October 25, 2010

Spicy Chili Mac

We were away with family Friday evening and most of Saturday, so when we got home Saturday night, we needed a fast dinner.   Since we didn't know what time we'd get back, I hadn't planned anything specific for Saturday dinner, figuring I'd decide on the way home.   As we drove home, we tossed around ideas.  I wanted something with beef, having had a lot of chicken the past few days and having another chicken dish planned for the next day.  Juli suggested tacos.  I like tacos, but I wanted to do something new, and hopefully a bit more interesting than tacos. 

When I suggested making chili mac, Juli said she'd never had it.  Honestly, I hadn't had it in ages either, and most of the versions I've had over the years have been so unremarkable that I'm not in any hurry to revisit them, but I had some good ideas how to make that simple dish into something much better.  As it turns out, I'd also purchased some serrano chilis that morning at a farmer's market, and those ended up being quite handy.  The rest of the way home I drew up a shopping list, and after a quick stop at the grocery, I was ready to start cooking. 

This has a bit of a kick.  In addition to the cheese, you might want to top it with a spoonful of sour cream, which will help balance the heat.  It's also a pretty fast dish.  I got it ready in probably about 40 minutes, and could probably have done it in less if I'd really tried for speed.   We both loved it, and I expect this one will end up on our short list of good, quick meals.

Spicy Chili Mac

yield:  4 generous servings

1     pound ground beef
1     onion, chopped fine
2     serrano chili peppers (or other amount or type of pepper, to taste), minced fine
3     cans (10 oz) diced tomatoes and green chilis
1/2  cup low-sodium chicken broth
1     can (15 oz) chili beans
2     cups elbow macaroni or similar pasta (we used cellentani)
2/3  teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1     teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper (or to taste)
2/3  cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
       sour cream and/or chopped fresh cilantro to garnish, if desired

Cook the beef in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it is no longer pink, stirring often and using the side of the spoon to break the beef into small chunks. 

Add the onion and chilis and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, chili beans, pasta, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.   Reduce heat to medium and cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir regularly during that time.  

Serve with grated cheese and other garnishes at the table, and with plenty of cold beverage. 

We used two serrano chilis in making this, but one could vary the spice level by changing the amount or the type of chilis used.  Chipotle or jalapeno would work fine, for a less spicy version. 

We used Ro-Tel Original canned tomatoes and green chilis.   For the chili beans, we selected Mrs. Grimes Tex-Mex Style Chili Beans, because I thought the pintos used in that brand would work better in this dish than would the red kidney beans that are more commonly used in canned chili beans.

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