I’ve tried a lot of macaroni and cheese combinations over the years but this one really stands out. Given that a basic macaroni and cheese recipe is forgiving of experimentation, feel free to change it up to suit your taste (or as is often the case, to make creative use of what’s in the fridge). Be assured though that this combination is pretty damn good!
I chose to feature Manchego cheese (Manchego is a spanish cheese from the La Mancha region) which is at once mild but not bland; it has a fully round, rich flavor which is both nutty and slightly sweet. Enhancing this balance of savory and sweetness, and lending a bit more aromatic character to it, I’ve added some vanilla to the roux. Providing a bit more kick, enough to add a slight bit of sharpness without overpowering the Manchego, I added a small portion of mature cheddar, as well as a white wine reduction which added a warm complexity to the dish.
Here is my recipe for the grandest of comfort foods, macaroni and cheese:
MUS•e•YUM Macaroni and Cheese
- 2 ½ c (9 ounces) dry pasta, I love Farfalle- it’s curvy enough to hold the sauce well.
- 2 ½ c whole milk
- 1 whole white onion, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 4 T unsalted butter
- ¼ c all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Manchego cheese, grated (about 4 cups worth)
- Mature cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
- 1 ¼ c White wine ( I had a Riesling on hand and enjoyed it in this recipe but I’d love to experiment with other wines, too )
- 1 t vanilla extract
- ½ c fresh bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare your pasta as directed until it is about half-cooked, soft and tender on the surface with a distinct bite still left in the center, say 5-ish minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside. Stir through occasionally so that it doesn’t start to stick.
3. Put the milk in a small saucepan and add half of the onion slices, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring just to a low boil over medium heat, watching the milk closely and stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t boil over. . . then take the pan from the heat add the vanilla. Let the mixture sit to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes while it cools off.
4. Step #3 takes a long time. So, while you’re waiting on the milk, get out a small skillet and sauté the other half of the sliced onions in some olive oil. This won’t take long, a couple of minutes, or just until they turn translucent and ‘yellowish’. Before they start to brown remove the onion from the pan and transfer to a holding dish of some kind.
5. In the same skillet, still hot from sautéing the onions, deglaze: turn the heat up, pour in the white wine, stir together with all the bits left from the onions, and simmer to reduce it down to say, ½ c.
6. When the milk has finished infusing, get the pot in which you boiled your pasta and in it, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until it foams up (it should not brown), 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the warm milk into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheeses until fully melted. Now, add the white wine reduction and the reserved sautéed onions. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, then gently fold in the pasta until it is fully coated with the cheese sauce.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over. Set the dish on the oven rack and bake until the macaroni and cheese is bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.
Here’s an approachably unusual, versatile, easy and quite delicious recipe for your next dinner party or …just a nice work-night treat for yourself. It fills any need for stand-in potatoes but elevates them to the star of the show. Your guests will want a copy of this recipe, no doubt!
1 1/2 pounds of your favorite potatoes and celery root, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
6 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Put all the ingredients in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and stir until combined.
2. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring once or twice, until potatoes are tender, about an hour and 15 minutes. Then raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and cook until potatoes are crusty, brown and tender, about 15 minutes longer.
Serves about 4 as a side dish.
P.S. I served the cinnamon roasted potatoes and celeriac on Christmas day with the following menu:
honey baked ham
home-made macaroni and cheese (manchego cheese, white wine rue)
green beans tossed with roasted fennel, shallots and currants.
–who says eating healthy has to be boring, time-consuming, or hard?? If you’re looking for something fast and easy and healthy to prepare for a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I have a great recipe for you. I found this one on Food 52 last week and made it for a potluck dinner. It was a hit! and don’t wait til Thanksgiving to prepare it. It’s easy enough to mix up the ingredients for a quick and healthy dinner any season of the year.
