#52NewEats :: Week 4 :: Creamy Asiago Cheese Garlic Tortellini

For this week’s 52 New Eats recipe, I chose – yet another – sorry not sorry but actually yes a little sorry – pasta recipe.  This week though, my daughter picked it out, and she wanted to choose because she hasn’t liked any of the recipes I’ve made so far.  🙄  I know, I know.  I need to work on her.  She’s getting there though.

So we picked this recipe and I wondered if it would be similar to my own //Creamy Roasted Garlic Tortellini// recipe, which is hands-down my favoritest pasta recipe on this planet.  And it is somewhat similar, but really only in that it’s a tortellini-and-creamy-sauce dish.

Maraea helped me prepare this meal – she has been very interested lately in helping out in the kitchen so I am giving her as many jobs as I can.  She wants to do things like grate garlic and shred cheese though, and it makes me nervous.  I will still occasionally grate my fingernail off or shred off a piece of my finger.  I’m worried she will do the same.  I don’t know though.  Maybe I’m being too overprotective.  #momstuff

Anyway, the original recipe is //here//, and below are my thoughts.  Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, kiddo DID like this dish.  Finally, a winner!

🍴The sauce stayed pretty thin for us, so I ended up adding a handful of Parmesan cheese to see if it would help thicken a little.  It did, but just a little.  If you’re looking for a really thick creamy sauce, this is not for you.  It’s a thinner cream sauce, but still flavorful.

🍴10oz of tortellini was really only enough to feed the 3 of us, and we each had some pieces of a baguette as a side with some butter.  Ten ounces of tortellini is not enough for 4 servings in my opinion, unless of course you serve a couple other sides – like bread AND salad.  This could easily feed two hungry adults.  (Should it feed two hungry adults?  I think that’s another question entirely.  😉)

🍴I would recommend that if you’re interested in making this recipe, read the comments section at the original recipe’s website.  Several people had the same issue I had with the sauce never getting very thick – for some people it came down to the brand of Asiago used.

Creamy Asiago Garlic Tortellini
Serves 2-3

10oz refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
5 garlic cloves, grated
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
Handful of Parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced fresh parsley

1. Cook tortellini according to package instructions and drain.

2. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add grated garlic and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly so it won’t burn.

3. Add chicken stock and heavy cream, and stir. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add cheeses and reduce heat to a simmer. Continue to stir to keep from burning. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Add tortellini and stir together and continue to cook for a couple of minutes, until the pasta is well-combined with the sauce and warmed together. Stir in minced parsley. Then serve!

Chicken Taco Salad Bowls

My sister loves taco salads.

Sometimes, when we go out to pig out on Mexican food, she will gravely disappoint me and order a taco salad.  Meanwhile I’ll order 3 enchiladas, 2 tacos, rice, queso, and who knows what else.  But she just loves taco salads and sometimes that’s what she gets while I sit there looking like a fatty.  THANKS CAITLIN.

But it’s ok.  Because at some point, somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that maybe a taco salad could be pretty good.  I didn’t get one at a restaurant to try it though, no – why would I do that?  Why would I waste precious time and money at a Mexican restaurant by getting a salad?  Pfft.  I was sure I could make it better myself.

So I tried!  And I did.  And these chicken taco salad bowls are probably one of my favorite lunches that I bring to work.  You start off with something that looks like the picture above – some crispy, cold iceberg lettuce, some chopped veggies, cheese (duh), sour cream (duh), some hot sauce to give it a kick, and some saucy shredded chicken.  Then, I like to stir it all up so it becomes a big messy thing that looks like this:

You see that?  Look how that delicious sour cream covers everything in the salad and makes it all creamy and delicious.  NOMZY.

I normally like to drown my salads in creamy dressings, but this takes the cake man.  The sour cream plus that hot sauce?  Jeez my mouth is watering right now and I just finished lunch a couple hours ago.

