White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (with or without Pancetta)

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About two and half years ago, in the infancy of this blog, I posted a recipe for Barefoot Contessa’s chicken pot pies. In that post, I told you all that I don’t actually eat chicken pot pies. That still holds true to this day – I’ve made them a number of times between then and now, and I always give them away – I have a bite here and there just to make sure they’re edible, and I know they’re good, but they’re just easy for me to pass up. I first made this white bean version when Deb’s cookbook came out three years ago, and I haven’t made them since (until now) because I actually do eat them. I ate half of one when they came out of the oven the other night, even though I was going to dinner an hour later. I’m debating defrosting one for dinner tonight. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about them, that’s how good they are. They’re worth an extra mile or two on the treadmill – even if it’s an extra mile or two every day for the next two weeks.

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I think one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because I just adore the white bean and greens combo – remember my soup? Deb also introduced me to this stew, which is essentially a fancier version of my soup – but it calls for wine, which is always fun, and you get to serve it on a piece of garlic toast. Next on my list: Molly’s braised beans with escarole.  Beans and greens just feel healthy and hearty and comforting to me, I guess – the perfect cozy fall or winter meal – although the sauce and crust definitely negate most of the health factor in this case.

Another reason I have a hard time turning these pies down is because the filling is absolutely divine – the sauce is creamy and velvety and decadent, basically like a chicken pot pie sauce without the chicken, but not quite as rich (it doesn’t actually contain cream). The recipe as written is technically called “Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies” – although Deb tells you to feel free to skip the pancetta. I eat chicken but not pork (don’t ask me to explain why) so I’m ok with chicken broth but I leave the pancetta out. You can make it fully vegetarian by using vegetable broth, but the chicken broth is pretty dang good. Of course I don’t miss it at all, but I’ve made these pies with pancetta in the past and the people I fed them to felt pretty strongly I was missing out, so if you don’t have an issue with pork I would recommend trying it – I include instructions for either version, or a combo of both, below.

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But finally, the thing I love most about these pies, the reason I was burning my tongue inhaling one the other night as they were steaming-hot-out-of-the-oven and I needed to save my appetite for dinner, is the crust. Yes, I love the beans and greens, but if I’m craving that I can make my soup (in a fraction of the time). If I want something richer and heartier I’ll make Deb’s stew. This pie crust, however, takes these from being really really good pot pies to absolutely freaking to die for delicious pot pies. And I’m not really even a pie crust person! Deb describes it as croissant-like, and she’s right, it’s a pie-crust-croissant-combination in the best way possible. She adds sour cream and vinegar to the dough, and I don’t know why we haven’t been doing that all along, with all pie crusts, because it does something really miraculous. The crust is flaky and buttery and slightly tangy – the filling really would make a delicious stew all on it’s own, but once you try this crust you would never not make it (although I will say, Ina’s version holds it’s shape much better, thanks to the crisco). If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t just use this crust for chicken pot pies, it’s because I’m perfectly happy not eating them, and I’m afraid trying them with this crust would give me a newfound love for chicken pot pie – which is basically the last thing I need.

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So now you know why I can only make this recipe once every three years, and/or for very special occasions (funny story, I actually made these for my cousin who just had her third baby, and who is a strict vegetarian – so as I was pouring the chicken stock into the pan it dawned on me that I’ll need to make her a new batch….and thus these are calling my name from the freezer). Apologies for the excess of photos, and the entire paragraph devoted to pie crust (it’s a long recipe, an even longer blog post – if my high school English teachers/law school legal writing professors could read this they would cry). Full disclosure, this recipe will take you about two hours – longer if your pies need extra time in the oven like mine did – but I think you’ll find it time well spent.

Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie Cake (there’s no “one year ago” as apparently November 2014 was a bad blogging month for me!)
Pot Pies, Previously:
Chicken, two ways

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies, from Smitten Kitchen (on her blog and in her cookbook)

Yield: 4 large pot pies (would also work well in an 8×8″ baking dish)

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (1 stick + 5 tablespoons from a second stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
6 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (for topping crust)

For the Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (3/4 cup to 1 cup) 1/4″ diced pancetta, optional*
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 2)
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped (I used 2)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thinly sliced swiss chard leaves from an 8-10 ounce bundle, approximately 4 cups (I just use an entire bunch, large or small, without worrying about ounces or cups)
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (remainder of second stick from crust, plus an additional 1/2 tablespoon)
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, ideally low-sodium
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from about 1 and 1/3 cans (I used two whole cans)

Make Crust: In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add butter, and using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix butter into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. In a small dish, whisk together sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine with butter/flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, combine until mixture forms a dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it a few times (it will be sticky). Pat into a flat-ish ball and refrigerate for one hour (or up to two days – but it needs at least an hour, which conveniently is about the time it will take you to chop your veggies and make the filling).

Make Filling: Heat olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat (if using pancetta, see * below). Add onions, carrot, celery, pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add greens and cook until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.

Make Sauce: Wipe out your pan, add butter, and melt over medium-low heat.  Add flour, whisk to combine, and cook for two minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth, one ladleful or splash at a time, mixing completely with each addition. Once all the broth is added, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until sauce is thickened and gravy-like, about 10 minutes, and then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Add white beans and veggie mixture (and pancetta, if using).

Assemble Pot Pies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide filling between four large ramekins (you could also use ovenproof bowls).  There should be a total of 6 cups of filling, or 1 1/2 cups per ramekin (I somehow had a greater volume of filling and chose to fill all four ramekins very full rather than filling a fifth, which was fine except that they all boiled over; if you would rather have a pretty crust than a super-hearty portion – I certainly would! – make sure not to fill ramekins too full). Set the ramekins on a baking sheet. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a circle large enough to cover the ramekin and leave a 1″ overhang (I used large ramekins and had plenty of dough). Whisk the egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water) and brush it lightly around the top rim of the ramekins so that dough will stick. Drape pastry over each ramekin, pressing lightly so that the dough sticks to the dish. Brush crusts with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to cut slits or decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is bronzed and filling is lightly bubbling (hopefully only lightly!) through vents, 30-35 minutes (mine took about 45 to get the crust bronzed, and still not as bronzed as Deb’s photos).

To Make Ahead: the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap and then in a freezer storage bag, will last up to two days in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and kept covered in the fridge.

*If Using Pancetta: Before cooking your veggies, sauté pancetta in one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave pancetta renderings in the pan, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, and then sauté veggies as written above and go from there. Add pancetta back to filling when you add veggies and white beans to sauce. If you’re feeding a group that’s half pancetta-friendly and half not, rather than cooking all the veggies in the pancetta renderings, just make the pancetta-free version, cook the pancetta separately, and then stir it into the individual pot pies.

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Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

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Ugh, you guys. I’ve been trying to get motivated to cook all week, and I really just couldn’t do it. When I first started this blog, I had so many recipes I was excited to make and share. I’m not sure if I’ve made all of them or what, but here it is November, the month of roasted veggies and soups and comfort foods and pumpkin spice and basically all of my favorite things, and I’ve been completely uninspired. Yesterday I decided I would perhaps just take the month off. I mean, I had posted consistently for the past seven weeks – that’s almost two whole months – so certainly I deserved a break. But then, this morning I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for the past five Novembers now (I know that it’s five because the cookbook where it comes from was a hostess gift from my friend Lindsay, when a group of us threw her a baby shower for her little guy who turns four next week, sob!). Butternut squash and risotto are two of my favorite things, so I don’t know how it’s taken me so long, but for whatever reason it has. All of the sudden I inspired not only for the blog, but for dinner too.

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Risotto is one of those things that I think a lot of people are afraid to try at home for fear that it’s too much work. Or at least, risotto is one of those things that I used to be afraid to try at home because I feared it was too much work.  While it does require a half an hour of hanging out near your stove, it’s a half hour where all you have to do is stir a pot and maybe drink a glass of wine (the recipe calls for one third of a cup, which leaves a lot of wine left for drinking). The prep time is pretty minimal – at least if you use a food processor to grate the squash – so all things considered this is a relatively easy meal to throw together. Once your squash is grated and your leek is sliced, you get to just stand by the stove and stir, chatting with whomever is in your kitchen or scrolling through your instagram feed from the day. I minced my garlic straight into the pan, and once the risotto was done cooking zested the lemon and squeezed the juice right in as well.

