Creamy Macaroni & Cheese – NYT

It is highly (highly!) unlikely for me to try a new mac n’ cheese recipe since the one I have been make for eons is just about my idea of perfect. But you know, I decided to try this out of pure curiosity. Curiosity is a little bit of a blessing and sometimes, a little bit of curse too. Odd, isn’t that?D&D_2448

I saw this not long before Thanksgiving, but just could not manage to force it into the menu that I already had – ie: too many dishes and no where near enough time. So I thought let’s give it go in between the big ol’ food holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is never anything wrong with a warm comfort food when the weather gets cold (yes, it is cold – for us anyway – don’t judge). This also does not cook the pasta ahead of time –  a step removed – already a big fan. Now let us see if the whole thing can live up to the hype. Opinions reserved until me and the Boy try it. Proof in the pudding, as it were.

modified by me from the NYT recipe

cooking spray
1 cup small curd cottage cheese (full fat, if you please)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman’s)
pinch cayenne
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound extra sharp cheddar, grated (Cabot)
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

2 Tbs unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degree and position rack on upper third. Use cooking spray on a 9″ round or square baking pan, or a 9.5 deep dish pyrex dish, like for a pie

In a large bowl, mix together puree cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, and pepper together with an immersion blender. Grate extra sharp cheddar and reserve 1/4 cup grated cheddar for topping. Add to the bowl the remaining cheese, and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan making sure pasta is covered in liquid, cover tightly with heavy duty foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir gently, sprinkle with remaining cheddar and dot with remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Source: NYT – need to give credit to the author at the NYT food section [Julia Moskin]. Will be difficult now since everything, mostly, is behind a pay way. Too bad, but there are other resources if you know where to look.

Because I was using a glass Pyrex plate, I lowered the temperature to 350 degrees. I think I will decide what to do once the first 30 minutes goes by and I get a sense of how things are going.

Must admit it did not look so pretty going into pie plate, but even ugly ducklings can turn into swans. Didn’t take a picture out of embarrassment for the mac n cheese, not me.

After the first 30 minutes, the pasta was still more tough than I would like, so 15 more minutes in the foil. That said, the flavor was spot on. I could taste the Coleman’s mustard and the cayenne came in at the end. Not much in the nutmeg department even though I only ever use freshly grated nutmeg (so simple and so worth it).D&D_1473_iPhone

When I opened the dish after 45 minutes you could really smell the nutmeg, and that was great, but perhaps a bit more next time. I stirred again and then added the mixed white & orange Cabot seriously sharp cheddar to the top, turned the pan half way around and baked for 30 more minutes. Just divine. Sampled while not making a total mess of the top of the dish. Needs more black pepper to serve, but that is the case, in my opinion, every mac n cheese – I blame appreciate my mom for that even though we only had that pre-ground stuff you get at the store. It still made a significant difference.

Do you get the giggles when a recipe just totally exceeds expectations? I sometimes do and I did tonight. Part of that might be beer but the rest was just “oh, holy cat, this is amazing.”

Right now, I am writing while the mac and cheese cools. I want to have that for breakfast but will wait for a day until the MotH can take some great pictures.

Guess someone didn’t want to wait, ah well. Can quite blame the Boy for that. D&D_2439

Asparagus Mushroom Pasta w/Pecorino

I just keep modifying this recipe with the hopes of perfection, but to be honest since it includes two of my favorite vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms, along with some melty cheese and some salty cheese, it starts out pretty far ahead of the game.

D&D_1340_iPhoneThis is also great left over for lunch, but you must heat it very slowly in the microwave and stir very often or heat up the oven feature on the toasted oven and put it in there to reheat. Otherwise, the sauce breaks – it still tastes good, but it is not the same.

olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*

8 ozs penne pasta
1 pound asparagus,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving
Lemons

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil and then add garlic and cook over low heat while garlic softens and flavors the oil/butter. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté on medium until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Turn the heat to low. then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and then add a handful of freshly grated Pecorino cheese and stir again.D&D_2242

Serve with extra Pecorino and more lemon wedges for serving.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination.