This is one of the easiest recipes I make for office lunches – very transportable, and very easy to prep for a few days’ worth of lunches at a time.  Give it a try!

Chicken Taco Salad Bowls
Makes 4 salads

1 large head iceberg lettuce, washed, dried, and shredded
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 pound chicken breasts
1 16oz jar of your favorite salsa (I like //this one//)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or your favorite cheese)
1 can black beans, drained (optional)
Other optional toppings include hot sauce to taste, chopped scallions, and sliced black olives

1. Poach Chicken: Place chicken breasts into a slow cooker and pour the jar of salsa over top. If using, also add the drained black beans. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours (or LOW for 8 hours). When the chicken is finished cooking, remove it from the slow cooker and shred it with two forks. Return it to the slow cooker and mix it with the salsa mixture that’s remaining. Keep warm. (Alternatively, if you already have about a pound of shredded chicken, you can put the shredded chicken into a skillet and add the jar of salsa and the drained black beans, and saute it all together until the chicken starts to turn red like it’s soaking up the salsa.)

2. If you are prepping these salads for lunches: Divide the shredded lettuce evenly between four containers. Top each with diced tomatoes, diced red onions, and shredded cheddar cheese. Put lids on those containers and store them in the fridge. Get a separate container for your 1 cup of sour cream. You will add the sour cream to your salad at work as you’re mixing it all together. Then divide the chicken mixture evenly between four containers. I store the chicken separate from the salad because a) you don’t want the chicken making the lettuce wilted and soggy; and b) I like to warm my chicken up a little before dropping it into the salad. When you warm up the chicken, microwave it on 50% power for 2 minutes, and let cool slightly before adding it to the salad. Add the sour cream and hot sauce to taste, then mix it all up to make a gloriously creamy and slutty taco salad!

3. If you are making these to eat right away: Simply prepare everything at the same time without separating into different containers. Just prepare it into the bowl or onto the plate from which you’ll be eating.

#52NewEats :: Week 3 :: Creamy Brie Mac and Cheese

Hey ya’ll!  For this week’s 52 New Eats recipe I chose another mac and cheese dish – primarily because my daughter LOVES Brie cheese, and LOVES Ritz crackers, and I though, why wouldn’t she LOVE this?!

Silly me.  🙄

She’s too picky I suppose.  She didn’t like this mac and cheese, but I thought it was pretty bangin’.  I like that it’s a little more grown-up than my mac and cheese – it uses slightly more ‘exotic’ cheeses.  Not so exotic you can’t find them in a supermarket, but more exotic than your average Joe mac and cheese.  I’m happy with the way this turned out and will file it in my ‘keepers’ column.  😊  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Here are my thoughts on the recipe:

🍴 I halved the recipe and it was plenty for me, my daughter, and two bowls of leftovers.  I’d only make the full portion if I was having people over.  It did reheat well, if you heat it gently on 50% power until warmed through.

🍴  The cheese sauce is VERY thick.  I would highly recommend measuring the cheeses accurately, and weighing the Brie as well.  Don’t eyeball it.  I sort of eyeballed it in the sense that I measured out the cheese I needed and then I had some leftover and thought eh, can’t hurt anything, but I think it helped contribute to making the cheese sauce very thick.  I don’t not like this – who doesn’t love a thick, creamy cheese sauce? – but it may not be what some are looking for.  I also used just over 2oz of Brie.  This also helps make it slutty and thick!

🍴  I have never had crushed Ritz crackers on top of a casserole before, though I have seen it many times.  You can now officially call me converted – it was the perfect topping for this mac and cheese, and I may even reconstruct my classic mac and cheese to have this topping!  I omitted the garlic in this step though, because I was trying to keep it as kid-friendly as possible.  I’m sure the garlic would have been a nice, sharp touch!  If you do add it, I would highly recommend grating it over mincing it.  It will melt into the butter much better.

