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

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!

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.

Lamb & Chickpea ‘Tagine’

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Ok, so this isn’t a real tagine because, well, I didn’t make it in a tagine. I used the word in the title because it’s so evocative of the flavors and cuisine I was trying to cook tonight. I do really want a tagine one of these days, along with all sorts of other cool kitchen items I currently don’t have (I’m looking at you molcajete, fancy chopsticks, wok, Chinese soup spoons…) Using a dutch oven is a reasonable approximation, so that’s what we went with today.

We both love the flavors of the greater Middle East/Northern Africa. You may have noticed that if you’ve read more of our blog than just this post via Pinterest. I would venture a guess that dishes from that part of the world make up the highest percentage of our blog, as compared to other regions. Check out some of our other creations… they range from main dishes like Bahraini Chicken Machboos or Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha) to Spinach & Feta Gözleme, to some of Ally’s beloved soups like Persian Spiced Lentil Soup or North African Wedding Soup, to delicious snacks like Muhammara and Spicy Feta Dip, and even Baklava! So many amazing and varied dishes! The flavors here tonight are incredibly similar to our Tangy Moroccan Meatballs, which is one of Ally’s favorite meals we’ve ever made and shared on this blog. The main differences between the two are the addition of the chickpeas tonight, which allows the dish to easily stand alone without the addition of another starch, and the obvious fact that last time we made meatballs, while this time we braised some tender lamb chunks. It’s also a bit spicier and a bit less tangy than the meatball dish. Some variety is good! Last note – this, like many other braised/stewed dishes is SO much better the longer you let it sit. Yay leftovers!

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Lamb & Chickpea ‘Tagine’

(Inspired by our previous recipe for Tangy Moroccan Meatballs and some additional internet browsing)
Ingredients: 
  • ~2 lb boneless lamb (shoulder, boneless leg), cubed
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 cups beef stock (or lamb if you have access to it)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 can (16oz) chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • Fresh cilantro
Instructions: 
  1. Season all sides of the cubed meat generously with salt & pepper.
  2. Using a tagine if you have one, or a dutch oven if not (like us), heat the oil over medium heat on the stove top. Once hot, brown the meat on all sides and then remove to the side.
  3. Maintaining medium heat, add the onions, garlic, and carrots to the dish. Cook for ~5 minutes, until softened and becoming fragrant.
  4. Now stir in the tomato paste, tomato, and all of the spices except for the saffron. Cook for just a minute or two, stirring everything together.
  5. Now return the meat to the dish, along with the stock, lemon juice, and olives. Adjust the heat to bring to a light simmer with the lid on.
  6. Cook at that light simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the meat is nice and tender.
  7. Remove the lid and increase heat to a more vigorous simmer. Add the chickpeas at this point. Cook for an additional 6-8 minutes with the lid off.
  8. Taste and add additional salt if desired (we added maybe a 1/2 tsp).
  9. Serve topped with torn cilantro and an extra squeeze of lemon if you’d like. Eat as a stew alone, though you could also put it atop couscous or rice.
Serves 4-6

Goat Mac

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My sister and I share a love of all things carbs, with a special place in our hearts for mac and cheese of any variety. Awhile back, I found a cookbook solely devoted to mac and cheese and gave it to her for her birthday or Christmas or something. (Which is not as good as a present she once gave me – it was an orange t-shirt with two cartoon cows dancing on it, with the words “I LOVE CARBS!”)

The recipe we’re sharing today originated with that mac & cheese cookbook. I made my sister send me screenshots from several options in the cookbook and settled on this one. We were very happy with our selection. Despite retaining the cheesiness of a standard mac & cheese, this feels slightly lighter. I mean, it’s certainly not low calorie, but the tanginess of the goat cheese just gives you a different sensation. I love goat cheese in any form, so definitely enjoyed this! I went light on the panko crust which worked for us. My only complaint at the end was that the finished product looked a little monotone in my pictures – so not really an actual problem!

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We had this dish this weekend when our favorite Georgians came to visit us in Virginia! We had a great weekend, with some delicious food, a few roaring fires, some trap shooting, some wandering in the woods, and a fun day of Virginia wine/beer/cider tasting with stops at King Family Vineyards, Blue Mountain Brewery, Bold Rock Cider, and Devil’s Backbone Brewing! And, of course, we enjoyed visiting with our friends! They all approved of this recipe, so hopefully you will too!


