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.

Our new favorite thing!

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This has been a repeat meal over the last four months.  It’s healthy, satisfying but most importantly, so delicious.  It’s great as a side for a BBQ or on it’s own as a light lunch.  We have been laying slices of marinated grilled chicken breasts over the top for a quick and healthy week night meal that would be just as great on the weekend.

I have included the whole recipe as written but I tend to use whatever vegetables I have on hand or that look good at the market.  I have been making this salad when I have a few veggies in the drawer that need to be used up.  Don’t try to get away with using one baking sheet to avoid cleanup.   You want the vegetables to roast, not steam.  This will be your new favorite thing for 2013 and could get you off to a good start with that new resolution you made to eat more composed salads.

-Andra

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad    Gourmet September 2006

1 1/2 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)

1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and pre-heat oven to 425°F.

Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

Cook barley:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Make dressing and assemble salad:
Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well.

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Grilled Chicken Breasts

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 clove of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts

Combine the first seven ingredients and pour over chicken breasts.  Marinate for an hour.

Grill chicken breasts over medium heat for about 10 minute a side.  Slice on a diagonal and serve over barley salad.

Roast Chicken Bowl

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We eat roast chicken about once a week, which I’ve mentioned here, here and here.  Because we eat it so often, I try to mix it up by using variations on the basic roast chicken recipe, but chicken and potatoes with a side salad was becoming a little too routine.  So in a flash of laziness, I decided to skip the separate salad plates and plate my warm, lemony chicken and potatoes on top of a bed of spinach salad.  The juices from the roasted chicken, lemon and potatoes warmed the vinaigrette on the salad and wilted the spinach just slightly.

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And the contrast between the fresh lemon in the vinaigrette and the roasted lemon with the potatoes makes this the NEW winner, winner chicken dinner.

My kids still like their food separated, so their plates looked like this:

What the kids ate.

What the kids ate.

And, no dirty salad plates!  To reward myself for my ingenuity, I decided we deserved dirty dessert plates.

– Catherine

Roast Chicken Bowl

1 4-5 lb organic chicken (I use organic because I feel better about making stock out of the carcass that way)

1 1/2 lbs Yukon Cornelius potatoes (actually Yukon Gold, but Yukon Cornelius potatoes are much better around Christmas)

2 lemons

10 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Spinach and tomatoes for the salad

Vinaigrette

Juice from one half of a lemon

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Olive oil to equal two parts of the lemon juice

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.  Slice potatoes and one of the lemons into equal wedges and arrange in a large ovenproof baking dish (I use a huge Pyrex, because it’s dishwasher safe and I think laboratory equipment is sexy).  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and dried thyme (if using) and toss with your hands until evenly coated.  Add whole sprigs of thyme on top (if using fresh).

Rinse the chicken with cold water and add the other lemon (halved) and the rosemary to the hopefully empty cavity (make sure you remove anything gross before continuing).  Rub the chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle with lots of kosher salt and pepper and use kitchen twine to tie the wings down and the legs together with one long string, starting underneath the chicken.  Place the chicken on top of the bed of potatoes and roast for 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 150° (the temperature will continue to rise while the chicken rests).  After the chicken rests for at least 10 minutes, remove the breasts and cut them into thick slices.  Drizzle each spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette and lay one sliced breast and some potatoes on top.

A Fail and A Recovery.

My husband, who travels for his job often, was gone last week, on another hunt for a city not ruined by the internet.  When he’s gone, I don’t make a full “dinner” for myself and my girls.  When it’s just us, dinner is usually scrambled eggs with toast, chips and guacamole with ramekins of black beans, or our all-time favorite, pancakes.

I feel badly about what happened the night before my husband got home from this most recent trip.  I told my girls we were having pancakes, which they were obviously excited about.  But then I pulled what turned out to be a very uncool move by making ZUCCHINI pancakes.  These were such a good idea in theory, but turned out to be a terrible mistake, one which may have cost me my credibility with my kids for a long time.

I had just been to the farm stand and the zucchini looked so good, and I figured it was my last chance until next summer, so I made the first move in a sad chain of events and bought three.  I used a box grater to shred one of the zucchini and added one beaten egg, a few tablespoons of flour, some grated parmesan and panko breadcrumbs and then sautéed the pancakes with olive oil and butter until brown.  I gave the girls ramekins of marinara sauce to dip them in and I put mine on top of a pool of marinara.  With all those ingredients, you’d think they’d be great.  But you’d be wrong.

The happy ending of this story is that my husband was due back the next day (yesterday).  I think I recovered by making a family favorite, Chinese Five Spice Pork Lettuce Wraps.

Forgive this photo. My kids were so hungry from not eating the night before, I couldn’t get anyone to stop long enough to get a better shot.

Chinese Five Spice Braised Pork (adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Five Spice Pork Wraps)

1 2-3 lb boneless pork loin

2 tsp Chinese Five Spice seasoning

1/2 Tbsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (I use a microplane and frozen ginger)

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cover pork with chinese five spice seasoning, salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, sear pork with canola oil on all sides until lightly brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pork.  Add a little more oil and sauté the onions until soft, about three minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the pork back into the pot with the soy sauce, hoisin sauce and chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Cover and continue cooking in the oven for 3 hours or until tender.  Use tongs to shred the pork and serve with lettuce, rice, cilantro, scallions and more hoisin sauce at the table.

– Catherine

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Last night I made one of our favorite salads with roasted sweet potatoes, goat cheese, walnuts and leftover bacon.  I made a white balsamic vinaigrette and used spinach and arugula for the bed of the salad.

To make the potatoes, I cut three sweet potatoes (for four people) into cubes and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes.

We’ve been eating this for years because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand and it comes together quickly.  So imagine my surprise last night when my husband said it was delicious, but he may be allergic to walnuts.  It’s like I’m living with a stranger.

Next time, I’ll use pine nuts.  In the meantime, I guess I should get to know my husband a little bit better.

– Catherine

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