November 3, 2011

Pesto Chicken Macaroni and Cheese Surprise

Out of the ashes of a dinner disaster, a star was born...

(Wow! That was impressively dramatic, don't you think???)

Sometimes, I think it takes a major dinner snafu to get my creative juices going and use up the leftover items from the previous fail. In this instance, the very bad thing that I was trying to get rid of was the components for a version of Turkey Sloppy Joe's with a cheese sauce. Let's just all agree, the turkey recipe was not good. Not good at all. In fact, it was a really weird combination of flavors.


Anyway, I had the leftover turkey meat that I re-purposed (i.e. disguised) into spaghetti and meat sauce on a different night, but I didn't know what I was gonna do with the copious amounts of leftover cheese sauce. As it stood, the cheese sauce needed help. However, I couldn't bring myself to waste it. So, I decided to do some tinkering. I went through the fridge and found a half of a jar of pesto and some leftover, homemade tomato soup that was on the brink of being questionable. There was something oddly familiar about the mingling of these flavors...pesto, tomatoes, cheese...and then an idea formed.

(Also, it needs to be mentioned that we are on a really, really, really, TIGHT budget and we were low on groceries. A trip to the grocery store was not in the cards, so I had to forage in the pantry and fridge to come up with something edible from what we already had on hand.)

I cooked a package of 3 chicken breasts, boiled a half of a box of whole wheat macaroni noodles, and went to work...much like a mad scientist. This recipe was the result of my manipulation and toil. And ya know what??? It was fantastic! Yup, I said it--fantastic! Who would of though that some not-so-stellar leftovers and mere pantry staples could yield a delicious dinner for five??? Not me, that's for certain...but I'm so happy it worked out and I have a new, yummy mac and cheese recipe to use.

Pesto Chicken Macaroni and Cheese Surprise

1/2 a box of whole wheat macaroni noodles
3 cooked chicken breasts, cubed into bite-sized pieces
4 ounces of pesto
1 cup of tomato soup (either homemade or prepared)
1 1/2 cups of white cheese sauce (see below for recipe)
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated

For the White Cheese Sauce:
1 cup of milk (I used fat-free)
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup of Parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup of chicken stock (optional--this is to thin out sauce, if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil macaroni according to package directions in a large pot of salted water. Once macaroni is done cooking, drain and set aside.

In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the cheese sauce (see below directions), 1 cup of prepared tomato soup, and pesto. Stir to combine well. Add the cooked (and diced) chicken, cooked macaroni,and 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese to the sauce mixture. Toss to combine and well coat all the ingredients. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, as needed. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray and pour the macaroni mixture into it. Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Remove from oven, let stand for 5-10 minutes, and serve.

For the White Cheese Sauce:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until well combined. Cook flour mixture for about 5 minutes, until color is turning slightly tan. While whisking, add milk and softened cream cheese. Bring sauce to a boil while still whisking, then reduce heat and cook sauce until it starts to thicken. When sauce reaches desired consistency, remove the sauce from the heat. Mix in the mozzarella, Parmesan, and then season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. (If the sauce is too thick, thin it by whisking chicken broth into the mixture by adding a quarter cup at a time until desired consistency is reached.) Set aside.

The Result:
We were quite surprised at how good this turned out. My whole family loved it; especially my kids. This "surprise" recipe is a keeper!

No comments: