And yes, it will be the first of many!
Anyway, for folks that know me, I know how to throw down in the macaroni and cheese department. I use like, 5-6 types of cheese, buttered bread crumbs, a gentle sprinkling of crack for good measure...just kidding. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I can remember, my mom and I have made the same awesome mac, and everyone's loved it. I'd never dared to suggest that we make it any other way, because I was satisfied with the way things were. But there was another way, another path.
Cheese sauce. Creamy, thick, rich sauce. I had visions of elbow noodles drenched in golden goo dancing in my head. And even though my version was good, I'd always wanted to make a mac and cheese like that. I was just scared shitless of making a roux (flour and butter cooked together, which is used to thicken sauces and stews), which would undoubtedly lead me to saucy nirvana if done well...or pasty misery if I failed. I had to conquer my fear! Enter The Pioneer Woman's recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. If she could do this, anyone could!
Let's start with some cheesy goodness...and shred the heck out of it.
GRATE YOUR OWN CHEESE PEOPLE! It doesn't take long, it's cheaper than the bagged ish, and the cornstarch used to keep the cheese from clumping will eff with your sauce.
Next you'll want to put on some fresh water to boil for your pasta.
You want to use a BIG pot and a LOT of water, so the pasta has room to get al dente and not stick like a mofo. Salt the water and add a little olive oil, please. Set your burner to high, and cover the pot because a covered pot boils faster.
To make this a little more hearty, and sort of a casserole meal, I decided to add some chicken breasts and broccoli to the mix.I always wash chicken with a little lemon juice (my mom always does it, and it makes the meat smell less like chicken coop to me). I cut it into cubes, and seasoned it.
Don't judge me. That...is Soul Seasoning. I know it sounds racist..because it probably is. But it tastes so good. And, I added kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper too. Now put a good sized skillet on a free burner, and drop at least 2 pats of butter, and some olive oil. You want the heat on med-high. The butter is for flavor and browning, and olive oil is for flavor and non-stickness. Butter has a lot of easily burn-able milk solids in it, so you use the olive oil to help raise its "smoke point" so it won't burn so fast.Thank you, Alton Brown.
Brown the chicken in batches, depending how big your pan is, and cook it for about 2-3 mins a side. We're gonna cook this in the oven, so it doesn't have to be done all the way.
Here is the pasta boiling away...don't worry, I didn't forget. Just throw the pasta in when the H20 comes to a boil. And the green stuff? A bag of frozen broccoli...I didn't want to dirty another pan!While the chicken's been cooking away, I whisked one egg in preparation for making the roux. Why? The proteins are going to further enrich the sauce and make it all creamy.
And now....for the roux itself. At this point, I was shaking in my flip-flops. I used a heavy duty dutch oven-type pot and put in a couple tablespoons of butter, let it start melting (over med-low heat please), then sprinkled in the flour. Then I started whisking like I had never whisked before! The flour-y raw taste has gotta get cooked right out...whisk for about 1-2 mins, or until it
starts to thicken and turn golden in color (it'll start smelling nutty).
At this point, I poured in about 2 1/2 cups of whole milk. There was some sputtering...but I kept whisking. So should you.Now, it's time to get our egg into that sauce without it becoming scrambled eggs. How? By controlling our temper. By spooning about 1/4 cup of our sauce and whisking it into our egg, we bring up the temperature of the egg without scrambling it. This is the part that can get rather dicey.
Ahhhh! I did it! No curdles! *Does the no curdles dance*
Now that I gotten over that hump and I could breathe again...CHEESETIME! Start throwing in the cheese a bit of a time, letting each addition melt before you add more.
And now, the broccoli, chicken and cheese sauce will combine to become....CAPTAIN PLANET!
Just kidding. We're gonna pour the cheese sauce and chicken over the pasta and veg...and toss to coat.
Yes, Lord, YES.
Of course you can just serve it up like this...but I didn't do that. I covered it in more cheese and breadcrumbs...and baked it.
And yes, I put it in two pans cause this makes a LOT OF MAC. It was so good. Super creamy, intensely cheese-y. The sauce really settles into the middle of the macaroni noodle so you get an intense flavor in each bite. And the chicken and broccoli really make this a complete meal.
Do yourself a favor. Stop reading this and start making this dish. Now!