This post is the first in a series titled “Family Friendly Feasts.” These recipes aim to be simple, nourishing, and delicious for the whole family.
Mac ‘n cheese was not a staple in my household growing up. The fluorescent orange, slimy cheese sauce was not appealing to me at all. My mom didn’t know how to make it, and my dad didn’t want to.
When I married into my husband’s Manitoban family, I quickly realized I would need to master a number of my mother-in-law’s best and most favourite recipes. Chief amongst them: her completely from scratch Mac ‘n Cheese.
I have completely lost count of the number of times I have made it for our little family, for neighbours, for friends called in from the sidewalk to join in on family dinner, for church potlucks, and taken to new parents in need of a hearty meal.
While the original recipe is delicious and oh-so-satisfying, I wanted to make a slightly healthier version; to make the Mac ‘n Cheese less “weekend indulgence” and more “weeknight staple.” So when I whipped this up, imagine my delight when it actually appealed to my family even more than the original? (Shhhh… don’t tell my MIL!)
Broccoli Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese
4 cups of dry macaroni ((I used GoGo brand’s Red and White Quinoa Macaroni. It was delicious!)
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups of milk (I used 2% but you could use anything from skim to whole)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard powder
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (you could also use a combination of cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella)
sea salt, to taste (up to 1 tsp)
2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken (I used some of rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, but you can use whatever you have on hand, or leave it out)
4 cups of broccoli florets
4 cups of corn flakes, crushed
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
Preheat oven to 400F. You will also need a 9×13″ baking dish.
Start by boiling the pasta:
In a large pot of salted water, bring 2-3 quarts of water to boil. When it comes to a boil, stir in the macaroni. You will want the pasta to be al dente, and slightly firmer than your liking, as you will be cooking it completely in the oven, in the sauce!
When the pasta is nearly to the al dente point, you can throw in your broccoli (right in with the pasta, YES!) to blanch it quickly, until it’s bright green and ever-so-slightly softened.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, and whisk until smooth. Slowly pour in, while whisking, all of the milk at once. Sprinkle in the seasonings (nutmeg, garlic powder, and mustard) and whisk until smooth. Heat slowly on medium high heat, whisking frequently, until sauce has thickened. Do not let it boil! Remove sauce from heat, and add the shredded cheese. Whisk until it’s completely melted and perfectly smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt to taste.
Drain the cooked macaroni, and pour into your baking dish. Sprinkle on the chicken, and add the broccoli, if you haven’t already. Pour the creamy sauce over and give it a gentle stir to make sure everything’s coated. Sprinkle with more shredded cheese, if you like!
Prep the cornflakes: Pour your cornflakes into a bowl and crush them. I use my hands. Or, put them in a sealed plastic bag and let your littles go to town crushing them with a rolling pin! Toss the crushed flakes with the olive oil, and sprinkle them evenly on top of the casserole.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cornflakes are lightly toasted and the cheesy sauce is bubbling.
We like to serve this with our family Sweet Cucumber Relish. It adds the perfect, bright, sweet-tart sparkle to this cozy, filling, and delicious dish.