Monthly Archives: December 2012

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

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This recipe was obviously created on one of my cheat days. My roommate introduced me to America’s Test Kitchen magazine a few months ago–I am officially obsessed. The particular issue she brought home was their 20 favorite american dishes–all the staples including my ultimate guilty pleasure, macaroni and cheese. There are infinite ways to make this favorite childhood dish, but rarely does it come out JUST RIGHT. With the whole premise of America’s Test Kitchen being that they’ve tested and tried every possible method for you and shared the best results, I just HAD to try their recipe. But I have to admit, I couldn’t even stick to their recipe as is. I have a habit of tweaking things even as I’m reading a recipe for the first time. My first issue is that they cooked the macaroni past the point of Al Dente, which I have been raised to believe is a SIN! According to the test results, they found that al dente pasta will release starch into the sauce as it continues to cook, giving the sauce a gritty texture, which makes good scientific sense. But I still couldn’t bring myself to intentionally overcook pasta. And I have to say, that my sauce was nowhere near gritty and the pasta was perfectly cooked. The verdict is still out on that one…

So after all, here is my own version loosely based on the results of their experiments. I would love to hear if anyone tries the original (found here). I will have to do that some dreary day when I am especially in need of some nostalgic comfort food.

The end result was a rich, creamy, decadent macaroni and cheese that I thoroughly enjoyed, not to mention, it was topped with bacon I just happened to have lying around. Yet I would still make some adjustments. This might be a lifelong venture for me to find a mac n cheese recipe that is just perfect. Though, I left the rest of it for my roomie to enjoy and she said it was just how she likes it! All in all, I’d say it was a success. My all-time favorite macaroni and cheese (and believe me,  I’ve tried A LOT of different versions), was at this wonderful gastropub in Cambridge, MA, Lord Hobo. I’ve come very close to replicating their heavenly cheddar, mascarpone and parmesan cheese sauce, but it still is not quite right. Don’t worry though–I will master it one day and I will of course share it with you.

Macaroni and Cheese (Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

(Difficulty-Intermediate; Makes 4 servings)

  • 1/2 stick butter, plus 1 Tbsp.
  • 1/2 pound organic pasta, I used organic imported Fusilli from Trader Joes
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 ounces Havarti cheese, grated or finely chopped
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 4 ounces parmesan, grated
  • 4 slices organic applewood smoked bacon
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

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Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente; drain pasta.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium-high heat. Add flour, mustard, and 1 teaspoon salt,  and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, slowly whisk in all but a 1/3 cup of the cheeses until completely melted. Add pasta to sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

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Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a medium skillet and add panko bread crumbs. Cook, stirring occasionally until the crumbs are lightly toasted, about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese and bread-crumb mixture. Broil until topping is deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile cook bacon strips in a skillet until crisp and crumble into pieces. Top macaroni with bacon crumbles. Cool casserole for 5 minutes before serving.

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Winter Salads

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I recently made two delicious winter salads I wanted to share with you that feature one of my favorite Trader Joe’s holiday items- cranberry crusted goat cheese! One is more low-carb than the other, but they are both primal friendly. The first is a spiced pumpkin, lentil and goat cheese salad adapted from Bon Appetit. If you want to cut carbs further and omit the lentils, toasted pecans would be a great addition to this dish.  The second is a cranberry, walnut kale salad I found on Pinterest, along with a great new healthy food website called Healthy Aperture. It is similar to Food Gawker (another winner), but focused on health foods. Check it out!

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Spiced Pumpkin, Lentil, and Goat Cheese Salad (adapted from Bon Appetit)

(Difficulty-Easy, Serves 4-6)

  • 3/4 cup French green lentils
  • 6 cups 1-inch pieces peeled seeded organic sugar pumpkin  (from about one 2-pound whole pumpkin)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups organic baby arugula
  • 1/2 log Trader Joe’s cranberry chevre, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar (the original recipe calls for red wine vinegar which I tried, but I preferred the balsamic with the rest of the flavors)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place lentils in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak 10 minutes and drain. Cook the lentils in a pot of salted water until tender, about 30 minutes.

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In a large bowl toss the pumpkin, olive oil, paprika, cumin, and salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Turn pumpkin over and roast for an addition 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

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Combine lentils, pumpkin, arugula, and goat cheese with the remaining oil on the baking sheet. Dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and toss. Top with more goat cheese crumbles if you desire. Enjoy!

Cranberry Walnut Kale Salad (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)

8 oz fresh organic cranberries
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons organic pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 oz fresh organic kale, stems removed and chopped
1/2 log Trader Joe’s cranberry chevre, crumbled
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallot
salt & pepper to taste

Heat fresh cranberries, water and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it come to a boil and once the first cranberry pops, simmer for about 5 minutes until all the cranberries pop open. Place in a blender and puree till smooth. Add the vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and blend. Add the olive oil and blend again. Add more salt and pepper as desired.

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Toss the kale in a bowl with walnuts,  shallot, and goat cheese crumbles. Serve with cranberry dressing.

