Sunday, May 23, 2021

Macaroni and Cheese - Recipe by Marian Burros

I love cheese.  All the kinds.  Yesterday I went to the grocery store to stock up on essentials. Once all my items were all out on the checkout conveyor, I thought, wow that is a lot of cheese I am buying.   I wonder if the checkout person noticed? Did she think, wow this lady sure does like cheese?  Well I do. And what better way to use it than macaroni and cheese.   

In 2003-2004 when I really started to find my joy in cooking during my college/graduate school days, my mom bought me a cookbook "Cooking for Comfort" with a giant delicious looking mac n cheese on the cover.  The author is NY Times columnist and author Marian Burros, and it was published in 2003.  The introduction alludes to a post-9/11 food scene in NYC of a return to comfort food.  This recipe hits the spot. Probably not a typical southern style mac n cheese but it has turned into my favorite recipe for it.   I've tried several recipes, some just stove top only, and others like this one that bake in the oven.  All have been good, but I keep coming back to this one.  I hope you enjoy it too! 

Total Time: 1 hr (includes 30 minutes baking in the oven)

Serves: 6 as a side dish


1/2 large Vidalia onion, diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I use 1 or 2%)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (creamy not grainy)
12 oz extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated, with 2 tbsp reserved for the topping
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 tsp hot sauce
8 ounces of your favorite pasta.  
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other similar Italian hard cheese)


  1. Preheat oven to 400-F.  Place rack on the bottom third of the oven. 
  2. In a large stock pot, bring water to boil for the pasta.  Once it comes to a boil, add 2 tbsp of salt to the water and add the pasta, cook per pasta directions.  Drain. Do not rinse the pasta.  
  3. While waiting for the pasta water to boil and pasta to cook, make the sauce.  In a large saucepan, melt the butter.  Add in the onion and cook the onion over low heat for 5-7 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Do not brown.  
  4. Stir in the flour. 
  5. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the milk until blended.  Return to the heat, medium, and cook, stirring constantly (gently) until the mixture begins to thicken.  For me, that usually take 5-7 minutes.  
  6. Remove from the heat, add in the Dijon mustard, pinch of salt and pepper, nutmeg, hot sauce. Stir until blended. 
  7. Add in the cooked pasta and 10 oz of the shredded cheddar.  Stir until blended.  
  8. Spoon the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish.  Top with the remaining 2 tbsp of cheddar cheese and all of the Parmesan cheese. 
  9. Transfer the dish to the oven, and cook for about 30 minutes or until it's bubbling and browning around the edges.  
Steps/Tips and Tricks

Chop the onion into a small dice. Don't want to end up chomping down on a large onion chunk later on!  The original recipe called for about 1 cup, for me this is 1/2 of a sweet Vidalia onion.  I'll save the rest for something else later.  

Remember to start your pasta water to boil about the same time you start the onion/cheese mixture.  For me it all got finished and ready to combine about the same time this way.  

Don't cook the onions on too high a heat, you aren't looking to brown/crisp them, just gently cook and soften them.  For me I kept the heat on medium for 5-7 minutes.  

A word about spices.  Whenever you can grate a thing yourself, it will be fresher.  Already ground nutmeg is also fine, but if it's really old, probably time to get new fresh nutmeg.  I have a small Microplane grater that is perfect for grating whole nutmeg.  Whole nutmeg lasts for years in the pantry.   I just grate the nutmeg right over the pan, eyeballing the amount.  

I like to be nice and organized, getting out all the ingredients while something else is happening, like the onion softening and waiting for pasta water to boil.  So that is what I did. 

Onions are ready! 

After adding in the flour to the onion, I stir it just for 30 seconds over the heat to get some extra toasted flavor on the flour. 

Turn off the heat to add in your milk so the milk doesn't scald.  Then turn it back on to medium, and get ready to stir stir stir for 5-7 minutes. No need to stir vigorously, just keep it moving so the milk doesn't burn.  

Don't forget to check your pasta water. It should be boiling by now. Add in the salt to the pasta water to help flavor the pasta, and then add in your pasta.   I use Banza chickpea pasta.  It is diabetic friendly and really can tell no difference in traditional semolina flour pasta.  

Once the milk mixture starts to thicken, add in the seasonings. Don't wait until it's actually thick.  You will know when it STARTS to thicken because as you stir you will see the consistency change some.  It will be slightly more viscous.  Then it is time to remove from the heat.  

Once you've blended in the seasoning and mustard, add in the cheese and pasta.  Mix thoroughly.  