When I know I am making this dish, or one similar, I usually cook the asparagus/pasta one day, typically when I’m cooking pasta for something else too. Then the bag of pasta/asparagus is ready when I’m ready for pasta. I drop in in a colander and run very hot water over it for a minute or two and let drain completely. D&D_1318

Modified several times based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

One Pot Spaghetti

This recipe appealed to me because, in my small mind, spaghetti is always best as a left over. Kind of like meatloaf. I do not like warm meatloaf on a plate (isn’t meatloaf just such a strange word?), nor do I like spaghetti with sauce the day I make it. It does not really matter if it is my pasta sauce (vegetarian) or a meat sauce – it is always way (!) better when it sits in the fridge for a day or two.

My favorite way to eat spaghetti, which was always with a meat sauce when I was growing up, was a day later, reheated in a small pot on the stove – and then at the end, my mom would stir in small chunks of cheddar (a cheese she never skimped on – ever). So melty cheddar, meat sauce, soft noodles, and lovely goodness.

This recipe gets right down to that point. Cooking the pasta in the sauce makes a big difference, but I will still argue that waiting that one more painful day will make it just perfection. Let us just say, that I am right because I did it that way and it was just about everything I remember from the left-over spaghetti-ness of my childhood.*

1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 large sweet onion (softball-sized onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups water
15 ozs can tomato sauce
15 ozs can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 Tbs dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 ozs spaghetti, broken in half
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 Tbs chopped parsley

In a large potter medium high heat cook beef and onion until soft. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two. Drain fat (there was not much).

Add water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil. Add spaghetti and stir. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook, stirring often, until noodles are cooked through, 15 minutes or so.

Stir in Parmesan and parsley before serving.

3 November 2017 – Tasty, but in my opinion needs more tomato flavor. Maybe use crushed tomatoes instead of diced. The Boy like the taste of it. Maybe a bit of tomato paste while adding the garlic?

Hoping the reheat on the next day will make it even better. This certainly will not be the last time I make it. And I can report now – yes – later is always better with spaghetti.

Can not wait to take it to lunch with some shredded extra sharp cheddar. That should just be the thing. This apple does not fall far from my childhood tree. D&D_2234

*Why does this come up so often? Because childhood food is really good food. That is why.

My Favorite Mushroom Asparagus Pasta … so far.

This is a recipe that I got from Giada Delaurentiis. No, I realize that I am so spelling that wrong. I am sure, maybe. I have eliminated walnuts from the original recipe and added garlic and some onions but the basic recipe is still the most important part: 1/2 pound of ridged pasta – penne. Lots of mushrooms – about a pound and then a pound of asparagus cut into pieces. And the most part is the mascarpone. Heavenly. Of course & Parmesan as always, and with me some fresh lemon zest and lemon juice to brighten up any creamy kind of pasta. You really do not need salt for this, in my mind. If you do the lemon thing. Which pretty much do every time. I do need a lemon zester at the office – who does that – no. one. except, maybe, me. Is that a bad thing or does that just make me the food snob that everyone thinks I am? Not sure. Sigh.D&D_2242

8 ozs penne pasta
olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*
1 bundle of asparagus, a pound or s,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving
Lemons

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates. Add garlic and sauté for another minute more.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables . Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir again.

Serve with extra Parmesan for serving. A lemon wedge would not go amiss here.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination. Purchase cremini if you have the option. Just saying.

Aged Gouda Orzo

I have become a huge fan of orzo. Thanks to Cutting Edge of Ordinary’s Everyday Orzo. This was just such an enlightening experience as I have mentioned many (many) times. But I liked the concept, so here is a version that I tried based on the cheese in the fridge. I expect I will try this multiple times with multiple cheeses. Not surprising really. I do love about all cheeses.  Well, I cannot think of any cheese I do not like, nope.

