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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SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA: Perfect Any Time Of Day!

spinach cheese strata textOne thing I love about egg dishes is they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – kind of a one-size-fits-all meal of the food world. (Even though one size does NOT fit all in the clothing world!)

This SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA is very fast to prepare…even faster if you take a couple of shortcuts: 1) buy frozen spinach and, 2) buy bread (rather than making it). I’m a little paranoid about the cleanliness of frozen spinach, since I know how dirty fresh can be, so I buy fresh. Also, I like to bake my own bread and often have extra in the freezer. But that’s just me.

Bonus: it’s a make ahead dish – always a plus for me. That way, I can prepare it in the morning (or even the night before), leaving explicit instructions with my husband. Explicit!

SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA – makes about 6 servings

  • about 11  1/2″ slices of day old French bread (or less if it’s a fat loaf)
  • 2 T butter + more for spreading on bread
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach (or 12 oz frozen cut spinach)
  • 1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1½ cups (3½ oz) Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 6 eggs
  • 1¾ cup half & half

The bread should be stale. If you plan ahead you can leave slices on a wire rack overnight. If you didn’t have time to do that, simply bake in the oven at 225º Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. (Don’t toast them – it’s not the same thing!)

Butter one side of all the stale bread slices.strata14If you’re using fresh spinach, thoroughly wash, dry, and coarsely chop. If you’re using frozen, thaw.

Melt the 2 T butter in a Dutch oven (if using frozen spinach, then use a skillet). Add shallots and sauté 3 minutes to soften. strata13Add in spinach, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp salt. strata15Cook over medium heat, stirring until spinach is wilted – about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.strata16In the now empty pan, pour in the white wine. Cook over medium/high to reduce it to 1/4 cup. This happens fairly quickly so keep an eye on it. Remove from heat.

Butter an 8″ x 8″ pan (I use Pyrex). Cover bottom with buttered bread (butter side up).strata9 Spread on half of the spinach. strata10Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese. strata11Add another layer of bread, the remaining spinach, and 1/2 cup cheese.strata6 In a bowl or large measuring cup for easy pouring, whisk the eggs, half & half, reduced wine, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Pour on top of spinach/bread/cheese. strata7Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto food. Weigh it down with whatever will fit. (I use another 8″ x 8″ pan weighted with bowls). strata17Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

To bake, remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle on remaining 1/2 cup cheese. strata2Bake at 325º F for 50-55 minutes, until starting to brown (I bake for 50 minutes). Remove from oven and let set about 15 minutes before serving.strata3

 

 

 

SKILLET PORTOBELLO-BROCCOLI-PASTA DINNER – Easy Clean-up!!!

skillet porto-broc-pasta textI love skillet dinners – everything is cooked in the one pan. They’re generally fast and easy, and this one is particularly tasty!

As so often happens in my kitchen, this recipe began as an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. I changed so many things (including making it vegetarian), that it became virtually unrecognizable. I’m claiming it as my own! (Feel free to tweak to make it your own.)

PORTOBELLO-BROCCOLI-PASTA – serves about 5

  • 2 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 Portobello mushrooms
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion (about 1½ cups), chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz uncooked pasta (small elbow or mini penne, which I prefer)
  • 1½ cups vegetable stock (to make my recipe, click VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2½ cups raw broccoli, bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, rinsed & chopped
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup (1½ oz) Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated

NOTE:  I prefer mini penne pasta because the tubular shape allows the sauce to be trapped, and the mini version makes it easy to eat with a spoon. However, mini penne (Barilla makes it) isn’t always carried in markets.

ADDITIONAL NOTE:  I like to use Portobello mushrooms so I can cut them in 1″ pieces. But if you can’t find them, use 14½ ounces of crimini mushrooms. Cut them into large pieces – and you can use the stems.

