Baked Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

Pasta:

1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked “al dente” and drained

Cheese Sauce:

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup whole milk

1 (8 oz.) brick cream cheese, diced into small cubes

2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese*

Topping:

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

4 tbsp. melted unsalted butter

Directions:

Cook the macaroni according to package directions, but don’t overcook, as it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray an ovenproof casserole dish with oil and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large nonstick pan over medium heat; do not let the butter get too brown. Add the flour and salt to the melted butter, and whisk with a wire whisk to make a blonde or pale brown roux.

SLOWLY whisk in the milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Add the cream cheese cubes, a few at a time, stirring with a spoon after each addition until you have a smooth velvety mixture. Fold in the cheese, and stir until melted and the cheese sauce is smooth.

Add in the drained pasta, and stir until it’s mixed thoroughly.

Transfer the mac & cheese to the prepared baking dish.

For the topping, in a small bowl, stir the breadcrumbs and the melted butter together until moist, but not soggy. Top the mac & cheese with the moist breadcrumbs, and bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes, or until it’s golden on top and bubbly around the edges.

*Feel free to mix and match various types of cheese (but I’d still use at least 1 cup cheddar). I sometimes will mix a cup of sharp cheddar and a cup of Mexican blend, or pepper jack.

**This recipe can be easily multiplied for bigger events; I quadrupled it for Ben’s wedding and for Vic’s couple’s shower.

Ranch Cauliflower

1 lg. Cauliflower, cut or broken into florets

1/3 cup olive oil, divided by half

1 small (0.4 oz.) packet dry Ranch dressing

Ground black pepper to taste

Rinse the cauliflower florets, drain and pat dry with paper towels. Toss florets with half the olive oil, and heat the other half of the oil in a large non-stick skillet. When oil is hot, carefully add the cauliflower and sauté over medium-high heat, turning ever minute or so, until florets are roasted a golden brown, but are still crispy; about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle on the Ranch dressing. Toss to coat thoroughly; add black pepper, and toss lightly. Serve immediately.

Roasted Bell Pepper and Spinach Salad

I’m not a fan of too many raw veggies; I prefer them slightly cooked, or tender/crisp. This Mediterranean style salad fits the bill perfectly. It’s has a luscious, warm taste profile that brings to mind the Greek Isles (I wish! I’ll get there someday). This makes a serving for 4, but feel free to modify it for larger or smaller amounts. You can also get creative with the ingredients; I’ve left out the onion, added chopped carrots and a clove of garlic, and made a few substitutions when my pantry supplies were running low. This looks like too much olives, so if you want to you can always add less that this recipe calls for. (I like olives!)

2 tbsps. good quality extra-virgin olive oil

4 or 5 baby (or Gypsy) red and yellow bell peppers, sliced in thin strips

1 large green bell pepper, sliced in thin strips

1 small white onion, sliced in thin strips (or Frenched)

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 baby Bella mushrooms, sliced

3 cups fresh spinach leaves

1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives, maybe less depending on taste

1/4 cup sliced black olives, depending on taste

1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives, depending on taste

1/2 tsp. capers

1/2 cup crumbled goat or Feta cheese

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Throw in the bell pepper and onion slices and sauté until they become blistered, stirring frequently. The skin of the peppers will bubble and begin to blacken, just keep them moving around in the skillet.

Meanwhile, in a salad bowl of the appropriate size, place the spinach leaves, the olives, and capers.

When the peppers and onions have blackened sufficiently, throw in the tomatoes and mushroom slices. You only want to leave them on the heat long enough to heat through, but not cook and become mushy, about 2 minutes or so.

Spoon the veggies in the skillet over the spinach and olive mixture and toss lightly. Sprinkle with goat or Feta cheese and serve immediately. You don’t need any additional dressing, but Reese always adds some Ranch (he can’t help himself!)

Peach Upside Down Cake


Ingredients:

8 large peaches, pitted and sliced

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups sour cream

2 tsp. almond extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt 1/2 cup of the butter in a 10″ cake pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the melted butter, then arrange the peach slices over this.

Cream together the remaining 1 cup of butter and the sugar until light and fluffy; add the eggs, one at a time until creamy and mixed well.

Sift together the dry ingredients and add in the sour cream, a little at a time. Add in the almond extract and mix until smooth. Carefully pour over the peach slices and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and invert the cake pan onto a cake plate. Leave the pan for about 10 minutes, so the brown sugar has a chance to run down over the cake. Remove the pan when it cools and serve warm or room temperature.

*Inspired by a recipe from the Scotto Family restaurant “Fresco”

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

I love cranberry sauce with my Thanksgiving turkey, and this make-ahead recipe is super easy.

1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries

2 cups honey

1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored, and diced

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 orange, zested and juiced

1/4 tsp. ground ginger (or fresh grated)

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, add the rinsed cranberries, honey, and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes; the berries will begin to pop.

Add the diced apple, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, and ginger. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, smashing the berries as they soften. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into serving dish and chill til ready to serve.

Skin Care

Over time, I’ve developed my own skin care moisture cream which is super creamy and luscious, at a fraction of the cost of the stuff you will find out there. I use the body cream after showering and the scrubs are great for moisturizing hands, feet, elbows. It works especially well for getting stinky stuff off. I keep small containers of salt and sugar scrubs next to my sinks for cleaning up after gardening, peeling shrimp, or cleaning up after a crawfish boil.

