Posts Tagged pasta

Baked Mac and Cheese With Chipotle Panko

Baked Mac and CheeseNo question about it. What I’m about to give you for a recipe is for adults. There’s no way kids will like Chipotle Panko breadcrumbs on their mac and cheese. In fact, my kids don’t like any breadcrumbs on their mac and cheese, unfortunately for them. So, here’s the deal: If you make this for them, leave off the breadcrumbs unless you ask them first. I make two versions. One is decidedly for adults because I add stuff in as well. The other is for the kids.

I also find that kids like milder cheeses, so I switch it up when I’m making it for kids. In other words, I put more Monterey Jack in for the kids, and less Cheddar. For adults, I’m liable to do just about anything. And I confess I’m a cheesaholic.

This is one of the greatest comfort foods on the planet. It distresses me when kids (who may be visiting) ask if it’s from the box. Ah, that would be a big, fat “No.” Not happening.

So, when you look at this recipe, pay close attention to the notes. This is one of those foods where you can think totally outside the recipe.

Ingredients

16 oz pasta (Anything goes here, except for spaghetti. I like to use Farfalle (bowties), Casserole Elbows (instead of regular elbows), Medium Shells, Rotini, or Cavatappi)

8 tbsp (one stick) butter plus an additional 4 tbsp (for the top when baking)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tbsp Tuscan seasoning (McCormick brand; great product)

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

5 cups milk (whole or two-percent; your choice)

Chipotle Panko breadcrumbs (or regular Panko; your choice)

2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup finely-grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

The first thing I do is cook the pasta in a large pot until it is partially done. You’re going to bake it in the oven for at least 30 minutes, so you don’t want to cook it completely. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside. Another thing you can get out of the way is prepping yourself a large casserole dish by rubbing the inside thoroughly with butter. I use the tub butter for this job, specifically the light butter made with canola. It works just fine.

In a medium sized pan, heat the 4 cups of milk until just boiling. Set aside. While you’re doing that, take the same pan you cooked the pasta in and melt the 8 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add in the flour and whisk continually until the mixture turns light brown. Remove from heat and whisk in the Tuscan seasoning, Kosher salt, and pepper.

Now, add the milk a little at a time. You’ll note that the mixture will be really thick in the beginning, but it will thin out. Once the milk has been incorporated, return this concoction to medium high heat and whisk until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You really don’t need to check this out. You can tell when it’s ready. Trust me. Remove from heat yet again, and add all of the cheese. Mix well until all the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Now, add the partially-cooked pasta and mix well until the pasta and cheese is thoroughly incorporated. Don’t worry if you have to add a few drops of cold milk to this. Again, think outside the recipe. Do what you have to do.

Spoon the mixture into your greased casserole dish and top with Chipotle Panko Breadcrumbs. Take the additional 4 tbsp butter and cut it up so that it sits on top of the breadcrumbs.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling freely.

Cooking Notes

There are a lot of things you can do with this dish. It’s unbelievably versatile. For kids, you may want to eliminate the Chipotle Panko Breadcrumbs and replace them with regular breadcrumbs. I simply use two different casserole dishes. One with; one without. Again, that’s up to you.

But there are a number of things you can add in besides spinach:

  • Chopped and sauteed Pancetta
  • Blanched broccoli florets
  • Sauteed red, yellow and orange peppers
  • Defrosted frozen peas (one of my all-time favorites)
  • Baby Kale (do not microwave before you bake)
  • Baby Spinach (do not microwave before you bake)
  • Thinly sliced tomatoes

All of these additional ingredients, except for the tomatoes, should be added in when you add the pasta to the cheese concoction. With the tomatoes, you can simply layer them with the pasta mixture in the casserole dish.

A Note About Cheese

Let’s talk cheese. The recipe calls for Cheddar and Monterey Jack. You can simply switch the two around and use 1 cup of cheddar and 2 of Monterey Jack for a mac and cheese with milder flavor. Keep the Parmesan as is. Other cheese that can be used in this recipe include Shredded Swiss, Edam, Fontina, or Mozarella, Six-Cheese Italian…even Four-Cheese Mexican. Hey, when it comes to cheese, anything goes.

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Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

greek-pasta-salad-orzo-350This is one sweet pasta salad. It is absolutely delicious, and it gets better when you refrigerate it and eat it as leftovers. It’s great for cookouts, for sure. However, I make it all year long as a side dish. There’s nothing like it. It incorporates Kalamata olives, Feta cheese, tomatoes, and dill for starters. You almost cannot go wrong from there. It doesn’t matter when I make it  (and it’s always a bit different when I DO make it) it’s always a favorite of the people I’m feeding at any given time (except the children who will not try anything that might be remotely creative).

Orzo is one of those pastas that I grew up with. My mother and grandmother used it in chicken soup. They also used it when they made us macaroni (which is what we called pasta as kids) and butter, or macaroni and cheese. It’s also used in rice pilaf. It’s just one of those comfort foods for we Italians. And, apparently, for the Greeks as well.

Ingredients

1 lb (16 oz) of Orzo pasta

1.5 cups cucumbers, quartered (I like to use the European “seedless” cukes for this recipe)

1.5 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved (Get creative here; they don’t have to be red because the sweet yellow tomatoes are awesome in this pasta salad)

1 cup red onion, chopped (We used to call these Bermuda onions when I was young; maybe some people still do)

1 cup Kalamata olives, halved

1 16-oz packae crumbled Feta cheese (Some recipes call for less, but I say the more the merrier)

4 tbsp dried dill

1 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes in oil (You can buy them this way)

Greek Dressing (recipe below)

Directions

The first thing you want to do is boil a large pan of water and some salt. Add the Orzo and boil until done. That takes about 12-15 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Don’t be afraid to get your hands in there. Allow the Orzo to drain completely.

Transfer the Orzo to a bowl large enough for you to mix in the ingredients. Throw in the cucumbers, tomatoes, julienned sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onion, dried dill, Feta cheese and Greek dressing. Toss to mix well.

Greek Dressing

This is where the Good Seasons Cruet comes in very handy. I just posted this on the Kitchen Essentials page. If you use this, you cannot go wrong. Trust me.

White Balsamic or Pinot Grigio vinegar

Canola oil

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp dried lemon thyme

1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp lemon pepper seasoning (McCormick makes a great product)

1 tsp pink Himalayan salt

Fill the cruet with vinegar to the water line (I never use water to cut the vinegar; I just ignore that line). Add the lemon juice, oregano, lemon thyme, lemon pepper seasoning, and salt. Add the canola oil to the “oil” line. Cap the cruet and shake well.

Add it to the pasta salad and mix well.

Refrigerate the pasta salad until it’s ready to be served. There’s a lot of pasta salad here, but no matter. It gets better as it gets older. I’ve made this for weekend cookouts and have eaten it the entire week after until it’s gone.

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