Pasta Mornay with (or not) Ham

It all started innocently enough — I was doing some volunteer work at a store run by my church, Saint Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in Helena, Montana. The church administrator walked by the desk where I was working, stopped dead in his tracks, and said, “You cook.” “Yeeeess.” was my reply. He then told me that he wanted to have a reception after each of two concerts the church was hosting to benefit Ukraine. Thinking he was referring to maybe about 50 guests, I agreed. Then the bomb dropped as he started talking about the 160 or so that the church would hold, plus the musicians, plus the video crew, plus… Realizing I might regret this, I ignored the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, mumbled something about checking with my sous chef, and left it at that. It’s always fun to go home and tell my husband about the latest adventure I’ve roped him into.

We really wanted to help with the reception and my husband can take credit for coming up with the idea of an elegant macaroni and cheese. Years ago, when I had a personal chef business, this dish was one of my clients’ absolute favorites. One client in particular requested this dish almost every time I cooked for her. 

We hitched up the buckboard and went into town to buy supplies. Just kidding — but living in the middle of a large valley outside of Helena, Montana, sometimes it seems that way. We decided to prepare 300 servings of the pasta dish in four enormous disposable aluminum roasting pans. My husband got busy grating 16 pounds of cheese while I began roasting 16 heads of garlic and mincing 32 shallots. We decided to prepare half the pasta on two separate days. It took us all day both days but dare I say it was kind of fun. Each batch of pasta tasted delicious, and we knew it was going to be a bit hit at the reception. 

So how did it go?  Well, we don’t know yet. We had just begun preparing the fourth and final 75 servings when the phone rang. It turned out that the concert was postponed for a month because some of the performers had come down with COVID. We didn’t have any choice but to freeze the pasta. We’ll know in a few days when the receptions actually take place. The adventure continues…

Pasta Mornay with (or not) Ham

6 Servings

Mornay sauce is a white sauce (béchamel) with grated cheese added. In this case it’s the “backbone” of the recipe. Use any smallish pasta you prefer. I like the medium shells because the sauce gets trapped inside, which makes for a nice bite. Ham is optional. We made the dish without it for the reception to appeal to the vegetarians in the group.

1 head of garlic

1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 large shallots, minced

2 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

salt

white pepper

1 pound medium shells (conchiglie), ditalini, or other small pasta

8 ounces ham, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (optional)

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top off the head of garlic so the cloves are exposed. Place the garlic cut side up on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the foil around the garlic to make a tight little package. Place the garlic on a small sheet pan, in case it leaks, and bake until garlic cloves are soft and tender, about 55 minutes. Allow the package to cool, then remove the garlic and squeeze the cloves out of their skins, chop into small bits, and place in a small bowl.  

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté 4 minutes, or until soft. Whisk in the milk, cream, thyme, lemon zest, roasted garlic and nutmeg. Simmer over medium heat until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about 2 and 3/4 cups, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the cheeses, stirring until smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce and season to taste with salt and white pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water, following package directions. You want it to be tender but still firm. I have found that cooking pasta 1 minute less than the lowest time on the package is perfect, but you may prefer it cooked a little more. 

Mix the cheese sauce, pasta, ham, and parsley in a large bowl, and serve. 

Chile Rellenos Casserole

The year 2021 was a trying one for my family, culminating in the loss of my mother in early December due to a variety of health reasons.  I’ve been thinking about writing a post in honor of my mother since then, but how to decide which recipe?  The lima bean stew with ham hocks that we ate almost every week when we were kids?  Nope.  The only way I could stand it was to douse it with ketchup.  Her beef stew with dumplings?  A family favorite, but there are a lot of stew recipes out there. 

My mother absolutely loved Mexican food, something I seem to have inherited from her; however, Mom was not a big fan of spending hours in the kitchen.  So, if there was an easy way to create a dish that would normally involve a whole lot of work, she was on it, and Chile Rellenos casserole was one of her favorites. 

If you asked me what my favorite Mexican dish is I would answer Chile Rellenos in about a half a second.  Fresh Anaheim chiles, stuffed with all the cheese, battered and deep fried until crispy. Yum!  At this stage in my life, however, consuming boats of deep fried anything is probably not the healthiest choice.  This casserole contains the chiles and the cheesy goodness without the deep frying.  Now that’s what I call a win. 

