What is it about Macaroni and Cheese? It’s my happy food. My ‘it’s all better now’ snack. My ‘I can’t decided what to make for dinner’ dinner. I even like the vegan variety which, in truth, tastes nothing at all like mac and cheese but is still comforting just in its similarity.
I don’t remember eating Macaroni and Cheese in childhood (though I must have, but how can I remember creamed eggs on toast but not mac and cheese??) As a teenager I made it from the box. By my twenties I still used the box but I added black pepper and tomatoes, or tuna and parsley. Fancy. And I confess that even now I enjoy the box, it’s ten minutes to all better now and sometimes that is the best thing.
I spiced things up a bit with chile powder, peppers and onion.And the resulting meal, served with a salad, was over the top yummy.
Spicy mac and cheese with avocado, bacon, and chicken
- 1 LB boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast
- 1 Poblano Pepper
- 1/2 medium white or yellow onion chopped
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 8 ounces cooked bacon crumbles
- 5 cups slightly undercooked short pasta like macaroni or mini- penne about 10 ounces uncooked
- 2-3 TBS butter
- the other 1/2 of the onion also chopped
- 1 jalapeno finely chopped
- 3 TBS flour
- 2 cups milk I used buttermilk which added a nice flavor but definitely compromised the creaminess
- 3 cups grated pepper jack cheese
- 1 avocado
- Preheat oven to 375F
- cook bacon, crumble, and set aside
- In a large pot with boiling salted water cook pasta until al dente. Drain
- Preheat a 11-12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 onion and poblano pepper, saute to soften, then add chicken and cook through (about 10-12 minutes) stirring often. add cumin and chile powder, stir to combine, cook for another minute or two. remove from heat and set aside
- to make the sauce, melt butter in a medium skillet (I used the same cast iron pan that I cooked the chicken in, didn’t even rinse it)over medium-low heat. Add the rest of the onion and the jalapeno and cook until softened. Add the flour and stir constantly for about two minutes until no dry bits of flour remain. Add the milk and continue to stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Lower the heat to lowest setting and add two cups of grated cheese, stir until melted and combined.
- combine half the bacon, chicken mixture, sauce and pasta. Scoop into individual ramekins or casserole dish
- top with remaining cheese and bacon crumbles
- bake uncovered until cheese on top is bubbly, about 10-15 minutes for individual ramekins, 20-30 minutes for casserole.
- before serving top with sliced avocado and a bit of Tajin or some green salsa
- serve warm
I baked my bacon in the preheating oven while I prepared the rest of the dish and then crumbled the crispest bits into the sauce reserving the slightly underdone bacon for on top of the cheese
I used buttermilk because that’s all that was in the fridge. The taste was spot on, a nice tangy counterpart to the chilies and onion, but it did curdle ever so slightly- there are so many other components to this dish that it didn’t bother me
can be made several hours or up to a day ahead and baked later. allow extra baking time to heat through. 30 minutes or so for individual, an hour or so for the casserole.