Mushroom and Kale Egg Bake

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeAdulting is hard stuff. Sure, there are the big things like taking care of kids or parents, unexpected car and home repairs, dealing with awful work situations, but sometimes the littlest things feel the most difficult. These days, one of my biggest dilemmas is finding what to feed myself in the mornings that is convenient, nourishing, and so tasty I’ll be psyched to eat it a few days a week. This mushroom and kale egg bake hits all the marks!

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeI’ll be the first to say that when it comes to breakfast, I’m picky. It’s not that I don’t like all the very many breakfast options available to me, but on weekdays, I almost always want something fast and something that isn’t sweet. I’m up so early Monday through Friday that I can’t stomach much breakfast at all let alone something sugary or even fruity. This winds up eliminating a lot of standard, and quick go-to breakfast items, like smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt. These are all delicious things, but none that really fit what I’m looking for in breakfast these days.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeA lot of strategizing has caused me to embrace the egg bake as the solution to my problems. Sure, I don’t want to eat eggs five days a week, but with this make ahead, it’s easy to grab it for a few days and pepper the rest of the week with other options. While you can customize an egg bake with anything you’re craving, this mushroom and kale combination is my new and current favorite.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeWith only a handful of ingredients and a fairly quick preparation, this is the perfect thing to bake off on a Sunday and then feed yourself with it throughout the week, microwaving it for just a minute or so to warm it through when you want to enjoy it. I’ve frozen pieces I haven’t gotten to in a week and after a quick thaw, they’re good as new warmed up for next week or next month. I’m hooked!

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeThe inspiration for this combination comes from a delicious mushroom toast recipe that my mom and I have been making for years around the holidays and that I think of several times a month even when it’s not anywhere near Christmastime, that’s how good it is. Garlicky kale seemed like it would be a good partner in this egg bake marriage with the buttery mushroom mixture and, well, it’s truly kismet.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeLots of delicious, earthy flavors in this mushroom and kale egg bake, but truly, you can use the base of this recipe to make it your own. Use it to power you through your work week mornings or even as a light lunch. While I cut this into 4-6 wedges and take them  for breakfast, this also makes a great main dish at a brunch or as a contribution to a potluck – Easter brunch recipe, maybe? What will you put in your egg bake this week?

Mushroom and Kale Egg Bake
Yields approximately 6 servings

Ingredients
1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 shallot, minced
8oz of white button mushrooms, cleaned
1/2 teaspoon of herbs de provence or dried thyme
Salt & pepper
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons of half & half or heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups of kale, stemmed and cleaned
1 clove of garlic minced
6 eggs
1/4 cup of milk

Directions
In a large skillet, add one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. While it is melting, mince the shallot and add to pan sautéing and stirring occasionally. You’ll want to cook the shallots about 3 minutes. While the shallot is cooking, chop the mushrooms and then add to the skillet with some salt and pepper and the herbs de provence. You may need to add another teaspoon or two of olive oil to the mushrooms as they cook if they become dry. Cook mushrooms with shallots for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have browned nicely. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice, cream, and half of the parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes until all of the ingredients are incorporated and then remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.

Cut your clean, stemmed kale into 1/2-inch ribbons and then mince the garlic clove. Wipe out the skillet you used to cook the mushrooms and add a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic clove and sauté for a minute or two until fragrant and slightly softened. Add the kale and toss in the oil and garlic with a little bit of salt and pepper for one minute or until wilted, but not completely soft. Remove from heat, add the mushroom mixture and combine thoroughly. Allow to cool while you prepare the eggs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a medium-sized bowl combine the eggs, milk, remaining parmesan cheese, salt, and lots of fresh black pepper. Prepare a 9″ round baking dish (mine is 9″ across and 3″ deep) with cooking spray or some softened butter on the bottom and around the sides. Pour the egg mixture into the baking pan and then top with heaping spoonfuls of the mushroom mixture. Use a butter knife to gently swirl the mushroom filling into the eggs and then put in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the middle is just set and the slightly brown edges have pulled away from the sides of the baking vessel. Allow to cool slightly and then slice into wedges for serving. Can be eaten hot or at room temperature.

Tomato Pesto Gratin

Tomato Pesto GratinTomato Pesto Gratin may seem like a summer dish if ever there was one, but the beauty of it is that it brings the familiar flavors of your farmer’s market bounty into your kitchen in the dead of winter. Last weekend, I was toiling around the kitchen after a week-long bout of bronchitis, anxious to cook and eat all the vegetables I could find. Having just spent seven full days with a stuffed nose and congested chest, I wanted bold flavors I could actually taste and enjoy. Side note: I’ll never take my taste buds for granted again. Digging through the crisper, I thought I’d make some omelettes, maybe with some red peppers and spinach, but therein, I spied five plum tomatoes that I had managed to forget about during our brief plague.
Tomato Pesto GratinI know, I know, tomatoes don’t belong in the refrigerator, but when illness set in, there was no common sense exercised about what belonged where, for how long, or why. We’re lucky the cats were fed and, occasionally, the dishwasher ran. Quickly, the idea for bruschetta came to mind, but with temperatures dipping well into the negative numbers, a cold salad alongside some eggs and toast, wasn’t all that appealing. But baked tomatoes were my quick next thought, and a damn good one at that. We had them again this weekend and I’m taking the leftovers for work on Monday alongside a salad and a hunk of crusty sourdough that we got this weekend at a new bakery in our neighborhood. I’m already looking forward to it!
Tomato Pesto GratinBecause I wanted these to be sweet, tender, and concentrated in tomato flavor, I seeded the tomatoes and then roasted them for 10 minutes without any of the filling. A little known fact about me is that I actually really dislike the taste of raw tomatoes, unless they’re in something like bruschetta or salsa where they’re broken down a bit by some kind of acid – lemon or lime, vinegar – and then mixed up with a ton of flavors I love – onion, cilantro or basil, lots and lots of garlic…yum!