🍴  I was unsure about the mustard powder and cayenne, but I added it anyway because like I said before, I like to make a recipe as called for the first time, and tweak afterwards.  I barely tasted them after the mac and cheese baked, but I do think I tasted the mustard powder – it was ever so slight, something that just made me go hm, is that the mustard powder?  Maybe that’s what my kiddo tasted when she made a stink face at me.  Whatever, I didn’t mind it at all, and it’s probably the kind of thing you would notice if it wasn’t there.  I could imagine this mac and cheese being rather plain without these seasonings – Brie, havarti, and fontina are all pretty mild, rich cheeses.

Below is the recipe as I made it.  Enjoy!

Creamy Brie Mac and Cheese
Serves 8

3.5 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cups crushed Ritz crackers
1/2 pound elbow pasta
1/8 cup flour
1.5 cups warm milk
2/3 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
2/3 cups havarti cheese, shredded
2-3 ounces Brie, rind removed and chopped
1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.
2. Boil the pasta according to package directions and drain. Set aside.
3. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1.5 tablespoons butter. Allow to melt. Add in the crushed Ritz crackers, and stir to coat and toast, about 3-5 minutes.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Allow the mixture to cook and bubble for about a minute, stirring a couple times so as not to burn it.
5. Add the milk. Whisk constantly, and raise heat up to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and begin stirring in all of the cheeses.
6. Once the cheeses are well-combined, pour the sauce over the drained macaroni. Stir together to combine, then pour into the prepared baking dish.
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.

#12NewTreats :: January :: Boston Cream Poke Cake

So I have two projects going on this year – #52NewEats which is where I make a new recipe every week, and #12NewTreats which is where my daughter and I bake a new dessert recipe each month.

If she had it her way, we’d make a new dessert each week, but I managed to convince her that that’s not the healthiest thing in the world, and so maybe we should try one dessert a month and see how it goes.  😉

It is no surprise to me at all that this child chose a Boston Cream style dessert as our first project.  She L O V E S Boston Cream donuts.  LOOOOVES them.  I was thankful to see that this is an extremely easy recipe to make, perfect for baking with your kid and letting them help out in the kitchen.  No homemade custard, no homemade cake mix, no homemade frosting.  Almost entirely store-bought and guess what, I don’t even care, and it was still delicious.

I don’t get snobby about desserts.  I’m just not a baker.  There is nothing wrong at all with baking a cake from a cake mix!  It’s the ONLY way I’ve ever made cake!  I didn’t do anything to change this recipe up, HOWEVER, I am excited by this method, and Maraea already mentioned we should do this again but with different flavor combinations.  She doesn’t have to twist my arm to get on board with that!

This cake was delicious and in fact it was even better the next day after sitting in the fridge overnight.  Total winner!  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Boston Cream Poke Cake

1 box yellow cake mix, and all ingredients needed to prepare
2 packages instant vanilla pudding, and all ingredients needed to prepare
1 container chocolate frosting

1. Prepare yellow cake according to package directions. Bake in a 13×9 pan. When finished, remove from oven, and poke holes into the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula. Space the holes evenly throughout the cake.

2. Right after the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the instant vanilla pudding. The brand I bought required me to whisk for about 5 minutes for it to get pretty thick. Once the pudding has thickened, pour it over the cake, taking special care to pour directly into the holes. Spread the pudding around on top. Cover the cake and refrigerate for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

3. After the cake has cooled and solidified for a couple hours, remove the cake from the refrigerator and uncover it. Remove the lid and metallic covering from the container of chocolate frosting. Microwave in 10-second intervals until the frosting is warm, loose, and stirs very easily. (For me this took about 25 seconds total.) Pour the frosting over top of the cake, and spread quickly before it stiffens again. Place the cake back into the refrigerator for another half hour at least to set.

4. Remove from fridge, cut, and enjoy!

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Sliders

Last summer sometime, I hosted a Slutfest at my house with our friends Geoff and Becky.  Normally Slutfest is just the four of us getting together and pigging out but on this occasion we also invited our friends Jackie and Brandon.

