Tag Archives: cheese

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

29 Apr

As with take-out pizza versus homemade, there is also a time and a place for boxed mac and cheese and a time for homemade.  Is it bad to admit that I still enjoy the blue box variety?  I feel like that’s ok, since I appreciate the blue box kind for completely different reasons than a gourmet homemade version (namely nostalgia and the freedom to douse it in ketchup – which is probably gross to many people – oops).   Today’s recipe is for a “grown up” mac and cheese (with spinach and crispy fried shallots on top) – but really it’s just for a homemade variety – since the recipe is completely adaptable for all tastes and ages.

Once you know the basic process for making macaroni and cheese, the possibilities are endless.  This is a more classic version of macaroni and cheese, with cheddar and Gruyère (with spinach added to make me feel slightly less guilty about this indulgent dinner – and really, the cheese and pasta mellow out the spinachy taste – amen).  The crispy shallots (which to me are a more gourmet spin on French’s fried onions) add a lovely salty and tangy bite – don’t skip them – they really add that extra something.  But, like I said before, the possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cheeses and/or veggies and/or meat you want (or use no veggies or meat at all!).  One of my personal favorites is using Pepper Jack cheese and tiny broccoli florets for a so-called “Mac and Jack” spicy macaroni and cheese.  Yum.

This is a quick version of macaroni and cheese, which skips any baking in the oven.  But you can certainly pour the macaroni into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs and/or cheese (and/or crispy shallots!) and bake until golden brown.  I can’t decide which method I like better – without baking, the sauce stays so luxuriously creamy and saucy; but when baked, the crunchy golden brown top is pretty delicious too.  I’m torn.

Mac and Cheese with Spinach and Crispy Shallots

Time: 25 minutes; Yield: 8 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (I recommend a mix of aged sharp cheddar, Gruyère and/or Jack)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • Few grates of fresh nutmeg
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 pound cavatappi (hollow corkscrew shaped pasta), or any other noodle you like
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • Flour, to coat shallots
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to generously coat a saute pan
  • Salt and pepper

Making the Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add milk.  Bring to a boil (~8 min), then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened, whisking often to prevent burning.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once thickened, add the cheeses, mustard, Old Bay and nutmeg, whisking to combine.

Cooking Pasta and Spinach:  Boil pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta is ready, add the chopped spinach to the boiling water to blanch, then drain both the pasta and spinach (ensuring to get as much water out of the spinach as possible).

Crispy Shallots (aka grown up French’s fried onions):  While sauce and pasta are cooking, toss the thinly sliced shallots with enough flour to coat.  Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add shallots, and cook until crispy and golden brown.  Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Assembly:  When sauce is finished and pasta and spinach are cooked, pour sauce on top of pasta and spinach and toss to coat.  Don’t add all the sauce all at once, in case it’s too much (wait, is that possible?!).  Top with crispy fried shallots and serve immediately.

Isn’t it surprisingly easy to make homemade mac and cheese?  I think so :)  What other flavor combinations do you think would be good?  I’m thinking anything with bacon would be pretty amazing, but maybe that’s just me….

Caramelized Onion, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza

22 Apr

Before a few years ago, I had never really made homemade pizza.  Growing up, pizza was always ordered in, we never made it ourselves.  There is certainly a time and place for take-out pizza, and to me, it’s totally different from homemade.  But homemade pizza has its time and place too – and it’s less expensive and you can have much more creative liberty with it than takeout.

There are a lot of options in the store these days for pizza dough at home.  Dry mixes (like Betty Crocker), refrigerated vacuum-packed (like Pillsbury), pre-baked crusts (like Boboli), or store-made fresh dough (often found near the deli/refrigerated section).  I’m sure I’m missing some options, but as you can see, the possibilities are endless.

I personally tend to resort to using the store-made doughs or making my own.  I’m not a huge fan of pre-baked crusts like Boboli, but I do like using store-bought Naan as a crust sometimes.  Generally, I usually like to use whole wheat dough, which I can usually find available in the store-made dough selection.  Sometimes it’s not available though, so making my own  is the best option.  This also ensures that I know what’s in the crust, and it allows me to customize the flavor a little more too.  It does obviously take a little more time, but not much.  Making pizza dough is simple, but it certainly feels impressive, so I’d definitely encourage you to try it (just like making homemade pasta – but this is actually even easier than that!).

