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Mexican Mac & Cheese

August 3, 2011

First I want to begin by thanking all of my wonderful blog readers for their tremendous support. For those of you who may not have read yesterday’s post, I had a tough day with regard to my business.  I was extremely touched by the family, friends, and readers that reached out to lend their voices of support.  It was a great reminder that there are people who believe in me and that make my hard work worthwhile.  Thank you.

What better way to thank all of you then to share another tremendously tasty mac & cheese recipe?  And this one is a doozey!  Featuring spicy green chiles, flavorful salsa, a mixture of spices, and of course, cheese, this mac & cheese hits a home run.  Well a figurative home run at least.  Cheese is amazing and all, but I don’t think it can play sports quite yet.  All (very stale) jokes aside, this dish can be served as a satisfying main course or a flavorful side dish, omitting the ground turkey if you prefer.

Mexican Mac & Cheese
Yields: 6 Main Course Servings, 8 Side Dish Servings

1 tablespoon Olive oil
1 pound Ground turkey breast (or lean ground beef)
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter
1 tablespoon All purpose flour
1 cup Milk (hot, but not boiling; low-fat is fine)
1 4.5-ounce can Diced mild green chiles (or roasted Anaheim pepper)
2 tablespoons Salsa (home-made or high quality store-bought)
1/4 teaspoon Ground cumin
2 tablespoons Sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 Garlic cloves (chopped)
1 teaspoon Paprika
2 1/2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
12 ounces Small shell-shaped pasta (or any other small shaped pasta)
Salt (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the turkey and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain fat and set aside.
3. Cook the pasta in large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until almost al dente.
4. Meanwhile, in a heavy nonstick saucepan melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat, then sprinkle in the flour. Cook for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the hot milk all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon. Return to the stove and, over a medium high heat, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens, about 5-7 minutes. If any lumps remain, whisk the sauce with a wire whisk for a few moments. Add the green chiles, salsa, cumin, sour cream, mustard, paprika, and 2 cups cheese. Stir to mix and set aside.
5. Drain the cooked pasta and toss with the cheese sauce. Add ground turkey mixture and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the mixture into a 1 1/2-2 quart baking dish with 4-inch sides coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top, and dot with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter.
6. Bake the casserole until bubbly and the top is lightly browned in places, 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.

Kate’s Thoughts

The above recipe already features many changes from its original form, so I cannot say I have too much more to add this time around.  I sort of felt like I was making a healthy spicy cheese dip when I was mixing this together.  You know the one featuring Velveeta, the only cheese I won’t eat, and a can of Rotel? I must say that the final outcome was much more delicious though.

We chose to use orecchiette, small ear shaped pasta, for this dish and I must recommend it.  Each little ear would cradle a little bit of cheese and meat making for a delicious bite!  I would also recommend using a mixture of cheddar and monterey jack cheese.  I’ve already increased the amount of salsa used, but for even more heat and flavor, you might consider using a bit of pepper jack cheese.

And last but not least, we also chose to top our mac & cheese casserole with some crushed tortilla chips for added crunch.  I thought it was a great addition, but it didn’t look as pretty.  We might try to make “bread crumbs” out of corn tortillas for the top next time for a slightly different texture.

Adapted from Macaroni & Cheese by Marlena Spieler

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