One of Jackie’s contributions to the party was some kind of cheesesteak or cheeseburger slider dish – she had seen a recipe or video on Facebook, and it was basically 12 slider buns split apart, bottom halves placed into a baking dish, covered with meat and cheese, topped with the top halves, and baked.  Then you take them out of the oven and it’s meaty and cheesy and melty and slutty and delicious.  They were SO GOOD.  My mind got to turning about how many different ways I could take this method and make something delicious out of it.  And so, the sausage, pepper, and onion sliders were born!

I actually tried this recipe out for the first time on Jackie and Brandon when they came to our house for New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago.  These sliders were a hit!  I don’t think you can beat the smell of Italian sausages cooking with peppers and onions…. it’s one of my favorite smells.  In fact, I love this sausage-pepper-onion mixture so much I am thinking about repurposing it in other recipes… maybe on pizza, or inside stromboli.  YUM!

These sliders are so easy and will feed a lot of people at once.  They would be perfect for a Super Bowl party or any other kind of gathering you may be hosting!

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Sliders
Serves 6

Nonstick cooking spray
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 links mild Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 link hot Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 8oz can tomato sauce
12 slices provolone cheese
12 slider buns, split in half

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped green bell pepper and saute until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Add diced yellow onion and saute until translucent. Remove the peppers and onions from the skillet to a bowl and set aside.

3. Return the skillet to medium heat. Spray the skillet again with nonstick cooking spray, and add the Italian sausage links. Break up the sausage into crumbles with a spatula. Cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes or so. Add the peppers and onions back to the skillet with the crumbled sausage. Pour in the tomato sauce. Stir together, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. You want some of the water to cook out of the tomato sauce so that it thickens nicely. The sausage, pepper, and onion mixture should be saucy and coated nicely with the tomato sauce, not runny and watery.

4. While the sausage mixture is simmering, place the bottom halves of the slider buns into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish. You may need to squish them in there a little bit, this is okay. Press them down slightly so that they stay in place. Cover with 6 slices of provolone cheese, overlapping if necessary. When the sausage mixture is done, pour it on top of the provolone cheese. Top with the other 6 slices of provolone cheese, and finally the top halves of the slider buns. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy!

#52NewEats :: Week 2 :: Nachos Blanco

So ya had to know it was only a matter of time before one of the new recipes I wanted to try was a nachos recipe, right?  🙂

This week’s recipe comes to you from Sunny Anderson a la Food Network fame.  I watched the episode these nachos were featured on, oh, I don’t know, a thousand years ago, and IMMEDIATELY printed up the recipe and stuck it in my binder because I NEEDED to make them RIGHT AWAY!!!!  (And then I never made them for a thousand years.)

These nachos weren’t so bad – I really liked the consistency of the cheese sauce: it was smooth and silky, and it tasted good, but for me it needed a little kick.  I decided not to add anything to the cheese sauce though, because I thought the salsa might end up being pretty spicy.

So here are my thoughts on this recipe:

🍴  The cheese sauce recipe calls for vegetable oil + butter.  I don’t cook with a lot of vegetable oil in my house (I normally use coconut oil or olive oil), but I didn’t want to sub it with something else because I like to try and remain true to a recipe the first time I make it, and adjust afterwards.  When this cheese sauce was done, it did taste good, but I noticed some kind of aftertaste – and I thought it might have been the vegetable oil.  That might have been my fault, because I’ve had this veg oil for a bit and it might not have been good anymore.  If I make this recipe again, or attempt to use this cheese sauce again, I would try replacing the vegetable oil with more butter instead and see how that turns out.  I think the vegetable oil may have contributed to how shiny and silky this sauce turned out to be though.  So I’m not sure.  I will just have to experiment!

