Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

We all have our kitchen staples, you know, things that, when you run out, you finally pick yourself up off the floor to go buy at the grocery store. I must always have eggs, milk or cream, butter, sugar, cheese, and flour. Even when there is embarrassingly little to behold, my staples & I can conjure fresh baked bread or biscuits, homemade pasta, or some elaborate cupcakes for a guest.

This recipe for homemade mac & cheese is one of the recipes that I can throw together quickly with whatever-is-left. Sometimes I don’t have bacon. So what! I’ll use Italian sausage. I don’t have a jalapeno? Whatever. I’ll add a little extra sriracha and some potatoes. I’m sure you could make shredded chicken work deliciously (unleash that creativity!) or you don’t really have to include a meat at all! It’s delicious &  easy & everyone really loves it because it’s no doubt horrible for you 🙂

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Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Pasta:
1 1/2 c. dry noodles, cooked al dente (use penne, rotini, mini shells, elbows, or whatever else)

Cheese Sauce:
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. white cheddar, shredded (+ 2 T. for top)
1 T. sriracha sauce
salt & pepper, to taste

Filling:
1/2 onion, minced
1/3 c. corn
1 jalapeno, seeded & minced

Topping:
1/4 c. panko
1 T. butter
2 slices bacon, cooked & chopped
reserved 2 T. white cheddar

To begin, boil salted hot water & cook your noodle of choice to al dente following directions on package. Strain in a colander and set aside until further assembly.

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Meanwhile, we’ll begin the cheese sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour, mixing in with the melted butter to make a smooth paste, cooking for just a minute or two.

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Pour in the milk. Add a dash of salt & pepper. Continue to heat until the milk simmers & starts to thicken, about 3-5 minutes depending on your stove. Once it begins to thicken, remove from heat and add the cup of white cheddar & the sriracha sauce. Stir to combine until all the cheese is melted to form a thick sauce. Add more salt, pepper, or sriracha to taste.

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Moving on to the filling…
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In a small saute pan, heat a little butter or oil. Saute onions until slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the jalapeno & the corn. Continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. I like the veggies to have a little bit of crunch left to add a bit more texture to mac & cheese.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Separate the noodles into two oven safe bowls or ramekins. Split the veggie mixture and cheese sauce evenly between the two bowls. Fold to combine. Add one piece of chopped bacon to each bowl.

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In one more pan (I know, right? I’m sorry you have so many dishes to do!) Melt one tablespoon of butter. Toast the panko until slightly browned.

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Evenly distribute on top of the bowls & add the reserve cheese. Place in oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts on top and forms a toasty crust.

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Yum! Mix together with a fork and enjoy all the sweet and spicy flavors + all the different textures of this awesome mac & cheese.

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Spicy Tomato Basil Soup

It has recently come to my attention that I missed Groundhog’s Day. To most people, this is not a big holiday, but for me this tradition might be my favorite thing about America (clearly an exaggeration). But really, I love the absurd and the magical so this groundhog business is absolutely delightful to me. Unfortunately, it passed by without a wave or a nod AND we are scheduled for six more weeks of winter. Ughh. Fortunately, it is sunny & clear skied so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the mystical Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby misspoke this year.

Anyways, we’ve got to find ways to keep happy and warm for another six weeks. I suppose we could always fall back on an old childhood favorite – tomato soup & grilled cheese.
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Spicy Tomato Basil Soup
yields approximately 3 servings

needs:
1 – 28 oz can peeled, whole tomatoes, separate tomatoes from liquid
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 T. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.

Separate the canned tomatoes from their reserved juice. Place them on a small, foil lined jelly roll pan or cake pan. Drizzle oil over them with a dash of salt & pepper & the minced garlic. Bake for about 15 minutes.

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2 T. butter
1 shallot, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled & chopped
1/2 serrano, chopped with seeds in
1 c. veggie broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. cream
1/4 c. chopped basil

In a medium sized sauce pan or stock pot, melt the butter and add in the veggies, except the serrano. Cook the veggies down over medium heat for about two minutes. Add the serrano and continue to cook until the veggies are browned & translucent.

