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. 

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

 

 

 

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