My mother had an unquenchable zest for life that I try very hard to emulate.  Her life can best be summarized by her favorite saying she kept posted in the kitchen: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, Wow, what a ride!!!” She certainly accomplished that goal. This one is for you, Mom… 

Chile Rellenos Casserole

6 Servings

A delicious, filling casserole that captures all the flavors of chile rellenos without the frying.  You have a choice of pans to prepare this in.  I used a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet, but an 8-inch square or 6×10-inch baking pan will also work. 

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt, divided

black pepper, to taste

Two 4-ounce cans whole green chiles or 8 oz frozen Hatch green chiles, thawed

6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1/4 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the beef and onion in a skillet, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper and cook on medium heat until the beef is cooked and begins to brown.  Set aside, or, if using the same skillet for the casserole, place the beef mixture in a bowl. 

Halve the chiles crosswise, spread out flat, and remove the seeds.  Place half of the chile pieces in the baking dish or the skillet you will be using.  Sprinkle with the cheese, then top with the meat mixture.  Arrange the remaining chile pieces over the meat. 

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then whisk in the milk, flour, remaining salt, hot sauce and pepper.  Pour the mixture over the chiles.  Bake the casserole 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.  Cool 5 minutes before serving. 

Cheeseburger Quinoa Bake – How I Convinced my Husband to Eat Quinoa

Quinoa 1

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of cookbooks. I have quite a collection that varies depending on where I’m traveling or what is influencing me at the time.

Lately, that influence has been taking a closer look at what we eat with an eye to doing a little tweaking. Although our meals are generally pretty healthy — we try to avoid processed foods and consume a lot of vegetables, there is definitely room for improvement. It was a pretty busy Spring, and with not as much time to cook, those cheat days start slipping into cheat weeks. Plus, we’re going on a Mediterranean cruise later this summer, and it would be really nice to avoid having to buy a new (larger) swimsuit.

Quinoa 3

A couple of weeks ago, I was surfing around on Amazon and found a cookbook called “The Dude Diet,” by Serena Wolf. Normally I would skip right over any cookbook with the word “diet” in the title, much less “dude.” However, having just consumed a plate of nachos at Chilis and with that cruise looming, I decided to take a closer look, and I’m so glad I did. This is a book that’s written for my life right now – way too busy to do a lot of all-day cooking and starting to think of nachos as a food group. It’s not a book that I’ll cook from everyday, but when I need ideas for made-from-scratch lunches or dinners for busy weeknights, this is a winner. It’s a nice collection of healthy recipes that don’t skimp on flavor. And the fact that the author is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris doesn’t hurt.

The book arrived, and after skimming through it, I decided to start with this post’s recipe – a quinoa casserole with cheeseburger flavors. My husband follows the “Primal Blueprint” a Paleoish grain-free diet. I’m totally on board with that and try to be supportive, but I’m not ready to give up grains entirely. Therefore, finding meals that suit both of us can sometimes be a challenge. So when I found out that quinoa was considered more of a seed than a grain and was now permitted on the Primal Blueprint plan, I was not disappointed. And my husband was not disappointed in the dish, which is really saying something. He would have preferred more burger and less quinoa, but we both liked it, and it was a quick and easy dish to prepare for the week’s lunches.

Quinoa 2

 

Cheeseburger Quinoa Bake

4-6 Servings

This is a versatile casserole that could be changed up in a variety of ways. Just think of your favorite burger toppings – sautéed mushrooms, jalapenos, bacon bits, etc. Feel free to swap out cheeses as well. Pecorino or Swiss come to mind. I used gluten free Panko, but any other type will be fine.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups beef broth

1/3 cup gluten free Panko bread crumbs

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 1/4 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided

Combine the quinoa and the beef broth in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for 14 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and allow the quinoa to rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork.

Preheat the oven to 375. Combine the Panko, sesame seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of the smoked paprika in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and the garlic and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the ground beef, salt, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika to the skillet and cook, stirring, until meat is no longer pink. Add the tomato paste, mustard and Worcestershire sauce to the pan and cook for 3 more minutes.

