Chili Mac and Cheese

By Wendy Monro

Here we go again. It’s Fall. You are so lucky to be in the Midwest where the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall to the ground. You can experience the slow change in the temperature as Fall moves its way into winter. It’s really magical. Minnesota has the perfect four seasons as if it were ripped from the pages in a book. After spending most of my life in Southern California, I greatly appreciated this when I lived there. I can say I absolutely loved each and every season in Minnesota. There is something beautiful in each one.

Where I live now, the temperature will change from over one hundred degrees to a crisp 85 or 90 throughout Fall. So, I have to pretend. I can turn my air conditioner down low and turn on the electric fireplace. Then, lie on the couch with a warm blanket and sip tea while watching classic movies. I’d have to close the shutters and block out the sun. This would be too wasteful and costly. I guess a better way to imagine I am living in a perfect Fall environment is to cook foods which symbolize this season. When I think Autumn, I envision casseroles, soups, chicken pot pie, roasted root vegetables, and roasts. I love to start working on my Thanksgiving recipes and trying them out as the holiday approaches. I know. This is too soon. I just love to think about brussel sprouts, chili, apple crisp, tater tot hot dish, macaroni and cheese, brats and sauerkraut, cobbler, stew, sage, and thyme. Hey, I don’t have to just think about them, I am going to get started and cook some of these amazing foods.

This Fall, I am obsessed with macaroni and cheese. Who am I kidding? I am always obsessed with macaroni and cheese. I have found that restaurants are getting so creative with different styles of this delightful dish. Don’t get me wrong, I will sit down with a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese and be delighted. It is one of my guilty pleasures ever since I fed it to my kids when they were little. I throw on a bit of salt and pepper and it’s good to go. Sometimes, I like to add lemon pepper. That’s a nice little twist. However, I do like the fancy styles of macaroni and cheese, like truffle, gruyere and bacon, caramelized onion, crab, butternut squash, or pulled pork. You can get so creative with it. I have made a few of these versions in the past. When I see macaroni and cheese on a menu, it is so difficult for me to resist. I have to remind myself that this is not a dish I can have all of the time.

This weekend, while feeling the Fall vibe, I decided to combine two recipes into one. Usually, I make a pot of chili for Halloween. I like to serve it with corn bread. Chili makes me think the weather is turning cooler. I thought, why not add chili to my mac and cheese? It sounded like a brilliant idea. I made a vegetarian version and that is the recipe, which follows. However, it would be so easy to add ground beef, steak, bacon or chicken to this mix. Just cook the meat however you normally would, and add it into the cheese sauce. Then, mix it all together.

This recipe is so simple. It takes about twenty minutes. When you finish, you won’t be disappointed. How can you lose with cheese sauce? I think a cheese sauce can make anything taste delicious. When it was finished, I sat down with my kids and we chatted about how we miss the changes in the seasons. We remember how beautiful it is to witness. I especially love changing into different clothes, getting out sweaters and jackets, and wearing boots and scarves. I have a long coat hanging in my closet, which has not moved since we got here. Sometimes I look at it and sigh. I think we need to get out there soon and see what we have been missing. Take it all in and don’t take those seasons for granted.

Chili Mac & Cheese:

Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

1 16 ounce package macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup flour

1 cup milk

3 cups cheddar cheese

8 ounces canned chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

teaspoon garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 16 ounce can kidney beans

1 cup roasted green chili, chopped

a pinch of cilantro

1 tomato, diced

Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Rinse with warm water and set aside. In a small pot, heat the butter to melting. Add flour and mix into a paste with a wooden spoon. Slowly, add the milk until you have a creamy consistency. You can adjust the amount of milk accordingly. Slowly, add in the cheese and let it melt into a creamy sauce. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix well. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Pour in the beans and green chili. Pour this sauce over the macaroni and mix well. Place into bowls and garnish with tomato and cilantro.