My Favorite Time of the Year

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Best Damn Mac and Cheese EVER!

Now I like the other mac and cheese recipes I have posted on my blog. BUT, to be completely honest nothing comes close to this recipe. I happened upon a Martha Stewart video of her making this mac and cheese. She said it was her mothers recipe. So it looked simple enough and was different as it uses white cheddar. I was intrigued and decided to make it. It has been the only mac and cheese I have been making ever since. Even my kid that is not a mac and cheese lover loved it.This is beyond delicious in my families humble opinion. I can't really tell you why it is so much better other than recipes but it must be that the white cheddar is key to it. It just would not be the same with yellow cheddar. She said why white cheddar is better but honestly I have slept since then and don't remember what she said.
It is in my opinion pretty easy to put together. I will list her recipe and then any changes I made. I really didn't make many. The changes were small and not really important to the end result flavor wise.

This makes a 9x13 pan of mac and cheese.

6 slices of bread, crust removed, and torn into 1/4" pieces. (I USED PANKO BREAD CRUMBS THE SECOND TIME AND LIKED IT MUCH BETTER. I just measured the amount I thought looked good for the top and tossed with the melted butter. )

8 Tbl. butter, plus more to grease the pan (I used cooking spray for the pan)
5 1/2 Cups whole milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. kosher salt + salt for pasta water
1/4 tsp. pepper (I used at least 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (I used the nutmeg nut itself and just used a micro plane grater till I liked how much it looked like in the sauce. If you use the nut you could grate it in a bowl and measure out the right amount.)
1/4 tsp. cayenne (don't skip this as I think it is an important element. It was not spicy at all. You certainly could add more if you want a little kick.)
18 oz. (about 4 1/2 cups) sharp white cheddar cheese, grated and seperated into 3 cups and 1 1/2 cups. The  1 1/2 cups is for the topping)
8 oz. (about 2 cups) shredded gruyere cheese, seperated. Put 1 1/2 cups with the 3 cups of cheddar and lightly toss. Then add the rest to the 1 1/2 cups of cheddar that is for the topping and lightly toss and set aside.) DONT MIX THEM UP! Remember which is for the topping and which is for the sauce.
1 lb. elbo macaroni (you can use any small pasta that is about the size of elbo macaroni)

heat oven 375 degrees and butter your dish.

Place bread in bowl and mix 2 Tbl. melted butter (from the 8 Tbl. the recipe calls for) toss. I used panko crumbs here and we just liked it better. Same process. Set aside.

NOTE: I start the water (salt the water)  now for the pasta and try to time the pasta and sauce to be done about the same time. Nothing will be ruined if one is done before the other.

Heat milk slightly (I have a large measuring cup and I just microwaved the milk till was no longer cold)
Melt remaining 6 Tbl. butter in a large sauce pan that will hold you milk and cheese.  When it bubbles add the flour and whisk and mix for about 1 minute.
slowly pour in the milk a little at a time and stir till it thickens. I did it in three additions. Stir milk/flour mix till it thickens (you arent looking for a super thick sauce now, but just thickens up. I usually let it come to a boil and stir  then turn off the heat. At that point it is thick enough.)
Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne and the 3 cups cheddar and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere. Stir till it is melted and test for seasoning. It should not be bland. Add salt if needed. It should have a nice rich flavor. Remember you are putting this on pasta so you don't want it under salted.

Pasta: cook pasta about 3/4 of the time it calls for. There is a lot of sauce and you want the pasta to soak it up as it bakes. Drain and rinse the pasta in cold water and then drain well. Add to the sauce.

It will look like a lot of sauce and you might be tempted to not add all of it. I did this the first time and regretted it. Trust me it will bake up just fine.