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2 Tbs unsalted butter
Small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ozs orzo
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, warmed (microwave works)
8 ozs aged Gouda shredded

Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the onion and let it soften, then add garlic and stir in for about a minute. Add the orzo and stir until coated in the butter mixture. Add the vegetable stock and bring the heat up to a boil. Then turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pan – leave it covered for 25 minutes. If you lift the lid you will mess this up.  You are letting the orzo steam and then you shall add the cheese. And it will be a glorious mess of orzo, alliums, and cheese. Which to me is just breakfast on a work day.

I seasoned with a good bit of freshly ground black pepper, because I am me.

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato & Cantal

Another no-recipe recipe – some night cooking, which is something I do quite often, for work lunches for the week. I would have liked to have some cream for this, but to be honest, I managed pretty well with out it. Although, some mascarpone might have been excellent. D&D_2073

I was just trying to make something that I would like with what I had on hand and here is how it went. Again not going to the grocery store at this point in the evening – which was about 11pm, or so.

8 ozs penne pasta – one of my favorite pasta shapes – always use this for mac n cheese*
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced (or a shallot?)
8.5 ozs sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, but drained (save the oil!)
8 ozs Cantal cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grated
zest of lemon
Parmesan, finely grated

In a big pot, heat water to boiling with a really big handful of kosher salt. Cook penne until al dente.

In a sauce pan, heat butter over medium heat and add onions and saute until soft, but not browned in any way.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes and simmer for a bit, just to make sure they are really soft – this is key.

Add the cooked pasta and blend together. Remove from heat and add the Cantal, a semi-hard cheese from France that is slightly similar to a Cheddar. Specifically from Auvergne region of central France. Fancy French Cheese – always good.

Once the cheese is all melty, serve in a bowl with a bit of lemon zest (always a good thing with a cheesy pasta in my opinion) and a little bit of fresh Parmesan for that salty goodness.  The ratios are yours to decide.

This made great leftover lunches for about a week. And the Boy made a strange version of it for dinner one night – with eggs. I’m still not sure I understand that at all.

*no elbows for me.

Pesto – amazing 

pesto [pes-toh]

noun, Italian Cookery.
1. a sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat.
In college, I made some great friends, and one of them was a girl named Karen T. (cannot believe I remembered her whole name, but somehow that makes me feel good, but won’t divulge).
She threw excellent (read: grown up) parties. If you said you would attend, you were actually expected to do so. She was a great cook – the first person I knew to make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. She totally rocked, and she also introduced me to pesto. I think it was her mom’s recipe, photocopied, and I remember this most clearly, the recipe was called “Pesto by the food processor method.” Hysterical now, but at the time a totally new thing for me.
D&D_1998
It is basically the “recipe” I still make today, except I substitute walnuts for pine nuts. I don’t notice a difference, so it works for me. And I always have walnuts in the freezer.
It’s great for pasta, for pasta salad, add some sun-dried tomatoes and it is excellent in my sun-dried tomato pesto torte. Have I not made that for you? Damn, will rectify that situation soon.

Basil – 2 bunches, stems removed mostly
Garlic – 2 cloves or or more if you would like it
1 1/4 cups walnuts or there abouts – fear the pine nuts.
1/4 cup really good olive oil
A good bit of freshly grated Parmesan – indeed.

First chop the garlic in the food processor. Then add the walnuts and mix it up again   Do this before you add the basil. Because this is a good thing. It just seems to work so well. Then stream the olive oil in and the when it is all done, add the Parmesan. And if you want to go crazy add some sun-dried tomatoes. Because that is amazing. Yep.

I was to go to Italy with Karen and Dierdre in the spring of 1993, but giving birth to the Boy put those plans into a stall. Never regret it. And he was eating pesto as a 3 years-old – he was that kind of boy. Sushi, sure. Pesto, yep. Mushroom pate – always. Kids will try anything if you don’t make a big deal of it.
Karen moved to New Jersey and we lost touch, but some things stick with you in an important way. And I miss them both.