Recipe 68: Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes

There are a few recipes that I say are “due for a do-over,” which usually means I’m pretty sure I did something wrong to make the dish less than perfect. However there was one mac I made that inspired an entirely new one. I wish I could take credit for it, but it was Loverman who came up with it. When I made the lobster mac and cheese, he came up with several changes to the recipe that he thought would make it even better. I’m finally getting around to trying those changes. So here we are, another Weekly Mac original!

Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes
Ingredients
8 oz. cheddar(I used sharp yellow)
8 oz gruyere
2 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
1/4 onion, diced
3 tablespoons flour (or gluten free substitute)
3 tablespoons truffle oil
1 lb pasta (I used corn elbows)
8oz lump crab meat (my container said it was best for crab cakes)
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup chopped basil
about 6oz chopped sundried tomatoes (mine came with “Italian basil seasoning” already on them)
1/4 c breadcrumbs
Blue cheese to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Cook pasta according to package directions while you make the sauce.

Take about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in it. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter and as it is melting, add the flour. Whisk it in and keep it moving, scraping the bottom. Get out all the lumps so it is a smooth mixture. Cook constantly stirring for 2 minutes. Add the milk. when the milk is almost boiling, slowly add the cheese in handfuls and make sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next. When all the cheese is in, add the truffle oil, herbs, and sundried tomatoes. Mix the pasta with the sauce and crab. Throw mixture into a 9″x13″ dish. Top with breadcrumbs and as many crumbles of blue cheese as you see fit (I used the better part of a 4oz container).

Put dish in oven and cook for 20 minutes. I didn’t want to do too much longer because I didn’t want to overcook the crab. Wait about 5 – 10 minutes for it to cool before serving.

Verdict: 2/5 – I gotta tell you, this was a real let down for both of us. The crab was too fishy. The sundried tomatoes, pre seasoned, were too loud, drowning out all flavors but the fishy crab. The best part was the blue cheese, and that was just the topping.

Do you have any recipes you think I should try? Let me know!

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Recipe 65: Mac and Blue

I love my dad.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a daddy’s girl, but my dad just gets me – or at least, when he doesn’t, he admits he doesn’t.  We’re both nerds for history, and we love a lot of the same foods.  Most of those are foods that are bad for you, or “death on a stick,” as he calls it.

One of those foods is blue cheese.  Dad puts it on everything, either the cheese itself or the dressing.  While I don’t carry my love of the blue stuff that far, I do love a chance to highlight it whenever I can.  So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to serve it to my dad when he came to visit.

Mac and Blue (from the Rachael Ray Show)

Ingredients

1 pound cavatappi or other short cut of spiral or hollow pasta (I used corn elbows)
3 tablespoons butter
1 large clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk (I used skim)
1 cup whipping cream  (I used Half and Half)
White pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon ground mustard
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese or Gruyère cheese (I used white cheddar)
1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese, such as Maytag Blue or Stilton
3 to 4 tablespoons minced chives (optional)

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it liberally. Undercook pasta by 2 minutes, drain and reserve. Melt butter with garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Swirl garlic a minute or so to infuse the butter then discard. Sprinkle flour over the garlic butter then whisk in milk and cream. Let thicken then season sauce with salt, white pepper, mustard and nutmeg. Stir in 2/3 of the cheese to combine, reserving some of both for topping the mac. Toss in reserved pasta and chives, transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until brown and bubbly, 30 minutes.

image

Verdict: 4/5

This recipe was made for me, my dad, and my husband.  All three of us had seconds.  The only downside is that it didnt reheat terribly well, whigh might be because of the gluten-free pasta.  But this is definitely a mac I would make again.


Recipe 53: Blue Cheese Mac and Cheese

My last recipe was my 52nd, which was my original goal for my challenge. Maybe I should have made a bigger deal out of it, but since I didn’t actually make it in time to complete my challenge, it didn’t seem like as big a deal to me. But isn’t it amazing the diversity of mac and cheese recipes out there?

