I prefer stove-top mac and cheese recipes to mac & cheeses you bake in the oven…
Why?? After the pasta is cooked and the cheese sauce is made, why do we need to cook it all over again??? I like a cheesey topping just like the next person, but I also like to have my macaroni with lots of sauce and unfortunately, baking dries much of the sauce out.
So this is a recipe that came about with no recipe in mind at all… My aunt likes when I make pasta in cheese sauces. I was in the supermarket and I started buying ingredients without knowing how I would make them in the end. The result was a great pasta dish that delighted not just the people who ate it with me initially, but my friends on the internet as well. So to all of you who were drooling over the pic on FB, here’s the recipe!!!!
This is a large recipe for me… I rarely ask you to make the whole box of pasta at once. This will feed about 8 people or 4 people with leftovers. You can certainly halve this recipe… I do it aaaaaaalllllllll the time.
SPINACH, TOMATO AND CHEESE MACARONI
1 box of whole wheat macaroni
½ bag of frozen chopped spinach
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs olive oil
2 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups half and half
4 oz cream cheese
2 cups Italian blend shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Parmesan Cheese, grated to garnish
- In a large pot, much larger than you think you’ll need, bring about a gallon of water to a boil. When the water reaches it’s boiling point, salt the water and add the pasta. Stir a few times so the pasta won’t stick together. Cook the pasta according to pasta directions until al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, we make the sauce… they’ll be done at about the same time.
- In a medium sauce pan over medium heat add some olive oil, the onions and garlic. If you have sofrito, you could add a tbs if you want as an added bonus. Sautee them for a few minutes so the onion softens. Avoid the garlic getting burned.
- Add the spinach still frozen… the heat from the pan will thaw it. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the sauce pan for a few minutes. This will help the spinach thaw quicker.
- When the spinach is thawed and looks more cooked, add the diced tomatoes and cream cheese. Stir well to combine. Afterwards, add the half and half and allow it to softly boil so the sauce will thicken in consistency. Season again lightly with salt and pepper. Stir a few times as the sauce is thickening to avoid any scorching on the bottom of the pan.
- When the sauce has gotten a tad thicker, but is still runny, turn off the stove and add the shredded cheese in small batches. Stir consistently and allow the cheese to melt into the sauce.
- When the pasta is done, drain it well… but even if a little water is kept it’s no big deal. Return the pasta to the larger pot and add the sauce to it. Stir well to combine. Try to stir carefully to avoid breaking up the pasta…
Serve with grated parmesan on top with your favorite salad ( we had to have avocados in Miami) and baked sweet plantains.
Tell me what you think… Are you brave enough to “invent” a pasta dish on the fly like that??? I want to hear from all my friends on FB that were ohhhh-ing and ahhh-ing when they saw the picture initially. Have you made it?? Tell me what you think. Gracias!!!
I was given a challenge… A Sandwich a Day wanted us to showcase our favorite sandwiches.
I’ve told you before how I could live on sandwiches alone possibly and how one of my most addictive sandwiches is my Avocado Tomato Sandwich. Sometimes I fail to come up with new ideas for sandwiches because I am so enthralled with this one still. I even dream about eating it sometimes.
But recently I have come to learn to love another sandwich… maybe not as fresh-tasting as the one above, but certainly very seasonal. Mixing apples, onions, thyme, almonds and blue cheese in between 2 pieces of bread might not seem very appealing, but oh, oh boy, how delicious it is. This has nothing to do with my Latin roots, but everything that I have learned to appreciate from my travels in the Northeastern part of the US.
Inspired by these crostini from Giada Di Laurentiis, this panino hits the spot on a cold winter night. I might even argue it works great for a nice cozy date in front of the fire. I think your date would be greatly impressed.
APPLE ONION RELISH PANINI WITH GORGONZOLA
2 slices of 100% whole grain bread
Gorgonzola Cheese crumbles
Toasted Sliced Almonds
¼ cup of Apple Onion Relish
Butter – for the outside of the bread/sandwich
- Pre-heat your Panini maker, or in my case, my George Foreman Grill.
- Spread cream cheese on the inside of both bread slices. This will be part of the glue that makes the sandwich stay together.
- On one slice, add the apple onion relish. Try to keep it as dry as possible so the moisture won’t seep out of the sandwich. Layer the toasted almonds and finish with the blue cheese crumbles.
- Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, cream cheese on top of the almonds/blue cheese.
- Butter the outside of the slices with some softened butter.
- Place on the Panini maker and press lightly without forcing it too much. The sandwich will flatten as it toasts in the Panini maker.
- After a few minutes, the cheeses will be melted and the bread toasted on the outside. Carefully, remove the sandwich from the panini grill and allow it to cool slightly. This will allow you to cut into the sandwich without the breads sliding all over the place.
