Macaroni and Cheese

macaroni-and-cheese

Our wedding was a blast. Yes, I am biased, but I truly believe that overall, everyone had a blast. I clearly did, as evidenced in this photo:

And this photo:

In my mind, there are 3 essential elements for a successful wedding. Plenty of booze, good dancing music, and delicious food. As this is a cooking blog and not a drinking or dancing blog (although maybe it should be), I would like to focus on the food aspect of our wedding.

People are still talking about the dinner that was served at our wedding – I have received so many compliments not only on the deliciousness of it, but the choices.  The food really was amazing, Chef Danny at our Country Club is one ridiculous cook. But the choices were really the key – they were fun, different, and everybody found something they loved. Our approach was to do all of ‘our favorite things’….well, not ALL of our favorite things, as we clearly did not have room for 97 different options – but some of our favorite things. We wanted to combine a little bit of Texas, since we live here now, and a little bit of Wisconsin – since the wedding was there and I’m from the lovely state. The menu consisted of BBQ brisket sliders, roasted pork tenderloin, grilled corn on the cob, a giant cheese display (yeah Wisconsin!), Southwest caesar salad, shrimp cocktail (I’m not sure where that fit in, but I really wanted it), and last but not least: gourmet macaroni and cheese. Yes, tons of food. While most people bring a second pair of shoes for post-dinner dancing, I actually had to bring a second dress – in a bigger size.  Just kidding. But it would have been nice to have.

Ok, now to the point of this blog. The mac ‘n cheese was a total hit. I decided I wanted to make it on my own, so I started doing some research. It turns out there are 11,674 macaroni and cheese recipes out there. I combined a number of the recipes, and I am convinced this has to be the best one. It was divine.

Recipe

  • 4 cups pasta – I prefer the shells
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2-1/2 cups milk – preferably whole
  • 2 teaspoons ground yellow mustard
  • 1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 pound grated fontina
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • paprika
  • panko bread crumbs
The cheese sauce in here does magical things to people. It made my husband help me clean the kitchen after dinner. It made me want to skip dessert. It turned my mom into the best dancer at our wedding. It could probably even help Obama figure out how to fix the economy, if only he would try it.
Start by cooking the pasta. You’ll want it very ‘al dente’ – it bakes in the oven for quite a while and you don’t want it to get mushy. I checked the pasta after about 6 minutes of boiling, and I think I left it in for another minute or so. You want it slightly underdone.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Make the roux. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Don’t burn it! Sprinkle in the flour and whisk together. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes.
Next, add the milk. Don’t be a wimp here – use whole milk. Skim is for sissies. Whole milk really adds to the creaminess of the cheese sauce. Whisk together, then add 2 heaping teaspoons of ground mustard. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the mixture gets very thick and gravy-like.
Reduce the heat to low. Next, you need to ‘temper’ the egg. Basically you need to introduce some of the gravy mixture into the beaten egg first, to avoid cooking it when you add it to the pot.
Using a 1/4 cup, retrieve a little of the gravy mixture from the pot. Add it to the beaten egg, and whisk constantly to avoid cooking it. Keep whisking until the mixture is cooled.
Then, pour slowly into the large pot, whisking constantly.
This is when it starts to get really good. Time to add the cheese! Add all but 1/2 cup. I forgot to do this, I can’t be trusted when in the presence of excessive amounts of cheese.
 Oh my god.
Stir until totally melted, then turn off the heat.
YUM. Don’t lose focus yet, you need to keep going. You can do it. Now is the time to add extra spices if you desire. I added paprika, and it was a very good decision. Also add the salt and pepper here.
Pour in the drained, undercooked pasta and stir until combined. Transfer the mac ‘n cheese to your desired baking dish, and top with remaining cheese. Since I used all of my cheese, I used string cheese! The mozzarella addition was amazing – highly recommend it. It looks sort of stupid though.
Finally, prepare the bread crumbs. I think I used about 3/4 cup bread crumbs, and mixed with about 2-3 tablespoons melted butter. Spread over the macaroni and cheese. Almost there!
Bake for 25 minutes! So close!
DONE! There are no words. Make this if you want to be voted Person of the Year. Or, if you want to have a really fun wedding.

Applesauce Muffins

applesauce-muffins
These wonderful and simple muffins are my mom’s recipe. An absolute family favorite growing up, these are perfect in the morning with a cup of coffee, or warmed up and topped with ice cream.
Recipe
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 t. all spice
  • 1/2 t. cloves
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 jar applesauce (about 1 cup)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a standing mixer. Beat in the egg, then add vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, spices, and soda. Add to the butter mixture, alternating with the applesauce.
Line muffin pan with muffin cups, or spray generously with Pam. Fill each cup about 3/4 full – this recipe should make 12 muffins.
Bake for 13 minutes, or until the muffin tops are firm.
Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Oreo Bars

chocolate-chip-oreo-bars
Oh boy. This was an experiment gone awry. And by awry, I mean I just wanted a little taste of something sweet, like a little mini cookie from Mrs. Fields. Instead, I ended up with this:

And I ate half of it in one sitting. What you see here is a 3-layer dessert consisting of an oreo cookie crust, chocolate chip cookie, and oreo buttercream frosting.  Do not make these if you lack self control, you will eat yourself out of house and home.

