As an extroverted introvert, I couldn’t be more grateful for the few times we’ve snuck away to our Vermont hideaway these last few months. The limited internet kept us off of our technology, and we spent the days surrounded by the soothing effects of nature. Our son, who is now one (!), enjoyed sitting in the local river and inspecting each rock as a new treasure. He also enjoyed our trip to a local blueberry patch, where we filled our bucket (and our bellies) one sweet then one sour berry at a time.
As a special vacation treat we decided to make a traditional cheesy, gooey mac and cheese. Over these last few years, (and 200 recipes) I’ve made a bacon mac and cheese as a Thanksgiving side dish, and a butternut squash mac and cheese experiment a while back, but I’ve never actually made one where the cheese falls off your spoon.
Mac and Cheese is one of those dishes that pulls at my heartstrings, and one I need to be in the right headspace to make. It was a dish my mother made at least monthly, coming home after work and throwing together some flour, butter, and emptying the fridge of the cheddar and american cheeses. She’d douse some twirly pasta with this perfect sauce and throw it onto the table with a simple salad or vegetable. Our bowls overflowed with cheese drenched noodles and required a spoon for the final few bites. Heaven.
Flavors can trigger memories, and mac and cheese, meatloaf, and stuffing are my trifecta. As a young child I stopped ordering mac and cheese at restaurants after too many crusty noodles popped up on my plate. As an adult I’ve stayed away from this one in the kitchen, suspecting that the effort and calories wouldn’t be worth the flavor disappointment.
But, we decided to go for it! Why not. Using The Chunky Chef as our guide we set out to cook this decadent dish and added our own spin of roasted broccoli, portobello mushrooms, and sauteed chicken. Might as well throw it all together and get that cheesy goodness on everything!
There was not a single crusty noodle as the pan came out with a perfectly broiled top layer of cheese, while keeping the noodles soft and gooey. Unsurprisingly, the flavors were even tastier the next day for leftovers!
With so many mac and cheese tutorials out there, the two tips that were new to me that I appreciated learning were: first, the importance of grating your own cheese, and second, you should bring your dairy to room temperature prior to making the cheese sauce. What are your favorite Mac and Cheese tips or flavors?
Loaded Mac and Cheese
This cheesy mac and cheese is loaded with chicken, roasted broccoli, portobello mushroom caps, tons of cheese and topped with fresh tomatoes. What a treat!
- 1 pound of pasta (we used small shells)
- 2 cups of half and half
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 1 stick of butter
- 6 cups of cheese (we used cheddar, american, and mexican)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 12 oz broccoli florets
- 2 chicken breasts – cut into bite sized chunks
- 2 large portobello mushroom caps – chopped
- 1 tomato – diced
- Salt and Pepper
- Cajun seasoning
- Olive Oil
Steps & Notes
- Before cooking, set out the dairy and bring to room temperature and preheat the oven to 425
- Grate the cheese
- Coat the broccoli in oil, pepper, and a touch of salt and bake at 450 for 10 minutes.
- Note: when done, bring the oven down to 325
- Dice and season the chicken (we used cajun) and saute on high heat for 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. It’s okay for it to be slightly uncooked in the middle – that’ll take care of itself during the baking. When done, remove to a side bowl.
- Next, saute the mushrooms in oil for 3-4 minutes
- Melt the butter in a large pot, then gradually add the flour on low heat and mix until it’s a gooey paste.
- Add the dairy slowly in a few stages, whisking carefully until the liquid is smooth (this will take about 6 minutes). Let it reduce for a few more minutes, depending on how thick you want your sauce.
- Then, add about 75% of the cheese to the sauce, slowly, whisking together (again, this will take about 10 minutes.)
- Boil the pasta for 5 minutes – it’ll cook the rest of the way during the bake.
- Then, combine the pasta, chicken, broccoli, the mushrooms, and half the tomato into a large bowl with the sauce. Cover with the last 25% of the cheese.
- Place the mac and cheese into a greased baking dish and bake, uncovered, at 325 for 15 minutes. Then,broil for 3 minutes.
- Serve topped with fresh tomato and enjoy!
Recipe from The Pantry Portfolio @ http://www.pantryportfolio.com