FOUR CHEESE MACARONI – A Little Something For The Adults!

four cheese mac textFor some reason, Macaroni & Cheese is perceived as a bland, children’s food. (Don’t even get me started on the boxed version!)

But what about we adults? We like cheese. We like pasta. How about a grown-up version of Mac & Cheese?

Not to worry – America’s Test Kitchen has come to the rescue. The combination of cheeses blows the kid stuff out of the water – creamy with a little bite. As if that’s not enough – it’s super easy!

FOUR CHEESE MACARONI

  • 4 slices good quality white sandwich bread
  • 1 oz (1 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 lb mini penne pasta (you can use full-sized, if you like)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2¾ oz (3/4 cup) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1¼ oz (1/2 cup) Pecorino-Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 1½ cup cream

Preheat oven to 500º Fahrenheit.

To make breadcrumb topping, remove and discard crust from bread. Tear into 1″ pieces and place in food processor. breadcrumb1Pulse about 7 times to get small pieces.breadcrumb2 Pour into bowl and add in 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan, 1 tsp salt, and black pepper. (It’s easiest to mix with fingers.) Set aside. breadcrumb3Into a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a full boil. Add in 1 rounded T salt and the penne. Stir immediately to prevent sticking, then stir every now and then, until al dente. (Don’t overcook – pasta will continue to soften when the cheeses and sauce are added.)

As the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheeses and sauce. In a large bowl, put the remaining 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan, the Gorgonzola, the Fontina, and the Pecorino-Romano. Set aside. four cheese mac6In a saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Turn off heat and mix in the flour, making sure you smoosh any lumps – this is your only chance to remove them. Cook 2 minutes over low heat, stirring continuously, to prevent that flour-y taste. four cheese mac7Add in the cream and remaining 1 tsp salt. Increase the heat slightly to medium/low and stir until thickened. four cheese mac2By now, the pasta should be cooked. Drain in colander, but don’t shake strainer. Immediately pour hot pasta over cheeses in bowl. four cheese mac8Pour hot sauce on top. (Don’t stir yet.) Cover – I use a cookie sheet. Let set for 3 minutes to melt the cheeses. Remove cover and stir everything together. four cheese mac3Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle on breadcrumbs. four cheese mac4Bake at 500º F for about 7 minutes, until breadcrumbs are browned. four cheese mac5Sprinkle on a little chopped parsley, if desired. Can be served immediately.

 

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CORNY CORNBREAD: A Moist Cornbread, Full Of Corn Flavor!

corny cornbread textCornbread often doesn’t live up to expectations. While it may look buttery-moist with it’s vibrant yellow color, one bite sends you reaching for the water glass. The other side of the coin is the cornbread you get at some restaurants, so full of sugar and fat that’s it’s really just a slice of cake.

Here’s a recipe I got from America’s Test Kitchen that uses whole corn kernels pulsed in a food processor to release their juice, combined with the usual cornmeal to maximize corn flavor. Make it in a cast iron skillet to get that lovely golden brown crust.

NOTE:  A blender probably wouldn’t work for chopping the corn – the kernals might get stuck under the blades. You could try running the blender empty, then dropping in the corn. Or better yet, try using canned creamed corn. I’ve not actually done that, but would think it would work.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: A cast iron skillet is best for cornbread – it gives it that nice crust. If you don’t have one, make sure your skillet’s handle can take the high heat of the oven. (Then put a 10″ cast iron skillet on your birthday or holiday list!)

CORNY CORNBREAD

  • 1 cup (5.75 oz) cornmeal (I use medium grind, but you can use fine grind if you don’t like the grit – or a combination)
  • 1 cup (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 T butter, melted
  • 1 cup frozen corn (canned or fresh would work, too)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco Sauce (or any hot sauce)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit.  Make sure you do this to get that nice crust!

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.corny cornbread3Melt the butter and set aside to cool a bit.melted butterInto the workbowl of your food processor (If you don’t own one, put it on your birthday or holiday list, which is becoming longer by the minute!)), add the corn, sour cream, eggs, and hot sauce. Pulse about 6 times to break up corn.corny cornbread4Pour the corn mixture into the cornmeal mixture and gently stir a few times. (The dry mixture will buffer the eggs so they don’t cook when the hot butter is added.) Then add in the butter and complete blending the ingredients just to the point where the flour in incorporated. Don’t over mix – overmixing a quick bread (which this is) will produce a tough bread.corny cornbread5 On the stovetop, heat the oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Turn off heat and pour in batter (you’ll hear sizzling), spreading it out evenly and smoothing top. corny cornbread6Place in hot oven and bake at 450º F for 18-25 minutes. (Set your timer for 18 minutes and test with a toothpick – when done, it should come out clean. Reset timer and cook longer, if need be.) corny cornbread1When done, remove from oven and let cornbread set in skillet at least 20 minutes before slicing.

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP: Fills You Up With Flavor, Not Calories!

butternut squash soup textIt’s autumn – that time of year when the days get shorter, the air a little brisker, and the markets display all kinds and colors of winter squash. While, of course, we appreciate them for their beauty – and sometimes cuteness – they’re actually edible, delicious, and filled with nutrients and fiber.

This recipe for BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP is particularly tasty…and extremely low in calories! Bonus: it’s quick to prepare!!!

NOTE: Anyone who’s ever risked life and limb by attempting to slice through a winter squash, may have sworn off cooking with one. BUT…I have the answer: the microwave!!! (This, of course, may not work with a giant pumpkin.)

