Last Week’s Menu: Lasagna, Mac And Cheese & More!

In an effort to not only catalog previously attempted recipes, but also give a few hints, tips and anecdotes, here’s last week’s menu revisited!

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Cooking Smoky Vegetable Mac & Cheese And Grilled Marinated London Broil

Last week I came across Soup Addict’s Smoky Vegetable Mac and Cheese and just had to try it. While looking through the Hannaford circular I saw that London broil was on sale, so I decided to try Food Network’s Grilled Marinated London Broil and serve the two together along with some steamed corn on the cob.

Since the beef marinates for a few hours, I got that together around 1 or 2 PM, but it can sit for up to 24 hours if you don’t work from home. Later, when I focused on the main part of dinner, I popped the peppers — I went with a red bell and a poblano — on my gas stovetop and let them char. Once I got some good darkness on there, I put them in a bowl and covered to help sweat off the skin.

As is my custom, I cubed my cheese and tossed it in the food processor. The only other major change I made was including about half a cup of sour cream after enjoying the flavor it brought to the last mac and cheese I made to replace some of the milk. Aside from that, i followed the recipe.

While the mac and cheese cooked in the oven, I put my room temperature London broil on the cast iron skillet and cooked it to a nice medium rare (it was out for about 30 minutes before going in the pan).

To serve, I simply sliced the meat across the grain and served with the mac and cheese and ears of corn. The meal worked really well together, the meat was nice and tender with a nice flavor from the marinade.

I was surprised to see how much our three-year-old daughter liked the beef. I figured she’d be all over the cheesy mac, but instead the corn (which she calls a corn stick) and beef were the stars for her which is fine by me. Unfortunately, grilled meat tends to be one of the leftovers that winds up getting tossed, but in this case, she ate it all up within a few days while I finished off the mac and cheese.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

I’ve recently discovered a new food blog I love. It’s called Damn Delicious and the name says it all. While looking around for potential dinners last month (in other words, before the 80+ degree days started) I came across her recipe for Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I’ve been hearing about replacing some of the noodles in pasta dishes with cauliflower and thought it would be worth checking out. This way, you cut out some of the carbs of the pasta, but also get the added nutritional value of the vegetable in there.

Recipe-wise, I followed this one for the most part both times I made yet. (See the next paragraph for the biggest departure I made.) The first time I might have been a bit light on the sour cream and the second time I might have put a little more than half cup. I will say that I recommend going lighter on this one because the sharpness of the sour cream can cut through a little too much if you go over. I also used my favorite method for getting cheese ready for mac & cheese: I cubed it and pulsed it in the food processor.

I made one big addition to this recipe that I think made the dish even tastier, but less “skinny.” I grabbed two packets of the pancetta available in my grocery store and cooked that up in a small pan, just to get it nice and crispy. Pretty simple, right? Definitely. But, after removing the pancetta and draining off just a bit of the fat, I cooked the breadcrumbs in there. So, you get that great, salty pancetta taste in the dish which I stirred in along with the cauliflower and other ingredientse but also these pancetta-infused bread crumbs on top that carry those flavors throughout. When I made this recipe the second time I used bacon and it was still good, but I think I’ll stick to pancetta when making this in the future.

I’m sure this is a great recipe the way it’s written, but I’ve got to say, the added pancetta flavor mixed so well with all that cheese and the nicely cooked, soft cauliflower to the point where this is now my favorite mac and cheese recipe (and I’ve tried a lot of them). This mix of dairy products is also super tasty together, that strong cheddar mixes well with the right amount of sour cream and the bit of parm in there to balance things out. I could see some Swiss or Gruyere working really well in there too. All in all, this balance of flavors proved so delightful, that I’ve made this my new base recipe for all things mac and cheese. As an added bonus, you could easily use this and add in other favorite takes on the genre. I’m pretty excited to try the Ruben mac with this base.

One last nice thing about this recipe is that, in addition to it being delicious, it can also either use up pasta in your pantry or leave around just enough for another round of mac and cheese. As I mentioned above, I made this twice in two weeks because I already had the panko, sour cream and a few other ingredients around from the first time, so all I had to do was pick up some cauliflower and go from there.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.