((MUS•e•YUM note: I altered the recipe below by adding the following: parsnips, radishes and FENNEL, and the result was really good. With this recipe the idea of the “mix of veg” is the important thing, but the components are really up to you. Support your local farmers! Go to your nearest farmer’s market, have fun filling up your bag and experiment! ))
- 2 cups of peeled and cubed winter squash, cut into ¾” dice
- 2 cups cubed thin-skinned red, white and/or Yukon gold potatoes (preferably a combination), cut into ¾” dice
- 2 cups trimmed and halved Brusslies (Brussels sprouts)(measured after cutting)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt
- 3 large shallots, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cup)
- 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 medium bay leaves (preferably fresh)
- 3-4 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or more, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh marjoram leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash cubes and diced potatoes in 2 teaspoons of oil. Put them on a baking sheet and sprinkle on a pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, turning the cubes over and stirring briefly after the first 10 minutes. The vegetables should be fork tender and just starting to caramelize.
- Toss the Brusslies (Brussels sprouts) in 1 teaspoon of oil and a tiny pinch of salt and roast for about 15 minutes. If you like them softer and browner, cook them a bit longer.
- Heat a large skillet until fairly hot, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the bay leaves. Cook for about ten seconds, stirring, and then add the shallots. Cook over medium heat with a pinch of salt, stirring constantly. When the shallots are wilted and somewhat translucent, add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute or so.
- Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and, with the heat on medium, add the squash and the potatoes. Toss very gently to combine with the shallots and garlic. Cook over medium low heat for a minute or so.
- Add the herbs and toss again carefully and cook over medium low heat, stirring, for another minute.
- Add the Brusslies, and test for salt and correct, if necessary. Grind on fresh pepper to taste, and carefully toss again. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
- N.B. You can roast the potatoes and squash up to two days in advance. Cool thoroughly before storing in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator. The Brusslies do much better and retain their beautiful color when they are cooked within a few hours, at most, of eating. You can trim and halve them, though, up to two days in advance, provided that you store them in cold water in the refrigerator. Drain them well, tossing a few times in the colander to get as much moisture off as possible, before roasting. They can be slid in the oven on a rack directly below another one. Feel free to make up the entire dish, except the Brusslies, three or four hours before the meal, and then toss the Brusslies in at the end. This dish is best served warm, but it doesn’t need to be too hot. It’s also tasty at room temperature, if that works out best for you.
While L. manned the grill I had the opportunity to try two recipes I’ve had bookmarked for awhile, Tad’s Roasted Potatoes, by Amanda of Food52.com, and Sautéed Green Beans with Garlic and Herbs, by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.
Both proved to be solid spins on traditional dishes, packed with flavor and easy to prepare, better than any preparation of either dish that I’ve ever had. Be sure to check out the links above if you want to prepare them yourself.*
*NOTE: I modified the Green Beans recipe by using white wine rather than water. This was good but you might find it strong. . . use a combination of white wine and water that sounds reasonable to you. Alternatively, you might try substituting chicken stock instead of plain water. Second, I added raw almonds together with the raw green beens, and I heartily recommend you do the same!
One of my favorite ways to use up leftovers and clear out the fridge is to bake up a frittata, and the joy of it is it’s a dish that truly is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course every week yours will taste a little different, but the approach is easy enough to replicate. Preheat your oven to 400F and start raiding your fridge. I simply mix whatever I have on hand with about a cup of whisked eggs and pour it all into a 10 inch skillet (an oven-proof skillet, mind you.) As is often the case with just about anything, the frittata will be better when it includes some kind of cheese. I find that veggies with a low moisture content are best. Excess water sort of ruins the process so you should consider first roasting your peppers, and tomatoes especially, to dry them out before adding them to your whisked eggs. With everything roasted and chopped, next brown some chopped onions and crushed garlic right in the skillet, to create a flavor-full base for your egg mixture. Once the onions have browned, pour your egg and leftover mix on top; let the mixture cook somewhere around medium, undisturbed until you see some browning where the eggs contact the pan. This shouldn’t take long at all… At this point, put the whole (OVENPROOF) pan right in your preheated oven. After about ten minutes or so, your frittata should be ready. . .oven times vary so use your eyes to determine when it’s done. Don’t forget to use your oven mitt when you grab that handle to get the skillet out of the oven.