Pour into prepared baking pan and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Then sprinkle bread crumbs over the cheese.
Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 30 min. till bubbly and lightly browned on top.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Breakfast Burritos for the Freeze and Heat Crowd

So I am trying to find ways to make life easier for me in the kitchen. Cooking and freezing foods that can be grabbed out of the freezer and heated up by a crowd of Sasquatches that don't think they can do anything by themselves in the kitchen.
So far I am doing ok. I have frozen individual servings of BBQ brisket. Heat up and eat on a bun. Chili, and Sloppy Joes. Each pouch has just enough for one sandwich. It is working pretty good. So now breakfast. Everyone loves breakfast burritos and so I thought that would be a great grab and heat and out the door breakfast. One problem I ran into is I made the mistake of starting them while everyone was still home. So after I got through making them for everyone to eat right away, I was left with enough to do a few to freeze. NOTE to self, do this when no one is home next time.

I would really call this a no recipe recipe. It isn't brain surgery but worked well and I thought I would put it on my blog.

Here is what I did.

1 lb. applewood smoked bacon, cut into little pieces and fried till crisp and drained on paper towels. Set aside.

Half a bag of frozen shredded hash browns. I just cooked them in a skillet enough to thaw and brown a bit but don't want them mushy. Set aside.

16 eggs

1/2-1 cup salsa

shredded cheddar cheese

Flour tortillas (we used the fajita size, they were a little small. I may try bigger tortillas next time.)

So I fried up the bacon and drained it and cleaned out the pan. I cooked the hash browns in a separate skillet and set off the burner till I needed them.  I added a little butter and mixed the eggs with a tiny bit of water and put in hot skillet and started to scramble them. When the eggs were almost done I added the bacon in and stirred mixing together. Then I turned off the heat and added the hash browns and mixed together. I then added the salsa and mixed. I chose not to layer the burritos as I figured it would be easier to eat them on the go if everything is mixed up (but not over blended where it is mush)
This is the eggs/bacon/hash browns/salsa mixture. Ready to go into the burritos. So everything is pretty cool at this point. I did warm the tortillas up to make them more pliable for rolling.

I scooped a bit onto the tortillas and topped with cheese and rolled.
I then placed them on wax paper placed on a cutting board that will fit my freezer shelf.
Don't let them touch as they will freeze together and you will break or tear the tortillas getting them apart.
I then placed them in the freezer (where they are now freezing) and will put them out in a couple hours and wrap them individually and place in bags marked with date and ingredients. I have a son who doesn't like cheese (I'm convinced he was switched at birth) so I always mark the bags. He is convinced he would die an agonizing death if he bit into anything with cheese in it.
Just take one out and wrap in a paper towel and microwave for a few minutes (the time will vary depending on YOUR microwave) and out the door you go. You can serve with extra salsa and fixings if you are inclined to. I just tried to add everything so that they can eat them on the run.

So that is my no-recipe recipe for breakfast burritos for the freeze and heat crowd.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Baked Apple Cider Donuts (or Doughnuts)

Who doesn't love donuts? We think it would be so hard to make them that we never consider that it could really be easy and wonderful. I have made regular fried donuts that take hours of leavening etc... and they are wonderful but not quick and easy. These baked donuts are super quick and easy and have all the taste that makes us think of fall. I only think about making them during the fall months although they would be good anytime.
You will need donut baking pans. You can find them at most any large store. I purchased mine at an actual kitchen store but you can get them online as well. Here is what they look like.  They are made by Wilton. You might even find them at a Micheals or Hobby Lobby.

The recipe requires two pans and makes 12 donuts.

Turn oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and spray tins with a little cooking spray. 

Heres what you will need:
2 Cups all purpose flour
1 Tbl. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (now this is tricky. The original recipe called for a lot of pumpkin pie spice in this. I think it overpowered the donut. Particularly if you are using my apple butter recipe. So I add cinnamon and just a little pumpkin pie spice. You will have to determine how much you use. now if you are using plain apple sauce you will want to punch up the spice. I would add more pumpkin pie spice if using plain apple sauce. Play with it till it meets your personal tastes. That is the great thing about cooking. We make it our own.)
1/4-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Mix together in bowl and set aside.

