Category Archives: in the kitchen

Mary Catherine’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Mary Catherine, though she doesn’t blog regularly, seems to be taking over my blog with all of her great articles. A few weeks ago she shared her do-it-yourself guide to Weight Watchers, and today I’m sharing her best macaroni and cheese recipe, according to her husband.

The original recipe for this was Alton Brown’s baked macaroni and cheese, but I changed it quite a bit because of our food preferences and what we had on hand.  I don’t like buying spices that I will only use in one recipe.

What you will need:

1 lb. box of rotini pasta (we just like rotini better, even though I know it’s not traditional macaroni)
6 slices of bacon
2 cups frozen peas (I usually just estimate by about half of small bag)
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
1 tbsp. dried mustard powder (I did buy this specifically for this recipe, but it’s worth it)
hot sauce (I usually add just a little for some extra flavor)
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups shredded cheese + a little extra for the topping (we use mild cheddar)
1 cup breadcrumbs tossed with a little bit of melted butter (how much you need will depend on how thick you like your crust and the dimensions of your pan; we use the Pepperidge Farm herb flavored kind; I would highly recommend them)

What you will do:

Cut the bacon into small squares and cook over medium high heat until brown and crispy.
Remove bacon from the pan and drain the fat.  There is no need to wash this pan or use another one.  Fewer pans, fewer dishes.

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, slowly add the 3 tablespoons of flour.  You may not use all 3, or you may need more.  If you’ve never made a roux before, it can be frustrating the first time.  You’re basically cooking the flour.  Once you have the butter/flour combined, keep it moving until it’s cooked to a dark yellow/blond color.  It will start to smell a little nutty.

Now is probably a good time to start the water for your pasta and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the roux is at the right color, slowly add the 3 cups of milk.  Keep it moving.  Using a whisk here really helps to break up the roux and incorporate it into the milk.  Room temperature milk works best, because if you add milk that is too cold too fast the roux will seize up into one giant clump. Even if this happens, it’s OK.  Just strain it out, dump it, and continue to make the sauce.  The difference is just in the thickness of the finished product.

Keep stirring the milk/roux regularly and let it heat over medium low temperature.  Add salt, pepper, mustard powder and hot sauce at this point.

Once the milk has warmed and thickened (usually about 10-15 minutes), add the shredded cheese.  Stir it in until it’s mostly melted.

Now add the cheese sauce to the cooked, drained pasta and mix it all together.  Throw in the bacon and frozen peas (no need to thaw them out before this point; they will cook in the oven) and combine.

Pour the entire mixture into your casserole.  On top, add a small layer of shredded cheese.  Then sprinkle the butter-coated bread crumbs on top of the cheese.

Stick it in your oven and let it go.  Cook time will depend on the dimensions of your casserole.  Ours is really tall/narrow, so it takes a little bit longer to cook than if you were using a shallow dish.  I think I usually cook mine anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes.  I just check it after 20 minutes and pull it out when it’s golden brown and bubbly.

We just eat this by itself.  It also reheats really well for lunch the next day.

Thanks, Mary Catherine! Christian and I thought we had found the most delicious mac-and-cheese recipe, but we might have to try yours before we say that for sure.


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Bacon Zucchini and the Big Fight

I’m sad to say that Christian and I had a pretty big fight yesterday.

It all started on Saturday when we decided we wanted to make chicken fingers, spicy macaroni and cheese and some sort of vegetable for lunch on Sunday.

We went to Publix and decided on zucchini for our vegetable. At some point that evening I mentioned that we could use up some of the bacon we had bought for a previous recipe and put it in the zucchini. I was excited about this idea, because it revealed some sort of creativity on my part, something I’ve been hoping will appear as I cook more. Christian said that instead, we could put the bacon in the macaroni.

Fast forward to Sunday after church. I’m shredding cheese for the macaroni while Christian washes up some dishes. I asked him if he wanted to get together the other ingredients for the macaroni.

“Sure,” he said. “Should I start on the bacon?”

“Oh,” I replied, forgetting I hadn’t filled him in one what I was thinking. “I’d rather just make the macaroni according to the recipe. And I really want to put all of what’s left in the zucchini.”