Tomato Pesto Gratin

Once the tomatoes are halfway to jammy (that’s a technical phrase), I took them out of the oven and filled them with a tablespoon of homemade pesto I had in my freezer from last summer and then topped each little mound with a small amount of shredded  mozzarella and panko bread crumbs. They cook for another 20 minutes or until the tops become brown and crisp and the cheese and oil from the pesto are both bubbling away.

Tomato Pesto GratinThese are beyond delicious and such an easy any meal, any day of the week, kind of recipe. We had them with eggs – and may or may not have dipped our sourdough toast in all of the oil and juice – but these would be good along side a steak, grilled chicken, fish, as much as they’re a meal all their own with a hearty salad. Tomato Pesto Gratin is my favorite side dish of the New Year so far and I fully expect to fall back on it time and time again between now and actual summer. Between now and July, I plan to eat my fill and then some!

Tomato Pesto Gratin
Yields 5 servings

Ingredients
5 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder, divided
Salt & pepper
3/4 cup of pesto (mine was cold, so it made it easy to scoop rounded tablespoons into the tomato halves)
1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs

Directions
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Slice tomatoes in half and scoop out seeds and center flesh. You can toss this or use it in a soup, salsa, or as part of a light pasta sauce at another time. In a bowl, add the tomatoes and then douse with two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss to coat and then arrange in a baking dish that is about an inch taller than the height of the tomatoes. Sprinkle a teaspoon of the garlic powder over the tomatoes and add salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven and raise the temperature to 400°F. Fill each tomato half with a tablespoon of the pesto and top with approximately the same amount of shredded mozzarella cheese. Spoon 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs over each tomato half and top all of the pieces with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until the panko is lightly browned and crisp.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions
Hello, friends! How I’ve missed you and this space! While I won’t bore you with all the mundane details, a new job came my way in March shortly after our little getaway to Santa Fe and time has been a hard little beast to track down ever since. With my full-time job now and two classes to boot, it doesn’t seem as if I’ll get a full break any time soon, but the little “me time” I’m carving out, I’d like to put towards this cozy little spot where I make and bake with and for all of you. Send me your love notes of encouragement, yes? Come next semester things will, hopefully, be much less hectic and we’ll get back to much more regular schedule.

A few weeks ago, I skipped out of work a bit early to take a trip to IKEA for some office supplies. A workspace filled with beautiful, modern IKEA elements is a good-for-the-soul workplace, after all! While there, I couldn’t resist a stop for lunch which is where I first encountered their Grönsakskaka, or broccoli and potato vegetable medallions. Have you had these? They’re delicious croquettes made with mashed potatoes, broccoli, leeks and cheese that are then baked and served as a side dish. These are savory little cakes, homey in their density and richness; a perfect accompaniment to the warmer, heavier dishes coming our way as we mosey into fall and winter.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsIntent upon recreating them at home, I stopped by the grocery store on my way home and picked up what I suspected might be in them figuring that if I was slightly off, close enough wasn’t ever going to be bad. When I got in, I did a little research online and found that I’d mostly hit the mark with the suspected ingredients and was only short a leek, which Bear lovingly acquired after I whined about having to go back out to the store – ah, love! Now, dear reader, if you’re a frequent guest of IKEA you may be asking yourself, “Couldn’t this woman have just bought the bag of frozen vegetable medallions IKEA sells in its food section right near the entrances and exits of all its stores?” And you’re right, I could have, but where’s the fun in that?! Us Virgos, we love ourselves a challenge.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsSo here I offer you my version of Grönsakskaka, or IKEA’s vegetable medallions, which are unbelievably close to the original thing and can be available to you in less time than it takes to get to your closest IKEA, find a parking spot, beat the crowds, grab the bag, find a cashier, find your car, and get back to your house. You know, unless you live, like, right next door to an IKEA, in which case, do you eat their meatball dinner three times a week? Four? I’m asking for an (envious) friend.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsThese are great next to a slice of meatloaf, along a roast chicken, or reimagined for breakfast or brunch with a poached egg, a slice or two of bacon, and a lightly dressed salad. Make a batch tonight and freeze what you don’t use for next week. They keep well in the freezer and only need a brief thaw before they can be baked off and ready for your next meal.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions
Yields 12 2-1/2-inch medallions

Ingredients
6 medium russet potatoes
1 small head of broccoli – about 3 cups
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 leek
1-1/2 cup of a mild, white melting cheese, such as Monterey Jack or havarti
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of parmesan, divided
2 eggs, divided
3 teaspoons of half and half or cream, divided
salt, pepper

Directions
Peel the potatoes, cut them into quarters, and then add them to a large pot with 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover with cold water by about 3″ and bring to a boil. Allow the potatoes to boil for about 5-7. In the meantime, rinse and cut up the broccoli into medium-sized pieces. You can also chop up the stem to include, but you may need to remove its fibrous outer layer first. After the 5-7 minutes have elapsed, add the broccoli and cook an additional 5-7 minutes, or until the potatoes and broccoli are soft and mashable. Drain the vegetables in a colander and allow to cool for a bit.

