This post is part of the “Be a Blessing” series, devoted to providing simple recipes, ideas, and tips in order to care for others when they need it most.
This right here is classic comfort food. What is it about our bodies (especially when we’re busy and low on sleep) that makes us crave comfort food? I’m sure there’s a scientific answer for that. But my answer is this King Ranch Chicken Mac & Cheese.
It’s super cheesy, full of southwestern flavor, and oh-so-comforting. And it makes a great meal for new parents, someone who is recovering from an injury, or a friend going through another life-changing event.
You know what mac & cheese is. But what’s with the “king ranch”? Traditional King Ranch Casserole is a classic southwestern-inspired dish that includes lightly fried corn tortillas, chicken, southwestern spices, and peppers in a cheesy sauce. It is delicious.
But this King Ranch Mac & Cheese takes it to another level. It has all the good stuff, like sautéed peppers and onions.
And a super simple cream sauce made with half & half, milk, chili powder, and cumin.
And then lots of cheese stirred into the sauce. I used 4 ounces of cream cheese here to make the sauce more stable when reheated (which is key for taking a meal to someone!).
You combine the cheesy sauce with cilantro, cooked pasta, and chicken. I used a rotisserie chicken that I pulled off the bone and chopped. You could also opt to use 2 lbs of cooked and chopped chicken breasts or chicken thighs.
This mac & cheese recipe doesn’t require any time in the oven, unless you are reheating it. It can be served right away, topped with crushed tortilla chips and fresh cilantro.
If you’re bringing King Ranch Mac & Cheese to someone, I’d suggest including salad greens and dressing (or another lighter vegetable, since this is a fairly decadent dish!). A loaf of Cinnamon Streusel Apple Bread for the next morning sure wouldn’t hurt, either!
More recipes from the Be a Blessing series:
Simple Baked Ziti
Cinnamon Streusel Apple Bread
Easy Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
Authentic Mexican Rice
White Chicken Chili with Potatoes and White Beans
Super Flaky Southern Biscuits
Pull-Apart Garlic Bread
Fall Vegetable Minestrone with Basil Pistou
King Ranch Chicken Mac & Cheese
- 1 lb dried pasta I used gemelli
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper finely chopped
- 1 poblano pepper finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cups half & half
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 oz cream cheese softened
- 1 rotisserie chicken meat pulled off the bone and chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro chopped
- For garnish: cilantro crushed tortilla chips
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (follow package directions). Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and poblano pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 6–8 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, and salt. Cook for 1 minute more.
- Sprinkle the flour over the top. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the half & half and milk. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2–3 minutes. Whisk in the shredded cheeses and cream cheese.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, chopped chicken, and ¾ of the cilantro. Pour the cheese sauce over the top. Stir to combine.
- Transfer the mac & cheese to a greased 13x9 inch casserole dish.
- Top with crushed tortilla chips and the rest of the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
- Shred the cheese yourself to avoid an overly thick sauce (packaged cheese contains potato starch or cornstarch, which thickens the sauce too much). If using pre-shredded cheese, whisk in up to ½ cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce.
- To give as a gift (or to reheat): follow the recipe through step #5. Cover with foil. Mac & cheese can be reheated in a 350°F oven until warm. Garnish with tortilla chips and cilantro when ready to serve (otherwise the tortilla chips will get soggy).