Back to School Calls for Mac and Cheese.  Plus Other Stuff.

Back to School Calls for Mac and Cheese. Plus Other Stuff.

The first day back to school after a vacation is always a tough one. The week of later bedtimes, days of freedom and lowered demands make the return to regular life feel a little grind-y (for me as well as the kids). To ease the transition I like to have something nice on those days. It might be a doughnut on the way to school or a special activity planned after. It always involves extra hugs (mostly for me) and a beloved dinner. This time that dinner ended up being mac and cheese. Now, I don’t want to brag (or maybe I do), but my home made mac and cheese is something to celebrate. It’s not difficult or complicated, just simple and delicious. I make many variations – with bacon and smoked cheese, or beans and pepper jack, for example, but for the small mac fans in the family, the folks effected by the school return, straight up traditional is the way to their hearts.

Here’s the rub, though – one family member with a lactose intolerance and another who has gone keto*. Welp, THAT complicates things. Luckily, the mac and cheese recipe is simple enough that it leaves time and room to make other components of the meal. This night that was teriyaki steak tips and a simple oiled and salted pile of spring mix (my absolute fave). Perfect. Everyone happy. Maybe even happy enough to get up a little easier for the next round of school. Find the recipes below.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

1 lb elbows or any short pasta, I like to use penne

4 tbs butter

¼ cup flour

3.5 c milk, warmed

½ lb sharp cheddar, grated

½ lb emmental or jarlsberg, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional, only for baked version:

4tbs butter, melted

2 c bread crumbs

Method:

Put your water on to boil.  While waiting for it to boil is a good time to grate your cheese.  If you bought time saving pre-grated, all the better. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two so your cheese sauce doesn’t taste like flour. Add about half of the milk and whisk until smooth and then do the same with the other half.  Cook this over medium until it thickens up. Meanwhile, the water has likely boiled so pour in your pasta. Check it after about 8-10 minutes. Very important – do not let it go mushy! It is ready when there is no hint of crunch but you still feel some *there* there.  It shouldn’t all but disappear between your teeth. Drain when you deem it done. Back to the sauce – mix in the grated cheese a couple of handfuls at a time. When it is all incorporated, taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Pour in the pasta and mix until all the pasta is covered.  If you are not baking, it is ready to be spooned out and enjoyed. If you are going for the baked version, preheat the oven to 375. Place the mixed mac and cheese into a casserole pan. Mix the bread crumbs into the melted butter and spread the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese. Bake this for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and the casserole is bubbly.

Teriyaki Tips

Ingredients:

2 lbs steak tips (or turkey tips if you can find them)

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

⅓ cup soy sauce

¼ cup maple syrup

1-2 inch piece of ginger, grated

Salt

Oil

Method:

Lightly salt the tips.  Mix together the garlic, soy sauce, syrup and ginger.  Toss the tips well in this mixture and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (longer if you have the time).  Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the tips in batches, being careful not to crowd them into the pan.  Cook for a few minutes on each side. The time will vary greatly depending on the size of the pieces, how well done you like your steak, or if you are cooking turkey tips.  As you likely know, the turkey needs to beef cooked fully through – there is no rare option here. You have wiggle room with the beef. I will sometimes cut larger pieces for faster cooking, but usually cook ours 3-4 minutes per side (cooking on just 2 sides – they almost always have irregular shapes) and that gets us medium rare on big tips.  You will just have to check and experiment.

*I mention keto, but this tips recipe is NOT. Said diner has relaxed his keto-ness some, so though this works for him, if you are following a strict keto diet, this is not for you. I haven’t tried it but you could try subbing the maple syrup with erythritol sweetener.


Onion and Pancetta Crustless Quiche

Onion and Pancetta Crustless Quiche

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 oz pancetta

1 small or ½ large red onion, sliced

5 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup (more or less) gruyere or cheddar cheese

½ tsp salt

3-4 cranks from a pepper mill

Butter for the dish

Method:

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Cook the pancetta in this for 3-4 minutes.  Add the onions and cook for another 4-5 minutes then take the pan off the heat.  Heat the oven to 375. Whisk the eggs in a bowl then add in the cream. Whisk these together with the salt and pepper.  Butter your preferred oven safe dish or pie plate. Spread the pancetta and onions into the dish. Pour in the egg mixture.  Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, until there is the very slightest jiggle in the very center. Cool a few minutes before cutting into.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 sweet potatoes, cut into fries, or wedges if easier

2 tbsps olive oil

½ tsp paprika

Pinch of cayenne

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

Pepper from several cranks of the mill

Method:

Heat the oven to 425.  Toss all the ingredients together.  Spread the dressed potatoes onto a lined baking tray.  Cook for 25-30 minutes, until tender and tasty.

