Classic Mac …… & cheese

Meals on wheels Mac

Creamy cheesy elbow macaroni hiding under a crispy crackly coating of panko.

Classic macaroni and cheese is one of those comforting dishes for a cool night.  I like to serve this with either cubed ham baked right in with the pasta, or alongside crispy chicken tenders.  Kids love it either way!

I’ve done recipes with the pasta cooked right in with the sauce in the oven; they are great, quick and easy.  But for comfort food, creamy and delicious, it is classic all the way.

You can use skim or whole milk in this recipe, either works just fine.  We used gluten free elbow pasta and it also works just great.

BREAD CRUMB TOPPING

  • 3/4 cup panko crumbs
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning

Stir crumbs & seasoning into butter until well coated.  Set aside.

MACARONI & CHEESE

  • 1 tbsp (plus 1 tsp table salt)
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • splash Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 cups milk
  • 5 cups shredded cheese, sharp or old cheddar works best

Grease a 9×13 baking dish

Preheat oven to 350

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 tbsp salt and the macaroni noodles.  Boil until just al dente and strain immediately.

Bechamel

Classic béchamel sauce ….. stir, stir, stir until it is creamy and smooth – so easy to turn into delicious cheese sauce for vegetables or this macaroni and cheese bake.

In the now empty saucepan, melt the butter, and stir in the flour, mustard, cayenne and remaining 1 tsp salt.  Whisk until mixture becomes fragrant and slightly deepens in colour, just around 1 minute.  Gradually add milk, drop in a splash of worcestershire, and keep whisking well so you don’t get any lumps and the milky mixture doesn’t stick to the pan.  Allow to come to a full boil in order for the thickening action to get going.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened and is the consistency of a thick cream.  Remove from heat, stir well and then add cheese.  Once cheese has been fully incorporated, add the macaroni noodles and combine it well.  (If you are adding ham cubes this is the time to do it)  Give the mixture a generous grind of fresh black pepper, to taste. (my grandkids aren’t crazy about pepper, so when it is for them, I’m lightly seasoning the pasta)

Mac & Cheese

Turn mixture into prepared baking dish and lightly cover with the panko crumb mixture.

Oven ready Mac

Ready for the oven, this classic dish will soon be crispy on top and creamy underneath.

Bake, just until you see the cheese mixture bubbling and the topping has browned.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

KFC – Korean Fried Cauliflower

KFC

Slightly spicy, slightly sticky and a world of deliciousness.  Welcome to KFC.

I can tell you right now, this is worthy of the time investment.  Hayley had mentioned this dish to me years ago, when she and Andrea had it in Vancouver.  I was intrigued at that point, and tried it in a few restaurants, without feeling the love.  (at least not the love Andrea and Hayley expressed)   We finally did experience that, in Mexico City of all places!  Fat Boy Moves is the name of a Korean restaurant there, and it had such amazing reviews we had to try it out.  We went twice.  This cauliflower is the one item that makes Grant say he could be vegetarian … me too.  Once we got home I went on the search.  There are lots of recipes out there, but none of them had the steps or the ingredients I thought it would take to get that taste experience you just can’t get enough of.  Finally, with a recipe sourced out of “Carbon Bar” (restaurant in Toronto) I think I’ve nailed it.  The sauce makes more than you will need, so just enjoy that, and use it on whatever you feel like.

(sidebar here …. I have no idea if this is authentically Korean, but we had it in a Korean restaurant, so I’m calling it Korean!)

1 head cauliflower

green onions (for garnish)

Cauliflower

BUTTERMILK MIXTURE

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 sprigs finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

FLOUR MIXTURE

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp baking powder

KFC SAUCE

  • 1 cup gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste)
  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

 

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it and add cauliflower florets.  Cook for only 1 minute, then shock in ice water bath and allow to drain completely.