Stir the diced tomatoes into the meat mixture, then mix in the quinoa and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the remaining cheese, followed by the Panko mixture. Bake for 25 minutes until bubbly and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Adapted from The Dude Diet by Serena Wolf

 

Chicken Cacciatore

chicken first

You know that saying, “You don’t appreciate what you have until you almost lose it?” This time last week I thought I had completely lost my blog. Life was spinning out of control with busyness, and I neglected to renew the domain on WordPress. Then one day, about two weeks after it had expired, I tried to access my site and couldn’t. To say I had a meltdown is an understatement. But then reality inserted itself into my teeth gnashing and moaning and groaning (okay, I tend to exaggerate a little). Stop, hold the presses, I didn’t lose a family member. All the pets are okay. Jeannine, you’re getting this upset over a website?

chicken mug

I calmed down, contacted the support people at WordPress, who were extremely helpful, and as you can see, Jeannine’s Cuisine is up and running again, this time with automatic renewals scheduled. And, as a result, I did some serious thinking about what this blog means to me and why.

chicken beer

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post. It was an extremely busy summer and moving into fall it wasn’t much better. I actually considered putting the blog on hold until I retired. But I think everyone needs a creative outlet of some sort and this little blog, that I only manage to post to once in a while, is mine. It’s not a business, and may never become one, although it was, and perhaps still is, my goal. I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. However, it is a way to express myself and share what I love with friends and family. Yes, I did get upset, because each time I do a post I’m creating something that is essentially me- my thoughts, my cooking, my photography. And I get to share it with others. How cool is that?

Enough philosophizing. Let’s move on to the food, shall we? Aren’t you glad autumn is finally here? I know some people love summer and dread the coming of winter. But I’m one of those that needs summer so I can enjoy the transition to fall. Today’s recipe is perfect for today’s damp cloudy weather.

Vegetables

Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. This dish is a stewy chicken dish with onion, mushrooms, herbs, tomatoes, and bell pepper. Serve it with a side of pasta or some bread to soak up the sauce if that’s your thing, or if you are watching your carbs, it’s just as good by itself.

top down recipe

Slow Cooker (or not) Chicken Cacciatore

Serves 4-6

No slow cooker? No problem. Just make the recipe in a Dutch oven, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. This dish is great for using up end of summer tomatoes, but if you don’t have any or can’t get decent ones, just substitute a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, chopped. To peel and seed the tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for 1 minutes. The peel will come right off. Cut in half horizonally and squeeze the seeds out.

3 tablespoons butter or other fat of choice, divided

2 pounds chicken thighs

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 pound mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 tablespoon each of finely chopped basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram (or use 1/2 teaspoon dried)

Season the chicken very well with salt and pepper.  Do not fear the salt.

Raw Chicken

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan. Brown the chicken in the pan, in batches as necessary, about 5 minutes. The chicken should be golden brown. Transfer chicken pieces to slow cooker as you go.

Chicken

If you are cooking this dish on the stove, remove the chicken until you cook the vegetables, then add it back to the pot with the tomatoes.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan and sauté the onion, pepper, celery and mushrooms until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. Pour the vegetable mixture over the chicken in the slow cooker.

Add the tomatoes, paprika, herbs, and a little more salt and pepper to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Adapted from The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian and Chris Kresser

Greece on My Mind — Fish with Ouzo

Ouzo Fish 1

During my military career I had a wonderful opportunity to live in Athens, Greece, for 3 years.  I remember Athens as a big city with lots of traffic and lots of angry drivers.  But I didn’t care.  It was Greece! 

santorini 2 

Greece has been in the news quite a bit lately and it hasn’t exactly been portrayed in a positive light; however, during my time there, I made friends who are still special to me to this day.  I experienced a culture unlike any I had ever encountered.  But, most important, I discovered a cuisine that has pretty much driven the way I cook and eat since that time.  When people ask me what my “specialty” is, I usually reply: I don’t really have one, but I cook Mediterranean food more often than not. 

