Southwest Mac’n’Cheese & Roasted Chicken Thighs

Okay, when I set out to cook this I didn’t think it would be that complicated. And it’s not, there’s just a lot of steps. The good news is you can make the chicken ahead of time, and the tex mex seasoning can just be something in your cabinet. And once you’ve mastered the cream sauce, you’ll never forget it. That said, it is pretty time intensive. I’d like to tell you that the leftovers are worth it, but THERE AREN’T ANY. So at least there’s that. 

In other news, Josh wasn’t able to come over so all the photography was done with my point’n’shoot by Emil and me. I think it turned out alright.  Also, super thanks to Emil who gave me a second set of hands to make the process easier.

Southwest Roasted Chicken Thighs

2 frozen chicken thighs
1/4 C white vinegar
1/4 C olive oil
1 Tbsp Tex Mex Seasoning

Chicken thighs are a pretty decent staple, as staples go. Once you have ’em down, you can eat on the cheap forevers. A bag of 8 is about $10. And you can cook ’em up from frozen. Yup. 375°F for about 50-60 minutes is all it takes. Shabamba!

For this example, I actually defrosted them for the sake of giving them the flavor boost they’ll need to show up against the mac’n’cheese. To do this, I put the olive oil, vinegar and seasoning in a zip lock bag and mushed it all around until it seemed pretty well mixed. Then I plopped the frozen chicken thighs into the bag, shook it all up, and put that bag in the fridge overnight. When I woke up in the morning, I mushed it all around again, to make sure the chicken was all covered.

Once I was ready to start cooking, I set the oven to 375°F and pulled the thighs out of the fridge, to let them come to room temperature. You can tell you’ve made it when the olive oil turns back to liquid. Then I plopped the thighs on a foiled cookie sheet, and coated them with the tex mex seasoning. I also added a bunch of cauliflower to the pan to see how it would turn out (the answer: delicious). Thawed, they take about 40 min to cook.

 

Tex Mex Seasoning

2 Tbsp Thyme
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Paprika
1 Tsp Black Pepper
1 Tsp White Pepper
1 Tsp Salt

Blend. Store in glass jar. Makes about 1/2 Cup Seasoning. Store as long as you’d store any other dry spice.

 

Southwest Mac’n’Cheese

1 lb. curly pasta (we used Trattolle, but spirals, shells or whatever will do)
1 pt. Heavy Whipping Cream
1 C. Cheddar
1 C. Pepper Jack
1/4 C. Butter
1/4 C. (8 oz. can) mild diced green chiles
1/4 C. bread crumbs
1/2 Onion, sliced
1/2 Bell Pepper or 6 small sweet peppers, sliced
Green Onion, chopped (for garnish)
Tomato, diced (for garnish)

With the chicken in the oven, you can get water on for the pasta and start the cream sauce. Cook pasta as directed. If it finishes early, just strain it, return it to the pot and set it aside.

The basics of a classic cheese sauce is simple. 1 pt heavy whipping cream, 1/4 C butter and 2 C. shredded or grated cheese. Once you have this down, you can dress it up however. Simply put the butter and whipping cream in a sauce pan over medium-low heat and stir the crap out of it. Once the cream has reduced to half the volume it once was, start adding cheese one handful at a time. AND NEVER STOP STIRRING. Idle hands and all. And if you stop stirring the devil will come and spoil your sauce… or at least allow the oil to start to separate.

 

Since this is a Southwest mac, we’re gonna wanna give this a southwest flare. That’s why I went for cheddar and pepper jack instead of some other combos. (Parmesan would make alfredo. White cheddar makes for a good sweet and spicy mac, when combined with sri racha and sweet chili sauce.) Once all the cheese is in, melted and saucy, add whatever seasonings you’re interested in. In this case, the mild green chiles. I chose the chiles for a more queso-y flavor. I thought about adding diced jalapenos for more of a kick, but there will be enough of a kick from all the other spices everywhere. But if you like your food to melt your face, I’d suggest subbing that in.

When everything is blended, remove from heat. Add cheese sauce to pasta and stir together. Transfer to a 3 qt pan. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 375°F for 15 min.

While the pasta is baking, cook up the sliced onions and peppers on the stove top over high heat, until they start to char.

Chop up chicken thighs. Serve over a bed of mac’n’cheese, with a layer of onions and peppers in between. Garnish with tomato and green onion (seriously, this cancels out the heavy flavor and makes this delicious. Plus, more veggies!)

4 thoughts on “Southwest Mac’n’Cheese & Roasted Chicken Thighs

  1. emilgerth

    It was really important to have had some olive oil in the water with the pasta, as that really made it alright to leave sitting for awhile. If you don’t boil the pasta with olive oil in the water, tossing it with some when you set it aside will make everything easier later.

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