Yvonne’s “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese

My Facebook friend Yvonne, a fellow schnauzer-lover and accomplished home chef, recently posted her latest mac and cheese dish to our closed foodie group.  The key to its deliciousness, besides her skill in the kitchen, was Beecher’s Flagship cheese.  Handmade in Seattle, available at retail if you can find it, for about $25/lb, or by mail order with shipping costs that can double the cost of a pound.  There’s also a milder jack cheese component, and a surprising touch of both garlic powder and chili powder.

Upon seeing the photos Yvonne posted of ingredients, recipe on the package, and finished dish, I was determined to find a suitable substitute and try this out myself.  Seeing that Flagship is a combination of nutty-flavored Gruyère and cheddar, I searched – where else – but at Trader Joe’s for some excellent cheese stand-ins.

Mission accomplished, my cheese en place included these:

 

cheddar &gryewre

quattro-formaggio

The rest was simple, and seriously rivaled by longtime favorite Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese.

WORLD’S BEST MAC & CHEESE

(adapted from Beecher’s recipe)

INGREDIENTS:

12 ounces penne rigate

6 tbsp unsalted butter divided

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 lb Trader Joe’s Cheddar & Gruyere cheese combination, shredded

4 ounces Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio shredded cheese

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp chili powder

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

 

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350º.

Butter a 9 x 13” baking dish.

Cook penne in 4-6 quarts boiling water about 9 minutes, until they’re cooked but still chewy.  Drain and rinse in cold water; set aside.

Melt 4 tbsp butter in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in flour.  Continue whisking for 2 minutes.  Slowly add milk while whisking and cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Add 14 ounces of the Cheddar/Gruyère, 2 ounces of the Quattro Formaggio cheese, salt, ¼ tsp chili powder and the garlic powder.  Stir until everything is melted and incorporated.

Combine pasta and sauce in the saucepan and scrape into prepared baking dish.  Melt remaining 2 tbsp butter and combine with the panko, the remaining cheeses and remaining 1/4 tsp chili powder.  Sprinkle all over the top.  Bake uncovered 30 minutes and let set 5 minutes before serving.

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This will serve 6 hearty portions with a salad for dinner, or more as a side dish.  Can be refrigerated and reheated or recipe can be halved.

Smoked Paprika Roasted Chicken Thighs

Thanks to Sam Sifton for posting the inspiration for this recipe on the NYT Cooking Site.  I’ve made it twice and my husband declares – “you have to make chicken thighs this was always!

Sifton’s recipe had butter in the rub; I subbed olive oil, upped the lemon juice, and added the pom molasses.  And rather than grill, I changed the cooking method to oven roasting to preserve all those lovely cooking juices for a reduced glaze at the end.

Easy enough to prepare with the spice paste and refrigerate hours ahead of cooking time, and then you’re free until revisiting your dinner for a little over an hour of mostly hands-off cooking time.  The beauty of this dish, besides the simplicity of preparation, is that the chicken thighs remain juicy and tender even after an hour of roasting, and also after reheating if you have leftovers.

Smoked Paprika Roasted Chicken Thighs

INGREDIENTS:

8 very meaty air-chilled chicken thighs on the bone, totaling 4-5 lbs.

1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika

2 tbsp smoked Spanish paprika

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp honey

juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon, rind cut thickly and reserved

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

4 cloves garlic finely minced

PREPARATION:

Either early in the day or just before roasting, cut off any excess flaps of skin hanging off the chicken thighs and season them with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt.  Combine all the spice paste ingredients (except for pieces of lemon rind) in a large baking dish and then rub the paste all over the chicken pieces, loosening the skin a bit to get some under it.  Scatter the lemon rind pieces around the chicken, then cover and refrigerate until ready to roast.

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Preheat oven to 400º and place the chicken, skin side down in one layer, in a large cast iron skillet.  You can add the lemon rind pieces or discard at this point.  Roast for 30 minutes, then turn over with skin side up and roast for another 30 minutes.  If skin needs crisping at this point, turn on the broiler for just a couple of minutes to get it the way you like.

Remove chicken pieces to a serving platter.  Reduce the pan juices over medium high heat to a piquant, syrupy sauce to brush or pour over.

This makes a hearty dinner for 4-6, depending on the size of your chicken thighs and your guests’ appetites.  Leftovers reheat beautifully.

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Served with oven-baked crispy fries and salad.

 

Kale, Sausage and Vegetable Soup

My husband and I just finished off a pot of this and he suggested I re-post for cold weather comfort.

ronilovescooking

Before kale started getting into everything from cookies to treats for dogs, there was kale soup – a hearty concoction that takes no special talent to prepare.  All that’s needed – the ingredients, a large soup pot, and the bit of time it takes to chop, sauté and simmer.