Enjoy with you favorite sparkling cider or tea.
I have a bunch of virtual friends and we decided at the end of last year to start sharing amongst each other the things we love to eat from the places we live. These virtual friends are spread all over the US and the world – Colorado, Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Oklahoma, of course me in Puerto Rico and even one in Italy and another one in can’t remember if she’s in Iceland, Vietnam or Australia. That girl has me confused…
On our first round of our Foodie Exchange I got paired up the KATY, the only other vegetarian in our group. Can you believe our luck??? Well, they say there are no coincidences in life. It was up to the Universe that we would get to share what we love about our region. Katy lives in Maryland, close to DC and Baltimore… but she’s a lover of everything in her region including Pennsylvania where most mushrooms in the US are grown.
This is what I received from Katy…
But for the purposes of this post, we’ll concentrate on the baggie of dried morel mushrooms right there. Katy told me these are her favorites and that she preferred to send them fresh but was unable to locate them. So in its place she sent me these with instructions on her favorite way to eat them – sautéed with onions and thyme over toast. This is Katy’s favorite snack and she urged me to try it.
Katy is part of our Foodie Group for a reason… these toasts are amazing!!! I loved the earthiness of the morel mushrooms and how easy they are to put together. A great vegetarian snack or light lunch suitable for any foodie out there.
MOREL MUSHROOM TOASTS
½ bag of dried morel mushrooms
½ medium onion, sliced thinly
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small garlic clove, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste
A whole wheat ciabatta roll, sliced in half
- Bring a small saucepot with water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, add the dried morel mushrooms to the water, cover and turn off the stove. Allow the mushrooms to reconstitute in that hot water for about 30 minutes.
- After the mushrooms are softened again, strain the mushrooms over a fine sieve reserving the liquid for another recipe.
- Take the drained mushrooms and pat the dry a bit. I cut the larger ones in half, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, the onions and the smashed garlic clove. Sautee them lightly for a few minutes. Add the softened morels and the thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cook everything together until the mushrooms have dried out a bit and looked cooked and “kinda alive”. Discard the pieces of garlic and set aside.
5. While the mushroom cook, drizzle some olive oil over the bread halves and toast in toaster oven. Slather some cream cheese or other spreadable cheese of your choice and place the morels and onions over the toasts with cheese.
This is a great snack or even a light lunch served with a simple salad on the side. Thanks Katy for introducing me to morel mushrooms… I had eaten them in restaurants, but never made them at home. And now, this has also become one of MY favorites, thanks to you.
I planned the whole menu for my sister’s baby shower… and appetizers is my thing. So I had a few ideas already in my mind. I would work with puff pastry to make something savory and something sweet. I would make a version of Rosemary Almonds but using cashews, which are easier on more adult teeth. Gotta think of the grandmas…
I brought with me an exquisite Pigeon Peas Antipasto too, but I was missing something else. Like a dip. But I was running out of ideas. I can’t make Veggie Dip one more time!!!
Then… I remembered a recipe I had seen from Giada DiLaurentiis – a savory cheesecake recipe designed to use a small cheesecake pan, just like the only one I have!! I had to adapt the recipe to make it egg-free and integrated some ideas I have learned while making Pumpkin Cheesecake over Thanksgiving.
Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did… this recipe is a keeper. Great for making in advance… great to bring to a party too!!!
SAVORY BASIL CHEESECAKE
Butter, for greasing the pan
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tbs sour cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tsp egg replacer + 4 tbs water
Pinch of salt and freshly cracker pepper
1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
- Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl mix together the egg replacer and the water. Whisk well to combine and set aside. The mixture will foam and grow a bit.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 4 1/2-inch diameter spring-form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with a piece of heavy-duty foil. If you don’t have heavy-duty foil, just double on the foil.
- Place the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese and sour cream in a food processor. Pulse until mixed.
- Add the brown sugar, the egg replacer mixture, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Add the basil and pulse until incorporated.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared spring-form pan. Place the pan in a glass baking dish that’s slightly larger. Pour enough hot water in the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the spring-form pan. Make sure the foil top edge is above the water line.
- Bake until the cheesecake is golden at the edges and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the cheesecake will become firm when chilled), about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove the spring-form pan from the baking dish and remove the foil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3-4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the spring-form pan. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes.
- Drizzle the top of the cheesecake with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with assorted crackers.
This is a great recipe to make the day before you need it. Just chill in the fridge and get out before your guests arrive. The cheesecake will hold very well at room temperature.
I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week. As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.
Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…
The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.
I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.
CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS
About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
15oz ricotta cheese
8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling
Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce
28oz of diced tomatoes
About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
4 oz of crème fraiche
4 oz of sour cream
½ cup of milk
6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
- For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
- For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
- For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
- After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.
You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.
This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!
Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…