Saturday, August 27, 2011

All My Favorite Flavors In One Bite: Bacon-Ranch Mac and Cheese With Chicken

Before my sweet girlfriend Andie had her gorgeous baby boy earlier this week, she had asked me to feature some freezer-friendly meals in here that would help a new mama stockpile some healthy meals. Understandably, she'd rather snuggle her sweet baby than spend time in the kitchen making dinner. I had planned to share this recipe earlier this week so she could try to make it before her scheduled delivery today. boy had his own ideas and arrived Tuesday afternoon instead! 

So, I saved this post for today...a lightened-up mac and cheese that features two of my favorite flavors: ranch and bacon! Since new mothers seem to want lighter recipes, this one is adapted from Cooking Light. It's lower in fat and calories, but BURSTING with flavor!! The post is my welcome-home present to the new family, if you will. Hopefully Andie will get to make this recipe soon. If we lived closer, I'd make a batch and take it to her to have for dinner tonight. This recipe makes enough that it can be frozen in two 8x8 pans for two lickety-split dinners: one for now, and one to freeze for later. 

Andie's my friend who told me about Foodbuzz and encouraged me to this blog having the readership that it does is in large part because of her! To streamline the prep time for this recipe as much as possible, I used Tyson pre-cooked cubed chicken breast and cooked the bacon in the microwave. You could also use a roasted chicken from the grocery store. This mac and cheese was in the cooking dish in less than 30 minutes and ready to eat after a quick trip under broiler to brown the cheese and make everything bubbly. I served this mac and cheese with a simple, healthy green salad.

Bacon-Ranch Mac and Cheese with Chicken
adapted from Cooking Light

Step 1: Bring some salted water to boil in a large pot. Wrap two slices of center cut bacon in paper towels and cook in the microwave until crispy (about 2-3 minutes); crumble the bacon and set aside. When the water boils, add an 8-ounce package of elbow noodles. I used Barilla Pasta Plus with added fiber and Omega 3 to up the healthy factor as much as possible!

Step 2:  Add 1 tbs. olive oil to a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 tbs. flour. Whisk well to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly. This is your roux, which will thicken the cheese sauce.

Step 3:  Combine the following ingredients in a large measuring cup: 1.5 cups skim milk, 1/3 cup garlic-flavored Philly Cooking Cream, and 1 tbs. dry ranch dressing mix. Whisk well to combine and add to the skillet. Whisk the mixture into the roux and bring to a boil; lower heat and cook the sauce until thickened -- about 2-3 minutes. Add 3/4 cup shredded cheese of your choice...I used a blend with monterey jack, cheddar, and colby. Stir to combine the cheese into the sauce.

Step 4:  When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the sauce. Add 2 cups diced chicken breast and two sliced green onions. Stir well to combine. Place the mac and cheese in a casserole dish or two 8x8 pans. Turn on your broiler. Sprinkle the reserved bacon and 1/2 cup more of the shredded cheese on top of the mac and cheese. Broil for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese melts and is golden brown. 

You would never guess in a million years that this is a lightened-up recipe! It's gorgeous and full of flavor, with a rich cheesy sauce and gooey cheese on top. The ranch flavor is subtle, but really nice. And the bacon? Well, what's NOT better with a little bit of bacon?!?!? 

Before I end this post, I want to mention a few things. First off, prayers and good wishes going out to all of my friends and readers on the East Coast...hurricanes are scary, so please stay safe!! Second, please go to the Linky from my Tuesday post to add your favorite super-fast or freezer-friendly meals for Andie...I appreciate it.  Also...don't forget to enter the Woody's Gourmet herb and sea salt giveaway before tomorrow. And finally? This Wednesday is the deadline to enter your salsa-fied recipe in the recipe contest I'm co-sponsoring with Cookwell & Company. Some lucky cook is going to win a bunch of really fantastic could be YOU!!

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