the underlined name of the recipe in the blog copy you will go to the recipe itself and can print the recipe without photos.
Posted December 20, 2012

I think this is a great idea!!! However, I would use a mixture of cream cheese and freshly grated cheddar in place of the American cheese slices, both for health and flavor. Another great tip for making pasta bakes using gluten free rice pasta is to only parboil the noodles. Rice noodles turn to must much quicker than wheat noodles. By only boiling the noodles for two minutes and then allowing them to finish cooking in the oven gives the "al dente" goodness traditional pastas deliver. Hope that helps; I am excited to try this!!! http;//

Posted September 17, 2011 by Katie | Healthnut Foodie

Can't wait to try this, your other dishes have been such a hit with our friends ! We are all checking Land O Lakes for new ideas!

Posted September 15, 2011 by Nicole

I think I may just have to try this this weekend. Looks really yummy!

Posted September 15, 2011 by Barb

This looks amazing! Wait until my husband hears about this one, I am sure there will not be any leftovers. Now, time to schedule a potluck!

Posted September 15, 2011 by amy