🍴  The recipe calls for you to dollop bits of the salsa around the nachos after they have been assembled.  This looked and smelled like it might be a pretty spicy salsa to me though (I think I got an extra hot batch of jalapenos, my eyes were tearing up as I cut them open), so I decided to do something else to spread the heat out a little bit.  I poured the salsa into the skillet and added the shredded chicken, and simmered it for a few minutes to warm it all up together.  This ended up working out nicely – we had some leftover chicken and there are a bunch of uses for leftover salsa chicken!  Taco salads, enchilada filling, quesadilla filling, taco filling – get creative!

What I’ve written below is how I prepared the recipe, but you can find the original //here//.  Enjoy!

Nachos Blanco
Serves 4-6

1 bag white corn tortilla chips
1 pound shredded chicken* (see note)

3 green jalapenos, halved and seeded
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 handful of cilantro (just grab the bunch and rip some off the top)
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cheese Sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the jalapenos, garlic cloves, and onion on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss together to combine. Move the garlic cloves underneath the halved jalapenos. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the jalapenos and onions begin to char and turn black.

2. When the vegetables are finished roasting, remove from the oven and scoop all ingredients from the baking sheet into a blender. Add the cilantro, chicken stock, and lime juice. Puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Leave the oven on.

3. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, vegetable oil, minced onion, and a couple grinds of salt and pepper. Cook the onion until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and cook for about 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Add the heavy cream and whisk together until thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Add the shredded cheese and whisk together to combine. Keep warm.

4. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the salsa and shredded chicken. Stir to combine. Simmer until warmed through, then turn heat to low while you prepare to assemble the nachos.

5. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread tortilla chips on top in a single layer, and warm the chips in the preheated oven for about 5-10 minutes, just until they are warm to the touch. Remove from the oven. Scatter shredded chicken over top of chips evenly. Then pour the cheese sauce over top evenly as well. Then devour and enjoy!

* I like to poach my chicken in the crock pot and then shred it. Place 1 pound chicken breasts in the crock pot and season with salt and pepper. Cover with water or chicken stock. Cook on low for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from crock pot and shred!

Fixer-Upper Friday :: Family Room Before & After

For my first Before & After post showcasing my new/old house, I chose our Family Room!

Our Family Room is in the original part of the house (not the addition).  As I mentioned before, this original part of the house dates back to either the 1700s or 1800s (depends on which local amateur historian I’ve talked to).  Someday I’ll get to the township building and see if I can find out for real but for now let’s just say it’s a really old house.

It has exposed beam ceilings.  Many windows.  And part of it is an enclosed front porch.  There is a ton of wood paneling in this room – the entire front porch area is wood paneling, as are the built-in cabinets and bookshelves.  This room also has a door that leads out to the side of the front of the house – it’s an older door with a window, and its lock uses a skeleton key!  This room gets lots of late afternoon light, and it’s closest to the road so it can be kind of noisy at times.  Hopefully we can fix that with some new windows and insulation in the coming years.  It’s a big room, and because of the enclosed porch, windows, and awkward shape, it presented a challenge as far as arranging furniture.  But thanks to Pinterest, I found some creative solutions that helped us out.  More about that later.  🙂

So here are the horrid Before pictures.

Here’s the old front door with awesomely old skeleton keys!
View from the stairs. So much wood paneling!  And guys, the carpet.  Don’t you just kind of want to vomit?  Blech.
View from the enclosed porch area to the back of the house.
View of the enclosed porch area. There are built-in cabinets beneath all the windows.