Ouzo Fish 2

I love Greece and Greek food.  Even when living there and eating it almost everyday, I never tired of it.  And as for that terrible traffic?  I learned to drive and shout at the other drivers just like the locals.  Besides, where else can you eat “small fishes fried” (smelts) washed down with an ice-cold Mythos beer while gazing upon the blue ocean and equally blue sky?

santorini 1 

Years later I became friends with a man who was encountering some personal difficulties.  I advised him to think about what he wanted to be doing 5 years later and use that goal to formulate his decision. A couple of weeks later he told me he had decided what he wanted to be doing 5 years down the road.  When I asked what that was, he told me he wanted to be discovering Greece with me.  Say what?    

Ouzo Fish 3

I wasn’t exactly looking for a mate at the time — I’d just returned to the U.S. after a long period overseas, had just bought a house…excuses, excuses.  Well, he did something right, because in November we will have been married 13 years.  And yes, we did go to Greece together.

Nafplion

Today’s recipe reminds me of everything that I love about Greek food, but it’s not as heavy as some of the typical dishes can be.  It’s wonderful for summer and is ideal for a weeknight meal, as it’s a snap to make.  This dish can be served over rice or with some hearty bread to soak up the delicious sauce. 

Ouzo Fish 4 Fish with Ouzo

4–6 servings

I used halibut for this dish, but any white fish filet will work, such as cod, tilapia, or even catfish.  Ouzo is an anise-flavored Greek liqueur that is usually diluted with water until cloudy and served as an aperitif with a bowl of olives.  It really is the ingredient that sets this dish apart.

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, diced

2 bay leaves

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup water

2 pounds halibut filets or other white fish

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 bunch dill, chopped

1 tablespoon Ouzo

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic until fragrant, but not brown. Add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, then add the bay leaves.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper.  Add the water and simmer for two minutes.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and place on top of the simmering vegetable mixture, nestling the filets down into the sauce.  Simmer for 4 minutes.

Add the lemon juice, dill and ouzo to the pan and simmer an additional 2 minutes.  The fish should flake easily with a fork.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Inspired by Culina Mediterranea by Daniel Rouche

santorini 3    

Buckwheat-Feta Burgers with Parsley Sauce

Buckwheat Header

 

Today’s recipe is gluten-free and vegetarian — a far cry from Paleo or Primal. So it seemed a good time to discuss my food philosophy a bit. What else should we do when ice is falling out of the grey sky?

Since starting Jeannine’s Cuisine (the blog, not the personal chef business), I’ve often toyed with the idea that I should have some sort of brand, or theme, or specialty. Actually, when people find out I went to culinary school and cooked professionally, one of the first things I’m asked is what I specialize in. Huh? Okay, I love all things Mediterranean; after all, I lived in Greece. But I love a good Asian meal as well. Let’s not forget the French influence from culinary school and trips abroad, and then there’s the pastry. So I guess my brand is just what it says…Jeannine’s Cuisine. This is the way I cook and eat. Sometimes, I prepare a totally Paleo meal for my husband. Other times he fends for himself while I have macaroni and cheese.

Buckwheat 1 cake

There are a million diets/eating plans out there. Hardly a day goes by without hearing about a new one. I want to be healthy and happy just as much as the next person, but I am of a mind that as long as I focus on lots of good produce, some healthy, i.e. grassfed/organic protein, and, for me, some whole grains, I can afford the occasional indulgence. I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition, both the low fat (remember those days?) and the low carb camps. I’ve read the testimonials and think for many people, especially those with autoimmune issues or food allergies, the Paleo diet can be a lifesaver. I’m just not one of them.

Buckwheat Stack light

So what can you expect on Jeannine’s Cuisine? Real food. We avoid processed food as much as possible, buy organic when we can, and aside from some whole grain bread from Whole Foods and a stash of Greek yogurt, we generally try to make everything from scratch. But there are limits. I don’t have a dairy cow or goats to make my own cheese, nor do I raise chickens and don’t intend to start. And yes, after a long day at work, I’ve been known to order pizza or Chinese. Gasp! But you won’t find recipes calling for packaged foods or cans of mushroom soup here. What you will find is a variety of good food. Some recipes are easy and suitable for a week night, others take a little (or a lot) more work. But they are so worth it.