Cut the root end off of the leek and the top half of the link where the white and green parts meet and the leek gets very tough; discard. With your remaining leek, slice it lengthwise and then into thin half moons. Add the leeks to a large bowl of water and swish them around, allowing any grit or sand to rinse off and fall into the bottom of the bowl. After you’ve done so, drain the leeks in a colander and give them a final rinse and set aside to dry off a bit. In a medium frying pan, add the butter and olive oil and turn the heat to medium-high. When the butter is melted, add the leeks and sauté for a few minutes until they start to just turn a bit golden brown at the edges. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, crack two eggs and whisk them together. Reserve 1-1/2 tablespoons of the eggs in another bowl for your egg wash. In the bowl where you initially cracked the two eggs, add two teaspoons of half and half or cream, black pepper, and a little salt. Return to your potato and broccoli mixture and in a large mixing bowl, mash the vegetables together. They shouldn’t be completely smooth, but not very chunky either. A few larger bits of potato or broccoli are fine, as they give texture, but they should be mashed enough where they’ll hold together with some binder.

Add the egg mixture, the 1-1/2 cups of Monterey Jack, and the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the broccoli and potato mash. Stir to combine. The mixture may be a bit sticky, but it should hold together well when shaped. You can free-form the medallions by hand or pat the mixture out into a large rectangle and use a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter to form rounds. Once the medallions have been formed, allow to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while your oven preheats to 375. When ready, arrange the medallions on a lined baking sheet and brush the tops and sides of each with an egg wash composed of the 1-1/2 tablespoons of egg you set aside along with the remaining 1 teaspoon of half and half or cream. Sprinkle the top of each medallion with parmesan cheese and bake for 25 minutes or until just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, allow to sit a minute or two, and serve.

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupOne of my favorite activities is lying in bed at night and dreaming up new recipes with Bear. Usually, one of us will be looking at Pinterest or working on devouring a new novel when the other will exclaim out of nowhere, “You know what would be great to make for the blog?” What follows usually varies in both its appeal and possibility. Some ideas dissipate as quickly as they formed, while others make it onto a running list in my phone only to stay there for months without barely a second thought. Better suggestions make it to the trial stage, but fail miserably and on really good days, I’m able to take an idea and turn it into something absolutely delicious that we wind up having twice in one week because it’s that darn good. Such is the case here with this Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup!

The truth is, this recipe started off as an idea to make a “loaded” cauliflower soup like one would if making a rift on a loaded baked potato. I still think this is a tasty idea (thanks, boo!) and, truly, who doesn’t want to top a thick cauliflower soup with bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and other favorite toppings? I’ll come back to this idea, I know it, but before I could get there a few weeks ago, I spied a round of Boursin shallot & chive herbed cheese in the back of my dairy drawer and instantly knew this would be a pairing for the ages. A quick search will tell you that there’s no shortage of cauliflower and cheese soup recipes out there, but from what I found, no one had thought to pair this creamy, savory cheese with cauliflower just yet – at least as far as Google is concerned. It was all the motivation I needed to put this new plan into action – roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup was born!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupIn this recipe, I start by roasting the cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic until it is medium brown and nutty so that the flavor of our shining star is concentrated and ever-present through each spoonful. I know when the cauliflower is done both by the buttery, toasted aroma it gives off and when the edges of smaller pieces start to become crisp. Seriously, I could stop right here and eat the entire tray as is, but then a) there’d be no soup and b) I’d be in terrible gastrointestinal distress for the following 6-8 hours.

Paired with some golden, sautéed onions, fresh thyme, and chicken or vegetable broth, the soup is bulked up by the addition of two medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes that add to its silkiness once pureed and makes the soup hearty and warming – or, exactly what we all need to get through the remains of winter. With the herbed cheese melted in at the final moment, the soup becomes creamy with both the flavor and mouth-feel (don’t hate me for using that word) of fresh cream and the added deliciousness of shallot and chives. Top your bowls with homemade croutons, a sprinkle of fresh parsley, some crispy bacon, or all of the above for a soup that will quickly become your new favorite. Roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup: make it tonight!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of milk or cream
3 ounces of herbed cheese, such as Boursin, Alouette, or Rondelé, crumbled
Croutons, crispy bacon pieces, or chopped fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast until medium brown, about 20-30 minutes. While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the broth and add the roasted cauliflower. Bring soup to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce to simmer, allowing the soup to cook for about 20 minutes. Potatoes should be tender before removing pot from heat.

Once the soup has finished cooking and you have turned off the flame, use an immersion blender and puree the soup until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add milk or cream and the crumbled cheese, stirring to incorporate. Cover pot and allow cheese to melt and integrate into the soup. Stir well and check the soup for salt & pepper; season if necessary. Add homemade croutons, crisp bacon, or a chiffonade of fresh herbs to the top of each bowl for garnish.

Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupHappy New Year, my lovelies! Here’s hoping the first few days of 2015 are treating you very well indeed. I had so many plans for holiday posts – a cute jewelry DIY, a recipe or three – and I got to none of them! Zut alors! While this makes my overachieving brain feel a touch guilty for being neglectful of this space, I also realized that in not doing these things, I spent a lot more time being present with friends and family and just enjoying the season. While this may not bring me blogging fame any time soon, it did lend itself to a restful time, which I was sorely in need of after my teaching wrapped up. At any rate, I return to you with this absolutely delicious curried carrot and sweet potato soup that I hope you’ll love as much as I do!

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupThe time I spent visiting my family this holiday season was such fun and omg-so-decadent. As Italians generally do, we stuffed our faces with some absolutely delicious grub. There were homemade rice balls, giant antipastos, surf & turf, cookies, cakes, an unforgettable banana cream pie. We visited family in southern Jersey and had mozzarella so fresh it was still warm when it hit our tongues! We traveled to see friends in New York and were treated to homemade gyoza that were simultaneously tender and crisp – not to mention porky & gingery! There were cheese balls, charcuterie, towers of pastries, piles of candies! Guys, in the words of Rayanne Graff, “it was a time!”

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupI bet for many of you, though, there is a glaring absence here of fruit and vegetables and while I didn’t at first care too much about this – vegetables with spinach dip count, right? – by my final days, I was a bit alarmed at how meat-cheese-and-sweets-heavy our diets had become. Understandably, my body felt cranky and tired, so when I returned to Minneapolis my first stop was the grocery store where I loaded up on all the produce I could carry. Seriously, the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator is stuffed full with vegetables and fruit – a sight for the sore eyes of Bear, too, who had eaten a criminal amount of Tostino’s pizza rolls in my absence.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupAs I stared at my bounty that first night trying to figure out what it was I wanted to eat, I realized that not only did I want something nutritious, I also wanted something well spiced and flavored; something different and brighter than the heavy foods I’d been enjoying the past few weeks. I spied the 5lbs of carrots awaiting me and suddenly was off on a monochromatic dash through the kitchen that found me grabbing sweet potatoes, curry paste, and an orange in tandem with the usual hosts of any savory meal – onions, garlic, and olive oil, among others.

Thirty minutes later, I had this hearty, delicious soup promising to bring me back from the brink of what I can only assume was nearly scurvy and oh goodness, was it just the ticket! Try this curried carrot and sweet potato soup with a drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream and a garnish of fresh cilantro. It’s a sure pick-me-up and a great, flavorful start to the new year. It got me back on track and welcoming the next 360 days or so and all the splendor they’ll surely bring.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup
Yields approximately 4-6 servings

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes
2lbs of carrots
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 Tablespoons of curry paste (or 1 Tablespoons of curry powder)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 an orange, juiced (approximately 3 Tablespoons)
8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, separated
1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt (I prefer Chobani) or sour cream, plus more for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Peel and roughly chop sweet potatoes and carrots into chunks; try to cut them a similar size to one another so that they cook evenly. In a soup pot, add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they’ve begun to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Sautée for about 5 minutes and then add carrots. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the curry & the cayenne pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, raise the temperature to medium high and bring to a boil. Give the soup a good stir, add the orange juice, lower the heat to medium low and simmer the soup for approximately 25 minutes. At this point, check the vegetables. If they are soft, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If they still have some resistance to them, cook until done. You want them to be really soft so that they blend up easily.

Remove the soup from the flame and prepare to purée the soup. You can do this a number of ways. I use an immersion blender, but you could also process this in batches in a blender or a food processor. For each, fill your vessel only half full and give it a few pulses before really letting it whirl. Hot liquid expands quickly when agitated and if you don’t use caution, you could burn yourself. If you don’t have any of these appliances, you could also remove all the vegetables from the pot and mash them with a potato masher or use a ricer. When finished, return them to the pot with the liquid and stir until combined. Your soup won’t be as smooth as if you’d used a blender of sorts, but don’t fear – it will still be very delicious!

Once your soup is puréed, check it for salt & add any if necessary. Additionally, consider its thickness. If it’s too much like a purée for your tastes, add the remaining 1 cup of stock in increments until the soup reaches the desired consistency. Next, stir in the yogurt or sour cream and watch your soup take on a new level of velvety. Yum!

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of yogurt or sour cream and a bit of cilantro. Gobble up.

*Note: This is easily made vegetarian (use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock) & vegan (use vegetable stock, replace butter with oil, and sour cream/yogurt with a dairy-free, soy yogurt).

Easiest, Creamiest Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseAs I plopped down on the couch for dinner the other day over a plate of this awesome mac & cheese, I mused that nothing gave me a good ego boost like mastering a bowl of this stuff. On the one hand, I was kidding, but in a way it’s also kind of true. I mean, I’ve had – and made – a lot of mediocre mac & cheese. Sorry, family and friends! So many recipes underestimate the amount of cheese you should use and have you stick to just one kind, while others have you overcook the pasta until all that is left is a very gummy or, still worse, gummy and dry, mess.