This has gotten me into trouble lately. I’ve been going through my bookmarks and even new recipe pages, trying to find more recipes to try out. I’m once again trying to get a little fitter and spend a little less money, but buying all kinds of cheeses for one recipe doesn’t exactly help either. Can you blame me, folks? When I have recipes with mushrooms and Brie, cheese fries, and mostly blue cheeses, a girl’s resolve can weaken. Blue cheese mac and cheese!

I love blue cheese unapologetically. I know it has a certain aroma that not everyone can appreciate, but there’s something about that creamy, moldy goodness that to me tastes like savory with just a slight tang of sweet. It works on salads, chicken wings (in the form of dressing), and steaks. And, perhaps, mac and cheese? Let’s see.

Blue Cheese Mac and Cheese (from How Sweet Eats)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound whole wheat mini elbow noodles (I used corn elbows)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used salted)
  • 2 tablespoons flour (I used brown rice flour)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, freshly grated
  • 8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 8 ounces buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled
  • salt + pepper
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup seasoned fine bread crumbs
  • chopped fresh herbs for topping

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.

Bring water to a boil and prepare pasta according to directions, shaving 1-2 minutes off of the cooking time. (since gluten-free noodles are temperamental, I boiled mine for the full length required to cook them thoroughly)

While pasta is boiling, heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once sizzling, add flour and whisk constantly to create a roux, until golden and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Pour in milk and whisk constantly, stirring until the mixture slightly thickens. Reduce heat to low and add in 6 ounces of the fontina, all of the gorgonzola and about 6 ounces of the other blue. Stir until cheese melts and sauce is thick. Taste and season with a bit of salt and pepper if desired. (I wish I had a good camera, because the sauce was really blue here)

Add noodles to the baking dish. Pour cheese sauce over top, tossing to coat all the noodles. Sprinkle remaining fontina and blue over top evenly, then cover in breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until top is golden and crunchy.

 

Verdict: 3/5

If you remember the chicken wing mac and cheese, I’ve had a little blue cheese in macs before, but never enough for the full sauce.  As you might expect, you really need to like blue cheese already to get the full experience of this mac, although surprisingly the fontina did come through stronger than I anticipated.  One unexpected bonus was the fact that the top and edges got incredibly crispy; this was best enjoyed when it came out of the oven, as it wasn’t nearly as crispy when warmed up in the microwave.  Loverman was not terribly impressed with the mac, but I have a feeling it was his usual complaint that it could use chicken.

You may have noticed the last few macs have had either a low quality picture or no picture at all.  That’s because my camera has died, leaving me with my iPad as my main way to document what these macs look like.  Would you like to help?  Let me know!  I’d be incredibly appreciative.


Recipe 25: Mac and Cheese Soup

Hello, Weekly Mackers.  I don’t know what the weather’s been like by you, but here at the Maison de Mac, it has been ridonkulous-hot.  I confess I may be biased: I tend to handle weather extremes quite poorly, especially when it’s extreme heat.  I have not been feeling like doing a whole lot in the kitchen, especially if it involves hovering over the stove-top.  But I can’t let y’all down, can I?

I knew looking at this recipe that it would probably be better suited for the fall or winter, but I couldn’t resist.  Last time I made a recipe that was less than mac, it was a dismal failure.  I couldn’t just leave the category like that, I needed to give it a chance to redeem itself.  So I braved the sweltering hot of my kitchen to whip this up.  Oh, the things I do for the love of the Internetz!

Mac and Cheese Soup (from This Woman Cooks)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni (I used rice fusilli)
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/4 cup minced celery (I left this out, but maybe should have kept it in)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free equivalent)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used sake because that’s what I had open – and no white wine at home)
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk (I used skim)
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese – optional (not “optional” in my book!)
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh chives

Directions

Cook macaroni in large pot of salted water according to package direction; drain and set aside.

Sweat onion and celery in butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour to coat and cook 1 minute (this got really quite clumpy for me). Deglaze with wine and simmer until nearly evaporated (I didn’t simmer long enough; I think I felt panicky over the clumpiness). Stir in broth, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Simmer until slightly thickened, 5 minutes, then whisk and warm through. Do not let boil or base may become grainy.