Buckwheat Top down 1

I’ve been trying to add more whole grains into my diet, without feeling like I’m having cereal for lunch or dinner. These burgers hit the nail on the head. The buckwheat cooks up just a little bit crunchy on the outside then you bite into the creamy center flavored with feta cheese and thyme. The parsley sauce is a little bit like Argentine chimichurri – tangy and little bit citrusy, a nice contrast to the nuttiness of the buckwheat.

Buckwheat stack dark

Buckwheat-Feta Burgers with Parsley Sauce

4 Servings

You will need to find raw buckwheat groats for this recipe, not kasha, which is toasted buckwheat. You might be able to find it at the larger Whole Foods stores, but you can definitely buy it online from Amazon. The parsley sauce that accompanies the burgers can stand on its own. I imagine it would be delicious with pan-roasted salmon. Or, you could also dilute it with a little oil and vinegar and use it for salad dressing. I prefer the burgers plain, but you could also serve them in lettuce leave or on a regular bun with lettuce, onion, and tomato.

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup buckwheat groats

3/4 teaspoon fine salt, divided

1 cup clean, dry lightly packed fresh parsley leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon, plus a large pinch red pepper flakes, divided

a few drops Tabasco sauce

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)

6 tablespoons quick cooking oats

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Prepare the buckwheat by placing the water, buckwheat and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Place buckwheat in a large bowl and set aside for 20 minutes while you make the sauce.

Place parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic oregano, red pepper flakes and Tabasco in the bowl of a mini food processor. Pulse until chopped; then, with the machine running slowly, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and blend until combined.

Make the burgers by adding the feta cheese, onion, oats, egg, thyme leaves, and peppers to the buckwheat in the bowl. Use your hands to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Use a table knife to divide the mixture (it will be thick and sticky) into four portions. Using wet hands, divide each of the four portions into two and form into burgers, approximately 3 inches in diameter. Place them on a sheet pan or large plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add four of the eight burgers and cook approximately 4 minutes per side until golden brown. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining four burgers. Serve warm or at room temperature with the sauce.

Adapted from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

 

 

Serious Comfort Food: No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese

Mac Post header

Okay, I surrender. I’ve had enough! Bring on Spring. I promise I won’t even complain when the heat and humidity of July roll around. It’s cold and gray, which wouldn’t be so bad if we had some snow coming down. Snow day! But so far, winter has been one long drawn out gloomy stretch of 20-30-degree days, some rain or sleet spitting out of the sky occasionally, usually during morning rush hour, and not much else.

Mac Fork

Days like this call for drastic measures. It’s time to get out the gardening books and dream of nicer days to come…flowers, fruits and vegetables, green leaves, and birds singing.

Mac one dish

It’s also time for some serious comfort food. Macaroni and cheese comes to mind, and this recipe does not disappoint. Rather than preparing the sauce and boiling the macaroni separately, the hot sauce is poured over the dry macaroni and baked. It couldn’t be easier and the result is delicious. The macaroni still has a nice bite to it, and the sauce cooks up perfectly creamy and cheesy.

Mac Recipe Header

No Boil Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6

You could easily vary the type of cheese used to add some variety. When making the sauce, adding a little of the liquid at a time, 2-3 times and whisking between each addition before adding the remaining milk/water, will make a smoother sauce and prevent it from breaking.  

Mac 2 Dish Side 

4 ounces (1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter, divided

1/4 cup flour

3 cups milk

3 cups water

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more for seasoning

1 pound elbow macaroni

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt half of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until a paste forms, about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk a little at a time, whisking between each addition before adding the remaining milk and 3 cups of water. Bring saucepan contents to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently until mixture thickens to a thin glossy sauce, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat.

Toss the pasta and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese in a 9×13 or other 3-quart baking dish. Pour the sauce over the pasta, submerging the pasta. Do not stir. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Or you can do what I did and just wipe out the saucepan and use that to avoid dirtying up another pan. Add garlic, Panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Take the dish out of the oven and remove the foil. The pasta will be almost tender, but there will still be a lot of liquid. Don’t worry it will cook. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and the Panko mixture. Place the pan back in the oven (without the foil) and bake until the edges are bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Allow pasta to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Mac Full Casserole

Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2013

 

 

 

Finally Fall – Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

Shanks 1

It’s a beautiful Fall day, and the weather has finally cooled down enough to start doing some comfort food. I’m not a fan of cooking cool weather foods when it’s still summer outside, even if it’s the end of September, but by the time I start seriously considering hanging the glow-in-the dark skeleton by the front door, I know it’s time.

