Weekly Winner: Because Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery…. right??

MacNCheeseI do love a challenge and this week, I got a good one! I have a wonderful, elderly gentleman that I cook for. His doctor has told him he needs to gain some weight.  The problem is he is not a big eater and honestly, sometimes I think he simply forgets to eat.  But he knows what he likes and what he thinks he’s going to like.  When speaking with him this week to get his weekly order he gave me a challenge:  He said he goes to his local Whole Foods and on several occasions, while perusing the hot bar of prepared food, he has stopped in front of their mac-n-cheese.  He’s never bought any because, according to him, there has never been very much in the pan when he’s been there, but what has been there looks rich, gooey, cheesy and like something he’d enjoy.  So he asks me: “Can you make me some mac-n-cheese like that?”

Challenge Accepted!!  I head on over to my local Whole Foods and buy a small container of this much-sought-after mac.  I walk home, heat it back up and sit down to see what all the fuss is about.  I taste it.  It’s good.  It’s ridiculously creamy and I believe I can recreate this.  Before I go any further let me be clear:  I am absolutely positive that Whole Foods does not use Velveeta in their version.  Their ingredient list, however does mention American cheese and a roux.  In my mind, Velveeta is an easy, time-saving step that will allow this to be easily reheated and remain smooth.

This is my version.  I gotta admit, I was fairly impressed when I did a side-by-side taste test.  I’m not sure anyone could tell the difference!  I can’t wait to see if one certain elderly gentleman agrees!

Wanna Be Whole Foods Mac-n-Cheese

Serves a ton!

Ingredients:

1 lb large elbow macaroni

2 cups whole milk

2 Tbsp butter

8 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed

1 tsp ground mustard

1 tsp kosher salt

8 oz grated cheddar-jack cheese

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

5 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Procedure:

  1. Cook macaroni is salted, boiling water for 10 minutes and rinse in hot water, drain well.
  2. While pasta cooks, heat milk, butter, mustard, salt and Velveeta in Dutch oven, stirring until cheese melts.
  3. When smooth, add additional cheeses and stir until melted.  Turn off heat and let stand for 5 minutes to continue thickening.
  4. Stir cooked macaroni into cheese sauce.
  5. Serve topped with additional grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Weekly Winner: New Year, New..yeah, yeah, yeah….

buddha bowlIt’s that time again!  New Year, New You!!!  You know what?  I’m the same me as I was last year and the year before that.  This doesn’t mean that when January 1st comes around I don’t feel like making a change…. it means I always feel like making a change.  After the excess and excuses of the holidays it is time to hunker down and clean up the eating game for a bit.  Yes, that’s right…. I said “for a bit”.  Because I know me.  I will revert back to cheese, my pastas and my pork.  And for me, this “new, old me” will take everything in moderation….even moderation.

Since I’m ready for some clean, nurturing meals, I can think of no better way to start than with this Buddha Bowl with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Spiced Chickpeas, and Chard.  I got the recipe from Epicurious and honestly, it was so tasty and satisfying (not to mention pretty), I forgot I was being good!  I’ll be eating this throughout the year (even when I slip back into my “old” not-so-virtuous ways).

Buddha Bowl with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Spiced Chickpeas, and Chard

Serves 4

For the poblano tahini sauce

1-1/2 cups roughly chopped poblano pepper

1 clove garlic, quartered

1/3 cup tahini

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the Buddha bowls

1 cup quinoa, rice, or farro (I used farro)

2 large sweet potatoes (1-1/2 to 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1-1/2 Tbsp olive oil (the recipe calls for melted coconut oil, but I gotta be me)

2 tsp pure maple syrup

1 tsp orange zest

sea salt

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry

1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp paprika

1/8 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 bunch Swiss chard, red, green, or rainbow, stemmed, leaves cut into 1-inch strips

Preparation:

For the poblano tahini sauce:

In a blender or food processor, combine the poblano, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and 1/4 cup water and blend until smooth. (If sauce is too thick, add water as needed to reach desired consistency). Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Set aside

For the Buddha bowls:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F
  2. In a medium saucepan, cook the quinoa, rice or farro according to package directions.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil (or coconut oil, melted) maple syrup, orange zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Mix until the potatoes are evenly coated
  4. Spread potatoes on a rimmed backing sheet and roast for 20 minutes.  Flip them with a spatula and roast until the potatoes are tender and beginning to brown, an additional 10-15 minutes (while roasting chickpeas — see next step)
  5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the chickpeas, 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, the paprika, cumin, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Mix well until the chickpeas are thoroughly coated. Spread the chickpeas on the rimmed baking sheet with the sweet potatoes and roast until golden, about 10-15 minutes.
  6. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chard, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard begins to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.  Uncover, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is completely wilted and cooked through, an additional 1 to 2 minutes.  Discard the garlic cloves.
  7. Put 1/2 cup of the cooked grain in the bottom of each of the four serving bowls. Top each bowl with equal portions of the roasted sweet potatoes, roasted chickpeas, and sautéed chard.
  8. Drizzle with the poblano tahini sauce and serve.

