Sometimes you just want to eat like a kid and have chicken fingers and mac and cheese. I decided to make this combination one day, and I tried to make it as healthy as I was willing to go that day.
Baked chicken fingers are pretty simple. For every pound of chicken, you need a couple of tablespoons of whole wheat flour, some seasonings, two egg whites, and a cup to a cup and a half of panko bread crumbs.
I’m vague about the seasonings because you can stash whatever seasonings you want under the breadcrumbs. I went with a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.
But you can do just salt, jerk seasoning, whatever you like.
Slice the chicken into strips about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. From there, it’s standard battering. Flour, egg, breadcrumb. But really pack the breadcrumbs on and shake off the excess. Place each one onto a non-stick baking sheet sprayed with olive oil.
Spray them lightly with the olive oil and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes (flip after about 8 minutes).
Mac and cheese is also pretty simple. For every 1/2 pound of pasta, you need two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour, two cups of milk, about 6 ounces of shredded cheese, and an egg yolk.
Cook the pasta a minute or two shy of the instructions on the box. You want it harder than aldente because it’s going to bake for a few minutes.
Build the roux by heating the butter and flour over medium heat for about 3 minutes mixing constantly.
Add the milk and slowly bring back to a boil, whisking vigorously to avoid lumps. Season with (a little) salt and pepper once it starts to bubble.
Cook out the sauce for about five minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cheese (I threw in a dash of hot sauce, too.). I used Gruyere cheese to get a melty base and flavored with some blue cheese; I went with a half and half mixture of the two cheeses. Taste the cheese sauce for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper accordingly.
Mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and egg yolk.
Transfer to a baking dish and top with enough bread crumbs (I used whole wheat) to just create a thin layer on top. Drizzle with your favorite oil or dab some butter on top.
Bake that for about 10-12 minutes at 400°F and let it sit for a few minutes before you dig in.
Plate it up and eat away!
The above ratios make three reasonable servings of chicken tenders and at least four of mac and cheese.
What I love about this type of meal is that you can customize it as much as you want. Sure, it’s difficult to make mac and cheese healthy, but, instead of buying inferior cheeses with fats removed, I say use good ingredients and good cheeses and eat a little less. I used Hannaford Ultimate Pasta which has a bit more protein and fiber than regular; it doesn’t taste too much different.
The baked tenders are actually pretty awesome because chicken breast is just about as lean as you can get. If you use whole wheat flour and bread crumbs (they make whole wheat panko, but my market didn’t have it that day), you get to add some fiber.
Plus, there are so many ways you can customize these simple recipes to make them your own.