(Note: Nowhere in the original recipe does it indicate when to add the milk.  I added it around now.)

Add cheddar, 1 cup at a time, allowing it to melt completely before adding the next cup. Stir in macaroni, lemon juice, and salt; remove from heat.

Combine bleu cheese and chives in a small bowl. Garnish each serving with bleu cheese mixture.

Mmm… Soup…

Verdict: 2.5/5

This was not a bad recipe, but it could have been better.  I think maybe 1/2 cup more noodles would have been better, and maybe the addition of bacon.  I should have used the whole milk instead of skim; it would have been thicker and heartier.  however, you see the addition of the lemon juice at the end?  This isn’t so much for a note of citrus, but rather because by adding the acid tot he milk, it causes it to mildly curdle; not in a bad way, but in a way that actually helps thicken it slightly (fun fact: If you add acid to warmed milk, it can be the beginning of creating some homemade ricotta).  The soup had a feel rather like a potato soup, but a little salty – maybe my stock wasn’t low sodium?  I didn’t check, but I usually just buy the normal stock.  The addition of the blue cheese was not optional in my opinion, and not just because of my affinity for the stuff; it added a savory note that helped interrupt the somewhat salty overtones.

Have you ever made any of the recipes here?  Do you have any suggestions for me to make?  Let me know!


Recipe 23: Mark Bittman’s Nutty Macaroni and Blue Cheese

Did you miss me, Weekly Mackers?  No, don’t speak: I know you did, and you can stop fretting because I have returned.  I spent the long Memorial Day weekend camping with Loverman, our Napoleonic little dog, and friends.  I had fun, but I am relieved to be home with hot showers, central air, a soft bed, and most of all respectful neighbors.  Here’s a helpful hint on camping etiquette: It is fine to sing around the campfire for entertainment, and even to be occasionally boisterous past dark.  Drunkenly caterwauling off-key songs with guitar accompaniment is not.  To be fair, some members of our group were less-than-sober at times – however, when you are trying to learn the words to Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” by screaming louder than you have been (yes, screaming), and it’s close to midnight, and the entire rest of the campgrounds are quiet, I don’t care if you are intoxicated or stone-cold sober: You’re a jerk.

I’ve become a crabby old lady before my time.  I’ve made peace with that.

 Anyway, even before I left, I have been wanting to make today’s mac.  I found this recipe for Mark Bittman’s macaroni and cheese, which included several different variations from the basic recipe.  I could have made just the basic version, but what’s the fun in that?  I decided to make this more umami variation.  The flavors may be more suited for autumn – I love the combination of blue cheese and walnuts with autumn fruits like pears or apples – but I was craving a blue mac.  I’ve slightly re-jiggered the wording of some of the ingredients and directions to make it clearer from the original instructions, but this is all Mark Bittman, not me.  Just to give credit where it’s due.

Nutty Macaroni and Blue Cheese (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups milk, low-fat is fine (good, because I only had skim)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta (I used corn elbows)
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (or flour substitute)
  • 1  cup grated cheese, like a mild cheddar (I used a sharp cheddar because that’s what I had)
  • 1 cup blue cheese
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup or more bread crumbs, preferably fresh

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.

3. Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.

4. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar and stir.

5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, toss in the blue cheese and walnuts, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9 x 13-inch or similar-size baking pan (or use non-stick spray, as I did) and turn the pasta mixture into it. Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, about 15 minutes. Serve piping hot. (But, you know, don’t burn your mouth or anything)

Mm… Bubbly blue cheese…

Verdict: 3/5

This was good, but not great, but I think I know why: The walnuts.  While they certainly pair well with blue cheese in and of themselves, neither Loverman nor I really cared for them in our mac.  I think maybe chopping them even smaller might do the trick or even mincing them super finely and using that instead of the bread crumbs.  Or heck, leave them out entirely; I don’t think it would really be lacking anything.  Also, blue cheese fiend that I am, I actually felt even more of the blue flavor would have been nice.  All this having been said, it was by no means a bad recipe, and I plan on trying some more variations on the recipe in the future.