Wash Portobellos and discard stems (they’re too tough to eat, unlike the crimini). skillet 1Cut into 1″ pieces.skillet 2In a 12″ skillet, heat 1 T oil over medium/high flame. Add in mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes. skillet 4Remove mushrooms and extruded liquid to bowl and set aside. skillet 3Heat remaining 1 T oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add in onions and salt. Sauté 4-5 minutes, until cooked but not browned.skillet 5 Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Turn off heat. Add oregano, red pepper flakes, uncooked pasta, vegetable stock, and the water.skillet 6 Turn heat to high and let cook, uncovered, about 12 minutes (stirring now and then) – until most of liquid has cooked out. skillet 9Add in the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. skillet 10Cover and cook over medium/high for 2 minutes to steam broccoli (it will turn bright green). Don’t overcook.skillet 11Decrease flame to low and add in cream and Pecorino. Stir to blend and let cook uncovered about 1 minute to heat through. Turn off heat and taste for seasoning (I like to add 1/2 tsp salt.) Cover, and let set 5 minutes before serving.

BLACK BEAN BURGERS: Firm And Flavorful!

black bean burgers text

The biggest complaint about Black Bean Burgers seems to be that they tend to be mushy. You load up your bun with toppings, take a bite, and immediately the “burger” squirts out the sides.

So I went on yet another quest, this time to firm up the Black Bean Burger. The key was to remove some of the moisture from the beans by quickly heating them in the oven. 4 minutes at 350º F was just right. Any longer and they over-dried. Then I coarsely chopped half of them to expose the creamy insides to act as a binder, and left the other half whole for the heft. I added cornmeal to absorb excess moisture. Finally, the egg acted as a heavy-duty binder.

Note:  The mixture for BLACK BEAN BURGERS freezes very well. If you like this recipe (try it first), next time double or triple it, then freeze in portion sizes for future use. Thaw, and fry as directed.

BLACK BEAN BURGERS – makes 2 patties

  • 1  15-oz can black beans
  • 1/4 cup fine grind cornmeal (if you can’t find fine grind, use medium)black bean burgers2
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 T fresh minced cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black ground pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil, divided

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Drain and rinse beans. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake 4 minutes in preheated 350º F oven to remove some of the moisture. Moisture = mushy burgers. (Don’t overbake or the beans will be too dried out.) Immediately pour half (it doesn’t have to be exact) the beans into a mixing bowl and the other half onto a cutting board. Don’t leave them on the cookie sheet or they’ll continue to dry from the heated sheet.  Coarsely chop the beans on the cutting board. black bean burgers7Put the chopped beans in the bowl and add in remaining ingredients. Stir to blend. black bean burgers4Cover and refrigerate at least an hour, preferably several hours.

When it’s time to cook, heat 1 tsp oil on medium/high in a nonstick skillet. Divide mixture into 2  1/2″ thick patties, pressing in on edges so they’re not raggedy. They’re kind of fragile so I find it’s best to place the formed patties on a plate, then nudge them onto the skillet. Cook about 4 minutes, until bottom is well browned. (Don’t lift up to check for browning until 4 minutes or they’ll crumble.)black bean burgers9Flip burgers and add remaining 1 tsp oil to skillet. (I flip them onto another spatula then nudge them onto the skillet.) Cook about another 4 minutes, until well browned. Once both sides are well browned, the crust holds them together.

 

 

TOMATO TART – A Super Shortcut Recipe!

tom tart textSome things are just meant to be.

Normally, I make nearly everything from scratch – yogurt, cakes, cookies, soups, breads. But one thing I’ve never tried is puff pastry. It’s a lot of work and the frozen Pepperidge Farms sheets are so tasty, I doubt I ever will.

I recently watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen featuring a TOMATO TART using puff pastry sheets instead of the usual pie dough, which can become soggy from the moisture in the tomatoes. Since I had one sheet left in the freezer from ages ago, I decided to try it – halving the recipe.

It was super easy, it was beautiful, it was absolutely delicious. KISMET!

