Some people claim they have a “master recipe” for quiche and then go so far as to rattle off a list of various cheeses with every vegetable they can think of. And while those may make some perfectly delicious quiches, I don’t think they are all going to work.
But that being said, there isn’t a whole lot involved when it comes to customizing your quiche. You can make them with crust, or without. I really do love the crust myself.
You really can put just about any meat, vegetable or cheese into a quiche but the vital thing – first and foremost – is that your custard mixture be a workable one. In this recipe I use three large eggs with one cup dairy (and yes, I do use heavy cream) but you can also substitute half-and-half or milk in any amount of dairy fat you prefer. You can also use milk substitutes such as soy milk, but you need to keep in mind that is going to affect the flavor.
Another thing that will affect your quiche is the type of cheese you use. Cheeses are like people and they have many different textures (body types) and personalities (flavor). The texture may affect your baking time if you use something like ricotta cheese as compared to a dry hard cheese such as Romano. And the flavor of your cheese will have an effect on the quiche as well – feta may not be the best choice to pair with sausage and chili powder, for instance. And when using something like an artisanal French cheese you may to ease up on the spices so you can taste the high-quality cheese instead. When choosing your cheese, ask for a sample so you can experience the flavor before you decide what will taste best with it.
This recipe uses Prima Donna cheese, which is an artisanal cheese from the Netherlands. It is a Gouda cheese, but unlike something like Babybel Gouda (which you may like eating with crackers) it is an aged Gouda and is a bit more firm. It is not quite as hard as Parmesan cheese but it does have that type of assertive, aged flavor, so if you can’t find the Prima Donna Gouda, you might want to opt for a cheese such as Parmesan or Asiago.
For my vegetables, I have selected the Swiss chard and added chopped mushrooms and shallot to the mixture, seasoning it with just a bit of salt and pepper and grated nutmeg. This imparts a delicate flavor without overwhelming any of the cheese.
For the pastry, you can go without and it will still bake up, or you can use your favorite single-crust pie pastry or store-bought if you are in a hurry. You can also try other crusts with this, such as a brown rice crust or potato crust, which should be cooked and layered into the bottom of the pan with a bit of butter and par-baked for best results.
Quiche with Swiss Chard and Mushroom
3 large pastured organic eggs
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces white or crimini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion or shallot
2 tablespoons butter
5 ounces Swiss chard leaves (no stems), chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
5 ounces Prima Donna aged Gouda cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 prepared pie crust or quiche pastry dough
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Beat room temperature eggs with heavy cream in a small bowl.
3. Place pie crust in a deep-dish glass pie plate and crimp edges.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saute pan and cook mushroom and shallot until browned.
5. Season vegetables to taste with salt and pepper and stir in chopped chard leaves, cooking only long enough to allow them to wilt; cool mixture.
6. Sprinkle about 2 ounces of the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust and spread vegetables over that, then top with remaining cheese.
7. Pour the custard (cream and egg) mixture over all.
8. Make sure the cheese and vegetables are covered or wet with the custard mixture.
9. Dot with butter pieces and sprinkle with nutmeg.
10. Bake quiche uncovered, in a preheated oven, for about 45 minutes or until domed and puffy and custard is set.
11. Allow to sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
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This is a salad that actually improves with time. Although it's delicious right away, it tastes even better the next day when all the good flavors have had a chance to meld and soak into the lentils in a truly delightful way.
The recipe comes by way of my beloved Aunt Maggie. Technically, she's actually my husband's aunt but I decided early on in our relationship that there would be nothing "in-law" about it. She's one of those wonderful individuals who likes to get her hands dirty – raising her own lambs and chickens (and killing 'em, too), growing her own food, tapping her own maple trees, canning her own tomatoes – you get the picture. Maggie is a rare soul – she's full of life, full of fun, down to earth, creative, loyal, a ready listener, and a great cook, of course.
Maggie made this lentil salad as part of a feast-style dinner she laid out last time we visited – a month or so before our second son was born. The amazing meal included grilled lamb that had grown fat on the grass in the very field we looked out on from the dinner table, baked taters that had only recently parted with the dirt they were grown in, green salad from her garden, and culminating in homemade strawberry shortcake made with berries from the farm up the road.
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It was all so delicious and the baby-to-be was leaving so little space for my stomach by that point in the pregnancy that I spent the rest of the evening in extreme discomfort – stuffed to the bursting point. But it was worth it!
