Recipe 19: Shrimp Mac and Cheese

Although I often find my mac and cheese recipes just moseying around the Interwebz, stumbling upon various recipes on the myriad recipe sites out there, I do sometimes seek out specific recipes for my macs.  Sometimes it’s to see if something will work, to try to use an unusual ingredient I happen to have in the kitchen, or to simply see if a specific recipe exists.  Speaking of, did you know there are breakfast mac and cheese recipes out there?  Forrealz!  I’m sure they’ll make an appearance at some point.

Anyway, while shrimp are hardly unusual, I don’t keep them in my kitchen most of the time.  I happened to have some in the freezer, and I thought I must have a shrimp mac and cheese recipe waiting for me.  After browsing through my bookmarks of recipes that I need to try (there is a whole folder in my browser of these), I did find a few – but most required raw shrimp, and mine were precooked.  After doing a bit of digging online, I found this simple recipe to use up those little sea-bugs.

Shrimp Mac and Cheese (from Mr. Food)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used rice elbows)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided (Loverman bought a yellow pre-shredded, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 pound cooked medium-sized shrimp, cut in half (I only cut some in half.  I’m a rebel like that)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain.  In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, seafood seasoning, salt, and pepper; mix well. Gradually add milk, bring to a boil, and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in 3 cups cheese until melted.  Add cooked macaroni and shrimp to cheese sauce and stir until thoroughly combined; pour mixture into prepared baking dish and sprinkle top with remaining 1 cup cheese.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until heated through and top is golden.

Still kind of bubbling.

Verdict: 4/5

I loved this recipe.  The aroma from the cheese sauce and the Old Bay is delicious as it’s cooking.  The crispy bits on the top and the side take it over the top for me, but I am a sucker for crispy cheesy-morsels.  Loverman thought it was all right, but he felt it would be better if instead of shrimp, the protein was ham.  I think that could work, too.  Personally, I think it would work even without the shrimp, just straight-up vegetarian – though I think some bread crumbs on top would be needed to vary the texture.

 

Have you guys tried any of the recipes I’ve posted?  Do you have recipes you’d like to see me try?  Any other comments or complaints?  Let me know!  Contact me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com

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Recipe 18: Penne with Cabbage and Gorgonzola

I chanced upon the $35 a WeekProject either while looking for recipes or just on the WordPress frontpage.  I like the concept: Recipes that will feed a family of two for $35 a week or less.  The author breaks down the cost for individual items and approximately what each serving costs.  This is smart regardless of your personal economic situation, but especially families with children (those kids can get expensive!) or families with a limited income.  Heck, even if you have a good income, who doesn’t like to save money?

I confess I had misgivings about trying this recipe.  It had nothing to do with number or type of ingredients or even degree of difficulty; in fact, this recipe calls for simple ingredients and couldn’t be much easier to slap together.  No, it had to do with one of the main ingredients: Cabbage.  I am not a big fan of the stuff.  Maybe it has to do with not eating much of it as a kid (in fact, I’m not sure I had it as a kid at all), but I know there are plenty of things I didn’t try growing up that I love today.  But I tend to find it unpleasant – kind of a bitterness that reminds me of something gone bad.

Loverman, on the other hand, is fine with cabbage.  Maybe calling him a fan would be too strong, but growing up in a family with strong Eastern European roots (Polish and Hungarian), he ate plenty of it in traditional foods, and he has often praised his mother’s cole slaw forever putting him off any other lesser slaws.  Well, this challenge is to help me try new foods, so it was worth another go, I figured.  Besides, I know I like gorgonzola (well, blue cheeses in general, really) – and maybe the caraway would be good too?  Why not take a shot?

Penne with Cabbage and Gorgonzola (from The $35 a Week Project)

Ingredients

  •  8 oz. gorgonzola
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1/3 head cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 lb. penne (or other short shape) pasta (I used corn rigatoni)
  • Parsley leaves for garnish (I left this out because meh, garnish)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until smoking (yes, that is right – above calls for vegetable oil, but here it says olive oil. I used vegetable oil). Add the cabbage, caraway seeds, and a pinch of salt and cook until cabbage is lightly browned.

Reduce heat to medium-low (if you have an unresponsive electric stove like I do, you may want to just remove it from the heat) and stir in the gorgonzola. Add a little water or chicken broth if necessary to help the melting (I didn’t find it necessary). Set aside.