I was chopping up cheese, so I couldn’t see his face. He didn’t respond. I thought nothing of it.

A few minutes later the bacon came up again, and I realized maybe I’d missed something.

“Are you really disappointed?” I asked him.

He nodded and proceeded to defend his idea that the bacon should go in the macaroni.

In the end, we put half in the bacon, and half in the macaroni.

So ended The Big Fight.

(When it was over, he said, “Do you realize how funny this would sound to someone else? That we actually fought about bacon? And it wasn’t even a fight?”)

Turned out that putting bacon in both was a good choice. It enhanced the macaroni, and it made the zucchini delicious. Not that I was surprised – can you really go wrong with bacon?

I think this was the best zucchini I’ve ever made, and I was especially excited that I came up with the idea myself. It’s a small start to cooking independence, but maybe it’s a sign of better things ahead.

Bacon Zucchini

6 slices bacon
2 large zucchini
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil

Cut bacon slices in half. Drizzle olive oil in large saute pan and heat on medium setting, then add bacon. Let bacon get crispy on both sides. Put paper towel on plate and use tongs to place bacon on plate to cool. Discard bacon grease, leaving a little bit in the pan.Turn heat off.

While bacon cools off, cut zucchini into thick slices, then into quarters. Dice onion and garlic.

Crumble bacon into pieces and add back to saute pan along with onion and garlic. Turn to medium heat.

When onions are soft, add zucchini to the pan. Pour about 1/2 cup of water into the pan (enough so that the bottom of the pan is covered). Add about 2 teaspoons each salt and pepper.

Stir frequently and let cook for 8-10 minutes, or until zucchini begins to soften.

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Spicy Goulash with Tortellini

Christian and I love to cook together. We love sitting next to each other at the computer, examining recipes, and when we’re in the kitchen, we each have specific duties. I get out all of the ingredients, keep up with the recipe and watch whatever goes on the stove or in the oven. Christian chops vegetables and shreds cheese and washes dishes as we go.

This isn’t a food blog (clearly, because I rarely have awesome pictures). I just like to share recipes that I have personally tried and found appealing. Most of the recipes we use come from the Internet, but we commonly adapt them to  what we like, leaving some ingredients out and exchanging some.

This goulash recipe is from Rachael Ray. We have made it twice, although the first time it was not really this recipe at all, as we had chicken breasts and no mushrooms. It turned into more of a chicken and red pepper sauce – but it had tortellini, so it was still delicious.

We like our food spicy, so I added chili powder and hot sauce to Rachael’s recipe. This might be too much for you. If so, leave them out or let people add hot sauce individually when they get their plates.

The only reason we didn’t use gnocchi was because we couldn’t find any. We’ve made gnocchi before, but it was pretty time-consuming, so we stuck with the frozen packages of tortellini.

Spicy Goulash with Tortellini

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Chicken and Mushroom Goulash with Gnocchi

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ground turkey
1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 tablespoons hot sauce
Salt and pepper
1 cup chicken stock*
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
A handful parsley, chopped
1 package tortellini
(12-14 ounces)

Heat the olive oil in a  skillet over medium heat. Add ground turkey. Brown the meat, then push it to the sides of the pan. Add mushrooms, garlic, onions and peppers to the center of the pan. Add salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables about five minutes, then mix them together with chicken and season with paprika, salt, pepper and chili powder. Stir in chicken stock*, tomato sauce and hot sauce and bring to a bubble. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook five minutes, then stir in sour cream and turn off heat. Add parsley.

While goulash cooks, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt boiling water and cook tortellini. This takes about 3 minutes; they’re done when they float to the surface of the water. Drain tortellini.

Put tortellini in bowls and ladle goulash on top.

* Christian and I found that we really had to make a judgment call on the chicken stock. The mushrooms give off water, so sometimes it has enough liquid without adding the stock.

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Mom’s Chicken, Broccoli and Cheese Casserole

Whenever I think of comfort food, I think delicious, but fattening. So I love it when there’s a comfort food that actually isn’t too terrible for you.

My mom used to make this all the time, and it remains a family favorite. You can use ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, and you don’t even have to make a mess in your kitchen.

Chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole

2 chicken breasts
10 oz. broccoli, cut into small pieces
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup fat free mayonnaise
1 can low-sodium, fat free cream of mushroom soup
2 cups brown rice

Cook chicken on stove in salt and pepper. Dice.

Steam broccoli in microwave until tender.

Mix mayonnaise, cream of mushroom and cheese together in large bowl.

Combine all ingredients in 8×8 baking dish. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble. Serve over rice (and add Texas Pete hot sauce if you dare).

It’s a little late tonight to cook dinner, but maybe this will give you inspiration for tomorrow.

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Garlic Basil Pizza Dough

It’s Monday. The start of a long week. You don’t feel like cooking, but you also don’t want to spend money on ordering out for pizza. Your fridge is pretty well-stocked, but what can you make with all that stuff?

I bring you the delicious answer to your problems: Garlic basil pizza dough.

A few months ago I was looking for a recipe for pizza dough that didn’t require having a pizza stone (because I didn’t have one). I wanted a recipe I could whip up, spread on a pizza pan and eat for dinner, without too much labor.

After a couple tries and adaptations of other recipes I found, I came up with this concoction, which results in a thick, fluffy, healthy pizza dough that you can put any kinds of toppings on. My favorite is barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, red onions and leftover chicken. Yum.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Garlic basil pizza dough

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. olive oil
1.5 cups warm water
1 0.25 ounce package active dry yeast
garlic powder/minced garlic/garlic salt/fresh garlic

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix yeast and warm water together first; then add the rest of the ingredients except for the last two.

If you want to let it rise (optional), stick the dough in the fridge covered for as long as you want.

As you knead the dough on a floured surface, generously knead in the basil and garlic – as much as you want! The dough will expand and you’ll be adding toppings, so unless you don’t like basil and garlic at all (why are you making this, again?), you can’t really add too much.

Spray pizza pan with cooking spray, then spread dough on it. Fold over the outside edges to make a crust, if you want.

Cook for about 8 minutes, then remove from oven and add toppings. After adding toppings, cook for 20-25 minutes or until crust is browning and cheese is melted and bubbling.

A few notes:

  • You don’t have to add wheat flour if you don’t think you’ll like it. The dough works fine with 3 cups all-purpose flour; however, the wheat flour makes it a bit healthier. I wouldn’t recommend doing half-and-half, because the crust won’t be as fluffy.
  • You can add any spices you want. Crushed red pepper sounds good to me for next time.
  • You don’t have to bake it before you put the toppings on, but in my experience, it turns out better that way.
  • If you want to make pizzas with thinner crusts, divide the dough in half and use two pizza pans.


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Cilantro Bean Salad

Probably one of the most difficult areas to conquer is food – whether it’s eating healthy, figuring out what to cook for dinner or trying to please everybody’s varying tastes.

At my house, everybody has their own dislikes. I don’t really like tomatoes. My youngest sister hates most vegetables. My other sister doesn’t like red meat. It makes it tough.

That’s what’s most magical about this dip. Before I tried it, I refused to touch black beans or tomatoes. Now I’m eating black beans with much more frequency, and I actually kind of enjoy the tomatoes in this dip. If a food can overcome my picky eating, trust me. It’s worth trying.

Cilantro bean salad

1 can corn, drained, OR 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large tomato, chopped OR 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup chopped peppers (any color – I used red and green)
1/2 cup chopped red onion (you could use any kind of onion, but red tastes best)
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
3/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce (I like Texas Pete)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Mix first five ingredients together in large bowl. Mix last four ingredients together in smaller bowl. Pour contents of smaller bowl into larger bowl. Mix well and refrigerate. Best if refrigerated for several hours before serving.

As if the ingredients weren’t simple enough, the instructions really are that easy.

It’s delicious with a handful of tortilla chips, as shown, but I’ve gotten pretty creative with how I eat it. Sometimes I heat it up and mix in a little sour cream before I dip my chips. I like to put it on a tortilla with cheese for a  quick and healthy lunch. When we have enchiladas, I spoon some on top. Sometimes I even put it on my ice cream.

Just kidding. But if I thought it would taste good, I would try it.

A final note: You might want to double or triple the recipe. It goes pretty fast.


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