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.

BLNJTA w/ BM

I didn’t realize what an unfortunate acronym that title would be until right at the very end.  If you didn’t already know, “BLNJTA w/ BM” stands for a “Bacon, Lettuce, New Jersey Tomato and Avocado Sandwich with Basil Mayonnaise”.

A classic BLT is delicious, but when you use fresh Challah bread and add New Jersey tomatoes, avocado and fresh basil mayonnaise, it’s even better.

I meant to add “slight toasted” to the list above.  You can decide if that’s how you prefer your bread or your chef.

– Catherine

Carbonara

We had classic carbonara last night.  Back when I used to work in a cubicle and would e-mail back and forth with Andra, mostly about dinner, I always thought it was so ironic when spell check would offer “coronary” as the correct spelling for “carbonara”.  Maybe my work computer was trying to tell me something about the health pitfalls of eating too much carbonara.

One pound of spaghetti, half a package of bacon*, three eggs, one cup of parmesan and a half cup of pasta water and “Presto.”  (Is that Italian for “Voila”?)  Anyway, after making this a few times and scrambling the eggs, now I can make a silky carbonara that makes you forget all about your judgemental computer.

* Years ago, I would buy Pancetta for carbonara.  I also bought facial moisturizer at department stores.  And used hundred-dollar bills as kindling.  I could tell you that the decision to substitute bacon for pancetta was solely based on cost, but the truth is that bacon tastes better.

– Catherine

A Woman-Cooked Meal

Every once in awhile, when my husband has been on the road and eaten three too many fast food meals, he’ll call back and say, “I’m looking forward to a woman-cooked meal”.  It’s only funny because he isn’t a boorish oaf that would make sexist demands.  He’s the exact opposite of that.  I know that this means he misses us and looks forward to sitting around the table with us for a meal not served off of a plastic wrapper.

I had every intention of coming up with something really special for dinner the next night but the day got away and before we knew it, seven o’clock rolled around and I was looking for dinner options.  I pulled out the oldest and easiest standby, a bag of frozen tortellini and a bag of fresh sugar snap peas that usually get tossed with olive oil and freshly grated parmesan.  The boys love it and I feel a little less mother’s guilt because it’s a couple of degrees better than mac n’ cheese.

Last night though, I had a total brain storm.  Instead of just olive oil and parmesan, I made a carbonara sauce to toss with the sugar snap peas and hot tortellini.   It was, in the end, a “woman-cooked meal”.  I may have gotten a little help from the bacon but isn’t that what Feminism was all about:  bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan and never ever letting him forget that he’s a man?  (Before you compose that angry comment, watch the awesome Enjoli commercial for the 24-hour woman.)

Carbonara Tortellini and Sugar Snap Peas   serves 4 

1 lb tortellini

1/2 lb of sugar snap peas, fresh or frozen

1/3 of a pound of bacon, chopped into small pieces

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup of freshly grated parmesan

1 clove of garlic, crushed

freshly ground black pepper

Boil a large pot of salted water.  When the water comes to a boil, drop in the tortellini until they rise to the surface and the sugar snap peas until they are crisp tender.

In a separate bowl, beat two eggs with the parmesan cheese and set aside.

While the water comes to a boil, fry the bacon in a large sautee pan with high sides, until the bacon turns golden brown.  Once the peas and tortellini are cooked, drain and toss into the pan with the bacon and bacon drippings.  Remove the pan from the heat and then toss everything with the egg and cheese mixture until all is evenly coasted.  You don’t want to scramble the eggs, just warm them with the residual heat from the cooked pasta and peas.  Add freshly ground black pepper and crushed red pepper if you prefer a little more heat.

-Andra

That’s a Wrap!

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Yesterday,  I had lunch at a great restaurant, Cafe Organic.  I was with my Crazy Cult from CrossFit so I had to eat something that kind of fit the Paleo Pyramid.  As much as the grilled chicken fingers on the kids’ meal called to me I decided on a wrap filled with tempeh, red pepper hummus, cucumber, zucchini, greek olives,  greens and some other healthy thing rolled neatly in a collard green leaf.  It sounds strange but it was so delicious.  I couldn’t wait to make these at home and I just so happen to have collard greens growing in my backyard.

A perfect segue for a gratuitous garden shot…

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My wraps do not look as pretty as the ones Cafe Organic make but they were so delicious that my son ate three of them.  He only stopped when we ran out of bacon.  Did he love the bacon more than the collard greens?  Yes.  But, he did eat three huge leaves of collard greens, raw.  I call that a win-win.  The wraps were filled with roast chicken breast, bacon, tomato, avocado and fontina.  This was served alongside roasted red pepper soup, one of our favorites and so easy to make.  Catherine talks about that here where she serves it with BLATs as we used to do.  But the collard wrap may have just put the panini press out of commission for awhile.

-Andra

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