I've mentioned before on the blog a few times how much better cheese is when you grate/shred it yourself vs buying pre-shredded.  Yes I do buy pre-shredded sometimes for convenience, but I look for the kinds without added chemicals that prevent the cheese from caking and clumping.  Not only are those not good for you, but they prevent a good melt on the cheese ie the sauce will not be as smooth. I go into more detail and have some great tips on easy shredding yourself with a food processor on my post about Zucchini Bread (no there is no cheese in the zucchini bread, but I shred the zucchini in my food processor, and then got off on a tangent about shredding cheese, scroll until you see the pics of the food processor...).  

Now it's time to dump it all in your baking dish.  This is a good time to get a helper who can scrape out all the good bits of cheese sauce while you hold the pan over the baking dish.  

Time to bake!  Remember to put your oven racks near the bottom so the top doesn't get too brown too quickly. 

Wait 30 mins.....then enjoy!  This travels well, I made this for a family gathering.  Covered with aluminum foil right out of the oven, put in my travel tote for such size dishes, and off we went! 

Listen to the sizzle: 


Hope you enjoy!  


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Mongolian Beef - Adventures in Wok Cooking

We recently moved into a new home, and in this new home is our first gas stovetop.  Our last home didn't have any gas, so cooking with gas wasn't an option, obviously.  Wok cooking isn't that great on an electric stovetop, especially the glass top kind that we had. It just doesn't get hot enough.  SO, now that we have gas, we had to get a wok! It's carbon steel, and my husband spent a lot of time seasoning it last weekend.  Our inaugural use was to make fried rice, which turned out excellent.  For our 2nd foray into wok cooking we made Mongolian Beef.  This is a favorite dish of ours at a local Chinese restaurant, and I have to say, ours turned out just as good, maybe even better!  It is relatively simple too, and comes together quickly, all marks of a dinner we plan to repeat again and again.  

Rice Sidebar:  I now exclusively make rice in my InstaPot.  It is the epitome of set it and forget it.  I have gotten sidetracked before and not released the steam at the prescribed time, and guess what, no big deal, the rice was still just fine.  This is my kind of appliance cooking.  For this recipe, I used brown basmati rice in the InstaPot.  1:1.25 ratio of rice to water. Rinse the rice, add to Instapot.  Using manual pressure cooking, set to 22 minutes.  After it is done cooking, let it stay on natural steam release for 10 minutes, then manually release the steam. I then left it in the Instapot undisturbed for another 30 mins (with it unplugged) while we made the Mongolian beef.  Fluff with a fork right before serving.  Viola, non-mushy rice.  

Mongolian Beef: You will need to marinade the beef, so some forethought into making this is required.  Start the beef and get it in the marinade, then get the rice going, and you should be just fine on timing. After the beef marinades for about an hour, you will dredge it in corn starch.  Then you are ready to cook!  Once you start cooking it all comes together pretty quickly.  

First batch of beef hitting the hot wok

Don't let it sit to long, keep it turning in the pan

First batch done and sitting off to the side

More beef ready, keep it stirring in the wok

Next up you will made the sauce in the pan and cook the veggies. Once those are cooked, add back in the beef and get a good coating on the meat, letting it soak up the sauce.   Then it's time to eat! 

While all this was happening (my husband did most of the cooking of the beef), I sauteed some broccoli and carrots.  I did a simple sautee with olive oil and toasted sesame oil, added salt and pepper, and right before they were done tossed with sesame seeds.  Drizzled a little soy sauce over them and briefly tossed in the pan before removing from the heat. 

Serve the Mongolian Beef over rice with this or any other side dish you'd like, and enjoy! 

Recipe: Mongolian Beef 
Serves: 4-6


  • 8 ounces flank steak sliced  (remember to slice AGAINST the grain)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil  plus 1/3 cup for frying
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1/4 cup, divided
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce or low sodium tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 6 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • serrano peppers, sliced.  Use 2-4 depending on the level of heat you desire. Remove seeds if desired.
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water (to use in the sauce)
  • 2 scallions cut on the diagonal into 1-inch long slice


Prepare the Beef Marinade:  Combine 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch.  Toss in the sliced beef and let it sit and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour.  

When ready to cook, dredge the marinated beef slices in 1/4 cup of cornstarch until lightly coated.  The beef will want to clump up, but you want to separate it out and make sure all the pieces are coated with cornstarch.  It's better to over coat them than to undercoat them. 