As with many of the salads I like, this one is open to interpretation – there are lots of potential additions or you can keep it simple. I had some sweet peppers, celery, and carrots on hand so I went with those bright and crunchy additions along with a generous helping of chopped Italian parsley and cilantro. You could also add some fresh arugula or baby spinach, a handful of toasted nuts, some goat cheese and any other veggies you have on hand that you think would make a good addition.
Make plenty of this salad to ensure that you get to enjoy the even-more delicious leftovers. It should keep for a few days in the fridge. And please raise a fork to my aunt Maggie when you make it.
Spiced lentil salad with currants and capers
Adapted slightly from the lovely blog, My New Roots
Serves 4-6 as a side
2-1/4 cups (1 lb.) Du Puy lentils
1/4 medium red onion, finely diced
1 cup dried currants (you could also use raisins or other dried fruit and chop them up finely)
1/3 cup capers
Fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, cilantro, basil, or mint) to taste
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium bell pepper, seeds and stem removed and diced
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
For the dressing:
1/3 cup cold pressed, extra virgin organic olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon strong mustard
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Rinse the lentils well and pick through them to remove any dirt or bits of rock. Drain them, then put them in a pot with the garlic clove and the bay leaf and cover with 3-4 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes. You should start testing the lentils for doneness at around 15 minutes in, just in case, since you don't want to overcook them – mushy lentils are just not as appealing as toothsome ones.
2. While the lentils are simmering, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine. If you don't have all the spices, don't despair, it will probably still taste good with just some of them – for me, the cumin and coriander are the most important ones to include.
3. Dice up the onion (very fine) and chop up your veggies and herbs, trying to get the vegetables cut to roughly the same size. If you're using raisins instead of currants, I'd chop them up a bit and you can do the same with the capers if you have large ones.
4. When the lentils are finished, take the pot off the heat, drain it and fill with cold water to stop the lentils from continuing to cook (and getting mushy). After a few minutes, drain the water out and pour the lentils into a serving bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the onions, herbs, veggies, currants and capers (and any other ingredients you've chosen to add) and serve.
As I mentioned, this tastes even better the next day so you can definitely make it ahead of time and just keep it covered in the fridge.
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For a simple dish, com ga, or chicken rice, is a beloved dish in our family. Although it originated from a small island of Hainan or Hai Nam in the South China Sea between Vietnam and China, it’s popularity can be seen on menus throughout Asia. There are numerous variations (uses of aromatics, spices, dipping sauces) and claims for the best or most “authentic” chicken rice, but frankly, we think this is the one time where the ingredients make the dish.
Since the chicken is the star, you absolutely have to have use the best chicken you can afford. At a minimum, your chicken should be free range. Organic free range would be even better, but that can be tough to find. If you have access to Vietnamese supermarkets, look for gà đi bộ, or Buddhist chickens, with the head and feet still attached. These chicken have less fat and water content then your typical Tyson or Foster Farms chicken and yields much more flavorful, tender, yet deliciously chewy meat. Even the fat on these chickens is prettier shade of yellow and full of flavor and never gets thrown out.
If the chicken is the star, the co-star is the rice. Normally white jasmine rice is used but we prefer brown rice. Whatever rice you use, it’s simply not enough to just cook the rice in chicken broth. You need chicken fat and plenty of aromatics to truly give the rice the depth of flavor it needs.
After poaching the chicken, we use the fattiest portion of the broth and and combined with sauteed garlic, shallots, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook it any way you like, be it stove-top or rice cooker. Then take it a step further and sprinkle crispy shallots over top prior to serving. Finally, with the leftover broth that you haven’t used for the rice, you can create a soup with whatever seasonal vegetable you have on hand. Some restaurants just serve broth, while in Thailand cubes of winter melon is added. Adding fresh seasonal vegetables is quick and easy.
When it comes to accompaniments and dipping sauces, again there is wide variation. We prefer thinly sliced cucumbers and some sprigs of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander/cilantro). If we don’t have that, we use regular cilantro. Occasionally, when in season, we like finely mince keffir lime leaves. For sauces, we prefer ginger nuoc mam cham (ginger lime dipping sauce) and the Thai style soy sauce, soy beans, and ginger. While the rice is cooking in the broth and aromatics, let the chicken cool down enough to handle. Using poultry shears to break down the chicken makes it a snap!
