Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mac and Cheese Weather

A change in seasons inevitably leads to a change in meals. Once Fall rolls around, I tend to crave warmer, comfort foods like soups (especially French onion!), chili, and mac and cheese. And anything baked with apples, cinnamon, or pumpkin.

Sage is also a quintessential Fall flavor. Since our sage plant is still going strong, I've been looking for recipes with sage.

Luckily, the October 2011 issue of Better Homes & Gardens had a recipe for Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. John isn't a huge pumpkin fan, so I used the recipe as a jumping off point for my own rendition of mac and cheese.

Since we wanted a little more protein, pumpkin was swapped out for chicken. Though you should probably have a vegetable as a side.

The mac and cheese was also the perfect vehicle for using up old slices of bread. Neither of us like the "butts" of the bread and they either get thrown out or shoved in a corner in the freezer. This was my first time making breadcrumbs from scratch and I don't think it'll be the last.

Just place slices of good, stale bread on a baking sheet in a warm oven (about 200*) for an hour or two to dry out. Be sure not to let them brown. I had a few slices straight from the freezer and they dried out nicely. The dry bread can be ground into crumbs with a food processor, grater, or your bare hands.

The mac and cheese wasn't super gooey, but the flavors were spot on. Maybe it was because we excluded the pumpkin. Next time I'll add more cheese and maybe more cream or milk. I never said fall food was going to be healthy! Check out other Fall favorites at Schue Love.

Autumn Mac and Cheese
Loosely based on a recipe from the October 2011 Better Homes and Gardens

Makes: 8 (3/4 cup) side-dish servings or 4 meal-sized servings
Prep: 30 minutes               
Bake: 30 minutes               
Stand: 10 minutes
2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed (use your favorite seasoning, we used Cajun)
2 cups dried elbow macaroni (8 ounces)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk (I substituted 1/2 cup half and half and 1/2 cup skim milk)
4 oz. Fontina cheese, shredded (1 cup) 
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage or 1/2 tsp. dried leaf sage, crushed

Ingredients for topping
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (see preparation above)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Sage leaves, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350*. Cook macaroni in a large pot and drain. Keep mac in the strainer until needed. 

For cheese sauce: In a medium, ovenproof pan or dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Add whipping cream and milk (or half and half) all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly.

Stir in cheese and sage until the cheese is melted. Keep stirring so the sauce doesn't burn. If necessary, turn down the heat.

Stir macaroni and chicken into the cheese sauce and coat well.

For topping: In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oil. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and top is golden.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped sage leaves.

You can also prep the mac and cheese the night before. Take the prepared dish of mac and cheese (with the bread crumb topping) straight from the fridge to the 350* oven. Bake, uncovered, until bubbly and top is golden. It was about 40 minutes for me.
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  1. MMMM! Mac & cheese is my favorite warm comfort food, though I tend to eat it year-round! This looks yummy. Maybe I'll try making it this fall. Any suggestions for a substitute for the whipping cream? Or should I just eat in moderation which is always easier said than done. ;)

  2. Nicely done, my friend! I'm impressed :)

  3. Looks DELISH! Thanks for linking it up to Fall 5 today! :)

  4. Thanks friends!

    Kati - Just think of it as post-workout fuel :) Here are some substitutions:

    It looks like 1 cup, light whipping cream (30% butterfat) can be substituted with 3/4 cup whole milk (3.5% butterfat) and 1/4 cup melted butter. Or 1 cup half and half cream (12% butterfat).

    You can probably also use normal milk (skim, 1%, whatevs) with some butter. Just add some things to the pot and taste. If it's a little weak or not creamy enough, maybe add some more butter.


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