October 18, 2012

Home made Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese is a classic American favorite. From the elbow macaroni to the cheese sauce, it's like a big ole hug from your Mom or Grandma. I'm going to show you my recipe on this classic dish that will leave you licking your spoon and wanting seconds! I never had homemade macaroni and cheese until I was an adult and then I was hooked! That's what happens when you have a mother who is German (as in came from Germany) and a Grandmother who hates dairy products (no joke my Grammy hated dairy products). Me on the other hand loved all things dairy even though I've very lactose intolerant. Obviously I've got a handle on my lactose intolerance now and cheese is my BFF!

You're going to see my break this down and what once seemed like it would take hours to make is truly a simple come home and fix it kind of dish.

Now for your shopping list...
*1lb box of elbow macaroni (I use Barilla)

*1 pkg of pre cooked bacon (I like the precooked kind makes for a mess free process in cooking- trust me on this).

*3 shallots chopped fine

*1 teaspoon dry mustard 

*1 teaspoon thyme

*1 teaspoon black pepper

Now for the cheese and there's quite a bit of it!
*1-8 ounce pkg of shredded cheese such as cheddar or even mexi-blend (I've used both in the past and as long as the base cheese in cheddar it makes little difference). Now you can buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself but why? I like to save myself time in the kitchen and just buy the packaged shredded cheese.

*2 ounces of Fontina Cheese. Just dice this up no shredding needed

*1 cup of roughly grated Parmesan cheese

*3½ cups of milk (I use 2%)

*¼ cup of flour

*4 Tablespoons butter (I use salt free butter in all of my recipes) 

My brands of choice- Barilla pasta is my go to pasta brand! Coleman's Mustard and Spice Island Thyme. Cook pasta in a pot of simmering water for 7  to 8 minutes- the "Al Dente" time on the box, mushy pasta is yucky firm pasta is GOOD.

I use 2% milk  lactose free milk because it's what "I" drink at home but you can use regular milk and even whole milk it that's what you have at home. I can't guarantee how this will taste with anything below 2%. Now here's a trick...take that refrigerator cold milk and heat it up in the mircowave for a couple of minutes. It'll make the thickening process go so much faster and there's the added benefit of NO LUMPS! Adding cold milk into your pot will only prolong the stirring process. So heat up your milk!

Shallots- I chop mine up fine and saute them in a little butter until golden. I also take that package of ore-cooked bacon and cut it all up small with a pair of cooking shears. Don't ahve that tool? Use a pair of scissors and cut up your bacon. Toss it in the pan with the shallots to warm it through and set aside in a bowl.

Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter and the ¼ cup of flour. Stir and stir and stir some more not letting it burn. Once kind of golden looking and bubbling like the picture (takes about 3 to 4 minutes) slowly add in your warm milk.

Here's what it looks like after you add the warm milk. Now stir! For as long as it takes!

See, this is me stirring. Okay so I had to grab the camera and snap a picture but I was stirring! Stir until it thickens! Trust me it will go quicker if you heated up your milk! You will be able to notice the difference in the consistency. Do you see the plastic bowl in the previous picture? That's all of my cheese! Now slowly add that in...

Stir in that cheese until it melts!

Here I've added the sauteed shallots and the chopped up bacon.

Here I've added in the spices. I know that I did this a little backwards. You can certainly add in the spices before you add the cheese but there's a method to my madness. Spices are heavier and they tend to sink to the bottom of any liquid. Having the sauce now seriously thickened by the cheese tends to let the other ingredients like the shallots and bacon along with the spices to  be suspended in the sauce, so one bite tastes lile all the others.

Add in those al dente cooked elbow macaronis (you should have used the entire box because that's what the recipe calls for) and serve this in lovely little bowls! Of course there's always MORE you can do to this recipe.  Say you're having a dinner party and what to fancy this up a bit- put it in a 9x13 baking dish, put some bread crumbs on top (I use panko bread crumbs because of the flakiness factor not to mention it's pretty and yummy). Bake at 375º until golden brown- maybe 15 to 20 minutes.


There are so many things I love about summer time! Recipes that include fresh tomatoes and basil are one of my favorites. It's got to be the unique flavors of the two items that sent my taste buds doing the happy dance.  This is a great salad for summer entertaining! You can bake the croutons a day or two ahead of time and store them in a ziplock baggie.

So here goes with a quick and easy recipe that will leave your family and friends wanting more!

Ingredients list:
1½ lbs of vine ripened tomatoes-seeded and chopped (see pictures)
1 cucumber- seeded and sliced thinly
1 shallot- sliced thinly
3 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar (get the good stuff, you'll thank me for this later) 
 6Tablespoons of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)  
½ teaspoon salt (I use Kosher salt in just about all of my recipes)
pepper to taste but I'd say no more than a ½ teaspoon
1 loaf rustic Italian bread (I use Ciabatta) 
basil- get the freshest that you can!