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I have a few tips, but they’re pretty minor. (1) I wasn’t sure how much half a pound of squash was, so I used two cups, the better part of the small squash I had on hand. (2) At first I found the rice was sticking the the pan quite a bit, which was why I used a little extra wine to deglaze the pan. Nothing like dumping wine straight from the bottle into a Le Cruset to make you feel like a real chef! (3) At the beginning my rice was absorbing the stock pretty quickly, so I was worried I would get through the 6 cups before the 25-30 minute cooking time, which is what happened. Although the sauce was creamy after 30 minutes, the rice was still a little crunchy, so I added a bit more stock and left it on the stove for five minutes longer, at which point it was perfect. (4) The reason the cheese is optional in the recipe as written is because Melissa’s husband doesn’t eat cheese. As such, she uses it as an optional garnish, but I stirred a bit in as well. The risotto doesn’t really need it, but I find that parm makes everything better. Finally, (5), I was a little iffy on the pistachios but decided to follow the recipe to the letter for the sake of the blog (you’re welcome). They’re $$$ – even buying a small amount in bulk was $10 – and hard to chop. I expected I would write that you didn’t need them – but while again the risotto would be delicious on its own, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they in fact add quite a bit both in terms of flavor and crunch.

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OK so there you have it – my “weekly” post at 4:30 on a dreary Thursday afternoon – late, but still with enough time for you to make this for dinner tonight. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

One Year Ago: Green Chile Posole
Two Years Ago: Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Risotto, Previously: Corn Risotto-Stuffed Peppers
Melissa Clark, Previously: Double Coconut GranolaOlive Oil Banana BreadSplit Pea SoupCorned Beef and CabbageRoasted HalibutCarrot Mac and CheeseKale SaladSesame Soba SaladBrown Butter Nectarine CobblerPort-Braised Short Ribs, Capellini with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6 cups (approximately) chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste (I used low sodium chicken stock and found that I needed quite a bit more salt)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I added a couple additional splashes)
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste ( I used quite a bit more)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1. In a food processor fitted with a grating attachment, shred the squash. (Or use a box grater, but it will be harder to do.  You can also just dice into small cubes, which will taste just fine but won’t dissolve into a sauce like the shreds do). In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Melt the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute longer. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until most of the grains of rice appear semitranslucent, 3-4 minutes. This means they have absorbed some of the fat from the pan, which will help keep the grains separate as they form their creamy sauce.

2. Pour the wine into the pan and let it cook off for about two minutes. Add a ladleful of stock (about 1/2 cup) and cook, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape around the sides, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Continue adding stock, one ladelful at a time, and stirring almost constantly until the risotto has turned creamy and thick, and the grains of rice are tender with a bit of bite, 25-30 minutes (Melissa says you may not need all of the stock, although I found that I needed more – my risotto was creamy after the 6 cups were used up but the rice was still a little too crunchy – it needed a couple more splashes of stock and five more minutes on the stove). Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed (mine needed both). Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti Squash Tacos with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

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I’ve had my Smitten Kitchen cookbook for almost three years now, and these tacos have been on my to-make list since the day I got it. Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite blogs, as I’ve probably mentioned at least a few (hundred) times already.  We had been anticipating her book for months before it finally came out in October of 2012, and I was certain I would cook my way through it immediately. But I guess life (and keeping up with her blog recipes) got in the way, as I just did a quick tally and realized that out of well over 100 recipes, prior to this one I had only made eight. Eight! In three years!

They’ve all been delicious – corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers, white bean and swiss chard pot pies, the pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake tart, perfect pie crust, cherry-almond galette, peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce, apple cake, and blueberry cornmeal coffee cake – but eight seems like way too few considering there are about 10 times that on my to-make list. (And please note that six of the eight have been from the “sweets” section of the book – busted!). Along with her peach and sour cream pancakes (yum) and butternut squash and caramelized onion galette (double yum), these tacos were on the top of my to-make list, so when my cousin brought me three gorgeous spaghetti squash (squashes?) from her garden last week I knew exactly what to do with them.