I combed the web for a version of this soup I recall from many years ago when our friend and neighbor Mariyln Fuller hosted a Sunday night soup party.  Damned if I can recall what the other two soups were, because that’s the one that stuck in my mind – I went back for seconds, forsaking the others I’d tried.  The taste memory was so intense that I knew it would be easier to reinvent it myself than try to find her version from an ancient issue of Gourmet.

And so it goes.  This makes a huge pot and can certainly be…

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Patriots AFC Lasagna

Go pats!

ronilovescooking

Anyone can put together a nice lasagna.  I’ve been doing variations on the theme since my early years as a novice cook, most memorably preparing a giant pan of lasagna as part of the two-day celebration for my husband’s graduation from law school.  Each time, a tweak here or there in the choice of meats, lasagna noodles, sauce or cheese has led to  another better outcome than those that preceded it.

A few years ago when our beloved/much maligned Patriots (depending on where you’re from) were once again playing in the AFC Championship game, I created this recipe for a lasagna that would sate our adrenaline-charged appetites.  As we look to yet another AFC Championship game coming this weekend, this will be on the menu.

The first key to this lasagna is the Trader Joe’s No-Cook made-in-Italy noodles.  No more hassles with those ridiculous curly-edged noodles of yore that would stick…

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Braised Lamb Shanks Cleopatra with Beans

Those of you who have been following my posts know how huge a fan I am of lamb, the other red meat.  From ground lamb to a whole leg and everything in between, I gravitate to the richness of this meat, especially when prepared with a Middle Eastern or Moroccan flavor palate.

Today’s preparation of meaty Australian lamb shanks is my adaptation of a recipe from “Cooking with Daniel Boulud”, for his Leg of lamb Cleopatra.  I use most of his spices and aromatic vegetables, and added pre-soaked dried cannelini beans to the dish to soak up all that meaty flavor.

It’s key to lay your lamb shanks in one layer, and for this my 9-1/2 quart oval Dutch oven is perfect for four.  If you’re preparing more, bring out that large high-sided roasting pan you use for your turkey and keep it very tightly covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil once it goes into the oven.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS CLEOPATRA WITH BEANS

INGREDIENTS:

4-6 lamb shanks, preferably Australian or New Zealand, weighing 12-16 ounces each

3/4 lb. dried cannelini beans (white kidney beans), soaked overnight in 6-7 cups water and 1 tbsp salt; rinse and drain before adding to your pot

Spice Paste Rub

1-1/2 T cumin

1 t cinnamon

½ t allspice

½ T coriander

¼ t nutmeg

½ T cardamom

½ t ground ginger

½ t ground anise

pinch of ground cloves

1 t black pepper

1 t kosher salt

1 small shallot minced

About 3 T extra virgin olive oil, enough to make a paste when combined with above spices, plus more for browning the lamb

Aromatic Vegetables – all coarsely chopped

2 medium sweet onions

1 very large shallot

3 large carrots

1 small head fennel

1 stalk celery

6 medium sized garlic cloves, or 3 very large

Braising Liquid

1 cup full-bodied red wine

6-7 cups beef broth

1 drained 14.5 ounce can diced or crushed Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, or 1 cup chunky marinara sauce

PREPARATION:

Combine spice paste ingredients in large bowl and add the lamb shanks, rubbing the paste all over.  Transfer to a large ziploc bag or other container and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350.  Heat about ¼ cup olive oil in very large Dutch oven or roasting pan, as described above, on medium high heat and brown the lamb shanks, in batches if necessary.  Remove to a plate.

Browned shanks

Lower the heat to medium and add all aromatic vegetables, sauteeing about 10 minutes.

Aromatics

Add the wine gradually to deglaze the brown bits from the pan.   Return the lamb shanks to the pot, laying them in one layer over the vegetables.

In the pot

Add the drained beans and cover all with the beef broth and tomatoes.

Covered with broth

Bring to a boil and bake tightly covered about 2-1/2 hours – lamb and beans should be very tender.

Remove all solids to a large bowl and reduce sauce over medium high heat to concentrate flavors.  Then return everything to the pot.  Serve immediately or refrigerate after cooling to serve the next day.

Finished dish transferred to roasting pan for serving – the shanks are smothered under the blanket of beans and aromatic vegetables.

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Organic Pork Osso Buco

Osso buco with lemon risotto is a meal that I first enjoyed at Mamma Maria in the North End around 1992, and has ever since been at the top of my list for company fare or special occasions.  It can, however, be an expensive undertaking when made with humanely raised organic veal.  But since I discovered Du Breton organic pork osso buco at Whole Foods a couple of years ago, I became an instant convert  to this more affordable and just as delicate alternative at a fraction of the cost.

Spending Christmas alone with my husband, this was the entrée I planned when I found this perfect meaty 2.2 lb. package at WF for just over $15.

25550386_10215077506681195_3879081192534026363_nTo complete the menu, we began with jumbo shrimp cocktail with my kick-ass spicy cocktail sauce, then home-baked artisan crusty bread, lemon risotto, sauteed broccolini, and apple-pear-cranberry turnovers, adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.

