(Fleetwood) Chili Mac

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any of my kitchen forays, and this week, I’ve got a doozy for you. Work has been swamped the past few weeks. We’ve been steadily approaching the end of a grading period, which always adds to the normal day-to-day grading grind. On top of that, I’ve been knee deep in advisory stuff that has taken much of my time. Needless to say, time in the kitchen has been spent out of necessity much more than it has been out of the love of cooking. Luckily, this week’s recipe combines flavor and convenience in a meal you can have on your table in minutes. If you’re just ready to see the recipe card, feel free to jump to it. Otherwise, enjoy the story of how this easy, cheesy bowl of comfort was created.

I was inspired this week to create a meal in honor of Fleetwood Mac, and what better way to do so than to create something that is as comforting and palatable as their music? So many of these ingredients are pantry staples I already had on hand, so it also clocks in as one of the most affordable recipes I’ve included on the blog, too.

Chili mac is one of those recipes that just about everyone has a recipe for, and it’s also fairly versatile. You can play around with different types of ground meat, different (or multiple) beans, the addition of veggies, different cheeses. Find a combination that works for you and your palate. For me, this is a pretty basic and fairly healthy option that’ll please just about anyone.

I already had a box of elbow macaroni in the pantry, and I always keep a few yellow onions around the house, so the only items I had to pick up from the store were the kidney beans and Ro-Tel. I used the original Ro-Tel, but there are different varieties that vary in their degree of spice that you could easily sub in if you’d like a little more heat. If you’re not into the processed cheese flavor of Velveeta, you could probably also go the old fashioned route and make a cheese sauce with a roux and some cheddar and whatnot, but remember…we’re going for convenience here, and nothing is more convenient and classic American than a big old block of Velveeta. The same could be said of the chili seasoning mix. If you want to make your own, go off, sis! I’m all about the easy.

Start by browning the ground turkey and diced onions in a Dutch oven on medium high. Make sure you break up the chunks of meat as much as possible with a wooden spoon so that you’re left with fairly small bits. This’ll help it cook considerably faster and it’ll allow the mixture to wrap around your noodles a little better at the end. Once most of the pink is gone and the onions have softened, you’re ready to move on to the next step. This should happen after about 7-8 minutes. Extra bonus? If you buy the super lean stuff, you don’t even need to drain it. I told you I’m all about the easy…

While all that’s going down, boil the pasta in super salty water. Geoffrey Zakarian on the Food Network once said that the water should be as salty as the ocean, and I’ve tried to live by that standard. If you already have pasta in your cabinet and it’s not an elbow, by all means, use it. Anything will work here. I like the elbows that have little grooves on the outsides of them because they hold sauce a little bit better, but anything small and bite-sized will work. Rotini, bow ties, cavatappi, etc.
Mix in the chili seasoning packet and let it cook for a couple minutes until the spices are super fragrant. At this point, the mixture should resemble taco meat (with the addition of onions, of course). It should still look fairly dry, and that’s okay. This is why you didn’t drain the meat earlier.
Mix in the drained beans and Ro-Tel. If you’re worried about the moisture level at this point, you can fill the can of Ro-Tel with water and put that in there, too, but I didn’t find it was necessary to do that. Either way, if the mixture ends up being a little too wet, you can just cook it down until some of the moisture leaves. It should be saucy, but not soupy. Let it simmer for about five minutes so the flavors can mix and mingle. You want the spiciness of the Ro-Tel to really penetrate the ground meat, so don’t rush the process.
I assume you don’t need photos of the diced Velveeta or what it looked like all mixed together, but if you’d like to see them, I’ve included those on my Instagram. The finished product should look like a fancier Hamburger Helper, and it’ll be packed with ooey gooey, cheesy, velvety flavors and textures that are backed up with a heat that just kicks in right at the end. I topped mine with sour cream, but if you wanted to be even fancier, you could add some green herbs or chives. Bon appetit!

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