foodie fridays: individual mexican mac and cheese skillets

I have enjoyed eating Mexican food all my life.

Growing up, my mother would fix a Mexican-inspired dish at least once a week for dinner. The menu would vary from build-your-own tacos to spicy enchiladas to plain ol’ bean burritos. Sometimes, she would get a wild hair and take us to Taco Grande to feast on taco burgers and tostados. Man, I loved that restaurant.

The best thing about Mexican food (besides the flavors), it’s so darn easy to cook. Hello! Tacos can be served in 15 minutes. Enchiladas can be prepared the night before. Beans take five minutes to preheat on the stove-stop. I understand now why south-of-the-border cooking was a frequent menu option for my Mom. Feeding three kids while trying to maintain her sanity, she needed every minute she could steal. 

Now that I am grown and cooking for my adorable husband and myself, I manage to continue that childhood week night tradition. One of my favorite go-to recipes is pork tacos. Do you want to know a secret? Instead of using plain old ground pork, I use pork cubes; you know, the ones for stews. For some reason the pork cubes soak up all the spices and create a nice texture when cooked. Throw some onions and peppers on top, and you have yourself an A+ taco night. 
Since Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow (crazy, right?), I wanted to make my fabulous pork tacos, but with a twist. I figured there’s got to be a way to combine the pork taco flavor with another fun recipe. Maybe I should have been a scientist? Oh wait, I got a D in chemistry. Never mind. 

So down the food culture list I went: Italian? Greek? Asian? Ethiopian (do wha?)? None of these were hitting the spot. I started to get discouraged, but then I remembered one of life’s valuable lessons – keep it simple. Enter mac and cheese. It was the perfect foundation to build flavor. You can imagine the amount of jazz hands that took place from concoction to finished product. I was thrilled! 
This mac and cheese recipe is brilliant. Take your basic mac and cheese structure, combine it with the taco fixings, and viola! You have sexy, mexy mac and cheese skillets in 30 minutes. They are the perfect dish for a weeknight or for a weekend fiesta! 
If nothing else, they will make your inner child giggle. 

Individual Mexican Mac and Cheese Skillets
Serves 3 (six-inch skillet size)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Ingredients:
1/2 pound finely ground pork (use pork cubes for stew and pulse in food processor)
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk 
1/2 cup half/half
1/2 cup pepper jack, shredded
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded 
1/2 pound pasta (any kind)
1 cup blue corn tortilla chips, crushed
Sour cream, garnish
Jalapenos, garnish
Cilantro, garnish
Salsa, garnish
Directions: 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pork in a bowl and toss together with all eight spices. In a medium-high skillet, cook the pork until brown, approximately 8 minutes. When finished cooking, set-aside to cool. 
In a medium saucepan, cook your favorite mac and cheese pasta according to box instructions. When pasta is finished cooking, drain and set-aside until ready to use.
In another medium saucepan, melt unsalted butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour to create a roux. Keep whisking until well incorporated and then add milk, half and half, bring to a boil. Keep whisking until sauce starts to thicken. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add pepper jack and cheddar cheese, dash of salt and pepper. Stir until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add cooked pasta and ground pork into cheese sauce and toss to combine. 
Place two or three six-inch skillets onto a baking sheet. Evenly distribute the mac and cheese into the skillets. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Turn oven to broil, top skillets with blue corn tortilla chips, broil for about 3 minutes until golden brown. 
Remove from oven and serve with a variety of garnishes! Ole!