Note: This is the full recipe. If you want a smaller amount (even though TOMATO TART makes for fabulous leftovers), just cut everything in half, skipping the patching together of the 2 sheets since you’ll only need 1.

TOMATO TART

  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farms)tom tart10
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 oz (1 cup) Parmesan Cheese, shredded
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 8 oz low moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 T fresh basil

Note:  Make sure you use low moisture mozzarella to prevent a soggy crust.mozzarellaSet out package of pastry sheets for an hour or so to thaw. (Overnight in the fridge is best.)

Preheat oven to 425º Fahrenheit.

Slice tomatoes into 1/4″ circles, discarding stem and bottom ends. Lay slices on 3 layers of paper towels and sprinkle with a total of 1/2 tsp salt. (I lay the paper towels on an old terry towel for extra absorbency.) Let set for 30 minutes. This will draw out excess liquid that would make the crust soggy. After 30 minutes, blot tops firmly with another paper towel.tom tart9When pastry sheets are soft enough to unfold, remove them from package. Cut a piece of parchment paper (NOT waxed paper!) to fit a rimmed cookie sheet. Lay just the parchment (not on the cookie sheet yet) on the counter. Very gently unfold one of the pastry sheets and place it on one side of the parchment. (If the pastry tears, repair by pinching dough together with wet fingers.)

Paint a 1″ strip of beaten egg along the side next to the empty part of the parchment.tom tart1Overlap the other square on top. Press dough together firmly with fingers.tom tart2Using a pizza cutter or knife, trim edges so they’re straight. (You may not need to do this step.)

Cut 2  1″ strips down long side and leave in place. Cut 2  1″ strips along short side.tom tart3Paint entire rectangle with egg wash, but not the strips.tom tart4Place long strips on top of long edges and paint them with egg wash. There will be an excess of dough, which will be cut off.tom tart5Place the short strips along short side edges and paint them with egg wash. Cut off and discard overhanging dough strips. To help the border to rise straight upward (as opposed to up and out like mine did), press dough along inside edge of border.

Carefully, scoot the parchment onto a rimmed cookie sheet.

Sprinkle Parmesan evenly on tart, excluding the border strips – these will rise and act as a dam to prevent leakage.tom tart7Using a fork, liberally dock holes through cheese and pastry, excluding the border. You want the border to rise, but not the center.tom tart8 Bake at 425º F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven. If the center has puffed up, deflate by poking it with a sharp knife in a few places and gently pressing dough down with a fork.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, 1/8 tsp salt, and pepper. Set aside.tom tart12Sprinkle mozzarella evenly in cooked pastry, excluding the border.tom tart13Layer on the tomato slices. Using a pastry brush, dab tomatoes with all of garlic/olive oil mixture.tom tart14To prevent the borders from over-browning, cover with strips of foil. Bake at 425º F for 13-15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with basil. Let set a few minutes before slicing.tom tart18

 

 

ZUCCHINI TRAPANESE: Spiralize The Gluten And Calories Away!

zucchini trapanese textSpring beckons backyard gardeners to the nursery in hopes of a bountiful crop. Summer brings the realization that, once again, we have an abundance of fresh vegetables that will rot if we don’t use them soon.

Zucchini, in particular, seems to be a particular problem since it keeps growing…and growing. Just how many loaves of zucchini bread can one eat?!

Enter the spiralizer. With a few twists of the hand-crank, that zucchini (or apple, sweet potato, carrot, etc) is transformed into spaghetti-like strips. You just boil them briefly, top with a pesto or marinara sauce, and – voila! – a low calorie ‘pasta dish’.  I couldn’t believe how fast and easy it was. zucchini spiralizerThere are many brands of spiralizers – I bought the Paderno and am extremely happy with it.

I chose a trapanese pesto to top my zucchini noodles in keeping with the fast, easy, and low calorie theme. It also had the added benefit of using up another summer crop – cherry tomatoes.

