Mexican food is what I call my "baseline craving." Anytime, anywhere, I'm pretty much always down for Mexican. On the other hand, Caroline's baseline craving is macaroni and cheese. Whenever I ask her what she wants for dinner, that's her immediate request. So one fateful day last month, I was craving Mexican food, and planned to make chicken fajitas for dinner. That afternoon, she came home from school and requested mac and cheese. It was cold and rainy that day, and comfort food definitely sounded good, but I wanted fajitas, darn it! What's a mom to do? Put your hands together, my friend.
Fajita mac and cheese. Oh yes. Creamy, cheesy, noodles swimming with spicy chicken and sautéed onions and peppers? This stuff is good. I loved the combination of the sweet peppers and onions, the rich and creamy sauce, and the slightly spicy chicken. And of course who can resist gobs of melted cheddar and pepperjack? Not I. Joey couldn't sing its praises enough, and while I cleaned the kitchen, I couldn't stop myself from grabbing bite after bite from the casserole dish.
This was a wonderfully comforting take on Mexican food. While I already have tons of recipes for macaroni and cheese in my arsenal, it never hurts to add another - because you never know when you'll have simultaneous cravings for Mexican food and mac and cheese.
Chicken Fajita Mac and Cheese
adapted from Annie's Eats
- 12 oz pasta shapes
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- pinch of cayenne
- 3 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
- 2 chicken breast halves, trimmed of any visible fat
- 1 medium red onion, halved pole-to pole and thinly sliced
- 3 medium bell peppers (various colors), seeded and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles, drained
- 3/4 cup sour cream (light is fine)
- 8 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
- 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and butter a 2 qt baking dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine the cumin, chile powder, salt, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the chicken.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, and cook about 7 minutes per side, or until it's cooked through. Remove from the pan, allow to cool slightly, then shred or chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the now-empty skillet, and add the onions and pepper, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and green chiles and cook an additional minute.
In a large bowl, mix together the pasta, chicken, sautéed vegetables, sour cream, and all but 1/2 cup of the cheeses. Stir until well-combined, taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed, then spread into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top, transfer to the oven, and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.