Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Best Macaroni & Cheese you will ever make!

I have yet to meet anyone with the exception of my husband and his Mum who do not LOVE LOVE LOVE macaroni and cheese.  I mean seriously what is not to love?  Pasta and gooey cheese all mixed together.  It is the comfort food of champions.  It is a staple side dish for us during holiday meals, doesn't matter what holiday it has got to be on the menu.  I have played around with all kinds of recipes and then got inspired by a recipe I watched Michael Symon make on The Chew.  I made his version with the bacon, onion, butternut squash, Gruyere cheese and mascarpone cheese.  The thing is, this was a very adult macaroni and cheese and while delicious my kids were not as enthusiastic.  They liked it but didn't love it.  It also called for panko bread crumbs on top mixed with more Gruyere... me and the hubby loved the crispy aspect but the kids... not so much.  My son does not like it baked.  So for Thanksgiving, I did a spin on his recipe and it turned out to be the best macaroni and cheese ever.  Even my Mom wants the recipe. 


  • 3 tablespoons All Purpose flour
  • 1 Quart Half & Half (plus 3 cups)
  • 1 Pinch Nutmeg
  • 1 Pound Rigatoni or Penne (your preference)
  • 1 Cup Good White Cheddar Cheese (I like Adams Ridge as it is not oily... nice crumbly dry cheddar)
  • 1 Cup Marscarpone (this is your secret weapon)
  • 2 Cups Panko Bread Crumbs + 1/2 cup extra white cheddar cheese (OPTIONAL)
In a large pot fill with water and add a good amount of salt and bring to a boil to cook your pasta.  Cook for 1 minute less than the box says for al dente pasta.

In a large sauce pan (use a big saucier pan if you have one).  Melt butter over medium low heat (do not brown).

Once melted add your flour and whisk together.  Reduce heat and cook on low for a minute or two... do not brown, you just want to cook out the raw flour taste.

Once it has cooked on low for a minute or two, turn your heat up to medium high and whisk in your half & half.  Once half & half is all in, reduce heat to medium and add in your nutmeg.  Then just before it hits the simmer stage, start adding your cheddar cheese.  Incorporate cheese slowly and let it melt into the sauce whisking as you go.

Once all your cheddar is in, add the mascarpone cheese and whisk to incorporate.  Once all the cheese is in, let sauce come to a light simmer and reduce your heat to keep it simmering for about 5 minutes and then turn down to low heat.  Taste sauce and add a pinch of salt to taste.  I find good cheddar cheese based sauces, especially once you add the creamy buttery and sweet mascarpone often need a pinch of salt or little more.  Sauce will still be pretty runny which is how you want it.  

Once your pasta is cooked but not quite al dente yet, drain and return to pot.  Pour cheese sauce over pasta and turn heat up to medium and stir to cook and combine together.  It will seem like a lot of sauce to your pasta but the pasta will soak in your sauce as it cooks together and your pasta will be perfectly al dente and not mushy and the sauce will be thick and creamy.  Reduce heat to low and serve from stove top if you want after it cooks on low for about 10 to 15 mins.  OR

Pour mixture into a large baking dish and mix your panko bread crumbs and extra cheddar together and spread evenly over the top.  Place in a 400 degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes until top is golden brown and crispy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cranberry Jam

I think just about everyone has some kind of cranberry jelly, jam, compote, relish that goes with their Thanksgiving feast.  For a long time, I was just not a fan.  I think mostly because in the early days of family Thanksgiving, it came out of a can and looked like jello. I was never much a fan of jello even as a kid.  Who knew that fresh cranberries along with dried cranberries a little orange juice, lemon zest, juice of one lemon, sugar and spices could make such a delicious reprieve from the canned variety.  I have been experimenting with different cranberry recipes for the last 10 Thanksgivings.  I have found that the more simple it is the better it is.  My recipe is as good on toast, as it is on your Thanksgiving plate.  Fantastic on that left-over turkey sandwich.  It is dead simple and can be canned or just kept for about 14 days in a tight covered container in the fridge.  I am canning some this year because every once in a while, at the strangest of times, I get a craving for it on a regular old turkey or chicken sandwich.  Now I will always have some.  Here is the recipe.