Goat Mac

(Adapted from The Mac + Cheese Cookbook)
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 5 cups small pasta (penne, farfalle, elbows, whatever)
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 12 oz goat cheese
  • 4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup + Panko bread crumbs
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. Slowly whisk all of the milk into the mixture. (It will initially get incredibly thick, then begin to thin out.)
  6. When all of the milk has been added, return the pot to medium heat and whisk continuously for ~3 minutes.
  7. Now add the garlic, shallots, both cheeses, and salt to the pan and lower the heat to low-medium. Stir frequently until the cheeses are well-incorporated.
  8. Finally, add the pasta to the sauce and stir until all of the noodles are coated and distributed equally.
  9. Pour all of this into a rectangular glass baking dish. Top with panko crumbs. We only used a light coating, ~1/4 cup, but feel free to make a thicker layer if desired.
  10. Bake for ~10 minutes. Serve when hot and bubbly, and when the panko is lightly toasted.
Serves 6-8

Maple & Mustard Pork with Shallots

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We’re baaaaack! Very sorry for the lack of recipes for the past few months! The dates of our blog absence directly correlate with the first and early second trimester of Ally’s pregnancy with our first child!! While this is spectacular news, our blog did suffer for awhile there. Ally has been fairly sick for the first trimester and generally hated everything about food for a few months there. For awhile, she wouldn’t eat any of the following: meat, seafood, “sweet things,” “heavy things,” or pretty much anything you might think of to make for dinner. So honestly, there wasn’t really a whole lot to blog about for a good length of time! (Unless you’re really interested in meals consisting of Cheez-its and pickles – you just let us know next time! 😉) Thankfully, all of this is starting to improve greatly, though she still randomly will refuse certain foods out of the blue, and we still haven’t made it back to seafood yet!

But don’t you worry – we have an amazing recipe to share today for our welcome back. Last spring we shared Prosciutto & Basil Topped Lemon Ricotta Pappardelle and a rave about the blog where we found the recipe inspiration. Well tonight’s source recipe comes from the same place – truly I think this is my favorite food blog and one I keep returning to again and again. The original recipe is here – our main change was to double the meat and triple the sauce, to make it more appropriate for the five diners we had for this meal. I highly recommend utilizing the sauce to meat ratio we’ve created here, not because I think our idea was superior, but because the sauce is SO DELICIOUS. I was licking the plate. Literally. Not joking. [Pregnant women are allowed to do that. It’s a law.]

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Maple & Mustard Pork with Shallots

(Adapted from the amazing Seasons & Suppers)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 pork tenderloins (~2 lbs)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 6 large shallots, peeled & quartered
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown mustard
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Trim any silverskin off the tenderloins (if need be) and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper on all sides.
  3. Heat oil on medium-high in an oven safe dish like a dutch oven. Once the oil is hot, place the tenderloins in the dish and sear on all sides until lightly browned (2 or 3 minutes per side).
  4. Toss the quartered shallots in around the meat.
  5. Whisk together the remaining ingredients for the sauce and pour over top the meat and shallots.
  6. Move the pan to the oven on the medium rack. Cook for 25-30 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees.
  7. At this point, remove the pork from the pan and tent with aluminum foil. Set the shallots aside as well.
  8. Return the pan to the stove top over medium-high heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced and thickened. This may take an additional 15+ minutes.
  9. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  10. Serve the pork sliced, surrounded by the shallots, and topped with the sauce.
Serves ~6

 

Beef Barley Soup

A lot of our family and friends think because we have this food blog and enjoy ‘fancy’ dinner date nights, that we only eat complex, homemade dishes for every single meal. Hate to burst the bubble, but that is far from the truth. We obviously do love experimenting with new recipes and tend to take a little longer to prepare some complicated dishes than others might… but this is not every single day for us. We have a deep love for boxed Kraft mac & cheese, get giddy about our occasional trips to Taco Bell, and eat Trader Joe’s frozen pizza roughly once a week. And I (Ally) love Campbell’s canned soups. Go ahead, judge me, I don’t care. One of my all time favorite Campbell’s soups is Beef Barley. Since it’s getting to be quite chilly around here – it’s been below freezing a few mornings this past week! – I decided we definitely needed soup for dinner tonight. Beef barley just sounds so hearty, warm, and filling to combat the chill today!

Beef Barley Soup

(Adapted from several sources: Campbell’s, this blog, & this one)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 1/2 lb stew beef, cubed
  • Salt & pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large potato, shredded
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup quick pearl barley
Instructions: 
  1. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot to a bit above medium. Once hot, sear the beef cubes, in batches if needed. Remove the beef to the side once seared on all sides.
  3. Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5-6 minutes, until fragrant and softened a bit.
  4. Shred the potato into the pot, followed by all of the remaining ingredients, except the barley, and including the set-aside beef. Bring to a boil and then lower to a light simmer.
  5. Cook for ~ 2 hours. Then add the barley and increase to a slightly more vigorous simmer for ~20-30 minutes until the barley is cooked.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish; more as a side