When the water is boiling, add pasta and salt and cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water. Add the pasta to the cabbage mixture, stirring well to evenly distribute, adding pasta water when necessary to keep things moving (I don’t think I needed any of the water). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley.

Loverman's and my dinner

Verdict: 1/5

This is another time I feel the need to repeat the caveat that this is all based on my opinion.  I do believe I went into this with an open mind, but that cabbage was just too much for me to bear.  I picked all around it when eating my bowl.

But it wasn’t just the cabbage.  Even Loverman, who has eaten piles of it over the years, found it distasteful.  This is a guy who will generally eat just about anything put in front of him and he ate even less of the stuff than I did.  After a hesitant bite, he offered doubtfully, “I don’t think I like gorgonzola.”  I reminded him that gorgonzola was just blue cheese, which I know he likes – and besides, we had had this exact same cheese a few days ago at a get-together, and he liked it then.  He was fine with the cabbage (though he thought it still a bit to crunchy even after cooking down a good deal) and the pasta was fine.

It turns out neither of us like caraway.

Thankfully, I only made a half recipe.  I soldiered on and ate the pasta, though as I mentioned, I couldn’t stand to have more than a few nibbles of the cabbage.  Loverman was even worse: He had a few bites – then decided that it was too off-putting, threw the rest of his bowl out, and had an ever-so nutritious meal of snack mix.

“You know,” I ventured, eying him askance, “we do have some leftovers of actual meals in the fridge.”

Unrepentant, he crunched another handful of snack mix.  He glanced briefly at the bag before protesting, “But it has 25% less fat!”

That’s my man.

If you folks like cabbage, gorgonzola, and caraway, you will likely gobble this up.  We did not.  The author of the $35 a Week Project calculated it cost about $1.25 per serving to make (using regular pasta, not gluten-free), and hey, if you like all those ingredients, you will surely get your money’s worth.  We did not, alas – but at least little was wasted.

Two recipes in a row that weren’t that great.  Blast!  Here’s hoping the next one makes up for the disappointment.


Recipe 17: Lightened-Up (Allegedly) Four Cheese Mac and Cheese

You may notice that the caveat “allegedly” has been included in the title of this mac and cheese.  That was not in the original title; I added it because I can’t see how this is all that light.  But I am no expert on nutrition (heck, I write a mac and cheese blog, afterall).  I suppose dividing the portions into ramekins is what makes it light – forced portion control, after all.  Regardless, it tickled me to have a good reason to use my new ramekins.  I love breaking in new kitchen goodies, don’t you?

Lightened-Up Four Cheese Mac and Cheese (from How Sweet Eats)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole wheat pasta, cooked (unless you can’t have gluten; I used brown rice spirals.  4c was maybe 12oz)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour (I use Pamela’s)
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch (Optional; I did use it though)
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese (I used apple smokedcheddar, as it was the first smoked cheddar I found)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 oz brie cheese (I used a buttery medium brie, as I know that I like it)
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400.

Separate cooked pasta into 4 ramekins.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour to create a roux. Once smooth, add in skim milk and heavy cream, continuing to stir until warm. Add in gruyere and cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth. If sauce it not think enough, whisk in cornstarch until desired consistency is reached (I added it at the end of the cheese mixture, as it seemed too thin for my tastes). Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan and 2 oz of brie. Add in nutmeg and salt and pepper, if needed.

Pour cheese sauce over pasta in each ramekin (I had a fair amount leftover; not all would fit in the ramekins). Top with remaining parmesan and brie. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Broil for 2 minutes to brown cheese on top. (I didn’t broil because mine was already brown at the top)

Ooh... Ramekins...

Verdict: 2.5/5

This wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either.  Sadly, I can’t give a much more ringing endorsement than that.  The texture was a little one-note and could have benefited from being broken up by breadcrumbs or a protein or something.  But more than that for me, the smoked cheddar was way too overwhelming.  I like gruyere in mac and cheese, and I like parmesan and brie – but that smoked cheddar was unpleasant to me – the flavor an odd mix of smoky and almost bitter-umami.  Maybe it was just the type of cheddar – but hey, if you guys like it, you’d probably like it!  It might taste better to me using a regular cheddar or a sharp cheddar.  So maybe I should try it over like that.

