EASY ONE-POT MACARONI & CHEESE: Hack The Mac!!!

mac & cheese hack textSadly, when we think Mac & Cheese, we often think of Kraft Mac & Cheese. While children seem to love it, one wonders what exactly is that suspicious orange “cheese” and multitude of ingredients that hearken one back to high school chemistry.

Macaroni and cheese is a kid favorite, but I refused to buy the boxed-kind, laden with excess salt and orange stuff that’s supposed to be cheese. Instead, I only served them homemade MAC & CHEESE.  Of course, the best laid plans went by the wayside when they started eating at their friends’ houses and noticed the difference. They still ate mine, but wouldn’t hesitate to inhale the other, given a chance.

Well, we moms have to be sneaky sometimes (it’s for their own good…they’ll thank us later). I found a Macaroni & Cheese recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that is very similar to the boxed kind. If you leave off the bread crumb topping, you may be able to pass it off – just keep an empty box around as a decoy to sit on the counter when you’re serving it.

NOTE:  Don’t buy pre-sliced American cheese unless you absolutely have to. Many stores have a working deli section where they make sandwiches. They’ll probably have a large block of American cheese – both the orange and yellow kind taste fine. Don’t let them slice it, since you’ll want to shred it – tell them to cut about a 3/4 ” block (3¼ oz).

ONE-POT MAC & CHEESE

  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 lb small elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup (3¼ oz) deli cut American cheese (either yellow or orange), shredded
  • 1 cup (2½ oz) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • optional topping: 1/3 cup panko crumbs
  •                                 1 T olive oil
  •                                 1/8 tsp salt
  •                                 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  •                                 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a saucepot, bring water and milk to the boil. mac & cheese hack2Add in pasta and bring to a simmer. mac & cheese hack3Maintaining the simmer, cook uncovered until pasta is just past the al dente stage – about 6 minutes. mac & cheese hack4While pot is still on low heat, stir in American cheese, Dijon and cayenne. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar. Cover pot and let melt together. Taste for seasoning.mac & cheese hack5 If you want to make the bread crumb topping, toast the panko, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small skillet until browned. (Keep an eye on it – it only takes a couple of minutes.) Remove from heat and mix in the Parmesan.

 

Advertisements

CHEESY GRITS: Creamy Goodness! Who Knew?!

Grits9Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.

Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty.  Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!

Note:  I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.

Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)

CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
  • 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz jack cheese, shredded

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. grits5Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil.grits6 Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). grits7Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges.grits2 In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. grits4Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. grits8Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.

 

 

 

TOFU & DUMPLINGS: Comfort Food At Its Finest!

tofu & dumpling textChicken & Dumplings is one of those classic, stick-to-your-ribs meals that’s considered a comfort food by many.  Of course, being a vegetarian, chicken was not an option. That pretty much left a watery broth and a few carrots, onions, and celery.

So I set out to make a hearty vegetarian dumpling soup with flavor and heft. It took a number of tries with a variety of ingredients, but I finally created what I was looking for.

I, also, experimented with the dumpling size. While the larger ones were appealing to look at and faster to spoon out, I found it was messy business to cut into them while eating. I kept reducing the size until I got to less than 1″ in diameter raw – they plump up during the boiling process. Making them bite sized is perfect so you can eat them whole.

TOFU & DUMPLINGS – makes about 18 cups

  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3 cups (about 2) onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 10½ oz carrots, sliced
  • 1 lb white common mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3½ tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 T arrowroot
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 T butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 8¾ oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium/high heat.  Add in onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté 7 minutes, stirring often.tofu & dumpling5 Add in mushrooms and continue to cook another 4 minutes, scraping fond on bottom of pan (the browned bits). tofu & dumpling6Add dill, tomato paste, garlic, and 2½ tsp of the salt – cook 3 more minutes. tofu & dumpling7Pour in the Sherry and continue to cook until evaporated, scraping any fond formed. tofu & dumpling8Add the water, tofu, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and parsley.  Bring almost to a simmer. In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the arrowroot with 1/4 cup of the soup. Stir slurry into soup until it thickens a bit – should take a few minutes. Taste for seasoning – adjust, if needed. Keep heating the soup to bring to full boil.tofu & dumpling13As soup is heating up, make the dumplings. Heat the butter and let cool a bit. Then combine melted butter with the buttermilk – it will get clumpy. Whisk the egg white a little, then whisk it into the buttermilk mixture. tofu & dumpling10In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and 1 tsp remaining salt. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and combine.tofu & dumpling11 Form small dough lumps – 1″ or less.  There will probably be about 62. (These will plump up with cooking.) Make sure you form all these balls before you begin dropping them in the soup so they cook at the same rate.tofu & dumpling12When soup has come to a full boil, one by one drop in the dough balls. Wrap a towel around the pot lid and cover. (MAKE SURE THE TOWEL DOESN’T DROP ANYWHERE NEAR THE BURNER!  YOU DON’T WANT A FIRE!!!) The towel will absorb steam moisture so the dumplings don’t get soggy. tofu & dumpling9Decrease flame to medium and cook 11 minutes. Remove lid and allow steam to escape a few minutes before serving.