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP – makes 7 cups

  • 4 T butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 lb butternut squash
  • 5 cups water
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (dark or light – I use dark)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • optional:  Cinnamon Croutons (recipe follows)

Thoroughly wash butternut squash. Place whole in microwave and cook 3 minutes. (Don’t bother piercing it – it won’t explode.) Flip it and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and let cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, cut off the head, then slice through it, exposing the seeds. (Yikes! This sounds ghoulish!!!) Scrape out fibers and seeds and set aside.

In a large stockpot (such as a Dutch oven), melt the butter. Add in shallots and sauté on medium 4 minutes.butternut squash soup6 Add in the seeds and fibers. Sauté another 4 minutes on medium. butternut squash soup7Add in the water and salt, bringing to a boil. butternut squash soup8While liquid is heating, slice the squash (unpeeled) into chunks. Place them cut side down on a steamer basket. butternut squash soup2When the liquid has come to a boil, drop in the steamer basket and cover. Decrease flame to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove basket from liquid, letting squash cool enough to handle.

Place a strainer over a container and pour liquid through it. Discard seeds and fibers. butternut squash soup3Once squash is cooled, scrap squash from its peel, discarding peel. Put squash into a blender and add enough of the liquid to purèe squash. (Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in batches.) butternut squash soup4Empty purèe into the now-empty stockpot. Add in brown sugar and cream. Heat over medium to just before boiling. Taste for seasoning.butternut squash soup5

CINNAMON BREAD CRUMBS

  • 2 slices white bread – good quality
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Remove and discard crust from bread. Cut slices into 1/2″ cubes and place in bowl. Mix in sugar and cinnamon, then stir in melted butter.

Pour onto cookie sheet and bake at 350º F for about 8 minutes, stirring midway.croutons

TIRAMISU: An Elegant Dessert That Takes Minutes To Prepare!

tiramisu text2You know that feeling at the end of a filling meal when you want just a little something sweet? TIRAMISU is the perfect solution. Although it looks rich and creamy, it’s actually very light. In fact, give me a fork and I could easily ingest the entire pan. (Thank goodness for will power.)

While it’s extremely fast to prepare, and no-bake, it needs to be made at least 6 hours before serving to chill and set. To me, this is perfect for company. If I can get one thing done ahead of time, then mama’s a happy camper! (And you know what they say if mama ain’t happy!)

NOTE: This recipe can be doubled, using a 9″x13″ casserole pan.

TIRAMISU

  • 1¼ cups coffee (brewed or instant)
  • 4 T dark rum, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 lb mascarpone, cold
  • 6 T heavy cream
  • 26 ladyfingers – DON’T buy the soft kind – they turn to mush. Buy the hard ones, such as Savoiardi.
  • 2 T Dutch process cocoa, divided
  • optional: chocolate shavings for decoration

NOTE: I would be remiss in my Queen of Freeze duties if I didn’t remind you that the unused egg whites removed from the 3 egg yolks can be frozen for future use!!!

In a bowl wide enough to dip the ladyfingers sideways (such as a cereal bowl), combine the coffee and 2 T of the rum. Set aside to cool. tiramisu14In the small bowl of your electric mixer, put the egg yolks. Beat on low speed about 5 seconds, just to break them up. tiramisu1Add in the sugar and salt. Turn mixer to medium speed and beat 1 minute. The yolks will turn pale and thick. tiramisu2Pour in the remaining 2 T rum and beat on medium 30 seconds. Add in the cold mascarpone and beat on medium for about 30 seconds, until there are no lumps. tiramisu3Empty mixture into a large bowl.tiramisu5 In the now-empty mixing bowl (you don’t have to clean it), pour the cream. Beat on high until soft peaks form. tiramisu4Stir 1/3 of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to loosen texture. Fold in remaining whipped cream. tiramisu6Have ready an 8″x8″ pan (or it’s equivalent), the ladyfingers, and the coffee mixture. Holding a ladyfinger at the midsection, quickly dip one long, flat side into the coffee (submerge less than 1/4″ – don’t go midway), turn it over and dip the other side. Shake off any excess liquid. (The goal is to get just the outside portion of the cookie wet so it will remain crispy in the center – you want the coffee flavor, but not the mush.) tiramisu7Then place the dipped ladyfinger in the pan. Continue on, lining up the ladyfingers in the same direction, until the bottom is covered. By the time you get to the last one, they will have become somewhat softer. You can probably shove them together to make room for one more in each row. tiramisu8Cover ladyfingers with half of the mascarpone, smoothing evenly. tiramisu9Place 1 T cocoa powder in a small sieve. Stir the cocoa with a spoon to sprinkle cocoa evenly over mascarpone. (Cocoa tends to clump – the spoon breaks them up.)tiramisu10Add the second layer of ladyfingers, dipping as above, laying them in the opposite direction of the first layer. Fit as many cookies as you can, although you may not need them all. Save the undipped ones for future use. tiramisu11Spread on remaining mascarpone evenly, then sprinkle on the remaining 1 T cocoa. tiramisu13Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 6 hours. (I make it the night before.) You’ll notice the cocoa will turn a deeper chocolate color due to condensation.

If you want to add chocolate shavings on top, run a sharp, non-serrated knife along the edge of a room temperature chocolate bar. I shave them onto a cold plate so they don’t get melty. (It’s easier to use a longer piece of chocolate, but this is all I had.)chocolate shavesKeep TIRAMISU in refrigerator until ready to serve.