One of the tactics I use to lower my grocery bill is by practicing the dark art of ingredient substitution. Take this pasta dish, for instance: It initially began as an au gratin with fancy cheeses and other ingredients that I would have never used outside of this particular recipe (think white pepper — call me a hillbilly, but I’ve never, ever seen another dish call for it).
A few years ago, I would have bought all the weird things on an ingredient list and cried a little when my grocery bill would double. Now, I simply take a recipe and shape it around what ingredients I have on hand and what ingredients I can afford at the store. It’s a bit of a science, and honestly, not all of my substitutions are perfect. But with a little practice (and screw-ups), I think you really do start to get a sense for what ingredients act as sensible replacements for frilly, expensive things.
For this particular recipe, I’d suggest using whatever pasta you have on hand. My hubby said bow tie pasta would have worked well, while I think angel hair would have been perfect. I’d even serve this with rice. The sky’s the limit!
Recipe adapted from the “At Home with Magnolia” cookbook by Allysa Torey
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- olive oil
- 1 head of broccoli, cut into little heads
- penne (or other pasta/rice on hand)
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk (I use 2%)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 3/4 cup cheddar cheese
- salt, to taste
- ground black pepper, to taste
- garlic powder, to taste
Preheat oven to 375F.
Put the chicken breasts into a glass baking dish, and drizzle with olive oil (not too much). Turn the chicken over a few times to coat them evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the juices are clear. Remove the chicken from the oven, and lower the temperature to 350F.
Meanwhile, steam the broccoli in a saucepan with boiling water until bright and tender — about 5 minutes. Cube the chicken into small chunks, and place them in a casserole dish (If you’d like to have fewer dishes to clean up afterward, just use the pan you baked the chicken in. Be sure to drain the broth, however. I forgot, and ended up with soupy chicken).
For the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the butter is melted and slightly boiling, stir in the flour until blended. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
While the butter mixture is cooking, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan. Then, slowly pour the milk into the butter mixture, stirring constantly. Once thickened (about 2-3 minutes), add the cheese, salt, pepper and garlic, and stir well. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and bake for about 30 minutes.
While the chicken dish is baking, prepare the penne (or whatever pasta/rice suits your fancy), and add butter, salt, pepper — however you like your pasta. Once the chicken dish is finished, 1) place a scoop of pasta in a bowl, 2) top with a scoop of the chicken dish and 3) devour.
I suggest eating this meal straight from the oven, when the cream sauce is hot and addictive. In addition, I advise using a fork to eat this dish. For some strange reason, I decided to grab a spoon, and it felt like I was wrangling the penne more than eating it. Live and learn.