MANICOTTI: An Easy Way To Make This Favorite!

manicotti textAnyone’s who made manicotti knows the challenge of trying to stuff cooked tubular pasta without tearing it. If you fill uncooked tubes, then you face the problem of cooking them enough so they’re edible.

Not to worry! Once again America’s Test Kitchen came up with a better idea: use quick-cook lasagna noodles and roll them up. Brilliant!

Note:  As Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t remind you to double or triple the marinara sauce and freeze it for future use. But try it first to be sure you like it.

MANICOTTI – makes 8

  • 1  28-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 8 no-boil lasagna noodles (this is the brand I use)manicotti1
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup (2 oz) Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 T basil, chopped, divided
  • 1 T Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 T ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

First make a quick marinara sauce:  Remove the stem end and any skin or imperfections from the tomatoes. Either chop them in a food processor or by hand. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add in the garlic and red pepper flakes – sauté for 30 seconds to bloom. manicotti9Add in the tomatoes and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to boil, then decrease heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Off-heat, stir in 1 T basil. Set aside.pizza8 Place the uncooked noodles in a 8″ x 11″ (or there-abouts) casserole dish. Cover noodles with boiling water, separating them with a fork to make sure they don’t stick together. Let them soak for 5 minutes, moving them around now and then.manicotti11 Place noodles on a tea towel to dry. Discard water and dry pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup (1 oz) of the Parmesan, the remaining 1 T basil, parsley1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. manicotti10Divide the filling evenly amongst the noodles (about 1/4 cup each). Spread filling, leaving a 1/2″ border at one of the short ends. manicotti12Roll up, starting at end where the filling went all the way to the end. (The border is to allow room for the filling to spread as you roll them up.)manicotti5Spread 3/4 cup of the marinara into the pan. manicotti6Lay the manicotti, seam side down. manicotti7Pour on remaining marinara, covering all exposed pasta with the sauce. manicotti8Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 375º F for 40 minutes. Increase oven to 500º F. Sprinkle on remaining 1/2 cup (1 oz) Parmesan. manicotti2Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle on more basil, if desired.manicotti3

MAPLE/NUT GRANOLA – Super Easy!!!

granola textWhy spend a lot of money on store-bought granola when you can make it yourself? You won’t believe how easy it is! Plus you can fine-tune it to suit yourself.

Paired with plain yogurt (homemade, of course!), it’s a great way to start the day or subdue those mid-afternoon hunger pangs.

Note: This recipe makes 11 cups. If you don’t want to make this much, use a smaller rimmed cookie sheet – the granola should be a certain thickness when baked or it tends to burn around the edges.

Additional Note: This recipe calls for a total of 2 cups nuts. I prefer half almonds, half pecans. Substitute, if you prefer.

MAPLE/NUT GRANOLA – makes about 11 cups

  • 1 cup slivered almonds chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (the real thing, NOT Log Cabin, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4½ cups (13½ oz) old-fashioned oats (NOT the quick cooking kind)
  • optional: 2 cups dried fruit, such raisins, cranberries, apricots

Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit. 

Lightly toast the almonds and pecans to bring out their flavor. I do this in my toasteroven. If you don’t have one, use your regular oven. Make sure to keep an eye on them wherever they are so they don’t burn!!!granola7 In a very large bowl, mix together the maple syrup, brown sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, and salt.granola6 Blend in the oats and toasted nuts. granola5Pour onto a parchment paper lined rimmed 16½” x 12″ (inside measure) baking sheet. Spread out and, using a flat implement (such as a potato masher or measuring cup), firmly press down granola evenly. I like to start in the center and work my way to the sides so that the edges aren’t too thin, or they’ll over-bake. granola4Bake in the upper third of the 325º F oven until medium browned – about 32-45 minutes. (Mine take 32 minutes.) granola3Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour on baking sheet. Break apart and add in dried fruit, if using (I never do).granola2 Store in airtight container.

VEGETARIAN MOO SHU: Do NOT Be Afraid!

moo shu textLet me say right off the bat, this is an EXTREMELY easy recipe. Honestly! Yes, it involves making those ultra thin pancakes that wrap the stir-fry, but I promise, you can do it!!!

As a devoted from-scratch cook, I’m always up for a new challenge. While I’ve been making flour tortillas for years, I was a little nervous about these thin moo shu pancakes. How can I roll them so thin and still be able to handle them with tearing? America’s Test Kitchen to the rescue! They came up with an ingenious method that truly works.

The filling can be altered to suit your taste – I used shiitake mushrooms, scrambled eggs, asparagus, and cabbage.