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I love squash in mexican food – the Cactus Butternut Squash Enchiladas are my all time fave – so of course this recipe was calling my name. I also love the combination of black beans and squash (like in this soup or this casserole) – I don’t know exactly what it is about this particular combo, but somehow it’s one of those instances where the whole is better than the sum of it’s parts. And that is definitely the case with these tacos, as I find spaghetti squash on it’s own a little blah.

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Additional reasons I’ll be making this a lot this fall: it’s pretty healthy, and couldn’t be easier. It takes 40 minutes to roast the squash (although you could do it in less than half that time in the microwave), but aside from that it takes about ten minutes to throw everything together, so it’s the perfect weeknight meal. While the squash is cooking, whisk your lime juice together with the seasonings, open a can of beans (I warmed mine on the stove because I don’t love the idea of eating things straight out of a can, but you don’t have to so long as you drain and rinse them well), dice up a little onion, chop some cilantro, and crumble a bit of queso fresco or cojita cheese. Deb uses queso fresco (not only in her tacos but in the title of the recipe) but says you could also use cojita or feta – I used cojita because it’s my favorite, but the other two would be great as well (and less expensive!). Once your squash has finished cooking and has cooled slightly, use a fork to scrape it out of the skin into long, stringy spaghetti-like strands, toss it with the lime juice mixture, and you have a delicious and healthy meal ready to go. The tacos look gorgeous once assembled, and if you have leftovers (which you likely won’t; I did only because I doubled the recipe and was serving a small group), they’ll keep for a few days. I stirred any leftover beans and toppings into the remaining seasoned squash and will have yummy lunches for the next few days – leaving me more time to get to work on my SK Cookbook to-make list. I’m thinking pancakes for dinner tomorrow!

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One year ago: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies & Pumpkin Pecan Granola
Squash, previously: baked pasta, soup, salad (all butternut ~ good thing we’re finally mixing it up!)

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 16 tacos; serves 4 generously or 8 modestly

3 lbs (1 large or 2 small) spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
16 6-inch corn tortillas
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained well
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco, feta, or cojita cheese
1/4 cup finely diced red or white onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges and/or hot sauce for finishing, optional

Cook the squash, either in the oven or microwave. [To cook it in the oven, cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds (I forgot to do this and had to scrape them out once cooked) and roast cut side down in an oiled baking dish at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. To cook it in the microwave, pierce the squash all over with a sharp knife (cuts about an inch deep) to prevent it from bursting. Cook at high power for 6-7 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until it feels a little soft when pressed. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting it open.] Once the squash has cooled slightly, scrape the flesh out with a fork, loosening and separating the strands of squash as you remove it from the skin.  Discard skin. [Side note: if you roast the squash, and remove the seeds before roasting, you can then roast the seeds as you would pumpkin seeds. Just rinse them and spread onto an oiled baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or salt and chili powder. Roast at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes, stirring them about halfway through.]

In a small dish, whisk the lime juice with the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt. Pour over the squash strands and gently toss it all together. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To assemble the tacos, heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and warm/slightly blister each tortilla, about 30 seconds per side (I sometimes run mine under the broiler, which always seems more efficient as you can do 6 or so at once – but occasionally I do burn them so perhaps Deb’s way is better). Fill each tortilla with two tablespoons squash mixture, two tablespoons black beans, two teaspoons crumbled cheese, and a couple pinches of onion and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce (if hot sauce is your thing – it’s not mine).

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Mac and Cheese, Part Two

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As discussed yesterday, I went on a bit of a mac and cheese bender a few months ago when I was preparing freezer meals for my sister (in preparation for the arrival of her first baby/my first nephew). Beecher’s is an artisan cheese shop that originated in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, and I might have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with their cheeses.  They also happen to make a really amazing mac and cheese, which is called “Beecher’s ‘World’s Best’ Mac and Cheese.” A pretty bold assertion, but even if it’s not the best it’s definitely in the running.

