When I was a kid, spring was my favorite season.
I have so many amazing childhood memories, but my favorite has to be making maple syrup. This is something that my family did for years while I was growing up. In New York, we are surrounded by maple trees, and because of this, we are major producers of real maple syrup. Growing up, my family worked hard to be part of this business.
For a couple weeks out of the year, we would gather together to make the rounds, walking on the trails to each tree with a tap and a bucket. We would empty the sap into a large container atop a metal trailer pulled by my grandfather and his big green tractor. When every tree had been checked, we would return to my grandfather’s sugar shanty where the sap would be boiled down into delicious syrup. In all reality, I’m not actually a huge fan of maple syrup. And by that I mean, while I love a little syrup flavor on pancakes, I’m certainly not into letting the syrup run amok all over my plate. Instead, I use it gently as a sweetener in tons of recipes.
In today’s day and age, making maple syrup has become much more of an industrial venture. Our little family business couldn’t keep up, especially after my grandfather died, and eventually we stopped doing this. Someday, I’d love to get back into it, even if just to supply my friends and family with a small amount of real maple syrup. To me, it’s not about the business of selling it, but of making memories with your family.
When I looked in my fridge today to make this macaroni and cheese recipe, I got nostalgic looking at a bottle of homemade BBQ sauce that I made with a little bit of real maple syrup. It’s such a perfect sweetener considering I like my BBQ sauce a little on the sweet side.
Eventually, I plan to share my Maple BBQ recipe with you, as well as some other variations on one of my favorite sauces. But for now, since I’m totally on a mac & cheese kick, use your favorite BBQ sauce to make this delicious meal!
BBQ Chicken Mac & Cheese
1 lb. macaroni noodles
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
4 breaded chicken strips (ideally BBQ flavored)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 8oz. brick mild cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup BBQ sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven 350F.
Boil pasta in generously-salted water until the pasta is al dente. Drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Cook onions for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.
Cook chicken strips according to package instructions. Cut into small 1/2 inch chunks. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large pan on medium heat. Add flour and stir to create a roux. Add in milk and stir until it becomes slightly thicker and smooth Add cheddar and nutmeg and stir until melted and smooth.
Fold macaroni into the cheese mixture and stir to mix completely. Add the onion, chicken and BBQ sauce. Stir to combine. Season to taste. Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and browned on the top.
Garnish with fresh cilantro.