Recipe:
Oreo Crust

  • 24 oreo cookies
  • 1/2 stick butter

Chocolate Chip Cookie

  • 1 c. shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. 2 T. flour
  • 1 t. soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 bag semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Oreo Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12 T. butter, at room temp and cut into 1/2 in. pieces
  • 8 oreos
  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • splash milk
I started by making the oreo cookie crust. Crush cookies in the food processor and pour them into a mixing bowl (before I had a food processor I smashed them in a ziploc bag with a hammer. This worked just fine).  Melt 1/2 stick butter and mix into the oreos; press them into the bottom of a baking dish of your choice – I used a 9×13 in. glass pyrex. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Increase oven temp to 375.
Next, make the chocolate chip cookie dough. Start by creaming the shortening and sugars in a bowl with a standing mixer. Add eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, and soda. Add to the butter mixture. Stir in lots o’ chocolate chips. Press the cookie dough on top of the oreo crust; be careful, the crust may still be fragile.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Finally, make the frosting. In a small metal bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.  Place the bowl over a pot with simmering water, and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Pour the mixture into a bowl with a standing mixer, and beat with a paddle attachment until it’s light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in butter. Add in powdered sugar and milk. Finally, add the oreos. I left my frosting kind of crunchy, but you can mix more or less depending on your preference. Spread over COOLED cookie bars.
To make sure they set, I chilled for about 1 hour. I then found that serving them chilled was extraordinarily delicious, so I recommend doing that.  Put on some pants with an elastic waist and enjoy!!

Fresh Tomato Soup

fresh-tomato-soup
I’m learning that tomato season is very short in Texas. In fact, there were periods of extreme tomato drought this year due to the weather – John and I went to Cafe Brazil for brunch the other weekend and there was actually a sign posted on the door that said ‘Sorry, no tomatoes.’ What? You seriously can’t get them anywhere? TRY HARDER!!!
As with any period of deprivation, it is human nature to gain the necessary survival skills to move on. So when tomatoes came back on the market, I knew I had to ‘strike while the iron is hot,’ so to speak. I bought Central Market out of house and home (aka tomatoes) – and started cooking.
This tomato soup is very tasty, healthy, and  must be served with grilled cheese.  Please try this for a healthy weeknight meal, you won’t regret it.
Recipe
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 T. good olive oil
  • 4 vine ripe tomatoes, chopped and seeds removed (medium sized)
  • 1.5 T tomato paste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1.5 t. sugar
  • fresh ground pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4-1/2 c. milk
  • fresh basil
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped carrot and onion, and cook for about 10 minutes.
Next, add the chopped tomato and let stew for 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. Generously salt and pepper. Stir for another 2 minutes.
Take out your amazing new food processor that you received as a wedding gift. If you didn’t get one, any old food processor will do. Pour the tomato mixture into the food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds, until semi-smooth (I preferred to leave it somewhat chunky, but I won’t tell you how to live your life).
Pour the tomato mixture back into the pot. Add the chicken broth (1 cup if you like it thicker, more if you prefer a soup-ier soup), stir, and let simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Add the milk to your liking – I added about 1/2 cup 2% milk.
Serve and garnish with freshly chopped basil.

Mixed-Potato Skillet

mixed-potato-skille
It occurred to me at Central Market the other day that I had never so much as looked at another potato besides the russet and the sweet.  I suddenly started to wonder – why had I overlooked the yukon gold, the fingerling, and the red for so long? And more importantly, what did they have to offer that someone even took the time to grow such a wide variety of this so-called starch?
I decided it was time to find out. And instead of managing this potato research in individual cases, I decided to perform my study as an all-inclusive potato-finding.
The result? A wonderful collaboration of textures, flavors, and colors that makes this side dish a real winner.
Recipe:
  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes
  • 6 fingerling potatoes
  • 6 red potatoes
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 c. whole milk
  • 3 T butter
  • Salt and pepper
Start by washing all the potatoes. I just read somewhere that potatoes are the one thing you should always wash before you cook. So I just started doing that.
Start by boiling the potatoes in a large pot of water – about 20 minutes. Make sure the potatoes are very tender.  Meanwhile, saute the onion in a large skillet with 1 T of the butter (or olive oil) – about 10 minutes.  When the potatoes are done, transfer them to the large skillet. Using a potato masher, LIGHTLY mash the potatoes. You do not want them to be the consistency of regular mashed potatoes – the large pieces and inclusion of the skins give this dish the amazing texture you want.
Next, add an additional 2-3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper, and whole milk.  Stir until combined. Turn on the broiler. When the potatoes are mashed to your liking, remove the skillet from the stove and place them under the broiler until golden brown – just a couple of minutes.
These were a hit – not too crazy but a nice change from your typical mashed potatoes. I have to admit I am happy about the fact that people aren’t slaving away farming a bunch of worthless potatoes – they all bring something unique and delicious to the table.

Grilled Peach Salad

grilled-peach-salad

Oh how I loved this salad! Slice several ripe peaches, and grill about 3 minutes on each side…

Mix a salad with spinach, raisins, toasted almonds, and Brianna’s poppyseed dressing. Top with grilled peaches and voila! Amazingness.
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