Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful

Tuesday Menu: Lunch: Chicken Mac & Cheese
Dinner: Kristen’s Italian Chicken Sausage Soup
Dessert: 10 Pumpkin Pies and Whipped Cream (yup, you read that right, 10!)

So, last night we went to the Pioneer Woman Cooks book signing. Great fun was had by all. There were so many people in that little book store it was hard to breathe. It was an interesting crowd too. It was mostly women, but of a rather diverse age group. They ranged from girls in their early 20’s to women in their 60’s. There was one guy there on his own. He was getting the book signed as a Christmas gift for his mother. Some ladies thought that was so adorable they gave him one of their better wristbands so he could go ahead of them. It was very sweet. And it seemed almost everyone there had an awesome, fancy-pants camera. There was much camera envy by Katie and me. I have no talent for taking pictures, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing I did. Maybe if I had a fancy-pants camera… We were glad we got there early to get our wrist bands, as we were among the first to get our books signed. Ree Drummond was very nice, and I wish we’d stuck around to listen to her speak, but after an early morning and a busy day of cooking, I was definitely ready to go home. Not to mention that my trek home generally takes an hour plus, and my sister needed to go home and feed her three babies (please note I included her husband in that ;-)

Now that you’re thoroughly tired of hearing about that… let’s talk frat. It is the middle of finals week and quiet as a tomb around here. I don’t have any decent frat boyisms. They aren’t even meeting for their usual lunch-time Price is Right fix. I remember finals week. Everyone made such a fuss over it. Being a French major, finals week wasn’t really a big deal for me. Sure there were tests that I studied for, and late nights spent doing projects that I probably should have started weeks earlier. But for most of my classes, finals were never any bigger deal than any other test. In fact there was only one class I took in college where the final represented the majority of my grade. In fact, it was the only thing that we were graded on, and I failed it. I failed it because I missed the day that they taught the proper form with special emphasis on using the appropriate beginnings and endings. The test was to write a letter in the proper form. I missed that day because the metro workers decided to go on strike while I was eating lunch. Ah, the French. Luckily, it was a class I didn’t need and I only took because the schools were on strike and it was either take a bunch of fluff classes from French as a foreign language program or be sent home and have wasted thousands of dollars getting there etc… Ahhh the French… But that’s a whole different story. Remind me to tell you about it some time, it involves a crazy cab driver, blockades and getting chased and tear gassed by the police. Good times!

In other news, it’s cold outside. It’s cold, rainy, drizzly and dismal. It’s times like these that I miss snow. Snow is at least pretty. You can play in the snow, build forts, throw snowballs and go sledding. The only thing you can do when it’s cold and rainy is thank your sister again for giving you rain boots. Then I remember what it’s like to live in the Midwest. I’ve forgotten what below freezing feels like, let alone below 0. I don’t think I could handle that. They would completely freak out here. My husband has never even seen real snow; not the kind that sticks to the ground and can form a ball to hurl at his unsuspecting face. He thinks a toboggan is a kind of hat.

On cold, rainy days the only thing to do (other than thank your sister for rain boots) is make something warm, comforting and delicious. It is also a great booster if you’re stuck in room studying like a mad man for an upcoming final. Chicken Mac & Cheese is just that kind of food. It’s also a great favorite of the guys’. Whenever I ask them what they want for lunch, the answer is always chicken mac & cheese. I came up with it at the beginning of the semester. I wanted to make homemade mac & cheese but I thought they would probably want some kind of meat with it. Homemade mac & cheese is a little time consuming (compared to box mac & cheese); I think it deserves its place as a main dish so I added chicken. The result is the ultimate creamy, cheesy, meaty comfort food.

P.S. It is also an excellent comfort food on cold, snowy days, if you have those where you’re from

Chicken Mac and Cheese
Serves 25

6 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite sized pieces**
½ cup Vegetable Oil
1 tbs Garlic Powder
1 tbs Paprika
2 pounds Macaroni Noodles
1 ½ cups of Butter
1 ½ cups Flour
10 ½ cups Milk
3 pounds Cheese (shredded cheddar or American cut up into small cubes, depending on which you prefer)
Salt and Pepper

Heat oven to 375. In a baking dish, mix chicken pieces with oil, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through. Cook macaroni according to package instructions. In sauce pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. When butter is completely melted, whisk in flour and a little salt and about a tablespoon of pepper. Cook mixture for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add in milk slowly while whisking to prevent lumps. Reduce heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Mixture should have thickened quite a bit. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. In baking dish (I usually use the one I cooked the chicken in, less dishes that way) add cooked macaroni and cooked chicken pieces. Pour cheese sauce over pasta and stir to coat pasta and chicken with sauce. Top with shredded cheddar cheese if desired. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

**Note: You can use leftover roast chicken, canned chicken, tuna, or turkey… whatever strikes your imagination or pantry. If you’re not making the chicken from scratch, omit the paprika and garlic powder. If you are making the chicken from scratch, you can use any combination of spices and herbs that strikes your fancy. Example: rosemary, garlic and thyme with a white cheddar sauce are absolutely divine. Just make everything as directed but substitute white cheddar for cheese and the appropriate spices for paprika and garlic. Or you can omit the chicken all together for your vegetarian friends or to bring it as a side dish for your next potluck

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