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.

Pasta Puttanesca (a.k.a Slutty Pasta)

Now that I’m the mother of two young girls, I try to embrace the most innocent aspects of Halloween; the sweet girly costumes, the pumpkin crafts and the candy.  I know a time will come after the Jessie the Cowgirls and the Disney Princesses that girls their age will start to wear the “Slutty ____” costumes for Halloween.  (Slutty Nurse, Slutty Policewoman, Slutty Astronaut).  Hopefully, this will happen in college, when I’m not around to see it.

In the meantime, to fill the slutty void, we ate “Slutty Pasta” before Trick-or-Treating last night.  I really think Puttanesca has a bad reputation.  It’s supposedly named after Italian ladies of the night because of its ease to prepare (I assume after a hard night’s work).  I’ve always loved it because it’s the most savory, salty, spicy pasta on most menus and we almost always have the ingredients in the pantry.  I especially love it with shrimp, but last night I used a can of good tuna packed in olive oil.

Trick-or-Treating went fairly well.  We live in New Jersey and are so grateful for electricity. There was only one downside.  Not ONE Bit-O-Honey in my girl’s buckets.  Or pennies for that matter.

– Catherine

Pasta Puttanesca

1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed

1 7-ounce can good tuna, packed in olive oil (or 1/2 lb shrimp or 1/2 can of anchovies*)

1 lb pasta, preferably spaghetti (although I used penne last night)

Sauté the onion in about 1/2 cup of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.  Add the olives, capers and canned tomatoes with their juice and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Use wooden spoon or a potato masher to roughly crush the tomatoes.  Add the tuna and continue to cook and stir over medium heat until tuna is heated through and incorporated.  Drain pasta and add to sauce and toss to combine.

*If using anchovies, add them before the onion and cook until they disintegrate in the hot oil before continuing.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Pasta

We went apple picking yesterday and got this butternut squash for dinner while we were at the farm:

I used it to make a fall/winter favorite by roasting the squash and an onion and tossing them with hot pasta, goat cheese and pine nuts. It’s such an easy meal and probably my favorite way to use butternut squash, as you can see here.  Now we just have to find a way to eat all those apples.

Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta

1 Butternut squash, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

6 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1 Tbsp chopped rosemary

3 oz toasted pine nuts

1 lb dried pasta, preferably short

Preheat oven to 400°.  Toss diced squash and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan and roast until starting to caramelize, about 20 minutes.  While the vegetables are roasting, cook the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta water.  Toast the pine nuts in a warm skillet for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.  After draining the pasta, add the squash and onion mixture, goat cheese and pasta water and toss over low heat until the ingredients combine and the sauce thickens.  Finish with more crumbled goat cheese, chopped rosemary and the pine nuts.

– Catherine

Linguine with Fried Eggs and a Weekly Dinner Evolution

My husband ran the Wildwood Half Marathon here in New Jersey on Sunday morning.  I wish I could say that running 13.1 miles was something unusual for him, but he does it most weekends.  He just usually does it alone.  On the occasion when he’s running an official race, we treat it like a special occasion and do unusual things like skip Happy Hour and eat as many carbs as possible the night before.

We’ve talked a lot about what constitutes the best pre-race dinner over the past year.  Andra is convinced that the unique combination of complex carbs and protein in Polenta, Swiss Chard and Eggs makes it the best choice.  I’m convinced it should be meatless, but I still vote for pasta.  As of Saturday night, I believe we have a new winner.

I made a variation of Mark Bittman’s Spaghetti with Fried Eggs.  In the step where the olive oil is infused with garlic, I added a sprig of rosemary.  I didn’t have spaghetti, but I loved the heartier linguine with it.  I used five eggs for one pound of pasta and there was enough for the four of us with seconds and leftovers.

The run went so well that we didn’t skip happy hour on Sunday.

For dinner on Sunday, I made our weekly staple, “Quiche with Whatever You Have Without Going to the Store”.  (That’s the official name of it.)  We eat this often, as you can see here and here.   Here’s the rundown of the easiest, last-minute dinner (other than pasta) in my repertoire.

Preheat the oven to 375° and defrost the frozen (gasp), roll-out pie-crust.  Crack six eggs and whisk them with a cup of cream, salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg.  Roll out the pie crust into a pie dish, tart pan or springform pan.

Clean vegetables and sautee them in olive oil, butter or (best yet), saved bacon grease (that’s what’s in that tall ramekin).

Pour vegetables into the crust.

Top with cheese.  Any kind.  We like goat cheese.

Top with egg and cream mixture.

Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes or until the center is no longer jiggly.  Yes, I said jiggly.

Serve with salad.

– 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

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