Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Best Mac & Cheese With the Best Breaded Chicken

SP said he would cook anything I wanted for my birthday dinner. My birthday was on Tuesday, and during the week we don't cook from scratch. We re-heat. So whatever he made on Sunday would be what we re-heated on Tuesday for my birthday dinner.

I had all sorts of pasta ideas (of course!) and what kept coming to mind was macaroni and cheese. With breaded chicken. The best breaded chicken. And a green vegetable. Turns out, when I checked my blog archives, I asked for the exact same birthday dinner last year!

This year, the meal was bit different. For one, it was a different macaroni & cheese recipe. And two, it was a different and yummier breaded chicken recipe.
Usually for macaroni & cheese we follow the recipe in our really old, tattered Better Homes & Garden Cookbook. This time, I wanted to try the recipe in Cover & Bake. I remembered that the scalloped potatoes in Cover & Bake had been so much better than regular scalloped potatoes so I figured their macaroni & cheese recipe would be amazing.
I was right. This is the best homemade macaroni & cheese recipe ever. Our old recipe uses American cheese and milk and some onions. This one uses colby and extra sharp cheddar. It uses chicken broth and milk. It has homemade bread crumbs on top. It includes some dry mustard and a tiny amount of cayenne plus garlic (which we omitted). And even though it looked incredibly soupy when we poured it into the baking dish, it firmed up nicely as it baked.
So good. After I divided it into smaller casserole dishes for re-heating, I scraped the pan clean and ate the last little bits clinging to the sides. I think this recipe is more work than the BH&G recipe, but it's so worth the extra effort. It results in a creamy colby-cheddar sauce. When I substituted cheddar for American in the BH&G recipe, the cheddar sauce always turned out stringy.
On to the best breaded chicken ever. Officially the recipe is Baked Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast and it's from the March 2002 issue of Bon Appetit.

We made homemade bread crumbs. We bought a loaf of plain, white bread to make the bread crumb topping for the macaroni & cheese, so SP just ground up the rest of the bread in the food processor, toasted the ground bread crumbs in the oven at 275 until they looked golden, then we added rosemary, parsley, basil, and pepper.
This recipe is so easy and so tasty. Marinate chicken in lemon juice for an hour. Remove chicken & pat dry. Brush chicken with a mixture of olive oil & melted butter. Dip chicken in herbed bread crumbs. Bake at at 450 until done (about 20 minutes). We baked ours at 400 since that's what the macaroni and cheese was baking at.
I love this chicken. I like the lemony flavor and the herby bread crumb flavor.
Seasoning the bread crumbs yourself makes for a tastier bread crumb than buying seasoned bread crumbs. Sometimes it's easier to grab a container of store bought bread crumbs. But homemade ones are so much tastier.
Our green vegetable was roasted asparagus. While the macaroni & cheese cooled for 10 minutes, we roasted it. I love asparagus. I love Costco for selling huge bags of asparagus at a reasonable price.
This was a really, really tasty meal. I really think this macaroni and cheese paired with this herb crusted chicken might be yummy enough to pass lasagna as my favorite/last meal ever.

We've tried about 5 recipes from Cover & Bake and they all have been really, really good. I don't buy a lot of cookbooks - I have a problem spending a lot of money on pretty cookbooks and then making maybe only 1 recipe from the book (which has happened) but this cookbook is a terrific find. Since it's from the Cook's Illustrated folks, there's always a nice 'intro' for each recipe describing how they arrived at the recipe, and I always enjoy reading about their kitchen experimentation.


  1. I need you guys to come to my place and make me that mac & chees. It looks AMAZING!

  2. This looks absolutely delicious. I'm a big mac and cheese fan too, and the chicken and asparagus look tasty as well. Happy Birthday!