Pulled Pork Shepherd’s Pie

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This is one of those traditional dishes that everyone seems to have eaten that I didn’t try until I was an adult. It just wasn’t something my parents made growing up, but it is a wonderfully hearty savory meal for cold weather. Oddly enough the first time I ever made and tried Shepherd’s pie it was a vegetarian version I happened to see from Rachael Ray on the Food Network. I absolutely love the flavors of this meatless dish, but since I’ve been trying to add more protein into my primal diet, I thought it was about time I made a real shepherd’s pie with meat. I decided to keep all of the flavors I love from Rachael Ray’s dish and swap the mushroom filling for pulled pork. I guess I still haven’t managed to eat a real traditional shepherd’s pie with ground beef–the British would probably be appalled. Nonetheless, I love the flavor combination!

And for those primal eaters out there, I made the topping completely out of parsnips to eliminate the starchy potatoes. And if you want to truly stick to the diet, you can replace the higher-glycemic carrots and peas in this dish with lower carb veggies like mushrooms, kale or spinach, or all of the above.

Pulled Pork Shepherd’s Pie (adapted from the Food Network)

(Difficulty: Intermediate, Serves: 8-10)

For the Filling:

3-4 lb. organic boneless pork shoulder

1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt

2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. all purpose seasoning

1 Tbsp. paprika

1 large onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

3-4 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 organic carrots, peeled and chopped

1 lb. organic broccoli florets

1 1/2 cups organic green peas

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rinse the pork, pat dry with paper towels and rub in the salt and pepper, all-purpose seasoning, and paprika. Set the pork in a roasting pan, scatter the onion over the pork, sprinkle in four cloves of the garlic and add the wine. Cook until the meat easily pulls apart with a fork, about 3-4 hours. Add 1 cup of chicken broth every hour to keep the pork moist. Transfer the pork to a platter or cutting board. Use two forks to shred the meat. Save the juice from the pan for later.

This would cook really well in a slow cooker, but I left mine in Boston when I moved so I did it the hard way. But either will work!

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Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the broccoli, carrots, and the rosemary leaves and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the peas and pulled pork and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for 5 minutes more, then stir in the remaining garlic and season with nutmeg. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and the juice from the roasting pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few more minutes while sauce thickens. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large casserole dish.

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For the Topping:

4-5 organic parsnips, peeled and chopped

Salt

3 Tbsp. horseradish

3/4 cup milk ( I used unsweetened coconut but any type of milk will work)

3 Tbsp. butter

3-4 Tbsp. chopped organic chives

Freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 organic egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven broiler and put a rack in the middle of the oven.

Put the parsnips in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, over high heat, then salt the water and cook until the parsnips are tender, 15 minutes or so. Drain and return parsnips to the hot pot. Add the horseradish, milk, butter, chives, salt and pepper, to taste, and mash to desired consistency. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese and the egg. Top the prepared filling with the mashed parnsips, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and brown under the broiler for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve.

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Dad’s Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Turkey Meatballs and Vanilla Cream Cheese Cakelets with Raspberry Filling and Homemade Limoncello Ice Cream

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**Sorry for the delay on this–wanted to make sure it was just right since this is such a special family recipe. Enjoy! 😀

In our house we’ve always done two Thanksgivings- an Italian meal made by my dad because his family always celebrated with Italian food, and the traditional American Turkey dinner. I know, I’m pretty spoiled! This year Dad and I decided to make one of our favorites, stuffed shells with Spinach and four cheeses, and his staple turkey meatballs (how fitting for Turkey Day!). And everything was covered in his famous Pomodoro sauce of course.

We generally don’t eat dessert with our Italian Thanksgiving since there is so much delicious food, but since this was the first year I was home to spend Thanksgiving with my family in so many years I wanted to make them a special Italian treat- Limoncello Mascarpone ice cream with vanilla cakelets filled with raspberry cream. It was the perfect end to our Italian feast!

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells  (Difficulty-Intermediate; Serves: 6-8)

1 lb. large organic imported pasta shells

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 lb. organic baby spinach

2 large organic eggs, room temperature and gently scrambled

8 oz. Polly-O ricotta cheese (according to Dad, it MUST be Polly-O!)

4 oz. Polly-O fresh mozarella cheese

3/4 cup, plus more for topping, pecorino romano and parmesan cheese blend from Trader Joes

1 tsp. organic lemon zest

seasoned pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Don’s Pomodoro sauce (recipe below)

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add spinach one pound at a time until cooked. Be sure to salt and pepper the spinach as you go. Pour cooked spinach into a colander and drain ALL liquid. This is one of the most important steps so that there is no excess liquid in the stuffing mixture. Once the spinach is drained add to a large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta and eggs to the spinach and mix well. Grate half of the mozarella cheese into the bowl and add the 3/4 cup of romano parmesan blend. Season with seasoned pepper, coarsely ground sea salt, and ground black pepper to taste.