Make the sauce:  In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and hot water until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce and cornstarch/water mixture.  Mix until well combined.  Set aside.  You will add this in near the end.  

Time to cook! Heat 1/3 cup vegetable oil in a wok over high heat.  Don't let it start to smoke, if it does, turn down the heat slightly.  Spread the flank steak pieces evenly in the wok, and let sear for 1 minute. Don't overcrowd the pan, you will probably need to cook the beef in a few batches. Turn over and let the other side sear for another 30 seconds.  Move the cooked meat to a sheet pan and repeat until all the meat is cooked.  We were pretty informal with this and stirred the beef while cooking to keep it from burning.  Once it's all cooked, remove all the meat to the sheet pan. 

If you have more than a tablespoon of oil left in the pan, remove.  If you have less than a tablespoon of oil, add in some more until you have about a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Reduce heat to medium. 

Add in the ginger and peppers, stir for about 15-30 seconds.  Add in the sliced onions, radishes, and garlic, stirring constantly and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the onions are cooked to your liking. Keep stirring so that the garlic does not burn. Then add in the sauce mixture to the pan and cook for about another 2 minutes.  Stir until the mixture thickens to a nice sauce like consistency.   Add in the cooked beef and scallions, tossing and cooking for another 30 seconds to one minute.  All of the sauce should be clinging to the meat and veggies.  If it's not, then continue to stir so the sauce can thicken some more.  Serve over rice and eat! 

Recipe is adapted from The Woks of Life Mongolian Beef recipe

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Amish Cinnamon Bread

I love to bake, especially "quick breads".  Let's not kid ourselves here, "quick breads" are just cake that we don't call cake because there is no icing on them.  But they are cake.  Cake we can eat for breakfast! I recently discovered a new quick bread, Amish Cinnamon Bread. I'm not sure how I've missed out on this all these years given my affinity for all things cinnamon, and as I've just mentioned, quick breads.  I researched it a bit, tried a couple recipes, have some lessons learned (like avoiding air pockets), and wanted to share!  

This is a great bread to make and give as a gift, great to slice, wrap, and freeze for quick grab and go breakfast, or great to just heat up and enjoy whenever you'd like!  It's also very forgiving if you want to freeze half of it for another time.  Just let it completely cool before you put it in the freezer.  

Amish Cinnamon Bread


Cinnamon-Sugar topping
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup whole buttermilk (don't get fat-free, get whole, and don't use the powder)
2 cups white whole wheat flour (you can use all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda

For this, and all quick breads, use the "Muffin Method". I've talked about this before in the Zucchini Coconut Bread post. Using this method makes for a softer texture for your baked item. It is also important for nice and fluffy pancakes and tender waffles!  The Muffin Method involves combining all of your dry ingredients together (the dry works) and your wet ingredients together (the wet works) separately.  Then, without over-mixing, you combine the two together and stir for only about 10 seconds until combined. It doesn't have to be even and lumps are OK.  This is what you should do here. 

Another tip for great quick breads (or any recipe) that calls for creaming butter and sugar is to be sure the butter is at room temp = nice and soft.  Takes some patience and planning to get your butter out ahead of time, but you can't skip this.  You can try softening in the microwave, but you don't want any of it melted, so this is super tricky and i'll say doomed for failure in the microwave.   Just be patient and leave it out on the counter for a few hours. 

First, preheat your oven to 350-F, and grease a standard loaf pan.  I use a glass loaf pan.  If you use metal, you may need to adjust your cooking time.  All ovens are different anyway, so check it on the early side.  

Next, get the rest of your ingredients together.  I like to be organized when cooking so there are no surprises when you go to add the egg and realize you don't have any after all, or you have just too little sugar. 

Whisk together the Cinnamon-Sugar mixture and set aside. 

Next cream the sugar and butter. Start it out on medium-low or you will start flinging sugar all over the place. 

Keep it going until it's nice and uniform texture, you may need to scrape the bowl and time or two. 

Add the egg.  To prevent shells in the batter, I break the egg in a small dish and then put it in the bowl.  Cream the egg sugar butter mixture for 1 minute on medium speed, it will turn a lighter yellow than when you started.  This picture makes it seem more yellow than it will really be. 

Add the buttermilk to the butter sugar egg mixture and mix until well combined.  Mix on low or else it will make a mess! 

Next whisk the flour and baking soda until thoroughly combined.  Move your wet works next to your dry works to get ready to combine.   I've combined wet into dry and dry into wet, I think both are fine, but the "correct" way is to make a well in the middle of your dry works and pour your wet works in.  

