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Chili And Cheese Macaroni

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Comfort food is always welcome on the table. In our house, we love macaroni and cheese in many different variations. To prove it, I shared 12 macaroni and cheese recipes along with a version using buttermilk not too long ago. So here’s another version to add to our growing list of mac and cheese variations.

This time, I incorporated some favorite hot dog toppings, chili and cheese. This Chili and Cheese Macaroni brings together all the spice of chili and the creamy goodness of melted cheese. If this isn’t comfort food, I don’t know what is!

I came across the recipe for ‘Chili Mac’ in a Cook’s Illustrated Make Ahead Recipes magazine and knew it was a dish I needed to make. It had all the food groups represented – meat, dairy, vegetable, grain. There was no question this would be a great recipe after reading it through, but I did adapt slightly. I reduced the amount of chili powder used to cut down on the spice. I also incorporated more cheese for a better balance of chili flavor and creamy cheese throughout the dish. The end result is a great version of mac and cheese. It was even enjoyed by my son (once pureed).

Chili and Cheese Macaroni
recipe slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

table salt
1/2 pound elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked pasta)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (85% lean)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
12 oz Colby Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and add dry macaroni; cook until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup pasta water and drain pasta. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Using the same large pot, wipe dry and heat over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until shimmering. Add ground beef and break it up in pieces to brown. Once browned, remove from pot and discard drippings. Set beef aside.
  4. Add remaining oil to the same large pot and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, garlic, red pepper, chili powder, and cumin; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and begin to brown.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, reserved 3/4 cup pasta water and beef to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until flavors have blended.
  6. Stir in the cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and smooth over with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbling.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining shredded cheese. Return the dish once again in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes until the cheese begins to melt and brown. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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