Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

I’m back! This time with no  big promises or apologies, simply this ohmygoodness mac n’ cheese.

I don’t know many people who don’t recognize the beauty of macaroni and cheese. I’m twenty-something, and I’m no where near done with the cheesy goodness. It’s not something you grow out of. Perhaps you have the willpower to turn it away, but I bet you still crave it. And I don’t blame you.

There are many variations of the dish that I love. Sometimes, its nice to go classy and enjoy a truffled mac n’ cheese (Extra Virgin in NYC has my favorite); other times its necessary to add some bacon (try Anne Burrell’s). And then there are nights that you need to spice it up.

I made this recipe for Rob on a recent date night. He was in the mood for buffalo chicken, and while I’m not usually drawn to hot wings, I’m powerless to homemade mac n’ cheese.  Its a bit of a lengthy process due to the time required for prep work and baking, but the end product is worth it.

The cheese and hot sauce meld together to create the perfect harmony between man food and comfort food. And the texture? Spot on. The panko adds a nice crunch, without overwhelming each bite. For the final topping, we substituted goat cheese for blue. We only sprinkled it over half of the dish in fear of the flavors not pairing well, but I wish we covered the whole dang thing. The goat cheese doesn’t melt completely and keeps its creamy, smooth texture, which offers a cool  relief to the spicy sauce.

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

This recipe is modified from the Food Network Kitchens’ original. Although I tried to explain that adding celery wouldn’t make the pasta taste like celery, Rob was too skeptical (the dinner was for him after all). We followed the recipe from Tidy Mom instead, with only minor adjustments.

 Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter (divided)
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (if its small, use the whole thing)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup hot sauce (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3.5 cups)
  • 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (blue, if your a buff chick purist)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute.
  4. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the milk and cream, then add the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, then whisk in the sour cream until smooth.
  5. Spread half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top.
  6. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko, blue cheese and parsley. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
 
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Pizza with mushrooms, pizza with corn?

Pizza was on the menu last week for date night with Rob. After we came up with the plan, pizza was everywhere. It wouldn’t leave me alone! It came up in conversation, in daydreams, and as specials on Cooking Channel. The universe was speaking to me. I simply had to make pizza.

Being the yo pro (young professional) I am, my time for relaxing at night is limited. Therefore, I figured that I’d save some time and humiliation by buying pre-made dough. I was, on the other hand, ambitious in making two different types of pies.

 
Pizza #1:
For whatever reason, when I decided to make pizza, I also decided that one of them had to have mushrooms. I don’t eat them too often, but they give pizza a very earthy flavor which I was craving. I based my recipe search around them and found a  Bon Appétit recipe for a three cheese pizza with mushroom and pancetta, which I later discovered was written by Giada. This was an obvious plus for me, since along with every other person in the world, I adore her. 
Perhaps I am feeling more confident in my own skills because surprisingly, I used Giada’s pizza as a springboard for my own creation. I followed the basic baking directions, as well as used the suggested fontina, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. However, for another reason unknown to me, I wasn’t feeling the pancetta so much, and decided to substitute it with italian sausage (my pizza intuition was obviously very strong this week). 
Rob’s into food with a kick these days, so we picked spicy italian sausage. After sautéing the meat, we added the mushrooms to the same pan with some olive oil and a tinnnny bit of truffle salt. I was very nervous about over-salting the pizza after reading some of reviews. To be honest, I am not sure the mushrooms needed any salt at all considering the other salty ingredients. Although I am a fan of matching truffle salt and mushrooms, I will save the combo for something where the flavor of the combo can really shine. As a final touch, my smart boyfriend suggested adding chopped basil, which obviously turned out to be an excellent decision. It gave the very hearty, cheesy pizza a fresh punch. Next time I will add it in towards the latter portion of the baking, or even at the very end, to make the basil more prominent. 
Pizza #2 
When talking to my sister recently about things I have been cooking, she loudly exclaimed, “What’s up with your recent obsession with corn.” Rob loves corn. And if you are now concerned that I may have actually put corn on the pizza, your suspisions would be correct…
Rob swears by it, and I reluctantly agreed to try it out. Shockingly, I found recipes and restaurant menus online featuring this odd combo. I began to think that perhaps he wasnt so crazy after all. It should also be noted that I am always telling him to be open-minded when it came to food, so it was time for me to follow my own advice.
I decided to pan roast the corn in a cast iron skillet to char it, trying to bring out a smoky flavor. To accompany the corn, I sautéed chopped red onion with some olive oil and a pinch of salt. We had two mini doughs ready for pizza #2, due to a drawn out struggle with the rolling process. One corn pizza was three cheese and the other just had mozzarella.
Corn on pizza? Yes. It is downright delicious. The corn added a nice texture to each bite, along with a hint of sweetness (No worries though- this pizza still falls under the savory category). The deliciousness  of the caramelized onions only added to the overall success. 
I was very unconvinced when Rob initially told me that I would like corn on pizza. I couldn’t be more wrong. The pizza tasted equally good as left overs the next day. Try it!