I think one of the other reasons I hadn’t made homemade pizza before a few years ago was that I didn’t know what sort of pan to use to bake a pizza at home.  Then, one of my aunts bought me a pizza stone, like this,  as a birthday present, and that changed everything :).  But, you can also use a pizza pan like this or like this.  If all else fails, you can use a heavy-duty cookie sheet.  There are a few things to remember when using a pizza stone, so make sure to read the directions (For example, you have to put the stone in a cold oven, then turn it on to preheat so the stone doesn’t crack.  Also, you can’t use soap to wash it, and depending on your stone, you may or may not be able to use a pizza cutter directly on the stone).

The pizza dough recipe below could be used to make any pizza you want – I just happened to feel like caramelized onions, bacon and goat cheese :).  I used the caramelized onions essentially as the sauce, but you could just as easily use a store-bought tomato pizza sauce and layer on any other toppings you want.  This dough recipe is for a Thin, Whole Wheat Crust.  The mixture of white and wheat flours gives a better flavor and texture than using all whole wheat flour.  This recipe yields enough dough for one large pizza, with a thin to medium crust, or, two small/medium pizzas with thinner crust.  The thickness will depend on how thin you roll the dough.

White/Wheat Pizza Dough

(I use half whole wheat and half white flour, but you could use all white or all wheat, though it will change the texture)

Time: 25 active, 30 inactive  Yield: 1 large or 2 medium/small pizzas

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 ounce active dry yeast (found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1 cup warm water (not hot – this could kill the yeast)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder, optional
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, optional
  • Cornmeal, for coating pizza stone to prevent sticking

Add half the tablespoon of sugar to the warm water and dissolve.  Sprinkle the yeast on top.  After about 10 minutes, it should be all foamy – this is how you know the yeast is now active:

Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, other half tablespoon of sugar, spices and olive oil in a large bowl (preferably of an electric mixer with dough hook attachment.  If you do not have one, this can be done in a regular bowl with a spoon, and can be kneaded by hand).  Add the yeast/water mixture and stir with dough hook/spoon until moistened and combined.

Continue to knead, either by hand or with a dough hook, for 6-8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  If too sticky, add more flour (a tablespoon at a time); if too dry, add water.  The dough should be moist but not sticky.  Below you can see the elasticity of the dough – keep kneading until it holds its shape as a nice ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured counter and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes, covered with a damp towel.

Meanwhile, place your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.  Alternatively, lightly grease a 12″ metal pizza pan.

Once the dough has rested, gently roll/pat/stretch the dough out to the size you need.  When using a pre-heated pizza stone, I normally try to stretch out the dough as much as possible, then I take the stone out of the oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, then as swiftly as possible, place the dough on the stone and add the toppings.  Then I return it to the oven, usually 12-15 minutes, depending on the toppings.

Caramelized Onion, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza

Time: 20 active, 35 inactive Yield: One 14″ pizza

  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste, optional
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Fresh basil, julienned
  • Olive oil, dried oregano and pepper for seasoning before serving

Preheat the oven (and pizza stone) at 425°F.

Over medium heat, heat the butter and olive oil in a saute pan and add onions.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook, until caramelized 15-20 minutes (low and slow is the best way for caramelized onions – you want them to become translucent, then gradually get golden brown, without actually browning or burning them).  Once caramelized, add white wine and tomato paste and cook until wine is evaporated.

See above recipe for dough or use store-bought.  Stretch to fit pizza stone or pan (as directed above).  Except try to make it prettier than mine.  I was being a little too hasty and not gentle enough, so I got a few wholes in my dough.  Be gentle and patient, unlike me.  Spread with caramelized onions, then sprinkle on goat cheese, bacon and mozzarella.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil, dried oregano, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Slice (preferably on a cutting board), and serve immediately.

Mmmmm bacon and goat cheese.  Doesn’t get much better than that…even if the dough doesn’t look pretty, it will taste delicious, I promise.

So who’s feeling like pizza?  Was that a clear dough tutorial, or did I miss something?  Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them in the Comments Section.

Crepes!

2 Apr

Ah, crepes.  So simple, yet so delicious.  Yes, I said simple! 

Rarely have I ever made pancakes from scratch (i.e. not a box mix), but I’ve made crepes from scratch numerous times.  Surprisingly, the batter could not be simpler or easier to make.  You just throw all the ingredients in a blender and you’re done!  Then, the amount of topping/filling combinations you can make are endless.

