Cheesy Fiesta Noodles

Sometimes I play “eat the pantry.” Every so often I wind up with a pantry full of canned goods and dry goods because I love to grocery shop and try new products. So from time to time, when I run out of room in my tiny, condo kitchen, I decide it’s time to eat up everything we have before I buy more. I know, first world problems.

There are a few kitchen principles that apply across the board (making a sauce, a soup, or a casserole are all reasonably simple concepts) so I feel pretty comfortable experimenting. But even though I consider myself pretty handy with a pot and a pan, trying to use everything up sometimes causes dinner failures (quinoa pasta, I’m looking at you), but mostly I have decent success. And once, just once, I created a dish that’s become a family favorite — Cheesy Fiesta Noodles.

At least, that’s what Sonny and I decided to call this casserole. It’s sort of like souped up mac and cheese with a little heat, a little crunch, and a little south of the border flair.

It came to me when I was pretty well nearing an empty pantry but I had a can of Rotel, some egg noodles, a few different kinds of shredded cheese, and about a fifth of a bag of stale tortilla chips. Inspiration struck! Who knew I was on the verge of kitchen greatness? Certainly not me, but Cheesy Fiesta Noodles quickly became Sonny’s favorite dinner.

This is one of those dishes that works out well with whatever you have on hand. Don’t have egg noodles? Use macaroni or some other pasta. Choose the cheese(s) you like and use as much or as little as you want. Get mild or spicy Rotel. It’s all your choice.

However you decide to make it, just keep the basics in mind (it’s based, like most everything good, on a simple bechamel), and I’m sure Cheesy Fiesta Noodles will become an instant favorite in your house too.

Cheesy Fiesta Noodles


  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • Approximately 1¼ cups of milk
  • Southwest seasoning mix (I like Emeril’s)
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 bag egg noodles (or a box of macaroni, rotini, penne, whatever …)
  • 1-2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, monterey jack, Kraft single, whatever …)
  • Some amount of tortilla chips


  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Drain and butter so it doesn’t stick together.
  3. Drain the juice off the Rotel tomatoes into a 2 cup measuring cup and add milk to make 1½ cups.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan then take it off the heat.
  5. Whisk in the flour and put it all back on the fire.
  6. Slowly add the milk juice mixture, constantly whisking to avoid lumps.
  7. Cook over medium heat, while you stir stir stir until it gets thick.
  8. Add salt and Southwest seasoning to taste.
  9. Stir in cheese(s) and the Rotel tomatoes.
  10. When the cheese has melted, mix the cheese sauce with your noodles, and put the whole thing in a greased baking dish.
  11. Top with crushed tortilla chips and another sprinkle of cheese. If the chips are plain, I like to mix the chip crumbs with a little of the Southwest seasoning.
  12. Bake it at 350 until bubbly and brown.

I’ve also added some rotisserie chicken to the mix which makes it an easy one-dish meal. I bet sausage would be good too. One time I put some broccoli florets in there, but that made it too healthy so I vowed never to do that again.

What’s your favorite “made up” recipe that turned into a regular dish?

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