Curried Cauliflower Burgers

Curried Cauliflower Burgers

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb cauliflower, finely chopped but not all totally riced – some variation

1 cup grated carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

2 tsps curry powder

1 tsp salt

½ tsp cracked pepper

Olive oil

2 eggs

1 cup bread crumbs

½ cup plain yogurt

1-2 tsps honey

Large sprinkle of curry powder

Lettuce

Sliced tomato

Sliced or slivered almonds

Raisins

4 burger buns or pita halves

Method:

Heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the cauliflower in this for about 5 minutes.  Add the carrots and cook about 5 minutes more, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy.  Stir in the curry powder, salt and pepper. Take this off the heat to cool. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a bowl.  When the cauliflower mixture is cool, mix it into the eggs, then add in the bread crumbs. Form this into 4 patties.  Heat a couple of tbsps of oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Carefully place the patties in the pan and cook them undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, until nicely browned.  Flip and do the same on side 2. While they are cooking, mix the honey and a large sprinkle of curry powder with the yogurt. Adjust the amounts to your liking. To assemble, place a patty in a pita or on a bun, then dress as you wish with the lettuce, tomato, yogurt, almonds, and raisins.

Note: For gluten free, obviously don’t serve on the bun or pita.  Also, instead of the bread crumbs, add one more egg and sub almond meal or your favorite gluten free mix.  They won’t hold together quite as easily but will work fine with careful handling and good crisping in the pan.

Make it vegan by subbing flax egg and coconut yogurt.

Crepe Cake

Crepe Cake

I started making crepes when my now very large children were still tiny. I immediately fell in love with the process. Scoop the batter out, quick pour onto the pan – not too much, not too little, then the all important swirl around the pan. Getting that swirl down is key. It is also the best part, for me, of the process. That is where the calm is, the zen moment, the beauty. I love seeing the batter spread and roll around the pan, knowing that it only happens correctly if I am on my game. It is easy to end up with a wonky crepe if you don’t have the amount calculated correctly and the swirl executed efficiently. Once you have it, though, the muscle memory kicks in and then it is smooth sailing and you become a crepe making machine, dump, swirl, flip, over and over, and you have a blessed hour to yourself at the stove.

That last sentence, I suppose, is the key to the beginning of my obsession with crepe making. When I started, I had 3 kids – 3 under 3, in fact. This was also around the same time I had my one and only star struck celebrity sighting experience. I was at the Cambridge Whole Foods when I spotted Madame herself – Julia Child. Now, I had run across well known people here and there before, each of those times eliciting a response of, “oh, hey, cool”. This, however, made me gaga. She was so cool, such an icon, so Tall. I wanted to follow her around and fill my cart with whatever she was buying. I controlled myself, however, and refrained from creepy stalking. Instead, I allowed that encounter to inspire me to finally try out making the delectable delicate pancake, and used her recipe as my instruction.

That first go round was definitely a learning session, but I was hooked pretty quickly and continued to make them whenever I had the chance. Back then, and in the next few years, it was easy to make a sufficient pile for the crew. Fast forward to now, I have to double and triple batch it while teenagers hover and hoover them up. One way I have found to make a smaller number of crepes go further is to make them into a crepe cake. Sounds like a thing, but really all it is is a pile of crepes with something yummy in between the layers. Typical is pastry creme but for our most recent one I did cocoa spread and sliced bananas. Oooooh, yummy! And, once you get the crepe thing down, tossing them into “cake” form is fairly simple. Below is the recipe for Julia Child’s crepes, from her book The Way To Cook. Make these. Pile them up with cocoa spread or jam or, if you are like my kids, just gobble each one up straight from the pan. Just do it. Then do it again. You are going to want to get good at it so you can keep up with the demand these will elicit.

Julia Child’s All Purpose Crepe

1 cup flour

2/3 cup milk

2/3 cup water

3 large eggs, whisked

3 tbsps melted butter

pinch of salt

Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the milk and water until it is blended smooth. Add the eggs and butter. Heat a crepe pan or skillet over medium high heat. Lightly butter the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, pour 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the batter onto the center of the pan and immediately swirl it so it covers the pan. Let this cook for a minute or two, flip and cook for 30-40 seconds on the other side. Continue this until the batter is gone. One batch will make about 15-20 5ish inch crepes or 8-10 larger.

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