While darling Bear claims there’s no such thing as bad mac & cheese, I have to disagree. It’s real and it’s a tragedy. So, let’s start anew with this recipe, which is easy as much as it is tasty. It’s, in my opinion, the easiest, creamiest stovetop version, so whether it suits you just right, or it acts as the base for your spicier, more garlicky, ham and broccoli version, for example, then that’s just fine, too. What matters here is that we’re saving mac & cheese from all the horrible things that have been done to it and making a classic version that is worthy of all the accolades people give it as a dish.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseI use four cheeses for this version. I know you’re saying, “whoa, girl!” but I swear it’s the blending of multiple cheeses that will get you, in part, to where you want to go. Mac and cheese, while a homey dish, doesn’t mean it’s beyond science. What kind of science, you ask? Well, the one that covers how cheeses work together, how they melt or crisp, add creaminess or thicken a sauce while adding a salty bite…and you said you hated science! This recipe relies on a blend of cheeses because we want a mac and cheese that isn’t just one note. You know why so many mac and cheeses are just blah and tasteless even though you’ve added 15lbs of cheese? Because you’re only using one kind and that, combined with a bunch of not-too-flavorful elbow noodles, is not going to bring all the boys to the yard.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseSo, here today we’re going to use the four cheeses of American, asiago, pecorino romano, and cream cheese. Did you see that last one coming? It’s so right for a creamy, smooth sauce. You’ll never make macaroni and cheese again without it! Both the asiago and the pecorino romano add the saltiness you need to bring the cheese sauce together, but also to add some more, much needed flavor to the noodles. All of the cheese melt into the sauce beautifully while also helping to thicken it. The main cheese is regular old American though and sneer all you want, but it melts like a dream and brings a delicious flavor that is familiar. Coupled with onion, hot sauce, yellow mustard, salt, and fresh ground pepper, this mac and cheese is complex in flavor without being difficult to master or snooty. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseTo keep it moist and creamy, this stuff never sees the inside of an oven and, really, it needn’t. Yet, how can you have macaroni and cheese without some semblance of a crunchy, buttery crust? You can’t! So, the topping is all done on the stove-top too and, in all honesty, I absolutely prefer it this way, as the panko retains all of its crunch and doesn’t sink into the macaroni like toppings tend to do when you bake it all together. Make way in your recipe boxes for this one, it’s sure to give other versions a real run for their money and, I’m guessing, will outshine most of the competition. Enjoy!

Easy, Stovetop Mac & Cheese
Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:
1lb of elbow macaroni
Water
Canola oil
1 small onion, diced
7 Tablespoons of butter, divided
4 Tablespoons of flour
4 cups of milk, divided (3-1/2 for sauce, 1/2 extra to thin, if needed)
Salt & pepper
1-1/2 Tablespoons of garlic powder, divided
12oz of American cheese, cubed
3/4 cup of asiago cheese, grated finely
3/4 cup of pecorino romano cheese, grated finely
4oz of cream cheese, cubed
Hot sauce
2 teaspoons of yellow mustard
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Fill a large stock pot with water and add a few generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, add pasta and stir for the first minute so that the pasta does not stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over medium heat and finely dice your onion. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook for several minutes until the onions start to become translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Once the onion is cooked, add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper each and 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder. Add 4 Tablespoons of flour and stir to combine. Allow this mixture (the roux) to cook for 2 minutes or so. Next, turn the heat up to medium high and add the milk. With a whisk, stir the mixture vigorously to break up the roux into the milk and allow it to dissolve. Allow to heat through, stirring it every minute. When the roux has dissolved and the heat rises, the mixture will begin to thicken, when you notice this starting to happen, stand watch and stir frequently so that the mixture does not burn or become too thick. When it reaches milkshake consistency, turn the heat back down to medium and add all of the cheese and stir to combine. Allow all of the cheese to melt slowly, stirring every minute or so to help it become incorporated. Once the cheese has melted entirely into the sauce, add a few dashes of hot sauce to your tastes and the yellow mustard; stir thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if necessary. If sauce seems too thick at this point, you can add up to about a 1/2 cup of milk, though I suggest starting with a smaller amount, stirring to combine, and seeing if you need more.

Cook the pasta until al dente (it should still have some bite to it, as it will soften more as it sits in the sauce), then drain it and return it to the pot. If you are still readying the other ingredients, add a small drizzle of canola oil to the pasta, stir, put a lid on it and allow it to sit off the heat while you complete the other elements. If your sauce is ready to go, omit the canola oil step and add the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. Cover with a lid while you prepare the topping; you may choose to keep it over a “warm” level flame if you’d like, though the lid should keep the macaroni and cheese hot since the topping doesn’t take long to put together. Be aware that even over “low” or “warm,” the sauce will continue to thicken, making the pasta drier.

In a frying pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 1 teaspoon of canola oil over medium heat. Add bread crumbs, some salt and pepper to your tastes, and 1/2 a tablespoon of garlic powder. Stir together and toast the bread crumbs, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes total. Be sure to keep an eye on them, though, they go from light brown to burnt quickly! When the bread crumbs are toasted, remove from the pan and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, plate your macaroni and cheese either on individual plates or in a larger casserole-type vessel. When the bread crumbs have cooled, add the very finely minced parsley and stir. Top macaroni and cheese with topping and serve. To reheat macaroni and cheese after refrigeration, add it to a heavy-bottom pot with a splash of milk and cover with a lid. Apply medium heat and allow to come up to temperature, stirring every few minutes until the sauce has melted and become creamy again.