And now, for some of our During pictures:

View of the enclosed porch area during painting. So much oil-based primer. I stunk for days.
View from the stairs. All that white is really making things look better!
We ripped up all the old carpet in preparation for new, and found gorgeous original wood flooring beneath. Unfortunately, as you can see in the enclosed porch area, the flooring is different, and painted, where the porch was. We didn’t have the creativity to restore these floors, so we’ll leave them for some other owner some other time.  Additionally, you can kind of see in the spot where I’m standing, there was some damage to this section of the flooring at one time, and it had been patched and never stained to match.
Another view of the original wood flooring into the enclosed porch area. Why would you paint wood flooring?! And why would you paint it teal?!
If all the wood flooring had looked like this, we might have kept it!
Ah, new carpet! What a difference some paint and carpet make! No more wood paneling, no more sad blue/brown/gray/ugly faded carpeting.
One of my favorite differences is how different the light comes into the room when the window trim is white vs. wood! It has made a ton of difference in this house.
And here’s my daughter dancing on our soft sand-colored carpet. This carpet is thick and plush and soft, and it’s the first carpet I’ve ever WANTED to walk on with bare feet.

And now for the Afters!!:

View from the doorway to the great room.
It feels like home!!
So please excuse the sheet on the couch….
…..the sheet on the couch is for this guy right here. 🙂

It looks like a real home now, doesn’t it?

The main challenge with this room was our gigantic U-shaped sectional sofa.  We originally placed it back against the two windows you see in the pictures above, but it took up the entire length of that wall and I would lose precious storage space by not being able to get into those built-in cabinets.  This also wasn’t ideal in the summer months, as one of those windows has to house this room’s window AC unit, and who wants ice cold air blowing on the back of their neck (even in the dead of summer)?  The small wall dividing the main room from the enclosed porch area is what limited us on the right hand side, so we were kind of stuck.

Well we moved the couch out to butt up against the small divider wall, but that left us with a lot of wasted space between the back of the couch and the windows.  Sure I could put a sofa table back there, but it was so much space and seemed so useless.

Then!  I remembered a pin I’d saved on Pinterest.  Someone had posted a picture of a bar-height table behind their couch, with bar stools at the table.  It was a game room or man cave or something.  I remembered this idea, and went to Amazon looking for unfinished wood bar-height tables and bar stools.  I found these and these, and they really filled out that wasted space!  I love that I was able to incorporate this idea into my new home.  From the front of the couch it just looks like we have a really large sofa table behind it – I can fill it with lots of decor and candles.  But then when you go around the back, it’s nice to have a place to sit and eat, either while watching movies or the big game.  It’s ideal for when we have people over and not everyone can fit comfortably on the couch.  And it’s perfect for pizza night when we want to eat in front of the TV but don’t want to cover the ottoman in towels and worry about spills on my new carpet.  Now if we could just get the tables stained…. 👌

Anyway!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s edition of Fixer-Upper Friday.  I’ll do a new post every week to show you before and afters of my new/old house.  Last but not least will be the kitchen.  🙂  Only because I think it’s the biggest and brightest and BEST change of all!

#52NewEats :: Week 1 :: Not Quite J. Alexander’s Mac and Cheese

As part of my 2017 new year’s resolutions, I would like to make one new recipe every week.  I’ve been in something of a cooking rut lately – creativity has escaped me, thanks to the stress of moving and renovating a house – and am looking for some inspiration and some new foods to drool over.

I have this 3-inch binder full of recipes at home.  No kidding.  Three inches.  Full.  Some of these recipes date back about 16 years to when we were living in Spokane and I was just learning how to cook.  I got some cookbook program for my computer, where you could plug in a recipe and it would provide you with the nutritional information for the recipe.  You could print out a full page, and I would enter all these recipes I found on the ancient internet in those days and print them out.  I have NO idea where many of these recipes came from.  So I can’t really claim them as my own.  Many of them I have made before, and I have really only kept the recipes I like and the recipes I haven’t made yet in this binder.