Weekly Winner: Spice, Swine & Spaghetti

sambal porkYou know I’m going to like any dish that combines pork and pasta.  Add to it a punchy kick of sambal and I am all in.  Spicy-Sweet Sambal Pork Noodles was the perfect “welcome home” meal after traveling this past week.

The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and is more spicy than sweet.  The heat is definitely there but because it is simmered in the sauce for quite a while, the spice is milder than if you just added the sambal oelek right at the end.  There’s also some sugar and vinegar in there to help tame it a bit.  While this is an easy dish, unlike a lot of pasta and noodle dishes, it’s not super quick — the sauce needs to simmer for close to an hour but is basically hands-off except for a quick stir now and then. Well worth the time — it will make your house smell fabulous while its simmering away!

Spicy-Sweet Sambal Pork Noodles

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lb. ground pork, divided
  • 1 2″ piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into thin matchsticks or finely chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus more for serving
  • ⅓ cup hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1½ lb. fresh ramen noodles or 16 oz. dried spaghetti
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Procedure:

  • Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high. Add half of pork to pot, breaking apart into 6–8 large chunks with a wooden spoon. Cook, undisturbed, until well browned underneath, about 5 minutes. Turn pieces and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until pork is browned on 2–3 sides, about 5 minutes longer. Add ginger, garlic, sugar, and remaining pork to pot and cook, breaking up pork into small clumps, until meat is nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Add tomato paste and 2 basil sprigs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until paste darkens, about 2 minutes. Add chili paste, soy sauce, vinegar, and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened and flavors have melded, 30–45 minutes.

  • Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute short of al dente. Add to pot with sauce along with butter and a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Simmer, tossing occasionally, until sauce begins to cling to noodles, about 1 minute. Pluck out basil sprigs.

  • Divide noodles among plates. Top with torn basil.

Weekly Winner: Dark Horse Champion Cheeseball

First things first — what has happened??  Apparently I’ve been too busy cooking to write about the things I’ve cooked!!   Which would explain why this entry does not have an accompanying picture.  But then again, we all pretty much know what a cheese ball looks like — close your eyes, visualize a cheese ball — yep, that’s it!  So here’s why this Antipasti Cheese Ball is so special.

I wanted a “little something” for munching prior to our Thanksgiving dinner.  We were having a very intimate gathering and I had seen this recipe in my stack of “ideas” and honestly don’t even remember where I pulled it from.

What bugs me about most cheese balls is that they are rolled in something — nuts, herbs, crumbled bacon (well, that would be OK), which makes it difficult and messy to cut and spread.  Not this one!  This recipe was just jam-packed with everything that makes a usual antipasti platter so good: spicy salami, peppers, olives, cheese.  The recipe made way more than I’d need for Thanksgiving but we were also hosting a larger football party later that weekend.  Voila! Two birds, one stone!  Or maybe two gatherings, one dish!

Anyway, this was a MAJOR hit!  I got a ton of compliments on it and for good reason — it was amazing!!  Also several people asked me for the recipe so they could make it and so, without further ado — here it is!  And I will definitely try to be a bit more regular with my posts from here on out!!

Antipasti Cheese Ball

Serves 12

Ingredients:

8 oz cream cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan

2 Tbsps. olive oil

2 Tbsps. minced fresh garlic

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. anchovy paste

Black pepper to taste

2 oz hard salami, finely diced

1/4 cup finely diced pimentos or roasted red peppers

1/4 cup finely diced pepperoncini

1/4 cup each finely diced Kalamata and Castelvetrano olives

Procedure:

  1. Beat together cream cheese, Parmesan, oil, garlic, vinegar, oregano, pepper flakes, and anchovy paste in a bowl with a mixer until combined; season with black pepper
  2. Stir in salami, roasted peppers, pepperoncini, Kalamata and Castelvetrano olives
  3. Line a 3-1/2 cup bowl with plastic wrap, press cheese mixture into bowl, smooth top, then cover and chill overnight, or up to 1 week.