Instead of the individual portions you find in restaurants, we serve this family-style and let our guests pick and chose the tender morsels. Try this simple com ga hai nam for a family meal and you won’t be disappointed. In fact, try it for a dinner party as it doesn’t take much more work to cook one chicken or four! You’ll be delighted at how easy it is to use a simply cooked chicken to make an amazing meal.
Hainan chicken rice (com ga Hai Nam)
1 whole free range chicken, 2-4 lbs
3 liters water (or canned chicken broth)
1 large knob of ginger. Peel and slice 1/2 of knob. Mince remainder and divide in two portions.
2 large shallots, one whole peeled and the other minced.
2 stems of lemongrass. Bruise one, and finely mince the other.
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 cups rice
1 head of garlic, minced
Vegetable of choice for soup (winter melon, bok choy, etc.)
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 bunch of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander/cilantro)
3 tablespoons nuoc mam cham (fish sauce)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Crispy fried shallots
1. In a large stock pot combine the chicken (optional: stuff the aromatics inside the chicken cavity) with the sliced ginger, lemongrass stem, shallot and water. Cover and bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until internal temperature is 180 degrees F., roughly 10 minutes per pound.
2. Meanwhile in small pan, add cooking oil and sauté minced garlic, 1/2 of the minced ginger, minced shallots, minced lemongrass until browned and fragrant. Turn off heat and set aside.
3. When done strain out any impurities, remove chicken, and cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to cool. Ladle the fatty portions of the chicken broth into your rice cooker in the same amount as you would normally use with water. Add the sautéed minced garlic, ginger, shallots, and lemongrass mixture into the rice and mix. Cook according to your rice cooker's directions.
4. Remove the slices of cooked ginger, lemongrass and shallot from the remainder of stock. Add your vegetable of choice and cook by bringing back to boil. Turn off heat and season to taste.
5. Prepare the dipping sauce by adding 3 tablespoons of nuoc mam cham (fish sauce), plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar to the remainder of the minced ginger.
6. When cool to the touch, carve the chicken with your method of choice. Serve family style with rice, soup, and nuoc mam cham gung (ginger lime dipping sauce).
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Our neighborhood is rich with little Mexican groceries, each with a small produce section and dairy case (that shuns anything low fat), aisles of canned goods and imported candy, and – no matter how tiny the store – each with its own fresh meat counter, presided over by a living, breathing butcher.
The other night, during one of the rare breaks in the snowfall, I was walking around looking at stuff in the neighborhood and remembered we were out of, well, everything fresh. So I clomped across Diversey Avenue to the store we now like the best.
The butcher counters at these little shops are minute and, while they do offer some conventional American products, such as chicken parts and straight-up ground beef, they primarily feature cuts aimed at the Hispanic market – often, very thinly sliced, marinated beef and pork. Everything is always fresh and the butchers are always helpful and happy to see us. What caught my eye on this outing was the costillos de puerco – pork short ribs. They looked so fresh and inviting and soon I was walking out the door with two-plus pounds, wrapped in paper.
What to do with my impulse purchase? A quick trip through the Internet suggested classic treatments with Mexican spices and peppers, but instead I went for what felt right at that moment – the country French comfort approach: oven braising with aromatic vegetables.
There’s something about oven braising in the winter that always soothes me – the way the apartment warms up and fills with the luscious aroma. Simply the perfect antidote to days of polar vortex.
This country French treatment is a great thing to have in your vocabulary. You can swap in boneless pork shoulder roast (or “stew meat”), cut into 2-inch cubes, beef short ribs, chuck roast also cut into cubes, or even pieces of chicken or duck. Just be sure to adjust the time accordingly – way more for beef, way less for fowl.
Finally, you can also play with the herbs and spices. Next time, instead of black pepper, I am going to use grains of paradise, powdered in our ex-coffee grinder. Grains of paradise are very like black pepper but more aromatic and citrusy. (You can also mix them with whole black peppercorns in your pepper mill.)
And finally – finally – I made this rather lateish the other night – I started cooking at 9:30 p.m., aiming to serve the next night. That worked out really well for two reasons: It was easier the next day to skim and discard any fat that rose to the top, and overnight, everything had mellowed together and become even more meltingly luscious. This is one of those wonderful cold-weather dishes whose flavor deepens and expands with a night in the fridge.