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella SaladMy two go-to meals any time of year, but especially in the summer, are, in many ways, variations of the same thing – antipasto and panzanella salad. Growing up, antipasto was a weekend staple whenever company was coming and usually consisted of fresh mozzarella, soppressatta, olives, eggplant caponata, pepperoni, and provolone so sharp it’d make my nose run. Oh, and bread. So much delicious, chewy, Italian bread in long braided loaves covered in sesame seeds.

With summer nearly upon us and the reminder that sweet, juicy tomatoes do exist (buying tomatoes in the winter is so depressing, isn’t it?), panzanella takes many of the same flavors of antipasto and dresses them up in an easy one-bowl lunch or dinner that is totally satisfying and filled with fresh, delicious, good-for-you ingredients. When I posted a quick snapshot on Instagram last week of panzanella in the works, a follower asked for the recipe and while I will, of course, give you one here, the truth is that it changes every time! But that’s what makes it so easy and so perfect for summer when fresh veggies are all over the place.

Panzanella SaladWhile this version has tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion as the stars, I’ve also used combinations in the past that include fresh zucchini, grilled eggplant, and red peppers, among others. If you’re not familiar with panzanella, tomatoes are always a staple alongside toasty cubes of a rustic bread, such as Italian bread, ciabatta, or French bread, which soaks up the juices from the vegetables and the vinaigrette only to soften and become little, tasty bites that just explode summer when you bite into them. I like to toss my bread in a frying pan that has olive oil and garlic in it as it toasts and dries out, but you can also do it on a baking sheet in the oven or grill two halves of a loaf and cube it after it’s cooled. There’s a lot of flexibility here.

Adding mozzarella cheese, freshly torn basil, and other goodies, such as soppressata, could be seen as gilding the panzanella lily, but it also bulks up the salad and makes it feel a little bit more special, especially when serving it to guests. Though rustic and easy to prepare, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this meal. In fact, the leftovers may even turn your workday around when you have the remains for lunch, though I do recommend also packing a roll of breath mints in that case considering the abundance of garlic. Panzanella holds up and never disappoints. It’s a keeper and an easy, versatile summer meal.

Panzanella Salad
Yields 4-6 servings

Ingredients
1 loaf of Italian or French bread
2 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
Olive oil
1 Tablespoon of butter
Salt & pepper
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
6-8 leaves of basil, torn or thinly sliced
12 ounces of fresh mozzarella
6 ounces of soppressata, cubed
1/2 of a large cucumber, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1/4 cup of red onion, thinly sliced
Balsamic vinegar

Directions
First, cut the entire loaf of bread into 1-inch cubes. In a large frying pan with deep sides, melt the tablespoon of butter into approximately 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the thinly sliced garlic. Allow the garlic to gently cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the bread and tossing it in the oil and butter mixture. Allow the bread to toast, flipping cubes over and tossing it every 2 minutes or so. If pan seems very dry, drizzle in a little bit more olive oil. Cook until all cubes are toasted and the exterior of each is crisp. For a whole loaf of Italian bread, this will take about 10-12 minutes.

While the bread is toasting, slice the vegetables and basil and cube the mozzarella cheese and soppressata; set aside. When the bread is finished cooking, add it along with the toasted slices of garlic into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool down for about 5 minutes. At this time, you can walk away and assemble the salad later on or finish making it. Add the sliced ingredients to the bread and lightly salt and pepper. Next, drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss together thoroughly to combine. I usually start by adding about two tablespoons of vinegar, tossing, and seeing where I’m at after. Remember, your vegetables will release moisture upon contact with the warm bread and then even more so with the acidity of the vinegar, so add a touch more vinegar if you’d like, but this will soften more and more as it sits.

When you eat the panzanella is entirely up to you and your preferred texture. I eat it all kinds of ways, but I prefer it about a half hour after everything is incorporated and macerated. The bread still has some crisp texture then and I like that bite, but it is also delicious once everything has really softened together and the bread is moist with all of the flavors. Depending on what you prefer, allow the salad to sit on the counter for a bit and then serve it or store in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight, before enjoying.

Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza

Most of the memories I have of my father’s parents revolve around food. Due to the complicated nature of family, I didn’t grow up around them to the extent I did my mother’s parents. With the latter, we were together almost every weekend, vacationed together, and lived mere blocks away for the first few years of my life. My grandparents on my Dad’s side, Rose & John (seen below with my great grandmother between them), lived in apartment projects for the elderly in Hoboken, NJ, before it’s renaissance of the past decade. They were complicated people. Always kind to me, but there was a persistent and underlying tension present because of my dad’s strained relationship with his father stemming back to childhood.

Grandma & GrandpaAs a result, we didn’t visit often and when we did, it was more a result of my mom having to work on a weekend and my father thinking he could kill two birds with one stone: visit his parents and get us fed well at the same time. Though my memories of them are few and fleeting – they both passed within a year or so of one another when I was in the range of 10-11 years old – gathering around their tiny kitchen table with the heavy, clear, vinyl tablecloth remains one that is firmly in place.

