Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mexican Macaroni Casserole

Aaaah, I feel so much better, so refreshed.  I just colored by hair, and took about 8 years off of my appearance.  I started going gray when I was in my early 20’s, so… I have a lot of gray.   I go back and forth between long and short hair styles, and the last time that I had short hair I tried to go Au Natural; while it didn’t look horrible, I definitely looked older.  Needless to say I am very grateful for that little bottle of dye. 

Any whooo…on to the food.

I don’t know if you remember me telling you in previous posts that my mom, Little Mama, doesn’t cook.  However, when I was a little girl she had to cook, we didn’t have much money so we couldn’t afford take out, plus I don’t think that people did take out back then (this is going waaay back).  Little Mama made all kinds of casseroles.  Often the base of the casserole was Kraft Dinner and a can of tomatoes; with some kind of veggies and affordable meat tossed in.  Don’t ask what kind of meat, you don’t wanna know.  While I make fun, I do sometimes crave the food I grew up eating.  This casserole is reminiscent of Little Mama’s casseroles but made with quality ingredients.

Here’s what you do.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Sauté the mushrooms and bell peppers over medium high heat, just until they’re soft.

Add the baby spinach to the skillet and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. 

As soon as the spinach has wilted, remove the pan from the heat and set to the side.

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

Get the cheese sauce started by melting 2 tablespoons of butter, and whisking in 2 tablespoons of flour.  

Cook the flour while whisking for about 3 minutes, this will remove the raw flour taste in the sauce.

Slowly whisk the milk into the butter and flour.

When the milk is hot, add the cheese.

I use whatever cheese I had in my fridge, which happened to be gruyere and aged cheddar, and yellow cheddar. 


 I also added reduced fat Velveeta cheese to the sauce, just to lighten up the fat and calories. 

The cheese sauce and the tomatoes help to mellow out (but not mask) the processed cheese flavor, but if you adore the taste of processed cheese you could go with all Velveeta, and you would reduce the fat and calories even further.


When all the cheese has melted, add the can of tomatoes.  

Remove the sauce from the heat.

I used Rotel tomatoes which are spicy; if you don’t want the spice, then use stewed tomatoes.  

The pasta water should now be boiling, add a big handful of salt to the water; then add the pasta.  Only cook the pasta for 6 minutes.  Then drain the pasta, but please don’t rinse it.

I had a rotisserie chicken in the refrigerator, so I shredded half of it, and just heated it up a little.  

Add that to the pasta along with the cheese sauce, veggies…

…and a couple of chopped scallions.

Pour that into a casserole dish, and top with some crushed tortilla chips.

Bake the pasta until it’s hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Then just dish yourself up a big ol’ bowl of yumminess!

*Leave the chicken out and you have a healthy vegetarian meal!

Serve 4 to 6
1              Tbsp.      Cooking oil
4              oz.         Mushrooms, quartered (if the mushrooms are large, give them a chop)
½                          Red bell pepper, medium dice
1-6           oz. bag    Fresh baby spinach
¼             tsp.        salt
¼             tsp.        pepper
½             tsp.        Garlic powder
2              Tbsp.      Butter
2              Tbsp.      Flour
1              cup        milk
1 ½          cups       Cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, fontina; shredded
8              oz.         Velveeta processed cheese, reduced fat, cut into cubes
1- 10         oz. can    Rotel tomatoes, (stewed tomatoes can be substituted)
¾             box        Penne pasta, a box is 16 oz.
3              cups       Cooked chicken, shredded (about half of a rotisserie chicken)
2                           Scallions, chopped
½             cup        Tortilla chips, crushed
1.        Pre heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.        Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and bell pepper; sauté until the veggies are soft, about 3 minutes.
3.       Add the spinach to skillet and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  When all the spinach has wilted down, remove the pan from the heat.  Set to the side.
4.       Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
5.       Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a 3 quart sauce pan.  Whisk the flour into the melted butter and cook, while whisking for about 3 minutes.
6.       Slowly whisk the milk into the flour butter mixture. 
7.       When the milk is hot, whisk in the cheeses.
8.       When the cheeses have melted, stir the tomatoes into the sauce.  Remove the pan from the heat and set to the side.
9.       When the water comes to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, and the pasta.  Cook the pasta for only 6 minutes.  Drain the pasta.
10.   If your chicken is cold, then just heat it through.
11.   Stir the cooked veggies, cheese sauce and chicken and scallions into the pasta.
12.   Pour the pasta into a casserole dish, top with the crushed tortilla chips, and bake for 30 minutes.

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  1. This is a definite comfort food dish! Perfect for a cold evening.

  2. trying this tonight! thanks :)