We’ve been on a bit of an unplanned hiatus, what with us fighting off colds one week, taking a weekend getaway the next, and gearing up for Thanksgiving this week. So, we want to come back strong and share a relatively easy but super-delicious recipe: Poblano Mac and Cheese from Lisa Fain and “The Homesick Texan” cookbook. Kim usually makes this dish, but Tony wanted to learn how, so she coached him through it. Here’s how it all came together for us:
The first step, as always, was the prep work, which is really not too difficult, though it does take a little time. Tony grated the four cups of cheddar cheese and diced the four cloves of garlic. He also got the tasks of measuring out the butter, flour, milk, and spices (mustard powder, cayenne, and cumin), plus prepping the lime zest and cilantro.
Meanwhile, Kim worked on the chiles. She put them under the broiler for about five minutes a side (so, about 10 minutes total) and then transferred them to a paper bag to let them steam, which helps get the skins off. (We’ve used plastic food storage bags in the past and decided that they work a little better than paper, but both get the job done.) After letting the peppers steam for about 20 minutes, she rubbed off the skin, removed the stems and seeds, and chopped them into 1-inch long pieces. We were not able to get poblano chiles from Fresh Direct, so they sent us replacement peppers – Anaheim peppers, we think – but the process was the same.
With all the prep work done and with two sets of hands at work, we decided to jump right in. Tony put a pot of salted water on to boil and started the cheese sauce. He melted two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over low heat and cooked the garlic for about a minute. He added the flour and cooked this for about 3 or 4 minutes, whisking pretty much constantly, until the mixture turned light brown. (This took longer than the recipe said it should, but we were working over pretty low heat, since we didn’t want to burn anything.) Next, Tony whisked in the milk and stirred the mixture until it was slightly thickened. (This step took about 5 minutes compared to the recipe’s 3 or 4 minutes, but again, we were using very low heat.) Tony removed the sauce pan from the heat and also added the pasta to the water, which had come to a rolling boil. He stirred the mustard powder, cayenne, cumin, lime zest, cilantro and chopped chiles into the sauce and slowly added half the cheese unit it was well blended with the other ingredients. At this point, the pasta, which only needed to cook for 5 minutes, was also done.
Tony drained the pasta and poured it into a greased baking dish. He poured in half of the cheese sauce and mixed everything together so that the pasta was well-coated. He then sprinkled the rest of the cheese on top and Kim put the dish into a 375 degree oven. While the mac and cheese cooked, Tony crumbled up the cotija cheese. After 20 seemingly endless minutes, the mac and cheese was done. Kim took it out of the oven and sprinkled the cotija cheese on top. While the recipe doesn’t say to do this, Kim put the dish under the broiler for about five minutes to make sure everything was nice and browned.
As it has every time before, this dish turned out great, even with the substituted peppers. It was cheesy and creamy, with enough heat to keep things interesting. The mix of flavors – chiles, cheese, cilantro, and especially the lime zest – makes this a very unique take on a classic. Best of all and despite how much we love it, we did manage to save plenty of leftovers!