Sunday, January 11, 2015

Captivating Casseroles #SundaySupper...Featuring King Ranch Mac and Cheese

This week's #SundaySupper theme is near and dear to my heart: Captivating Casseroles. There's so much to love about casseroles: they're a comforting, complete meal -- perfect for chilly Winter evenings. Our host for this week's event is Alice from A Mama, Baby & Shar-pei in the Kitchen. I grew up eating casseroles, and I still love them today...especially when they're as fun and flavorful as the King Ranch Mac and Cheese I'm sharing today. This is my personal spin on a very popular recipe from Southern Living magazine. This dish is a crazy-good mashup of two Southern favorites: King Ranch casserole and gooey macaroni and cheese. It's a keeper, y'all!

I made a few changes to the original recipe to suit our tastes. I omitted the bell pepper and added several cloves of garlic and chopped cilantro. To echo the tortilla flavor of traditional King Ranch casserole and add a bit of texture, I added a topping of crushed tortilla chips and a sprinkle of green onions. You'll also notice two ingredients that I don't often feature: cream of chicken soup and pasteurized prepared cheese product. These two ingredients are key to the overall flavor and texture of the delicious cheese sauce. This is serious comfort food, folks!

King Ranch Mac and Cheese
adapted from Southern Living
  • 8 ounces short pasta -- I used small tubes, but elbows or penne would work nicely too
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced or grated
  • 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 8 ounces pasteurized prepared cheese product
  • 3/4 lb. chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces [NOTE: can use 3 cups pre-cooked chicken]
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, diced
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1.5 tsp. chile powder
  • 1 tbs. chopped cilantro
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1.5 cups shredded Colby-jack or cheddar cheese
  • Crushed tortilla chips
  • 2 green onions, sliced
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions; while the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Add the olive oil to a large oven-safe skillet over med-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the diced chicken and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked.
Step 2: Add the tomatoes and cubed cheese product to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the cheese is melted into the other ingredients. Add the soup, cream cheese, and milk. Stir every few minutes, until the cream cheese melts and is thoroughly combined with the sauce. 
Step 3: Add the chile powder and cilantro to the sauce. Stir well to evenly combine the seasonings into the cheese sauce. Reduce heat to low and let the sauce simmer until the pasta is cooked.
Step 4: Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and stir until everything is evenly combined. Sprinkle the crushed tortilla chips on top of the mac and cheese, then top with the shredded cheddar and green onions. Bake until the mac and cheese is bubbly and the cheese is just starting to brown. 
This is hands down the best casserole I've had in ages -- it's the perfect combination of mac and cheese and King Ranch casserole! The sauce is cheesy, with the perfect amount of spice -- and the melted cheese and crunchy tortilla topping add fantastic flavor and texture. Each bite is an explosion of tastes and textures -- and I can't wait to make this dish again. Another plus: it makes a lot, and it freezes well. I froze half of this batch for a busy weeknight dinner in the next week or two. 

If you love casseroles as much as I do, you'll want to make sure to check out all of the other great casseroles that the #SundaySupper crew is sharing today. We've got everything from appetizers and main dishes...and even a few dessert casseroles to satisfy your sweet tooth!!

Captivating Breakfast Casseroles
Appetizing Casserole Sides
Main Event Casseroles
Decadent Dessert and Sweet Casseroles
    Sunday Supper MovementBe sure to join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter today! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our lively weekly Twitter chat starts at 7:00 pm ET/6:00 pm CST. Simply follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in on the fun chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest boardWould you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

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