The baking soda will start to react fast with the liquid, so don't delay here.  Don't decide to go do anything else once the wet hits the dry.  REMEMBER TO NOT OVERMIX!  Stir for 10 seconds, stirring and folding together until well combined. 

Eyeballing it, pour half the mixture into your greased pan and smooth it out evenly. 

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the sugar mixture across the batter. 

Pour in and spread out the rest of the batter, then sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top evenly. 

Spray a knife with non-stick spray, then insert it into the batter and swirl it back and forth across it.  Careful not to create large air pockets. If you do, then use the knife to smush it back together again.  

You do not have to bake it on a pan like I've shown below. The 2nd time I made this I had it overflow just a little into the oven.  I didn't even out the batter enough I realized.  But better to be safe. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes, checking after 50 minutes for done-ness.  I use a small knife inserted to the center to see if it comes out clean.  If it is not yet done but getting too brown on the top, cover with aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes.  The top should have a nice crust on it. Check out the video below too for how it should sound when you tap on it.  

Let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then remove and let it finish cooling on a wire rack.  


More pictures below of the finished product. 

Don't slice it until it's completely cool!  If you do, be warned it may dry out.   If you plan to eat it all in one sitting, then by all means slice away whenever you want.  

And there you have it friends, Amish Cinnamon Bread!   

If you are wondering where I got that awesome looking Christmas-lights hand towel in some of the photos, it is from a friend's online kitchen shop, Della's Kitchen Shop.  The towel is great. Buy one for yourself and all your friends.  There are lots of other towel prints and other kitchen things too! 



Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sweet (3-Day) Home, Chicago

Last summer Zac and I took a long weekend trip to Chicago, scheduled around seeing the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.  What a trip!  Zac scored us awesome Cubs tickets that included club access to the 1914 club.  WOW, that was snazzy.  And lots of food.   We had both been to Chicago before, but not for leisure so didn't really experience it much.  I have family ties to Chicago as well with my grandmother's family living there briefly, and so it was also fun to see parts of Chicago where they lived and she went to school.  And the food. Of course.  No shortage of good eats in Chicago. 
We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton.  Gorgeous hotel and building.  Great location for access to several L stops as well.  

Our first day we arrived late afternoon with time to check in, explore a bit, and grab some dinner.  Our first stop was Wicker Park.  We hopped off the Blue line at the Damen metro stop.  Nearby was Bonci Pizza, not at all traditional Chicago pizza, it's Roman pizza.  This restaurant's only other location is in, you guessed it, Rome, Italy.  Bonci has attracted national attention and won a few awards, and was a supposed favorite of Anthony Bourdain.   We can see why! We got a sampling of several things.   The deep fried arancini was really really good.  

After our quick bite we walked up N Milwaukee Ave for quite a while to explore more of Wicker Park, Bucktown, and ending in Palmer Square/Logan Square area.   After that, time to head back to the city for our evening plans = head to the top of the Sears Tower! (It's called the Willis Tower now technically....).   Our goal was to head up to the Skydeck in time to catch the sunset and then view the city lights at night from above.   It all worked out perfectly.  I love heights, and city views, and nighttime city views, and tall buildings, and so this really checked all the boxes! 

This is "The Ledge" at the skydeck.  There are a few bump-outs on the side of the building that you can go out on, and then look straight down to the street below through the clear floor.  Worth the wait in line and ticket price!  Photos below are from various vantage points from the observation area at the skydeck as the sun set and city lights came to life.  (It's all indoors).  

The next day we set out to explore the city.  We'd heard great things about the River Boat Architectural Tour.  We picked up the boat near where the river meets Lake Michigan, where some of the older buildings in the city are located.  The weather was perfect for us, clear sunny skies and not too hot.  The tour lasted 75 minutes and was not just informative but a great way to see the city buildings.   At the end they took us out into Lake Michigan so we could see good city skyline views.  

Time for some lunch after the river boat tour.  The boat dropped us off near N Michigan Avenue, so no time like the present to head north and explore the Magnificent Mile.  We walked almost all the way to the lakefront, and stopped at Cafe Spiaggia.  This is the more casual version of Spiaggia, an award winning Italian fine dining restaurant.  We were happy to stumble upon it and enjoy a nice lunch! 

We ordered an assortment of dishes to try.  We go the Burrata, Artichoke, and Meatball Antipasti plates, then shared the Pappardelle with duck confit and Gnocchi with wild board ragu pasta dishes.    Quite the feast! 

