Summer Mac n Cheese

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There are some dishes that just scream a certain season to me. A big pot of chili or anything involving a gourd in the fall. Hearty, meat-heavy dishes that are roasted or stewed or crockpot-ed in the winter. But summer… Probably the most seasonally iconic dishes are summer ones! There are just so many – burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, popsicles, salads topped with fruit, triangles of juicy watermelon, and a newspaper-covered picnic table with Old Bay seasoned whole crabs piled on top! Right up there at the top of the summer food list is caprese salad. Fresh, cool, and best with ripe summer tomatoes, caprese salad is definitely quintessential summer fare. So today when coming up with this dish, I thought that the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil of a caprese salad would make for an interesting summery twist on Mac n cheese!

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We have a caveat to our post today though. Neither of us actually ate this dish. I made it for our friends who just had a new baby! They swear it was good, so we’ll just have to take their word for it. Relatedly, the base Mac & cheese recipe here (also the base for Goat Mac), is a great option if you want to make something ahead to bring to someone! You can make it up until the last baking part and then whomever you bring it to can bake it for the appropriate length of time later (which you may need to increase by 10 minutes or so from the immediate baking time as below).

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Summer Mac n Cheese

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 5 cups dry small pasta (penne, farfalle, elbows, etc)
  • 16oz mozzarella cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • ~10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Instructions:
  1. Pre-heat the oven 400 degrees.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat until very lightly simmering. Meanwhile, bring a large pot over water to a boil.
  3. Once the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
  4. In another saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. When the butter has melted, begin to slowly whisk in the flour. When the flour is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Meanwhile, place the grape tomatoes in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil, 3 chopped basil leaves, and salt & pepper.
  6. Roast them on a small sheet pan for ~15 minutes, until they are just starting to wrinkle and split. Remove from the oven.
  7. Moving back to the stove, slowly whisk all of the milk into the mixture. (It will initially get incredibly thick, then begin to thin out.)
  8. When all of the milk has been added, return the pot to medium heat and whisk continuously for ~3 minutes.
  9. Now add in the cheese and continue whisking.
  10. When sauce has come together, combine the sauce with the pasta and place in baking dish. Top with the tomatoes and remaining basil.
  11. Bake for just an additional 10 minutes, so it all firms up.
Serves 6-8

Herby Stuffed Dates

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I think Selim has a new favorite herb. Recently he’s been gravitating towards tarragon whenever it is a possible option to add to whatever we’re making (see our last post – Easy Herbed Ham & Cheese Quiche). So when I said I wanted to make some herby, savory stuffed dates, that’s what he suggested. I was inspired by Alia’s easy Ramadan date recipes, where she used chives in a similar manner.

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Awhile back somehow we learned about the use of dates in Middle Eastern culture during pregnancy. Dates are healthy and good source of energy. But also, tradition holds that eating dates towards the end of pregnancy eases labor. The medical community has noticed – several studies have supported the idea that date consumption late in pregnancy decreases the duration of labor, lessen need for labor augmentation, and increases the likelihood of spontaneous labor. These studies are small and not randomized, so not perfect by any means. But given that there’s no harm in date consumption – we’ve decided to try to incorporate them into our diet a little more at the end of Ally’s pregnancy. Hence, we were inspired to bring a date appetizer to our family’s gathering this weekend!

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Ally’s grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins, and their kids – all together to celebrate the 80th birthdays of the matriarch & patriarch!

Herby Stuffed Dates

Ingredients: 
  • ~50 large pitted dates
  • 1/2 lb feta
  • 1 tbsp of the feta brine
  • 5 turns of fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
Instructions: 
  1. Open up all the dates halfway. If you bought already pitted dates, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
  2. Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
  3. Stuff the feta filling into each date. We found that using a butter knife was easiest, though a piping bag would probably be even easier than that!
  4. Refrigerate until serving.