In large bowl add:

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple butter (recipe on this sitehttp://triedandtruerecipes-foodiekatz.blogspot.com/2015/10/spiced-apple-butter.html . You can also use store bought apple butter or even apple sauce. The spice flavor will be different but still makes a great donut.)
2 Tbl. melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4-1 cup apple cider (you want your batter to be the consistency of waffle batter or a thick pancake batter. It should pour but not run)

Mix everything together and then add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix. You will want to move quickly as the baking powder starts working right away.

You can do one of two things. Put the batter into a large zip lock bag and snip the corner and pipe the batter into the donut pans about 3/4 full. There is just about a perfect amount of batter for the twelve donuts. Or you can try and spoon it in. This is more messy and takes more time. Tap pans down and place in oven for 10 minutes. Check for doneness (either by pressing lightly or using a toothpick.) If done take out and let cook a couple minutes and then remove from the pan and set on a cooling rack and let cool completely.

After they have cooled completely you will then make a glaze (some like them with a little cinnamon sugar on them. I prefer a glaze.)

2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tbl. apple cider

In a bowl that would be good for dunking the donuts in add the powdered sugar. Then start out with
3 Tbl. of apple cider. Mix well. If too thick add a little bit more till it is the consistency you like. I like mine a little thicker so I usually only add 3 Tbl. plus a drop more maybe of the apple cider. Mix well and dunk the donuts half way in the glaze and set back on the wire rack to let the glaze set. You might place some wax paper under the rack to catch any falling glaze. Once glaze has set, store in covered container.

Spiced Apple Butter

Let me say this was super easy and super delicious. The recipe is inspired by one I read on Laura Vitale's web site. The apple butter is made in a slow cooker. Makes it a no fuss, no muss recipe. I made the apple butter because it is part of the recipe for Apple Cider baked donuts. It would however be good on toast, biscuits, ice cream, pie, dirt mounds, cabbage.....you get my point.
As apple butter recipes go this one is spiced. I think it is perfect, but everyone's taste buds are different. I made one mistake when making it. The recipe calls to put it on low and cook for 8-10 hours. I put it on high and it was done in a couple hours. If you choose to do what I did then watch it close so that it doesn't scorch. With these spices it could burn to yuck easily.

Here is what your suppose to do and then what I did:

6 lbs. granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks and tossed into slow cooker sleeve. (You can use  a mix of granny smith and other tart/sweet apples. I would not use the red sweet apples alone. I don't care for those apples and also they would make it too sweet in my opinion.)

3/4- 1 1/2 cups sugar. (I used all granny smith so I ended up using about 1 1/4 cups of sugar. I tasted it while it was still cooking and adjusted it then.)

3/4 Cup brown sugar

1  Tbl. pumpkin pie spice (now this is a highly spiced concoction. If you are not a fan of clove then you might make your own and make adjustments or use apple pie spice. Whatever works for you. I am fine with the pre-made pumpkin pie spice in this recipe. It doesn't run over the apple in any way in my opinion.)

1/2 tsp. salt

 zest of 1/2 orange (optional)

2 tsp. real vanilla extract

place the cut up apples in the sleeve of the slow cooker and add the sugars, salt, pumpkin pie spice and orange zest (DO NOT add the vanilla yet.) Mix and place in slow cooker. Cover and turn on low and cook for 8-10 hours. This just depends on how long it takes your apples to cook down. You will want to do this right before bed as in the morning you will need to cook the apples with the lid off on high for additional 1-3 hours to thicken it. OR you can do what I did. Ok, so once the apples are cooked down take a immersion blender and blend till smooth. Add the vanilla and stir it together. Taste for sweet/tart flavor and adjust with more sugar if you need it. Turn on to high and place lid just opposit of how it would normally sit (this is just to keep the apples from bubbling and spitting all over the place as it thickens up.) and let the apple butter cook down to thicken. You can decide how thick you want it. Stir frequently to keep the spices from burning.