Today I want to share with you the basic recipe I use, plus two ideas for savory crepes (Rolled crepes with mushrooms, spinach and Brie and ham-and-egg crepe squares). They make a perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner.  And of course, the amount of sweet variations you could make using this base recipe is also endless – I would recommend Nutella + bananas or strawberries, powdered sugar + any fruit, especially blueberries or raspberries, or even a sweet and savory combo, like Brie with strawberries.  MMM. I LOVE CREPES.

My go-to crepe recipe is Alton Brown’s.  It’s worked flawlessly every time I’ve made crepes.  This time, I made a few slight changes, which I mention below.   After you make the batter, the recipe calls for a “resting” time, where you chill the batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or up to 48).  This may seem unimportant, but it really does make a difference in how easily the crepes tear.  So make sure to plan ahead and refrigerate (I speak from experience).  I like that you can really make this batter way ahead of time – up to 48 hours – and then have it on hand any time you want some fresh crepes.

Basic Crepe Recipe, slightly modified from Alton Brown’s original recipe

Time: 5 min prep, 1 hour chill, 20 min cooking; Yield: 17-22 crepes

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (optional modification – you can use all white flour if preferred)
  • 1 large pinch sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for coating pan

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse for 10 seconds. 

Chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour, or up to 48 hours.

*If making sweet crepes, add 2 more tablespoons sugar to batter.

How To Make Crepes:

You don’t need a fancy crepe pan to make crepes, but you can use one if you want to.  I have one from a long, long time ago, just like this crepe pan.  It’s really just a simple pan with low sides, which makes it easier to get your crepe spatula underneath the crepe to flip it.  A normal ~8″ fry pan and spatula will work just fine though.  Last time I made them, I made them double time – using one crepe pan and one normal pan, and they came out equally well.  But if you want to be fancy, invest in the pan and the spatula.  If you’re going to pick one, pick the spatula – it’s wooden, so it won’t scratch your non-stick pans, plus it’s the perfect shape for gently sliding under the crepe and flipping it.

Anyway, to make a crepe, heat your pan over medium-low heat, and add a small amount of butter to coat the pan. 

Pour in 1/8 to 1/4 cup batter into the pan, lifting and swirling the pan to help the batter form a thin layer which covers the whole pan. 

Cook for 30 seconds, then carefully slip spatula under the crepe and flip. 

Cook for another 1o-20 seconds, then remove from the pan.  Serve immediately, or allow to cool separately, then stack and refrigerate for later use.

Fill with one of the following suggestions, or your own creation!

Spinach, Mushroom and Brie Rolled Crepes

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or any other variety you like)
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons cooking Sherry (or white wine), optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces Brie, rind removed, cut into pieces
  • 6 crepes

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until tender.  Add in thyme and season with salt and pepper. 

Add the Sherry and cook until mostly evaporated.  Add the spinach in the pan and wilt. 

Meanwhile, place pieces of Brie down the center of 6 crepes.  Once spinach is wilted, spoon hot spinach and mushroom mixture over top of Brie. 

Roll up crepes and serve.

 

Ham and Egg Crepe Squares

  • 4 slices ham
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 crepes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lay crepes flat on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Place one piece of ham on each crepe, then crack an egg over top.

Fold up sides of crepe to form a square.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 10-14 minutes until white of egg is set and yolk is your desired doneness. 

Enjoy!

Goat Cheese, Chicken and Asparagus Fettuccine

26 Mar

 I can’t believe I’m still posting chicken recipes from my one day of cooking, where I made lots of chicken stock (and shredded chicken), then turned it into soup, this pasta and Buffalo-style chicken salad.   I swear this is the end of the chicken recipes… for now!  But in the meantime, this is a pretty delicious and simple recipe to use leftover chicken.  It’s creamy and tangy from the goat cheese.  And, it’s perfect for spring time, since asparagus is now at its prime.

The cream sauce for this pasta is made from a roux, milk and goat cheese.  It’s deliciously creamy, without the cream.  A roux is a mixture of melted butter and flour, combined in equal parts (in this recipe, 1 tablespoon each), which is used to thicken sauces.  Knowing how to make a roux is a great technique to have in your repertoire so you can make cream sauces at any time, for things like this, or homemade macaroni and cheese :).

