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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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.

CHEESE LASAGNA – So Good, It’s Hard To Stop!!!

lasagna1 textLasagna is one of those dishes that’s good on many levels: it’s easy to put together, it’s a potluck favorite, it can be made ahead of time, and it’s fabulous leftover.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #1 – I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the marinara sauce can be doubled, tripled, or more, then frozen in portions for future use. I was recently able to extra-quickly make Cheese Lasagna because I already had some marinara in the freezer. However, try the sauce first before increasing the amount – to be sure you like it.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #2 – Save the extra tomato paste in mounds of 1 tablespoons on waxed paper, and place in freezer.  When frozen, store in freezer container for future use.

CHEESE LASAGNA – makes one 9″x13″ casserole

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1 onion (about 1½ cups), chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 42 oz canned whole tomatoes (1 28 oz can, & 1  14 oz can)
  • 6 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded, divided
  • 8 oz whole milk cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/8 tsp cornstarch, divided
  • 14 curly edged dried lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

To make the marinara, put the olive oil, sugar, onion, red pepper flakes, oregano, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large saucepan (so it doesn’t splatter).  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.lasagna prep8Remove and discard the stem ends, peels, and any imperfections from canned tomatoes. Pulse in food processor or chop by hand. Add to onion mixture along with tomato paste, and 1/2 cup Pecorino (1 1/4 oz). Bring to boil, then lower flame to keep a simmer for 20 minutes UNcovered.lasagna prep15Boil at least 4 cups of water. Place dried noodles in 9″x13″ casserole dish. When water is boiling, pour over noodles so they’re immersed. Gyrate them so they don’t stick. Let set 15 minutes to parcook.lasagna prep10While the noodles are softening and the sauce is cooking, mix together cottage cheese, 4 oz (1½ cups) Pecorino, cream, garlic, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Set aside.lasagna prep16When 15 minutes for the noodles is up, place them on tea towels in a single layer. Pat tops to dry. Cut 2 of them in half widthwise (so they’re each about 5″ long).  Empty and dry casserole dish.lasagna prep11Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

To assemble lasagna:

LAYER ONE: Spread 1½ cups marinara sauce on bottom. lasagna prep4Lay 3 long noodles, all touching the same short side of casserole. Take one of the short noodles and lay it along the opposite short side. (This will fill in the gap.) lasagna prep5Carefully spread half of the cottage cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep6LAYER TWO: Place 3 long noodles on top, this time touching the opposite short side. Take 1 short noodle and place it along the other short side of casserole. lasagna prep3Pour and spread 1½ cups sauce. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep13LAYER THREE: Place 3 long noodles on top, touching the same side as layer one, followed by (you guessed it) 1 short noodle on the opposite side. lasagna prep14Spread on the remaining cottage cheese mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep2TOP LAYER: Place 3 long noodles touching the same side as layer two, and the remaining short piece on opposite side. lasagna prep7Pour on remaining marinara sauce. With your fingers, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup Fontina with 1/8 tsp cornstarch. Sprinkle on top of sauce. Finally, sprinkle on remaining Pecorino.lasagna prep17Cover with foil and bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes. Increase oven to 500ºF and remove foil. Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let lasagna rest on stovetop at least 20 minutes to set. Sprinkle on basil.lasagna prep1

 

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE – A Creamy Delight!

orzo asparagus text

Orzo is a pasta (yes, a pasta!) that I love, but rarely use – mostly because I forget about it. When I want a rice-like ingredient, my mind goes to…rice.

Orzo has the same chew as white rice, and is only slightly bigger. The benefit is it cooks much faster – about 9 minutes. So if you want to make a risotto – which takes a lot of time and attention – consider using orzo. It will be found in the pasta section of the market, of course.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE, like many dishes, can be tweaked to your desires and what you have in the house. Switch the asparagus for red pepper, peas, or mushrooms. Cashews can be exchanged for the almonds. And the orzo can be traded for barley, sorghum, or…rice. The possibilities are endless.

NOTE: If you decide to use mushrooms, cook them until most of the liquid evaporates. This will be longer than the 3 minutes for asparagus.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE – makes about 2½ cups

  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1 T butter
  • 6 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk (see NOTE below)
  • 1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

NOTE: 3/4 cup evaporated milk is half of a 12 oz can. You can freeze the unused half, double the recipe and use the whole can, OR use a 5 oz can and add 3 oz of milk to it (even nonfat).

Boil about 2½ water (it doesn’t need to be exact) and pour in the orzo. Cook until it’s slightly underdone (check after 7 minutes) – it will continue to absorb liquid when mixed with the evaporated milk, so it doesn’t need to be completely cooked. Strain out the excess water using a colander or hand strainer.

While the orzo is cooking, wash and slice the asparagus. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté asparagus for about 3 minutes over medium flame. Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from heat to prevent scorching the garlic.

Add the cornstarch, salt, and pepper to the asparagus, blending well. Pour in the evaporated milk and return to medium flame. Stir until thickened – about 3 minutes. Add in cheese.

When cheese is melted, stir in the cooked orzo. Taste for seasoning, correcting, as needed.

When ready to serve, mix in the almonds. Don’t do this ahead of time or they won’t be as crispy.

