Not to say I am not excited about Thanksgiving. I am. I cant wait to have all that super yummy food, spend time with family, have left over turkey sandwiches (oh yes those are the best!), hopefully stress my SIL out so she goes into labor early, and spend black Friday with my hubby because it is his 25th birthday! Wow, talk about a lot going on. Oh yeah, and it will be my first time co-hosting and cooking for Thanksgiving with my SIL (I may or may not try to put a lot of the work on her so she does go into labor - we want a Thanksgiving/ Uncle Matty's sharing b-day niece).
I am so excited about the holidays this year, but I just love the colder months all around. You can dress really cute without being provocative (as if I am... yeah right), you can light your wood burning fireplace (we did for the first time last night!), drink hot cocoa, hot tea and hot apple cider, and you get to eat warm, delicious dinners like this one.
Mac 'n Cheese is one of my all time favorite comfort foods. I used to eat the boxed kind all the time growing up, and my parents would make (excuse the lack of class here) redneck steak and pasta. Boxed macaroni and cheese with hot dogs cut up into them. I know, so classy huh? Sorry mom and dad for throwing you under the bus on that one ;) Love you guys!
This Mac 'n Cheese is slightly more classy too with chicken and bacon. And you can feel better about all of the cheese and half & half being in there, because its whole wheat pasta. It cancels all of the other bad stuff out of there... right?
Now I do have to be honest with you and tell you it is a very hand's on meal, and it does create a lot of dishes. I love making this dish with Matt by my side in the kitchen, because two hands really does help. But you can also do all of the prep in advance, and then just have everything laid out, and it would be a lot easier. Just be prepared for a lot of dishes and hands on work with this one. But I promise the end result is worth every bit of labor involved.
Feel free to adapt this to your taste too! This is fantastic with diced bell peppers, sausage rather than the bacon and chicken, regular pasta over whole wheat, and I have even thought of throwing in s chipotle pepper for some spice. You can also change up the cheese mixture to whatever cheeses you love. Make this one your own and you wont go wrong! Such an amazing weeknight dish. I make an entire box of pasta and then have it for leftovers for the rest of the week (there is only two of us here). But feel free to half the recipe too. Up to you! :)
- 1 (13.25 oz) pkg whole wheat elbow pasta, or any pasta to your taste
- 3 quarts water, to boil the pasta
- 4 pieces bacon
- 2 pieces boneless skinless chicken breasts or 3-4 pieces b/l, s/l chicken thighs
- 1/8 tsp paprika
- 1/8 tsp onion flakes
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 Tbsp flour
- 1 1/2 cup 2 % milk
- 1 cup half & half or heavy whipping cream
- salt & pepper to taste
- a pinch nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
- 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese mixture (I used cheddar, Parmesan and Monterrey jack)
- 1 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
- parsley to serve on top (optional)
- Do the prep before you start cooking. Chop the onion (and other veggies if you choose), grate the garlic, and shred the cheese, so you don't have to worry about it while you are cooking.
- Boil the pasta in the 3 quarts water to package directions, just shy of al dente.
- Dice up the chicken into about 1 inch squares.
- While the pasta is cooking, add 2 Tbsp olive oil into a pan and add the chicken. Add the paprika, onion flakes and salt & pepper to the pan and cook the chicken until fully cooked over medium high heat. Set aside.
- Once the pasta is done being cooked, drain, rinse and add the remaining Tbsp olive oil and toss the pasta to coat. Set aside in a large bowl.
- While the pasta and chicken are cooking, cook the bacon (I choose the cheat method and cook it in the microwave on some paper towels for about 4-5 minutes until cooked, but you can bake them on cooling racks over cookie sheets at 375F for 15-20 minutes, or fry in a frying pan. Up to you)
- When the pasta is done cooking, return the pot to the same burner and add the butter and melt over medium heat. Throw in the onion and grated garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the onion starts to look translucent. Add the flower, stir around for a minute or so, and then add in the milk and half & half (or heavy whipping cream). Stir around and then add the salt and pepper and nutmeg. Allow to come to a simmer and let it thicken slightly. Once it is thickened, slowly stir in about 1 3/4 cups of the cheese, reserving the remaining 3/4 cup for the top of the mac n cheese. When the cheese is fully mixed in, pour the cheese mixture over the pasta, and stir in the chicken.
- Add the mac n cheese to a casserole dish (9 x 13 or you can use a few decorative dishes as I did) and add the remaining cheese, bacon and breadcrumbs to the top, and broil for about 5 or so minutes, until golden and crispy on top.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving. Add parsley to the top to serve if desired.
- This will last about 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container, so feel free to make more and eat as leftovers :)