Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Get the recipe here.

Mac and Cheese is Heaven

As I move past the age of forty at a stately pace, there are many memories that stand out for me.  As you might guess from this blog, many of those memories are centered around food and the people I have enjoyed good food with.  There are plenty of great dining experiences I can recount; also plenty of great dining companions.  This article focuses around something slightly more humble.  What dish pray tell am I speaking of?  Why, Mac and Cheese of course.

Many people will scoff at the simple and wonderful glory of this dish.  I am not one of them.  I grew up enjoying the dish in many permutations – from various boxed varieties to homemade and restaurant versions.  When I was in my single digits, my esteemed Mother and I created a recipe for the dish which she still makes for me on occasion.  While I myself only barely remember the genesis of that recipe, I smile every time I see the joy on my Mom’s face when she recounts the story.

In large part, this recipe comes from my Mom.  While the technique, ingredients, and flavors are very different from my Mother’s dish the way they make me feel and the enjoyment I get from the dish are all Mom.  That said, there are a lot of influences I can point to regarding this dish.  Chief among them would be the delicious (and now extinct) Mac and Cheese my wife and I used to get at the Thirsty Monk Pub in Asheville, NC. They used to make a decidedly wicked version with smoked gouda.  Add to this my absolute love of all things blackened…  And here you go.

It is most definitely not boxed mac and cheese.  It is not boring mac and cheese.  This is the Mac and Cheese I make for my mom.

(photos courtesy of my son Liam’s 4th birthday – your Grandson loves it, too, Mom)

Notes:

This dish has a lot of moving parts but it’s less difficult to prepare than it looks.  The roux is the most difficult part to prepare, and even that is pretty easy to master.  Spend an afternoon on a lazy day drinking a beer or three and making this dish.  You will thank me for it.  Right before the food coma hits.

I like using three or four good cheeses for this dish.  The Parrano cheese mentioned in the recipe is one thing I think really makes the dish.  That particular cheese just really plays well off the flavors of the overall dish.

Get some good blackening and cajun spices.  They really are worth the money.  At some point I will probably try making up my own blend, but for now I recommend the ones mentioned in the recipe post.

Black Bean Soup, Served

Black Bean Soup with Chorizo Recipe

Read the article here.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

2 lb Black beans

1 lb Chorizo Sausage (Mexican)

1 large Yellow Onion (diced)

4 cloves garlic (sliced or chopped, your preference)

1 Poblano Pepper – diced (optional)

2 tbsp Cumin

2 12 oz Beers (I recommend Negra Modello)

2 qts chicken stock

1 ham hock (smoked if available)

water (as needed)

salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

Serving:

Tortilla Chips

Sour Cream

Cilantro (finely chopped)

Red Onions (diced)

Baby Spinach (roughly chopped)

Method:

Soak black beans in water overnight.

Preheat oven to 300•.

In a large heat olive oil over medium heat.

Add chorizo (if using links, remove skin and break into chunks for cooking). Cook until chorizo releases its fat and begins to brown.

Chorizo

Chorizo added to the pot

Add onions, garlic, and Poblano pepper (if using).  You want to soften the vegetables and release some of the water.  Add salt for flavor.

Chorizo and veggies

Chorizo cooked, veggies added

Add cumin and cook for about a minute. Things should get fragrant. Enjoy.

Pour in your beer and stir to deglaze. Add chicken stock, ham hock (if using) and black beans. Taste. Adjust salt, pepper, and cumin to your liking. Bring to a simmer.

Black bean and Chorizo Soup

Soup ready to go in the oven

Cover and place in oven. Cook for 3 hours. Check occasionally and add stock as needed.  Check beans for flavor and doneness. They should be soft to the bite and not mealy. Remove from oven and remove ham hock.  Shred ham and return to soup and mix thoroughly.

Service:

Crumble tortilla chips into a bowl.  Add spinach on top (it will take up space, but only until you add the soup).  Ladle soup on top.  Add a dollop of sour cream and diced onions and cilantro as desired.

Black Bean Soup

Spinach and tortilla chips

Enjoy!

Black Bean Soup, Served

The finished product

Sausage and Meatball Casserole

Sausage and Meatball Casserole Recipe

Meatball and Sausage Casserole

Post baking

 

See the article about this recipe here.