Three Cheese Pizza with mushroom and sausage
inspired by recipe from March 2007 Bon Appétit
Premade pizza  dough
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 cup coarsely grated (or chopped) fontina 
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated mozzarella 
2 oz crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, finely sliced
1 italian sausage, casing removed
Basil, finely chopped
Olive oil for sautéing
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. 
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and sauté until brown, breaking into small pieces with tongs while cooking. Transfer sausage to a plate covered with paper towel. Add mushrooms to skillet, with a small amount of oil if needed. Sprinkle with pepper and salt (if desired). Sauté until brown, about 5 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Spread marinara sauce over pizza. Sprinkle cheeses over, then mushrooms and sausage. Sprinkle with basil (or wait until after pizza is cooked) Add salt and pep to taste if desired. 
Bake pizza until brown on bottom and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

Three cheese pizza with corn and red onion
Premade pizza dough
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 cup coarsely grated (or chopped) fontina 
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated mozzarella 
1 cup yellow corn (we used canned)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
Basil, finely chopped
Olive oil for sautéing
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. 
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn and sauté until brown. Transfer corn to bowl. Add onions to skillet, with a small amount of oil if needed. Sprinkle with pepper and salt (if desired). Sauté until brown, about 5 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Spread marinara sauce over pizza. Sprinkle cheeses over, then corn and onions. Sprinkle with basil (or wait until after pizza is cooked) Add salt and pep to taste if desired. 
Bake pizza until brown on bottom and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. 

Skirt steak and roasted corn with manchego & lime



A couple months ago, my boyfriend Rob visited me in California. In preparation of his arrival, my dad started dinner planning early. He casually asked me what I had cooked for Rob so far. At Fordham, I baked many treats for all of my friends, but I had never cooked for just him. I decided it was about time, so last Wednesday was our first boyfriend-girlfriend, home-cooked meal.


And FINALLY… a kitchen victory.


Being my indecisive self, picking the menu was no easy task. I finally decided on an Alton Brown skirt steak recipe and roasted corn recipe from August’s Bon Appetit. Both were delicious. I served them with refried beans and flour tortillas. Rob also brought over a bottle of Merlot, which paired quite nicely with the steak. (I guess his day in Napa really did turn him into a wine connoisseur)


The fresh lime juice flavored in the steak made for a great summer dinner, while the cumin and sugar gave the meat a touch of warmth. The marinade was very flavorful and did not require much marinating time. The recipe could’ve easily been halved, being that it was just the two of us. However, I made use of the leftovers by making a great salad the next day and steak quesadillas the day after that. Also, we did not have the luxury of a nice grill in my Harlem sixth floor walk up.  Rob heated olive oil in the grill pan instead, and he cooked the meat to perfection. 


The corn was my absolute favorite. While I have little experience making corn, Rob is an old pro, so he took over the husking responsibilities and enlightened me with his kernel cutting knowledge. Waiting for the corn to cool took a bit of time, so next time I will either make the corn more in advance or cheat with already prepared corn. Besides the time factor, this recipe is SO GOOD. The jalapeño adds a little kick, but its very subtle. (I have a low tolerance for heat) This was also my first taste of manchego cheese, and I liked it a lot. It melted in the warm corn and coated each kernel with its deliciousness. My favorite part though was the lime. Made the taste so fresh and light. It also paired nicely with the steak, if I do say so myself. I added this too into my salad for work the next day with the steak leftovers, baby spinach, and thinly sliced red onion, tossed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette. YUM. 


Here are the recipes I used. I highly recommend both. Enjoy! 


Skirt Steak 
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Food Network recipe)


1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 scallions, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 lb skirt steak (I only used 1 and still had a lot of leftovers)


Whisk together marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Place skirt steak and pour marinade in a large zip loc bad. Seal and refrigerate for at least one hour. 


Remove steak from bag and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in pan. Cook steaks to desired doneness. (We like medium-rare, so only a couple minutes per side) When finished cooking, wrap meat in aluminum foil and allow to sit for 15 minutes. 


Remove meat from foil, reserving foil and juices. Slice thinly across the grain of the meat. Return to foil pouch and toss with juice. 


Roasted Corn with Manchego & Lime
(Adapted from August 2011 Bon Appétit) 


6 ears of sweet yellow corn, unhusked
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2tbs unsalted butter
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño, seeded, finely dice
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lime, cut in wedges
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese
1/4 c thinly sliced chives
2 tsp finely grated lime zest


Preheat oven to 250°.


Roast unhusked corn on  baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cobs. Discard cobs.


Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and lightgolden in spots, 3-5 minutes. Add butter; stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pep. Transfer corn to a large bowl. Sprinkle jalapeño and crushed red pepper flakes over. Squeeze lime wedges over. Sprinkle with cheese, chives, and lime zest. 

Rob’s perfect bite
Rob’s seconds. The perfect burrito