To make the KFC sauce, combine all ingredients in heavy bottom saucepan and stir until it comes to a boil.  Reduce heat and continue to stir occasionally until it reduces slightly and becomes somewhat like a syrup.  (Should take about 15 min) Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  This keeps well in the fridge for 10-14 days in a covered container.

KFC Sauce

Whisk buttermilk with cayenne pepper, nutmeg and thyme.  Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 4 days to allow seasonings to permeate buttermilk.

Whisk flour and dry ingredients together.

If you have a deep fryer, set it to 350, if not use a heavy bottom, deep saucepan and about 8 cups of vegetable oil for frying.  If you don’t have a thermometer, stick a chopstick into the oil … if little bubbles form around the chopstick you are ready to go!

Put your buttermilk mixture, and your flour mixture into separate large bowls.

Toss handfuls of florets into flour mixture and shake off excess flour.  Using a slotted spoon, dip cauliflower into buttermilk and again, let excess drip off.  Roll wet cauliflower back in flour mixture again, to coat.  Place on plate.  Repeat until all florets have been coated.

In small batches, carefully place florets in hot oil.  Do not overcrowd your pot or the temperature will drop and the florets will stick together.  You don’t want either to happen!  Fry until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon to a paper towel line plate.

In large bowl toss fried cauliflower with about 3/4 cup of the KFC sauce until each is covered lightly and evenly.  Garnish with the green onions and serve immediately.

Prepare to be licking your fingers, looking for more, and already planning the next time you’ll make it.

Messy kitchen

Sadly, this is what my kitchen looked like by the time I finished. Was it worth it?  You bet, a thousand times yes, and I’ll be doing it again soon.  (and, I have no idea why the reflection out the window looks more like an apartment building and not like the tomato field it is …..)

Tart and Tangy Thai Pork Noodles

This makes for a quick and easy dinner, using one skillet (or wok), and just involves a bit of chopping.  As always, please please, taste your marinade before adding cornstarch.  If you don’t smack your lips and say yum yum, try adjusting.  Maybe you like it spicier?  – add chile flakes.  Maybe you like it more tart?  – add lime.  Any dish that has Thai in the title should be well balanced, with salty, sweet, spicy & sour in perfect harmony. Once you get that perfect balance add the corn starch.

Pork noodles

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb boneless pork loin,  cut into strips
  • tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • tablespoons soya sauce (reduced sodium)
  •  4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 1teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces rice noodles
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided use
  •  broccoli florets
  • carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • bamboo shoots (optional)
  • water chestnuts (optional)

Realistically – – – all the vegetables are optional, use whatever you like, just make sure you have a good assortment of color and crunch.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine hoisin sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, honey, cornstarch, sesame oil and red pepper flakes.  Remove enough just to cover pork and place in bowl.
  2. Add pork, marinate while preparing pasta and vegetables or up to overnight.
  3. Cook (or soak) rice noodles according to package directions, drain.
  4. Heat 1 tsp oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute garlic & ginger for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add vegetables and saute until crisp-tender (about 5 minutes).
  6. Remove vegetables from skillet and keep warm.
  7. Add remaining oil and pork mixture to skillet. Cook until pork is nicely browned.
  8. Remove pork, keep warm and stir in remaining marinade to skillet.  Cook until bubbly so the cornstarch is cooked through and thickens.
  9. Return pork & vegetables to skillet, add rice noodles, heat through and serve.

Garnishes:  sliced green onions, toasted and chopped peanuts and roughly chopped cilantro.

This dish works equally well if you want to make it a vegetarian dish, or decide to change up the protein, try:

  • sliced chicken thighs
  • prawns
  • seafood

We like rice noodles, but you could easily use any type of pasta you have on hand like chinese egg noodles or spaghetti noodles.

