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Archive for April, 2010

This may be the perfect recipe for macaroni and cheese. A conversation about the best mac and cheese came up recently, so I ventured that I had the perfect recipe, and this is it.

To be fair and give proper credit, Ina Garten has the perfect recipe. It is one of the few that I do not alter at all. In grad school, my friends dubbed it “resurrection mac and cheese,” because it was either a) good enough to resurrect christ, or b) just as wonderful as when some believed this happened.

Here is a link to the recipe: Mac and Cheese, by Ina Garten

And the actual recipe:

Kosher salt

Vegetable oil

1 lb. cavatappi or elbow macaroni

1 qt. milk

1 stick unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

12 oz. Gruyere, grated

8 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated

1/2 t.  freshly ground black pepper

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

3/4 lb. fresh tomatoes (4 small)

1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed — I used whole wheat bread, I have also used panko before)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

First, if your cheese is not yet grated – do that. I had help doing this so I could do everything else while the cheese was being grated (thanks Chris!)

Cheddar – you have met your match…

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the noodles and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 T. of butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.

Off the heat, add the cheese, 1 T. salt (seems like a lot but is very important for bringing out all the flavors), pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked noodles and stir well.

Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. At this point, you can taste the mixture and adjust for seasonings. I added more pepper, by request. You can also make the dish up to this point a day ahead and refrigerate before going on to the next step.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and  browned.

[I had help taking pictures (and with cooking!) this time around, so this is more documented than usual.]

This never fails to receive rave reviews and satisfy all different kinds of appetites. The salt, pepper, and nutmeg are simple ingredients that go a long way to bring out the more complex flavors of the cheeses used. If you have someone to grate the cheese – it is also a pretty easy recipe. If not, it just takes longer to complete, start to finish.

Try it – you will not be disappointed. You may want to serve it with a green vegetable on the side – so you can feel a bit better about consuming all that cheese and butter.

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chicken tagine – sort of

I have never made a traditional tagine – but this one from Mark Bittman, looked great and I immediately wanted to try it.

Here is a link to the recipe: Chickpea Tagine with Chicken and Apricots

I stuck pretty close to the linked recipe above. The package of chicken thighs I purchased came with 6, not four, so I used all of them and upped the amount of spices used a bit.

I also cooked my own chickpeas two days before and stored them with the cooking water in the fridge. I used this liquid instead of chicken stock.

This was great. It was bursting with flavor from all of the spices, and the apricots added a hint of sweetness. I also served it with the whole grain flat bread… all around a great meal.

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black bean chilaquile

When I am feeling uninspired, I often turn to this casserole – it is filling, mostly healthy, and delicious. It also comes out well every time. While it may not fit the traditional definition of chilaquile, it does contain tortilla chips and salsa, along with a lot of other vegetables and protein sources. It can be as spicy or as mild as you choose.

Here is the recipe , adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites:

Black Bean Chilaquile (serves 4 to 6)

1 cup chopped onions

1 T. olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 large onion, chopped

1 c. chopped tomatoes (I just used a whole 15 oz. can)

1 1/2 c. frozen corn kernels

1 1/2 c. cooked black beans (1 15 oz. can rinsed and drained)

2 T. fresh lime juice

1 t. salt

1/2 t. ground black pepper

2 c. rinsed, stemmed, and chopped spinach or Swiss chard (I often use twice this much)

2. cups crushed baked tortilla chips

8 oz. fat-free sharp Cheddar cheese (I refuse to eat fat-free cheese, so I use between 4 and 6 oz. of reduced-fat sharp Cheddar)

2 c. prepared Mexican-style red salsa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onions in oil for about 8 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic half-way through. Stir in the tomatoes, corn, black beans, lime juice, salt, and pepper and continue to saute for another 5 to 10 minutes until heated through.

Meanwhile, in another saucepan, blanch the greens in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, until just wilted but still bright green. Drain immediately and set aside.

Prepare an 8 x 8-inch casserole dish with a very light coating of oil or cooking spray. Spread half of the crushed tortilla chips on the bottom. Spoon the sauted vegetables over the ships and sprinkle on about 2/3rds of the grated Cheddar. Arrange the greens evenly over the cheese and spoon on half of the salsa.

Finish with the rest of the tortilla chips and top with the remaining salsa and Cheddar.

Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown.

I received some constructive criticism that this would be even better with some sour cream on the side. I have served it with plain yogurt before – which is a good stand-in for sour cream. I’ll try to remember that when I make this again in a few weeks (or so).

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Asparagus is wonderful and spring is asparagus season! I saw this recipe for Tabasco and Asparagus Quinoa on the blog, 101 Cookbooks.

I was not sure how the flavors of this dish would meld, but I tried it anyway with fantastic results.