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Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook shells for about 5 minutes. They will still be very firm, but they will finish cooking in the oven. Make sure not to overcook the pasta or they will fall apart when served. Drain shells and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. We even added a handful of ice cubes to the colander. Spread a few paper towels out on the counter and place each shell upside down to drain all of the liquid that has collected inside the shells.

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When the shells are dry, use a teaspoon to stuff the spinach and cheese mixture into each shell. We placed the stuffed shells in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the stuffing flavors marinate and set inside the pasta.

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When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Ladle a layer of Pomodoro sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Place the shells in the dish and cover the tops of the shells in pomodoro sauce, the remaining grated mozzarella cheese and a handful of the parmesan romano cheese blend. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Don’s Pomodoro Sauce

4 cans official San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy (Dad won’t use anything else!)

1 Maui or sweet onion, finely diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

1/2 cup fresh organic basil leaves

crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste

Prep Work: The most important step in this sauce is preparing the tomatoes. It is important to drain as many of the tomato seeds as possible so as not to add any bitterness to the sauce. The San Marzano tomatoes are deliciously sweet, but the seeds will take away from their amazing flavor. Set a large colander in the sink and use a pairing knife to slice off the tip of the each tomato and drain its seeds. Add the seedless tomatoes to a food processor with the tomato sauce from each can and pulse a few times to combine. You want the sauce to be well-incorporated but still have a nice texture from the tomatoes. Next, add the diced onion and garlic to a small bowl and pour 2 Tbsp. olive oil on top. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Let this marinate for up to 3-4 hours before making the sauce for the flavors to incorporate and develop.

To make the sauce, add 1/4 cup olive oil, onion and garlic mixture, and a teaspoon of coarse ground salt to a large sauce pan. Heat on medium until onions and garlic are translucent, about 6 minutes. The salt will help to release the sugar from the onions, adding to the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Add your desired amount of crushed red pepper to this- I like my tomato sauce to be a bit spicy. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the basil for a nice fresh flavor.

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Don’s Turkey Meatballs (Difficulty-Easy; Makes 12 Meatballs)

  • 2 lb. organic ground turkey
  • 1 large Maui or Spanish onion, grated
  • 1/2 cup organic fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup organic ketchup
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 cup grated parmeggiano reggiano cheese
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan with olive-oil based cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and form 12 large meatballs to fit into the muffin the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The meatballs should be fairly firm but should still have some give under the pressure of your finger. Serve with generous amounts of pomodoro sauce and parmeggiano reggiano cheese.

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Limoncello Mascarpone Ice Cream (slightly adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen)

(Difficulty- Intermediate; Makes about 1 quart)

  • 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Limoncello Licquer
  • juice and zest of 2 small lemons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, whip the Mascarpone cheese with 1/2 cup of the milk until smooth.  Add the remaining milk and the rest of the ingredients and whip until very well blended.  Taste and adjust sugar and lemon zest as desired.

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Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, until well chilled.  After mixture has chilled, whisk it until smooth, then pour through a mesh strainer to strain out the lemon zest.  Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions of your ice cream maker.  Transfer to a container and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Cakelets with Raspberry Cream Filling (adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen)

(Difficulty- Easy; Makes 8 or 9 cupcakes)

  • 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup Penzey’s Raspberry Enlightenment
  • 1 small carton fresh raspberries
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a cupcake pan with non-stick baking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held mixer, beat the 6 oz. cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down a few times, until very light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly.  Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.  Batter will be very thick. Add batter to cupcake pan.  Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

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Meanwhile, make the raspberry filling by mixing remaining 2 oz. cream cheese, raspberry enlightenment and confectioner’s sugar on high with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add to a piping bag. When cupcakes are cool use a serrated knife to cut the tops off and pipe the filling onto the surface. Replace the top half of the cake and drizzle with more raspberry enlightenement sauce. Serve with limoncello mascarpone ice cream and fresh raspberries.

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Homemade Holiday Wreath

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While I was home for Thanksgiving my mom wanted me to put together a holiday wreath for the front door. She had picked out all of the adornments and bought a plain pine wreath at Michael’s. I can’t take credit for the selection of decorations, but I thought I’d share with everyone. It was very easy and customizable to your own decorating preference! Would also be a great activity to do with kids.

What You’ll Need: (can find at Michael’s or JoAnn’s craft stores)

  • 1 unadorned wreath
  • green colored fastening wire
  • ~8-10 small to medium decorative items
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks

If you want to make a more modern wreath instead of pine, you can also buy plain metal wreath bases and add your own fabrics or materials to them to create the base of your wreath.

But for this one, I started with a simple pine wreath with some pre-attached pine cones:

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My mom picked out some cute Christmas ornaments to put on it, including a plush snowman and metal bell that I added to the top and bottom as the focus pieces. I then added some silk flowers, assorted cranberry decorations, glittery floral pieces, and miniature pinecones. I attached each piece using the thin green wire,which I laced through the metal base of the wreath and twisted to fasten. I also hot glued each piece directly to the pine to create a secure hold.

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Hang it on the door to bring Christmas joy to your friends and neighbors!!!

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