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Beecher’s mac and cheese is traditionally made with their “flagship” cheese – clearly I’m not a connoisseur, but I would describe it as similar to a sharp white cheddar.  I was snacking on their peppery “marco polo” during a wine and cheese night this past summer when I had an epiphany – why not make Beecher’s mac and cheese with marco polo in place of the flagship? It’s basically just a creamy, mild white cheese with green and black peppercorns – I think of it mostly as black pepper cheese, but there’s green in there too. Beecher’s makes a couple other varieties aside from the flagship (smoked, mariachi, chicken, pork), but they have not come out with a marco polo version – no idea why not, but as soon as I thought of it I became convinced it would be the most delicious thing ever.  Contrary to what it probably looks like based upon this blog, I actually don’t make/eat mac and cheese all that often (unless you count the frozen “reduced guilt” Trader Joe’s frozen kind) – and neither does my sister. But I figured if there’s ever a time when you can eat “full guilt” mac and cheese with no guilt (or at least, less guilt), it’s after you’ve given birth.  Plus, what better way to celebrate the arrival of the world’s best baby than with the world’s best mac and cheese?!?

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So I set about to make two casseroles, a traditional (flagship) and a black pepper (marco polo). Again, the recipe is pretty simple. Cook some pasta, make a quick béchamel, grate a ton of cheese and melt it into the sauce, toss the sauce with the pasta, top with more cheese, and bake. The traditional recipe calls for chili powder in both the sauce and on top of the casserole; I wasn’t sure that the chili powder would go with the black pepper so I omitted it from the second casserole. Aside from that, my only recipe “tweak” was to use the marco polo in lieu of the flagship in both the sauce and in the topping. Flagship cheese is pretty easy to find these days – it’s sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (for a lot cheaper!) even outside of Seattle.  Marco Polo might be a little trickier – I’ve been able to find it at QFC and New Seasons in Portland, but I’m not sure if you would be able to find it anywhere else outside of Seattle or NYC (go here if you find yourself in the Flatiron district and in need of a good happy hour). Beecher’s will ship it to you – though for the shipping charges, I would just get the flagship at Trader Joe’s and call it good. The marco polo is good, but I have a hard time paying more for shipping than the cost of the actual item. If you can get your hands on it, though, please make this and let me know your thoughts – I really think I’m onto something.

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While I prefer to use pretty bakeware (and use this blog as an excuse to buy a lot of it), I think one of the nicest things you can do when bringing meals to new parents (or anyone in need of a meal) is to bring everything in disposable dishes so that they don’t have to worry about returning anything. So in that vein, please excuse these lovely tin foil casserole dishes. I might have considered using nicer dishes since these were for my sister (and therefore more likely that I could demand them back), but I didn’t want to be without two casserole dishes while they sat in the freezer for months.  Turns out they were eaten quickly enough that I wouldn’t have missed them.

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One year ago: Pumpkin Muffins 

Mac and Cheese, previously: Part One, Carrot

Beecher’s “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese 

Serves 4

Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 /2 cups whole milk
7 ounces Flagship cheese (about 1 3/4 cups), grated (for the black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship)
1 ounce Just Jack (about 1/4 cup), grated (if you can’t find Beecher’s, any Jack will do)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder* (for black pepper version, omit the chili powder)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Pasta

6 ounces penne pasta (about 3 1/4 cups)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) Flagship cheese, grated  (for the black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) Just Jack cheese, grated
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder* (for black pepper version, omit the chili powder)

*I used the full 1/2 teaspoon in the sauce, and then less than even the 1/4 teaspoon on top of the pasta because I got scared it would be too spicy.  But it really is pretty mild (at least, the chipotle chili powder I used was), so as long as you’re not completely spice-adverse you can go ahead and use as much as you want.

Instructions

To prepare sauce, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add cheeses, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder. Stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or oil an 8-inch baking dish. Cook penne two minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and drain well.

Combine pasta and sauce in a medium bowl; mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with cheeses and then the chili powder.

For black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship in both the sauce and the topping. Omit chili powder in both the sauce and the topping. 

Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

If planning to use as a freezer meal, I still bake the casserole beforehand and then freeze it after it’s cooled, but I’m pretty sure you could freeze it uncooked as well.  Even if it’s fully cooked, it will take at least the full baking time to reheat.  I always tell people to take it out of the freezer as soon as possible and then bake at 350 for 30-60 minutes. If it’s close to fully defrosted it might take only 30 minutes to heat through; if it’s fully frozen it will take closer to an hour. These non-specific instructions really through my brother in law for a loop, but it’s the best way I can think of to explain it – if anyone has better tips I would love to hear them in the comments!

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Mac and Cheese, Part One

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This post was originally supposed to be called “Mac and Cheese, Three Ways” – but it was getting so long that I cut it in half (stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow).  My sister and her husband had their first baby a couple months ago, and while I tried really hard to come up with some creative ideas for freezer meals, I had a difficult time getting past everyone’s favorite comfort food. So I decided if I couldn’t be original, I would be excessive instead: I stocked their freezer with, among other things, three different macaroni and cheese casseroles for the first few post baby months (they may have only lasted a few weeks). Number three was the one I was most excited about (more on that tomorrow), but I decided to start with a Barefoot Contessa classic. (Coincidentally, Ina’s new cookbook comes out today – it’s called “Make It Ahead” – and while I’m pretty excited about it, I’m not sure that there’s a better make ahead recipe than this mac and cheese).

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Much like last week’s lasagna, I’m not sure that macaroni and cheese is fancy enough to warrant it’s own blog post. However, up until a couple years ago, my grandmother was the only person I knew of who made mac and cheese that wasn’t from a box (that list has now expanded to my grandmother, my friend Lindsay, and myself).  So I’m posting this relatively basic recipe in the hopes of inspiring those of you who haven’t yet realized how easy and delicious homemade mac and cheese can be.  Don’t be intimidated by the béchamel – it used to really scare me, but it’s so easy. SImply melt your butter, add some flour, pour in the milk, and whisk whisk whisk.  It will take a few minutes to thicken up, but once it does you’ll feel like Julia Child. Add salt and pepper, and nutmeg to taste – I usually add whatever the recipe calls for (because I’m a rule follower), but I know a lot of people don’t care for nutmeg in a dish like this so feel free to use less or none at all.

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Add the cheese to the béchamel while it’s still hot and let it melt.  (If I could only give you one tip for making this recipe, it would be to buy your gruyère at Trader Joe’s – it’s literally half the price of any other store. A second tip would be to use Tillamook extra sharp for your cheddar, yum.)  Combine pasta and sauce and scrape into your prepared baking dish. See, it’s really so simple. And so delicious – you’ll never make mac and cheese from a box again. Not that you ever did.

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Ina wants you to make homemade bread crumbs – which are super easy, but I often don’t have bread on hand so I like to use good store bought breadcrumbs or panko. I like to toast mine on the stovetop beforehand (with a little olive oil or butter), but it’s not a necessary step by any means.  If you want to make your breadcrumbs from scratch, cut the crusts off of five slices of bread (or a hunk of baguette) and process in the food processor until the pieces are the size of small crumbs (duh).  Mix the crumbs with melted butter and then sprinkle on top of the casserole before baking.  Casserole can be prepared ahead of time and then baked before serving, or baked and frozen for tired moms and dads to defrost and reheat as necessary.

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One year ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

Mac and Cheese, previously: Melissa Clark’s Carroty Mac and Cheese

Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese, from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Ingredients:

Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 lb. elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk (4 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
12 ounces gruyère, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, to taste)
4 small tomatoes, sliced (optional – I skipped this step)
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs, fresh (5 slices bread, crusts removed) or store bought breadcrumbs or panko

To Make:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add pasta and cook according to package directions (on the shorter side if they give you a range; you want the noodles al dente as they’ll continue to cook in the oven). Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan (don’t let it come to a boil). Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4 quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. While whisking, add hot milk (slowly) and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the gruyère, cheddar, one tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top of pasta (if using). Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top (I like to melt the butter in a frying pan, add panko breadcrumbs, and toast before topping the casserole with them). Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and casserole is browned on top.  