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Add the reserved juice from the can of tomatoes & the veggie broth. Drop in a bay leaf and the tomatoes which should be finished roasting. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, allowing the flavor to meld.

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When ready, transfer the soup to a blender and add the basil & cream. Blend on high for about 2 minutes or until the soup is smooth.

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Distribute into bowls & serve with crunchy croutons or a grilled cheese!

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Be My Valentine Vanilla Cupcakes & Strawberry Buttercream

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet darlings! I love this holiday for a multitude of reasons.

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1. It is a day dedicated to reminding special people in your life that you care about them & love them.
I’m a very sentimental person. Sometimes we get caught up in life and forget to tell one another how much their continued support & friendship means to us. It’s really weird to just walk up to your friend on a random Tuesday with a card, covered in hearts no less, that states all the reasons why you appreciate them. They might get the wrong idea. We all get lonely and insecure sometimes and it’s nice to know you are cared for.

2. It gives you a reason to be thankful and grateful for the people in your life during a month that generally sucks.
By this time (especially in the Midwest), you’ve totally given up hope that it will ever be warm again. You hate looking at the delicate little snowflakes falling peacefully from the sky and you genuinely wonder why you ever said you liked to wear boots. Now is the time to be reminded of that awesome summer you and your lover/friend spent together and to make plans for spring picnics. Remember how fun it is to spend time with someone outside the constraints of sweatpants & netflix?!

3. Crazy things can happen!
You might have a honey that wants to smother you with kisses for a full 16 hours, surprise you with a pink Pomeranian puppy, or an icy cruise to Alaska. You might have a secret admirer who has planned some elaborate scheme to win your heart. Better yet, you could spend this day happily celebrating the fact that, for once, you aren’t eating a mediocre dinner at a mediocre restaurant, among a multitude of other couples, with someone who doesn’t really even make eye contact with you. Fuzzy slippers, a bubble bath, & a few glasses of wine for you. Surprise yourself with all that self-love!

Anyways, it’s not all commercialism (even though it kind of is), it’s about giving you an opportunity to practice love during a month that isn’t very inspiring or sexy.

To celebrate this great holiday, we shall make beautiful cream & pink colored cupcakes:

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Lightly Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream
yields approximately 10 cupcakes

needs:
1/2 c. butter
2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
zest of one lemon
1/2 c. milk

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar & butter with a hand blender. Add the vanilla & eggs and blend until combined. Alternate adding the milk & dry ingredients until all are incorporated into a smooth batter.

Pour prepared batter into a cupcake liners positioned in a muffin pan. Fill to about 2/3 full. Place in oven and bake for about 15-17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be sure that these cakes don’t brown too much or they will be dry.

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While they are baking, let’s move on!

We are making a strawberry puree reduction for this buttercream. Why? Because it is delicious, natural substitute to red food coloring in honor of this pink & red holiday. This reduction process will remove a great portion of the water content from the blended berries while concentrating that yummy strawberry flavor into a thick liquid.

Strawberry Puree Reduction:
1 c. whole strawberries

Place one cup of strawberries in the blender and whirl at high speed until chunks are reduced to a smooth puree. Transfer to saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the cup of berries is reduced to about two tablespoons.

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By the time you are finished with this reduction, you can get your precious cakes from the oven and let the reduction cool with them, side by side. (This gives them time to hang out before they are going to get together later, hehe).

Strawberry Buttercream:

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needs:
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 T. reduced strawberry puree
2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Blend all ingredients in a mixing bowl at medium speed until combined into a light, fluffy frosting. Transfer to piping bag, taking care not to lick your fingers, and pipe onto cupcakes.

Share the love 🙂

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Hot Toddy

Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a witch. I used to think up spells to make the water hotter in the shower and would make ‘stews’ in old pickle buckets consisting of lake water & whatever my grubby child hands found interesting that day. These kinds of childhood fascinations don’t just disappear with age but instead find new ways to manifest in a more socially accepted form. I still dream of having all my cooking spices lined up apothecary style – alphabetically in identical glass jars. I can see bright rows of homemade jams & jellies & pickles & vinegars sitting in the rustic cupboard of my future.

