Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to make a succulent pot roast

Once the cool weather comes, and the leaves on the trees start turning their different colors, I get excited.  Not that I love cold weather, mind you, but I love cooking up huge pots of soups and stews and chilis, and roasting delicious concoctions in the oven.

Pot roast is one of them.

I mean, really.  What is not to love about it?  You get a large piece of meat, brown it, put it in a big pot with some liquids and veggies, and let it slow-roast in the oven for several hours.  And if you do it right, it's a one-pot meal!

And best of all, you don't really need a recipe.  Preparing a pot roast is more about technique than following a recipe.  Granted, there are many different ways of making a pot roast, and many different ingredients you can use, but this is my favorite way of making it.  And I can guarantee as long as you follow these basic steps, you'll be making your own delicious pot roasts in no time!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cozy Macaroni and Cheese

This is not the macaroni and cheese I grew up with.

In fact, it never occurred to me that I could make macaroni and cheese from scratch until Emma was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  Up until that point, I had always eaten macaroni and cheese from the trusty blue box, or frozen Stouffer's.  Even as a kid.  Neither were gourmet, but they were decent enough.

So when I began learning how to make it from scratch, I decided to use my Aunt Judy's recipe.  She's absolutely wonderful in the kitchen, and every time I eat this macaroni and cheese I think of her.  When the aroma of freshly baked macaroni and cheese envelopes me, it's like she's wrapping her arms around me.

It makes me smile.

While we often attribute the invention of macaroni and cheese to Kraft or Velveeta, this is definitely not the case.  Italians had been mixing different variations of fresh noodles, cheese, and butter together for centuries, and it was actually considered an upper-class dish for quite some time.

It is said that Thomas Jefferson introduced macaroni and cheese to the United States after a trip to Italy, in which he brought back a pasta machine, and most likely a recipe or two.  It is said that he introduced macaroni and cheese to the White House in 1802.

Eventually, recipes began popping up in household cookbooks with slight variations.

It wasn't until 1937 that Kraft introduced their boxed version of macaroni and cheese as a convenience food to the American market.  This revolutionized the way people at macaroni and cheese, and it soon became a family favorite because it was fast, cheap, and easy to make.

However, I must say that there is nothing better than to make macaroni and cheese from scratch.  It's comfort in a bowl.  Along the way I have learned some things to make it even better.

What Pasta to Use?
While elbow macaroni is a wildly popular choice for macaroni and cheese, it isn't the only pasta that can be used for this dish.  You can actually use any tubular (I love that word) pasta.  Try experimenting with different types... corkscrews, rotini, penne, shells...anything that has a large surface area and ridges or holes to soak up as much of the cheese sauce as possible.  That's why pasta shapes like spaghetti don't work, the sauce slides right off.

What Cheese(es) to Use?
We all know that cheddar cheese is the go-to cheese for this dish.  But again, experiment with different cheeses.  However, you want the cheese sauce to be creamy, not lumpy, so it is important to choose the right type of cheese.  Hard cheeses like cheddar and Gruyere are the best because they melt evenly.  You can use Parmesan in small amounts.  Soft cheeses are not good at all for macaroni and cheese because are either stringy or won't melt at all.

Click here for printable recipe (Word document)

The Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine (1 stick)
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour**
2 cups of milk
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (or the equivalent of different cheeses)
1 lb (16 ounces) dried pasta**
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

1. First things first, you need to boil your pasta.**  Don't forget to salt the water.  While the pasta is cooking, you can continue on with the roux.

2. To make the roux, melt the butter in a saucepan, then steadily add in the flour**, whisking constantly so that it doesn't clump.  Continue stirring until the butter and flour mixture  becomes golden brown.

3. Stir in the milk, making sure you don't stop whisking.  You don't want to burn your milk!  Stir until thickened.  You now have your white sauce!  This should only take a few minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the stove burner and stir in the cheeses.  Now you have your cheese sauce!

5. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until all the pasta is coated evenly.  Pour the pasta in to the casserole dish, sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, and pop it in the oven for about 25 minutes.  Just until the top browns and the sides bubble.

You'll know its done when you smell the creamy goodness and your belly growls in anticipation.

** To make gluten-free, I use my basic gluten-free all-purpose flour, and Tinkyada Gluten-Free Pasta.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The best way to pan-fry a steak

Okay, this may not be the best way, but this is the way I always do it, and it always produces a beautiful, tender, mouth-watering steak.  And I have a feeling once you give it a try, you'll find that there is no reason to head to the local steak house when you can make a fabulous dinner at home in under half an hour.

Here's how you do it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chocolate Chip Brownies

What happens when you combine two of the most favorite desserts out there?

Meet, the Chocolate Chip Brownie.  Part chocolate chip cookie.  Part brownie.  100% delicious.

I found this idea on the back of a box of something...I think it was a boxed Betty Crocker brownie mix.  I can't remember.  But it looked extremely unhealthy, so I figured I'd make it.

Now, you can choose to make this one of two ways.  You can do like me, and use boxed mixes**.  Or, you can make your own brownie and chocolate chip cookie mix from scratch.  Whichever way you prefer.

However you choose to make it, the procedure is still the same.

First, you want to prepare both the brownies and chocolate chip cookie dough.  Then, pour the brownie mixture into a prepared baking dish.  Then take about a tablespoon of the cookie dough...

...and plop it on top of the brownies, like this:

You see my neat baking dish?  For Christmas one year my parents got me two of these square muffin pans and I love them.  They make perfectly portioned brownies and cakes.  If you are interested in buying you own, they got them from Kohls.  But I am sure you can find them online or at any other store.

Anywho, bake the brownies according to the package/recipe directions.  Now you will notice that you have some left over cookie dough.  Perfect for making some cookies!

The brownies will come out looking like this:

Once they are cooled, you can frost and enjoy!

Now go bake your own batch.  You'll thank me later.  You're welcome.

**I made these gluten-free by using the Gluten-Free Betty Crocker mixes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nigella's Chocolate and Peanut Granola

I have a hard time getting Peter to eat breakfast during the week.  He doesn't take the time to eat breakfast before he goes to work, so it is up to me to find easy things he can eat at his desk.  Else, he would skip breakfast altogether.

This easy granola recipe from Nigella Lawson (whom I have recently fallen in love with), fits the bill completely.  It is easy to make and easy to transport and snack on at a desk.