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Sunday, August 2, 2015

King Ranch Vege-Chicken, Mac and Cheese

King Ranch Vege-Chicken Mac & Cheese

Once again we journey back down to the King Ranch (no kin of mine - they're rich/I'm not) to borrow a recipe and vegetarianize it for potluck. This is a lovely one that turned out ridiculously delicious. Again, this is a potluck dish and therefore celebratory in nature. I do not suggest you make a whole skilletful of this stuff and eat it by yourself (even if you do share some with your wife and the dog). It's made to be consumed in normal portions at Sabbath potlucks where calories do not count as we all know.

If you've tried out my King Ranch Chicken recipe, you have a general idea where we're going. It's a fresh, Southwestern Tex-Mex take on the macaroni and cheese casserole. Mostly, the big difference between it and King Ranch Chicken is that we're substituting macaroni for tortillas. It's really good and won't last long on the potluck serving table, especially if you draw attention to it by baking it in a big iron skillet. There's just something about serving things in a big iron skillet that makes them look that much more tasty.

Here's how it works:

  1. Macaroni or similar pasta
  2. Salt (to taste)
  3. Milk
  4. Loma Linda Chicken Chunks or other vegetarian chicken substitutes like Worthington Fri-Chik, Worthington Diced Chik or even cut up Morningstar Farms Chicken Nuggets or Patties.
  5. Cream of Mushroom soup
  6. Cheddar Cheese
  7. 1/4 to 1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
  8. Velveeta
  9. Chopped onion
  10. Chopped bell peppers
  11. Margarine
  12. Picante sauce or (if you like it a bit hotter) Ro-Tel Tomatoes and Chilis (small can)
  13. Chili Powder
  14. Cumin
  15. Tortilla chip crumbs
  16. Black olives (optional)
  1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put a big pot of water on to boil.
  2. When the pot of water boils add enough macaroni to fill the skillet after the macaroni swells up, or (as I did) throw in bits of leftover rotini, pene or whatever loose leftover dried pasta you have hanging around the kitchen. I like the variety and it's a great way to use up any leftover macaroni products you have in your cupboard. Don't worry about quantity. The recipe is very forgiving.
  3.  While the macaroni is boiling, get out your big iron skillet or a dutch oven and saute' a handful of chopped onions and a handful of chopped bell peppers till they soften. I threw in a few mild red bell peppers and an even fewer hot red peppers for color.  You can use any color bell pepper you want. 
  4. When the peppers are done, set them aside in a small bowl, put a light smear of olive oil on the bottom of the skillet and cook the Chick'n Chunks till they start to brown.
  5. Meanwhile back at the Ranch, your macaroni should be done.  Drain it and pour it into a large mixing bowl.  Add a tablespoon of margarine and an eighth cup of milk or so, 4 to 6 ounces of Velveeta cut into cubes to make them easier to melt.  Stir well until the cheese begins to melt. Add sour cream if you want to. Makes things smooth and nice.
  6. At this point, I like to add leftover cheeses to the mix. This time I had some provolone slices I cut into strips and some Parmesan I sprinkled into the mix. You can also add the cheese packets from Kraft Mac & Cheese boxes too. The cheese flavors make a nice mixed flavor. Don't add the cheddar cheese yet.
  7. As the cheese gets melted, add the onions, peppers and by now cooked Chick'n Chunks. Stir vigorously.  Stir in Rotel tomatoes & chilis or Picante Sauce. For a nice Tex-Mex I use either Pace Picante Sauce or San Antonio Riverwalk Picante' Sauce (available at Walmart). I go mild, but knock yourself out. Both come in medium and hot also.  Rotel even has a "mild" version but where's the fun in that?
  8. Add salt, cumin and chili powder to taste. I only added about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of each. My folk like their Tex-Mex mild. 
  9. Stir it all up thoroughly.  Wipe the inside of the skillet with margarine to coat the sides and reduce stickage.  Pour in all that cheese macaroni.  Top with shredded cheddar and lightly crushed tortilla chips.  I always save the crumbles at the bottom of the bag for use on casseroles. I've got a special jar just for chip crumbles. My Sweet Baboo hates when I leave a bag with just a few crushed chips at the bottom. I respect that and have changed my methods of chip crumble storage.
  10. Now that you've got a mound of cheesy mac casserole in your skillet, covered with cheddar and tortillas, pop it all into the oven and cooked till bubbly on top with little browned spots - 20 minutes or so, but watch it so you don't burn it.
Take along one of those nice straw hot pads and set the skillet on top of it. I make an aluminum tent over the whole thing while transporting it. One of the great things about this dish is that it tastes even better if you make it Friday and take in on Sabbath. It holds up nicely in the warming oven, especially if you freshen it with more crisp tortilla crumbles. It looks great. has a name you can remember so you can tell people exactly what it is when they ask you for the recipe. 

Neat Trick for Would-Be Potluck Legends:
If you want to be really helpful to your fellow potluckers, make up a stack of business cards (you can get them for your computer printer at Office Depot or someplace like that).  Print the name of the dish and the web address where they can pick up a copy of this or any other recipe we've shown you here. People like knowing the name of the dish and where they can get the recipe without having to follow you around to get it.

I like this dish because it doesn't taste like ordinary Mac & Cheese. It has a nice Tex-Mex flavor. If I would do anything different, next time I'd make sure I had some black olive slices to put on top.

You should pester all the great cooks at your potlucks to send me their recipes at . I'll post it on the website and give them credit as the chef who donated the recipe. Then they can do handout cards to share recipes with fellow potluckers.  The younger moms will really appreciate getting new recipes that can one day become family favorites.

Let me know how it comes out. 

Tom King
(c) 2015

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