Easy Herbed Ham & Cheese Quiche

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Why is it that it seems like everyone does brunch or breakfast for Mother’s Day? Growing up, we always made Mom breakfast in bed. Reservations for Mother’s Day brunches fill up quickly. Do moms prefer breakfast? Don’t they like dinner too? Who knows… Either way, we stuck with the cliche and made a nice Mother’s Day brunch for Ally’s mom with the rest of her family. We’ve had a hectic few weeks (moving, growing a human, working a ton, traveling almost every weekend, etc), so we were looking for some quicker and easier ideas that would still be fancy enough to honor Mom’s special day. (So sadly, doughnuts and bagels were out…)

In the end, we decided to throw together a simple quiche, made easy by the use of store-bought pie crust. It feels a little fancier because, well French words always sound fancier and because we went heavy on the herb! Tarragon was a nice choice and definitely an underutilized herb in our kitchen. We didn’t use fresh tarragon, another nod to our attempts to simplify our morning, though certainly that would probably only improve the dish. Other herbs would be nice here too – I’m thinking sage or rosemary. This quiche was only part of our brunch, as you can see in the pictures of our spread. Unfortunately our monkey bread, while tasty, wasn’t good enough to share just quite yet. We’ll keep working on it!

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Easy Herbed Ham & Cheese Quiche

Ingredients: 
  • 1 store-bought pie crust
  • 1/2 of a small onion, diced
  • 1 cup ham, cubed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • {Oil if needed}
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a pan over medium heat, brown the cubed ham. If the ham is fatty and releases fat (our was), you may not needed any oil in your pan. If not, add a little bit of oil in here.
  3. After 2-3 minutes or so, add in the onions. Toss to coat in the fat/oil. Saute until softened and fragrant, another 3-4 minutes, and then add the garlic. Cook just another 2 minutes and then set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, tarragon, salt, and several turns of fresh black pepper.
  5. Press the pie crust into a pie pan. Pour the ham, onions, and garlic into the crust, followed by most of the cheese. Top with the egg mixture. Top with the last bit of cheese.
  6. Bake for approximately 35 minutes.
  7. Slice & serve!
Serves 6-8

Rainbow Rice Krispie Treats

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Shout out to all the moms out there who have their kids duped into thinking the Rice Krispie treats they make them are such labors of love. (I’m trying to be you one day!) Best joke ever – Rice Krispie treats certainly are delicious, but SO EASY to make! (Don’t worry if you were fooled; I’m sure your mom would labor over a hot stove any day for you…) We adapted these for spring with bright colors, only varying from the original Rice Krispie Treat recipe a tad!

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We’re bringing these treats to our work spring potluck lunch, but they’re perfect for any spring gathering or just to have around the house as you welcome spring with it’s beautiful flowers and warmer temperatures! Also, Easter is fast approaching and if you want an easy dessert, sure to please the adults and kids alike, here you go!

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Rainbow Rice Krispie Treats

Ingredients: 
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup spring colored (pink, green, yellow) mini marshmallows
  • 4 cups Rice Krispies
  • 2 cups Fruity Pebbles
Instructions: 
  1. Melt butter over low heat in a large pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, pour in the first 4 cups of marshmallows. Stir, still over low heat, coating the marshmallows with butter and continuing until they are completely melted.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the colorful marshmallows and cereals.
  4. Grease a 9×13 glass pan. Pour the mixture in and press down (with a greased spatula or wax paper over your hand) until smooth.
  5. Allow to cool and then cut and serve!

 

Spring Pasta with Brie, Ham, and Peas

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Photo credit for this and those below to Matt Riley – UVa Sports photographer, via Facebook

Who doesn’t love spring? Flowers blooming, weather warming up, and March Madness! Ally loves March Madness every year, but this year was extra special. She, along with all the rest of the Cavalier faithful, had incredibly high hopes for redemption for this year’s team. And they DID IT! Monday night, way past our bedtime, the Virginia Cavaliers won the NCAA men’s basketball title game!

Since Ally made/ate this pasta on game night, we definitely have to document it, so she can superstitiously eat it for years to come. I’ve had the idea of making a light sauce with melted Brie floating around in my head for awhile now and am pleased how this turned out. It’s simple enough for a weeknight (or while nervously pacing, waiting for a championship game to start…) and light enough to welcome spring, despite what you might assume from the ingredients. It’s also a great use for leftover ham! By thinning out the Brie, you end up just lightly coating the pasta, so it doesn’t eat like a heavy Mac n cheese or something similar.

