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Creamy stovetop mac and cheese

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This week is all about cheese. For me, mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It’s so versatile. Add bacon, or other meat, different seasonings, vegetables, various toppings. But then there is this simple, Panera-like, creamy and super easy stove top version that resembles Velveeta creamy mac and cheese and is homemade. Let me be clear, I am not too good for a boxed mac and cheese, I definitely enjoy it from time to time, but this homemade version is just as easy, and you can control the flavor. If you want it a little more mild, add more American cheese. If you want something a bit sharper, add a different or more cheddar. It’s the best form of basic. This all comes together quickly. Basically, in the time it takes you to boil the pasta, you’ve got the cheese sauce. It’s the perfect cold weather food especially when you are looking for something quick during the busy weeknights. Also, leftovers. And let me just say – they are amazing. If you want to thin out the cheese a bit you can add in some milk when you are reheating. I usually just microwave mine for a few seconds with a dash or two of milk added. Add a little more salt and you have yourself a delicious lunch or dinner.

Creamy stovetop mac and cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 box pasta shapes like shells
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 oz white America cheese slices
  • 8 oz white cheddar cheese shredded

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions for al dente. Drain well.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to foam, add in the flour and cook until lightly golden brown. Be sure to whisk constantly.
  3. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking the entire time. You want to be sure to add the milk slow enough so that the flour mixture smooths out and doesn’t clump. If it does clump, don’t worry. Just continue to whisk as you are heating the mixture and letting it thicken. They will smooth out eventually. Allow to thicken about 6-8 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and add in the American cheese slices. Whisk together to incorporate. Add in the cheddar cheese. Whisk again until the cheese mixture is smooth. Pour in the pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

Recipe Notes

This recipe was adapted from a copycat Panera mac and cheese

Homemade Wonder Bread

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If I had to pick my favorite Christmas gift (aside from the new tires for my car) it would be this book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. There are so many things I want to try in this book, but my first test was this homemade Wonder Bread. I love homemade bread. The process, the smell, the fresh out of the oven consumption, but have had very little luck with decent sandwich bread. Usually it comes out dense and doughy and the flavor is just not quite right. But this version, while easier in some ways and a little more hands on in others, was literally perfect. I have never been as excited for a bread as I was making this. I used it for lunch, for toast in the morning, to eat just because it was there and so was the butter. The magic is clearly in the ingredients…. I mean Ovaltine… I have never used this stuff before. I literally think of A Christmas Story every time I hear it mentioned. But the malt gives an extra sweetness to the bread. The instructions are also written out so well. Often when I’m trying something new, I like to have pictures to follow so I can make sure that I’m doing it right, but the writing is so helpful in this book, that you really know what your dough is supposed to look like and how it’s all supposed to come together. I would highly recommend this book and this bread is an absolutely must for carb lovers out there.

Homemade Wonder Bread

Ingredients

Hot Water Roux

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup milk any percentage

Dough

  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup malted milk powder like Ovaltine
  • 2 tsp instant dry yeast not rapid-rise
  • 1 ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt half as much if iodized
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup refined or virgin coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Note: Bubble-gum-test: Chop off a walnut sized lump of dough and toll it into a ball. With both hands, slowly stretch and rotate the dough in all directions, pulling it int o a translucent sheet. Keep stretching! If the dough tears in half, return it to the bowl, knead 5 more minutes, then test again. If the dough forms an irregularly shaped hole, knead 3 minutes more and test again. If it stretches like bubble fun and “pops” a round hole, it’s ready.

Make the roux:

  1. Sift the flour into a 2-qt stainless steel saucier. Put the flour into a measuring cup and level with a knife before sifting. Add the milk, stirring with a flexible spatula until smooth and cook over medium heat, stirring to form a thick mashed potato like paste, about 2 minutes. Set aside and cool to 120 degrees (about 15 minutes).

Make the dough:

  1. Sift flour into the bowl of a standing mixer, using the same technique to level the flour before sifting. Add sugar, malted milk powder, yeast, salt, milk, coconut oil, and roux. Stir to combine, then knead on low with the dough hook until the dough can pass the bubble-gum-test, about 12 minutes. Remove dough hook and cover with plastic and prepare a warm place for the dough to rise. I agree with the recommendation to microwave a mug of water until boiling-hot, then push it to the back of the microwave so it continues to radiate heat and steam – especially if you are making bread in the winter! Let the dough rise inside until puffy and light, though not doubled in size. About 30 minutes (note mine took more like an hour 15 minutes).
  2. With a flour-dusted fingertip, gently press the dough. If it springs back, let rise about 15 minutes. If it feels firm but retains a shallow impression, it’s ready to shape.
  3. Shape the loaf:
  4. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degreed F. Lightly grease a 8×5 inch metal loaf pan.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8 inch square. Fold into thirds, as you would a (thick and chubby) business letter, then fold lengthwise to create a narrow log, pinching the dough along its seam. Nestle it into the pan, seam side down, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
  6. Warm the microwave as you did before and let the dough rise about 25 minutes, until it crowns the pan. Use your fingertip to test it again. Allow to rise only if it sprints back when you poke it. If it retains a shallow impression, it’s ready!
  7. Bake the loaf until the crust is nutty brown, about 45 minutes, or 200 degrees. I highly recommend checking the temperature with a thermometer. Carefully top the bread onto a wire rack and remove the pan. Turn it upright and let cool for at least 1 hour before you even think of slicing it. It will severely deform if cut too soon.
  8. The loaf will be extraordinarily soft on the first day, but after 24 hours, it can be easily cut into thin slices with a serrated knife. Sore in an airtight container for up to 1 weeks at room temperature, up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Chia Seed Pudding

