Friday, December 12, 2014

Creamy Shells and Cheese

-with broccoli and grilled chicken

If December were to call for any kind of food, I would think it would call for comfort food.

Yes, December is a month for indulging in all things food, it's true. However, you also have to keep in mind that December brings cold, cloudy, gloomy weather. It always seems to bring a time crunch. I mean, doesn't it seem there is never enough time this month? Between shopping for gifts, baking and cooking, relatives in town you only see but once a year, Christmas decorating, Christmas recitals and pageants... Where's the time to breathe? To sneak in some yoga? To calm down? There's not a lot. My advice? Slow it down at dinnertime a little bit. This recipe is super-quick and easy, but it's guaranteed to get your family in the kitchen to enjoy it. What's not to love? It's a one pot meal slathered in delicious cheese sauce. Yep, sure to be a hit :)

Call me crazy, but I enjoy grilling year round. I may not sit around on the patio in the snow and sleet while the meat cooks on the grill, but I'll run in and out of the house to do some flipping. I just set my timers, and run. This year is a lot better than last though, because I have a garden path to run along to the grill. You know, instead of running and tripping through mud. Grilling is my preferred method with chicken. It gives it the best flavor, and comes out juicy every time. 

The pasta is customizable. Throw in your preferred shape. I'm obsessed with mini-pasta right now. I used these mini-shells for this dish, but I am pretty preoccupied with mini-farfalle right now too. 

While you can definitely use fresh broccoli, I use frozen most of the time. I have frozen broccoli on hand 100% of the time, making this recipe a complete pantry recipe for me. Something I can always throw together without having to make a trip to the grocery store. I steam the broccoli in a little steamer basket over the boiling pasta, it's a complete time-saver. I love steaming broccoli whenever I make pasta simply because of that reason- two things cooking at once. With relative hands off-ness. 

Here's another benefit of making this dish- Just as the pasta is customizable, so is the rest of the recipe! You could sub in a different vegetable, such as cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, or even something like spinach. And you could totally use a different protein, such as shrimp, pork tenderloin, ground beef or turkey, or even something vegetarian like tofu. Or heck, you could even make the shells and cheese with no protein or veggie. Call it a side dish and watch the kids go nuts.

I cannot guarantee the kids won't turn up their noses and ask for Kraft mac-n-cheese, however. Only because I know that's what I did as a kid :)

It's Friday! Another week of Christmas shopping in the record books, though I can't say I've done any. Procrastination is my Christmas game, although I will be starting cookies probably on Monday. I can't wait! The hubby is working this lovely, sunny weekend so here's my agenda:

1. Run today, rest tomorrow, yoga and toning on Sunday.
2. Bake cupcakes (Vanilla Bean with Eggnog Frosting, yum!).
3. Take beautiful pictures in the sunlight of said cupcakes and the Salted Caramel Milkshakes I created (double yum!).
4. Finish my gosh-darn library books to leave my end-of-year book list at 24. Which would mean I averaged 2 books a month in 2014. A good jumping off point for 2015. 

The sunshine is making it soooooo easy to love life today :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 chicken breast
salt, pepper, garlic powder
8 oz mini shell pasta
12 oz broccoli florets
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
3/4 cup cheddar cheese
3/4 cup white cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper


1. Season chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat gas grill over high heat. When hot, turn middle burner down to medium. Place chicken on grill, grill for 4 minutes with lid closed. Flip chicken, and grill another 4 minutes. Flip chicken again, grill for 2 more minutes. Flip chicken one more time, and grill for a final 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to rest while preparing recipe.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta to water, stir. Place broccoli in a steamer basket, place over pasta water. Steam broccoli for 4 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. Continue to boil pasta for another 2-3 minutes or until tender. Drain pasta, and set aside. Add a little olive oil to pasta to keep from sticking.
3. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. When melted, add flour and cook down for 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk in 3-4 additions, whisking constantly. When milk/flour mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, add cheeses, salt, mustard, garlic powder, and pepper to skillet. Stir constantly until cheese is completely melted. 
4. Chop up chicken breast into bite-size pieces. Add chicken and broccoli to pan, toss to coat with cheese sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until everything is heated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 

Recipe adapted from Eat, Live, Run
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