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