Macaroni and Cheese

So like.  I just want to know when the heck I turned 35.  When did this happen, and why do I not feel 35?  I don’t believe that I’m 35.  No, not me.  I’m 26.  At heart.

It’s a funny thing to come to terms with your age.  Before long I’ll be 40.  I remember being in my mid-twenties and dreading turning 30.  It was like 30 was the Gateway to Geezerdom.  And then I turned 30 and I was eh this ain’t so bad.  Forty was barely on the horizon.  But now I’m 35.  And 40 looms.  Oh, how it looms.  Now I know plenty of people who are 40 or over, and they don’t look/act/seem like they are 40.  So I think there is hope for me yet.  But like – what is no longer acceptable once I reach 40?  These things I don’t know.  Can I still go out day drinking with my husband or my girlfriends without looking like an old-head?  Can I still get VIP tickets to Copeland concerts without looking like my sister’s mom?  Will I even care about those things anymore at 40?  Hell.

You know how when you’re young, like a kid, and you picture 30-year-olds as these big fancy adults with briefcases and skirt suits and pumps?  No?  Was that just me?  I guess I just always thought I was destined for that.  And well here I am.  There are days I wear yoga pants to work (shhh).  And leggings.  And I hate pumps.  And I’ve never even priced out a briefcase.  I carry a backpack.  And I curse a lot.  I wear sneakers and hoodies on the weekends.  I don’t hardly ever wear makeup.  I still listen to Wu-Tang.  I drive a black Charger.

I am nothing like I thought I was supposed to be at 30+.  But.  I do go to bed at like 8-9pm most nights.  I don’t have the energy to chase my kid around the playground.  I get so excited about grocery shopping and menu planning.  Cuz I’m domestic AF.

I like my version of 30+ more.  But still.  Forty looms.

Anyway.  You know what makes me forget all about my age?  Slutty food.  So here I am, friends.  And what is more slutty than a warm, cozy, creamy, delicious bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese?

Everyone loves homemade macaroni and cheese.  And I am particularly proud of this recipe because I worked on it for a long time before I achieved that creamy, gooey, cheesey perfection.

There used to be a restaurant by my parents’ house called Tomatoes.  I actually worked there as a busser when I was a teenager, and it was a good neighborhood favorite.  We went one time for dinner in the winter and they had a five cheese mac and cheese on their specials menu.  My mom and I both ordered it and ogled over how creamy it was.  We asked the waitress to ask the chef if we could have the recipe – and of course he said no, but he DID tell us what cheeses he used in his recipe.  #score

I immediately went home and began googling homemade mac and cheese recipes that used the cheeses he mentioned in his recipe.  I found one that was really close, and I just subbed out some of the cheese that were in that recipe for ones the chef said he used.  After several attempts to adjust quantities, I finally got that perfectly creamy mac and cheese – even after it was baked.  Lots of mac and cheese dishes dry out or separate while baking – but this cheese sauce stays creamy through the baking process.

In fact, you could eat this mac and cheese as a stovetop version if you didn’t feel like baking it, too.  I may or may not have done that while “tasting” “for seasoning” “just to make sure” “it doesn’t need anymore salt or pepper” “I swear”.

Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4 (main course) or 6 (side dish)

2 cups dry macaroni
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave and set aside
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups freshly shredded cheddar cheese (sharp, medium, or mild all work well)
1 1/2 cups freshly shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2oz Velveeta, cubed
1/2 – 1 cup dry Italian bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain. Return drained macaroni to the pan you cooked it in.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat and whisk in flour to make a roux. Let the flour-butter mixture bubble a little bit while you whisk, about 1 minute. Add warm milk and whisk until combined. Continue to whisk until you feel it thicken. (The warm milk will make this process faster – if you use cold milk, it will take a little bit for it to thicken.) Add cream cheese, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking and whisking until cream cheese has melted completely. Add shredded cheeses and Velveeta, a little at a time, whisking to incorporate and melt.

3. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni, and stir to combine. “Taste for seasoning” at this point. At this point, you can also serve it as a stove-top macaroni and cheese (just make sure you turn your oven off). But if you prefer to bake it: pour the macaroni and cheese into a greased 11×7 casserole dish. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons melted butter and enough breadcrumbs that when stirred, the mixture looks like wet sand. (This usually ends up being about 3/4 cup for me, but it depends on the brand of bread crumbs I use.) Pour the buttered breadcrumbs over the top of the macaroni and cheese and bake, uncovered, on a middle rack for 15-20 minutes. When it’s done, the breadcrumbs will be browned and the cheese will be bubbly along the edges of the casserole dish. If the breadcrumbs brown too quickly (before the cheese gets bubbly), cover with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

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Balsamic Garlic Bread

Y’all know who Tyler Florence is, right?  I mean really, who doesn’t.  😍  He makes some pretty amazing food.  I have a bunch of his cookbooks, and in one of those cookbooks he posted a recipe for the ultimate garlic bread.  I tried it a few times and tweaked it a little bit, and I loved it so much that the next time I went to my mom’s for dinner, I had to make it for her.

So I’m in her kitchen stirring together the butter mixture for the garlic bread.  And I was gabbing away about something or other and was totally distracted.  And not even thinking, I picked up a bottle of balsamic vinegar?  Cuz I guess I had it on my mind?  And I started to pour it into the butter mixture?  Idk.  I poured long enough to say OOPS! and stop pouring.  Like crap.  WTF was I doing??  So I stopped talking and my mom and I looked at each other, and I said “Shit.  I ruined the butter mixture!”  And she said “No you didn’t.  Balsamic vinegar doesn’t ruin anything.”  And I realized she was probably right.  So I stirred that balsamic vinegar into the butter mixture real well, and then I spread it on the bread and baked it as directed.