VEGETARIAN MOO SHU – makes 12

Pancakes

  • 7½ oz (or 1+2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1½ T sesame oil
  • 1 T vegetable oil

Mix flour and boiling water together in the food processor (or, by hand if you don’t own one) until smooth – about 30 seconds. Let dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.moo shu10 On a well-floured board, roll dough into a 12″ log. moo shu11Slice into 12 pieces. moo shu12Using floured fingers, pat each piece into a 3″ disc. moo shu13Generously brush 6 of the discs with the sesame oil (you may have some left over).moo shu14 Place each dry disc on top of an oiled one, creating a kind of sandwich. moo shu15Roll each of these into a 6″-ish circle. (To save time and counter space, while one pancake sandwich is cooking, I’m rolling out the next – but this is pretty hectic.)moo shu16 Heat 1/2 tsp vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium/low. Place one dough circle in skillet and cook on medium/low for 1 minute. Flip and cook other side for 1 minute. moo shu17Remove to a tea towel to let cool a few seconds. Then, carefully split apart the pancakes. moo shu18Stack them, oiled side up. Carry on with the remaining circles. (You may not need to oil the pan with each new pancake, depending on the non-stick ability of your skillet – I put in a little vegetable oil every other one.) Keep warm in the wrapped tea towel until ready to use.moo shu19

Filling

  • 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 T Mirin sweet rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger or 1 tsp fresh, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 T + 1 tsp vegetable oil, divided
  • 2/3 cup scallions (about 6 scallions), sliced
  • 7 asparagus stalks, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 8 oz can bamboo shoots, cut into matchsticks – see photo:hot & sour9
  • 3 cups Napa cabbage or bok choy, sliced thin
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce (recipe below, or purchased)

In a bowl, combine the shiitakes and 1/2 cup water. Let soak while you prepare the rest. (You’ll be using some this flavored water in the moo shu.)moo shu2In a small saucepan, combine the Mirin and cornstarch, smooshing out any lumps. Add in the soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Cook over medium heat until thickened. Set aside.

In a nonstick 12″ skillet, heat 1 T vegetable oil over high heat. Add in the scallions, asparagus, and bamboo shoots. Sauté on high for 2 minutes.moo shu7 Drain the mushrooms over a container.moo shu3 Add 1/3 cup of this mushroom water to the skillet, along with the cabbage and drained mushrooms. Cook on high for another 2 minutes.moo shu9 Pour all of the stir-fry mixture into a colander or sieve, discarding the drained liquid.

Put 1 tsp vegetable oil in the now-empty skillet and heat over medium/high. Lightly beat eggs, and cook them in skillet for about 20 seconds, until they’re cooked, but soft. (They’ll continue to cook when the hot vegetables are added.)moo shu5Add in the drained veggies and the teriyaki sauce. Blend together and heat through.

Place a spoonful of filling on a each pancake. Fold up pancake in half (like a taco), moo shu20 then fold in sides.moo shu21If you like, dip in plum or hoisin sauce as you eat.

Teriyaki Sauce – makes about 3/4 cup

  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T Mirin sweet wine vinegar (often in the Asian section of the market)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated (or 1/8 tsp dried, but fresh is best)
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Note:  You only need 1/4 cup of this recipe for the Moo Shu. Store remainder in refrigerator.

In a small saucepan with burner off, put cornstarch and sugar. Stir to blend. Add in Mirin and mix well, smashing any lumps. teriyake sauce1

Add in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Turn on burner to medium and stir while bringing to a boil. Turn down heat to keep a simmer. Continue cooking until thickened – about 4-5 minutes.teriyake sauce2

ROMAN GNOCCHI: A Semolina Sensation!

roman gnocchi textWe’re all familiar with the POTATO GNOCCHI – awhile back I even posted a recipe for POTATO GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER:gnocchi 2But gnocchi are merely dumplings that are made from various things besides potatoes, such as wheat flour, cheese, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and semolina flour – the basis for this Roman Gnocchi recipe.

Roman Gnocchi are fast and easy to make and can be formed ahead of time – I love make-ahead recipes! They can be served as a first, side, or main course, depending on how many one eats.

Note:  I store my semolina flour in the freezer since I don’t use it that often.

ROMAN GNOCCHI – makes 12

  • 2½ cups milk (use whatever you have)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 4 T butter, divided
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 1/3 tsp dried crushed rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated
  • topping sauce of your choice (marinara, cheese sauce, butter sauce)

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk up to simmer. Add in salt and nutmeg. roman gnocchi7Very slowly pour in semolina, stirring constantly to prevent lumps (a whisk is best for this). Once all the semolina in mixed in, decrease heat to low and cook 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very thick and pulls away from the sides of pan. (Don’t undercook or the gnocchi will taste floury.) Let cool 4 minutes. roman gnocchi11Cut 3 T of the butter into pieces and stir them into the dough until all butter is melted and incorporated. roman gnocchi10Mix in the beaten egg, Gruyère, rosemary, and baking powder. roman gnocchi8With the remaining 1 T butter grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or one of equivalent size). Dip a 1/4 cup measuring cup into water to wet it, then fill it with dough. Empty onto the pan, using your fingers to fix the shape, if needed. Dip measuring cup into water each time – this helps release the dough. You should get around 12 gnocchi. roman gnocchi1Chill at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. roman gnocchi3Sprinkle Parmesan on top of gnocchi and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.