Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

kraft_macaroni__cheese_2011I grew up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The blue box with the skinny little noodles that Mom combined with a 1/4 cup of “Oleo” as she called margarine (she NEVER used butter) and 1/4 cup of low-fat milk was a crowd pleaser to my sister, brother and I.  Later she would splurge on the more expensive box of “Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese” with it’s tiny can of cheese sauce in it, but, to my taste, you still can’t beat the skinny blue box.

Thankfully, as I grew so too did my palate.  I rarely pass up a macaroni and cheese on any menu and have developed a couple of favorite styles:  Lobster macaroni and cheese, if it has large claw chunks (and not just minced remnants), is my favorite, followed by a good white cheddar shells and cheese prepared with a hint of truffle oil and just a few exotic mushrooms.

spicyspiralmacncheeseWhen I’m cooking Macaroni and Cheese, I like it to have enough flavor, that if I served nothing else beside it, except maybe a tossed green salad, it could stand alone as a “Meatless Monday” main dish.  You won’t need a fire extinguisher nearby for this spirited macaroni and cheese, but you certainly won’t fall asleep while you’re eating it either.

Lisa’s Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

  • 1 – 16oz Box Cellentani Pasta (I use Barilla)
  • 8 TBLS Butter / Divided
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 3 1/4 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 3/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp White Pepper
  • 3 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Pepper Sauce (I prefer Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 1/2 Cups + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • 2 + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2/3 Cup Panko

Before you start, I have a couple of tips.

  1. If you can’t find shredded Pepper Jack or Sharp Cheddar you can always use the packaged slices and tear them up.  Generally the 8 ounce package should equal about 1 1/2 Cups.  Use your own judgement.  I usually err on the side of too much cheese in that type of situation and gauge it based upon the thickness of my sauce.  You can always thin (God Forbid) a bit with milk if you think it’s too thick.
  2. You can use any macaroni type noodle you prefer (elbow, shell, spiral) but I prefer the Cellentani because it combines the features of a slightly larger elbow with a spiral and then throws in some textured grooves so you get as much of the sauce grabbing to it as possible in each bite.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Prepare 2 – 13 x 9 Pyrex baking dishes (I use the deepest ones I have), or 1 deep dish throw away baking pan, by buttering the sides and bottoms – then set aside while you prepare the ingredients.
  • In a large stock pot, boil your pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and pour into largest mixing bowl you have.  Set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan over medium heat melt 4 TBLS butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook about a minute while constantly whisking then begin stirring in the milk about a 1/2 cup at a time until it’s well combined.
  • Stir in the spices and 1/4 Cup of the hot sauce.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cheeses (not the cheese reserved for the top) until melted and smooth.
  • In a small pan melt the remaining 4 TBLS butter and stir in the bread crumbs.
  • Combine the remaining cheeses together.
  • Pour the sauce over the macaroni and, using a large rubber spatula, stir until all of the pasta is well coated.
  • Divide the pasta between the 2 prepared pans
  • Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining cheese mixture over the top of each and put the pans, uncovered into the oven.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and beginning to brown on top.
  • Slide the baking dishes out of the oven and set the oven temperature to broil
  •  Divide the panko mixture between the two pans and return to the oven
  • Watch the pans carefully and remove from the oven as soon as your crumbs begin browning.

Make sure you’ve got a bottle of hot sauce out for anyone who wants to spice it up even more!  Serve your macaroni and cheese with a salad as a dinner on it’s own, alongside burgers, steaks, or inside a great steak/brisket/tri-tip sandwich!

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

 

Meatless Monday

IMG_4404[1]I love to shop at Trader Joe’s!

Their produce is always fresh, they have great weekly specials and have a really unique, well priced wine and liquor department without having to fight with a giant grocery store atmosphere.

While browsing the aisles today I was inspired to create something quick and healthy for dinner tonight and didn’t want to ruin the workout I had just suffered through by making something that would make me feel bloated and bad about myself.

There were so many bright orange pumpkins displayed around the store that I thought something based on the same fall flavor would be great.  A few more minutes in the produce department and I came up with an idea that didn’t seem very hard at all.

 No Fuss Spinach Butternut Squash Lasagna

  • 1 – 12 oz package Trader Joe’s Cut Butternut Squash (In the fresh produce department)
  • 3/4 – 12 oz package Trader Joe’s Fresh Leaf Spinach
  • 9 – Sheets Trader Joe’s No Boil Lasagna Noodles
  • 1 – 16 oz container Trader Joe’s Part Skim Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 – 16 oz pkg Trader Joe’s Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 – Wedge Trader Joe’s Parmesan Gouda Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Skim Milk
  • 2 Cloves Garlic finely chopped
  • Fresh Basil (About 6 large leaves)
  • Nutmeg, Oregano, Salt, Pepper and Paprika to taste

Cook the butternut squash, in it’s package with a corner cut off, in the microwave for 6 minutes.

Shred the mozzarella cheese and grate 1/4 to 1/3 of the wedge of the gouda-parmesan wedge into two separate bowls and set aside.

In Food Processor (I used my Vitamix) combine the squash, milk, garlic, nutmeg, salt and 1/2 the container of ricotta cheese.  Process until just smooth.  Do not over process.  If too thick add a little more milk.  Taste and adjust the spices then set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl combine the spinach, the other half container of ricotta cheese, 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese, the chopped garlic, and some salt and pepper.  Stir until the spinach is well coated.

In a lasagna pan (or 9 x 12 Pyrex pan) drizzle some olive oil then layer as follows:

  1.  1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the unboiled lasagna noodles (I used 2 whole and 1 split to fill the layer), then a layer of the spinach mixture;
  2. 1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the no boil lasagna noodles, then a layer of the spinach mixture;
  3. Final 1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the no boil lasagna noodles, then the rest of the spinach mixture;
  4. Top the lasagna with the rest of the mozzarella cheese, the grated parmesan-gouda cheese, and then sprinkle with oregano, paprika and the chopped fresh basil.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is just browned.  Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes so the cheese sets.  Cut into 8 pieces and serve with a green salad for a healthy meal.  My husband also added some Frank’s Red Hot to spice his up.  It was a great change of pace and there was enough left over for a couple of lunches this week!

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Tomorrow’s post:  Slow Cooked Red Bean Chicken Chipotle Chili