Jul 12, 2010
Hillary

My Favorite: Homemade Mac-n-Cheese (with Chicken)

Mac-n-cheese and Chicken!

Since I was a kid, mac-n-cheese was my FAVORITE meal, without question. However, my world of mac-n-cheese was made with special care by my mom and defined, what I thought was the best dish ever! It had my favorite things, noodles, milk and cheese! She’d cook the noodles on the stove and then put them in my special mac-n-cheese pot with some milk and fresh shredded cheese and then pop it in the oven. The best parts were the places where the cheese got crunchy on top! It’s such a simple dish and very fast to put together, but to me it was what made my mom a fantastic! Whenever I had the chance to request a meal, this was the first suggestion out of my mouth!

There was a day however when my mom decided to introduce me to a new kind of homemade mac-n-cheese and I wasn’t so sure about it at first. I thought, why change a good thing? There was nothing wrong with the old one! However, after one bite of this dish, it’s now my NEW favorite mac-n-cheese. You can think of it as a grown up version of the dish we all loved as a kid. You get a little more cheese, protein and yum…it makes me hungry just thinking about it. It’s really not much more complicated than the old version and Jor and I added the chicken to it when we wanted to make this our main dinner dish. It’s fantastic as a side dish though and will certainly be a crowd pleaser at any summer picnic or backyard bbq!

Here’s what you need to make my favorite comfort food as a main meal for two:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup dry elbow macaroni noodles (more if you want leftovers)
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sprinkle of dried parsley for garnish

If you’re going to put chicken in the dish, you want to prepare it first however you desire. I like to bake my chicken breasts in the oven with just a little bit of olive oil on each side, salt, pepper, light sprinkle of garlic powder and any other herb you might want. Some good ones are dried oregano, basil and even a touch of rosemary! Cook the chicken all the way through and then chop it into bite size pieces and you’ll add it to the baking dish in just a bit.

On to the heart of the dish. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add your noodles. Let the pasta cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente: they’ll cook the rest of the way when you put it in the oven.

While the pasta is cooking on the stove you can prepare the rest of the components. I find it easiest to pour the milk into a glass liquid measuring cup and then adding the egg. Make sure to beat the egg in well with the milk. You don’t want clumps of egg to form when you put it in the oven. I can tell you right now though, the mixture of egg and milk makes the dish creamier than my original kid version and more rich. In this case, it’s a wonderful thing!

Now for the cheese. I can not stress enough how much of a difference freshly shredded cheese makes in this meal. The cheese doesn’t have that chalky texture that some pre-shredded cheeses have and I feel like it melts so much nicer. The shredding of the cheese definitely adds a few more minutes on to the preparation time, but if you’re looking at it terms of saving time or money, you save some money by shredding it yourself and, in my opinion, you gain flavor! One last note on the cheese: feel free to add different cheeses, substitute, take away, etc. I’ve made it with monterey jack, mozzarella, basically any cheese I have left over from another meal. If it’s good cheese, I don’t see where you can really go wrong, except if you don’t have enough of course!

The last step is easy. Once the pasta reaches al dente, take a 9 inch baking dish and pour in your noodles and milk/egg mixture. Make sure all the noodles are coated and then add half of your cheeses. Add your chicken if you’re using it and then sprinkle on the rest of your cheese. I crack some fresh black pepper and sprinkle just a tiny bit of salt on top and then into the oven it goes at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. You want the cheese to brown, the eggs to cook and most of the milk to be absorbed. I’m a little impatient at this point in the cooking process because I’m always telling Jor it’s done when it clearly needs another 5 minutes or so. It’s just so delicious and happens to be one of my favorites that I simply can’t wait another minute to eat it!

This meal has such simple ingredients and flavors but for some reason, it remains at the top of my favorite meals list. It’s a comfort food for me, and certainly a staple in my household. I remember going to a friend’s house when I was in kindergarten and her mom said she was making us mac-n-cheese for dinner and I was beside myself with excitement. When she served us the bowl and I took my first bite I can imagine my face was priceless…it was far from the mac-n-cheese of my world. I had my first introduction to blue box mac-n-cheese and it all goes back to what I said: the cheese makes the difference. Powdered cheese with water cannot stand up to fresh cheese!!! Now I know that you can get those boxes for close to nothing some days and money is tight. But, if you have a few extra bucks to go for the real stuff, it’ll be worth every penny! I hope others can enjoy this meal as much I do and for now, that’s homemade mac-n-cheese with chicken…in the shell of a nut!

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