Note: Though we’re treating the zucchini like a pasta, it behaves like a vegetable in terms of size. While pasta plumps when boiled; zucchini shrinks (just like spinach or mushrooms). So plan on at least 1 lb of zucchini per person. Don’t be fooled by how massive it appears raw.

ZUCCHINI TRAPANESE

Trapanese Pesto – about 3-4 servings

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2½ cups sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 T deli-sliced jalapeño peppers (I use ‘tamed’ spice level – but if you want more kick, go to ‘hot’)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a good quality)
  • 1/2 cup (+ extra for sprinkling) Parmesan cheese, grated

Into a blender or food processor, place the almonds, tomatoes, basil, salt, red pepper flakes, jalapeños, and Parmesan. Pulse until blended – about 10 times. Add in the olive oil and blend about 5 seconds.

Zucchini

  • 1 lb zucchini per person

Spiralize zucchini according to directions. Bring a couple of inches of salted water to a boil – you don’t need as much as you would for pasta. Add in zucchini and let boil about 1 minute, 15 seconds. Pour into colander and serve immediately. Top with trapanese pesto. Sprinkle on Parmesan.

 

 

BIBIMBAP – A One Bowl Meal…With A Kick!

bibimbap textBibimbap is a mouth watering Korean veggie/rice dish topped with a fried egg. (The egg is optional.) It even tastes good the next day…and the next – this recipe makes a lot!

As with many Asian recipes, the prep takes the longest. Even though there’s time while cooking the individual veggies, I strongly suggest you concentrate on stirring rather than chopping since the stove is on a high heat.

BIBIMBAP – makes about 8-9 cups

  • 2 cups raw Chinese rice, unrinsed
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup go-chu-jang (it’s a bottled sauce in the Asian section – picture below)
  • 4 T sesame oil
  • 2 T + 2 tsp sugar, divided
  • 6 scallions, sliced
  • 6 T soy sauce
  • 6 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 15 oz carrots, shredded
  • 16 oz shiitake mushrooms, discard stems, coarsely chopped
  • 20 oz spinach, coarsely chopped
  • eggs – as many as you want

In a saucepan, combine rice, 2¼ cups water, and salt. Bring to boil, reduce to keep a simmer, and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn off heat but leave pot on burner, covered.

While rice is cooking, use the time to prepare the sauces and veggies:

In a bowl put the go-chu-jang, sesame oil, 6 T water, and 2 tsp sugar. bibimbap11Whisk to combine and set aside. bibimbap7In a 2 cup measuring cup, combine 1 cup water, soy sauce, garlic, 2 T sugar, and scallions. (The measuring cup makes it easier to see how much you need.) bibimbap13Shred the carrots – use a food processor, if you have one. Otherwise, use a box grater. Place in a bowl.

Thoroughly wash mushrooms. Cut out and discard stems. (This can be done easily with kitchen shears!) bibimbap8Coarsely chop and place in a bowl.

Thoroughly wash spinach and coarsely chop. Place in another bowl. bibimbap9Time to get cooking!!!

Heat 2 tsp oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add in the carrots and 1/3 of garlic water. Stir until water has evaporated.bibimbap10 Transfer carrots back into bowl.

Heat 2 tsp oil in now-empty Dutch oven over high heat. Add mushrooms and 1/3 of garlic water. Cook until liquid has mostly evaporated. bibimbap3Pour back into bowl.

Heat the final 2 tsp oil in the Dutch oven over high heat. Add in the spinach and remainder of the garlic water. bibimbap4Cook until wilted. I’ve found the water doesn’t evaporate completely, so just go by the look of the spinach. (It’s amazing how that giant amount of spinach wilts down to nothing!)bibimbap5Pour back into bowl.

Into the empty Dutch oven place the rice. bibimbap6Add the carrots, mushrooms, and spinach. bibimbap1Pour in the go-chu-jang sauce and mix. bibimbap2If you want to top with fried eggs, cook them in skillet either sunnyside-up or over-easy. Add these to individual bowls.