Braised costillos de puerco, French style
Serves four (see Kitchen Notes)
3-1/2 to 4 pounds costillos de puerco, or 2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
4 medium carrots, peeled, topped and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup parsnip, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch diagonals
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 bottle red wine (may substitute cooking wine)
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup amontillado sherry (optional, see Kitchen Notes)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pork ribs on a plate. Salt them and then thoroughly grind black pepper all over them. Put about 1/3 cup of flour in a clean paper bag, then add the meat pieces, fold the top closed and shake shake shake until everything Is lightly coated. Discard any flour that doesn’t stick to the meat.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, lidded, oven-safe nonstick sauté pan over medium-high flame. I used our Calphalon Williams-Sonoma Elite Nonstick sauté pan. Brown the ribs well in the hot oil on all sides, working in batches, if necessary. Transfer to a plate.
3. Wipe out the pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Reduce heat to medium and add all the vegetables, the bay leaves, and thyme, and sauté about 6 minutes, until the vegetables start browning, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste and stir, over the same heat, for a minute or two. Then pour in the wine, sherry (if using), and stock and stir everything together, scraping up any brown bits. Return the short ribs to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, nestling them into the mass of vegetables and liquid. Bring to a boil. Then cover tightly and move the pan into the hot oven. Check from time to time, say every 15 minutes or so. You don’t want the liquid to cook away, and you don’t want the meat to overcook and become dry and ropy. After about 90 minutes, the costillos should be very tender.
4. When the meat is ready, gently remove it and the vegetables to a plate and reduce the stock so that it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon – you don’t want really it runny and liquid, and you don’t want it to have that heavy clotting thing. If the stock is already right, and it probably will be, you may skip this step. It is now ready to serve, or to be cooled down and stored in the fridge in a covered container, for serving the next day.
5. You can serve this with a simple salad plus boiled potatoes (buttered and with fresh parsley), mashed potatoes, puréed celery root, buttered noodles or one of those mash-ups of potatoes and other root vegetables that are so nice when the weather is chilly. If you have some meat left over, the next day you can pull it off the bones and use it as a taco filling. We had it with avocado, finely chopped fresh white onion, and cilantro, and that made us really happy, too.
How many servings? This recipe can be scaled up or down to serve any number of folk.
Amontillado sherry is a nice addition to this dish, adding to the mellowness, but it is not essential. Instead you may use any medium sherry or Marsala, or you can omit it entirely.
How much meat? If you are making this with costillos de puerco, allow about 3/4 pound per person – there’s a lot of bone. If you are using boneless meat, allow the usual dialed-back 1/3 to 1/2 pound per person.
Wrapping the leftovers in tortillas. Chicago is a never-ending cavalcade of great, fresh, locally made tortillas, and if your part of the world has any sort of Hispanic population at all, with minimal effort you should be able to find a good local example, local and fresh. Even though I was shopping rather late at night, I realized, when I put my hand in the carton to choose a package, that they had come from the factory just a little while before: they were still warm.
By the way, when you are shopping for tortillas, if you have the choice between fresh tortillas in a plastic bag or in a paper wrapper, choose the paper wrapper. They will cost less (the pack I bought cost 25 cents), and they will most likely have fewer industrial additives. The entire list of ingredients on the brand we bought, from Tortilleria Los Comanches: corn, water, lime, and they smelled, and tasted, so immaculate and clean. Keep them in the fridge and, as with any tortilla, consume soon.
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Cauliflower Cheese is a very popular dish in England, one of its comfort foods. Basically, it is cauliflower in a creamy cheese sauce. But the first time I heard of cauliflower cheese, on the set menu at a restaurant during a high-school summer in England, I was a little worried it was actually some kind of strange British cheese. I thought they might bring our some lumpy, bumpy, smelly cheese – an early on I always worried even the most innocuous sounding English food would contain unfamiliar animal parts. I have since learned not to fear British food, and the combination of cauliflower and cheese is a solid one. I love it in this creamy, simple soup.
This soup is hugely adaptable. I love the interesting touch of the curried crumbs (and it is a way to use some of the extra cauliflower), but the array of topping possibilities is endless. Try the crumbs with just salt and pepper, or any seasoning you prefer. Crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta, toasted croutons, a shower of chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, chopped toasted walnuts or some extra shredded cheddar. Use your imagination and what you have to hand.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Curried Cauliflower Crumbs
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts (about 8 ounces)
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 – 7 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pound cauliflower (about 1/2 head)
14 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
For the Crumbs:
1/2 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1. Slice the leeks into thin rings, then rinse well under cold running water. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the leeks and cook until soft and wilted, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Sprinkle over the flour and cook until the flour is thoroughly combined with the leeks.
