Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

print recipe card posted in Lunch, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

Macaroni and Cheese lovers have many differing opinions on what is the perfect way to make this classic dish. Baked is my favorite. Many other people prefer the Stove-top version, while others stick to a Box-Mix. Different skill levels are needed to make each version, with the Baked generally being the most complicated and time consuming to prepare. But it’s oh so good!

This recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese is based on first making a white sauce (in French it’s called béchamel), then adding shredded cheese. There are some simpler “baked recipes” which do not require making a white sauce first, but personally,I have yet to find one I like.

I’ll go over some of the many recipe variations on Baked Macaroni and Cheese at the end of this post.

This version will take approximately 30 minutes to prepare and another 30 minutes to cook.

There are several steps necessary to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese. You will need to be able to:

Be sure to get all the ingredients measured and prepared before turning on the stove!

A complete list of ingredients is in the recipe; here is a photo of what you will need:

Preparing the ingredients

a) Measure out the macaroni: 8 ounces = 2 cups = 1/2 box

b) Shred 12 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese

c) Mince (that means to chop really fine) 1/2 cup of yellow onion

d) Measure (precisely) 3 Tablespoons of flour, 3 Tablespoons of butter, 3 cups of milk, 1 tablespoon of powdered mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper

The flour, butter and milk must be measured accurately. Those three ingredients are the base of a béchamel (white sauce) to which we will then add the mustard, salt and pepper and the cheese. The ratio of the flour, butter and the milk will affect the outcome of your Mac and Cheese. (Too much milk and it will be runny, too much flour and it will too dry)

Bread Crumb Topping

Make the bread crumb topping by trimming off the crusts of 4 slices of bread, and then cut the bread into crumbs.

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter and bread crumbs.

Set this aside for now.

Cooking the Macaroni

Follow the directions on the box of the macaroni YOU purchased. Elbow style is traditional, but any small-to-medium size pasta would work as well. To review how to cook pasta, check out my video on How to Cook Pasta.

Putting it all Together

While the pasta is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over very low heat in a separate medium size pot.

Whisk in the flour and…

…keep it moving for about one minute, making sure it’s free of lumps.

Whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper, milk…

…and the minced onion.

Simmer for about seven to ten minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth, stirring often.

The next step-adding an egg- can be a bit tricky. You need to “temper” the egg first. That means to warm it up so that it does not just turn into scrambled eggs when you add it to the thickened, hot, milk mixture (béchamel).

The egg will make the Mac and Cheese smoother and creamier. I have tried this recipe with and without adding the egg and it does affect the texture of the final recipe.

In a medium bowl, beat one egg.

Warm the egg by drizzling in, very slowly, 2-3 Tablespoons of the thickened milk mixture. Continue to wisk the mixture as you drizzle. (You can use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop out the sauce from the pan.)

Now add the egg mixture to the pot. Stir in the cheese.

Fold the cooked and drained macaroni into the mix

Pour everything into a 2-quart casserole dish. (My dish is a Pyrex dish measuring 8 inches square by 2 inches high.) It should be very “soupy” at this point. Don’t worry, it will firm up in the oven.

Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree preheated oven. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Variations

As I said at the very beginning, there are many variations to this classic dish. Many recipes use a combination of three or four cheeses. Each affects the final taste and texture. (One very famous recipe uses American cheese for a smoother consistency. That recipe was, by far, MY least favorite as I found the American cheese flavor overpowers the entire dish.)

There are also many options on the type of bread crumbs which you can use. I use fresh bread crumbs as it is the most traditional. Japanese-style Panko crumb topping seems to be gaining quite a bit in popularity.

There are many people who like to add extras like: salami, ham, browned ground beef, hot dogs (which I’m told kids love), crumbled cooked bacon, hot sauce, paprika, parsley, chopped canned tomatoes, butternut squash, salsa, etc….

Baked Macaroni is an American Classic. Everyone has a favorite.

What’s yours?

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Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

In the movie Ratatouille, the little chef Remy rejoiced in discovering the pleasures of combining certain foods to maximize their flavors. He would have certainly done his happy dance after trying this Pear and Blue Cheese Salad!

When brought together on one plate, the five simple ingredients used in this recipe create an explosion of taste and texture that put it in my top five list of the best salads ever!

As true with many salads, you can adjust the amounts according to your tastes. To make enough for two people, I’m using:

  • 3 ounces of salad greens
  • 1 pear
  • 3 ounces of blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup of pecans
  • 2 Tablespoons of salad dressing

You can choose your favorite variety of pears, just make sure that it is really (really!) ripe.

I used Stilton blue cheese. There are many varieties of blue cheese available at the grocery store, all with a slightly different flavor; some much stronger than others. The price of blue cheese can vary dramatically depending on where it is from. If in doubt as to which one to buy, ask the person in charge of the cheese counter to explain them. They may even offer you a taste test!

Whole pecans look nice on the plate, but you can use chopped pecans as well.

A simple vinaigrette salad dressing is all you need for this salad. You can make it yourself or buy your favorite brand.

Slice the pear in half and remove the core. I used a small paring knife and a melon baller to remove the core.

Once the core is removed, you can cut the pear into slices or chunks. To add a bit of a fancy touch to the look, I cut the pear into slices, leaving 1/4 inch at the top uncut. You can then fan the pear out on the plate.

Assemble the salad right on the individual serving plate. Start with the lettuce, then add the pears. Crumble the blue cheese and dot it around the plate, then sprinkle on the pecans. Finally, drizzle on some salad dressing.

You can serve this salad with some crusty bread and a glass of wine.

Lunch is ready!

Enjoy!

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Ploughman’s Lunch

print recipe card posted in Lunch, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

Cold plates from around the world make a great lunch or light supper. Many require little or no cooking. In fact you can put together a delicious Cold Mediterranean Plate with all store bought ingredients like hummus, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives and some pita bread.

One of my favorite cold plates is the English “Ploughman’s Lunch.” Many years ago, my English husband introduced me to a this delicious meal along with a “Shandy” (1/2 beer and 1/2 lemonade) to wash it all down.

The great thing about a Ploughman’s lunch is that is takes less than 10 minutes to prepare!

It consists of a bit of mixed salad, crusty bread and butter, a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, and Branston pickle, which is a sort of relish or chutney. Many Americans have never heard of Branston pickle. But if you look in the international section of the grocery store I’ll bet you’ll find it, nestled between the “mushy peas” and PG Tips tea.

Branston Pickle was first introduced in 1922 by Cross and Blackwell, in England of course. The actual recipe is still a secret! It has this really unique spicy, sweet, tangy flavor, that when combined with cheddar cheese and bread, you have yourself a little bit of heaven. You can vary proportions to your taste. Substitutes are allowed but watch out if you have any English people at your meal!

When I serve this at home, the only difference is that I usually stick to just the lemonade to wash it down. Otherwise, a siesta would be on the menu as well!

Cheers!

P.S.

Be sure to also check out my recipe for Cold Rice Salad Plate. Everyone loves the unique blend of flavors in this recipe!

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