Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mac & Cheese. Plain and Simple.

When I moved Boston as a naive 17 year old freshman in college, I thought there was no turning the west coast.  I thought I would be a big east coast city girl for life.  I loved the bustle and hum of the city.  I loved the convenience of public transportation.  I loved the multitude of great restaurants (that I could only "afford" when my parents were in town because they bought my dinner).  I loved the people and close-knit proximity.  I loved that there was always something going on.  I loved the Boston Red Sox and their quest to "Reverse the Curse".

Fast forward six years...  

I was then living in New York City.  (Hooray!  Fulfilling my east coast girl dreams!)  However, by this time I was approaching the tender age of 24, my mind began to change about my fit on the eastern seaboard.  I missed quiet streets, I missed being able to drive, I still loved the restaurants that I could now afford, I missed privacy and space from my neighbors, I missed getting lost in the mountains or the woods or even in a good book.  

I still loved the Red Sox, still do today, and thank God the curse is finally reversed.

As a result of this philosophysing, I knew I needed to go back home to my roots.  After a short hiatus in northern California, I soon made it home to Alaska.  I was both nervous and exhilarated.  Would I make true friends that fit my quirky personality?  Would I be happy?  Would I be happy teaching again?  Would I survive living so far away?

The answer to all of those questions is yes.

I was blessed to be able to teach at an incredibly diverse school full of amazing students and an equally amazing staff.  The kids loved us and we loved them.  I stayed there for three years before moving on to a different opportunity, but have been blessed to stay close with many of the woman from that school.  Today, we meet monthly for "book club", where we are lucky if we talk about the book for more than a minute before moving on to wine and other important things.  I love these women and am so thankful to have had them first as colleagues and now as friends.  Our jobs are so hard, but when supported by strong, intelligent, trustworthy, and loving people, we can truly can change lives.

Did this mac and cheese change lives?  Probably not, but it sure was tasty.  I made it when I hosted our book club a couple weeks ago.  We (re)read Agatha Christie's classic, Murder on the Orient Express, for our October book.  I wanted good old comfort food without any bells and whistles.  I imagine the Queen of Crime was a meat and potatoes kind of girl, but I certainly am not, so this mac and cheese was my compromise.  It hits all the right notes for mac and cheese--creamy, cheesy, nutty, awesome.  I also love this recipe because it was nearly effortless.

So, my friends, if you are having a gathering of friends and loved ones and want a heartwarming dish to go along with, this is a go-to.  And let's be serious, mac and cheese is awesome, even if it is plain and simple.

Mac & Cheese.  Plain & Simple.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman's recipe.

  • 1 box of dried macaroni noodles
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk (Or....if you want to be healthy, which I do not suggest with mac & cheese, you can use nonfat.  Alternatively, if you really want to go big, you can use whole milk.)
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic
  • 1 cup of high quality sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup of Monterey jack
  • 1/4 cup of fontina
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt  
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more of fresh cracked pepper
  • a dash of paprika
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While waiting, grate your cheeses.
  2. Cook the macaroni until very firm--do not over cook!  The noodles should be more than al just barely past crunchy.  Strain through a colander and set aside.
  3. Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In the pot you used to cook the macaroni, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour.  Whisk constantly over medium-low heat.  Do not let the flour burn! 
  5. Pour in the milk and mustard and stir.  Cook for 5 minutes until thickened.
  6. When smooth, turn the heat to low.
  7. Take a large spoonful of the sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg while whisking constantly.  (You don't want scrambled eggs.)  Whisk until smooth.
  8. Pour the egg mixture in the pot with the rest of the sauce and continue whisking constantly until everything is smooth.
  9. Add the cheeses and stir until everything is melted and smooth.
  10. Add the salt, pepper, paprika and any other spices.  Taste and adjust.
  11. Pour in the noodles and stir.
  12. Serve immediately if you want your mac and cheese to be very creamy.  Or, pour everything into a buttered baking dish, top with some more shredded cheddar cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees until it starts bubbling and the cheese is golden on top.
  13. ENJOY!
(Note:  I chose to bake our mac and cheese as indicated above.  However, next time I will serve it straight from the pot because it seemed to lose a little too much creaminess for my liking.  Regardless, it was still delicious.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Apple Streusel Oatmeal Bars

Hello fall!  It is finally here!  Fall is my favorite season, which is sad because it is so short up here.  The snow is already starting to make its way down the hillside, the grass is frosty in the morning, and the days are getting noticeably shorter (five and a half minutes per day shorter).  As we get ready to hunker down for six months of snow and darkness, I am comforting myself with fall flavors--cinnamon, apple, pumpkin, squash, cloves, and more. 