Anyway, just not my cup of tea.  All of these ratings are subjective to my personal tastes, so who knows – it could be something you folks enjoy!


Recipe 16: Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese

Crockpot 365 is seriously one of my favorite cooking websites ever.  I found it a few years ago and I find myself returning to it quite frequently.  In a much saner challenge than I have given myself, in 2008 blogger Stephanie O’Dea challenged herself to use a slow cooker every day of 2008.  Not only did she succeed, but she got two books published of crockpot recipes and continues to update the site even though the challenge is over.  The site actually reminded me that I owned a crockpot, but also introduced me to much more interesting slow cooker recipes than I’d ever had hitherto.

My crockpot is in my top five favorite small kitchen appliances (I admit, I have a bit of a love affair with kitchen gadgets) – maybe even top three.  I love being able to just dump ingredients into the crock, crank up the heat, and find dinner waiting for me a few hours later.  It’s great for busy days and even better for those hot summer days.

Well, it certainly hasn’t been too hot around here lately – spring did decide to make a U-turn, having passed us over in March, and is now in full effect (and I was concerned about missing it?  Silly me).  But this week has been surprisingly busy.  Although I have had yet another job rejection, my continued unemployment has been beneficial for friends of mine: In December, one of these friends was informed that his entire department was going to be let go in March.  He thankfully found a new job fairly quickly (if only I was in the IT field!), but it has variable hours; this wouldn’t be so bad – but his and his fiance’s normal babysitter has been out of town and they needed childcare for their three-year old.  Enter “Aunt Lexi” to the rescue (“I’m sorry you’re out of work and I feel bad,” added the wee one’s mother, “but it kind of works out for us”).  Until the return of their normal babysitter, I have found my days full of My Little Ponies, rewarding “pee-pees and poopies on the potty,” and watching the same three Muppet movies I’ve been bringing over every single day – well, at least one a day while playing and/or eating lunch.  Loverman has been working as usual except for the past few days staying home sick – but he had agreed to take care of dinner this week since I wouldn’t be home till late since my little ward lives on the other side of town.

For today I gave him this recipe to make for dinner.  So technically this recipe was made by him and not me.  Hope you don’t mind the guest spot.

Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese (from Crockpot 365)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound uncooked macaroni or hearty pasta (we used rice elbows – fun fact: Stephanie O’Dea has a child with celiac, so she labels her gluten-free recipes)
  • 4 cups of milk (we used skim)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cups shredded cheese (we used mostly sharp white cheddar with a little colby jack; this is what we had at home)
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried mustard (edited 8/24: okay. I made a mistake and originally wrote a BIG T which is tablespoon. yet, some people made it with that much mustard and liked it. So use what you’d like. I’m so sorry!) – Loverman estimated he used 2 tsps.

Directions

Spray crock well with cooking spray (I highly recommend slow cooker liners, something my friends, my husband, and I myself refer to crudely as “crockpot condoms.”  They help so much in clean-up). In a mixing bowl, whip egg and milk together. Stir in spices.

Add cheese and noodles, and stir well to combine. Pour the mixture into the crockpot.

It will be very liquidy.

Cover and cook on low for 2-5 hours, or on high for 1-3. The cooking time will vary depending on what size crockpot you are using, and how quickly it heats and cooks. I was quite surprised at how quickly our pasta got fork-tender.

I didn't get a picture of the crockpot, but here is my bowl.

Verdict: 3.5/5

This is a solid recipe – even more so since you’re likely to have most, if not all of the ingredients at home already.  The texture was a little odd, slightly mealy, but that may have been an issue of execution.  Loverman and I both had two bowls – he had some chipotle hot sauce on both of his, and I did add some ketchup to my second bowl (don’t judge me) – and we have leftovers enough for at least two more bowls.  The taste wasn’t terribly complex admittedly, but it was fine for a simple, unpretentious recipe.  Definitely works for an easy weeknight meal.

EDIT: Loverman later told me that he doubled the recipe – so take that into mind when you read my above comments about how many servings we had.


Recipe 15: Cajun Mac and Cheese AND Blog Notes

So anyone who is a regular reader of this blog (are there any regulars outside of those Following it?) may have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve updated.  Pardon me, Weekly Mackers.  There has been two reasons for my unwonted delay in updating.  Firstly, I was sick for a while – not deathly ill or anything, but not really up to mucking about in the kitchen.  The second is a bit more complicated.

