Transformation Tuesday: Dairy-Free Buffalo Chicken “Mac n’ Cheese”

NutritionI LOVE mac n’ cheese. In fact, before I began following this paleo lifestyle, my personal Twitter account listed me as a “macaroni and cheese connoisseur.” In 2013, I even entered a state-wide mac n’ cheese bake-off, cooking up 50 pounds of what I called a “Philly Cheese Steak Mac n’ Cheese,” complete with a beer cheese sauce.

Needless to say, I miss the stuff. While I do eat dairy sometimes, my time being completely dairy-free during Lent this year helped me to see that it does my body some good to limit my intake (more on this in another post). I haven’t eaten pasta (even the gluten-free stuff) in months. So what’s a recovering mac n’ cheese addict to do? Make a dairy-free version of course!

This week’s Transformation Tuesday post is just that: a dairy-free, grain-free version of my former stand-by: Buffalo Chicken Mac n’ Cheese. I have to say, while this new version may not be the same as the original, it truly is just as good. And I don’t mean in a “I’ve gone so long without proper grains and dairy in my life that this tastes amazing but is actually crap” good. I mean REALLY GOOD. HUSBAND-APPROVED GOOD. MAKING THIS ALL THE TIME GOOD.

Try it for yourself and you’ll (hopefully) see how creamy and delicious a dairy-free “mac n’ cheese” can really be!

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Here’s how to make this in your kitchen:

  • Large spaghetti squash, prepared (see instructions on how to do this here) (should make about 4-5 cups of cooked squash)
  • 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 large butternut squash (about 3-4 cups chopped)
  • 1/3 pound cooked chicken breast, chopped small (I used 1.5 breasts and just baked them)
  • 2 tbsp butter, ghee, coconut oil or other cooking fat
  • 2 large celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup buffalo sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot), divided
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, place the coconut milk and the chopped butternut squash in a medium saucepan (you want the coconut milk to just cover the squash) and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, until the squash is soft, about 7-10 minutes.

2. While the butternut squash is cooking, add your cooking fat to a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the diced celery and some salt and pepper to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add in the chopped, cooked chicken and stir to combine. Pour in 1/2 cup of the buffalo sauce and stir until the celery and chicken are evenly coated. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

3. Once the squash is cooked through, remove the pan from the heat. Using an immersion blender (immersion blender will work best, but you could transfer this mixture to a standard blender as well), puree the squash into the coconut milk until completely smooth and thick. This is the base for your cheese sauce, and it should be thick and creamy. (If you think yours is too thin, mix about 1 tbsp arrowroot starch or corn starch with 1 tbsp water and add to the pan, stirring to combine, to help thicken it.)

4. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper, and the remaining 1/2 cup buffalo sauce to the squash mixture and stir to fully combine (if you’re using an immersion blender, use this to mix it). Feel free to add more buffalo sauce if you want your sauce to be spicier! That’s up to you!

5. In a large bowl, mix together the prepared spaghetti squash and the chicken and celery mixture. Next, add the “cheese” sauce to the bowl and stir to combine fully. (Note: you may not want to use all of the sauce this makes. Just add as much as you want in the dish, I had about 1/3rd of the sauce left over.) Transfer the mixture to a 9×9 baking dish, top with the crumbled bacon (gluten-free breadcrumbs would also taste great!) and place in the oven. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until bubbly.

6. EAT AND ENJOY!

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I hope you love this recipe as much as we did! Please let me know any feedback you have if you do try this out, so I can continue to improve my recipes!

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