here is what I did:
after placing everything in the sleeve and placing in the crock pot cooker. Turn on to high and cook for about 2-3 hours. After a couple hours take lid off and stir and check and see if the apples are done. Mine were done and completely mush. I then blended them and added the vanilla. Tasted it and adjusted the sugar. Took the lid and laid it on there sideways and cooked it down stirring it often for another hour or so. Thats it.

place in a container and let it cool. Place in fridge and it will be good for a few weeks or you can even freeze it for later uses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Chicken Breakfast Sausage (Organic)

So I'm in the mode of trying to make things easier for myself. I am trying my hand at cooking and freezing individual servings of meals for everyone. Since everyone in my family works different hours and you never know when anyone will be home or hungry. I thought I would try and get some meals frozen and easy to grab. In the next year our life is going to get even busier and more hectic so this is a good time to get in the habit of once or twice a month doing a major cook and freeze.
My first attempt was bean burgers and buns. So we will see how those work. Next is for breakfast. Im going to make egg,cheese, sausage biscuits and again freeze them. I have already posted a good breakfast sausage recipe on here. I wanted to try and use just organic chicken breast (as organic pork is VERY expensive.) So this morning I whipped these sausage patties up and they are the BOMB DIGGITY if I do say so myself. So if you are looking for a good, healthy and lean breakfast sausage that tastes like breakfast sausage give these a try.
NOTE: I have one of those FoodSavor machines (I call it the sucky thing) and I am freezing the servings first on trays and then transferring them to the bags and sucky thinging them. You get what I am saying. Then into my deep freeze they go for the "Mom, is there anything to eat" times or "Mom, I'm hungry" times. I'm ready. Bring on the starving adult men in my life.
Here is what I did:

2 lbs boneless skinless organic chicken breasts (it was 2 chicken breasts), cleaned, cut into chunks and processed in food processor till is is smooth. Not pasty but well ground up. No chunks left.
Place in a bowl. In a small bowl mix the following dried seasonings (most but not all my seasonings are also organic.)The seasoning are really to taste. So play with them if this isn't quite to your liking.
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried. ground sage
1 tsp. dried savory
1/8 tsp. nutmeg (heaping )
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. brown sugar (you could add more. I just don't like a sweet sausage)
1]2 tsp. red pepper flakes

 Pour over the ground chicken and blend, blend, blend (I used my hands. They were clean!) Now after you are sure its all blended together well. Take a pinch of the meat mixture out and fry it in a skillet and give it a taste for seasoning. Make sure it is to your liking. If not then now is the time to adjust the seasonings. It was fine as is for me.  I took two pieces of wax paper and sprayed them lightly with cooking spray (so the chicken wouldn't stick to the wax paper.) I  placed the chicken sausage mix between the wax paper and flattened it out till it looked as thick as I wanted. I then used the same size biscuit cutter as I am using to make the biscuits that these will go on and cut out rounds of sausage. I got 18. Mine weren't super thick patties. I then added just a couple drops of  grapeseed oil to my hot pan and fried the chicken sausage for about 3 minutes per side and placed on paper towels to drain. I did continue to add the oil as needed.Too much oil and you won't get that sausage look on the surface of the patties (if that is important.) I'm very pleased with how these turned out and will be making them again. They taste great. They hit that breakfast sausage spot in taste and they are guilt free as they are lean and organic. Can't beat that.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hummus (2)

This is a new and improved hummus recipe. It is improved as I have learned a way to improve the texture of the hummus so that it is not so grainy. Its different in that it has different ingredients and a cleaner taste. Both recipes on my site are good but this one is my latest and maybe favorite of the two. After much research I came up with this version.

Here is what I did.

