Cheesy southwest baked pasta

Guys! I’m back. Happy, shiny, best version of Jess has returned! And I’m bringing with me the advent of SPRING! Are you as excited as me? Oh, what a silly question, of course you are! I mean just look at all the exclamation marks I’m peppering you with, how can you not be excited?

Not only am I bringing spring with me today, I’m bringing awesome news too. Guess who’s got two thumbs and an offer to do some freelance writing? No, don’t be silly, Himself isn’t the writer in this household, I am! I don’t want to jinx anything, so you’re going to have to wait until I have all the hot little details before I spill the beans. Needless to say though, it does help reaffirm that Himself and I made such a good decision to chase these crazy dreams of ours.

Moving back to our talks of spring, it’s time to make the hard decisions this week. After months of mulling over just what is going into that 500 sq ft (!) garden of mine, I’m going to have to finally commit and order those seeds. Oooooh, the pressure. And now’s the time where I tell you all about my secret weapon. The overly organized, plan and list junkie, wee bit obsessive me has found the perfect tool for gardening. Let a garden run rampant? Let greens trail and grow where they please? Not in this yard, my friends. Ok, that may not be entirely true, but control freak me absolutely loves my smart gardener website. I say my website, but what I mean is my garden plan. Now, smart gardner has no idea who I am, so you can rest assured these opinions are wholly my own. “Well, get to it,” you’re saying, “what the heck is it?!” Ok, it’s a website where all I have to do is select my plants (downside you’re limited to plants in their database) and tell them the size of my garden. The site lays everything out for me, from how far apart to plant everything to the best companion plants. All I have to do is stick my hands in the dirt. Winning! So, while my attitude has totally been adjusted, I’m still going to be over here in the corner hiding with my seed catalogs.

While I’m pouring over these magazines, making all the hard decisions, you need to be making this cheesy pasta. Think mac and cheese, but with chicken and salsa. Once upon a longish time ago, I used to work in a crisis residence where we’d get this cheesy, chicken goodness in prepackaged frozen form. There’s nothing frozen here, my friends, this is all tasty, cheesy goodness. Oh, but wait, when you look at the picture there, just image a lovely, fresh sliced avocado in that wee blank space. It was a long night in the kitchen, and I somehow managed to leave space for the avocado, but completely neglect to plate it. Le sigh. But I can rest assured that you, my lovely, invisible internet friends, will learn from my mistakes.

Enjoy!

Cheesy southwest pasta

Cheesy southwest pasta

8 ounces pasta
4 tablespoons butter
½ sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons taco seasoning (my trusty Arizona Dreaming makes another appearance!)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 ½ cups shredded cheese, Mexican blend or Monterey Jack, divided
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies, drained
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced as desired
1 cup corn chips, coarsely crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and keep warm, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile in a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for three minutes or until fragrant and slightly softened. Add the flour and cook into a roux for another 3 minutes, stirring often. Slowly add the milk about ¼ cup at a time, heating between additions. Add taco seasoning and cumin. Continue stirring until sauce is slightly thickened, just before reaching a gravy consistency. As you remove the spoon from the pan, the sauce should slowly drip off. Remove from heat and add 2 cups cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is melted and incorporated.

Add all remaining ingredients except ½ cup cheese and corn chips. Stirring well. Spread pasta into shallow 2 quart casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle corn chips on top. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake an additional 10 minutes.

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