Thursday, September 27, 2018

Homemade Mac N' Ch"easy"

My kids are huge fans of macaroni and cheese nights.  Honestly, I'd think they were weirdos if they weren't.  I'm a fan of macaroni and cheese nights.  Whenever I ask them what they want on the weekly food menu, one of the first things they'll say is, "mac n' cheese"!  If I asked them what their favorite macaroni and cheeses were they'd probably say Kraft or Stouffer's.  Kraft is a good quick fix and can be done in a good fifteen to twenty minutes.  Stouffer's is more of a set it and forget it (for an hour) kind of meal.  Both good for very different reasons and both easily convenient.

Did you know though that a homemade macaroni and cheese could be almost just as easy as something from a store bought box?  In addition to being easy it is so very versatile in that you can make it however you want!  You can pick your cheeses.  You can add vegetables if you want.  You can add ham or bacon.  You can pick whatever noodle you want.  People hear "homemade" and they automatically think it's a lot of work, but seriously, it really isn't at all.

So... what do I do?  I actually take a base from a recipe that was given to me from a long time friend for ham and scalloped potatoes.  Really it's a pretty basic rue, but it's been successful for me and I stick with what works.  The rue becomes the cheesy sauce which is the most important element of your macaroni and cheese.

To start preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then, I begin the prep-work.  As I said above, the cheesy flavor is the most important part.  I like to buy bricks of cheese and shred them myself so I start with picking what cheeses I want to use.  For this particular recipe I used some extra sharp cheddar, mild cheddar and monterey jack.  I eyeball what I want to use but I try to keep the sharp cheddar on the dominant side.  It really does give it that stand out cheesy flavor kick that you want.  I'd start by shredding 2 cups of the sharp, 1 cup of the mild and 1 cup of the monterey jack.  You can taste and add as you'd like as you go.

Next, I boil the water for the noodles and cook according to instructions (minus a minute of cooking time).  While the water is boiling, I start my rue.  I melt 1/2 stick of salted butter (please don't torture yourself by buying unsalted butter... there's no point) at medium high heat in a large frying pan.  When the butter is about halfway melted, I use a garlic press to add a clove of garlic to the pan.  If you don't have a garlic press, just chop a clove of garlic finely or you can buy a jar of minced garlic and add 1/2 teaspoon.

Once the butter is completely melted, slowly start adding 4 tablespoons of flour.  Whisk the flour in little by little, making sure the mixture is blended before adding the next bit.  After all of the flour is added, slowly start adding 2 cups of milk (I use whole milk but you can also use half and half or heavy cream).  You have to constantly whisk as you add milk.  You want your mixture to get very smooth.  When that mixture is smooth, reduce your heat to medium low and add your cheese.  All of it.

You'll want to keep stirring your cheese rue to make sure the cheese is melting and it tastes the way you want it too.  At this point I add salt and pepper as well.  When your noodles are ready, you'll compile your cooked noodles and your cheesy rue into a large, greased casserole dish and mix it all together.  Cook for about 20 minutes in your pre-heated oven and you're all set!

I added a cornbread topping to my macaroni and cheese.  I pre-cooked a box of Jiffy cornbread and separated it into crumbs with a fork.  I melted 1/2 a stick of butter and mixed it all together.  Once my macaroni and cheesy mixture was in the casserole dish, I added the cornbread topping.

If you want to add meats like ham or bacon, make sure they are pre-cooked and add them when you add the cheese into the rue.  If you want to add a vegetable like corn or peppers, I'd add them when you add the garlic (as you are melting the butter).  The great thing is that you can change this recipe in so many ways.  Add what you want.  Take out what you want.  And it really is so fast and easy.  Maybe the first time it'll seem like a lot, but after that, it'll be easy ch"easy"!