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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers

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As I may have mentioned on this blog once or twice, Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite food blogs.  So when Deb (the author) published her first cookbook two years ago, I promptly purchased a copy (and a ticket to her book signing, which was amazing). I was so excited to get my hands on the book, and read it cover to cover the day I received it. I flagged all of the recipes I wanted to try – and there were a lot.  The book came out in late October, so the first thing I made was a pumpkin gingersnap tart (which was delicious, and which probably belongs on this blog). And then, of course, the cookbook went onto the book shelf and I forgot about so many of the things I wanted to make, including her corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers (no idea where the hyphen(s) belong there, but that’s how Deb titled it so that’s what I’m going with).  I would pull the cookbook out and flip through it occasionally, but it never seemed like the right time to roast peppers and make risotto.  The other night, however, it was cold and rainy for the first time in awhile, and I was getting an early start on dinner, so all of the sudden it seemed like the stars aligned.

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Of course it turns out I didn’t start quite early enough, as this recipe takes a fair amount of time. But an 8:30 dinner never killed anyone, and the recipe only calls for half a cup of beer, which means you can drink the rest of the bottle (and perhaps even a second) while you roast/peel/chop/stir. One way to save time would be to go to the grocery store beforehand, as that part took me almost an hour (I’m a grocery store wanderer). You could do the peppers and/or the risotto ahead of time, and then just assemble and bake at dinner time. Lastly, Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions would be a good time saver. I was too lazy to make an extra stop, but as my eyes were burning while I chopped the onion I wished I had made the effort (actual conversation with my sister this morning: me: “it’s really worth the extra stop at Trader Joe’s just for the chopped onions.” Her, emphatically: “it is always worth stopping at Trader Joe’s for at least 10-15 items you can’t get anywhere else.” Words to live by!). Frozen corn would save time as well, but the fresh is so good right now that it’s worth the extra couple minutes.

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If you’ve ever roasted or charred peppers before, you know it’s super easy. If you haven’t, it might seem a bit daunting, but let me assure you it is not. If you have a gas stove top you can put the peppers directly on the grill; if not, putting them under the broiler works just as well. After making these, my tip would be: make sure the skins get completely blackened and “blistered.” I was worried I was burning mine so took them off the flame too soon – the blackened skin came off easily, but any parts that were still green didn’t want to come off at all. Which isn’t the end of the world, but to the extent you want your peppers skinned, make sure you char the peppers as much as possible. The good news is you can mess up the charring or the skinning or the de-seeding (see above) and they will still turn out delicious (although spicier with the seeds in).

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On the few occasions I’ve made risotto I always wonder why I don’t make it more often – it’s so easy and sooo good. And then I remember it’s a huge bowl of refined carbs with cheese, so unless I’m running a marathon the next day it’s perhaps not the healthiest choice for a meal. But let’s ignore that for now – here it’s very portion controlled, and involves corn and peppers – which are vegetables!! – so it could be a lot worse. And I accidentally bought reduced fat monterey jack cheese and it was still delicious, so there are ways to cut the calories if you’re worried about it (which apparently I am not). Aside from the 40 minute time frame and the fact that you have to be stirring it pretty frequently, it’s quite simple. In fact, it sounds like I may have to take up marathon running, because I’m now totally on a risotto kick.

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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients:
8 large fresh poblano peppers
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup Mexican beer
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 cobs), or 1 1/2 cups frozen and defrosted corn kernels
3/4 cup monterey jack cheese (I used well over a cup, oops!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon milk (I used lime juice)
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Prepare Peppers:
Place chiles directly onto gas burners and turn flame to high. Using tongs, rotate chiles frequently until their skins are blistered on all sides, about 4-6 minutes each. If you don’t have a gas stovetop, you can roast the chiles under the broiler (also turning frequently). Put blackened chiles in a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap. NOTE: Deb says you can skip this step entirely if the skins don’t bother you.