These apple streusel oatmeal bars kicked off my fall baking this year.  And we certainly started with a bang.  I really loved the combination of the tart apples with the sugar and spices.  I also loved the shortbread-like cookie on the bottom combined with the crunchy oatmeal crumble on top.  They were easy to make and very forgiving--you can add more apples, take some away, add more spices, take some away, add the oatmeal crumble topping or use a creamy vanilla anglaise instead (or both!...mind blown).  

These little bars were also perfect for breakfast or dessert (I tried them for both meals).  I can't wait to  have them after a long day of skiing dipped in hot spiced cider or warm cherry wine.  I hope you love them as much as we did.  

Happy fall!

Even Mozzy Monster loved them!

Apple Streusel Oatmeal Bars:

For the shortbread pastry...
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 cup of butter, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
For the apple filling...

  • 1/2 cup of white sugar (or a little less)
  • 1/4 generous cup of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of cloves (I love cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger
  • 4ish cups of tart apples, peeled and cut into small pieces (I used apples picked from a co-    worker's tree, but next time I will use honeycrisps and maybe reduce the sugar a tad)

For the oatmeal crumble...
  • 1 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 1/4 cups of oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

To make the bars...

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Make the shortbread crust first. Mix flour, sugar salt, and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.  
  3. Cut in the butter with your fingers or with a pastry blender.  Mix until you have pea-sized crumbles.
  4. Gently mix in the beaten egg.
  5. Spray an 11 x 15 baking dish (or two 9 x 13 dishes) with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Pat the shortbread mixture into the bottom of the dish.
  7. Next make the apple filling.  Combine the apples with the flour, sugar, and your assortment of spices.  Toss evenly to coat.
  8. Spread evenly over the crust.
  9. Finally, make the oatmeal crumble.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and baking soda. 
  10. Add in the granulated sugar and the brown sugar.  Mix until no clumps remain.
  11. Add in the melted butter and vanilla.  Stir until evenly moistened.
  12. Loosely crumble on top of the apples.
  13. Bake for 45-50 minutes--until the oatmeal crumble is beginning to brown.
  14. Allow to cool.  Although I bet it would be delicious hot on top of ice cream.  
  15. ENJOY!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Baked & Glazed Chocolate Donut Holes

Who loves chocolate, donut holes, and glaze?  If you want two bites of delicious, fluffy, and creamy amazingness, these little guys are for you.  I am not sure what prompted me to make them, but I certainly am glad I did.  With the perfect amount of sweetness, these little champs won't kill your palette, but instead will leave you wanting for more.  I also love them because they are pretty...and we all know that pretty food is the best food.

Living with a Michigander, it is a mystery to me how I have never known that there is actually "donut season" in the Mitten State.  I've made baked pumpkin donut holes before, that were to die for, but now I am itching to make apple donuts and apple cider.  Yum.  I'll keep you posted for sure.

The long and the short of it is that bakes donuts are incredible.  And that's about it. 

Baked & Glazed Chocolate Donut Holes:
Adapted from this recipe.

For the donut holes...
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup of nonfat milk
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
  • a very, very small dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • sprinkles for adornment, if you'd like
For the glaze...
  • 2ish cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/4ish cup of heavy cream (or milk)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 scant teaspoon of lemon juice 
  • A dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or pumpkin spice if you are interested
To make the donut holes...
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder together in a large bowl.  
  3. Mix in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt (and cinnamon, if using). Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the beaten eggs, milk, yogurt, and vanilla together until completely smooth.  
  5. Whisk in the melted butter until combined.  
  6. Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Be careful not to overmix!  
  7. Mix until combined and there are no more flour balls/clumps. 
  8. Spoon the batter into a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Cut one of the corners of the bag so that you have a make-shift piping bag. 
  9. Fill the mini muffin tins about 3/4 of the way full. 
  10. Bake for 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overbake them!  
  11. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before glazing.
  12. Try not to eat them.
To make the glaze...
  1. In the bowl of you stand mixer, add the cream, lemon juice, vanilla and 1 cup of powdered sugar. 
  2. Mix well.
  3. Add more sugar, a 1/2 cup at a time until the glaze reaches your desired taste and consistency.
  4. Add any spices you want, then mix again.
Finishing up...
  1. Using two forks or tooth picks or the utensils of your choice, dunk the donut holes in the glaze.  Make sure they are fully coated.
  2. Move to a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet or paper to catch all the drips. 
  3. If you really love glaze, you can re-dunk your donut holes after the first coat has dried.
  4. Adorn with sprinkles, if you wish.
  5. ENJOY!