Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stove Top Pasta With Smoked White Cheddar Cheese, Chicken and Vegetables

I don't consider myself a chef as to me a chef is a food artist who can look at a pile of ingredients and see possibilities that the rest of us can't. They can taste each unique ingredient and understand how that flavour can be combined with others to create something new and unique.  ME?  I go through countless recipes (magazines, recipe books and the Internet) and occasionally watch a cooking show here and there for inspiration.

About half the time I make the recipe as is, especially if it's something new in terms of taste. I need to see how it tastes the way it was conceived before I know if I like it as is or if I want to change something.  The other half of the time I have an idea and look through several recipes for a framework to use as a basis to create from. Such was the case here.

I had leftover chicken. I had a lot of vegetables that needed using up. I had several kinds of cheese and lots of dry pasta. I also didn't want to stand at the stove making cheese sauce. A recipe had been calling me for awhile that made Mac and Cheese by cooking the pasta right in the milk and then stirring in the cheese. After exploring a ton of these recipes I was ready. 



The one change I wanted to make was to use an Almond/Coconut blend milk to cut down on the dairy. I still used a quality real cheese for the flavour.  How cheesy you make it is up to you. Around 6 oz seems to be the norm, but you can add more (or less) if you want it cheesier.  I liked the additional flavour of a smoked cheese and using a white cheddar meant no orange glow to the casserole.  



I pulled out my biggest, high sided frying pan and went to work.  By the end I had a tasty casserole style (or Mac and Cheese Plus) dinner that was full of flavour. Yes I still had to saute the veggies, but that's just not the same as stirring, stirring, stirring as your cream sauce thickens. Enjoy!

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Stove Top Pasta With Smoked White Cheddar Cheese, Chicken and Vegetables

Ingredients
1/2          Large onion diced
1             Clove Garlic diced
2-3 C      Vegetables (I used yellow pepper, fresh green beans and snap peas cut into 
               small pieces.You could also add frozen peas or corn when you add the chicken)
2 C          Coconut/Almond blend milk
1 C          Water
8 oz.        Dry Pasta - smaller is better. I used
6+ oz       Extra Old White Smoked Cheddar (a quality aged cheese is important, but
                you can choose your favourite, just make sure it isn't a bland variety)
2-3 C       Leftover Cooked Chicken shredded into bite size pieces
                (In a pinch you could sub a couple cans of chunky tuna drained)
1/2 tsp     Salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 cup, packed)
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and/or 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder

Instructions

In a large frying pan with high sides, as a small amount of olive oil and saute the onion, garlic and any firmer vegetables such as green beans and carrots. As the onions start to soften add the rest of the vegetables and saute a few minutes more.

Add the Coconut/Almond milk (or your favourite), water, macaroni, shredded chicken, salt and pepper.  Bring to a low simmer and cook uncovered. Gently stir often to keep the pasta from sticking and move the pasta on top to the bottom so it all cooks evenly. Cook until the pasta is done to your liking - usually about 8-10 minutes.  And keep an eye on the liquid. The pasta will absorb it while cooking. If it gets too dry, as a little more water. 

When the pasta is done and the sauce creamy, remove from the pot and stir in your grated cheese a handful at a time, making sure each is fully melted and the sauce smooth  before adding the next. When all the cheese is incorporated give it a taste. You can add more salt and/or pepper, some Dijon mustard or other seasonings if you like.

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