Serves: Around 6

Ingredients:

1 8.5oz Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (made to box directions)
1lb Elbow Macaroni
1 stick salted butter (total)
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheese
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Pre-make Corn Muffin Mix.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Boil water (add lots of salt to water) and cook elbow macaroni for 1 minute less than instructed on box.
4. Melt 1/2 stick of the salted butter at medium/high heat.  When butter is half way melted, add the garlic clove.  Once butter is melted started slowly whisking in the flour until all flour is used and the mixture is well blended.
5.  Add milk to the mixture little by little, whisking it in until it becomes smooth each time.  Do so until all milk is added and the mixture has no lumps.
6.  Add all cheese to the butter/garlic/milk mixture.  Reduce heat to medium/low.  Let all cheese melt and then add salt and pepper to taste.
7.  Grease a casserole pan.
8.  Pour cooked and drained noodles into casserole pan followed by the cheese mixture.
9.  Melt the other 1/2 stick of salted butter in microwave.  Fork crumble the corn muffins in a bowl.  Mix the melted butter and corn muffins and then spread along the top of the noodles and cheese in the casserole pan.
10.  Put in the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  When the cornbread topping starts to brown up bit.
11.  Pull out of oven and cool.
12.  Serve to your family and be the best parent ever.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Breakfast Egg Bites

Cooking is something I haven't always appreciated doing.  A box of noodles and a jar of sauce was what my spaghetti used to consist of.  Now?  Well, I'm learning how to make homemade noodles with cool grown up stuff like a pasta roller and my bare friggin' hands!  I'm still working on getting it right, but I definitely feel more accomplished and proud to feed fresh pasta to my family!


Pizza... well that tasty treat came from the freezer section of the local supermarket.  I do still indulge in a 5 Cheese Tombstone every so often, but after years of working on my perfect crust and sauce recipe, my preference is to make it myself.  Maybe I'm biased but I believe I've gotten quite good at it!  I love making pizza so much I've actually considered making a cookbook!





I've also gotten pretty darn good at making omelets, which really aren't that hard to do.  When my husband comes back from a week long sales trip, an omelet is usually the first thing he'll ask me to make for him.  In the past, buying an egg biscuit or getting a big breakfast from McDonald's was my top breakfast choice.  I can make all of the fixins' for a McDonald's big breakfast at home now and it tastes SO MUCH BETTER!  Then, there's my new favorite... biscuits and gravy.  I never thought I was a rue making kind of chick, but now I'm all about a good rue!

I wanted to show off an omelet pic, so check out this happy omelet and pancake platter I made the other night for my kids!  (Kind of looks like a happy duck doesn't it?  Ha ha!)


There are many other things I've learned to make but right now it's time to get to the topic of this blog... the Breakfast Egg Bites!  I've learned that cooking does not have to be a chore.  It also doesn't have to be a super involved process.  I haven't done a recipe blog in quite a while, or any blog for that matter, so I thought I'd share this easy peasy recipe for some yummy egg bites.  I actually wouldn't call it much of a recipe, just a brilliant marrying of pretty simple ingredients to make a super tasty bite, but it's definitely quick and easy!

A Facebook friend of mine posted a photo of some tasty looking egg bites and I was immediately intrigued.  I'm always interested in finding new breakfast ideas and I think I could probably live on eggs and cheese.  Just thinking about it makes me want to hit the fast forward button to breakfast!  Her recipe used a meat for the base, like ham or turkey.  I decided I wanted to use some pie dough as the base for my egg bites.  I happened to have some Pillsbury pie dough on hand and the only other ingredients I needed was eggs, shredded cheese, milk and some salt and pepper.


The pie dough came in a two pack, I only used one of the doughs.  I utilized my mini cupcake pan that has 24 spaces.  I unrolled the dough and used the mouth of a small mason jar to cut the circles out.  I had to do this in rounds because I could only get so many out of the dough at a time.  I then rolled it back out and kept cutting until I had no more dough to use.  I pressed the circles into and up the sides of the mini muffin spaces.

I then mixed together 3 large eggs, a dash of milk and some salt and pepper.  I filled each pie crust filled mini muffin space about halfway with the egg mixture.  I topped the mixture with shredded mild cheddar cheese.  Now, I prefer to buy bricks of cheese and shred them myself.  I think it tastes better than buying pre-shredded cheese, however in this instance I did use pre-shredded because we had a lot left over from a party.


I cooked these for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven and viola!  Tasty breakfast treats!  It's not a gourmet meal by any stretch but so easy and also versatile!  You can add anything to them that you like.  Throw some (pre-cooked) bacon in there, tomatoes, maybe some chopped up (pre-cooked) breakfast sausage, green onions or some fresh basil... the possibilities are endless!  My kiddos ate the whole batch up in under five minutes flat!  I was able to nab a few before they ate them all and yum, yum, yum!