Here you see my 2 key ingredients the red wine vinegar and the olive oil.Yup my 2 favorite brands!

Slice tomato in half and remove the seeds. Here's a trick I learned when taking all of those private classes with various chefs- use a Grapefruit spoon when removing the core from tomatoes, cucumbers, melons basically anything that's soft and fleshy with seeds.

 The inside of that tomato look nice and seed free! Another trick when slicing tomatoes- use a serrated edge knife such as a steak or a bread knife. Makes a clean cut every time!

Here's my chopped tomato with the salt. I mix the salt into the tomatoes and let it sit for about 20 minutes letting it work it's magic. The juice from the tomatoes is part of the salad dressing.

After the tomatoes have had a chance to release their juices, add the red wine vinegar and mix, then add the olive oil and really mix with your little whisk. Add black pepper (no more than a ½ teaspoon, remember this is to your own personal tastes so add more or less as you like it). What you'll have is this. Now pour this over the tomatoes, cucumbers and sliced shallots. Let the flavors blend/marinate. This is also a good time to add the basil. Slice the basil thinly (sorry I didn't get a picture of this process). Add as much or as little ask you like. Me, I like a lot so I add a lot but go with a couple of chopped tablespoons at first and see how you like it and then go from there.
See how easy it is to seed a cucumber with a grapefruit spoon- it makes it so pretty!

Cut cucumber in half, cut out the seeds using a grapefruit spoon-then slice thinly.

Thinly sliced shallots, make sure to poke out all of the slices as no one likes to get a big ole bite of onion flavored anything.
My ciabatta bread cut into rustic cubes, I drizzle olive oil (about 1 teaspoon- separate from the 6 T used in the dressing). Spread out on a baking tray or two. Bake in a 400º oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Here's my baked croutons, nice and golden and dry! You need them to be dry so they won't get soggy in your salad.

I toss the tomato mixture on top of the home made croutons and mix thoroughly.

Here's the finished product- it's  seriously yummy!

February 24, 2012

How I go about writing and tweaking a recipe

It's always a challenge to come up with a new and different recipe. Sometimes I come away from the experience with a new understanding of my family's limits of being my test subjects (yes, I'm laughing).

Today the poor test subject is my daughter. I'm trying a Zucchini dish that incorporates the use of 3 different cheeses. I openly admit that my first stab at this recipe left little to be desired.

 Not only do I need to adjust the cooking time and temperature, I also need to adjust the size of the cut zucchini as well as my liquid content.  About my cheese choices; the ones I chose to use were because of their creaminess when melted. There are a wide variety of cheeses that one could use, most can be found in the dairy section of the grocery store and others can be found in the specialty cheese section in the deli department.  Now for the liquid choices; whole milk, heavy cream or half and half.  Some cooks like to use whole milk and add in butter for the extra oomph. Me, I like to go with half and half since it's in-between whole milk and heavy cream and I don't feel the need to add in butter.

Lets get crazy an talk about bread crumbs- oh the varieties! Which type to use?  Regular or Panko? Or do you go the extra effort and make your own? I like to top off my cheesy dishes with bread crumbs and my choice is Panko style. Or I could go the extra step and make my own chunky style bread crumbs, hmmm. I think that my next attempt at this recipe I'll step it up a notch and go with home made bread crumbs.

Now for me to sit down and write this all up on my note pad.

February 10, 2012

Out with the old...

I admit right up front- I have an ever growing collection of cookbooks that is in desperate need to be weeded out! I figure that today was as good as any day to sit down and go through the ones I no longer use as a reference source for ideas. Well little did I know that I was setting myself up for some serious laughter...

So,there I was...innocently thumbing through a recipe book when I noted something odd. There was a reference to the origins of the recipe and how the original had called for use of "Squirrel Meat". Squirrel meat? Really??? My first thought was, How old is this cookbook? And my second thought was, Oh Lord let this have been and gift and nothing I bought for myself! When I looked at the cover, I laughed even harder because I instantly knew who had given me this cookbook. I smile and shake my head at the little things that make me laugh!

Spicy Salsa Meatballs

I saw a recipe for "spicy meatballs" and then decided to kick it up a couple of notches. I wanted something different to serve at our house warming party but still keeping within the "Tex Mex" theme that my husband requested.

Ingredients you will need;
 for the Meat Balls...

1 1/2 to 2 lbs Ground Turkey
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Salt and course ground Black Pepper
2 Eggs
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1 TBS Freeze Dried Jalapenos

for the Sauce...
1 Jar of Thick and Chunky Salsa
1 jar of Cocktail Sauce
1/4 cup Jalapeno peppers I used the kind from a jar), I measured them w/o the liquid and then I chopped them and added them to the sauce- use less if you like it less spicy).