Usually made for company, I cut my recipe in half – which means you may revert to full recipe by doubling it.  This is adapted from a favorite Epicurious version.  Allow for one meaty portion per person – even with the bone, there’s enough there to satisfy a hearty appetite:

ORGANIC PORK OSSO BUCO 

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INGREDIENTS:

4 cuts of Du Breton organic pork weighing about 2 lbs, each tied with kitchen string

1/4 cup all purpose flour for dredging

S&P

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium sweet onion halved and sliced thinly

1 small carrot, 1 celery rib, and 1 clove garlic all finely chopped

1/2 cup each dry white wine and chicken broth

half the tomatoes from a 28-ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup halved calamata olives or other brine-cured olives pitted and halved

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 stems Italian parsley

2 strips lemon peel julienned

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/3 tsp black pepper

GREMOLATA GARNISH:

1-1/2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley mixed with 1 small minced garlic clove and 1 tsp lemon zest

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 325º.

Sprinkle tied pork pieces with s&p and dredge in flour, shaking off excess.  In 3-4 quart Dutch oven large enough to hold the pork in one layer, heat the olive oil and 1 tbsp butter ovefr medium-high heat.  Add the pork and brown well on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove to a plate.  Lower heat to medium, add remining 1/2 tbsp butter and sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic, stirring until onions are pale golden.  Add remaining stew ingredients, bring to a boil while stirring, and add the pork in one layer, turning once to coat with the sauce.  Cover pot and braise in middle of oven about 2-1/2 hours.  Remove strings and plate with the risotto, some of the sauce, and garnish with gremolata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montreal-style Bagels

My effort at producing multigrain bagels two weeks ago was less successful than I’d hoped (I deleted that blog post) so my challenge last Wednesday, before Thanksgiving, was to perfect a chewy bagel that would rival those from the best bagel bakeries of my youth.

Once again I turned to a recipe from the NYT Cooking site for inspiration, and found a recipe for Montreal Bagels, chewy and with a hint of sweetness.  I was surprised to find the dough contained elements of a challah – sweetener and eggs – albeit in lesser proportion to the flour – and required only two very short rises before their boiling bath and baking.

I made several adjustments to the NYT recipe, making 9 large bagels versus 18 small ones, reducing the baking time to prevent burning of the undersides, using less honey in the dough  From start to finish, this took about 1-1/2 hours, and the verdict was unanimous – best bagels we’ve ever had.

 

MONTREAL-STYLE BAGELS

adapted from NYT Cooking site

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INGREDIENTS:

1-1/2 cups room temperature water

14 grams SAF Instant yeast (or 2 packets other instant yeast)

1 tsp sugar

2-1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk

1/4 cup vegetable oil + a bit more for greasing bowl

2/3 cup honey divided

5-1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour (or other bread flour)

3 quarts water for boiling

sesame and/or poppy seeds for sprinkling on top

TOOLS:

Stand mixer with 5-quart bowl and dough hook

A separate large bowl

Heavy wooden spoon or spatula

2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper

5-quart pot

A bread board or similar work surface

Kitchen scale – very helpful if you have one to make the bagels equal size

Large slotted spoon

PREPARATION:

  1. In the large mixing bowl of stand mixer, combine the water, yeast, sugar and salt.  Stir in the egg and egg yolk, oil and 1/3 cup of the honey and mix well by hand.
  2. Add 5 cups of flour one cup at a time, stirring by hand, and then knead with the dough hook to form a soft, supple dough (about 8 minutes).  Add remaining 1/2 cup of flour a couple of minutes into the kneading.
  3. Lightly grease another large bowl with oil and use a spatula to turn the dough out into it.  Cover tightly with plastic and let rest 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the 3 quarts water and remaining 1/3 cup honey to boil, then reduce and cover to keep simmering until you’re ready to use. Preheat oven to 450º.
  5. Punch down the dough and remove it to bread board.  The dough should weigh about 1300 grams.  Divide it into 9 equal pieces, about 145 grams each.
  6. Roll each piece into a ball, flatten slightly and poke a hole through the middle with your thumb.  Work the dough around the whole with your fingers to enlarge it and place the shaped dough on parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving room between.  Only 6 will fit on one sheet, place the remaining 3 on the other.  Let them rest about 15 minutes.
  7. Return pot of water to gentle boil and drop 3 bagels in.  They will float.  flip them over with a large slotted spoon and continue to boil for a little over a minute.  Remove with the slotted spoon, place them back on the parchment-lined baking sheets and immediately sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Repeat this process for all nine.
  8. Bake first batch on center rack of oven for 20 minutes, to a deep golden brown -then repeat with second batch.  Remove to a cooling rack as soon as each batch is done.

These keep well in a plastic bag in your breadbox for 6 days, or can be sliced and frozen.