Blue Cheese and Macaroni for You Five-Star Types

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I know we’re all kind of sick of seeing macaroni and cheese on menus at five-star restaurants.  Oh who am I kidding, I’m not eating in any five-star restaurants.  But, I’ve heard that those people that eat at five-star restaurants are sick of seeing macaroni and cheese on menus.  (For all you five-star restaurant owners following our blog, I’m sorry to break that news to you.)  But, if you were going to serve macaroni and cheese at a five-star restaurant, this would be the one.  Catherine and I made this while she was visiting and it went quickly.  My kids, in particular, are particular about macaroni and cheese and I’m embarrassed to tell you that the only kind they have liked, up until a few days ago, was Kraft. (Kraft, not “Craft”.  “Craft” is a three-star restaurant that incidentally, doesn’t serve macaroni and cheese.)  I’ve made several homemade versions and they’ve all gotten a “meh” response.  I HATE that response.

This was a combination of recipes: Ina Garten’s, the Food Network Kitchen’s and our own spin based on what cheese we had on hand.  So good!  The secret is the blue cheese.  In fact, we re-named this recipe “Blue Cheese and Macaroni” so that you wouldn’t feel like you could substitute any other kind of cheese.  You can’t, so don’t.  I don’t mean to sound bossy, but I am, so that’s how I sound.

-Andra

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Blue Cheese and Macaroni  serves 6

1 lb of macaroni

1/4 pound bacon, diced

1 medium onion, diced

5 tablespoons butter, plus more to butter baking dish

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon Dijon

4 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 oz crumbled blue cheese

8 oz. cup grated Gruyere

2 cups grated sharp cheddar

3/4 cup grated Grana Padano

1/4 cup panko

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Cook macaroni just short of the al dente stage.  Drain.

In a large dutch oven or other heavy pot, sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Sauté the onion in the bacon drippings until soft. Add 5 tablespoons butter to the onion mixture and melt the butter stirring with a wooden spoon.

Using a whisk, add the flour, and stir constantly until well mixed with the fat making a roux. Whisk in the mustard. Gradually add the milk and cream whisking constantly.

Add the thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Let come to a simmer and stir frequently for 15 minutes.

Working quickly, mix in the Gruyère, blue cheese , cheddar, 1/2 cup Grana Padano, and the reserved bacon.  Continue to stir until all cheese is melted.

Add the cooked noodles to the cheese mixture to coat. Add the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish. Mix the remaining cheese and panko together and sprinkle on top of the noodles. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown. Remove from oven when done and rest for 5 minutes.

A math problem?

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The morning after our snow day we had a problem to solve.  We had baked too many pieces of prosciutto for our grilled panini the day before.  Not ones to waste food, we formulated a plan for how to use the rest of the prosciutto while we ate our panini.   Some might call planning a meal while you’re eating another “a problem”.

Our plan came together in the form of a McMuffin style sandwich with a little more panache than the type that comes in a paper wrapper.  We added a little sprinkling of Grana Padano cheese to the bottom of the English muffin as well as to the top of a fried egg to melt it just ever so slightly.  The egg was still a little runny and the prosciutto was crisp and savory.  You will be happy to know that all of the prosciutto equaled all of the eggs and English muffins leaving us with no leftovers.  How’s that for kitchen math?

-Andra

Snow Day

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Catherine and her girls were here for a little over a week.  We had so much fun but I think I heard my liver breathe a sigh of relief as we watched them pull out of the driveway Sunday morning.  We ate and drank too much but it was worth every bite and every sip.  We were fortunate to get a few inches of snow while we all together and so we spent an amazing morning sledding on the golf course, throwing snowballs and building a snowman.   At the end of our day in the snow we came inside and made the most civilized lunch: homemade creamy tomato soup,  prosciutto and cheese panini sandwiches served with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  It was the perfect ending to a really fun day.   What did the kids eat, you ask?  Kids?  PB&Js of course.  This was an adult only dining room.

-Andra

Creamy Tomato Soup adapted from Ina Garten

3 tablespoons good olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped red onions

2 carrots unpeeled and chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves, plus julienned basil leaves, for garnish

3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.

Add the cream to the soup and use an immersion blender to puree the soup discarding.  Serve with julienned basil leaves and a light drizzle of olive oil.

