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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Easy Weeknight Macaroni and Cheese

Let's just say I know lots of you are pressed for time out there and often wonder if you can make something that's delicious, homemade, easy and for not a lot of money, especially on a weeknight. With kids in school and families that have their children participate in various sporting activities or some kind of lessons you need easy meals.

I almost always had that boxed stuff on hand for the kids for them when they were old enough to make it for themselves. It served more as a snack than anything. Now that they are all grown up and out of the nest I do not buy it.

Yesterday I set out to see exactly how much time it would take me to make a home made macaroni and cheese that was tasty and would serve 4-6 portions. Up until now I followed the way my mother always made her delicious macaroni and cheese and from start to finish it took about 3 hours. I've found a way to do this so that from start to finished you are looking at just a little bit over an hour; start to finish.
  • 2 - 10 oz. bars seriously sharp cheddar cheese 
  • 1/2 box penne pasta - cooked to manufacturer's directions
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • cooking spray
  1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 375 °.
  2. Get your water started in a pot for the pasta.
  3. While the water is heating up, make a roux by melting the butter in a medium sauce pot over medium to medium low heat. When the butter is almost melted add in the flour and cook and whisk for about 2 - 3 minutes until you cook out the raw flour taste. To the roux, slow pour in the milk and keep whisking until incorporated fully. Turn the heat down to low.
  4. Using a box grater or an attachment on your food processor, shred 1 full bar of cheddar cheese and just about 1/3 of the second bar. Wrap the remaining cheese in plastic and store in the refrigerator.
  5. By this time the pasta water is probably boiling, so add your salt to taste to the pasta water and cook to manufacturer's directions.
  6. While the pasta is cooking, add in some of the shredded cheese and keep whisking until it melts. I put in about 2/3rds of the cheese in the sauce.
  7. Drain your pasta and rinse under cold water. Spray your casserole with cooking spray.
  8. Finish melting in more cheese if you haven't done so already.
  9. Using the same pasta pot add the pasta back in and pour in the cheese sauce you've made. Stir to combine and pour all of it into your sprayed casserole dish. Take the rest of the cheese and place it on the top.
  10. Bake uncovered in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. Set the oven to broil and broil for about 5-7 minutes until the tops is bubbly and golden brown.

You want it to be golden brown like it shows in this picture.

I got my cheese at 2 for $4.00 which helped keep this lower in cost. The pasta was on sale for 10 for $10.00 as well. This dinner cost me $5.34 to put together. If you think you need a protein along side then hot dogs, kielbasa or ham go beautifully with this. As for vegetables most any will go with the cheesy goodness of the dish.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cranberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

I took a bread recipe I've made over and over and adapted it so I could make these seasonal Cranberry Muffins that are topped with streusel. These are so moist and delicious and I love the added crunch from the pecans and that nice brown sugar streusel on top just takes these over the top.
You can opt to make it as a loaf and baking instructions for that are included in the instructions. If you are making muffins, you don't have to use the paper holders as I did. The recipe is so buttery that all you need is some cooking spray in your muffin tin.

Make the batter the night before, cover and let it rest in the refrigerator. The next day pull the batter out and have your family wake up to the aroma of freshly baked muffins. I think you'll receive a gold star for that maneuver.
The recipe made 30 muffins and the streusel topping was enough for a baker's dozen. I don't mind some plain as that gives you options in case some people don't like toppings on their muffins. And the great thing about this recipe is that there is no sifting! Love it.

For the streusel:
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. cold butter - cut in pieces
  1. In a food processor pulse the brown sugar, flour and cinnamon together.
  2. Add in the pieces of butter and pulse until crumbly.
For the muffin batter:
  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 2 cups cranberries - coarsely chopped (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 lrg. eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and extra for greasing the pan
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease your pan or spray your muffin tins.
  2. Mash the ripe bananas with a fork or potato masher or coarsely puree them in a food processor.
  3. In a bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nuts.
  4. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, melted butter and 1 cup of the mashed banana puree.
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the banana mixture.
  6. Stir together the west and dry ingredients until combined. The batter may be slightly lumpy.
  7. Gently fold in the cranberries.
  8. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The top should be firm to the touch and using a cake tester or wooden skewer see if the middle comes out clean.
  9. For muffins add a coffee spoon full of streusel on top of the muffins.
  10. NOTE: for muffins bake 25 minutes at 350°.
  11. Let cook on a rack for 30 minutes before unmolding the loaf or muffins.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ruby Jewel Cookies

Back when I was a kid my mother always made Christmas Wreath Cookies. A couple of years ago I found this even simpler recipe from one of my Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and loved the fact that you could do this in a food processor and there was no sifting involved. With the exception of the coating of the nuts this recipe is very close.
I am all about easy especially when it comes to baking as that is not necessarily my forte. One thing I did find in making them this time around was that my "large" egg yolks must not have been large enough. What I found when I pinched some of the dough it wasn't really sticking together so I improvised and put a tiny bit of cold water in at a time until the dough pulsed off the side of the processor bowl.
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter – cold cut into pieces
  • Jam – any flavor
  1.  In a food processor – combine the flour, granulated sugar – pulse together. 
  2. Add in the cold butter next and pulse until crumbly.
  3. Add in the egg yolks and vanilla and pulse or process until the yolks fully incorporate and mixture pulls away from the sides.
  4. Turn dough out on plastic wrap. Press together and chill for about 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Remove dough from frig. Form dough into ¾ inch balls and flatten and put a thumbprint in center of cookie.
  6. Fill each one with jam and bake.

Preheat oven 350 degrees – bake until golden 15-20 minutes until edges are golden. Yield = 44

These inexpensive cookies are great Holiday give-a-ways. They cost me $2.95 to put together. Place them in colorful holiday tins from the Christmas Tree Shop or Dollar Stores and you have a nice home made gift to give to family and friends and neighbors.