It should come as no surprise that about 85% of the recipes in this binder are recipes I haven’t made yet.  #lazyaf #orbusyaf #imnotsure

The binder is divided into sections – Beef, Chicken, Pork, Pasta, Veggies, Drinks, Sweets, and Miscellaneous.  Each section also has a folder, and within each folder are all the recipes I’ve ripped out of magazines over the years.  Food Network, Real Simple, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food and Wine… TONS OF RECIPES.  Over the Christmas break I was sitting on my couch in a rare moment of laziness, paging through a stack of magazines I had to read before tossing them, and of course I ripped out a few recipes, and I said hey, why do I keep ripping these out?  I never make these recipes.  I always make the same stinkin’ recipes over and over and over again.  So that’s where I got the idea for this resolution!

The first one I picked had to be a cozy comfort food recipe because guess what people, it was 15 degrees outside yesterday.  Yes, folks, 15 FREAKING FREEZING degrees.  My new/old house gets very cold and I am finding out that baseboard heating is basically useless unless you turn it up to 80+ degrees.  So I wanted to cook up something that would get my oven going and warm us up from the inside out.

Some time ago, when I first started on Pinterest, I found a recipe for J. Alexander’s copycat mac and cheese.  J. Alexander’s is a restaurant I had been to in Chicago with my friends Liz and Sara on a girls’ night out.  We left the husbands home with the kids – they had a pizza party and some whiskey, and we dressed up and went to a nice restaurant to shove our faces full of all the sluttiest of foods.  I think I remember ordering some really delicious hot spinach dip, mac and cheese, and a steak.  I remember the mac and cheese knocking my socks off.  So when I was perusing Pinterest some time later and stumbled across a copycat recipe for this, I just had to make it.  So I pinned it.  And some time after that I tagged it as a recipe I wanted to make “soon”, so I copied it into a Word document with 5,634 others and printed it up.  I stuck it in this binder.  And then promptly never made it.  #lazyaf #orbusyaf #stillnotsure

I did a quick Google search to see if I could figure out which site this recipe came from, and the one that looks most like the one I printed up is located here, but it’s still not exactly the same.  The top 3 search results are all different recipes.  I might try the others before the year is out.  🙂

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the original recipe:

🍴The original recipe calls for several chicken bouillon cubes, which I am not a fan of.  I find bouillon to be pretty salty.  I’m sensitive to very salty foods.  So I omitted the bouillon right off the bat.

🍴I also eliminated the sugar.  I think we add sugar to recipes a lot of times when we don’t need to.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a recipe for tomato sauce that has you add sugar to ‘balance it out’.  I will taste it before and after and not taste a difference.  We don’t need anymore sugar in our bodies, so I eliminated that too.

🍴There’s a step in the original recipe where  you are supposed to toss the drained pasta with olive oil and lemon juice before adding it to the cheese sauce.  I actually went to the trouble of buying a lemon, squeezing fresh juice out of it, measuring it out and adding it to a little bowl with some measured olive oil, and then forgot this step.  In hindsight, it might be a good thing I forgot this step.  I think it only would have caused the cheese sauce to separate a little more while baking.  So I ended up unintentionally omitting this as well.

🍴The recipe calls for Gruyere cheese and recommends using half regular Gruyere and half smoked Gruyere.  I looked for smoked Gruyere and couldn’t find it at either of my grocery stores.  I wish I had, because I think it would have kicked this up a notch!  I will probably try this recipe again with the smoked Gruyere!

🍴I loved the thick, luscious, velvety-ness of the cheese sauce base before I added the shredded cheese to it.  I may use this base on other mac and cheese recipes that I come up with myself.

With all that in mind, and without further ado, here is the recipe as I prepared it!

Not Quite J.Alexander’s Mac and Cheese
Serves 4-6

8 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
8 ounces cavatappi (I actually weighed this)
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon Cholula
2 1/4 cups freshly grated Gruyere cheese – may use a mix of Gruyere and smoked Gruyere
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup panko

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring the chicken stock to a rolling boil over high heat and add the cavatappi. Cook according to package directions. Drain, and return cavatappi to pot.

