Everything’s better with cheese

It’s been so cold lately! I needed a little comfort food. So I put my weight loss goals on hold for a night and made Rachel Ray’s Mac and Cheddar Cheese with Chicken and Broccoli. Of course I didn’t make it exactly. I halved the pasta and doubled the broccoli. I used whole wheat rotini instead of macaroni. For those of you who, like me, sometimes have a difficult time eating whole wheat pasta and being at all comforted, here’s your opportunity.  The cheese sauce disguises it beautifully!

This came from a “30 Minute Meals” episode so convenience is clearly the focus.  If you’re looking to save a little money buy your broccoli in bunches and chop it yourself.  Also, buy whole boneless breasts instead of tenders.  They are usually less expensive and it really doesn’t take any longer to chop them.  Alternatively, buy the bone-in split breasts and use the bones to make stock.  Also be aware that those of us who don’t cook in television studios have to wash our own dishes and this dish makes a mess of the kitchen!

I read some of the comments on this recipe and several folks felt that the sauce was too spicy and someone thought it was runny. To be perfectly honest I didn’t use the recipe for my sauce. If you have a recipe for cheese sauce, provided that it uses real cheese, use that. No Velveeta for this dish, please. This is a dish for the stove top so don’t use a sauce that would normally go in a baked dish. As a general rule cheese sauces with eggs in them are meant to be baked. The eggs help the sauce to hold up and create dishes that can be cut into pieces. Cheese sauces without eggs are meant to stay creamy. That’s what you want here.  I’ll include some approximation of my cheddar sauce at the bottom.

Good?  Duh.  It’s dinner covered in cheese!  Of course it’s good!
Easy?  I’ll call this intermediate just because if you haven’t worked much with cheese sauces they can be tricky. 
Good for company?  Not for a dinner party, but you can make a ton so if you’re feeding a crowd for football, church supper, PTA meeting, etc., then yes!  Make it ahead of time and reheat on the stove.
Special shopping?  Nope.  Comfort food is all about the stuff you usually have in the pantry anyway.

Here’s the recipe approximately as I made it.

Mac and Cheddar Cheese with Chicken and Broccoli

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 ounces whole wheat rotini
  • 4 cups chopped raw broccoli
  • Place a pot of water on to boil for pasta.

    Heat a medium pan over medium to medium high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil and chicken and season with salt and pepper. Saute a couple of minutes then add onion and cook another 5 to 7 minutes until onions are tender and chicken is cooked through. Turn off heat and reserve.

    To boiling pasta water, add pasta and salt to season the cooking water. Cook 5 minutes, then add broccoli and cook 3 minutes more or until pasta is cooked to al dente and florets are just tender.  Drain macaroni or pasta and broccoli florets. Add back to pot and add chicken to the pasta and broccoli.  Add cheese sauce to the pot.  Stir.  Note that you may have cheese sauce leftover.

    Cheese Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • +/- 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 cups extra sharp yellow Cheddar, grated 
  • 1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
  • Heat a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pot over medium heat. Add butter and melt, then add flour and cayenne and whisk together over heat.  This is a roux.  Stir until roux bubbles then cook a minute more.  Whisk in stock until it is fully incorporated.   This will incorporate back into a roux, a little looser than before.  Whisk in milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the sauce achieves the consistency you want.  It should be smooth and thick, but you should be able to pour it.  Once you have the consistency you want add the grated cheese.  Stir constantly until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth again.  Add mustard.  Salt and pepper to taste.

    If you prefer a milder sauce half the cayenne or leave it out.  You may also prefer a teaspoon of ground mustard to the tablespoon of dijon.

    Store any leftover sauce in an airtight container.  For the best results reheat the sauce on the stove top.  It may separate in the microwave.  You may need to add a little milk as you reheat to get the right consistency.

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    One Response to “Everything’s better with cheese”

    1. Kristin Says:

      Something I’ve found to increase the comfort value of whole wheat pasta: overcook it. We’ve been trying to eat whole grains much more, and I made chicken noodle soup this week with left-over chicken but was worried about adding whole wheat pasta since Dav has very definite opinions about chicken soup noodles. I used thin whole wheat spaghetti (broken into shorter pieces), and I cooked it at least twice as long as the box called for. It worked great! Unlike traditional pasta, most whole wheat pastas don’t get really mushy or dissolve when they’re lightly overcooked–they just become softer and become closer in consistency to what you’re probably looking for in pasta-comfort-food. (Note: this doesn’t necessarily apply to all whole grain pastas–some made from other grains do get really mushy, sticky, or gross if overcooked.)

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