Friday, July 22, 2011

Caprese Mac-n-Cheese

I realized that I haven't posted in some time. Part of the reason for that is because we have been busy enjoying summer in Chicago. The other reason is because it has been SOOOOO hot here that I haven't been cooking much (or doing much of anything around our place since it has been as hot as a sauna for days on end!).

It's a little pathetic to think of the meals we 'enjoyed' this week but in hope of less stifling heat and more home-cooked and tasty meals, I would like to share an idea for a good summer pasta recipe that I made before the heat set in. This one is inspired by my intense love for Caprese salads which traditionally include tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette. I start with the same cheese sauce base that I use for mac-n-cheese but then change it up with a few fresh ingredients.

The Recipe:

  • 3 Tbl. butter
  • 3 Tbl. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 lb. pasta (I used rotini but lots of other types would work well)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped (about 1/4 cup when chopped)
  • 2 cups (white) cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped into smaller pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste

The Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook pasta, drain and set aside.
  3. While pasta is cooking, you can start the sauce. Melt the butter on low heat in a large skillet or saucepan. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour. Keep mixture moving on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. (This mixture will help sauce thicken.)
  4. Turn heat to low and slowly whisk in milk. Turn heat up a little to gently bring to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be pretty thick at this point.
  5. Turn heat off. Add cheddar cheese and then salt and pepper to taste. Stir sauce until cheese melts.
  6. Add pasta to sauce, then basil and tomatoes. Check if more salt and pepper is needed.
  7. Pour entire mixture into a casserole. Top evenly with fresh mozzarella and bake until the cheese melts (about 10-15 minutes).
  8. Serve immediately while the mozzarella is still hot and oozy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Leftover Creations

This may be one of the most random meals I have ever created but surprisingly it was so good! It was one of those nights where I looked in the fridge and thought, "Hmm, what can I do with this random stuff?" So I combined some left over fried rice with onions, jalapenos and sauteed together with soy sauce. Then I fried an egg, leaving the yolk runny, and toasted the tortilla and layered them up.

The picture, like the recipe, isn't too terribly enticing.

I'm not saying you should make this exact recipe but I wanted to throw out some encouragement to all of you out there to get creative with your leftovers. You just might stumble upon something very surprisingly delicious!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Being Forced To Be Silent

I think the media outlets in this household have turned against us. Last week our wireless went out and this week our T.V. broke. Then last night when we were listening to Pandora, the server went out and didn't come back. Oh yeah, and the new camera that I bought broke (but I did buy it used off eBay so that one might be my fault).

So as I'm connecting the computer to the modem instead of using wireless, watching movies on the computer instead of T.V. and listening to iTunes instead of Pandora, I start to think...

Why am I working to hard to get these things back so quickly and why am I actually annoyed that I can't watch T.V. and listen to music in the I really need this stuff? And even worse...are these things filling a void that they shouldn't be?

So then I start thinking that maybe I should stop rigging everything up again and think about the fact that maybe someone is trying to tell me something! The kicker is that last night as I was reading before bed I just "happened" to be at a section of my book titled "The Avoidance of the Painful Void" that went like this...

" It is the most basic human loneliness that threatens us and is so hard to face. Too often we will do everything possible to avoid the confrontation with the experience of being alone, and sometimes we are able to create the most ingenious devices to prevent ourselves from being reminded of this condition.

Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only our physical pain but our emotional and mental pain as well. We not only bury our dead as if they were still alive, but we also bury our pains as if they were not really there.

We have become so used to this state of anesthesia, that we panic when there is nothing or nobody left to distract us. When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to the revelation of our basic human aloneness and are so afraid of experiencing an all-pervasive sense of loneliness that we will do anything to get busy again and continue the game which makes us believe that everything is fine after all."

So here I am, sitting in silence, thinking about the fact that I do not spend enough time being quiet without distractions. But at the same time I am on the computer rather than actually experiencing my 'aloneness' so this whole thing is a contradiction anyway. I guess I'm left with the challenge of living life more fully not by doing more to avoid pain but by by spending more time in meaningful solitude and taking time to experience and reflect on the pain that makes me human. Henri Nouwen sums it up well:

"The few times, however, that we do obey our severe masters and listen carefully to our restless hearts, we may start to sense that in the midst of our sadness there is joy, that in the midst of our fears there is peace, that in the midst of our greediness there is the possibility of compassion and that indeed in the midst of our irking loneliness we can find the beginnings of a quiet solitude."

Both excepts taken from the book 'Reaching Out" by Henri Nouwen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mazto Toffee Bark

I know, I know...pretty random. The story behind this is that we get a bunch of "freegan" goods from work (aka stuff that is getting tossed because it can't be sold for one reason or another but is perfectly good to eat). I can't take the credit for actually diving in the dumpster myself; there is a guy from work who goes to Whole Foods and gets all the stuff they are going to throw away and brings it in and puts it up for grabs. You would be surprised at all the great stuff that comes in (and that is not expired and perfectly edible).

So anyway, after Passover there was tons of matzo and I had seen this recipe for matzo bark on a food blog so I took a bunch. And I'm glad I did because it made for a very tasty bark.

The Recipe:

Adapted from The Sassy Radish

  • 4 sheets matzo
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds.
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

The Method:

  • Preheat oven to 275 degrees
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (not wax paper because the toffee will stick to it). Place matzos in an even layer on a 13×17-inch jelly roll pan (break some matzos up to fit the pan).
  • Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add brown sugar, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until sugar has completely dissolved and beings to bubble. Drizzle toffee over matzo and spread evenly using a spatula.
  • Bake toffee-covered matzo for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let stand for 5 minutes to let chocolate melt then spread melted chocolate evenly over matzo. Sprinkle with the almonds and sea salt.
  • Transfer matzo to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours.
  • Break chilled matzo toffee into pieces. Keep in the fridge to last longer.

Lining the pan with matzo

Spreading the toffee. I found that it was really yummy when some of the toffee slipped underneath the cracks of the matzo and coated both sides.

It doesn't take the chocolate chips too long to melt since the toffee is so hot.

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