3. Add the broth, cream and 2 cups of water. Stir until the soup begins to thicken, then add the nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme (I tie the sprigs together with a small piece of twine to make them easier to remove later). Bring the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil.
4. Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, removing any very hard center stem. Drop the pieces into the soup, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft.
5. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or vary carefully in batches in a blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the grated cheddar by handfuls, melting each handful before the adding the next one. Season well with salt. The salt can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. Reheat gently; do not boil.
6. Serve sprinkled with the curried crumbs.
For the Crumbs:
1. Use a large knife to shave the knobbly top of the cauliflower to produce 1/2 cup of crumbs. Remove any larger pieces of stem. It should look like fine bread crumbs.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the cauliflower crumbs. Stir constantly until the crumbs are brown and toasted.
3. Sprinkle over the curry powder and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Toast a few seconds longer until brown and fragrant. Remove the crumbs to paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
4. Sprinkle the crumbs over the soup to serve.
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Winter cooking is all about root vegetables, cutting back a bit on meat, and making big pots of soups and stews to serve up by the bowlfuls to friends or freeze for another day when I don’t feel like cooking from scratch.
When this sweet potato chili came across the transom from Family Circle, I was intrigued. It’s a slow cooker recipe, too. I don’t have a fancy slow cooker. I have a 1970s orange-yellow slow cooker with a missing knob. It’s nothing like the squat, chrome-trimmed counterparts of today’s slow cookers, but I like the Danish modern style of my simple cooker, despite its major flaw.
“That’s OK,” my mom told me when it ended up in my kitchen, after we had cleaned out my dad’s house when he passed. “Just use a screwdriver to adjust the heat. Slow cookers only have three settings: low, medium, and high.” But I haven’t had much inspiration to test her theory, especially since I can’t really tell which setting it’s on.
But for a slow-cooker sweet potato chili recipe, I figured not too much could go wrong – it’s not like you can ruin sweet potatoes and pinto beans. So I thought I’d just let the slow cooker do its thing and then determine if we could have a working partnership.
As for the recipe, I couldn’t find the “jalapeno-seasoned petite diced tomatoes” that the original recipe calls for, so I just diced up a half a jalapeno and tossed it in with everything else for what seemed like an eternity (basically all day). If you like your chili hot, add more.
I have now been eating sweet potato chili for a week straight, even after feeding two other friends one Sunday, packing it for lunch at work, and freezing more. There is still a big helping in my ‘fridge. I like the sweet potato base of the this chili, with its lingering heat from the jalapeno and cayenne pepper that tingles the lips – just the thing one needs when something as intimidating as the Polar Vortex is swirling outside in the dark night.
The orange-yellow slow cooker may have just proved its bright spot in my kitchen.
Sweet Potato Chili
Adapted from Family Circle
Serves 6 to 8
3 large sweet potatoes, about 2 lbs., peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2-1 whole jalapeno, cored, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups of water
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1. Coat slow-cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Layer sweet potatoes, onion, green pepper, garlic, and pinto beans in slow cooker. Combine the rest of the ingredients, except for the cilantro, in a medium-size bowl. Pour over vegetables.
3. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours, or low for 8 hours.
4. Stir in cilantro and serve chili over brown rice.
One of my daughter’s favorite foods is macaroni and cheese. I think she could eat it every day! And she is not alone. There are millions (billions?) of die-hard cheese lovers out there who would enjoy nothing more than having this and nothing else.
When I was growing up, my mother made nothing like this. We got “blue boxed.” And if you have never tasted anything else, you might really enjoy it. But once you have had mac and cheese made from scratch, macaroni mixes from a blue box aren't going to cut it. So if you want to maintain the relationship with blue boxes and remain a devoted fan, I simply must ask that you stop reading here.
However, I do hope you read on!
Contrary to popular belief, making macaroni and cheese really isn’t that much of a fuss. No harder than boiling a pot of pasta and making a skillet full of gravy.
One of the difficulties that can be found when making cheese, however, is making it improperly. For one thing, cheese does not like being heated. If when making your sauce you add the cheese and stir it around and stir it around and the heat is still on and … all of a sudden the cheese became very very nasty.
