Cheesy noodles: a love story
Sometimes, nothing but a cheesy noodle will do. I have fond memories of my mom's turkey tetrazzini, a staple of after-Thanksgiving food, and a welcome departure from the taters and meat, meat and taters regime of holiday eating. It was a ridiculously good concoction of cream of mushroom soup, Velveeta, hunks of turkey (or at other times of year, chicken), spaghetti noodles, and the signature bits of pimento to give it that bit of color.
Sometimes, I just need a little comfort food, even when I'm supposed to be trying to drop a pound or two. Recently, I found myself in that very need, so I tried to concoct a cheesy noodle dish reminiscent of my mom's, only without the overall "badness" of the cream of mushroom soup and a few lighter and more nutritious ingredients.
The result was something so good (and granted, not particularly diet-y but, hey, I tried a little) and so satisfying, even my picky 3-year-old has asked for it every night since. And friends, it's been about a month. This 3-year-old can't remember what he had for lunch today, but he remembers those cheesy noodles from weeks ago. This is testimony enough to the goodness of this dish. Dang, I want some right now.
It's not something I'd make and serve to fancy dinner guests, and I'm not proud of my block of processed cheese, but come on, Velveeta-lovers: Come out of the closet with me, and do it now. Rise up! Be proud! The stuff is DELICIOUS! It's one of my guilty-pleasure foods, and while I love an artisanal cheese as much as the next guy, while I will cry over a triple cream Brie or a good smoked Gouda, I also do love me a bit of "nuclear fallout cheese" as it is lovingly referred to in my home. So, get past it right now. This recipe includes Velveeta, and while I may not be proud of it, I do OWN it.
"Yeah, what of it" Cheesy Noodle Bake
12 ounces cooked spaghetti (al dente)
1/3 container Velveeta (about 8 to 10 ounces), cubed
4 ounces neufchatel (light cream cheese)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons light butter
1 1/2 cup 2 percent milk
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cracked black pepper
3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup red onion
1 summer squash
Start by salt and peppering and then roasting 3 large chicken breasts (or 4 smaller ones) on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, depending on size.
Meanwhile, boil your pasta and chop up your bell pepper, squash, and onion into smallish bite-sized pieces. Saute them in a dab of olive oil until they're a little bit softened but not mushy.
Start your cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and then whisk in the flour. Pour in the milk gradually, bringing almost to a boil before adding more. The milk will thicken. Then add the Velveeta, neufchatel, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir over medium-low heat until everything is melted and combined. Add your pepper/onion mixture and stir well.
Pull your chicken and cut it into bite-sized pieces, then put your spaghetti noodles into a large casserole and sprinkle the chicken over the top. Pour the cheese mixture over and use tongs or a fork to lightly toss to coat.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly on top but not too brown.
Serve with a good salad and a piece of crusty bread, and bask in your family's gratitude. I recommend serving this after you've had a few good weeks of dieting — they'll be so thrilled with the departure from fish and spinach they'll do anything you ask for at least 24 hours.