Chicken Broccoli Mac and Cheese with Bacon

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Dinner and wine nights are a common event with my good friend Kristen. Just the other day she sends me two choices she found on Pinterest. One being chicken and roasted potatoes and the other being chicken – broccoli mac and cheese. Hmm tough choice but if someone suggests mac and cheese, hands down the answer will always be mac and cheese!  

Mac and cheese recipes are often dishes made of simple ingredients and loved by all but this one was just missing something.  We both said, “it’s good but …” We added more chili powder. Still no difference. We then added smoked paprika, garlic, even more chili powder, salt and pepper. It was better but still very monotone in flavor. We both, don’t know exactly what we were seeking, wanted more.  

 

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Over the next couple of days I couldn’t stop thinking about that meal or how I would have made it differently. But then, I’m standing in line at Starbucks for my first pumpkin spice latte of the season and I noticed a bacon and Gouda breakfast sandwich. Aha! A second cheese flavor element and everything’s better with bacon! That’s the great thing about inspiration, you can find it in the oddest of places at the randomness of times.

 

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I also added garlic and onion powder to the chicken for a little more flavor than just salt and pepper like in the original recipe. I picked smoked Gouda instead of regular because not only will it pair well with the sharp cheddar but the smokiness will be perfect with the bacon.  Since I couldn’t taste the chili powder the first time around I choose to omit it completely and added Dijon mustard to the cheese base instead.  

 

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The actual cooking process of the original recipe was super easy to follow and the sauce thickened nicely so I didn’t change anything there.

I know we all have fond memories of the cheap blue box from go-to childhood pleasures made by babysitters everywhere to the must have staple in the college pantry for numerous reasons. But, I encourage anyone to put it aside and for about 30 minutes longer you can enjoy a delish mac and cheese from scratch. 

 

Chicken Broccoli Mac and Cheese with Bacon
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 8-ounces medium shells pasta, uncooked
  2. 3 cups broccoli florets
  3. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 4 chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
  5. salt and pepper, to taste
  6. onion powder, to taste
  7. garlic powder, to taste
  8. 1 cup milk
  9. 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  10. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  11. 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  12. 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  13. 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
  14. 4 strips bacon, crispy and roughly chopped
  15. 1 cup reserved pasta water (optional)
Directions
  1. Cook bacon according to package. Once crispy, drain on paper towels to remove some grease and roughly chop into small pieces. Set aside.
  2. Cook pasta according to directions on package.
  3. Add broccoli florets to the pasta the last two minutes of cooking.
  4. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and set aside.
  5. Drain pasta and broccoli and set aside.
  6. While pasta is cooking prepare the chicken. Heat EVOO in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Cook 4-6 minutes each side depending on thickness, or until cooked through and well browned. Remove from pan and chop into 1-inch bite size pieces. Return chicken back to the pan.
  7. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, chicken broth, and flour.
  8. Add salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard to the mixing bowl and whisk until well combined.
  9. Stir the mixture into the pan with the chicken. Cook 2-3 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
  10. Add pasta mixture, shredded cheeses, and bacon. Stir until cheese melts. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. If sauce becomes too thick add a little reserved pasta water or for additional flavoring.
  11. Remove from heat, let sit for 2-3 minutes.
  12. Stir, serve, and enjoy.
Notes
  1. Want to make this even better? Serve mac and cheese in oven safe dishes. Top each with a little shredded cheese and bacon crumbs. Set oven to broil. Place in oven until cheese melts and brown slightly.
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