Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Most Comfortable Foods

Because you need comforting foods on dark dark nights. And the moon is beautiful. 
     I have a philosophy. It is that, in cooking, nothing can go wrong. You probably don't agree. You are probably looking at me like I'm crazy. Because you're thinking, of course things go wrong when you cook! You could not add enough of something or add too much of something and now you're left with a mess instead of something delicious. Well, to clarify, I'm not saying that everything always turns out absolutely mouth water-ingly delicious. But, I think you can end up with good, satisfying food nine out of ten times that you cook. This is probably why, whenever I read a recipe for something I want to make yet don't have all the ingredients for, I just substitute away until I can make it out of things in my pantry. And if I have things I want to use that aren't called for in a recipe, I just throw them in. If you always do this within reason, knowing what flavors tend to taste good together, things really will be all right.

My dinner: An experiment in substitutions     

     This is a good philosophy to have when you sometimes buy ingredients you don't know what to do with. For example, when you end up up buying an entire gallon of whole milk because you were not thinking. Somehow, my mental notes that I needed three cups of whole milk for chocolate pudding and that I was out of milk for my oatmeal and cereal eating got muddled in my mind. Ah well. So, what could I use whole milk for? Mac and Cheese! But, I didn't have the other -perhaps you would think absolutely necessary- components for Mac and Cheese: cheddar cheese (which everyone says is the best for this purpose) and elbow macaroni. 

     So, maybe its not a traditional Mac and Cheese. But, it is penne pasta baked in a creamy mozzarella sauce with chicken and topped with cheese. That is comfort food enough for me. And, it was easy enough to make, bake, and admire in the hour between my lab and work. Yay! The saddest thing though was that I didn't have time to eat any of it before I left for work. And, though it was creamy, and the chicken moist, and the top crunchy and golden when I finally got to eat it, I missed out on that bubbly just-out-of-the-oven cheesiness. That and the remaining cups of whole milk mean there might be a less healthy Mac and Cheese coming up shortly. Still, I now have one, filling, not-too-unhealthy, protein-inclusive (I have to say it, its making me feel better that my dinner consisted of delicious oozing cheese and pasta) Mac and Cheese that-bakes-up-to-make-a-good-dinner-and-lunch-for-the-next-day recipe in my repertoire. And that can never be a bad thing.

And...this is how much was left after my dinner....I was hungry OK. 
Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Chicken
Very Loosely Adapted from Southern Living 

Serves 2 (Double Recipe for a Square Pan if you are a normal person who doesn't only cook in loaf pans. This will allow you to save it up for more than two meals or share it with someone! Hurrah) 

1 cup Penne Pasta (or Elbow Macaroni) 
1 piece Chicken Thigh 
1 cup Milk (not skim) 
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Flour
1/4 tsp Salt 
1/8 tsp Black Pepper 
10 oz Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (or Sharp Cheddar, which is more traditional)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Then, lightly grease your loaf or square pan. Next, boil the water for the penne pasta and cook it. Set the pasta aside. Also, trim the excess fat from the chicken thigh and cut it into bite-sized (approximately 1 inch) cubes.

For the sauce, first microwave the milk for 1 minute. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then, whisk in the flour until smooth and cook, while whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the warm milk and cook the mixture for five minutes while whisking constantly, until it has thickened. Next, whisk in the salt, pepper, and 8 oz (1 cup) of the cheese. Spoon in the cooked pasta and raw chicken cubes. Pour the pasta, chicken, and sauce into the pan. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake for twenty minutes, or until it is golden and bubbly. 

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