Shanks 2

Today’s post is inspired by the restaurant, Sebillon Elysee, in Paris. They are famous for their Allaiton de L’Aveyron gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb), which is wheeled out on a cart and carved tableside. It’s served over creamy white beans that come to the table bubbling away in a copper pot. This century-old restaurant is one of my favorites in Paris; very old-world style without being stuffy.

Shanks 3

I had never even heard of braising until I went to culinary school. Coq au Vin was the first braised dish I made, and I fell in love with it and the technique. Braising is the combination of searing food at a high temperature then cooking it in a liquid in a covered pot at a low temperature. The meat is then removed and the liquid left in the pan is reduced to make a sauce. Although braising takes some time, it’s mostly hands off, and the restaurant- quality results are worth the extra time. You end up with fork-tender meat and a luscious sauce. Anyone can braise; once you get this technique down the possibilities are endless.

Shanks 4

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

6 Servings

If you don’t like or eat beans, or you are following a Paleo or Primal program, this dish is just as good with a side of creamy mashed potatoes or some sort of vegetable puree such as cauliflower, turnips, or parsnips. I used navy beans because that was what was available, but any white bean, such as cannellini or great northern, will do.

1 1/2 cups dried white beans

6 8-12 ounce lamb shanks

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, diced

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 14.5 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

lemon zest from 1 lemon, grated

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Pick over the beans and soak them for at least 3 hours (preferably, overnight). Rinse the beans and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer, and cook the beans until tender, 45-60 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the lamb shanks. Thoroughly season the shanks with salt and pepper on all sides. In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the lamb shanks until brown, 10-12 minutes. Remove the shanks from the pot and set aside on a plate. Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot and cook until the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Use a stiff spatula to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf and lamb shanks with any juices from the plate. Return the contents of the pot to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours. The meat should be very tender and falling off the bone. Remove the shanks from the pot and keep warm. Bring the pot contents to a boil and reduce to sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat, add the beans to the pot and cook on medium to warm the beans, about 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season the beans with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a spoonful of the beans on a plate or bowl and top with a lamb shank. Garnish with lemon and parsley.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Seasonal Favorites

 

 

Celebrating the Last of Summer – Grilled Burgers with Avocado and Parsnip Fries

Burger Closeup 1

I love fall – going outside that first crisp morning when the temperature is in the 50s in complete contrast to the 80s and 90s we’ve previously experienced in the DC area. This year has been different, however. We’ve had such a mild summer that now that the temperature has dropped, I find myself almost thinking I can’t appreciate it, because it just hasn’t been that hot. Wow, Jeannine. The one summer on record with decent temperatures and you think it needs to be hotter. Let’s throw in some heavy-duty humidity while we’re at it, shall we? So, I guess what I’m getting at is that, on this last day of summer, I’m not ready to throw in the towel on summer yet. There will be plenty of time for braises, pumpkin, soups and all those foods that signify fall later down the road.

One of the stops on the Explore Asheville Foodtopia tour during the recent Food Blogger Forum was a visit to Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

Farm 1We were treated to a sample of their delicious grass-fed beef before touring a section of the farm, led by Jamie Ager, one of the co-owners of the farm.

Farm 3

These hamburgers were inspired by the visit to the farm. I think you’ll agree when you taste these is that there is just no substitute for grass-fed beef – it just tastes, well, beefier. And you can’t argue with the health benefits of eating meat that provides essential Omega 3 fatty acids.

Farm 4

I’ve been following Juli Bauer of PaleOMG ever since my husband and I first started experimenting with the Paleo/Primal lifestyle 3 years ago. Although neither of us is completely Paleo, I still follow Juli’s blog and find it a great source of healthy recipes, no matter what eating program you follow. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how she has grown as a cook over the past few years. This burger recipe is a perfect example. They are incredibly juicy and have a really nice flavor without being too over-the-top. The burgers are served wrapped in a bibb or romaine lettuce leaf, as I’ve pictured here. However, if you must have a bun for your burger, I recommend having the parsnip shoestrings on the side rather than on the burger.