Seated here, I marveled at the food they turned out of their tiny kitchen – dishes and ingredients that were largely unfamiliar to me, but which introduced me to the culture of this side of my family (Italian-American) that my mother’s side seemed less connected to. Fish cakes made with baccala at Christmas, celery logs stuffed with blue cheese alongside antipasto, the very best rice balls (arancini if you’re fancy) that I’ve had in my life – all of these things laid across the table with the gentle encouragement to try new things and flavors.

It’s from my grandparents that I fell in love with fennel. What 7 year old is like, “More fennel, Grandma!” but that was me. I happily crunched on it between courses as a palate cleanser (I knew nothing of this, of course, only that it was delicious and crunchtastic) and marveled at its completely different flavor when my grandfather served it baked as a gratin aside homemade braciola. They had me hooked on fennel early and my love for it is still going strong.

This pizza brings together the sweet taste of cooked, caramelized fennel and the slight anise flavor it has raw by scattering some of the fennel fronds over top. Layered with sautéed onions and creamy fontina cheese, it’s a delicious take on a vegetarian pizza option and works well right in your oven or, now that it’s warming up, on the grill. Serve it with a big salad for dinner or cut it into small strips for an appetizer; it’s completely malleable to all kinds of meals and occasions. If you’re not sure that you like fennel, or have only had it raw, give this recipe a try. The transformation between raw and cooked is night and day and that sweet flavor, coupled with the salty cheese, and the garlic and onions make for a perfect mouthful. Take it from 7-year-old me and give fennel a try!

Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza
Yields one pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza dough
1 bulb of fennel
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
7 ounces of fontina cheese, grated
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons of cornmeal

Directions
Remove your pizza dough from the refrigerator about 20-30 minutes before you’re going to assemble your pizza so that it has time to soften a bit and becomes pliable. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking sheet and set aside. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small bowl, pour 1/3 cup of olive oil and add two cloves of minced garlic and some cracked black pepper. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until you just start to smell the garlic, and remove. Set aside.

Peel the onion and slice in half, cutting uniform 1/4″ half-moon slices. In a large, non-stick frying pan, drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil and apply a medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally. Once the edges start to turn brown, drop the heat to medium and cook until they are brown throughout and slightly translucent. Before removing them from the pan, salt and pepper them lightly, stir, cook an additional minute or two and then set aside in a separate bowl. Return the pan to the stove and drizzle with an additional teaspoon or so of olive oil. Remove the fennel stems and peel off the first layer of the bulb. Slice the bulb in half and cut each half into 1/4″ half moons. Sauté the sliced fennel over medium heat with a little bit of salt and pepper, allowing it to cook until softened and golden.

Unroll the pizza dough and stretch it accordingly to form the crust. When the dough has reached the size and shape you’d like, brush it with the garlic-infused olive oil and place in the oven for 5 minutes. While the crust is par-baking, grate the fontina and pick off some of the fennel fronds and set aside. Remove the par-baked crust from the oven and layer the onions and fennel over top. Top vegetables with both cheeses and cover with fresh cracked black pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil if desired and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is completely melted and bubbling. When finished, remove from oven, sprinkle with fennel fronds, and allow to stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

My Mother’s Reuben Sandwiches

My Mother's Reuben RecipeYou know who I don’t understand? People who hate mayonnaise. I’m not talking about those who  just have a preference for a different condiment; diversity is encouraged. It’s those that turn a snooty nose up at it, like it’s so gauche or pedestrian an ingredient, like one should be ashamed to cook with it. As I’m oft to do, I blame Paula Deen for this mayonnaise snobbery. Her love of it, while unabashed early in her career (along with butter), soon became an example of her gluttony, or excess, and an opportunity to ridicule her. Instead of waving her fat flag high and owning her love for delicious things (Julia Child did say that fat gives things flavor and no one should question Julia’s handle on flavors), Paula succumbed to a cruel public, and though she continued to cook with these “shameful” ingredients, she began acting embarrassed when pressed to reveal that a recipe contained mayonnaise or butter. Noting a specific amount, she’d lower her eyes from the camera and wince as she called for a cup of mayonnaise, an entire stick of butter; like an admonished child. Paula has a lot to apologize for and, really, this is low on the list, but it still makes me pretty salty.

We’re not here to talk about Paula, though, we’re here to discuss Reuben sandwiches – and mayonnaise. Chances are, you’ve had a Reuben before; thinly sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing toasted all together on rye or pumpernickel bread? A delicious classic. Reubens were popular in my house growing up, most likely as a result of my half-Swiss heritage and my family’s love of all things sauerkraut. Even as a tiny wee, I liked them and as I grew up and tasted other varieties, I formed a solid love for the sandwich.

My Mother's Reuben RecipeBut, like most things, nothing is as good as my mother’s version. She makes one, seemingly small, change to the original recipe and yet, I swear, it takes the Reuben to a totally different level of savory that just can’t be beat. The difference? She swaps mayonnaise in for the Russian dressing! If your nose just went up in the air at that idea, we’re not friends anymore.

I know what you’re thinking – “Come on! It’s just mayo! It’s not that different!” WRONG. It is so different! Here’s the thing: she mixes the mayonnaise into the sauerkraut and what happens is the sauerkraut, though drained, releases a bit of moisture and forms this creamy sauerkraut concoction that, sandwiched between melty cheese and corned beef is…my mouth is seriously watering as I try to think of the perfect adjective…which, I think, is adjective enough.