Things you will need:

24 ounces of fresh cranberries (frozen will do if that is all you can get)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice or your favorite store bought orange juice
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground all-spice
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 a pinch of salt (weird right?  TRUST ME)

In a large saucepan, add your cranberries.  Be sure to rinse them in a colander first and pick through to remove any leftover stems, leaves or bad ones.

Turn heat onto medium high

Add sugar

Start to listen for cranberries to begin to pop

Add orange juice

Stir together and add spices (all spice, nutmeg and salt)

Add lemon zest and juice

turn heat down to med low or low and let simmer.

Once simmering add dried cranberries

Let simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until mixture is thick like jam.

Remove from heat and let cool or serve warm with your meal.  Can be made ahead and reheated!  Also great cold!

Can if you are canning at this time or seal in airtight container and store in fridge.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yummy Warm Roasted Beet Salad

When it comes to Beets, everybody has an opinion.  Love them or hate them, this salad will convert any beet hater.  I still am not a pickled beet fan, and I don't like beets that come from a jar or a can.  However, give me fresh beets from the store and let me roast them and turn them into a warm salad, then yes, I love my beets.  There are lots of variations out there on a roasted beet salad, but when I was searching for a recipe, not one of them had I liked or wanted.  So this is my take on a warm roasted beet salad.  It is as beautiful as it is delicious, trust me.  It is also simple and can be made well in advance.  I served this salad as the precursor to a fine dining night in our home.  The main course was a roasted tenderloin of pork over cauliflower puree.  If you make this dish, let me know what you think!

Yummy Warm Roasted Beet Salad

1 beet per person
1 small tub of mascarpone cheese
1 lemon
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup good honey
1/4 cup good Dijon mustard
good olive oil (nice finishing oil not cooking oil)

Preheat oven to 425.  Wash beets and cut off greens to about an inch above beet.  Rub beets with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Wrap in aluminum foil and roast in the foil in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Use paper towel once cool to rub skin from beets.

In a small bowl, put in your mascarpone cheese, zest of 1 lemon, juice of 1 lemon, pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Mix well and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat oven to 350.  Toast walnuts for about 10 minutes.  Set aside.  In a sauce pan add 1 cup of sugar on medium low heat and let melt to caramel color.  Add butter.  Spread walnuts out on parchment paper and drizzle caramel mixture over walnuts and let cool.

In a bowl or jar mix together mustard, honey, vinegar and oil.  Mix well.

Thinly slice beets (I used a mandolin).  Place the sliced beet on the plate, add a dollop of the mascarpone mixture, sprinkle a few candied walnuts and drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.  DELICIOUS!

Pureed Cauliflower

Everybody always wonders what to do to serve cauliflower in a way that is yummy and get their kids to eat it.  It is kind of like brussel sprouts... you want to like them but you just have to find the right way to serve it.  In our house, we love cauliflower and lately I have grown weary of the same old roasted recipe I do with mustard and so on.  While roasting is a delicious way to enjoy cauliflower, I truly had grown tired of it and needed something new.  So I decided to puree it and serve it as I would mashed potatoes.  Now this method is nothing new, but sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget there are other great ways to serve a vegetable.  The first two times I did this, everybody thought they were having mashed potato.  The recipe is simple enough and you can adjust easily to your liking, what I am going to share is my general method recipe to get you trying cauliflower with your family in a whole new way.

Cauliflower Puree

1 head of Cauliflower
2 tablespoons of butter
cream or milk
salt & pepper
pinch of garlic powder (optional)

bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt (a nice big pinch like you would with pasta)
break down cauliflower into chunks
add cauliflower to boiling water
cook until fork tender
stain cauliflower
put cauliflower, butter and a little milk or cream and garlic powder in blender or food processor
blend until smooth
add more milk or cream if needed to get right consistency
add salt and pepper to taste
Serve like you would mashed potatoes.

Happy Eating!