Burger 5

Hamburgers on the Grill with Avocado and Parsnip Shoestrings

Serves 6

 Instead of mashing the avocados for the garnish, you can also use 1 cup of your favorite guacamole. I really like the fresh guacamole from the local Whole Foods.

2 large parsnips, peeled

2 pounds ground beef

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup coconut oil

6 romaine or bibb lettuce leaves

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 avocados, peeled seeded and mashed

Preheat the grill to medium high.

Cut the parsnips into long shoestrings with a julienne peeler or spiral slicer. Set aside.

Combine the ground beef, onion, mustard, garlic and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide the meat mixture into 6 patties, making a small indentation in the center of each one.   Grill the burgers to desired level of doneness. We found that 6 minutes covered on the first side and three minutes covered on the second side resulted in a medium-rare burger, but your grill might be different. Do what works for you.

While the burgers are cooking heat the coconut oil in a saucepan until one of the shoestrings sizzles when dropped into the oil. Fry the shoestrings tossing with a fork until golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place on a paper-lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with salt while hot.

When the burgers are done, allow them to rest for 5-7 minutes. Place the burgers on a lettuce leaf, top with red onion, avocado or guacamole and parsnip fries.

Adapted from PaleOMG.    I think this recipe is also included in Juli’s latest book, The Paleo Kitchen.

 

 

Quinoa Cabbage Sauté with Lemon, Cabbage, and Dill

Quinoa 1 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.  I can’t believe it’s the 17th of March and when I got up this morning I was faced with this:

March Winter

The pansies I oh so carefully planted last weekend are buried in the stuff.  I just hope they survive.  Where is Spring?  It’s not supposed to be 23 degrees in mid-March!  Nevertheless, it’s still Saint Patrick’s Day, meaning all things Irish. It’s also a great reason to stock the fridge with Guinness.  Okay, I’ve never needed a special reason to stock up on Guinness, but for those who do, now is your chance.

Quinoa 2

Today’s dish is another repeat.  Not a repeat on the blog, but another amazing dish that I liked so much I wanted to make it and eat it a second time in short order.  It’s not actually Irish, but it does contain cabbage, so I guess we can go there.

Quinoa 3

I am not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m also not strictly a meat person.  Hmm, what DO I mean by that?  Well, I would never be happy having a chunk of meat with a side of vegetables for dinner every night.  My food has to have something extra.  It could be a sauce, a burst of lemon, perhaps some heat, but you will almost never see me eating a plain piece of protein seasoned with salt and pepper and that’s it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak, simply seasoned, but make that on occasion, not as a steady diet.

This dish is a vegetarian dish with a lot going on.  The quinoa and chickpeas provide protein, you get some nice saltiness from the olives and the lemon really brightens it up.  I eat this with a small container of plain Greek yogurt on the side for lunch and find that it fills me up just fine until dinner.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Quinoa 4

Toasted Quinoa Sauté with Lemon, Cabbage, and Dill

4 Servings

I have only made this recipe with red quinoa; however, I see no reason why you could not make it with any variety.  If you can’t find Savoy cabbage you could also use regular green cabbage.  If your pan is not big enough to cook all the cabbage at once, you can cook it in two batches.  I used Castelvetrano olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods for this, but Cerignola or even pitted Kalamata olives would also work.  This is a very flexible recipe that can be altered according to what you can find or have on hand.  

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided plus more for seasoning

1/2 cup red quinoa

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 head (approximately 1 pound) Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 ounces pitted large Green olives, halved

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill

Greek yogurt or sour cream for serving

Bring water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium size saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir in quinoa and return to a boil.  Cover saucepan, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Uncover the pan, raise the heat to high and toast the quinoa until dry, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, about 5 minutes.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the cabbage is soft and golden brown. If the pan appears too dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.  Add the quinoa, raise the heat to high, stirring it into the cabbage until for about 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, except for the yogurt.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine