Flash Dinner: Mac ‘n’ Cheese Casserole with Baked (Fried) Chicken Strips

Brought to you by the leftover half-box of cooked elbows in my fridge. Why is that in there? Well let’s just say someone who shall remain nameless forgot to cook up some rice to go with dinner the other night and the fastest thing we could think use as a replacement were elbows. So we have extra elbows.

Anyway there are tons of great recipes for mac and cheese out there and my personal favorite is the Pioneer Woman’s recipe.

This is not going to be the greatest mac and cheese ever but it’s pretty darn good. And reasonably quick. And here’s the bonus. The sauce. It’s a multi-purpose cheese sauce. If you have too much of it for the amount of pasta, you can keep it in the fridge for a few days and use it over steamed veggies, or pureed with spinach. Or use it for a green bean casserole.

Preheat oven to 350

While you’re doing the sauce, cook your pasta if you haven’t yet. Steam some veggies. I did some frozen peas and broccoli florets in the microwave. Drain the pasta and mix with the veggies in a casserole pan.

4 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
2 1/2 cups Whole Milk (if you don’t have whole milk, adding ricotta helps make it creamier)
1/2 cup ricotta (or half and half, cottage cheese, or another 1/2 cup of milk if you’re lacking additional dairy products).
1 cup grated cheddar
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1-1/2 teaspoon Salt or to taste (lack of enough salt is, as Ree Drummond says, what usually kills a mac and cheese)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper or to taste

On the stove, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to make a roux. Add milk and ricotta (or half and half, etc). Whisking constantly, while sauce thickens. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne then add the grated cheddar. Stir while cheese melts.
Then, pour as much cheese sauce as you want over the top of your elbows and veg. Sprinkle the top with more shredded cheddar cheese and Panko breadcrumbs if you have them. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.

Yes, I cheated on the chicken strips. I used Tyson lightly breaded fully cooked frozen strips, microwaved them 1 minute on each side, then baked them in the oven to crisp them up (I baked them with the mac and cheese but the package says to cook them at 400 so it’s your call).

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