The conditions were right for mac and cheese. A light, late-summer breeze, air temperature 74º, hunger waves in consistent, waist-high sets. Visibility was good because nothing was burning, yet the tide was high is my kitchen.
Today after I picked up the kids from school – it was half day and we’re still blazing hot here in Southern California – I told the kids we were hitting the beach for cooler air. I had already gotten dinner started in the slow cooker, thinking Mexican food. But unbeknownst to me, inspired by an afternoon bodysurfing and need for hearty food, a new dish was about to be born.
Here is what I put in the slow cooker…
4 big, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
…and I figured I’d boil some brown rice and make a green salad after getting home from the beach. I usually don’t have much energy to cook dinner after baking in the sun and chasing my kids through sand and waves. That’s what warm weather means for parents, right? We sleep well at night because a) we’re pleased with ourselves as parents for being actively (read: physically) engaged in our children’s lives, and b) we are worn out due to the level of activity.
So today I get home and the house smelled so like a Mexican restaurant, I almost expected to hear Mariachis. Yet, all I heard was “Momma, there’s sand in my belly button.” The clean up necessitated by a day at the beach makes me want to … eat. But I didn’t want rice. I didn’t want a salad. I wanted something comforting and homey and … fattening. I dodged those Doritos all day at the beach. I earned the right to indulge, I believe. Besides, I’m at a chronological point in the month when I will mysteriously gain five pounds overnight even if I eat carrot sticks for dinner.
After de-sanding my girls, watching the Food Network, (Giada was doing something with cheese) I remembered I had some rich, deeply sharp and flavorful white cheddar in the fridge (I stole it from my Mom). I also had some cavatappi I bought on sale last week. And bubbling around those now tender, fully cooked chicken breasts in my slow cooker was a chipotle/green chili/tomato broth that could blend very nicely into a cheese sauce. The chicken would shred easily and add protein to the mac and cheese…I knew where my imagination was going with this, and my appetite fell right in line.
That’s the thing about me, I could have zero energy for laundry, paying bills or pruning, but I always, always have energy to invent a new recipe and whip up a meal. Watching food shows invigorates me, it’s the creative equivalent of about four Espresso shots.
Within ten seconds of lounging on the couch (“Momma, there’s a rumbling in my tummy”), I was running hot water into a pot to boil pasta, I was grating white cheddar for a miraculous, snowy cheese sauce. After shredding two of four chicken breasts with forks, I added five ladlefuls of broth from the slow cooker into the cheese sauce. The broth generated by all of the ingredients I put in the slow cooker eight hours prior soon dotted the white background of the cheese sauce with green chilies and red tomato pieces. My meal was festive. My meal was flavorful. My meal was anything but the same old thing. Not bad for being away from my kitchen all day.
But the best part about the slow cooker concoction was this…the remaining shredded chicken breasts combined with the strained broth from the slow cooker will make a fabulous tortilla soup for tomorrow. Into the fridge the remaining chicken and strained slow cooker broth went…waiting until tomorrow evening, when hunger strikes again. It’ll be a 1-2-3 inning as I add a little more chicken stock, some tortilla strips, and a dollop of sour cream to the soup bowls.
With all the time I’ll have tomorrow freed up by an already cooked meal, I could do so many things…fold laundry? (Probably not) … trim my drooping Gerberas? (They’ll fall back into the planter eventually) … pay bills? (They get deducted from my account anyway) …or, I know! Get sandy all over again.
SLOW COOKER CHIPOTLE CHICKEN
4 big, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
MACARONI AND CHEESE, WITH CHIPOTLE AND CHICKEN
1 package cavatappi, macaroni, fusilli, or whatever tube-type pasta you have