Here’s what I did, adapted from this recipe:

for the butter:

1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 t. Dijon mustard

12-15 drops Tabasco sauce

1 t. or so of lemon juice

small pinch of salt

for the quinoa:

1/2 large onion

2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments

4 c. cooked quinoa

1/3 c. pine nuts

more Tabasco sauce to taste

First, make Tabasco butter. Whip the butter until it is light using a food processor. Add the Tabasco, lemon juice, salt, and mustard. You can make it as strong as you would like.

Next, start caramelizing the onions. In a small pan over medium-low heat, heat 1 or 2 t. of vegetable oil. Add the onion. Stir, add a bit of salt, and cook slowly until soft and caramelized.

Next, boil the asparagus in a large pot of salted water, for one or two minutes, depending on the thickness of asparagus. Drain and run cold water over the vegetables to stop the cooking process. Drain well.

Toast the pine nuts (if you have not already). I do this in a small pan over low heat. Toss them around from time to time while they cook. Watch them closely, they will burn quickly.

Take the 4 cups of hot quinoa and toss with  the Tabasco butter. Add asparagus, pine nuts, and onions. You may want to add more Tabasco while serving. I also added a little more salt and pepper at this point.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well this turned out. By doubling the amount of asparagus, it could easily serve five people (or make four lunches plus 1 dinner). I even had all four burners going for maybe the first time ever (1. quinoa; 2. asparagus; 3. pine nuts; 4. onions), was talking to a friend on the phone (hi Andrew!), and managed to not burn a thing… quite an accomplishment.

Anyway, if you like asparagus and want a healthy, flavorful meal – try this recipe.

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I had a conversation with a friend about cookies – which made me want them. But, as I’ve said before, baking is not my favorite thing, and I did not want a huge batch of cookies sitting around my apartment, or my place of employment.

After doing a quick internet search, I found this recipe, for a small batch of chocolate chip cookies. From what I can tell, the recipe was adapted from the book, Small Batch Baking.

Here’s the recipe:

2 T. plus 2 t. butter at room temperature
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. granulated sugar
2 T. egg, well beaten (beat an egg, then measure out 2 T.)
1/4 t. vanilla
1/4 c. plus 2 T flour
scant 1/4 t. baking soda
1/8 t. salt
1/3 c. chocolate chips – I used mini chocolate chips because that is what I had around.

Cream together the butter and sugars using an electric mixture (or not, but it is easier with).

Mix in the eggs and vanilla, stir in the dry ingredients, then the chips. Spoon onto a baking sheet – I made six cookies with the mix.

Bake at 375 for 8-11 minutes.

These came out perfectly. They were slightly crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle – perfect for sharing with a friend, or not. Your choice. At least you cannot do too much damage with only six freshly baked cookies.

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whole grain flatbread

One night, I departed from my usual homemade dinner route and heated up a pre-packaged Indian mix of red bean curry.  Instead of making rice to go with it, I made Mark Bittman’s whole grain flatbread – which is super easy and takes little hands-on time.

Here is the recipe, “Easy Whole Grain Flatbread,” by Mark Bittman from Food Matters

1 c. whole wheat flour

1 t. salt

2 T. olive oil (recipe calls for 4 T., turned out well with 2)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Put the flour into a bowl; add salt; then slowly add 1 1/2 c. water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Cover with a towel and let sit while oven heats. The batter should be the consistency of thin pancake batter.

Put the oil in a 12-inch skillet and put in the heated oven. Wait a couple of minutes for the oil to get hot. The oil is ready when you can start to smell it. Carefully remove the pan and pour in the batter.

Return the pan to the oven. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the flatbread is well browned, firm, and crisp around the edges.  It will release easily from the pan when it is done.  Let rest for a few minutes before cutting into wedges.

This is an easy and delicious accompaniment to many different kinds of dishes. You can also use it as a pizza crust. Just top the baked bread with toppings of your choice and put under the broiler for a few minutes.

Make sure you cook it long enough. I was impatient and was left with flatbread that was slightly undercooked in the center — still tasty though.

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country hashed browns

I spent Easter with my aunt and uncle in Indiana, who sent me back to Louisville with leftover ham. I did some searching for recipes utilizing leftover ham that didn’t contain condensed soup or call for grinding the ham and I found this recipe for hashed browns from trusty Ina Garten.

I made some small changes to her recipe, mainly using fewer potatoes, less butter, and more herbs.

Here’s what I did:

2 T. unsalted butter

1 lb. boiling potatoes, 1/2-inch diced

1 chopped yellow onion

1 1/2 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. pepper

2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley

2  green onions, chopped

smoked ham – I used about 4 slices, chopped — this could easily be omitted for a vegetarian dish

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the potatoes, onions, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn the potatoes occasionally with a flat spatula, until the potatoes are evenly browned and cooked through. (Allow the potatoes to cook for 5 minutes before turning.)

Turn off the heat and add the parsley, green onions, and ham. Reheat on top of the stove.

This was super easy to make, inexpensive, and really good. The amounts above will serve three.

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