Creamy Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is one of those dishes that can easily grow up with us (and has with my daughters)  with the cheese changing (and improving) and the pasta choices becoming more interesting.  it can also play host to a range of other foods, making it a really versatile recipe to have in your repertoire.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. (450 grams) short dried pasta (elbow macaroni, rotini, etc.)

5T (or 5 c.s.) of sweet (unsalted) butter

5T (or 5 c.s.) of all purpose flour

2-3 cups (475-700 ml) of milk

6 oz. (or 170 grams) of cheddar cheese (you can substitute another

cheese like Gruyere for up to 2 oz. (55 grams) of the cheddar)

1/3 cup (75 grams) of grated parmagian cheese

1/8 t. (or 1/8 c.c.) cayenne pepper

1/4 t. (or 1/4 c.c.) ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup of panko or other very dry bread crumbs (optional)

2T of salted butter, melted (optional)

PREPARATION:

  1.  Preheat the oven to 300 deg. F (gas mark 2).
  2. Grate the cheddar cheese and set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
  4. Add the pasta and cook until just barely done. Drain well (shaking to get extra water out) and set aside
  5. In a large pot or pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and mix with a whisk until fully incorporated with the butter.
  6. Add 2 cups of the milk slowly, whisking or stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
  7. Raise the heat to medium and keep stirring until the sauce begins to bubble (the flour is through thickening at the point the sauce reaches a low boil).
  8. Reduce the heat to low and add the grated cheddar, the parmesan, the cayenne and the nutmeg. Stir until the the cheese is fully melted. If the sauce is too thick add more milk until it is the consistency you want.
  9. Add the drained pasta to an oven safe dish, pour the cheese sauce over the and stir until the pasta is thoroughly coated.

NOTE: To make this a heartier or more interesting dish you can add crumbled, cooked bacon or pancetta, small pieces of cooked chicken, or cooked vegetables such as broccoli or chopped spinach or anything else that strikes your fancy that is not too wet.

  1. In a small bowl mix the panko and the melted butter, if using, until well blended.  Sprinkle over the mac and cheese
  2. Place in the oven for 15-25 minutes until the crumbs are brown and the mixture is bubbling.  Serve.

French Onion Soup Redux

Onion soup is one of my daughter Sarah’s favorite things and so, in self-defense, I needed to come up with a way to make it for dinner more often than Julia Child’s stunning recipe would let me.  As a result, I adapted the recipe to make it a bit quicker.  If you have the time, though, certainly use the original, classic recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

2 T. butter
1T .olive oil
4 medium or large yellow onions thinly sliced (about 1 lb. or 1.5 kg)
½ t. salt
½ t. sugar
2 T. flour
3 cups of beef stock (preferably low sodium)
1/2 cup red wine (or dry white can s]be substituted but it will not have the lovely crimson color)
salt and pepper to taste (be careful of salt if the stock is high in sodium)
1 baguette or similar crusty loaf
4 oz. (about 100 grams) of Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 c. of freshly grated parmesan (preferably parmigiana reggiano but domestic parmesan is okay too)

PREPARATION:

1. Melt the butter and the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan with a cover over moderately low heat.
2. Add the sliced onions and stir to coat with the butter. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and very soft.
2. Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook stirring frequently, until the onions have turned a deep golden color (10-20 minutes depending on your stove).
3. Lower the heat again and stir in the flour. Continue stirring until it forms a paste with the onions.
4.  Add about 1 cup of the stock or bouillon to the pan stirring with a whisk to prevent prevent lumps. Add the rest of the stock and the wine.
5. Simmer the soup for 20-30 minutes and then season with salt and pepper as needed.
6. Slice the baguette and toast lightly. Place the baguette in the bottom of a soup bowl and immediately top with the shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese helping the cheese to melt a bit.
7. Ladle the hot soup over the cheese toasts and sprinkle the parmesan over the top. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the cheese to fully melt.

[If you happen to have a broiler available AND oven proof bowls (most are not), you can reverse this and pour the soup into the bowls, topping with the toast and cheeses and then broil until the cheeses are bubbling and slightly browned.]

Apple Crisp

Sometimes you just want what you had growing up, not something different or even something better–just what is familiar and comfortable. That was true of my husband and his memories of apple crisp. He didn’t want all of the healthy (rolled oats) or tasty (nuts) additions. He just wanted the silky, caramel apples and the crunchy sugar and butter topping of his youth. To bring his memory to life, we had to reach out to the wife of his best friend in England. She shared her recipe for apple crisp more than twenty years ago and it is made throughout the summer, fall and winter in our house. With both deep thanks and credit to Jane Price!

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs. cooking apples (preferably Honeycrisp)

12 T. dark  brown sugar (2 T. for apples and 10 T. for crisp)

4 T. water (or apple cider or apple juice if you happen to have it in the house)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

6 T. butter at room temperature

 PREPARATION;

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees F.

2.  Peel, core and slice apples.

3.  Place sliced apples,  water (or cider/juice) and 2 T. of brown sugar into a medium saucepan and cook gently until apples are fluffy.  Spoon apples into a pie plate or other oven safe dish.  The shallower and wider the dish, the crisper the topping will be; the narrow and taller the dish, the more the topping will be soft underneath and crisp on top.  It just depends on how you like it.

4.  Place flour in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle in baking powder, then add the butter and rub it in to the flour lightly using your fingertips.  When it looks crumbly, add the remaining brown sugar and mix.

5.  Sprinkle the topping over the apples, spreading it out with a fork.

6.  Place crisp on a high shelf in the oven (place on a baking pan if the container is very full and may spill over) and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until topping is crunchy and juice from the apples is bubbling up around the edges.

7.  Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, ice cream or plain.