Make Risotto:
In a medium saucepan, heat your stock to a low simmer. On a separate burner, heat a larger saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil and heat through. Add onion to hot oil and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Add the rice to the pot and stir for a minute or two, until it becomes lightly toasted. Pour in the beer, scraping up any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the beer simmer for a minute or so, until it’s almost disappeared. Ladle one cup of warm stock into rice mixture and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing stock to absorb before adding more, and stirring often. Along with the final addition of stock, add the corn. Total cooking time for the rice is about 30 minutes, after which it should be creamy and tender. Once all the stock and corn are added and stock is absorbed, stir in the monterey jack cheese and salt and pepper to taste (I found I needed a fair amount of salt and pepper, perhaps due to my low sodium chicken stock). Remove risotto from heat.

Assemble and Bake:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chiles from bowl and gently rub off the skins, which should remove easily. Cut a slit lengthwise in each chile and remove the seeds and membranes as best you can. Leave the stems on – they’re cute. Fill each chile with risotto and arrange stuffed chiles in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the queso fresco. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until top begins to brown.

To Serve:
In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream and milk (or lime juice) with a pinch of salt. Drizzle the mixture over the hot chiles. Garnish with cilantro.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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Well, we’ve been into fall for three whole days now – can you believe my restraint in not posting 100 pumpkin recipes already? We’re still in that in-between stage, weather wise, but even though it’s not quite soup season, it’s still tomato season and I have a lot of tomatoes to use up.  We’re now twenty months into this blog and this is my tenth soup recipe – far and away my biggest “category.” But really, can you think of a better one-pot meal to get you through the cold and rainy months looming on the horizon?  My barista told me this morning he’s been waiting for the rain for the past five months – by February I’ll deny saying this, but I’m kind of with him, and this soup is one of the main reasons why.

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I thought I had found my favorite tomato soup many years ago – it’s easy, it’s (relatively) healthy, it lets me use up all of the tomatoes I have coming out my ears in August, and it’s from the Barefoot Contessa so you know it’s delicious.  But after making it a couple dozen times over the past month or so, I thought I would mix things up and look for a couple new recipes. And what do you suppose I found? Another Barefoot Contessa option.  It’s not radically different from the first one, but she roasts the tomatoes before adding them to the soup and it really deepens the tomato flavor.  And it calls for white onions rather than red, which means you can use the bags of pre-chopped onions from Trader Joe’s (I’ll do almost anything to avoid chopping onions). Ina never disappoints.

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Roasting is a great way to use up any tomatoes you may have leftover from your summer harvest – simply roast them with oiive oil, salt and pepper, freeze them (with their juices), and then use them for soup all winter long.  And once you run out of frozen tomatoes, roasting the not-so-delicious varieties that they sell at the supermarket in January will make them taste (almost) as good as your home grown ones. I think the basil also makes this soup extra yummy – it calls for sixteen times the amount of basil that the other soup does (sixteen times!! I did this math a couple times just to make sure that’s correct). I initially thought maybe the “four cups” was a typo – but it’s not and it’s amazing. You don’t even have to chop it, just pull the leaves from the stems and dump them in. Don’t skimp on the basil if you can help it (I did a full four cups the first time I made this and it was delicious, and then I was a little short the second time and while of course it was still yummy, I wished I had made the effort to go back to the store and get another bag).

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Add a can of tomatoes (San Marzano is ideal), a box of chicken stock (veggie stock or water to make it vegetarian), the basil and thyme, and then dump in the roasted tomatoes – including all the oil and juices that accumulated in the pan. Simmer for 40 minutes or so and then blend – you don’t even have to add cream (put the calories you save towards your grilled cheese). Ina tells you to use a food mill, but I don’t have one so I use my immersion blender. I suspect a Vitamix would work great as well, or a regular blender or food processor. This soup will freeze nicely – so I would suggest making a double batch, some for now and some for later. You’ll thank me the next time it’s nasty outside and you’re craving a grilled cheese and tomato soup (per the forecast, next week). Happy soup season!

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One year ago: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin granola 

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, cream of fresh tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, roasted sweet potato and apple, red lentil

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup, from The Barefoot Contessa

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 lbs ripe tomatoes (Ina suggests plum), sliced in half
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons gold olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (1 large/2 small)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with juices
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread mixture in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade or purée with an immersion blender (or in vitamix) until smooth.

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