Much Needed Comfort Food – Thick Mac and Cheese

Sick. By far the most heinous of four letter words. Give me your fornicates, your cruds, your hecks, your shrews; I shall not flinch. Just keep your diseases far, far away. In a locked box. Under the sea. On Mars. Like a beat up Ford pinto far past its prime, my body fails me through a non-stop runny nose, fatigue, a sore throat and that annoying stuffed-up head feeling. Bah! I hate being sick!

Mmmmm Butter

I did this delightful dance a few weeks ago, a condition I largely blame on the pressures of work, trudging through the needs and responsibilities, cutting whatever I can from my list of Things That Require Motion or Thought (which is quite a large list, by the way). When I’m like this everything is a candidate for the chopping block; even, dare I say it, cooking. Who wants to stand and pay attention to hot burny things when they’re sick? There aren’t any beds in the kitchen! Nonetheless, sustenance must be found and after waking from a post-work nap a few Fridays ago my hunger trumped my sickness, so I stumbled into the kitchen. This was a day for simple. This was a day for comfort food. This was a day for mac and cheese.

The Cheese Sauce

I was in no mood to go hunting for ingredients at the local mega mart (have I mentioned it is friggin’ cold here?) so this became a foraging venture, searching for left over ingredients from earlier recipes or ingredients that I had intended to use but for whatever reason did not (the realm of forgotten ingredients). This, my friends, was delicious. The perfect sick-day comfort food.

Thick And Hearty Mac and Cheese

Thick Mac and Cheese
12 oz fat pasta
4TB butter
1 onion; chopped
1 green pell pepper
1 garlic; minced
1 hablano pepper; minced
1 cup light cream
5 oz pepper jack
5 oz cheddar
1tsp chili powder
1tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 cup frozen peas; thawed and drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels; thawed and drained
2-3 cups cooked kidney beans
1/2C chopped fresh cilantro; chopped

Boil your noodles in salted water. In a large pan, saute your onion and green pepper until the onions are translucent. Add your jalapeno and garlic, cooking for another minute. Drop your heat to medium-low and add the cream, cheese, herbs and spices; cooking until well combined. Once ready, add your pasta, vegetables, beans and cilantro. Toss to coat and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables and kidney beans are hot. Serve and enjoy.

On Tuesday I told you all that I bought some fancy local cheese and made a great burger – well I still had a lot left, so I was brainstorming things to make.

I remembered something I read by Martha Stewart that suggested using sharp, pungent cheese when making macaroni and cheese because, not only does it add some more pizazz and a grown-up twist, you also apparently fill up faster and so eat less (for a mac & cheese-aholic like me, this is great news).

mac and chicken

But I couldn’t just do mac & cheese either. I decided to try to recreate my favorite thing on the menu from my old haunt in Pittsburgh, PA – Rock Bottom Brewery‘s mac & chicken. I’m happy to report the result was pretty awesome.

I adapted a great mac & cheese recipe from Alton Brown. If you use your time wisely and do a few things at once (e.g. start boiling the water for pasta once the chicken is halfway done) you’ll find that it doesn’t take you that long. This is something great to make early in the week or on Sunday night and have it last for several days.

serving mac and chicken

Baked Mac & Chicken with a Kick
macaroni recipe adapted from Alton Brown

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
1 pound shell pasta (small shells, not the kind used for stuffed shells)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
2 cups milk (I used skim because that’s what we have on hand)
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
10 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 ounce Red Dragon cheese (Click here for my blurb about this spicy peppercorn and brown ale cheese; if you can’t find it, pick another melting cheese that has some bite!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain bread crumbs (Panko are better, but use what you have)

Preheat oven to 425F. Trim the fat from your chicken and cut in half longways. Set on a baking sheet and season generously with paprika, salt, pepper and a little Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes.

To make the best use of your time, as soon as you put the chicken in the oven dice the onion, shred the cheese and measure out your ingredients. When chicken is halfway done, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and add pasta once it’s boiling. While you’re heating up the water and the chicken is still in the oven, set a medium size pot on the stove and melt the butter. Whisk in flour and mustard powder – keep the mixture moving. When it’s lump-free, stir in milk, onion and paprika. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes.

The chicken should be done by now, so set it aside to cool and turn down oven to 350F.

Temper the egg slowly, then stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then fold the cooked pasta into the mixture. Shred cooked chicken or cut it into small pieces and incorporate with the pasta and mixture. Pour into a large casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter for the topping in a small saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Sprinkle over pasta and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.