Bonus Food Pics From Yummy Taco, Handsome Devil & Fiddlestix

yummy taco chicken and beef burrito

One of the more frustrating things about where we live is that there’s not a great taco place that we can run into when we have that hankering. There’s a nice Mexican place, but it’s sit-down and sometimes I want to just call in a bag of tacos and have my wife pick them up on her way home from work. So, we got pretty excited when we were leaving Target one day and saw a new place called Yummy Taco opening up soon. Well, the other weekend it was actually in business, we gave it a shot and all had pretty delightful food. Above you can see the chicken and beef burrito I had which was more of a giant taco, but who’s counting? I will say that this is a rather interesting establishment because everything about it screams “Chinese food place” from the decorations and staff to the picture menu above the ordering station. But, none of that matters when you realize they’re making their own tortillas on the spot and making killer food. It’s still not super close, but it’s nice to know there’s a solid taco joint nearby we can hit up while running errands.

handsome devil bbq

About a month ago, my inlaws came into town and watched our daughter while my wife and I went out for a nice Italian dinner around Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, they discovered a new barbecue joint we didn’t even know about called Handsome Devil that’s actually above an ice skating rink (that we also didn’t know about). We’ve actually got a lot of solid BBQ joints nearby, but I think this one will be tops on our list. Brothers has been so-so and Johnny D’s is a bit far away for more of a casual dinner, so Handsome Devil takes the top spot. I had the ribs and pulled pork along with some mac and cheese and onion rings, all of which were delightful. Plus, they’ve got a variety of local beers on tap which I always appreciate.

fiddlestix bangers and mash

And finally, I have to sing the praises of Fiddlestix once again. The above photo comes from their St. Patrick’s Day menu which, as always, was some of the best Irish food I’ve ever had. This is the bangers and mash which was so good I wish I could have it every day. The mashed potatoes had a healthy, but not overpowering dose of horseradish which made for a delightful side. Looking at this picture is actually making me hungry.

Wife Lessons: Mac & Cheese Tips

P1080907I’m not sure about where you live, but it’s been super cold in New York this winter. Like, super-duper-crazy cold. We’ve been lucky enough to miss out on more snow on top of the mountains and mounds already covering all the previously green spaces, but it’s far from comfortable outside. As such, I’ve been looking to comfort foods to help warm us up and keep us going as this winter continues to drag on.

As I’ve said plenty of times, all three of us are big fans of mac and cheese. One of our favorite versions is Rachael Ray’s Reuben take on the format so I naturally gravitated towards that recipe when coming up with a menu for this week.

Since I’ve already written about that recipe, I’ll skip most of the walkthrough this time around, but I did want to mention a few aspects of making mac and cheese that my wife clued me into, one that comes into play during grocery shopping, the other during the actual cooking process.

First, buy cheese ends. My wife gave me this tip after her mom told her about it. If your grocery store has a deli counter where they sell sliced meat and cheese, they probably sell cheese ends (what’s left over after you slice down that huge block). I headed over there when I went to the store, asked about it and the lady went back in the cooler and gave me a pound of cheddar and swiss chunks for under $5. I chunked the cheese, tasting a little bite of each of course, and then tossed it in the food processor and was good to go.

Second, you can substitute half the milk for water or chicken stock. For some people, the two cups of milk plus all the cheese can cause some stomach uncomfortableness. So, I try to cut it down by about half. I’ve used water before which works alright, but does cut the flavor a bit. This time around, I added in chicken stock instead and think it worked out well when making the sauce.

Bonus Food Pics: Gyro & The Mack Trucker Melt From P&G

gyroLast weekend, my wife, daughter and I went to the New Windsor Community Day event which was packed with various food vendors. If I’m in the vicinity of a good looking gyro (pronounced yee-ro), I’ve got to have one. I forgot to note the name of the place selling them, but I think they just do events like this and weren’t representing a restaurant. Anyway, this was a solid pita with meat carved from the spit and dosed with a good deal of tzatziki sauce and got the thumbs up. Even Lu dug the lamb, which was a bit of a surprise. p & g mack truck burger melt

The next day, we went to New Paltz to do some walking around. Before that, though, we stopped at P&G’s because I was jonesing for a beer or two with my meal. I decided on The Mack Truck Burger Melt which was described as, “8 oz. of freshly ground Black Angus beef charbroiled and topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, nestled in a grilled cheese sandwich.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t mix well with the press of coffee I’d had that morning, the two beers during lunch and the coffee I had afterwards. Also, I’ve got to say, the sandwich was a tiny bit bland, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, I not only want to try this again, but also want to make one of my own. Finally, the onion rings were killer!

 

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese


Our two year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But she’s all over it. In fact, the dish holds such a special place in her tiny little head that pretty much everything with noodles is “macos and cheese” to her. As such, I’ve been looking around for various ways of cooking mac and cheese and seem to not be doing a great job of it. The general problem I keep running into is that cheddar’s just not doing it for me on the creamy scale. I’ve got to come up with something else to throw in there that really brings that out, but until then, I’m keeping track of the recipes I like in hopes that I can return to them later on and really knock them out with a few different cheeses.

Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese is one such recipe. The only deviations I made from the recipe included replacing a bit of the milk with water (which is another factor in the creaminess factor) and I also ground up my own beef. Aside from that it was business as usual.

While I wished it was cheesier, the resulting dish was still super tasty. I enjoyed the bacon in there — adding one of the best foods to one of the best dishes just makes sense when you ponder it — and think the fresh ground beef added a fresher note, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed the faint hints at ketchup and mustard in the dish.

It might sound strange, but I’d really like to try this dish with more homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Beef and bacon from a local farm, some homemade ketchup and pasta and even some local cheese. I think you could have something really special and hearty hear with a few alterations.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

After seeing Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Saltimbocca, I decided to stick with a theme and look around at some of her other recipes on Food Network. I also came upon a nice sounding pasta called Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes that I tried and knocked out of the park. The only change I made to the ingredient list, aside from a few measurements that didn’t quite match up, was switching the sausage from hot Italian to sweet Italian, one that better suited our tastes.

As you can see, the recipe is actually pretty simple, just tossing the ingredients into the pot at different times and letting them do their thing. I always try to consolidate the number of plates or dishes on my counter while cooking, which meant I combined the sun dried tomatoes, chicken broth and wine in one measuring cup. I’d like to think that, in addition to being more efficient, this also makes the flavors more intense and mingled, but I have no idea.

By adding the mozzarella at the very end you go from a really great sausage and artichoke pasta dish to one that almost has a mac and cheese feel to it. Everything’s so warm and gooey and sweet and and tangy that it really is a party in your mouth, one I hope to have again soon.

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Reuben Mac & Cheese

I love a good mash-up, that old peanut butter and chocolate two great tastes that taste great together thing. Give me a good comic book crossover or a movie that combines two of my favorite genres well and I’m a happy guy. That also translates to food, of course. I mean, if you like mac and cheese and Reuben sandwiches, why wouldn’t you like a Reuben Mac & Cheese?

I first had this dish, invented by Rachael Ray and posted over on FoodNetwork’s website, years ago when my wife was making dinners. She knew of my separate loves, saw this recipe and figured I’d like the combination of the two. Of course, she was right on the money and it has become a somewhat regular addition to our menu (as much as I repeat dishes, which isn’t all that often, really).

As far as the making of this dish goes, it’s not all that different from making any other mac and cheese. You’re cooking the pasta while also putting together the cheese sauce and making breadcrumbs. The newness comes in the ingredients, which include rye breadcrumbs that you make and the inclusion of spicy mustard, corned beef and sauerkraut which you can’t really see in that first photo. The result is the creamy goodness of mac & cheese combined with the salty brininess of corned beef and the sourness of sauerkraut along with the bitterness of the toasty rye bread crumbs on top. So, really, you’re getting everything but sweetness in this dish which makes it a real party for your tongue. It’s amazing how versatile of a dish mac & cheese can be!

I was glad that this recipe turned out so well because I also recently made The Neeleys’ Macaroni & Cheese and was disappointed. Even though it had crispy bacon mixed in the lack of  breadcrumbs and Swiss called for in the recipe really lessened it. So, it was a bummer that the recipe didn’t really do much for me, but on the positive side, it made me realize some key components in my like of mac & cheese recipes. I love the toasty breadcrumbs and that added crunch, it’s as much a flavor thing as a texture thing, but the Swiss cheese also adds a depth of flavor, an almost-sourness or bitterness that makes things a little funkier. I also learned that bacon can and should be added to mac & cheese whenever possible.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Mac & Cheese With Soubise

As I explained yesterday, I made what turned out to be a pretty great Second Christmas dinner for my family all from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ruhlman’s Twenty. In addition to the Leeks Vinaigrette, I also made his recipe for Mac & Cheese With Soubise (page 87). As regular readers — and anyone who knows me — will remember, I’m a huge fan of macaroni and cheese and have been since my Kraft’s Blue Box days. But, I also like trying new recipes and seeing how they compare to one another. I don’t know if I’m ever going to find one that will become the default version, but if so, this one might be up for the spot.

This particular recipe has four kinds of cheese involved including basic Swiss, sharp cheddar, Emmenthaler (which I’d never had before, but is another kind of Swiss) and Parmesan for the top. If you look closely at the picuture, you’ll see that there’s Asiago on top there, but I just grabbed the wrong block for the picture.