The Recipe:

Casserole Ingredients:

2lbs Italian sausage*

24 Meatballs (homemade or frozen)**

1 Yellow Onion, diced

4 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced***

1/2 spicy pepper of your choice, minced (we like Tabasco peppers off of our bush) (optional)

2 Tablespoons

1 cup red wine

1 28oz can whole peeled ****

1 bottle (optional)

1/2 Stick Butter

1 can Black Olives

Fresh Basil to taste (I recommend 8 to ten leaves) thinly sliced

8-10 slices Provolone cheese

2 teaspoons Fish Sauce (optional)****

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

You can do this recipe start to finish in one pan.   I recommend using a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed oven safe pot.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat pot over medium heat.  Add olive oil.  Brown meatballs a few at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.  Drain on a plate or other flat surface lined with paper towels.  You just need to brown them at this stage, they’ll get coooked through later on in the process.

Brown the italian sausage in the pot.  Remove sausage from the pot and drain over paper towels.

Add the butter to the pan.  Add the onions and garlic to the pot.  You want to sweat the onions and garlic, but not put too much color on them.  Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir.  After about a minute, pour in the wine to deglaze and stir for all your life.  You want to get as much of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan as possible. Toss in the spicy pepper.

Add in the passata (if you’re using it) and the San Marzano tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes by hand directly into the pot.  Work out some frustrations.  Imagine coworkers (and that old Kids in the Hall script). Be sure and rinse the cn out with some water and add that to the pot as well.  You paid for it, get your money’s worth.

Add your meatballs and sausage back into the pot and bring to a simmer.   Taste and season as necessary. Drain olives and add to pot.

Turn the heat off.

Don’t forget to add the fish sauce (if using) and stir it in.  Sprinkle the basil over the top.  Place the sliced provolone over the top of the casserole, cover, and bake for 40 mins.

Remove lid and bake 10 more mins.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool for 10 mins.  Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary.  Serve.

Notes:

* – we use sweet Italian because of the boys, but use whatever you like

** – I’ve done this with mixed results using frozen store bought meatballs. Homemade meatballs are probably worth the effort, but Costco makes one we can accept. That being said, if you have the time…

*** – From what I have read, most canned tomatoes labeled as San Marzano aren’t actually San Marzano tomatoes. Find a brand you like, and go with those. I like Vento which I can get at my local grocery store, or the brand linked above, which I prefer and can get at Costco.

**** – I always forget to add this… Don’t be l like me!

Serving Suggestions:

This dish is super flexible as a base for dinner.  You can eat it straight out of a bowl if you like (I do this pretty often).  We have also served it over polenta or tossed with ziti or spaghetti.  One time I even used it as the sauce/meat for a homemade pizza.  The beauty of this dish is in it’s flexibility.

Meatball and Sausage Casserole

Sausage and Meatball Casserole

Sausage and Meatball Casserole

Cheese added, just before baking

Sometimes, you get lucky and find a recipe that hits all of your feel good buttons.  My wife and I love Italian food.  This generally works out in our favor since our oldest son absolutely loves sausage.  Unfortunately, while the boys are still young we have to skip the spicier dishes since the boys won’t touch anything with even a hint of heat to it.

This recipe strikes a happy medium with lots of flavor while being easy, flexible and can be split up into smaller portions and frozen.  It’s very much an adult meal, but both of our children will readily devour it anytime we put it in front of them (something any parent will appreciate).  And one day, we’ll get to add the tabasco pepper back into the mix…

You can easily upgrade the components (homemade meatballs would be a great addition). You start out with the basics, good meat and some easy to snag vegetables and go from there.  The whole thing is complete in just over an hour and you can spend half of that time reading a book.  As far as serving goes, we usually just eat it straight out of a bowl or make some pasta to go with it.  The recipe also freezes well, so feel free to eat some now and save some for later (we generally freeze half the batch for easy meals for the kiddos later on).

As always, remember to use your own judgement and add or omit things to the recipe as you see fit.  The fish sauce adds a great umami bomb and I highly recommend trying it out in your Italian dishes.

Get the recipe here.

Seasoned sweet potatoes

Rosemary Stout Roasted Sweet Potatoes

The idea for this sweet potato dish came from a stout tasting over dinner with my friends David Suits and Artie Fleischer.  While discussing food options, and pairings, the idea of sweet potatoes cooked in a nice hearty stout just seemed to work in my head.  With the winter chill we had in the air at the time, a hearty winter herb like rosemary quickly sprang to mind.  Since then, this recipe has been a mainstay in our home during both warm and cold weather.  Personally, I like to cook the potatoes till they are just past fork tender and basically melt in your mouth while still retaining their shape.