Grilled Shrimp and Cauliflower with Romesco Dipping Sauce

Cauliflower & Shrimp with Romescu
The first thing you need to know is that this sauce is A M A Z I N G.  Put it on your sandwich, toss hot pasta with it, fresh veggie dip or meat skewer dip …. it wins every time.  Today’s appetizer included these grilled cauliflower florets, lightly marinated shrimp and green onions.

Ingredients for Romesco

1 1/2 CUPS SERVINGS

  • 1 large roasted red bell pepper from a jar
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Pulse first 8 ingredients in a food processor until very finely chopped. With motor running, slowly add oil; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Romesco can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

romescu

To use as a dipping sauce, heat through until easy to stir and warm.

 

Shrimp and Vegetables

  • 1 head of cauliflower – cut into florets
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 lb jumbo shrimp – tails and shells on
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 bunch green onions

Lightly steam cauliflower until just tender crisp – be careful not too overcook it.

Season with salt.

In a large bowl, toss shrimp with vegetable oil and lime juice.  Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes.

Grill cauliflower, shrimp and green onions just until heated through (and shrimp is fully cooked) – try to get some pretty grill marks on there!

Arrange on a serving platter with the Romesco and dip merrily away.

 

 

Basil Chive Vinaigrette

Nothing smells like fresh basil – definitely my favourite herb.  Summer is the only time of year I make this vinaigrette, when the basil is plentiful and salads grace every meal.

Basil Vinaigrette 1

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 oz (45 g) fresh basil leaves (about 2 cups leaves)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup really good quality extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients, except for the olive oil.  Give it a good whiz, until all the herbs are bright flecks of green, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil until creamy and smooth.

Basil Vinaigrette 2

I really think this needs either an immersion blender or food processor to get the consistency.  If you don’t have either, chop herbs very fine and whisk it all up.

This will yield about 1 pint jar, and I’d suggest trying it in a variety of ways …

Basil Vinaigrette 3

salad dressing   ~   vegetable dip   ~   blend with cream cheese for a spreadable bread topping   ~   toss with zucchini ribbons   ~   brush over grilled chicken or seafood

 

Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing & Dip

This smooth, creamy and herb packed dressing packs a bunch of flavour into any salad – don’t use as much buttermilk and it doubles as a fan fave for vegetable dip (or chips, but who would do that????…)

P1090588

Served this year at the Wittal/Steli Family Reunion 2017, and it was a real hit.

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup mayonnaise (use the best quality you can find)

2 minced garlic cloves

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 – 2 tsp fresh minced parsley

1 – 2 tsp fresh chopped dill

1 – 2 tsp fresh chopped basil

1 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

just a few dashes of hot sauce

Taste and adjust for seasonings ….. everybody has different condiments, and the level of freshness of your herbs will also affect the taste.  I think I went through a whole serving of salad dipping lettuce leaves in and adjusting for taste!

 

Blend everything together really well and allow to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours before using.  This keeps really well for a week or so in the fridge.

Pancake Mix

I love this mix, tastes great and made up ahead of time, it is just as easy as buying a premix package, but tastes way way better!

Pancake Mix

(Makes 4 batches of pancakes)

Ingredients

4 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

Directions

1. Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl and store in an airtight container or zip-close plastic bag.

2. Tape pancake instructions to the dry mix receptacle.

To make the pancake (to serve 4 people)

1. Scoop one cup of dry pancake mix into a bowl.  Add one egg, one cup of milk and one tablespoon of melted butter. Whisk until smooth.

2. Preheat a pan or griddle over medium high heat until 375 F. Grease the pan with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

3. Pour the batter onto the preheated pan or griddle by 1/4 cup measures (or any size you like) and cook until bubbles appear on the surface of each cake. Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes, until the second side is golden brown.

(If you like blueberry or banana pancakes, drop the fruit onto the pancake as soon as you have it on the surface of the pan.)

4. Serve immediately with toppings of your choice like butter, maple syrup, powdered sugar and fruit.  Sloan and I like our pancakes with a little brown sugar sprinkled over, then a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.