One fun thing about big cities is how ornate everything is, even the subway stations!  I love this picture, primarily because of the person in it 😉.  This is in the E Chicago Ave / N State Street subway station.  

We leisurely made our way back to the hotel after lunch, explored around the hotel a bit, rested, and got ready for the evenings main festivities - The Rolling Stones!  Mick Jagger had some health issues, which postponed the tour that spring and summer.  Lucky for us, they rescheduled it, but kept our date as the first concert of the tour.  We were pumped! 

Chinatown is near Soldier Field, enough to walk between the two, so we headed there for dinner before the concert. 

I took this picture because I like the sign. Don't have to be able to read the language to know that that is a store I want to go in to.  

For dinner we went to Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown.  Zac had heard great things about it, and they were true.  

And now for the concert!  It was a short walk to Soldier Field.  We didn't get even all that close when we started seeing these on the sidewalk.....

The concert was so great!  We were supposed to see them again this summer (2020), but due to the current events of a global pandemic, it was canceled.  We are hoping to be able to see them again! 

Our final full day we went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.   The Cubs played the Mets (the Mets won).   Zac got the tickets for us from a work colleague, right behind home plate on the 2nd row, PLUS access to the 1914 Club that was recently renovated.  Now THAT is the way to go to a baseball game! 

There was SO MUCH FOOD in the club.  All buffets, and more than pizza, burgers, beer, and wings.  We sampled it all, of course.  

In our seats we were also waited on like royalty, with more unlimited food and beer.  We had a great time. 

They changed out the desserts part way through the game.  Had to go sample them!  Plus it was getting a little hot, so the AC was nice.  

We figured out quickly that when you sit behind home plate during a nationally televised game, you end up on TV!  These are photos of a few family members' TVs, and texted to us in real time....We are the two people on the right down front.  (the people on the first row were rarely in their seats).

The Club stayed open post game as well.  Great experience! 

After the game we explored the area around Wrigley Field, heading south.  We caught a subway for a few stops and got out in old Town/Lincoln Park Zoo area.  This is where my grandmothers family lived in the mid to late 40s.  She graduated from what is now Lincoln Park High School (was a different name back then).  The building in the photo was built in 1899.  

The Second City comedy club in Old Town. 

After an afternoon break, for our last night in Chicago we went west of the city to the Fulton Market area. It was a happening area with lots of restaurants.  One of the most interesting things is as soon as we got off the train, we smelled cookies!  For blocks and blocks, the air smelled of cookies.  I had to get to the bottom of that.  Thanks to the internet and iphones and Google, quickly found out it was actually chocolate that we smelled from the Blommer Chocolate Factory in the West area of the city.  What an interesting thing.  

Below is the view of the city and Sears Tower from W Fulton Market.  

All the restaurants were PACKED.  We didn't have reservations, so waited but not too terribly long to eat at the Little Goat Diner.  If you are a Top Chef fan like we are, this is a restaurant by Stephanie Izard, winner from season 4, and now a James Beard Winner and Iron Chef winner as well! 

Not quite ready to turn in, we decided to explore our hotel more, the Palmer House Hilton.  It was built in 1873 (rebuilt after being burned in the Great Chicago Fire).  Much to my surprise, we could freely move all around the hotel to the ball rooms and meetings rooms.  So ornate and pretty!  

Our last day we flew out midday, so had time to grab lunch before heading to the airport.  Zac's company has an office in Chicago, so we met some of this work buddies.  On the way passed some interesting buildings.  In the 2nd photo below, the block that is run down and not someplace you'd want to go,  notice the "Hotel Men Only" sign.  It's from a movie. Hint: it's a Harrison Ford Movie.  Ok, it's the Fugitive!  

For brunch/lunch we went to the famous Manny's Deli near South Side, a hot spot for Chicago politicians that's been around for over 75 years.   Great way to end a great trip!! 

We can't wait to go back.  It's so easy to get to for us with a non-stop flight out of Birmingham.  Lots left to do and see!  We just love big cities, the tall buildings, and ease of getting around   So much variety in restaurants with food from all over the world.  Can't wait for our next big city adventure! 

Fast forward a year to Global Pandemic of 2020 - we have found some EXCELLENT deep dish Chicago pizza, sent frozen through the mail to your home.  Lou Malnati's.  We've ordered it twice and it is so worth it.  Guess as close as we'll get to Chicago again for the time being.   We now know one place we will definitely go visit in person when we do return......