Imma keep it real with you, Internet-people:  Things are not all sunshine and roses in the Maison de Mac.  They aren’t terrible, but there are challenges.  Some of you who know me in real life already know this, but for those who don’t, at the end of April 2011 I was let go from my job (those who know me in real life who didn’t know, don’t feel bad: I haven’t exactly been proclaiming it on Facebook).  It is now the beginning of April 2012 and I’m still out of work – and not for want of trying.  I have years of experience on my field, a Masters degree, and have even applied to jobs for which I more than meet what they are seeking, even branching out of my field – but no luck.  I’m lucky in that not only am I approved for Unemployment, but more importantly the hubz has a job that helps support us while I’m not able to contribute much to the household.  We are even more fortunate in that despite having to trim the budget a great deal, we are not in dire straits: We pay our rent on time, have good food to eat, the utilities are in no risk of being turned off, etc.  But it does make it a bit of a challenge to justify getting a bunch of extra gluten-free pastas, cheeses, and more unusual ingredients that we normally wouldn’t keep in the pantry.

I’ve been able to keep the challenge going pretty strongly up until recently, but the belt has had to be tightened even more.  It might end up being the Achilles Heel of this challenge.  I plan on continuing to try to complete 52 recipes in the 52 weeks of 2012 – I set myself a challenge, however ridiculous, and I want to at least attempt to complete it successfully.  To assist, I plan on adding a page with How to Help Weekly Mac, including a Paypal Donate button and Amazon Associate links (a portion of the cost of the items you would buy through those links would go to me), and also a Weekly Mac Wishlist; the page isn’t up now because I’m troubleshooting some HTML issues.  I feel weird adding these features- I am very aware that there are countless people in my own country, state, county, etc. who experience very real Want for necessities, and here I am just some chick trying out a bunch of recipes (and often messing them up).  This whole paragraph could probably be something of a White Whine (AKA First World Problems), and I’m not proud of that.  I am choosing to put it on a separate page of its own (in the menu up top where you see info About Weekly Mac and Gluten-Free Pastas) because I don’t want to be shoving ads and such in your face.  If you want to give, great – thank you.  If not, I don’t blame you at all – it’s rough out there! – and I hope you at least stick around to enjoy the recipes.

ANYWAY, let’s get to the recipe, shall we?

Cajun Mac and Cheese (from Shine on Yahoo!)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dried tricolor or plain elbow macaroni (12 oz.) – mine were tricolor rice spirals
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 oz.) – I used a sharp white
  • 4 oz. American cheese, cubed – mine was shredded; it melts better that way
  • 3/4 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (for me this was about 3 whole green onions; your mileage may vary)
  • 1 cup chopped green and/or red sweet peppers (I used 2 red sweet peppers; I think it was more than 1 cup)
  • 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard (I messed this up; see below)
  • 2 tsp. bottled hot pepper sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot; as previously written, we have a bunch)
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. In a large saucepan cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Return to saucepan. Stir in cheddar and American cheeses; set aside. (Note: This will be very gummy and hard to stir, but stick with it)
  2. In a medium skillet cook sweet onion and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in green onions and sweet peppers. Cook and stir 1 minute more; stir onion mixture into pasta-cheese mixture. Spoon into prepared baking dish; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk together milk, eggs, flour, mustard, hot pepper sauce, paprika, and salt until smooth; pour evenly over pasta mixture in baking dish. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Uncover; bake 15 to 20 minutes more or until bubbly and heated through. Let stand 5 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

...and looks like this.

Verdict: 3.5/5

I totally messed up in that I used yellow mustard powder rather than yellow mustard (I use the excuse that I was severely underslept – and well, that I make mistakes a lot).  I think there would been a sharper bite to it than it had as I made it.  I accidentally added a bit more hot sauce than required – I was a bit overzealous in pouring it out – and it still wasn’t really spicy at all, making me wonder why it was called a Cajun variation on mac and cheese in the first place.  All that having been said, however, it isn’t a bad recipe.  I really like the sweetness of the peppers and the caramelized onions, and I love how crispy it got on the edges if the pan.  It could use a do-over to make it right, but it isn’t bad by any stretch.  Some Shine readers suggested adding some Cajun seasoning, and it wouldn’t hurt, but it’s good like this too.