 

PESTO TRAPANESE – Presto Pasta!

pesto trapanese2 text

PESTO TRAPANESE should be called PESTO TRAPAN-EASY!  It’s one of the fastest homemade meals you’re likely to come across. The time it takes to boil the pasta water and cook the spaghetti noodles, is the time it takes to make this dish. Impossible, you say?! Not at all. While the pasta is cooking, you prepare the pesto. It’s that fast.

For those of you who make your own pasta (like I do), the time is only slightly longer. I’ll prep the pesto ingredients (which only takes about 5 minutes), THEN put the water on to boil. While the water is heating up, I roll out the pasta dough. Generally, by the time the pasta is made, the water is at a full boil. Perfect!

PESTO TRAPANESE – serves about 3-4 (depending on how hungry people are)

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2½ cups sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, 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
  • 1 lb spaghetti noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil.

While water is heating, toast the almonds, wash the tomatoes and basil, and measure the salt, red pepper flakes, jalapeños, olive oil, and parmesan. Chop basil.

When pasta goes in the boiling water, put the almonds, tomatoes, basil, salt, flakes, and jalapeños in a blender or food processor. Pulse several times to break up ingredients. Then let machine run continually as you slowly pour in the olive oil to emulsify the pesto. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

Drain pasta when cooked, then return to empty pot. Stir in pesto and the 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve, sprinkling on extra Parmesan, if you like.

 

 

BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD

broccoli cashew salad text

BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD is one of my all time favorites. Not only is it visually appealing, but it’s one of those “I’ll just have a little bit more” dishes.

The orecchiette pasta (which means ‘little ears’) is a perfect shape to capture all the goodies, so each mouthful is a tasty combination of crispy broccoli and red pepper, subtle mushrooms, salty cashews, all coated with a savory dijon dressing. If you use a spoon, you might be able to finagle everything in one bite.

This salad can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the water, then cook the pasta. It can be served warm, but I prefer to chill mine for about 20 minutes.

BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD – makes about 5-6 cups

  • 1/2 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 3 cups broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 6 oz mushrooms (about 8), chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup salted cashews, lightly toasted (do this even if you buy them roasted)

Put a large pot of salted water to boil.  When it reaches a full boil, add in the pasta and cook until done. Drain immediately, but don’t rinse or shake.

While pasta is cooking, put the broccoli in a steamer basket (don’t forget the water!). The goal is to break down the fibers enough to eat, but still leave a little crunch. Turn heat to high, cover, and set timer for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and take off lid. Let sit in pot while you do the next step – this allows the broccoli to complete cooking.

Heat oil in a skillet and add the onions and mushrooms. Sauté 2-3 minutes, then add in the red pepper. Continue to cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar until smooth. Cool in refrigerator.

When pasta is done, combine it with the mushroom mixture and broccoli. If you’re serving the dish warmish, stir in the dressing and then the cashews. Serve.

If you want the salad a little chilled, place the pasta mixture in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then stir in dressing and cashews. Serve.

TOFU PASTA SATAY – A Busy Day Favorite

Tofu Pasta Satay

It goes without saying that I do a LOT of cooking. And I enjoy it. Really, I DO! (Although, not crazy about the washing up!)

However, there are times when I want a fast and easy, yet healthy dinner for my family. When I’m in that mood, TOFU PASTA SATAY is one of my go-to recipes. Bonus – leftovers make a delicious next-day lunch.

While I chose broccoli, red pepper, carrots, and snow peas for my add-ins, you can play fast and loose with your choices, gearing it to suit your taste.

NOTE: The satay sauce can be frozen so, if you like it, next time make extra and freeze it in portion sized containers for future use.

TOFU PASTA SATAY – makes about 6 cups

  • 6 oz tofu
  • 2 cups (6 oz) uncooked spiral pasta (I use multi colored)
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • about 10 snow peas, remove threads from sides
  • 1 cup broccoli pieces
  • 1/3 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1 T Sriracha sauce
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • spicy peanuts (I use Chipotle flavor)
  • 3/4 cup Satay Sauce (recipe below)

Press out the excess water from the tofu by placing it on a plate and covering it with another plate. Pour off the water from time to time as you prepare the rest of the recipe. When it seems like not much water is draining, cube the tofu into bite sized pieces, then marinate in the Sriracha and soy sauce.

Cook the pasta. Make sure you don’t overcook it – it will absorb liquid from the Satay Sauce. Drain when done.

Steam the red pepper, broccoli, carrots, and snow peas 1 minute, then remove from heat source and refrigerate. You don’t want to cook the veggies – just break down the fibers a wee bit so they’re more palatable.

In large bowl, combine the steamed veggies, pasta, scallions, tofu, and Satay Sauce. Add peanuts just before serving.

SATAY SAUCE – makes about 3/4 cup

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (any kind)
  • 1 T hot sauce
  • 4 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • about 2 – 4 T water

In a saucepan, over low heat, combine the peanut butter, hot sauce, soy sauce, curry powder, garlic powder, and pepper flakes. Begin adding water 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved. You may even need more water, depending on the thickness of your peanut butter. The sauce should be thick enough to stick to the salad, but thin enough to spread throughout the pasta.