2 Cans Garbonzo beans, rinsed and place in a salad spinner.
3 cloves of garlic, minced (you can add more to your taste. I just don't want it to be overpowering.)
juice of  1-2 lemons, about 1/4 cup (add this to your personal taste. More or less whatever suits you.)
1 tsp. salt
1 (7oz) container of plain Greek yogurt.
3/4 cup Tahini (I have learned to make my own. It is very simple and I will post a recipe soon)
6 Tbl. olive oil
6 mint leaves
4-6 Tbl. water
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika (you can either add it to the recipe or just sprinkle it on top when serving. Since we don't ever just serve a big platter of hummus I chose to add it to the mix.)

Ok, part of what makes a smooth hummus is removing the skins off of the Garbonzo beans. I had no patience for this in the past. Then I watched a video on youtube (love youtube) and a woman had a great idea. She took the cans of beans and poured them into the strainer portion of a salad spinner ( you know the spinner that spins the water out of salad greens.) She rinsed them and then drained them. She then took her hands and gently rubbed the beans together in her hands and the skins sort of just came off. She didn't do it hard enough to mash the beans but enough that most of the skins came off. She then put the strainer into the bowl portion of the spinner and filled it with water. The skins kinda of float to the top. As she tilted the bowl and drained the water she used her hand to just push the skins out of the bowl. I did this twice to get rid of all the floating skins. Then drain the beans and place in a food processor.

Then add the chopped garlic, lemon juice, salt, yogurt, tahini, evoo, mint and blend well. Stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Next to get the consistency you want you will add water. I ended up adding between 4-6 Tbl. Blend well till it is smooth and no more chunks. Then taste for seasoning. Add the paprika if you want and blend again. Or wait and serve it with paprika sprinkled on top and a little olive oil drizzled on it before serving.
Like I said we just grab it right out of the bowl and so I added it.
Everything here is a personal taste thing. You can add more of something or less depending on what you like. I did try adding cumin to this once as cumin is in a lot of hummus recipes and I have always liked it but I like this better without the cumin. My other recipe has cumin in it. This is just a good clean tasting hummus and we enjoy it a lot. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Plain/Vanilla/Unsweetened Almond Milk and Chocolate Almond Milk

I'm listing my recipes that I use for both plain almond milk and chocolate almond milk. The plain almond milk is just the recipe I use that is basically the recipe everyone uses. It varies some depending on if you want it thicker or sweet etc....
The chocolate almond milk is soooo good and comes from "Raw Food Real World" recipe book. It is the only chocolate almond milk I have ever made and it is delicious. We always use raw/organic almonds.

Here is what I do: You will need a nut milk bag to squeeze the milk out of after you have blended the almonds. I just don't know of another way that will render you a nice nut milk with no grainy bits. You can buy nut milk bags at any health food store or order them on line. You can use multi layers of cheese cloth in a pinch but the bag is much easier.
You need to soak your almonds in filtered water 12 hours. If push come to shove I will do it in less but 12 hours but 12 hours or over night is optimal. This allows the raw almond to sprout.
Nuts have phytic acid.  Phytic acid is also found in grains and legumes.  Just as with grains and legumes, soaking nuts is essential for proper digestions.  When eating nuts that haven’t been soaked, the phytic acid binds to minerals in the gastrointestinal tract and can not be absorbed in the intestine and to many bound minerals can lead to mineral deficiencies.  By soaking, you are breaking down the phytic acid so it can be absorbed properly.  
Nuts also have high amounts of enzymes inhibitors.  This is another reason why un soaked nuts are hard to digest.  Soaking nuts neutralizes the enzymes allowing for proper digestion. (taken from whole lifestyle nutrition web site.)Take one cup of raw organic almonds and cover them in filtered water at least by one inch. The almonds will soak up the water and plump up. When you are ready to make your milk drain the almonds and rinse them well. Next.......

