Chili Mac and Cheese

Chili Mac and Cheese

‘Tis the season to eat dinner from a bowl. Warm, chunky, hearty, comforting bowls o’savory goodness. Every weekend for the past month, I’ve made varying stews and soups in quantities far too large for only two people to eat. It’s been amazing. Minus the microwave reheating that burns the tips of my fingers.

Nevermind. The goodness is worth it.

We made this particular dish on the first cold weekend Austin had this Fall. Like any true Texan, I convinced myself that 55 degrees and rain called for fleece, a crackling fire, and some hearty meal that could sustain me through any Day After Tomorrow-like conditions. And this delivered.

Mac and cheese with protein and veggies. And cheese. Because America.

It actually reminds me of a dish that was a staple in our house growing up. My mom made a soupy concoction of ground meat, ranch style beans, Rotel tomatoes and corn, poured into a (now discontinued) taco shell in the shape of a boat.

We called it Taco Boat.

The name sounds so normal within our 5-person squad that has relished this dish for years, but to the average listener, the name is bewildering. I remember trying to explain what exactly the food in front of me was to a fellow third-grader in 1998 over lunch in the school cafeteria, and all that resulted was confusion for both parties.

This Chili Mac and Cheese is very similar, and brought back the warm fuzzies of childhood that become rarer and rarer as my age gets older and older.

It will never top that famed Taco Boat of my childhood, simmered slowly on my mom’s stove and served with a patriotic amount of cheddar cheese melted on top, but it is an adequate grownup replacement for two reasons: 1. She lives a little too far away and has more important things to do than to make this for me regularly, and 2. My adult version meets the boy’s strict requirements for protein intake.

Like any chili or soup, its recipe ingredients can be regarded as more of an outline than a strict guideline. Don’t have kidney beans? Double up on black beans. Hate ground hamburger because of the Chick-Fil-A commercials? Use ground turkey. Don’t have Rotel Tomatoes where you live? Just give up on enjoying life right now.

When this one’s turn comes around again, I intend to spruce it up with a cup or two of corn kernels, maybe a jalapeno, and if I’m feeling refined, perhaps penne pasta instead of elbow macaroni.

Now go, enjoy the changing of the seasons, and make a new delicious memory with your family. Topped with lots of cheese.

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Kate Nelson

I’m a wife and mother to two daughters. I was a very, very geeky kid and spent my many years of youth reading science fiction and playing Dungeons & Dragons. I live in Austin with my family and love Star Wars. In here you find a whole lot of food recipes.

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