2. While the pasta is cooking, add 1/2 tablespoon butter to a small skillet and melt. Saute the minced onion and the garlic over medium heat until the garlic melts into the butter and the onion softens, about 8 minutes. When finished, set aside off the heat.

3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually add in the cream, half and half, and sour cream, whisking constantly. Whisk until warmed together and thickened, about 2-4 minutes. Whisk in the sauteed onion and garlic mixture and the Cholula. Whisk until well combined. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Simmer gently over low heat, about 15 minutes.

4. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere and all of the Parmesan cheese. When thoroughly combined, pour over the cooked pasta. Stir together to combine well. Add remaining tablespoon of butter to a small bowl and microwave until it melts, about 15 seconds. Add the panko and stir until the panko is coated with the melted butter.

5. Pour half of the mac and cheese mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with half of the remaining shredded cheese. Pour the rest of the mac and cheese mixture on top, and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Top with the buttered panko. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is bubbly around the edges and the panko is nicely browned.

Yay for 2017

I don’t know about you all, but I am welcoming 2017 with open arms.

2016 was one hell of a year.  On so many levels.  I mean for Pete’s sake, the amount of drama I had in my life in 2016 was just astronomical.  I’m over it.  This year I am ready to welcome lots of simplicity and minimalism and focus into my life.

Due to such aforementioned drama, I have honestly not had much time or energy to put into figuring out what my resolutions should be.  I usually get all gung-ho with resolutions.  One year I did 12 mini-resolutions instead of one big one and that went pretty well.  Last year I don’t think I did anything much.  I knew I would be moving and knew I just had to make it through the year alive.  Which I did.  But right now I’m so burned out.

So I’m thinking, instead of making some kind of official declaration, official THIS IS WHAT I WILL DO ALL YEAR kind of resolution, I think I want to just keep some things in the back of my head that I want to be working towards.  Things like:

Simplicity/minimalism :: Less stuff, less debt, less plans, less expectations.  More space in my house, more time with my family, more money in my pocket, more free time to myself, more freedom from pressure.  I need to work towards a “it’s just, whatever” kind of attitude.  Relax a little.  Ok a lot.

Health :: just stay in a gym routine.  Things were going really well with that last year until Moving Shit came along.  I just need to stay in the gym and stay active.  And I really should get a physical this year.

Society :: I’m just going to bury my head under a rock for 4 years.  If you’re my Facebook friend and you post about Trump or politics I will probably hide you.  Because I just can’t let that stuff into my bubble.  Don’t talk to me about it.  I don’t want to know about it.  I’m over it.  It’s draining.  I’m an INFJ/HSP/Empath.  I am not the type that lets that kind of shit go.  If you know me, you know that I am not the kind of person that can let things roll off her back.  I get all worked up and stressed about it and it is honestly just better for me and my marriage and my family if I stay out of current events.  I prefer to live in oblivion.  I am 36 years old.  There is literally NOTHING I can do to change national or world events.  My name won’t make a difference on any petition.  My vote doesn’t count for shit (thx Electoral College).  That idealism that plagues so many late teens and 20-somethings has vacated me, and I couldn’t give a crap, honestly.  I truly, honestly, 100% believe that the very best thing I can do for society right now is raise a kind and loving human being, so that is what I am going to do.  Lord knows we need a few more of them out there.  Here’s hoping I’m still here in 4 years to crawl out from under my rock though.  Cheers folks.

FOOD :: I mean I can’t be a foodie or a food blogger without some kind of commitment to food, right?  So this year I want to make a new recipe every week.  I have a whole binder full of recipes I have torn out of magazines over the years.  And every week I want to make a new recipe.  Maybe I will even come up with a hashtag for it and post it on Instagram.  Oh, and maybe I can post it here too if I really love it!  Stay tuned.

What do you have on deck for new year’s resolutions?  I just want to keep improving myself!

Stay tuned!  Later this week I have before and after pictures of my house coming up.  And very soon I have some new recipes to share with you!