Snow Day Panini 

Lightly spread one piece of country-style bread  with a Boursin type cheese and then layer with prosciutto (roasted until crisp in a 350° oven), sharp cheddar and slices of avocado and basil leaves.  Generously butter the two outside slices of bread and place in a panini press until the cheese is melted.

Meatless Monday Mujaddara

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This recipe  for Mujaddara came from Food52;  it was a contest winner for good reason.  To read the recipe does not begin to describe how delicious this is.  You have to make the yogurt sauce to go with it.  Don’t skip that step, Catherine.  (I hate it when she doesn’t follow the recipe.)  The caramelized onions add such depth of flavor to the lentils and rice and  it’s made even better with the addition of the yogurt sauce that is cool, bright and sultry, like me.  It’s the perfect combination of flavors that make it utterly satisfying without being too heavy.  Like me.DSC_0036
I also roasted eggplant and cauliflower and tossed it with some kale sautéed  with ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and a little curry powder, to serve alongside the mujaddara.   This would also be a great to make ahead meal to be packed up for lunch for a few days.  Just don’t forget to pack the yogurt sauce, Catherine.  Sheeesh!
-Andra
Mujaddara  by Rivka from Food 52
3/4 cups Puy lentils (aka French lentils, the tiny dark brown ones)
1 teaspoon salt, divided1 cup jasmine rice2 tablespoons butte3 tablespoons olive oil6 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), halved and thinly sliced
For the yogurt
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin (freshly ground, if possible)1/2 teaspoon coriander (freshly ground)1/2 teaspoon spicy paprika or aleppo pepper3 tablespoons chopped fresh mintJuice and zest of half a lemon1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside. Rinse pot.Add rice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups water to the pot, set over medium heat, and bring to a boil. When water begins to boil, cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 17 minutes (the tried-and-true Amanda Hesser method!) until perfectly cooked. Remove from oven, uncover, and fluff with a fork. Set aside.While rice cooks, set a wide, deep sauté pan over medium-low heat and add butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has mostly melted, add onions and toss to incorporate with butter and oil.  After 5 minutes, onions will have softened slightly and started to release their liquid. Raise heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes more, until onions are very soft and browned. Add water by the tablespoon if pan gets too dry or if onions start to stick. When onions are well browned, add last tablespoon of olive oil and raise heat to high. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until bottom layer of onions has charred and crisped; try not to stir too much, or onions won’t crisp up.Combine rice, lentils, and most of the onions in large serving bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes, to marry the flavors together. (Truth be told, this dish improves with age.) Taste, and add more onions if desired.Meanwhile, make the yogurt: mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. (Yes, it’s really that simple.)If mujaddara has cooled significantly, reheat in a low oven or even in the microwave for a couple minutes. To serve, plate a big scoop of mujaddara and top with a dollop of yogurt.

“Sipping Chicken Soup with Rice”

Chicken Soup January

In January it’s so nice, 

While slipping on the sliding ice,

To sip hot chicken soup with rice.

Sipping once,

sipping twice, 

Sipping chicken soup with rice.
                                        -Maurice Sendak

Make this soup and chant this poem while you enjoy.   Every month, my son’s first grade class acts out the poems from this very fun book, Chicken Soup with Rice  A Book of Months by Maurice Sendak.   The first time I made this recipe, his 6 year old best friend came over for dinner and we sang this poem as we ate.  Our guest was so polite he told me that he loved mushrooms but I later found out from his mom that he actually wasn’t very fond of them but didn’t want to seem impolite.   With manners like that, he is assured an invitation to dinner any time he wants.

With or without mushrooms, this is a really good recipe.  Don’t leave out the vermouth!  It’s a great weeknight meal but could easily be dressed up for a more elegant affair.  Chanting in a formal dining room though might scare your guests.

-Andra

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Chicken and wild rice soup 

3 tablespoons of butter

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1/3 cup flour

6 cups low sodium chicken broth

6 ounces of baby bella mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices

4 cups cooked wild rice

1 1/2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts, roasted and then shredded

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons of vermouth

1- 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in the bottom of a large heavy dutch oven.  Add the onion and celery and cook until translucent.  Add the flour and stir to coat.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and cream.  Add the rice, chicken and mushrooms salt and pepper and vermouth and cook over medium heat until the soup has thickened slightly, 20 minutes or so,  but do not boil. Check for seasoning and serve.

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