Sunday, January 9, 2011

Venturing into the Tasty Kitchen

I've been reading lots of posts about setting New Year's resolutions or choosing NOT to set any. Now, I'm not a big believer in NYRs. I'm not saying that others shouldn't set them. I just know myself...I won't keep them.

However, I have decided to make some changes in my life and they just so happen to coincide with the New Year, so maybe I am a believer. I won't go into detail on why I've set these as my 2011 goals, but here they are:

1.  Go to Mass regularly (maybe not weekly, but more than just Easter and Christmas).

2.  Go to the gym at least twice a week. (It annoys me to see my gym membership payment on the credit card statement and know that I NEVER go.)

3.  Eat at home regularly (unless Mom it should read: Eat at home or Mom's regularly). Try to cut out the drive-thru runs on the way home from work.

So, I did go to Mass this morning. The band was playing and it reminded me of my days at Purdue and the band that played at St. Tom's...of course the band members this morning were about 20-30 years older, but they were still great. Sorry, I digress.

I really wanted to talk about the third "goal" on my list. I've gotten lazy over the last year (I guess "lazy" is the reason behind all 3 goals, huh?) and not really cooked much at all. I've relied on Steak 'n Shake way too much for my evening meal...but they have Coke Zero so I felt justified!

I'm determined to keep more "easy meal" options on hand, like bread for sandwiches and carrots and grapes for quick and healthy side options. Sometimes I don't get home from the office until after 7 p.m. and that's way too late (at least for me) to be doing a lot of cookin' in the kitchen!

I also want to start using my crockpot more regularly and fixing meals on the weekend so I can have leftovers throughout the week. I did the latter this weekend.

I had a craving for macaroni and cheese but I never really make it myself. I'm not a confident enough cook (usually) to just throw some ingredients in a pot and hope for the best. My mom makes macaroni and cheese this way and it comes out just fine, but I wanted a recipe!

So, I headed over to a website that I stalk read regularly, The Pioneer Woman. If you haven't visited, I dare you to go to her blog and spend just 5 minutes. Trust me. You will go over and start to poke around and the next thing you know, it's been an hour and you just want to read more!

Well, the Pioneer Woman also has a cooking blog - really a community - where cooks come together and share recipes. I have to admit that The Tasty Kitchen has been the section on her site that I've spent the least amount of time exploring. I've gone there a time or two looking for recipe ideas but I never "joined" until this weekend.

I went there for a simple macaroni and cheese recipe and came away with an amazing one!

Doesn't this look awesome?

It's called Chicken Bacon Ranch Macaroni and Cheese.
Now, I admit I made some substitutions and I'll let you know what they were as we go through the recipe.

8 ounces, weight Uncooked Elbow Macaroni (I used a penne pasta and probably used 10 oz.)
4 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon (I cooked my bacon in the microwave - less mess, so I skipped the second paragraph below and the onion & garlic powders too.)
8 ounces, weight Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Cut Into 1/2-inch Pieces (I had some breaded chicken breasts in the freezer so I just heated those up instead...reminded me of Noodles & Co.'s mac 'n cheese with Parmesan-crusted chicken breast.)
½ teaspoons Onion Powder
½ teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ teaspoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Flour
1-½ cup Fat Free Milk
½ cans Condensed Cream Of Chicken Soup, 10 Ounce Can
¼ cups BOTTLED RANCH DRESSING (I might have added just a bit more dressing - definitely a great addition.)
¾ cups Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese, Shredded (I used regular Colby Jack instead.)
½ cups French Fried Onions (I didn't have these, probably would have been good though.)
½ cups Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese, Shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

[Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings in pan. Finely chop bacon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Season chicken with onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Add chicken to drippings in pan; sauté 6 minutes or until done.] I didn't do this step as noted above...I just cooked my bacon in the microwave (such an easy way to do it) and heated up some pre-cooked breaded chicken breasts.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; sprinkle flour evenly into pan. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Combine milk and soup, stirring with a whisk; then gradually add milk mixture to saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick. Add ranch dressing and 3/4 cups of cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in pasta and chicken.

Preheat broiler.

Spoon pasta mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with reserved bacon, fried onions and 1/2 cup of cheese. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

Take another look...

...notice the brownies in the background? Another super-easy "recipe" but this one was from Hoosier Homemade - a great blog from right here in my home state (be sure to check out her awesome cupcakes). Just whip up a box of brownies, sprinkle some peanut butter chips on top once they are in the pan, bake for 5 minutes and then swirl the melted chips into the brownies with a knife, and finish baking. YUMMY...I used a box of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate brownies and that made them THAT much better!

I have to admit this wasn't my ONLY bowl of mac 'n cheese last night...or today!

I heated up a bowl under the broiler for lunch today and I think it was even better than it was last night. Notice the bottle of wine in the background? The mac 'n cheese with great with a glass of Pinot Grigio from Easley Wineries in Indianapolis...check out for more info on Indiana wines and wineries.

I'll definitely be returning the Tasty Kitchen to hunt up some other recipes and maybe someday I'll add one of my own!

Since, I've already tackled 2 of my 3 goals maybe I should head to the gym...maybe tomorrow! Who wants another brownie?


  1. Yay! For Mac and Cheese, making it for yourself, and for future crockpot cookin' :)

  2. Well check out the new foodie blogger. :) I think it looks great and I look forward to more recipe sharing from you!!!

  3. Yum! And a great wine pairing too!!

  4. Woo hoo! So do we get to try it @ the end of the month? hee hee! Just soooo don't have to feed us. :)

  5. Ghiradelli Double Chocolate brownies HEAVEN! I've tried making brownies from scratch, and I haven't found a recipe that beats good ol' Ghiradelli.

    I think you can make mac and cheese in the crock pot! I will have to look for a recipe for you to try.

    Now matter when we start, tomorrow is always a new day! Good Luck!

  6. Ghiradelli Double Chocolate brownies are THE BEST! Can't make 'em any better from scratch!

    I think you can make mac and cheese in the crock pot....hmmmmmm.....maybe we should bring in a crock pot dish for our brown bag on the 20. Just a crazy thought before I call it a night. Fang football games kept me up too late last night! :-P

  7. You were very busy this weekend!!! Good luck with goal #2. I have the same problem... a paid for gym membership with zero attendance.

  8. There are a lot of crock pot cook books. Or go on the Internet for crock pot recipes. I do like my crock pot makes it easy. I need to look for the liners.

  9. This looks fantastic. I am little behind on the blogs! Welcome to Tasty Kitchen.



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