Chili-Chicken Mac and Cheese

Chili-Chicken Mac and Cheese | Taking On Magazines | www.takingonmagazines.com | The flavor of your favorite chicken chili all wrapped up in a delicious bowl of mac and cheese. It's a marriage made in heaven.

I do not understand how a blue box has set the standard for mac and cheese. How were they able to corner the market with skinny, straight noodles and day-glo powdered stuff that might have been cheese at one point in its life?

While I may not be super gung-ho about making sure our family avoids all food coloring and preservatives (after all, that would mean I’d have to give up my Diet Coke), I do try to balance out the junk with not-so-junk foods.

Mac and cheese though, I dunno. I’ve made it with bacon. I’ve topped it with crunchy crumbs. And I’ve gussied it up with cheeses I can’t pronounce. Not a single one has received the Dudette seal of approval.

So, this time I figured I’d head off the beaten path and strike into new territory. Chicken mac and cheese. Cool idea, huh?

The Process

This dish comes from Food Network’s Weeknight Cooking section. It’s targeted to take 40 minutes from start to finish and I found the timing to pretty spot on, if not a few minutes quicker.

The process is a bit unique for a mac and cheese. It started with me cooking the pasta, then draining and rinsing it. I put it back in the pot and tossed it with the milk. Then I dumped the chicken and cheese over it and left it alone (no, I didn’t stir it).

I moved my attention to my skillet and sautéed the scallions along with chili powder, salt and pepper. I added some pico de gallo, then more butter and some flour, forming a paste. When ready, I poured in chicken broth and milk, stirring until it thickened.

The recipe said that it would take six minutes or so for the sauce to thicken, but mine was ready after about two minutes so I went ahead and poured it in the pot with the other ingredients. I stirred everything together until the cheese melted and the pasta was covered in creaminess.

Each serving was topped with a bit more pico de gallo.

The Verdict

This is really, really good. Hubby and I both enjoyed it a lot. Whatever the reason is for separating the cheese from the rest of the sauce, it works. The pasta was coated in creaminess, creaminess that tasted fantastic. I did poach a couple of chicken breasts instead of buying anything, but it was still a quick and delicious meal.

Dudette, yeah, well, this wasn’t from the blue box. Honestly, I think she did like it because she ate just about the whole thing, but she said it was only so-so.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

Nothing.

Chili-Chicken Mac and Cheese
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1¼ cups 2% milk
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (8 ounces)
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken breast (skin removed)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 12 -ounce container pico de gallo or fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Drain, rinse under cold water and return to the pot. Toss with ¼ cup milk. Top with the cheese and chicken (do not stir).
  2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add half of the pico de gallo. Cook, stirring, until the scallions soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and swirl to melt. Sprinkle in the flour; cook, stirring, until a paste forms, about 1 minute. Gradually stir in the broth and the remaining 1 cup milk. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes.
  4. Add the sauce to the pot with the pasta. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining ½ cup pico de gallo.


If you have a mac and cheese dish that comes close to copying the blue box’s version, I’d love to hear about it. Seriously.

Killer Mac and Cheese with Bacon

Killer Mac and Cheese with Bacon | Taking On Magazines | www.takingonmagazines.com | This is mac and cheese all grown up, a perfect comfort food for adults.

I discovered another area in which I don’t deal with change very well. We all have some of those things to varying degrees.

A big one for me shows up when I write. I have … no, wait. I HAVE to have my mug of coffee by me while I’m writing, which means I have to write in the morning because I don’t drink coffee in the afternoon or evening (it keeps me awake when I want to be sleeping).

My latest revelation came when a severe thunderstorm literally blew in (35 mph winds) and knocked our power out for a few hours. When it returned and I tried to boot up my computer, nothing happened. I heard the click of the button, but nothing else.

Long story semi-short, A wonderful, kind, angelic friend took my dead machine to her home to try and revive it. My baby left me on Friday evening. And just like that, I was without a computer.

I. Was. Lost. It wasn’t the massive amount of information that I missed, or my calendar, contacts and bookmarks.  It was my computer. my keyboard. my monitor. Sure, I was able to use Hubby’s laptop, but what took minutes on my machine took hours on his because nothing worked the same way.

And I missed my office. Horton the elephant wasn’t peering at me from the top of my monitor. I couldn’t look out my window to the lake across the street. Molly didn’t have anywhere to sleep because Hubby’s desk is too cluttered for a blanket. The walls I stared at were green, not the rich, warm rough wood I’m used to.

That is why I didn’t force Dudette to eat this mac and cheese (but she did have to have just one bite).  The blue box is her comfort zone. This stuff, well, it’s Hubby laptop.

The Process

I was always a fan of Anne Burrell when she was on Mario Batali’s team while he was with Iron Chef America so I was excited to see a recipe of hers in the March issue of Food Network Magazine. The fact that it was mac and cheese with bacon was a bonus.

It all starts with bacon. I cooked a half dozen slices until they were nice and crispy, then removed them to a plate to drain. I added butter to the bacon drippings (I know, I know) and then threw in some chopped onions to soften.

I added flour, then whisked in the milk, mustard and hot sauce. The instructions said to simmer the sauce until thickened, 6-8 minutes. My sauce was ready within 2 minutes so I quickly got my water boiling and added the pasta.

After throwing the Cheddar, Fontina and Parmesan into the sauce and whisking it until everything was melted and the sauce was smooth, I stirred in the cooked pasta and bacon.

The Verdict

I thought I had measured something wrong because I had way more sauce than pasta to cover it with. Proportionally, there wasn’t enough bacon to go around either (approximately one slice per serving).

As far as flavor, other than a heavy taste of Dijon, the mac and cheese was excellent. I like the onion addition and the three cheeses together. I love the salty bacon cutting into the creaminess. Dudette did have a taste and wasn’t impressed. She said all she could taste was mustard. I think if the Dijon hadn’t been in there she would have enjoyed the mac and cheese.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I’d double the amount of bacon (you can never have too much bacon), halve the amount of sauce, omit the Dijon and add a teaspoon of mustard powder instead.

Killer Mac and Cheese with Bacon
 
Prep time
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Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart whole milk, plus more as needed
  • ¼ cup dijon mustard
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 pound medium shells or other short pasta
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups grated fontina cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
Instructions
  1. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the bacon and set the pan over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Do not discard the bacon fat: Reserve that deliciousness!
  2. Add the butter and onion to the pan with the bacon fat; season with salt and cook until the onion is soft and aromatic, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture looks like wet sand, about 3 minutes.
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk, mustard and a few shakes of Tabasco. Season with salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the mixture is slightly thicker than heavy cream, 6 to 8 more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 1 minute less than the instructions on the package suggest. Taste it: It should be toothsome, with just a little nugget of hard pasta still in the center-this is al dente. Drain the pasta.
  5. Add the cheddar, fontina and parmesan to the milk mixture and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed, adding a little more milk if the mixture seems too thick. Stir in the cooked bacon and pasta. The mixture should be very creamy and flavorful. Serve immediately. (If making ahead, transfer to a baking dish or ramekins, then reheat in a 375 degree oven.)

 

I was without my computer for just four days but that was long enough. Today I am back. Horton’s looking at me as I gaze out my window at the lake. I’m surrounded by my gorgeous wood paneled walls and my computer is humming by my feet. And yes, there’s a cup of strong French roast coffee right where it belongs; in front of my monitor and next to my keyboard.