So here goes...
Mix the meat and all ingredients in a mixer, it should go rather quickly. I used Litehouse brand freeze dried Jalapenos. You can find them in your local grocers your produce section. Make meatballs no bigger than 1 inch in diameter only because if you make them any larger there's the very real issues of them not cooking thoroughly (I had experienced this while making these). Here's a tip; roll meatballs while your hands are damp- it helps to keep the met from sticking to your hands.
I fried my meatballs in 1 inch of canola oil, I rolled them around in the pot until they were golden brown. Drain them on paper towels. Put into oven to keep warm (oven temp 200).

Making the sauce- just dump everything into a pot, mix well with a wooden spoon. let it bubble and then turn it down to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Place meatballs in a covered casserole dish, pour sauce over meatballs just prior to serving.

January 31, 2012

Fish is the only food that is considered spoiled
once it smells like what it is.
-P. J. O'Rourke

January 13, 2012

Two Tex Mex recipes!

When I'm in the mood for Tex Mex flavor, I want it fresh and I want it now! Once you make read over these 2 recipes, make them and taste for yourself- you'll never go back to the stuff from a jar again!

This is so fresh and tasty you'll want to put it on nearly everything from your tacos, to grilled chicken, fish and even your eggs!

First and foremost wash all produce in warm soapy water or use a product such as veggie wash to get waxes and unseen ickies that can cause you or your family members to get sick. Remember- germs and bacteria are everywhere!

Use either Beef Steak or Hot House tomatoes for these recipes. Remove the seeds. I use these kind because of the juice and flavor factor. I use Roma Tomatoes in all things Italian.

And please oh please practice Pepper Safety! Be caredul handeling fresh peppers because chili peppers have oils in thier skin that can cause you some major discomfort if it comes into contact with your nose eyes or mouth! So please always wear some sort of rubber or plastic gloves when handling them! Also wash all items that come into contact with said chili peppers in HOT soapy water to remove all trace of the oils! And always wash your hands after taking off those gloves, it never hurts to be safe!

Please check out Miss Vicki.com for a guide to peppers with pictures!

Pico De Gallo

This is how I make mine...

3 large Hot House tomatoes diced
3 Fresno Peppers (seeded and diced)
1 medium Red Onion
Fresh Cilantro to taste (I like a lot of cilantro so I used a lot)
Lime juice- about half a lime depending upon how big your lime is
¼ to a ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt

Mix together, let sit for an hour or more to get the onions to lose thier bite and the tomatoes to absorb the other flavors.

Now this can be as spicy as you want it. The peppers I used are at the medium (a #5) spice level. You can use Jalapenos if you like yours with more heat, or like it nuclear hot? Use a hotter chili pepper such as a Habanero-OUCH! That hurts my tongue and my tummy just reading it!

Salsa- Sandie Style

Again, I can't stress this enough...Use the freshest ingredients available to you! 

4 Large Hot House Tomatoes

1 medium to large onion (I like to use red onions because of their sweeter flavor)

1 small to medium Bell Pepper (I use any color but green because the green ones taste like grass to me- silly but true)

1 clove minced garlic (now here is where I use my roasted garlic because it doesn't have that harsh raw garlic taste and here's an extra bit of trivia roasted garlic doesn't produce gas in your body like raw garlic does).

3 chili peppers- your choice depending upon how hot you like it! Use Miss Vickies Pepper Guide to help you make your choice. Me, I used those Fresno chilis and it came out just fine!

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Juice of 1 Lime

Cilantro- I used half a bunch- it was yummy!

You can also expand this by adding other goodies such as:
 frozen corn (about a cup)
 1 can of Black Beans (thoroughly rinsed)
Pineapple, Mango, Raspberries , Grapes, etc.

Just think about all of the different kinds of salsa out there on the grocery store and gourmet food store shelves and remember that you can make it at home without all of the preservatives, additives and you know it's fresh and good for you!

What country did that garlic come from?

I'm always on the look out to make the food I serve my family and friends from freshest ingredients  I can find. Lately I have to say that I am quite disturbed by what I have found in my local grocery store. The more I learn about how much of our nations food is outsourced to foreign countries astounds me. 

While living in England I accepted that the fruits and vegetables available in the local grocery stores were imported on a more Global scale than I had ever experiences before. BUT and this is a huge but- in England it was clearly labeled where your food came from, almost to the point of having large heavy print showing you that your produce came from  places such as Germany, South Africa, Egypt or Belize. While living in England I got to witness first hand the heavily advertised nation wide campaign to buy British meats and produce. The first thing I thought to myself was "Wow, America should do this with thier meat, fish and produce". I tell ya, I followed this campaigns advice and only bought Grown in the UK food stuffs and I bought from local butchers and farmers markets whenever I could.  Now you're wondering..."Where exactly are you doing with this Sandie?" Okay I'll tell ya...