Goat Cheese, Chicken and Asparagus Fettuccine

Time: 20 min, Yield: 2 servings

  • 6 ounces fettuccine
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2″ pieces
  • 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken (leftover and reheated or from a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1.5 cups low-fat milk
  • 4-6 ounces goat cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon

Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling water.  While pasta is cooking and water is boiling, drop the asparagus into the same pot to blanch, until tender-crisp, 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Add flour and whisk until smooth, 30 seconds.  Whisk in the milk and simmer gently, until it starts to thicken, stirring often.  Whisk in the goat cheese until smooth.  If sauce is too thick, add more milk.  If sauce is too thin, add more cheese.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and asparagus, and toss with chicken and enough cream sauce to coat.  Top with fresh tarragon and serve.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

23 Feb

Of all puréed vegetable soups, I think cream of broccoli is my favorite.  Even if it makes my house smell funny.

It’s especially irresistible when it topped with copious amounts of cheddar cheese… mmm.

When developing the recipe, I wanted the soup to be creamy, but not overly fat-laden and calorie-dense.  I wanted the recipe to be delicious, but not to undo all the “good” from eating lots of broccoli.  One thing you’ll notice is that I included 1 white potato in the recipe, which once cooked down, helps thicken the soup with all its starchiness.  This helped me minimize the amount of half and half to only 1/2 a cup!  But the texture is still rich and creamy (Ok, I’m sure the cheese helps too, but I couldn’t eliminate that!).   If you’re not worried about calories, feel free to add more cream or cheese or butter or maybe even some bacon :-D

There are a few things I’ll point out about the recipe in advance, since I’m feeling wordy today.

  • When I added the broccoli, I also added 1 cup water because I thought it needed a little more liquid to steam and so that it would be thin enough to puree, but you could also start with 4 cups of stock in the beginning and skip the water (4 cups is usually the size of those store-bought containers anyway).
  • Just roughly chop the vegetables since they will end up puréed anyway (though you do want them to be roughly the same size so they cook at the same rate).  The smaller you cut the potato, the faster it will cook, so if you want to hurry this recipe up, keep things diced small.
  • The list below looks like a long list of ingredients, but you probably already have most of them on hand (and the others are inexpensive).  Don’t go out and buy a whole head of celery for the recipe (unless you want to) if it seems like too much – just make do with what you’ve got!  You could even substitute milk for the half and half if you don’t want to buy that, though you may want to thicken it slightly with a roux (melt butter and mix with an equal part flour, cook for a minute, then add the milk and warm until thickened).
  •  You can either purée the soup in a blender or drastically improve your quality of living by investing in an immersion blender :), like this, for only around $30 (seeing all those cute colors makes me want another one haha).  If using a normal blender (or food processor), make sure to not to fill it more than half full and definitely allow the steam to escape (take the extra piece out of the center of the lid and top with a dish towel).
  • The reason I puréed the soup twice was because I wanted some chunks of broccoli left, but not any chunks of potato or onion or celery, etc.  If it seems like too much of a hassle (with an immersion blender it’s not at all, but with a normal blender it could be labor intensive), or if you prefer it very smooth and creamy, you could add the broccoli at the same time you add the potato and simmer it all together, then puree.

I calculated the nutrition facts for this soup, in each large serving (that is, if you assume you get 6 big servings out of this pot of soup), there are ~218 calories, 13 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein (not counting additional cheese for topping).  Not too shabby (especially compared to other broccoli cheddar soups I’ve seen that have over 500 calories in a serving!).  Plus each bowl had almost 100% of your daily value of Vitamin A and 200% of your Vitamin C!  Woot woot.

Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar

Yield: 6 large servings Time: 50 minutes total (including at least 30 inactive)

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups stock or broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (depending how much of a kick you want)
  • 1 white potato, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups broccoli, roughly chopped (this was about 6 crowns for me)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (plus more for serving)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper
  • Real bacon bits (for topping, if desired)

Melt butter over medium heat in a large soup pot, and sauté celery, onion and carrot until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.

Add broth, bay leaves, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper and diced potato.  Simmer, lightly covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Discard the bay leaves and puree until smooth (either in a blender or with an immersion blender – see above).

Add in broccoli and 1 cup of water, and simmer (covered) 20 minutes, or until broccoli is tender.  Puree again, but not too much, leaving some chunks of broccoli (if desired).

Stir in cheese and half and half, until melted and combined.

Serve with more cheese on top … and possibly with bacon bits if you’re feeling indulgent ;-)