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Chia, it’s not just for plants! My first exposure to chia seeds, aside from the plants that you used to see everywhere, was in a drink. It was this gelatinous goop that was supposed to deliver these amazing health benefits but was the most disgusting thing to swallow. It’s true, chia seeds, despite their smallness pack a pretty nutrient rich punch. So, I revisited them after finding this recipe posted by a fellow blogger. The thing with chia, when you soak it, it does form a gelatinous texture. But, when you’re not drinking it, it can be really good. This particular recipe mixes it with full fat coconut milk, so it’s actually rather filling and very refreshing. I first tried this over the summer, finding it easiest to transport and lighter which I tend to prefer when it’s hotter outside. I paired mine with mixed berries, some shredded coconut and additional syrup. Although I used berries in mine, you could literally do anything. It’s such a basic – and I mean that as a compliment – you could easily use granola, apples, apple butter, jams, honestly anything. I went for an additional antioxidant boost. It’s the easiest thing to whip up, just mix and let it sit overnight. It keeps fresh for 3 days, so you get a couple snacks/breakfasts out of it.

Chia Seed Pudding

Servings 2

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk, full fat
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • Toppings like fresh fruit, shredded coconut, maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Combine the chia seeds, coconut milk, honey, salt, vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Whisk ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. After 8 hours, the pudding will be set and can store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Top each serving with anything you would like. 

Recipe Notes

Recipe from Everyday Annie

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

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Anyone else missing snow? No? Living in New England, I am seriously disappointed that it has not snowed yet this winter. It hasn’t even been terribly cold, but nonetheless I’m craving cozy meals that are pretty easy to whip up. One of my favorite cold weather foods is soup. So many flavor options and it keeps very well. With the Holiday season behind us, I was in the mood for something warm and full of flavor, but not overly heavy. This soup was all of the above. Since it’s packed with veggies it’s hearty and satisfying. The basil pistou is a must for this recipe. Pistou is a cold sauce, very similar to pesto, but lacking the pine nuts. It’s perfect for soups, or even spread on a sandwich if you wanted to kick up your sandwich making game. The whole thing comes together fairly quickly. I made some modifications to the recipe which I felt helped round out the flavor a little better. Also, depending on the time of year you make the soup, you may opt for more fresh veggies vs, canned, though if you want to use canned or frozen here, I think it would work very well. The recipe here uses fresh veggies, but it would be easy to adjust.

Print Recipe

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Ingredients

For the pistou

  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/3 cup evoo
  • 1 garlic clove smashed

For the soup

  • 1 tbsp evoo
  • 1 leek white and green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced (wash well!)
  • 1 rib celery sliced
  • 1 carrot peeled and sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • dash of red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup pasta like ditalini
  • 8 oz. green beans trimmed and cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1 15 oz can of cannellini beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 small zucchini halved and slices
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomato in juice

Instructions

  1. To make the pistou, combine the basil, Parmesan, oil, and garlic in the bowl of your food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  2. To make the soup, heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add in the leeks, celery, carrot. Season with salt. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir the broth and water into the mixture and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in the pasta and cook until slightly softened, about 8-10 minutes – depending on the pasta you use. Stir in the green beans, cannellini beans, zucchini, and diced tomatoes, with their juice. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. To serve, top each individual portion with a healthy spoonful of pistou.

Recipe Notes

Barely adapted from Everyday Annie

 

Kale and Sunflower Seed Pesto

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I feel like Lamb Chop. I’ve been singing “this is the cold that never ends. Yes it goes on and on my friend”! We have been sick since Christmas and I am ready for this virus to get a move on. I have not had a huge appetite, but this pasta has been a staple. Mainly because the leftovers are amazing. It’s also a really refreshing pasta. It’s a change to the normal pesto because you’re using kale and sunflower seeds. Now, I’m not one of those people who would stick a kale sticker to their car publicly and regularly proclaiming my love for it. It’s fine, when cooked right (roasted with oil, salt, and pepper until it’s so crisp you forget you’re eating kale – or hidden in a smoothie), and this recipe does it right.

I think the basil is what really reduces that over the top kale flavor. The toasted garlic and the roasted sunflower seeds sort of close the flavor triangle, so it’s a balanced sauce. Not to mention it’s the easiest sauce to pull together. It all comes together in the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. Speaking of pasta, I used whole wheat. I have terrible memories of eating whole wheat pasta in my Weight Watchers days, when I could eat a decent serving for minimal points and then try not to cry as I wait for my next snack (God that was horrible). It just did not taste good to me. But I rallied, not because I’m doing Weight Watchers, that ship has long sailed away and I’m focused on a healthier diet free lifestyle, but because I thought the whole wheat would honestly taste better here, and it did. It’s certainly not going to break the recipe if you choose to use another pasta type, *ahem* tortellini. I think that would pair quite nicely.

Print Recipe

Kale and Sunflower Seed Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic peel intact
  • 2 cups packed kale stems removed
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/3 cup EVOO
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta or pasta of choice

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pasta according to package instructions
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, warm the sunflower seeds over medium heat. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Toss occasionally to get them freshly roasted. Add the to the bowl of your food processor. Place the garlic cloves in the pan, and toast until lightly browned, turning to make sure all sides are toasted. Move aside to let cool.
  3. Add the kale, basil, cheese, red pepper flakes and peeled garlic to the bowl with the sunflower seeds. Pulse until finely ground, scraping down the sides as needed. With the processor running, pour the olive oil through the feed tube until incorporated. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of liquid. Return the pasta to the pan and pour in the pesto. Add reserved pasta water to thin as needed. (I actually omitted this step and left the pesto thick, for me it was perfect.) Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve with additional Parm.

Recipe Notes

NOTES Recipe barely adapted from Everyday Annie.