The other night I invited my best friend’s family over for dinner while she was out of town. We are often found eating dinner with some mix of our kids and husbands bc that is how we do life. Both of our hubbies work weird hours, we each always have stuff going on, and we have a bunch of kids to feed. We also happen to be neighbors, so it works out well. It takes a village y’all… and we are super blessed to have each other so close.
So, of course, I invited them, but I did so without really thinking about what I actually had to feed them. What I had planned for my family of 4 wasn’t going to be enough. I had to improvise (my fave). <–That may sound sarcastic, but for realz… I love a good scrape the pantry recipe!
I scoured our fridge and pantry and found the following:
- 1/2 a box of rotini
- a block of cream cheese
- one can of rotel
- a container of plain yogurt
- some chicken
- a block cheddar
- 1 onion, 1 bell pepper, and a few cloves of garlic
King ranch mac and cheese came to mind, and I knew I could pull together a pretty delicious casserole that would fill bellies and make everyone happy.
Traditional King Ranch Chicken is made with corn tortillas and is totally delicious. BUT replace the tortillas for pasta and you get a magical marriage of mac and cheese and king ranch flavor. Heck yes.
The inspiration dish also usually has cream of ___ soup, but I prefer to avoid those if possible. No judgement bc I know they make delicious old school recipes. However, if I can recreate the same dish with not-as-processed options, I just feel better about it. By no means will you see this recipe on a super healthy dish list, but it is all decently wholesome ingredients. I believe any little substitution for a more whole food is a good idea.
This is also a great make ahead and freeze for another meal type dish. And by all means you can cut the step where you cook the chicken and just use rotisserie. #timesaver.
- ½ lb rotini, cooked and reserve some cooking water
- 2 lbs chicken breasts- cut into bite sized chunks (or shredded cooked chicken)
- chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 can of rotel
- 4 oz of cream cheese
- ½ cup of plain yogurt (whole milk works best)
- 2 cups of cheddar, shredded
- cilantro (optional)
- Boil rotini according to package directions.
- While the pasta is boiling- Season chicken with chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper. Liberally season each side and turn in with your hands to evenly coat. No need to measure, just sprinkle and toss!
- In a large skillet, heat about 1 Tbs of olive oil and cook chicken until just about cooked through.
- Remove chicken from heat. Also, when pasta is finished cooking, save at least a few cups of the pasta water in a measuring cup. Then drain the pasta. (tip: Put the cooked chicken and pasta back in the pasta pot together to save dishes)
- Add fresh olive oil to the chicken pan and cook the onion and pepper until softened, about 5 mins.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds, until fragrant.
- Stir in rotel, and add the cream cheese in small chunks. Stir until melted.
- Stir in yogurt and 1 cup of the cheddar. Add reserved pasta water a little bit at a time to thin out sauce as necessary.
- Add chicken and pasta into the sauce, stir (adding more water if needed), and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and top with additional cup of cheddar.
- Bake at 375 for 20 mins until nice and bubbly, and switch to broil the cheese on top for the last 5 mins.
- Serve with some fresh cilantro on top... if you have it! 😉
- **NOTE: If using cooked chicken, just toss the chicken with the seasonings and set aside with cooked pasta until sauce is ready.