Spicy Mac & Cheese



This is not your Mama’s macaroni & cheese… but it is a definite crowd pleaser!

I love comfort food… I mean, who doesn’t? It evokes warm memories of home and family and a simpler time… which is why we crave it on rainy, cold days and when life throws us a curve ball.

I love to eat this on its own as a meal, but it’s also great paired with my Drunken Country Ribs… I’ll post that recipe at a later date.

Ingredients
1 pkg Creamette jumbo elbow macaroni
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded Mexican blend
1/2 cup  shredded Swiss or Jarlsburg cheese
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons butter
2 tsps of salt
1 tsp pepper
Cholula Original hot sauce (or whatever your favorite is – this is one of mine)
salt & pepper to taste
1 sm can Ortega Diced Green Chilies (if you like it really spicy you can use their diced jalapeños instead)
1 sm sweet onion – diced
1/2 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs – they’re made from bread after the crust is removed, which gives them a light airy texture. If you can’t find Panko, Corn Bread Crumbs are great)

Preparation

Sauté diced onion in 2 tablespoons butter until translucent. Don’t overcook, they’ll be cooking longer in the oven.

Boil macaroni until tender, drain and put into shallow baking dish (glass or ceramic cake pan works best). While noodles are boiling you can make your bechamel sauce.  In a medium saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat until melted.  Add the flour and stir until smooth.  Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Once removed from heat, slowly add the grated cheeses and continue stirring. NOTE: If you add the cheese while still on the heat it will curdle up and that when you get a grainy gritty texture. You want a smooth, cheesy bechamel! Once all cheese is incorporated, season with salt and pepper.

Fold in bechamel sauce and green chilies and stir until all noodles are covered and ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Add more salt and pepper if needed and Cholula Hot Sauce to *taste.
*I always take a taste a spoonful before baking to make sure it’s spicy enough or to see if it needs more salt or pepper.

Ready To Cook?
*Sprinkle Panko across the top until evenly, but not completely covered. Bake at 375º for 20 minutes or until cheese is slightly brown & crunchy around edges (you know this is the best part!)

*For a more golden crunchy topping… sprinkle a few drops of olive oil in a bowl and toss panko crumbs until evenly (but lightly) coated. Then sprinkle on mac & cheese.

The Perfect Bite
Who are we kidding? Every bite of this is a perfect bite!

The Perfect Pairing
With its zesty Mexican flavors the perfect beverage for this dish is an ice cold bottle of Negra Modelo.

Did You Know? You can reduce the amount of tears you shed while cutting onions if you use a really sharp knife and a cold onion. A dull knife used on an over-ripe room temp onion will make you cry a river of tears. I always use sweet onions because they’re less tear-inducing than yellow or white onions. Also, for a little more complicated but cry-proof solution… check out this video.

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Baked Almond Chicken Breast with Sliced Avocado


This is a very simple recipe that takes less than 30 minutes to cook… as long as you marinade the chicken the night before.

Ingredients

1-2 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 avocado, sliced
1 pkg Good Seasons Italian Dressing
1/3 cup light vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 fresh basil leaves, whole

The Night Before:
First, start with the Italian dressing for marinade. I am cheating a bit since I’m using Good Seasons Italian Dressing (but it even comes with a cute little cruet in the starter kit!). All it takes is one of their magic little seasoning packets, your own cider vinegar, water, and vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance)… and voila! You will have a dressing that people will crave (friends are constantly asking me to “Bring that salad… you know, the one with the dressing!”). Just follow the directions on the packet. Plan to keep plenty of it in your pantry… you will find dozens of uses for it!

Okay, now put your chicken in a zip lock and add the dressing as a marinade. Zip closed and shake to make sure the dressing completely covers the chicken… then refrigerate overnight.

Ready to Cook?
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour all the contents from the zip lock into the baking dish. You’ll cook the chickenn in the remaining marinade. Bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes. Then remove and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Some ovens may vary… but be sure not to over-cook the chicken or it will dry out.But for a small to medium sized chicken breast, 25 minutes it should still be juicy but you should not see pink in the middle of  the chicken breast. If using pre-cut chicken tenderloins, reduce total cooking time to 20 minutes.  This recipe works great on the BBQ grill, as well.

Slice half of an avocado and stack on the center of your plate. Place chicken pieces on ton and garnish with basil leaves.

The Perfect Bite:
For a mouth watering experience, be sure to stack a cut of chicken, a slice of almond and a piece of avocado together on your fork… and enjoy! Feel free to make appropriate noises of delight.

The Perfect Pairing:
Try a chilled glass of Bolla Pinot Grigio. It’s light and smooth and perfect for a warm Spring evening. $9-$10 a bottle.

Did You Know?
Americans drink red wine too warm and white wine too cold. If you open and set chilled white wine out at room temp for 10 minutes before serving, you will be able to taste the wine as it was meant to taste. And the opposite goes for red wine… it should be chilled for 10 minutes before serving… Read more here.