I can remember the first time I ever had homemade mac and cheese. It was over the course of a blustery holiday season in Canada, in which the grown-ups had arranged a trip to my Great Aunt’s house. I remember being a little kid and staring at my plate as someone plopped a scoop of a vaguely familiar-looking, cheese-drenched pasta mixture alongside the rest of my dinner. Now, bear in mind, at this point in my childhood, I was no stranger to the boxed stuff, and the Kraft Connoisseur within balked that surely there had been a mistake. Surely everybody knew that the casserole that somebody had graciously prepared for our table (like, seriously, were they just going to welcome anything at Christmas dinner?) was an imposter…and then I took a bite.
I spent the rest of my childhood bewildered as to how to recreate what I found in that baked mac and cheese that one Christmas. Now, you and I both know that I have since figured out a way (or two) to make that happen. You, dear reader, have even read my ramblings on the importance of the roux and how mind-blowing I found it that the New York Times figured out a recipe that didn’t require one (gasp!). Which brings us , in a roundabout sort of way, to this recipe, and the time I heard my friend Christian was having a rough semester.
Now, usually, if you are a friend in need, I will invite you over and make you tea and wrap you up in a blanket and ply you with candy or cake or ice cream. While I’ve found that that works almost every time in temporarily alleviating whatever ailment, I guess I saw Christian working so hard to reach his goals, and I felt like I wanted to do something a little bit more thoughtful.
Given that I can see several of his e-mails signed up on my list of followers, and I have received so many recipe-related text messages and referrals to my website from him, I told my dear friend that I would make up a dish specifically for him based on what he was craving (with creative license, you know). This recipe came into existence after Christian’s careful consideration, inspired by a sweet story of his favorite meal from childhood(-ish).
I wrote this exact recipe about a year and a half ago, and I wanted so badly to cheer up my friend that I sent it to him without testing it. Of course, I told him I hadn’t made it yet, and that he could totally wait for the final product. This is the point when I realized just how much Christian trusted my culinary instincts; he tried the recipe without hesitation back then, and has since been making it for his fiance, his family, and his friends (including yours truly) on the regular.
This mac and cheese is, most likely, my actual most popular recipe. The response from Christian & Co. was so overwhelmingly positive that I finally decided to share it with the public (but I beg you, fans and paparazzi–give a gal some SPACE! The rounds of applause everywhere I go at the mere existence of noodles and cheese sauce is just. too. MUCH.).
So here it is, complete with pictures from that time we sat on the rug in the middle of my living room cackling at Sandra Lee’s understanding of how much two shots of vodka equate to and reminiscing about how Christian and I met. While maybe the most delicious part of our dinner involved our first bites of chipotle-infused mac and cheese speckled with fiery, spiced ground turkey, my favorite moment from the entire evening occurred between :55 and 1:00, which Christian paused and rewound, laughing harder and harder each time.
I guess in that moment, I realized how lucky I am that I get to laugh that hard, and that I have friends who laugh that hard with me. These are the people in my life, and I just love them.
Christian’s Chipotle Mac and Cheese
Makes one 8×8-inch Square Pan
16 oz elbow noodles
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz ground turkey breast (or other ground meat of choice)
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne
2 chipotles in adobo, thinly sliced
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup salsa
2 tbsp adobo sauce (from chipotle in adobo can)
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup jack cheese, shredded
1 cup coarsely crushed tortilla chips (optional)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
While the noodles cook, combine oil, turkey, sea salt and black pepper in a large pan, stirring and breaking apart the turkey until fully cooked. Stir in tomato paste, onion, spices, and chipotles, ensuring the turkey is evenly coated. Cook for another couple minutes, until the onions are cooked through. Set aside.
At this point, you can preheat the broiler and prepare an 8×8-inch square pan. For the cheese sauce, combine butter and flour in a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted completely and the mixture has started to brown. Pour in whole milk and vegetable stock, whisking constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Pour in salsa, adobo sauce, garlic (if using), and scallions, whisking until fully incorporated and aromatic. Stir in cheeses and remove from heat.
In a large bowl, stir the noodles, turkey, and cheese sauce until combined. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with chips (if using) and cheddar cheese. Broil until browned on top, about 5-10 minutes. Let sit for a couple of minutes, then serve in whatever portion size you desire (I’m not judging!).