Part of being a witch in the contemporary age is knowing a variety of homemade concoctions, herbs, or potions to heal the sick. The winter blues are pretty brutal mid-February as are head colds & flus. So I am making a magical little drink known as the hot toddy. There is no better cure for a sore throat and a tired body.

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Hot Toddy

8 oz. hot water
1 bag of black tea
1 T. (or 1/2 oz) honey
1 oz. whiskey
1 lemon twist
cinnamon stick (optional)

Let the teabag steep in the hot water for 3-4 minutes. Add the honey & whiskey stir to combine. With a vegetable peeler or a zester, peel a long section from a lemon. Twirl and place on rim. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Feel warm & happy 🙂

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

So, I claimed that this blog would help you to make a variety of dishes from similar ingredients without having to eat the same flavors over & over again. I’ve, so far, not been very good about following my mission statement. I’m working on it.

So let’s think about what we’ve got in the fridge from chicken noodle soup. Carrots, celery, a little leftover chicken, fresh thyme. Maybe a little broth. OK. OK. What else? We always have milk, butter, and flour. Okay. I’ve got it. We’ll make little Sunday night pot pies, one to share or to make everyone jealous about at work!
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Mini Chicken Pot Pies
yields 2 pot pies

For the recipe, I am using Calphalon mini pie pans. There is no way I can eat a traditional sized pie by myself. Also, I am over the moon at how precious these pans are!

crust:
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
6 T. cold butter
4-6 T. cold water

In a mixing bowl, combine the  flour and salt. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender. Keep working the butter into the flour until the combination looks like a coarse grain. Gradually work the cold water into the dough until a soft dough forms. Cover tightly in plastic wrap & place in freezer (if doing this quickly) or fridge for later on.

Moving onto the sauce now…

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sauce:
1 T. butter
1 T. + 1 t. flour
3 T. milk
1/2 c. chicken or veggie broth
salt & pepper, to taste
a pinch of cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir quickly to coat. Allow it to cook for 30 sec-1 min. Add the broth & milk. Season to taste. Continue to heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat & set aside.

Moving on to the filling…

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filling:
1 T. butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1/2 c. onion, minced
1/3 c. peas, frozen are fine
1 c. shredded chicken, cooked (I used leftover from a rotisserie)
2 stalks celery, thinly chopped
1 sprig thyme, leaves only

In a small saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the minced onions & thyme. Allow the onions to saute for about 3, or until they start to lose their rigidity and color. Add the celery & carrot and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so.

**We want the veggies to be softened, but it is important to remember that they still have a little bit of time to cook in the oven. I like them to keep a little crunch in the pies, so try not to cook them down to mush.

In the final moments, add the chicken and peas and heat until everything is warm. Oh and preheat the oven to 375 degrees! We’re almost there!

Time to assemble!

Roll out the dough on a clean working surface. The dough should be pretty thin, but keep it thick enough to move easily without tearing.

Turn the pie pans upside down on the rolled dough. Cut around the outside, leaving about 1/2 in. extra dough around the outside. Do this four times total. You will need one for the pan and one for the top.

Press the first circle down into the pie pans.

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Distribute the veggie & chicken mix evenly between the pie pans. Don’t be afraid to stack it in there!  It will make hearty pies! Next, ladle the sauce over the top of the mix, not covering the ingredients completely, but enough to create a semi-even surface near top of the pan.

Now take the other crust and cover your pie, pressing the doughs together with your fingertips over the rim of the pan. If you can do a decorate edge, this is your time to shine. If you are just hungry and sick of dealing with crusts, press firmly with your fingers or use a fork to create a pattern around the edge. Cut any excess dough off with a dull knife.

With a scoring knife, create a slit in the top of the pie to create an outlet for steam. Place in the oven and let bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is firm and slightly golden.

Remove from oven & let cool for 5 or so minutes. Gently remove pies from pan and enjoy! Try not to burn your tongue!

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