Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese

My dad celebrated his 59th birthday last week, complete with a delicious vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting (sorry to all, but I won’t be sharing that recipe. It’s a secret!) And now, a bit about my dad:

Years ago he added a new part to his morning ritual (my dad is both a simple and complex man, but he’s always one to stick to his rituals with only a dash of spontaneity when needed)* which consisted of going on walks to get some more exercise. On his first trip out he could barely walk a mile without being winded and tired. Long had he strayed from his high school and college days on the football field and at the ice rink and while he kept the strength, it took a bit to get back into the swing of things. He also used to walk, from what I can remember, every morning – out the door around 5am and on the sidewalks surveying the neighborhoods and, in the winters, the local school ice rinks with a report back on their condition for skating. These days, thanks to his work schedule, he is only able to walk on weekends but how far he goes greatly makes up for that loss. A typical weekend walk is now up to 10 miles and sometimes he goes even further.

Yet, walking is not the only or even the favorite way he continues to get exercise. As mentioned, my dad played hockey when he was young. It was a sport he grew to love from his father and one that he eventually passed down to me. A few years ago Smidget found that a group of guys at the bank she worked for had formed a team and dad signed up. He has been playing ever since, even though Smidget left the bank years ago. They compete against other teams to try to win the championship (which they did this past year!) in the winter and scrimmage against each other every Thursday night in the summer.

Check out my Dad on the ice!

This means on Thursday nights he doesn’t like to eat too much so he’s not too full to skate, but he doesn’t want to eat anything heavy either so he doesn’t feel weighed down. Hence – Thursday has become our family’s Pasta Night. A bit of a carbo load, plus just really tasty food. Recently I have been trying to mix up Pasta Night a bit so it isn’t the same ol’ pasta and red sauce over and over again. Once we used the parsley we got from the farm share we belong to for pesto, as the farm had recommended to. Then, I decided to try something completely different from our family’s usual: Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese.

It was a success! Not only did it taste great, but dad said he even felt better playing that night after dinner. The hot sauce was just enough to be spicy, but not too much and the cheese really pulled the dish together (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk).

Buffalo- Chicken Macaroni and Cheese
Prep: 35 minutes         Total: 1 hour 15 minutes         Makes: 6-8 servings

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup hot sauce (preferably Frank’s)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 ½ cups half and half
1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 ½ cups)
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.
  2. Meawhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add ½ cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute.
  3. 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 half and half, then add the remaining ¼ 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Adapted from Food Network Magazine, April 2010 issue

*Yeah, figure that out! 😛

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