In other news, is there anything you’d like to get out of this blog or my Facebook page that you aren’t getting?  Let me know!  I aim to please my adoring public.

Edit to Add: After having the leftovers of this mac a few times, I can tell you a few things that aren’t working.  The walnuts are even worse when warming up leftovers: The flavor seemed to infiltrate more than it had when it was fresh.  Also, the type of blue cheese I used didn’t seem to melt as much as I would have liked – I did buy a wedge and crumbled it up rather than buying crumbles, so maybe that has something to do with it?  But yeah; this does not reheat well, so I’d change the rating to 2/5.


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 13: Bistro Mac and Cheese

Last night I made another new mac and cheese for dinner.  Just a few days after my previous one.  I normally like to space out my recipes more but when I realized that Recipe 13 would be the quarter-mark for this challenge, I got excited and decided I needed to take care of it as soon as possible.

So before we go on to the recipe, getting 1/4 through this challenge begs the question: How’s it going?  Well, I am fairly sure I haven’t gained any weight – but to be fair, I wasn’t exactly a junior-petite before the challenge started either.  I love trying new recipes, so this forces them into my weekly repertoire – though of course it’s a bummer when they turn out wrong, whether due to my own missteps or just a bad recipe (in my opinion, of course).  I still make a lot of mistakes and I’m not going to hide that or justify it either; I’ve made no secret that I’m a person with faults and not a professional chef, and I’d like to think that makes this blog a little bit more approachable to the Average Joe/Jane, who I’m guessing has more sense than to take on such a wacky endeavor as this.  Which raises another point:

I am so sick of mac and cheese.

Scandalous I know!  But really, think about it: All the best things about mac and cheese become wearisome when you are eating them over and over – the richness, the creaminess, the carb-overload.  Next time you think to yourself or gush to your friends, “I swear, I could eat *insert food item here* every day?”

No.  No, you can’t.  And really, you shouldn’t.

Fret not though, Weekly Mackers!  I am not going to be abandoning this mad task I’ve given myself.  It really is fun to see what tastes wonderful and what falls flat on its face.  And if you folks are so eager to read about mac and cheese recipes (maybe? anyone?), then I am happy to guinea-pig myself out for your culinary education.  See how much I care?  This is all for you.

Bistro Mac and Cheese (from Taste of Home)

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni (I used quinoa elbows)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend; I use Pamela’s)
  • 2-1/2 cups 2% milk (I used skim because that’s what we keep in the house)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (I used a sharp white)
  • 1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened (they make 3 oz packages now!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Directions

Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, melt butter (unless you are doing the crumb-topping indicated below, you can use a normal pot, not a Dutch oven).  Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in milk and seasonings. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.  Reduce heat; add cheeses and stir until melted. Stir in sour cream. Drain macaroni; stir into sauce.

This recipe can also be baked with a crumb topping. Place macaroni in a greased 3-qt. baking dish. Combine 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons melted butter; sprinkle over macaroni. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.  A full recipe, according to the site, serves 8; I made a half-recipe.

I didn't do the crumb-topping. Yes, that's steam!

Verdict: 3.5/5

I hedged for a bit as to whether this should be a 3.5 or a 4.  I really loved the tang of the gorgonzola, which overwhelms the flavor of the mac, and the creaminess from the cream cheese.  Still, with the cream and the decadence it became slightly one note.  It really needed the crumb-topping to break up the taste, and when I warmed up the leftovers for lunch today (hey, I may be sick of mac but a girl’s gotta eat) I made a sort of microwave crumb-topping for my bowl, and it helped break up the monotony so much.  Loverman and I both thought that perhaps some chicken might have been a good option (yes, it’s his go-to suggestion, but in this case I think it’s a fair point), and I wonder if even some shrimp might be a good addition.  I would definitely make this again, and even without the suggested carnivorous additions it’s a great, easy meal to whip together on a weeknight – but make sure you do the crumb-topping.  Though I confess, I don’t really know what is particularly “bistro” about this recipe.

Do you know a recipe that you think would help bust up my mac and cheese funk?  Let me know!  Post on my Facebook wall or e-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com!