And what came out of the oven 20 minutes later was the tastiest kitchen mistake I have ever made in my life.  I mean why hadn’t some amazing Italian chef thought of this before I made this mistake?!  It is so tasty and yummy.  The balsamic lends a nice, unexpected flavor to the garlic bread, and you will be surprised at how it works.  Or maybe you won’t be surprised because balsamic and bread go waaaay back in the club of Best Pairings Ever.  But I love this garlic bread and so will you.

Balsamic Garlic Bread

1 loaf ciabatta, focaccia, baguette, or French bread, sliced in half lengthwise
1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
3 cloves of garlic, grated on a grater, or minced and mashed into a paste with salt
Minced parsley
Minced basil
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 “oops” pour of balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Stir butter, garlic, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Add one “oops” pour of balsamic vinegar – literally, pour it and say OOPS! and then stop. Stir well to combine. It will look at first like it might not come together, but keep stirring.

2. Spread half the butter mixture on one half of the loaf of bread. Spread the other half of the butter mixture on the other half of the loaf of bread. Wrap in foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Cut into slices and enjoy!

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Angel Hair with Garlic Sauce

Hey there fellow foodies.  In case you noticed it, I’m sorry for my absence.  My life has been taking over my life.  Did that make sense?  It did to me.  Anyway.  There’s a lot going on these days.  But I need to get back to this blog, because I really love this blog, and I really love cooking and eating.

So here’s the deal.  I got so into cooking for this blog that at some point I totally forgot to go to the gym on a daily basis like I was doing previously.  That, or, I got so into going to the gym on a daily basis that I burned myself out and decided I liked cooking and eating for blog like so way more.  Idk.  Sounds like a chicken or the egg kind of question.  The bottom line is, I gained weight.  And I started feeling really terrible about myself.  I didn’t like what I was seeing anymore.  I couldn’t even hide it with yoga pants and tunics anymore.  So you know, instead of letting that motivate me, in true Sassmaster fashion, I stuck my middle finger up at the gym AND at the food and stopped all of it.  F you gym, you wore me out.  F you cooking for the blog, you made me fat.  So F both of you.

Well then it finally got to a point where I wondered just WTF I thought I was doing.  Going to the gym made me happy.  I mean it didn’t make me happy to GO to the gym, and I wasn’t happy WHILE I WAS AT the gym, but when I LEFT the gym – oh, when I LEFT the gym – that adrenaline rush.  That rush of endorphins and serotonin and happy happy chemicals in my brain.  And cooking for the blog made me happy.  I like writing.  I like cooking.  I like eating.  I like photography.  There is no reason why I can’t find a balance and make both work with my lifestyle.

So I’m back in the gym.  I switched up my workout routine.  I’m backing off the weights some.  While I really loved lifting, I think it was just turning me into a beefcake.  Also I had quit cardio (oops) so I didn’t have a good balance.  So I reworked my routine to something I can manage several days a week, instead of every single day, to avoid burning myself out.  I am also adding yoga to my routine, because GDI I am not flexible like I used to be.

And I’m back into my blog.  I love this blog.  I love food, and I love sharing it with people.  And even if I’m only sharing these recipes with a handful of people, and they enjoy them, it makes it worth my while.

Speaking of the blog, can I just say that I’m seriously reconsidering turning this site into a vehicle for ad-generated income?  Because I am really starting to hate those blogs that take FOR-EV-ER to load because all the ad content is loading.  I would love to be a food blog that people can come to because they want the recipe, and not get roadblocked by all the freaking ad content that slows the page load.  Seriously – if I’m on Pinterest, and I see a recipe I want to try, and I click through to the site, if your site takes longer than like 10 seconds to load, I don’t care how scrumptious the picture looks, I am backing out and moving on to the next.  I can’t effing stand it when pages take so long to load.  Ugh and those friggin JOIN MY EMAIL LIST! splash screens.  STAAAAHHHHP.

Anyway.  We are here to talk about pasta today.  Simple, delicious, healthy (? do I make anything healthy here?  I am not sure?) pasta.  I love pasta.  I love pasta a lot.  It’s so comforting and carby and just the best stuff ever.  I especially love pasta covered in creamy sauces like my creamy roasted garlic tortellini and my penne alfredo.  But creamy sauces aren’t always the healthiest choice when it comes to having pasta for dinner.

That’s why I looooove love love this angel hair dish.  The garlic sauce can be made simply from olive oil and minced garlic, though I prefer to add a touch of butter for some richness.  And when it all comes together – garlic, olive oil, parsley, and a little sprinkling of Parmesan cheese – you will wonder how something so simple could taste so good!  Sometimes it really is the simplest things that taste the best!

I discovered this recipe a long time ago when I was first starting to cook, and I have modified it to my tastes over the years and now it’s a go-to staple in our house.  It is a rare occasion that we find ourselves without these four main ingredients in our house.  With this simple recipe, it’s easy and cheap to have a meatless entrée any day of the week.  Serve it with my balsamic garlic bread (recipe to come!) to round out the meal!

Angel Hair with Garlic Sauce
Serves 3-4

1/2 box angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced, or grated on a grater
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Cook pasta according to package direction. Drain, and leave in the strainer till I tell you to dump it into the sauce.

2. Add olive oil and butter to a medium skillet and warm over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, add the garlic. Saute gently until softened and fragrant. Do not burn the garlic. This is a slow process, be patient. Once the garlic is softened, add the minced parsley and saute for a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the pasta to the sauce. Toss with tongs to distribute the sauce evenly. Keep over medium-low heat for a few minutes to re-warm the pasta. Once the pasta is warmed through, distribute onto plates and top with Parmesan cheese if desired.

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