This past weekend, Matt and I were sitting on the couch and having a lazy Saturday, as per usual. We were brainstorming ideas on what to cook for dinner and I thought I really want to try making this butternut squash mac and cheese thing, with only a vague idea of what I wanted to do. I described what I had in mind and he was of course, on board, but we were both like okay so mac and cheese aaaaannndd??? So we decided to load it up- with chicken and bacon, naturally. Oh and kale, woops can’t forget them veggies! We then came to a realization that this really was the perfect description of my cooking style- I love to experiment with plant based recipes but I always end up bastardizing them by adding meat and such. We kind of joked around about this and Matt said you should add a section to your blog called the carnivorous vegan and I thought, wait…that is a great idea! So at least once a month, among my other recipes I will try to add to the Carnivorous Vegan page where I take vegan recipes and mess them up with meat. Sorry vegans, I really hope you don’t hate me for this! But for the flexitarians like me, here’s a spot for our way of eating- when you want to hold on to the comfort and traditionalism of meat but also you really like vegetables and discovering new ways of cooking. Double the fun!
Anyway, on to the recipe. This shit is dope. I’m not kidding, it is super tasty and I did not miss the cheese. And I LOVE cheese (except for goat cheese, ew). It was full of flavor and had a touch of smokiness from the bacon. The secret ingredient here is nutritional yeast…it gives it that cheesy, nutty sort of flavor. Nutritional yeast was one of those ingredients I kept seeing around on blogs and being like mreh, I don’t need that. And then Trader Joe’s started selling it and now I love it. Definitely give it a shot if you have a chance. It looks kind of like fish food, but yummy! Texture: A+. If you like a more creamy mac and cheese, don’t bake it. But I lived in South Carolina for many years so you better believe I’m baking my mac and cheese. Overall, it was creamy, crunchy on top, smoky, cheesy and satisfying, and best of all chock full of vegetables (and meat, but everyone would rather hear that they’re eating vegetables in their mac and cheese). So make it! Anyway, I hope you enjoy this new mini series of mine here on the blog, I know my tummy sure does.
SO CREAMY. ahem, onto the recipe:
LOADED MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE:
- 1 16 ounce package of noodles of your choice
- 1 cup of cubed butternut squash
- 1 carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 a yellow onion
- 2 gold potatoes, cubed
- 1.5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt plus 1/2 teaspoon to salt the vegetable water
- freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 6 small chicken thighs
- 3 strips of bacon, chopped
- 2 cups kale, chopped into pieces
- 1/2 cup of cashews (if you don’t have a high speed blender, soak these in hot water for at least half an hour)
- 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs+1 tablespoon of butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 F
- Heavily salt and boil water for the pasta. Cook according to package instruction.
- Season your chicken n both sides how you would like (I suggest the same seasonings as above, minus the ground mustard).
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crispy. Remove from pan. Don’t remove the fat.
- While the bacon is cooking in a large pot, add the squash, carrot, potatoes and onion. Add enough water to cover the vegetables plus an inch and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and then a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft (i.e. you can mash the carrot easily with tongs).
- Add the chicken thighs into the same pan and sear them on one side and then flip to the other. Lower the heat to medium low and cook through. This will probably take at least 15 minutes. Take internal temps to be sure they’re cooked through!
- Remove chicken thighs and let rest. Chop them up after they rest. Add the kale to the same pan and sautee down.
- When the vegetables are ready, take out 1.5 cup of the water it was cooking in and set aside. Then drain the vegetables.
- Add the vegetables to the blender with 1 cup of water you set aside, the cashews, spices, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. Taste and adjust the seasoning and liquid amount to your preferences.
- Combine the cooked pasta, the sauce, bacon, chicken, and kale to an 8×13 pan. Combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter and add on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes and then broil for 5.
- Revel in the fact that you’re eating health (ish) comfort food.