Yield – 4 servings

I recommend cooking this recipe in one of .

Ingredients:

4 sweet potatoes

unsalted butter 1 stick

1 bottle of Stout beer (I recommend Old Rasputin)

4 or more sprigs rosemary (or other seasonal herbs) to taste

salt and pepper as needed

Method:

Preheat oven to 450•. Wash and dry sweet potatoes.  With a fork, poke holes around all sides of potato.  Rub outside of sweet potato completely – you should have a good layer of butter on there.  Place in an oven safe pot or dutch oven and salt and pepper liberally.  Toss the rest of the butter into the pan.  Add rosemary sprigs and beer to dutch oven.  Place in oven and roast for 1hr  (flip them @ 30 mins) or until sweet potatoes are fork tender.  Any remaining roasting juices are delicious poured over the finished potatoes.

Notes:

Sweet potatoes when finished make a delicious side with a good pan seared pork chop.

You can also make these individually wrapped in foil.  However, I find cooking them in a dutch oven to be the superior method (and much less work).

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

White Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

White Chocolate Cheesecake Pumpkin bread pudding

This recipe is a riff on a few versions of bread pudding I have made over the years.  Personally, I find bread pudding to be a super flexible and enjoyable dish that lends itself to endless variation.  I came up with this one year before Christmas as an alternative to having another pumpkin pie during the holidays.  Since then, this has been a staple on our holiday menu (as well as a welcome change to endless pumpkin pies while still keeping the theme intact.)

Ingredients:

1 loaf bread (I recommend a country style loaf, or brioche) – left out overnight to become stale

1 package (8oz) Philly Cream Cheese

1 cup pecan pieces

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 15oz can Libby’s Pumpkin

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp coffee bourbon

1 tbsp

1 tsp

1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Pinch of salt

6 eggs plus 4 yolks

Butter (to grease a casserole dish)

Method:

Slice the bread up into half inch cubes and place in a large mixing bowl.  Slice the cream cheese into half inch squares and sprinkle over the bread. Do the same with the white chocolate chips and pecans.

Next, in a separate mixing bowl combine all remaining ingredients except the eggs. Mix well and adjust to taste. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolks. Pour the custard over the bread and fold together gently. Mixture should be wet. If the pudding mixture appears dry, add a bit of milk or half and half.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350•.

Use butter to grease a . Then spread pudding evenly in dish and bake for 45 mins or until center appears set. Cool for 15 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream and bourbon coffee.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (aka, the Pie)

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Every year around Christmas time I start getting calls, text messages, emails, veiled hints, and outright demands for this pie.  I ran across the recipe about 20 years ago, and aside from minor variations, its been a staple in my holiday planning every year.  This year, I made 13 of them for friends and family.  One year, my roommate requisitioned my pie (the only one I had kept for myself)  to take to Christmas at his family’s home.  We’re still friends, but I never let him live it down.  (I love his family dearly, so they usually get a pie now regardless.)

The Pie:

Ingredients:

9in Pie Crust (I recommend ChefStep’s excellent Pate Brisee recipe if you have the time)

4 large room temperature eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

6 tablespoons butter, melted (but NOT hot)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons bourbon (I recommend Four Roses Small Batch)

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1 tablespoon

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheated 350 degree oven

 Method:

Blend eggs in a stand mixer along with corn syrup.  Add ingredients one at a time (in order) until everything but the pecans and chocolate is left.  Batter should be golden and a bit frothy.  In the pie crust, add your chocolate chips and distribute evenly.  Add your pecans on top of the chocolate.  Ladle your batter over the pecans coating them evenly.  Bake for 1 hour.  Turn the pie after the first 30 mins to ensure even baking.  Cool on a wire rack completely.  Enjoy!

Notes

The pie will puff up while baking.  It will drop as it cools.

Share this pie at your own risk.  People will expect you to make them one around the holidays. Forever.

If you have an Aldi’s near you, you can make these pies on the cheap.  They have great prices on the sugars, pecans, and chocolate.  Great for making 10+ pies at a time.  Just saying.

Pecan pie slice

The finished product