 

Weekly Winner: Ravioli Ridiculousness — Because you can’t be good all the time!

ravioli casseroleBaked pasta is good.  Stuffed pasta that is baked is better.  Stuffed pasta which is layered in a casserole with sausage is …. the BEST.  EVER.

Mushroom Ravioli and Sausage Casserole is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a light dish.  However it isn’t as over-the-top as you’d think.  It really works and actually comes together as a somewhat presentable dish.  And while it would be perfectly acceptable to serve this dish at a casual dinner party with friends, my preferred situation for it is curled up on the couch in my jammies.  This big dish of deliciousness comes from Food Network Magazine.

Mushroom Ravioli and Sausage Casserole

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 onion, finely chopped

10 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced

Freshly ground pepper

6 ounces mild Italian sausage, casings removed

3 cloves garlic (2 thinly sliced, 1 grated)

2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, chopped [I used oregano]

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 10-ounce packages refrigerated mushroom ravioli

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the vegetables are beginning to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and marjoram (or oregano) and cook until softened, 1 more minute. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 cup water, bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 6 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the ravioli in the boiling water as the label directs. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, then drain. Add the ravioli and the reserved cooking water to the sauce; stir to coat. Transfer half of the ravioli and sauce to a 9-by-13-inch broiler-proof baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella. Top with the remaining ravioli, sauce and mozzarella.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small microwave-safe bowl until melted. Stir in the grated garlic and breadcrumbs; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the baked ravioli and broil until browned on top, about 2 minutes. Top with the parsley.

Weekly Winner: Farro + Fennel + Feta = Fantastic Fall Feast (in a bowl!)

farro bowlThis dish should not be this good.  There is no rational reason for it.  I mean, I knew it would be OK, a unique new lunch, but seriously…. I just kept eating it and asking “Why is this so delicious”!!  The name certainly doesn’t hint at the unique combination of tastiness that awaits — Farro Bowl with Pomegranate Vinaigrette.  Yawn, right??  No!

There’s just something about the combination of the caramelized sweet potatoes, raw fennel, earthy farro, and tangy feta cheese that just keeps you coming back from more.

All I can tell you is just make this mysterious grain bowl and surprise yourself.  Then, maybe you can let me know why it’s so dang good!  The recipe comes from Real Simple Magazine.

Farro Bowl with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups uncooked farro

6 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1 tsp kosher salt, divided

1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 cup refrigerated pomegranate juice

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 cups baby spinach

1 medium fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced, plus chopped fronds for serving

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 2 oz)

Procedure:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high. Stir in farro and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and place in a large bowl.
  • While farro cooks, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium. Add sweet potato, ¼ cup water, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and steam for 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and sweet potato is tender and browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to bowl with farro
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pomegranate juice; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to ½ cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Whisk in vinegar, mustard, pepper, and remaining ¾ teaspoon salt. Remove from heat and gradually whisk remaining ¼ cup oil into dressing.
  • Add ¾ cup dressing to farro mixture and toss to coat. Add spinach and fennel; toss gently. Divide among 4 bowls and drizzle with remaining dressing. Top with cheese and garnish with fennel fronds.

 

Weekly Winner: Big Bowl of Brothy Goodness

brothy pastaI’m one of those weird people that won’t eat soup during warm weather.  Yeah, I’ll do the occasional gazpacho but basically, soup for me is off the menu from around Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Which is why I’m totally thrilled by the cooler weather here in Chicago — it means once again, “Soup’s On”!!

This recipe for Brothy Pasta with Chickpeas is soul-satisfying.  There’s a rich tomato broth, plenty of pasta, hearty chickpeas and just enough cheese to make me happy.  It’s quick, easy and is a great way to use up the various pasta “odds and ends” you have in the pantry.  The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and will be making a regular appearance on our table (now that summer is officially over)!

Brothy Pasta With Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
  • 1 cup whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 6 oz. orecchiette or other short pasta
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

  1. Heat 3 Tbsp. oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and garlic are both very soft and just beginning to brown around the edges, 5–6 minutes longer. Add rosemary and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chickpeas and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are slightly thickened, 6–8 minutes.

  2. Add pasta and 4 cups water. Increase heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent pasta from sticking, until pasta is al dente, 13–16 minutes depending on shape. Stir in parsley and 3 Tbsp. Parmesan; season with salt.

  3. Divide brothy pasta between bowls. Drizzle with more oil and top with Parmesan and black pepper.

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