Plain/Vanilla/Unsweetened Almond Milk: I do not like thick almond milk. Most store bought brands are a little on the thick side for me. Its more like drinking cream than milk. BUT! if you like yours thicker than cut back on the water. (If you want 1/2 gallon then double the recipe. That is usually what I make or I would forever be making almond milk.)
Into the blender place the one cup of soaked almonds with 4 cups of filtered water and blend on high speed till the almonds are completely blended up. About a minute or so. I have a Vita mix. I have never tried this with any other blender so I can't tell you how it would work. I imagine if you have a strong blender it will work just fine.
I then add a pinch (tiny pinch) of salt and literally a drop of vanilla. You can use as much or little of the salt and vanilla as you want. You may also add agave or honey or pitted dates for sweetness if you like a sweet almond milk. I personally don't like it sweet and really don't like but a pinch of vanilla.  Add  1 tsp. to 1 Tbl. of lecithin OPTIONAL. More on Lecithin below. Blend again. Pour into a nut milk bag that is over a bowl and wrapping the top of the bag start to squeeze the liquid out of the bag. Do this till there is nothing but dry almond pulp left in the bag. There will be a little foam on the top. I spoon some of this off but don't usually spoon it all off. Pour into a storage container and place in the fridge. This should last you 3-5 days if kept refrigerated.

Chocolate Almond Milk (Raw Food Real World): double for 1/2 gallon, I always do.
Drain and rinse 1 cup of soaked raw almonds. Place in blender with 4 cups filtered water. Blend till smooth. Pour into nut milk bag and squeeze till all milk is out and nothing but dry pulp is left in bag. Rinse out blender and add the newly squeezed milk back into blender. Add

1 1/2 Tbl. raw cocoa powder (this varies depending on how chocolatey you like it to taste. I like it a little less on the chocolate. The original recipe called for 2 Tbl.)
pink of salt
1/2 cup agave nectar or raw unfiltered honey
1 1/2- 2 Tbl. vanilla (I would say start with 1 Tbl. and add till it tastes right for you. )
1 1/2 - 2 Tbl. coconut oil
1 tsp. too 1 Tbl. lecithin (this comes made from soy or from sunflowers.)
Blend till smooth. I scoop the foam as much as I can and then pour into container and store in fridge for 3-5 days.
The original recipe calls for lecithin. It is used as a fat emulsifier. Making things creamy. It is mostly made of soy beans. We ingest a very limited amount of soy and only organic. Usually oganic tofu for some recipe. Other than that no soy.  If I use it I use only lecithin made from sunflowers.  Research it and if you want to add it you can. Add 1 tsp. to  1 Tbl. to the blender with the rest of the ingredients.
Anyway, thats it. Go and enjoy good home made organic almond milk. For us it is much cheaper to make it. We pay around $10 a pound for organic raw almonds. So compared to the carton it is the better way for us to go, particularly since we haven't found an organic brand of almond milk.

Lets talk Lecithin:
One of the issues with home made nut milks is they separate. The fat from the nut and the water separate into what looks unpleasant (like dairy milk gone bad) There is nothing wrong with the nut milk it just needs a good shake or stir and back to beautiful. BUT, if you want keep it more combined and the fat suspended in the water more like a homogenized nut milk would look then Lecithin is the answer. Lecithin comes in soy or sunflower form. You can buy both GMO free but it is a little harder to find organic. I would say do the research. Lecithin has a lot of wonderful health benefits and I would urge you to also research that as well.
Now there is real debate over the safety of Lecithin during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Two thoughts on this is again is be your own advocate and do the research and also speak with your doctor about it. I know that it being soy or sunflower can make a difference. So I leave you with that choice. 
I would not based on my research be concerned if pregnancy or breastfeeding isn't an issue. I think lecithin is a VERY good and helpful supplement. BUT! You do the leg work and decide for yourself.
Your nut milk will not suffer without it other than the inconvenience of halving to stir it to make it look pretty again.