Yesterday I'm in my local grocery store and I'm picking up fresh fruit and veggies for the salsa and chicken pie that I was going to make (made them both and they were sooo good- recipes to come later).  Once I got started looking at labels and country of origin I found that I could not stop. I had heard on the news that all canned mushrooms are now imported from Thailand- I checked that out for myself and OH MY GOSH it's true! Not that I could or would use canned mushrooms in any recipe of mine BUT I don't want to eat stuff that's grown someplace where there are little to no regulation on the kinds of chemicals and pesticides that are used in growing produce. I picked up a package of fresh Garlic- looked at the label and there it was in black and white "product in China". Garlic from China? Whatever happened to Garlic that's grown in Gilroy California? I have bought Gilroy grown Garlic for my entire life! I have also bought Washington State Apples,  Maine or Idaho Potatoes and California Almonds.  I want to know WHO is going to buy and cook with that garlic from China when there are so many recalls of every day items from China that are potentially hazardous? I also heard on the news that now all Limes are imported? Really? We can't grow Limes in this country? I don't believe it! Same goes for avocados, oranges, grapes, lemons. lettuce, tomatoes and so much more! 

Take a stand and say NO to food imported from China. We've done it with our clothes and goods for our homes why not with your/our food?

December 5, 2011

Worm Soup aka French Onion Soup

 I happen to LOVE soup! French Onion soup especially has got this "home" quality to it that just makes one feel all warm inside. I laugh at this- my children like to call French Onion Soup "Worm Soup" because of the thin pieces of carmelized onions. Call it what you will, this soup will have you smiling and wanting more!

¼ cup Butter (I use the salt free kind)

3 lbs White Onions thinly sliced you can use yellow onions but they are sweeter and it will taste a little different than using the white onions. Now for the slicing, I use a mandoline- it's so much easier than doing it with a chef's knife).

1  32 ounce box of sodium free Chicken Broth

2  10 ounce cans of Beef consommé

½ cup dry white wine (make sure it's something you would drink because putting in crappy wine in any dish just makes it all not worth the effort you're putting into making a quality meal).

4 fresh thyme springs

salt and pepper to taste

I like to use a dutch oven to make this soup but if you don't have one then a nice sturdy cook pot will do.

Melt butter in a dutch oven over medium heat; add onions and cook stirring often until the onions are golden in color. This IS going to take a while, so be prepared to be there in your kitchen for up to 1½ hours with this process. It will be worth it in the end, I promise!

Add the rest of the ingredients (minus the s and p) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste. I usually don't add salt as the beef consommé is plenty salty for my tastes.

Here's the fun part- You're going to need 6 thick slices of a French Bread and 6-. 1 one ounce slices of Swiss Cheese and oven proof bowls. Set oven at 450º, place soup bowls on a lined baking tray, ladle in soup, place bread pieces in bowls with cheese slices on top. Put into oven until cheese is all melted and starting to brown (watch close as the cheese can go brown brown to black in a blink of an eye).
 Now grab those soup spoons and dig in!

September 25, 2011

Le Creuset

Here is it, my latest kitchen toy- my Le Creuet Braiser. My darling husband bought it for me yesterday. Hands down, I am one lucky woman! So I've decided to take you on a walk through my small but growing collection of Le Creuset cookware. I have the following pieces...
 3½ quart Braiser in Flame
 5    quart Oval French Oven in Cherry
 6¾ quart  Wide Round French Oven in Kiwi
 3½ quart Oval French Oven in Caribbean
 7½ quart Round French Oven in Kiwi

 I use these various pieces for all sorts of things. The oval ones are perfect for using in the oven to bake things like whole stuffed chickens and fancy pork and beef roasts. I love the round ones for stove top items such making soups, stews, chili and deep frying. My winter favorite is this rustic stew (it's an Ina Garten recipe) that goes from the stove top to the oven to finish it off. There's no limit to the things one can make in these wonderful French Ovens.

Places to check for great bargains on Le Creuset has to be their outlet stores. Other places such as Marshall's, TJ Maxx and Home Goods. These are the kind of cookware pieces that are handed down through the generations. I know that my daughter will enjoy pieces  such as these when she starts collecting quality cookware for her own home one day.

Now you may wonder at the various colors. I have a  same thing going on with my Kitchen Aid appliances. The matter of the fact is that I love variety and the rainbow. There's that and the fact that I happen to buy whatever color strikes my fancy and whatever "good deal" comes my way. Hence the 2 larger French ovens in Kiwi. I came across the wide one on clearance at a TJ Maxx store for such an impossibly good deal that I simply could not pass it up!