I am almost embarrassed to share this recipe with you…almost. This recipe for Mexican Macaroni and Cheese is so simple and easy that it might be one of the first recipes a beginner cook learns to make. That also makes it perfect to help the busy woman get dinner on the table quickly at the end of the day.
We love pasta at out house. We also happen to love cheese. In fact, when I married Jungle Jim he was stunned at how much my family loves cheese – it’s in nearly every recipe I knew how to make. And no matter what your skill level in the kitchen, this dish always turns out great.
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Mexican Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 poud Velveeta cheese cubed
- 1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilis
- 1 cup milk
Bring water to a boil and cook macaroni according to directions.
When macaroni is at desired tenderness, drain water. Do NOT rinse macaroni in cold water.
Put hot macaroni back in pot and add cubed cheese. Stir to begin melting cheese in the hot macaroni then add milk and heat over very low heat. Stir continuously to prevent sticking.
When cheese is melted through add Rotel and mix thoroughly.
Now, obviously, this dish is super simple (which is part of why I like it), but in case you’re a new cook, there may be some questions you have about how to cook pasta so that it’s great every time. While I’m not a trained chef, I know what I like and I like (no, I love) pasta and have a ton of pasta recipes. So here are some tips to help you make great pasta no matter what dish you’re cooking up.
How to cook pasta
We always start with cold water. The water where we live contains a lot of gypsum but anywhere you live you’re more likely to get minerals in the water if you’re using the hot faucet. So while you might save a few minutes on the time it takes to bring the water to a boil if you started with hot water, you’re also more likely to get a different taste to the noodles as well.
Do I need to add salt to the water?
You’ll want to bring your water to a good rolling boil before adding the pasta. Once the water is boiling you can add a little salt if you like. Some folks will tell you that you definitely must add salt but I don’t know that it really makes that much difference (again, I’m not a chef, I just know what I like). I frequently cook pasta and don’t add any salt until I’m ready to stir other ingredients into the dish. We prefer to add any salt to whatever sauce we’re adding to the pasta so that the dish isn’t too salty for our taste.
I think this boils (pardon the pun) down to a matter of preference in taste. Fortunately, there are no pasta police that are going to tattle on you either way.
Do I keep the lid on or off when cooking pasta?
I suggest putting a lid on the pot while you’re bringing the water up to boiling temperature, but then cooking the pasta with the lid off. I hate nothing more than a pot of pasta with the water boiling over the pot and onto the stove and I find that by leaving the lid off during the cooking process, this is much less likely to happen because the heat can escape when the lid of off. You’re also less likely to get a steam burn if you’re already got the lid off. A steam burn is when that rush of steam comes out of a dish and makes contact with your skin when you take the lid off something. Steam burns hurt (and can be very serious)…so let’s avoid them.
A pot of water that is boiling over is a recipe for a kitchen burn. I’ve written about how to prevent kitchen fires and burns and keeping the water from boiling over the top of the pan is one way to prevent someone getting scalded.
How do I know when pasta is done?
Always start with the time suggestion on the package. But even following the directions, it’s still a good idea to test the pasta to make sure it’s done enough for your taste. No one wants to bite into pasta that’s still got a little bit of “crunch” – and no one wants to eat pasta that’s cooked to the point of mush either.
So how do you know when pasta is done? Pinch it.
Using a long slotted spoon, lift a tiny bit of pasta out of the boiling water. Hold it above the water (or off to the side) and let it cool enough that you can grab a piece between your thumb and forefinger to give it the pinch test.
What you’re looking for is what cooks call al dente. This means that the pasta is still firm…it holds its shape and isn’t floppy, but it’s soft enough to chew. Long pastas like spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, or linguine will of course be floppy. If they’re not floppy then they’re definitely not done! When the pasta has cooled off enough, I always just pop a piece in my mouth to taste it. That’s the ultimate test for me.
How should I drain the water from the pasta?
I drain my pasta one of two ways:
1 – I prefer to use my pasta pot that has a built-in, lift out strainer. I’ve got one linked below you can take a look at. This allows me to lift the pasta out of the water without having any fear that I’m going to splash myself with hot/boiling water.
2 – If I have made a very small amount of pasta and haven’t used my pasta pot, then I put a colander in the kitchen sink and carefully…and I do mean carefully…use a set of hot mitts to hold the handles of the pot and slowly pour the pasta from the pot into the colander. This allows the hot water to run directly down the drain but you want to do this slowly so that you don’t get splashed with hot water and so that you don’t get a steam burn from the steam rising as you pour the water out. (If you wear glasses, then the steam is going to fog them up – so be careful).
Reminder: It’s always a good idea to save just a little bit of the pasta water to use in any sauce you might be making. The pasta water has that good pasta flavor in it and it’s good in case you need to thin out whatever sauce you might be making or if you just need a little more liquid added to the dish.
Do I need to rinse the pasta?
It depends on what you’re making. If you’re making a dish that will have a hot sauce added to it then don’t drain the pasta. By not rinsing the pasta, your sauce will stick to the pasta better giving you a more delicious dish when you’re done.
If you’re making a cold dish – like a cold pasta salad (like Jungle Jim’s Shrimp Salad) – then rinse the pasta under cold running water while it’s in the colander.
But if you forget and pour it all down the drain, no worries. Again, there are no pasta police around to enforce any pasta rules.
Cooking Essentials In my kitchen
1 – Stainless Steel 4-piece, 8-quart pasta cooker/steamer: I have one of these pots and I absolutely LOVE it! We use it any time we cook pasta or steam veggies. This pot gets a lot of use in our kitchen.
2 – An 8-inch chef knife is must in every kitchen. We actually have a couple of these because we use them all the time. I prefer the ones that are all one piece but that’s a personal preference. This one if from Cuisinart and is a really great price!
3 – We only use bamboo cutting boards at our house because they’re made from a renewable resource…and we just prefer then to other materials. I like this set of three because we have a couple of sizes that we use depending on what we’re dicing and slicing.
4 – Every kitchen needs a timer and this one is magnetic. So it can be taken with you to another room, or stuck to the refrigerator or oven. I like the flexibility…and it’s cute (it also comes in red).
Ways to make Mexican Macaroni and Cheese even better
I frequently double this recipe. My family loves mac and cheese and I like to cook once and have some leftovers for the next meal. I sometimes add an additional can of diced green chilies (not Rotel) to the mixture to turn up the “oomph” factor. If you tend to like your food with a little more heat, Hatch green chilies or even diced jalapenos would be a good addition.
There are even times when I add cooked hamburger or shredded chicken to the recipe when I want to serve it as an entree instead of a side dish. No matter what you choose to add, this recipe is still quick and easy – just what the busy woman needs at the end of the day!
If you like this recipe please share it with your friends on Facebook or pin it to your favorite Pinterest board. I don’t know any busy cook who can’t use another easy, tasty recipe to add to her collection.
Is there a dish that your family loves that’s so easy you’re almost embarrassed to share it?