I can buy all the ingredients to make my skin care products for just a fraction of the cost of the ready-made stuff, so I usually make big batches and gift small containers to friends and family.

Basic Body Butter:

3 cups coconut oil

1 (8 oz.) container African Shea Butter (I order from Amazon)

2 tsp. vitamin E (you can get the gel caps, punch a pin in one end and squeeze the oil out, but I get the small bottle through Amazon)

50 drops essential oils — here’s where I get creative. I mix about 15 or so drops of 3 or 4 different essential oils that I think work well together. In the summer, I like light scents like orange, lemon, tea tree, lavender, lemongrass. In the winter, or for the guys, I go with earthier scents like bergamot, rosemary, and cedarwood. The choice is up to you; whatever you prefer.

In a large mixing bowl, add the coconut oil and shea butter; microwave about 30 seconds, just enough to soften. Using a hand, mix  the oil and shea butter at medium speed until smooth.  

Add the vitamin E and oil and continue to mix at medium speed; add your choice of essential oils and mix again until smooth. Divide in half and store in air-tight (I prefer glass) containers. Chill for about an hour, then store at room temperature and use as a body moisturizer.

Scrubs:

With the remainder, divide in half into two smaller mixing bowls.

In one bowl, add 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, then mix at medium speed until sugar is incorporated into the moisturizer.

In the other bowl, add 1 1/2 cups salt, then mix at medium speed until salt is incorporated in.

Transfer to small air-tight containers and store at room temperature. Use to exfoliate hands, feet, elbows, cuticles, or to clean up after dirty or stinky tasks.

The scrubs will leave your hands fresh and clean-smelling, and don’t worry if your hands have a “greasy” feel after using the scrubs. That will work itself into your skin in a few minutes, leaving them soft and smooth.

Skin Care!!

Over time, I’ve developed some skin care recipes that are much more cost-effective and just as moisture-effective than the insanely expensive stuff. I whip up a basic body moisturizer that’s great for after showering, then I divide part of it and add salt  and sugar to make scrubs.

The ingredients I use make a lot, and cost a fraction of what you will find anywhere!

Basic Body Butter

3 cups coconut oil

1 (8 oz.) container African Shea Butter

2 tsp. Vitamin E oil

2 tsp. Brazil nut or jojoba oil

 

Almond Butter

Eating healthy ain’t cheap, y’all. Have you priced almond butter in the grocery lately? It’s much too exorbitant for me, so what do I do? Try to make it myself, that’s what!! Here’s my cheap(er) and easy recipe.

image
About 1/2 pound raw whole almonds
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
(optional; I add it for its nutritional value and to add to the
creaminess of the finished product)
2 tsp. raw local honey
about 1/2 cup water

You will also need a food processor with a good motor; I can see that this could burn up a motor on a lighter-weight one.

Process whole almonds in the food processor until roughly chopped. Add the nutritional yeast and honey; process until the contents become unyielding. It will start to clump and not move around in the bowl of the processor.

Drizzle in the water, a little at a time while the processor is running (if that’s possible). Slowly add enough water for the butter to reach a fairly smooth consistency. Continue to process until you feel that it can not get any smoother. It probably won’t be a smooth as the store-bought kind, but I prefer it kind of grainy. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

Infused Olive Oil

After checking out the $17 bottles of infused olive oils at the local gourmet store, of course I thought, “I can do this myself!” So here’s what I came up with.

Pick a handful of fresh herbs from the herb garden.

 

image

With the real winter we had here; actual snow, a couple of freezes and an extended cool spring, my herbs are just getting started. However, my thyme did survive, so I’ll use it for this recipe.

Start by cutting a big bunch of fresh herbs, wash well, and trim as needed. Thoroughly pat dry between several sheets of paper towels, being careful not to crush.

 

image

Pack the clean, dry herbs into a clean glass quart jar then fill with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil. Cap tightly, then roll the jar around lightly to mix. Store for about 2-3 weeks in a cool, dark spot. The longer they steep, the stronger the infusion.

 

image

Here I have my thyme and I’m also doing a crushed red pepper jar. I placed about 2 cups crushed red pepper flakes in a quart jar, then filled both jars with olive oil.

After a couple weeks, I strain the oil through a small-mesh strainer lined with cheese-cloth, discarding the herbs. I sometimes will repeat this step if the oil looks cloudy. Then I fill my labeled jars; if the oil is too herby (or peppery) I will cut it with some plain oil.

I repurpose my wine and liquor bottles, using wine pouring spouts as toppers, and I found some “chalkboard” labels that I can change easily.

I store my infused oils at room temperature for many weeks on my countertop, but you could refrigerate. I’ve seen recipes that require heating the oil and herbs; they don’t require the time that this recipe does, but those require refrigeration.

 

image

Any leafy herb, like thyme, rosemary, chives, basil, to name a few, works well. I’ve even gotten creative and used, in addition to red pepper flakes, peppercorns, lemon peel, garlic cloves, and purple onion. Once I forgot a jar of peppercorn for several months, and boy, was it HOT!

The garlic and onion oils tended to get cloudy quickly, so I store those in the fridge.