When cheese is overheated, the milk separates out from the fat, leaving a greasy film and the remaining cheese becomes stringy and grainy. I am sure we have all had it happen at least once. And I am quite sure none of us want it to happen again. You might see people discuss whether or not it occurred when using pregrated cheese or freshly grated, but the truth of it is, if you overheat the cheese it will break, no matter what kind you use.
Some cheeses are better suited for melting, however, and do very well when combined with a more crumbly hard cheese such as cheddar. Melting cheeses have a velvety texture to them. I know most people are familiar with the melting capabilities of mozzarella. Who has not had a perfectly wonderful slice of hot pizza that when they lifted the wedge, the cheese stretched out like a silken arm, beckoning us to taste it?
But while mozzarella is a good mild cheese perfect for pizza and other dishes with assertive flavors, it is really too tame for macaroni and cheese.
And most of us also know the joys of fondue, dipping crusty pieces of bread and veggies or meats into its silken cheesiness. The type of cheese used most for fondue is fontina, which is a milk cheese originally from the Alps region of Italy and noted for its very assertive flavor.
But for macaroni and cheese we really would like something between the two extremes that also has great melting capabilities. Enter fontinella cheese, which is a creamy semi-soft North American made cheese that has a bit of the sharpness of fontina, but not overwhelmingly so, and the melting capabilities of mozzarella. Paired with the distinctive flavor of cheddar cheese, the two cheeses combine to form the perfect marriage of flavor, and the texture of the fontinella helps keep the cheddar from being grainy.
Of course, you can use fontinella cheese on other things as well, such as grilled chicken breast with melted cheese and grilled vegetables such as peppers, garlic and onion. But it also makes short work of turning a burger from simple to sublime. Remember this cheese the next time you want a perfect melt with a definite presence of flavor!
The macaroni in this dish is a sauce that is combines with the cooked pasta, then baked for a short period until it is hot. This little bit of time also helps the flavors permeate the pasta. But if you are in a real hurry, it is no big deal if you want to cook the pasta, whip together the sauce, stir them together and serve.
If the sauce seems a bit thin right after doing this, remember that cheese sauces will thicken upon standing. As well, if you finish your macaroni a tad too soon before dinner and need to reheat, thin it just a bit with a touch of milk or cream.
But I stress again, the most important thing for you to come away with when making this recipe is to not overheat or boil the cheese. Remove the pan from heat before you stir in the cheese to melt. If it is not warm enough to melt it all, put it back on the heat only “briefly” but absolutely do not let the cheese cook.
I do hope you enjoy! This comfort food really is a family favorite in our home.
Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
3 cups uncooked macaroni or rotini noodles
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces fontinella cheese (not fontina), shredded
1-2 tablespoons softened butter (approximate)
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Heat butter and flour in a saucepan, whisking until smooth.
3. Mix in half-and-half, milk, paprika, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper and stir constantly over med-low heat until mixture thickens.
4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until it melts completely, then taste again for salt.
5. Pour noodles into a buttered casserole dish and sprinkle with the dry bread crumbs.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes.
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It’s not unusual to get a little cabin-fever during the winter as weather, darkness, and social engagements restrict one to indoor activities, but that norm has been compounded for us this year by the arrival of our second child. As anyone who has had infant children knows, social occasions quickly become hassles, and it’s almost impossible to leave the house with a newborn without first making sure to have milk, diapers, changes of clothing, blankets, pacifiers, and assorted other junk on hand, at which point, it will almost certainly start to rain or snow, forcing you to rewrap the baby in extra layers or throw hands in air and abort plans altogether.
We’ve had the immensely good fortune of assorted friends and relations having visited or stayed during Emiliana’s first weeks which has been a huge help but being so housebound has forced us to be rather more imaginative than usual in the preparation of our meals. It’s hardly been a hardship, however: Those of you who follow us on Instagram know that the extraordinarily good garlic, rosemary, and sage-marinated leg of lamb we roasted over potatoes and turnips on Christmas Day provided most succulent leftovers that we progressively turned into fillings for souvlaki and tacos. What you don’t know is that this inventiveness reached an extraordinary pinnacle on the third day of Christmas with a spectacular Uzbek-style plov, or pilaf.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but, there exists a parallel between Uzbekistan’s geographical situation and our own limited mobility lately in that nation’s distinction as only one of two doubly landlocked countries in the world. Indeed, mirroring the welcome flood of visitors and gifts arriving on our doorstep since the birth, things and people came to Uzbekistan rather than the other way around. The Silk Road ran through the heart of Uzbek territory and trade provided the means to construct the fabled cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, and enabled the transit and marriage of cultures and cuisines from East and West. Under Russian and then Soviet rule, although in a profoundly different way, programs relocating ethnic groups from around the Empire and USSR brought Russians and Tatars and ugly concrete architecture.
