philly mac n’ cheese

From a culinary standpoint, birthday celebrations are a big deal in our house. I look forward to them every year {more so the hub’s birthday than my own} because not only are they are good reason to pull out a good bottle of wine, but because we tend to go over the top in terms of dinner.

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We celebrated the hub’s birthday not long ago, and we spent quite some time trying to figure out what kind of meal to prepare. Every year, I let him decide on exactly what it is he wants. No limits, no rules – his dinner wish {and dessert!} is my command. It’s pretty much a win-win for both of us; he gets a meal of his own creation, and I get to have fun whipping it up in the kitchen!

When he settled on the more traditional mac n’ cheese, I asked him to come up with some sort of twist on it, sort of a way to spice it up a bit. We bounced ideas back and forth…flavor combinations, dishes that he likes, we we somehow steered the conversation to sandwiches.

“What about a philly?”  I asked him. His eyes lit up, and I knew we had found the dish of the year. The end result? – a combination of a few staple dishes in my repertoire, with some funky additions that make it perfect for him. It’s an indulgent dish, and you bet that we will be bringing this out again once the cooler autumn months come around.

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Enjoy!

~~~

Philly Mac n’ Cheese {recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma}

Definitely one of the more creative birthday dishes we’ve dreamed up over the past few years, this mac n’ cheese hits all the notes of a classic cheese steak sandwich: perfectly loaded with cheese, traditional vegetable add-ons, and of course…oh-so indulgent. 

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. dried pasta, such as cavatappi

non-stick cooking spray

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 cup milk of choice

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock

3/4 cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese

3/4 cup freshly shredded champagne cheddar cheese {if not available, feel free to swap out with extra sharp cheddar}

1 package frozen spinach {cooked, drained, and cooled}

2 cups baby portabella mushrooms

2 cups chicken {cooked, cooled, and shredded}

1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/8 cup Panko {Japanese bread crumbs}

olive oil, for sauteeing the mushrooms

salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

In a small nonstick skillet, cook the mushrooms with a splash of olive oil until lightly sauteed, about 5-7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and melt he butter. Add the cornstarch and cook, stirring well, until the cornstarch is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk, chicken stock, and an generous pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Simmer, whisking frequently to smooth out any lumps, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add a pinch of pepper and stir to incorporate. Slowly add in both the Gruyere and champagne cheddar cheese, making to sure combine thoroughly.

Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir well. Next, fold in the spinach, mushrooms, and chicken. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and top with the Parmesan and Panko. Bake until the top is lightly browned and the sauce is bubbly, about 25-30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with a side of roasted vegetables {we opted for asparagus!}.

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