The major difference between this recipe and other ones that I’ve made is that you not only carmelize the onions, but also put the entire pre-cheese sauce in a food processor to whir it all together. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a recipe that’s similar to other ones I’ve tried. As always, I got all my ingredients as prepared ahead of time as I could, separating out spices and whatnot that would be added together. This all made the process a lot easier. Also aiding the process was the fact that I used the food processor to cut the cheese up, a trick I always use for mac & cheese and also got this whole thing ready in the morning. You can get 95% of the mac & cheese ready, refrigerate it and then pull it out when you’re ready to go. The only thing you don’t add before the cooling process is the buttered breadcrumbs. When we were ready, I got those together, put them on top of the dish and in it went into the oven.

The finished product had a very creamy, very cheesy feel to it. My wife heard somewhere that you can actually replace milk in a mac and cheese recipe with water. I’m going to try that next time I make this or any other similar dish. I just didn’t want to try it like that the first time as I was making food for a larger group than just the three of us. That is a lot of dairy as the recipe is written, so if that’s something that bother’s your system, watch out.

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Bonus Food Pic: The P&G Dip

p and g dipA few days after Thanksgiving this year, my wife, daughter, parents and I went to New Paltz to walk around and do some shopping. I was personally thankful for this trip because it gave me the opportunity to eat something aside from turkey. Don’t get me wrong, I liked how my turkey turned out, but I can only take so much of the same thing. We went to a place in town called P&G’s that we’ve been to a few times and always enjoyed.

I went with the P&Gs Dip and a side order of mac and cheese. The sandwich is described thusly on the menu: “Thin sliced roast beef with melted Provolone cheese on a garlic hard roll, served with dipping jus.” And it was just that! Beef, glorious beef with melty cheese dipped in beef juice? Yes, I’ll take that all day long. The mac and cheese was good too, but the real star of the side dishes we ordered were the eggplant fries served with marinara sauce. Holy crap, what a great idea that is and a great alternative to regular fries, especially when you’ve got a kid like ours who loves herself some fries. Gotta figure out how to make those at home now!

Cooking Martha’s Macaroni & Cheese By Way Of Smitten Kitchen

Macaroni and cheese is a real delight. Creamy cheese, starchy pasta and a myriad of other additions you can try. Heck, I even love Kraft Mac & Cheese and still make it for myself every now and then. But, sometimes you just want to dig into a steamy bowl of cheesy-pasta goodness without a lot else going on. That’s what I found and got when I came across Smitten Kitchen’s take on Martha Stewart’s recipe. The only changes I made to the recipe were using the remnants of a loaf of bread I had left over instead of white bread slices and not using Gruyere cheese because, much as I like it, it’s pretty pricey and I don’t make Martha money…yet.

I liked this recipe because you can do a lot of the prep work using a food processor. I threw a bunch of the stale bread I had in there for the crumbs and also chopped up most of the cheese that way. Aside from that, you don’t have to do much else besides measuring a few things out. The rest involves making the pasta and heating up some milk and other ingredients in which to melt some of your cheese. After that it’s just mixing everything together and tossing it into the oven. I used two different pans because sometimes I have trouble putting too much in a baking dish and get some spillage.

In addition to being a very cheesy, very tasty dish I appreciate how simple this is to put together. I also really liked how the buttered breadcrumbs turned out on top. They got just the right amount of crunchy, adding a nice extra texture to the dish. This recipe will definitely make its way into the rounds when I’m looking for a simple, great mac and cheese dinner.

Bonus Food Pic: Mix N Mac’s Cheese Steak Mac & Cheese

Several months ago my wife and I were in the nearby city of Middletown. While leaving the big mall there, I saw a tiny political-type sign jabbed in the ground for a new place called Mix N Mac. In a rare moment of my memory doing well by me, I remembered the name and looked it up when we got home. We actually haven’t traveled out to Middletown in quite a while, but we did last week and decided to check the restaurant out.

Here’s the deal, you go in, choose a kind of mac and cheese (click the link and download the menu to see all the options, they also have weekly or monthly specials), the kind of noodles, cheese and then it goes into the oven. I went with the Cheese Steak kind while my wife checked out the Buffalo version. We even got our daughter a kid’s size regular. I’ve got to say, the food was amazing. I tried all three and was impressed with how different they all tasted. With something like this, it wouldn’t be out of the question if everything kind of tasted the same, so I was glad that each one was different.

There is a bit of a problem, though. Since they make everything to order, this can take a long time. When we got to the place there were two people working and maybe four customers in front of us, plus several carry out orders. It took a good deal of time to actually get our food. The fact that the sun was beating in through the windows and our daughter didn’t want to sit still made for something of a bad experience. But then we got the food and all was forgiven. So, if you feel like giving this place a shot — and I recommend doing so — call ahead and eat your food elsewhere.