Plov might be the quintessential Central Asian dish in its unique combination of light and starchy, fragrant and stodgy. The long grain rice favored by South Asian and Middle Easterners, the hearty meats common to the frigid steppe, the garlic and earthy spices of the Levant and the root vegetables and animal fat loved by Slavic nations. I have eaten no other dish, save perhaps the somewhat similar Pakistan/Indian biryani, which offers so much complexity in one pot. We first ate it one humid summer night at Uzbekistan restaurant in the North-East of Philadelphia.
Tucked away down a residential street in an ugly concrete house hung lazily with grape vines cloaked in dust that the shiny wheel-rims of its ostentatious Russian-expatriate patrons churned up as they rumbled into the gravel parking-lot, Uzbekistan does a decent job of recreating what I imagine former Soviet republics in the east look like. The interior does, too – packed to the rafters with giant, sweaty Russians wedged tightly around small tables creaking under platters of flatbread, salads thick with gloopy mayonnaise, and fried onions, bright green soups, and smoky grilled skewers under unforgiving incandescent lights.
Shown to our table next to a particularly ruddy octet of Russians celebrating a birthday by a sallow young woman who counseled us against ordering more than five plates, we still soon found our table hidden beneath enough food to feed most of Central Asia. Among this remarkable pile of plates, the most delicious was an unfeasible mound of Samarkand-style plov in which tender hunks of lamb redolent of roasted garlic and plump thumbs of carrot spiced with cumin and coriander seed nestled among perfectly separated grains of rice.
Fork load after fork load went down until we slumped back in our chairs and could do no more. Our Russian neighbors were still in riotous mood and smashing their way through a gigantic blue and yellow-iced birthday cake resembling the Tsar’s winter palace when our waitress returned offering us tea and approving nods at our progress.
Such was our sleep-derived condition when we remade this dish last week that it was all we could do to trim meat off the bone and boil some rice: The traditional method of preparation was beyond our ken. Nonetheless, a reasonable approximation and a similar post-meal drowsiness was achieved. Purists may be satisfied to note that the lengthier traditional method is also included below.
Uzbek or Samarkand-style plov (rice pilaf) with lamb (non-traditional)
1 lb. cooked/roasted lamb, cut into 1 inch chunks or pieces
1 large onion, diced
2-3 large carrots, scraped and diced
1/2 head garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each of cumin and coriander seeds, crushed lightly in a mortar
1 teaspoon hot paprika powder or Aleppo pepper
1 pinch saffron threads (optional)
Salt and black pepper
1 cup of long grain rice (basmati works well, as do long grain domestic varieties)
1-1/2 cups good lamb or chicken stock
1. In a large pan over medium heat, brown lamb pieces well in olive oil. Remove and set aside.
2. Sweat onions and carrots together in olive oil until soft and fragrant, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon occasionally to deglaze meat juices. Add garlic.
3. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add ground/crushed spices salt and pepper. Stir well. Kitchen should be very aromatic at this point.
4. Add rice and stir in. Cook for 30 seconds – 1 minute before adding stock.
5. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, cover and reduce heat to very low. After second 10 minutes, turn off the heat but leave covered to steam for another 10 minutes.
6. Stir rice well and incorporate the lamb back in. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.
Ingredients as above, except lamb should be uncooked 2 inch cubes of lamb shoulder, garlic head should be whole, and carrots should be in 3 inch lengths.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large dutch oven, brown meat in oil over medium heat until well-caramelized on all sides.
3. Add onions and carrots, cook for 3-5 minutes. Add spices, salt and black pepper.
4. Stir well. Pour in rice and stir again. Clear a spot in the middle of the pot and place whole head of garlic. Add stock.
5. Cover and bring to a boil. Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and allow to rest/cool at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.
7. To serve, portion rice and meat out with cloves popped out of the whole head of garlic.
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Anyone else feel like they ate everything this Christmas? Oh I have no regrets. I'm just saying that after a steady diet of Christmas cookies and cheese and crackers and delicious mama-made meals, I could/should spend some serious time with fruits, veggies, and healthier desserts. (Note that I say healthier desserts, not no desserts. Who do you think I am? No desserts is crazy talk.)
