Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stuffed White Cheddar and Chicken Shells

I know.  It's been a month since my last post.  It's a good thing I am not trying to win food blogger of the year, because epic fail for me.

So it's like this.  I will no longer call myself a food blogger (not that I ever have).  Instead, I'll just be a housewife who posts her favorite recipes when she has a pocket of time.

Whew.  Pressure gone.

But guess what?  I have a pocket of time.  And I've got a recipe with a story behind it.

In 2007, I entered this recipe in a macaroni and cheese contest sponsored by Tillamook cheese.  (And by the way, Tillamook has really awesome cheese, and, no, they didn't tell me to say that.  The Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar loafHeaven.)  I made it to the semifinals in San Antonio where I would vie to win the spot in the grand finale cook-off in Portland, Oregon.  My husband drove me there, I competed, did not win, came home, and moved onto other contests.

A couple of weeks later, the Tillamook people called and told me that the winner would be unable to compete in the grand finale cook-off, and since I had taken second place, would I want an all-expenses paid trip for two to Portland, Oregon to compete in the cook-off?

Gosh.  Let me think about that.  Free trip for two to Portland, Oregon?  That's a toughie.

Of course I said yes, and they booked me and my daughter on a flight in December.  We were super excited, that is until the day of the flight when I had a small nervous breakdown.

I do not like to fly.  I mean, I really do not like to fly.  I do it.  I do it several times a year, but always with a small to significant amount of anxiety.  I won't go into all the many specific fears I have about flying, but this particular time I just let my emotions absolutely swallow me.  And I was a basket case.

So I called my husband on the way to the airport about halfway into a two and a half hour drive, and I told him that if I didn't get an overwhelming sense of peace in the next five minutes, I was going to turn the car around and forget the whole trip.  And I was serious.  I didn't think I had a chance of winning anyway, since I was a replacement finalist.  So he calmly talked me through it, prayed for me, told me that I was giving into fear and all that stuff, and let me know that I would be giving up an opportunity that most people would love to have.  So I got my peace, flew to Portland, and won the grand prize of $5000.

I will never forget the look on my daughter's face when they called my name as the winner.  I was looking straight at her and she jumped out of her seat with the biggest smile ever.  I'd like to think at that moment she was thinking "I have the most talented mom EVER!" but it was probably more like "Now we shop!" because she had spied a North Face store several streets over before the contest and didn't let me forget it.

We had a fantastic trip together and it wasn't because I won.  It was because we were in an exciting city together, having an adventure and lots of fun.  And to think I almost missed it.

Here's the recipe. I hope you like it as much as we do.  It's kind of a ridiculous concept, I mean pasta stuffed in pasta?  But I promise it's delicious.

-If you can't find aged white cheddar, regular white cheddar is fine.

-6 ounces of small shell pasta is about 1 1/2 cups.

-Rotisserie chicken is especially good in this since it has lots of flavor.

-Cornflakes make a nice crunchy topping, but you could certainly use bread crumbs, panko, or your choice of crunchy topping.  I use finely crushed pretzels sometimes.

Jumbo Shell Pasta Stuffed With Baby White Cheddar and Chicken Shells

6 ounces-dried small shell macaroni noodles (about 1 1/2 cups)
12 ounces dried jumbo shell macaroni noodles
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4 cups shredded aged white cheddar cheese, divided
3/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Non-stick cooking spray
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup finely crushed cornflakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large saucepan, cook both macaroni noodles separately according to package directions to al dente.  Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain and set each aside. 

In a large heavy saucepan, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium to high heat; add flour and whisk for 1 minute.  Gradually whisk in the milk and half and half; continue to cook over medium to high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in the salt, pepper, and 3 cups of the shredded cheese, until melted.  Stir in the small shell macaroni, the chopped sun dried tomatoes and the shredded chicken. 

Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Fill each jumbo shell carefully with the white cheddar macaroni and place each side by side in the dish.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup shredded cheese.  Stir together the 2 tablespoons melted butter and the crushed cornflakes.  Sprinkle evenly on tops of shells.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

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