Tonight we’re eating some serious comfort food. Dinner consisted of homemade macaroni and cheese made with leftover roasted chicken breasts, grape tomatoes, baby zucchini, creamy havarti, and sharp cheddar. The mac and cheese was accompanied by a salad of baby field greens.
A: whud up, homes?
T: that was some damn good macaroni and cheese we ate!
A: what was it you said at dinner?
T: that mac and cheese was how mac and cheese should be. Damn good. It tasted very cheddary, but it was very creamy at the same time.
A: That is sometimes hard to achieve when using sharp cheddar. For this meal i decided to use 1/2 havarti and 1/2 sharp cheddar. Havarti is a very creamy cheese. And as with all good mac and cheezes, i started with a bechemel.
T: one more time, what’s a bechemel? I know it’s a creamy sauce, but I dont’ know how to do it.
A: damn boy! i would think with as many times as i’ve explained this you would remember it! a bechemel starts with a roux then you slowly whisk in warm milk a little at a time then bring it to a boil. My hidden secrets (that are not so hidden) are the nutmeg and paprika that I added to the sauce.
T: I know you say that rouxs are easy, but people are always bitching about how hard they are. What gives?
A: i really don’t know. all i can think of is that people walk away from the roux then it burns. It’s butter and flour people! it’s gonna burn, if you let it. a roux is just one part butter (or oil) and one part flour. For a bechemel you really don’t want the mixture to turn any different shades. you just want to slightly cook the flour so it doesn’t taste raw – yet maintaining the creamy white color.
T: So then you just dumped all that with some cheese onto some pasta?
A: pretty much, you have to bring the bechemel to a simmer because thats when it gets thick. At that point i would turn the temp down and stir in the cheese. Then pour it over the al dente pasta.
T: Al dente is… not all the way cooked? In spanish diente is tooth. Any relation?
A: i dunno! i only took one semester of italian. It means firm, though. you don’t want mushy pasta. And with mac and cheese it should be particularly al dente because it’s going to get some more cook time in the oven.
T: I like cheesy top layers.
A: MMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmMMMMMMmmmmmmm CHEESY TOP LAYERS!!!. I don’t think there is much i like more than cheezy top layers. bubbly, gooey, sometimes crispy cheeeeeeeeeese!
T: cheesey top layer would be a good appetizer. I want to go to a restaurant and order a starter of cheezy top layer.
A: seriously. I am known to even steal other people’s cheesy top layer when they aren’t looking. it’s dangerous – this addiction i have to crispy, chewy, gooey, melty, unbelievably good cheese.
T: oh, amanda, that is just wrong! Have I fallen victim to your cruel game?
A: i’m sure! you probably didn’t know it though, because i’m smooth like that.
T: well I never. …. I just… I can’t… I don’t know what to say. Amanda!
A: yes tyler! i’m right here!
T: you sly little thing. I will watch my cheezy top layers more carfully from now on. … I’m watching you… uh huh.
Amanda busts into a poor rendition of “Private Eyes” from the eighties.
T: cease!!! No more Private Eyes are watching me! No!
A: okay, okay, i give up my singing career to rate this meal! I give this meal a 4.69/5. It was a sexy plate of yummy goodness.
T: It was definately the sexiest macaroni and cheese I’ve had. I give it a 4.7/5. Actually, it probably needs a higher score, but I already wrote that one down. It was nearly the pinacle of mac and cheese. That shit was hot.
A: it was. it’s a shame it’s not winter. This was totally not a summer meal, but i had to use the leftovers somehow. Even thought it’s been abnormally hot here, this still worked for me tonight!
T: We don’t have seasons here. We can have winter meals and summer meals year round. It makes no difference. It’s always 67 degrees outside.
A: not today man! we rose above 80 degrees today.
T: Even right on the coast?
A: right on the coast is the only place it stayed in the 80s today. The rest of San Diego county was like…in the hundreds today man!
T: wow. that’s toasty.
A: cheese toasty?
Kwaherini mabibi na mabwana!
2 cooked chicken breasts, in bite sized pieces
1 zucchini, in 1/2 inch pieces
20 grape tomatoes, cut in half and squeezed to get the seeds out
1 lb creste di galli pasta or elbow macaroni
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk, warm
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar
8 oz shredded havarti
2 tsp smoky paprika
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt the water liberally once it has reached boiling. While waiting for the water to boil, melt 6 tbsp butter in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add 6 tbsp flour and stir. Cook, while whisking, for 30 seconds to a minute. Slowly drizzle in small amounts of milk while whisking constantly, until all the milk is incorporated and the sauce is smooth. If you add the milk too fast or donâ€™t whisk it in enough, your sauce will be lumpy. Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring frequently. Add the pasta to the pot of salted water and cook for about 7-8 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Once the milk sauce (also known as a bÃ©chamel) is simmering, add the nutmeg, paprika, and 6oz cheddar and 6oz havarti. Stir until the cheese is completely melted. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper as needed. Remove from the heat and wait for the pasta to finish. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, then add the cheese sauce, chicken, grape tomatoes, and zucchini. Mix until everything is thoroughly lubed up with cheese sauce. Pour into a clear baking dish and top with 2oz cheddar and 2oz havarti. Bake at 400 degrees until the top layer is bubbly and golden in spots. Garnish the mac and cheese with chives to add a little color and enjoy!
* Party tip: If you know you'll be short for time on the day you're serving this dish, you can prepare everything one or two days in advance. Just stop before baking, cover, and refrigerate. Then it will be ready to be baked right before you need it.