What is not crazy talk? Greek yogurt cheesecake. This really is a healthy dessert – nonfat Greek yogurt, eggs, and a little sugar – that is all! It is insanely easy to make. And it's actually really smooth, creamy, and delicious. Really, I am blown away by how good this is.
I made this for a Greek-themed dinner party back in the fall. Greek desserts are too hard for me on a weeknight (or ever – I'll leave baklava to the pros), but I wanted to make something relevant to the theme. So I searched around for a dessert involving Greek yogurt, and then made up a honey walnut baklava-like topping to go with it.
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I made the graham cracker crust no problem, and slid the cake into the oven, praying to the baking gods that it did not deteriorate into a watery mess burning on the bottom (always a risk when trying something new). Well, my prayers were answered because it came out looking A-OK and I was elated!
And I'm happy to report that it tastes good, too. Definitely nowhere near as rich and creamy as a regular cheesecake, but it also doesn't give you that too-full feeling after eating a slice. I will definitely be making this again and trying out different toppings.
Greek yogurt cheesecake with honey-walnut "baklava" topping
For the cake
1-1/2 cups crushed graham cracker/crumbs
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups plain or vanilla Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
For the topping
1 cup honey (I used wildflower honey)
1 cup water
3/4 cups walnuts, toasted, and finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and melted butter. Press into the bottom and a little up the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan and bake for 10 minutes.
3. Beat together eggs, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla, and flour. Gently whisk in the Greek yogurt.
4. Pour into hot crust and bake for 45-50 minutes or until barely set in center (just a little jiggly when you shake it).
5. Cool cake to room temperature on wire rack, then refrigerate at least an hour (or overnight) before serving.
6. For the topping: 30 minutes before serving, combine all topping ingredients in a small saucepan on the stove. Simmer until thickened, approximately 15 minutes. Spoon over each piece of cake before serving.
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The sweeping Arctic temperatures delivered by the polar vortex in recent days have humbled me into survivalist mode. While I am perfectly accustomed to unfriendly winter seasons, I am finding this cold spell particularly uncivilized. As a coping mechanism, I have begun wearing an attire more fitting of an ice age: double socks, two scarves, a puffy wool hat, ear covers, tights, and leg warmers.
Yet, this has not sufficed. I am still, like millions of others, still cold. There is one indulgence that is helping to keep my spirits up: gourmet hot chocolate.
While working during part of the days this week at a neighborhood cafe with WiFi, I have been treating myself to not one hot chocolate each day, but three, to be precise. This little "indulgence" has already depleted my weekly budget for cafe drinks that seemingly can only be made with the artistic skill of a barista. With this said, I have become especially attached to this particular kind of hot chocolate, and I knew I could not endure the remainder of this week without another. Who knows how long this polar-like winter may go on, it could be months!
Graciously, Brendan Higgins, the cafe barista at Area Four Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge, Mass., fully understood this dilemma, and generously shared his technique and recipe for creating an indulgent hot chocolate this winter, or any time of year.
How to make a gourmet cup of hot chocolate
1. Mr. Higgins says he always uses milk in place of water when making hot chocolate, and preferably milk from “Jersey” cows. Look for the "Jersey milk" label on cartons and jugs of milk. Higgins explains that milk from Jersey cows steams better and is sweeter because of higher protein structure. But feel free to use your milk of choice.
2. Choose your favorite chocolate sauce recipe to make – Higgins described his as “some butter, sugar, cream, and chopped dark chocolate.” Open in measurement, but seems simple in execution. (For a truly decadent chocolate sauce, try Mast Brothers Chocolate.)
3. Once the chocolate sauce is prepared, it should remain “warm to the touch.” Place a 1/2 inch of the chocolate sauce in the bottom of a a tall glass or mug.
4. Either by steam or saucepan, warm milk to approximately 170 degrees F., if the milk becomes scalding, it will lose its flavor.
5. Add heated milk to the glass or mug, and gently mix chocolate sauce with poured milk.
6. Shave chocolate over each glass or mug, or try creating a design on the hot chocolate froth such as Higgins’s “leaf” design (see photo). For this effect, he took the remainder of the warmed milk and poured a small amount in a front-and-back motion with his hand. This part, Higgins modestly noted, is an art he has come to perfect only over time.