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Spring Pasta with Brie, Ham, & Peas

Ingredients: 
  • 1 tsp neutral oil
  • 8oz ham, chopped (leftover or otherwise already cooked)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups (dry) bowtie pasta
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 4oz Brie cheese, rind removed
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 2 large basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Heat oil in a large pan over low-medium heat. (If you have some fatty pieces of ham, you may be able to skip this step.) Toss the ham and minced garlic into the pan and cook until ham is warmed and garlic is fragrant.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil and cook pasta per instructions. Drain and set aside.
  3. Remove ham to the side for the moment. Whisk the Brie and chicken stock together; lower heat if needed. Allow these two ingredients to come together over the low heat for the next approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the peas at this time as well.
  4. Return the ham to the pan, along with the pasta. Toss together to coat the pasta with the Brie sauce. Top with pepper and salt as needed.
  5. Serve, topped with fresh chopped basil.
Dinner for two!

Trip to Austin, TX

 

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This past week, we’ve been eating our way through Austin, Texas. We went on this fun trip with about a dozen other family members, to watch Ally’s cousin Townley swim in his final collegiate meet for the University of Texas. Townley is an amazing swimmer – he swam for Team USA in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and even won a gold medal! (Ally does not share his athletic genes unfortunately…) The NCAA swimming championship was a new, fun experience for us and was a great excuse to check out Austin – neither of us have been there before and Ally hadn’t previously been to the whole state of Texas!

As usual for our blog, we’ll focus on the food! We went fairly traditional/touristy when we were in Austin, but everything was delicious! Of course, we had some breakfast (and dinner) tacos, BBQ, and everything meat!

On our first night, we went alone on a dinner date to Contigo, which was recommended by our favorite Texas natives. We didn’t take any pictures here, but the food was delicious and the portions Texas-sized! The chicken liver mousse from the charcuterie menu was spectacular, topped with smoked maple syrup and chopped pickled green beans. This is a combination I certainly would never have thought of, but it was amazing!

And we did manage to take a few pictures on some of our meals and treats! See below:

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Voodoo donuts! Selim can’t pass up a donut sampling!
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Ridiculous breakfast sandwiches, pastries, and coffee from Sour Duck
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Texas BBQ at Stubb’s BBQ

Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

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This isn’t the first time we’d tried a riff on stuffed peppers around here. I loved our last creation – Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers, probably because I like anything with pearl couscous. This variation goes pretty much the opposite direction and is stuffed full of rice, cheese, and the American classic – hot dog. Think of it like a reverse loaded hot dog! A delicious, messy ballpark hotdog, stuffed inside a pepper instead.

We use Stadium/Ballpark mustard in our recipe (and pretty much anytime we need mustard). It’s a Cleveland thing – a mild brown mustard that has been used at the Cleveland Indians ballpark for decades. Apparently there’s a controversy about it – here’s the story. When Selim moved to the Mid-Atlantic, he was mildly appalled that he couldn’t find it in stores and that I had never heard of this miraculous substance. I was a bit skeptical, but he was right. Stadium mustard is definitely a family favorite for both of us now. We bring home a few bottles of Bertman’s every time we go to Cleveland.

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Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:
  • 3 large bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 hot dogs, chopped
  • 1 tbsp mustard (see above for our favorite)
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup + cheddar cheese
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare the rice – in a small saucepan, cover rice with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. After it’s boiled, reduce heat to low and cover until water is absorbed & rice fluffy.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and toss with the oil. Then add the hot dogs to the dish and cover. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, until the hot dog pieces have crisped up a bit and the onions are soft and fragrant.
  4. Once cooked, stir the onions and hot dogs into the rice, along with the cheese, mustard, and hot sauce.
  5. Stuff the rice mixture into the peppers.
  6. Place the peppers upright in high-edged oven-safe dish. Add a thin layer of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve topped with an additional sprinkle of cheese if desired.
Serves 2.