Monday, August 13, 2012

Spinach and Chicken Macaroni + Cheese

Today, I got home from work and cooked away my bad day. It was one of those days where kind words and smiles were not just not in abundance but were generally lacking in existence; instead, the day was replete with complaints and accusations. You know those days...the ones where you leave the office feeling more than just a little jaded. Example: A client of mine called, allegedly to thank me for what happened with his case. He gets a couple sentences into his thanks and then says "I didn't think you had it in you, but I guess God was working through you." Wait, was that a compliment or not?

While it was tempting to head home after that lovely voicemail, I stayed the course and promptly left at five o'clock. As I am apt to do, I headed to the grocery store and proceeded to buy whatever looked good (this can probably also be attributed to the fact that I am hungry all the time! I hope I don't go through the next half of my pregnancy with an insatiable appetite.). Anyway, by the time I was done, I had ingredients for rice crispy treats, macaroni and cheese, and zucchini + rosemary soup. Do those scream comfort food to anyone else?

As I worked in the kitchen with a fervor I've lacked for the last couple of months, I also worked through my icky day. Mouth-watering mac + cheese certainly made it easier to let go of the day's badness. While it is temptingly easy to keep a vice-grip on bad days, somehow my irritation and frustration seem to melt away when I make a delightfully beautiful dish.

Spinach and Chicken Macaroni + Cheese
Kelley Gondring

Serves 8.

One of the great things about this recipe is that it is possible to use just one large skillet or pot.

Macaroni + Cheese
In a large pot or skillet, add:
8 cups water
When water is boiling, add:
1 pound elbow macaroni
Cook 6-7 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain in colander and set aside.

Add to skillet/pot:
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups washed spinach

Turn heat to medium-low. Use lid to cover and let cook until all the leaves are wilted, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl and drain off excess liquid. Set aside.

Add to skillet/pot:
1/2 cup water
2 chicken breasts

Turn heat to medium-high. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until no pink remains in the chicken. Cut into bite size pieces and add to bowl with spinach.

Add to skillet/pot:
1 stick butter
Turn heat to medium-high. Once butter has melted, add:
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
Whisk butter and flour together to make the beginnings of a roux. Whisking constantly, add one cup at a time:
3 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream

Once all the milks are incorporated, mix in:
2 tablespoons Texas Pete
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

When all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, add the chicken, spinach, and macaroni to the cheese mixture. Use a spatula to mix together.

Pour into a large casserole dish or distribute evenly amongst eight (8) two-cup ramekins [I used disposable aluminum containers so that we could freeze what we didn't have for dinner tonight].

In a medium bowl combine:
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs [I made my own breadcrumbs by slicing up some French bread, dousing the slices in olive oil, and adding a generous amount of basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. I baked them 10 minutes on each side at 400º. I then used my food processor to turn them into breadcrumbs. Store bought Italian breadcrumbs will work just as well if you don't have the time or the desire to fuss over the homemade ones.]
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

If using one large casserole dish, spread evenly over top of mac + cheese. If using eight individual containers, place 1/4 cup of topping on each.

Bake at 350º for 20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.

Eat up!

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