Try these. I promise that you will not be disappointed. My mother promises too and she never fibs.

My Mother’s Reuben Sandwiches
Yields 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:
8 slices of rye or pumpernickel bread
1lb of thinly sliced corned beef
1/2lb of Swiss cheese
1-14oz. can of sauerkraut, drained well
2/3 cup of mayonnaise
Butter

Directions:
In a medium-sized bowl, add the drained sauerkraut and the mayonnaise and blend well; set aside. Prepare sandwiches by layering one slice of bread, corned beef, 1/4th of the sauerkraut mixture, Swiss cheese, and the other slice of bread; repeat for 4 sandwiches. Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and allow to melt completely. Add sandwiches and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Check for a golden brownness – or any brownness if you’re using a dark pumpernickel – and flip, cooking for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything is warmed through. When finished, remove sandwiches from pan and allow to cool slightly for 2-3 minutes; this allows the sandwich to firm back up a bit so that everything doesn’t spill out the sides when you go to cut it. When ready to eat, gather lots of napkins and dive in!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla SoupLately, I’ve been making these super organized, really thought out grocery lists to try and maximize our meals. For me, this means two main things: 1) Focusing on fresh ingredients that really get me excited about cooking and 2) Making sure I develop meals around our schedules so that it’s not as appealing to just order take-out several nights a week. As a result, I’ve been gathering easy ingredients to always have on-hand for quick, satisfying meals – hey there, easy breakfast-for-dinner nights! – and making sure I have a veggie & noodle salad of some kind, or an easy soup, in the fridge and ready to go when hunger pangs come calling.

This chicken tortilla soup is one of my absolute favorite soups, first and foremost, because it is just so tasty. Every time I make it, I exclaim that we should eat it once a week and that is so not an exaggeration – it’s really that good. Plus, it fits my new maximization mantra of having fresh ingredients and flavors, while being a fairly adaptable meal for different schedules and levels of attention. While the recipe first came into my life as an option for the slow cooker, I found myself this week with all the makings, but without having had the forethought to put it together in the morning. Fail face.

Chicken Tortilla SoupSure, I could have waited for the next day, but this soup is so good that it possesses my brain every time I get ready to make it so that there’s this constant thought loop of “Is it chicken tortilla soup time yet?” After a bit of adaptation and messing about, it was chicken tortilla soup time and only within about 75 minutes for prep & cooking combined! Which means that this delicious, satisfying, feel-so-good soup is now even easier and faster to get from fridge, to pot, to bowl, to face. And that’s something I fully support.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yields 4-6 servings; adapted from here.

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil
3-4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
Salt & pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 15oz can of petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 10oz can enchilada sauce
1 4oz can chopped green chile peppers
1 14.5oz of chicken stock
2 cups of corn (fresh, frozen, or canned will do)
1/2 cup of red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 large flour tortillas cut into 1/4-inch strips (crushed tortilla chips are also acceptable)
1 lime cut into wedges

Directions:
In a heavy-bottom pot, drizzle in enough vegetable oil to cover the surface and apply medium-high heat. Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. When the oil begins to ripple, add the chicken breasts to the pot skin-side down. Allow to cook for 5 minutes or until they have developed a brown crust. Flip chicken breasts and cook on other side for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic, sauteeing for 4-5 minutes until the onions begin to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper and add bay leaf, cumin, and chili powder. Stir to combine and allow spices to toast for 3 minutes with the onions and garlic. Turn heat back up to medium high and slowly stir in the chicken stock, releasing any brown bits from the bottom of the pot with your spoon as you pour. Add the tomatoes, green chile peppers, and enchilada sauce and stir together. Add chicken breasts to pot and any juices that have collected while it was resting. Cover pot allowing only a tiny vent for steam and bring to a low boil. Adjust temperature accordingly and allow to simmer like this for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, approximately 15 minutes more. Remove soup lid and add corn. When chicken is done, remove from pot and rest until it is cool enough to handle. Allow the soup to continue cooking, uncovered, on medium heat so that it reduces some.

In the meantime, you can prep the red onion, cilantro, limes, and tortilla strips for the garnish. In a small-to-medium deep pot, pour in about 1-inch of vegetable oil and apply medium-high heat. In the meantime, slice your flour tortillas in half and then slice them across into a series of 1/4-inch, thin strips. Test the oil by putting the end of one of the tortillas into the oil and see if it sizzles. If so, drop one in and test it. You want it to achieve golden brownness in about 15 seconds. If it doesn’t get there, discard strip and let oil heat up a bit more. If it gets dark much faster, lower the temperature of the oil accordingly. When ready, add a small handful of the strips at a time and, watching them carefully, gently move them around the hot oil with tongs as they turn golden and crisp up. As you remove the strips from the oil, drain them on paper towels and salt them lightly while they’re still hot and fresh. Finish the remaining strips and set aside.

Pull the chicken off the bones and discard them along with the skin. Shred the chicken meat and add back to soup. Allow to warm and re-incorporate for about 5-7 minutes. Turn soup off and cover until ready to serve. When ready to eat, ladle soup into bowls and top with diced red onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and fresh tortilla strips.