Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Sometimes the best meals are made impromptu, completely unplanned, on a hungry whim before a technologically-inept appliance. You grab noodles- the remainder of a folded and torn cellophane bag packed and moved from one home to another for this exact purpose. The whole bag gets dumped into a pot brimming with salted boiling water, because noodles are thirsty and you are hungry and time is of the essence here. A second pan is devoted to saucing this carbohydrate platter, but of what ingredient and what influence? Cheese, of course. You grab cheese, because you definitely don’t have tomato sauce, and you beyond a doubt don’t have the ingredients to make tomato sauce. Cheese- a Mexican blend, it turns out; half an onion; seasonings, why not?; the flour, the milk. It whisks together and the pasta finishes boiling. Approximately eleven minutes have passed. Something healthy, something healthy… you ponder. Ah, a bed of spinach. It’s moderately wilted, insistently structuring its cells with a dehydrating buoyancy, but serves the purpose of “vegetables” all the same. You add the pasta to the sauce, aggressively coating and stirring to achieve that drenching effect. Pasta is haphazardly strewn across spinach leaves, which defeatedly wither on contact, and the plate is dropped against the dinner table. Sit down, fork in hand, breathe once. And suddenly- the best ever mac and cheese to ever grace your lips. Is it hunger? Who knows. But the whirlwind memory stays in flashes; ingredients are marked duly in your brain. You’ll need to make this again.

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Serves 1 super hungry person, probably 2-3 reasonable people

3/4 cup whole wheat penne (or macaroni if you’re a traditionalist or otherwise prepared)

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend from Trader Joe’s)

Spinach to serve

In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the noodles. Cook according to package directions, maybe just shy of their instruction (9.5 minutes instead of 10). Strain the noodles and set aside (ideally for minimal minutes).

Sauté the diced onion in the butter over medium low heat for 10 minutes, until softening and translucent. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir in the 3 tbsp. of flour until fully incorporated with the butter, forming a thick paste. Whisk in 3/4 cup of milk and bring to a boil over the same low temperature. Continue whisking until a thick sauce forms, almost the consistency of nacho cheese from a terrible baseball game. Add in the cheese and whisk to combine. The sauce will be quite thick, but consequently very adherent to the noodles.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Stir and stir and toss until the noodles are adequately and evenly coated. Serve atop a bed of spinach.

Die.

Well, that’s morbid. But, it’d be ok. Because you’ve had the best ever mac and cheese.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits is one of those meals- delicacies, rather- that I never enjoyed until moving to North Carolina. There were a lot of firsts upon entering the South as a formerly-Midwestern girl. I remember the first time I saw the Atlantic ocean, the weekend before moving, staying in a beach-front hotel in Wilmington. The expanse of sand and water was so much greater than what I’d previously known to be a “beach”- the shores of Lake Michigan and the dunes of Northwest Indiana. Not that there’s anything less valuable or beautiful lakeside, but there is something different about salt-water air. I remember that first summer absolutely gasping for air, drowning in the intense humidity, and realizing my hair was actually kind of curly once saturated upon stepping outside. I noticed how much more friendly everyone was, how much more welcoming. I still feel like the South is the most inclusive and comforting of places, a recognition that some may disagree with. But I made such wonderful friends, met such driven yet kind people, and truly relished my time living there. I left for the city life and my Midwest “home” for grad school, but while Chicago is a different kind of excitement and comfort, it doesn’t quite feel right anymore.

I don’t remember the first time I ate shrimp and grits, I think it may have been at a nice restaurant with my family, or maybe a divey yet upscale hole-in-the-wall joint in Chapel Hill; either way, it immediately made a jump to one of my top 10 meals. I used to believe I didn’t like seafood, shrimp occasionally included, but shrimp and grits is definitely an expansion upon its nominative parts. The grits are creamy, cheesy, and indulgent; the shrimp spicy and succulent, usually swimming in a bit of broth with aromatics. It’s comfort food at its finest, and it wasn’t long before I was making it at home.

This version is a bit more elaborate than my usual weeknight shrimp and grits fare. Not that it’s overly labor-intensive, more just that I actually bought all of the ingredients and components I wanted to make it my version of perfect. I more often just throw together some pantry staples, a varying mix of the components listed below. So it’s worth mentioning that this can be prepared more simply, but if you’d really like to blow yourself away, go for the whole shebang.

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Shrimp and Grits

Serves 2 (could easily be doubled for 4)

To prepare grits:

  • 1/2 cup grits (or corn meal)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup water, reserved
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese, a mix of cheddar and monterey jack
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

To prepare shrimp:

  • ~20 frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined, defrosted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red chili flake
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 cup arugula, to serve

To prepare the grits, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring chicken stock and milk, whisked together, to a boil. While whisking, slowly add the grits to the sauce pan. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to whisk the grits into the liquid until somewhat bound, about 2-3 minutes. Cover the sauce pan and simmer over low heat, stirring/whisking regularly, about every 2 minutes. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the grits have softened. I used a fine corn meal, which cooks through in about 10 minutes. Depending on how coarse your corn meal, it may take longer. If needed, add up to 1 cup of water to thin the consistency as it cooks. I added about a 1/2 cup of water during cooking. Once the grits are finished, add the cheese, butter, and spices/seasonings and whisk to combine. Cover and let rest, removed from the heat.

To prepare the shrimp, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and, once melted, the minced shallot. Heat the shallots until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and continue to sauté an additional 2-3 minutes, until the pepper has softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add the shrimp to the pan, keeping evenly spaced with good contact to the bottom of the pan. Cook the first side for about 1 minute, then flip. Cook the shrimp for an additional minute, then deglaze the pan with the juice of 1 lemon and about 1/2 cup of chicken stock. The liquid should bubble violently and begin to reduce. Stir the shrimp mixture and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

To serve, scoop the warm grits onto a plate or shallow bowl. Top the grits with about a 1/2 cup of arugula, which will wilt slightly on contact. Add the shrimp, peppers, and aromatics to the grits, and pour some of the pan sauce over the top.

The grits will firm slightly on the outside, but, when attacked with a spoon, will yield that smooth, creamy interior. Devour at will.

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Show Brian this picture and tell me his mouth won’t start watering. You should probably double the recipe.

Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

More sweet potatoes! When I’m at the grocery store, I always grab a couple of sweet potatoes. To use in soup, to cube up for a hash with eggs, to make sweet potato fries; there’s a never-ending number of ways to use them up. So, naturally, I had a few left in the cabinet this week, and I decided to try something new. My dad loves to make twice baked potatoes. Loaded with cheese, bacon, sour cream, and salt, they’re far from healthy, but they’re a delicious component to his occasional dinner spread, which he puts out once or twice a year. This option is a bit on the healthier side, swapping white potatoes for sweet potatoes, cutting the cheese and butter count, and nixing the bacon for crunchy kale (I think I also have a kale problem; I love it so much). But these twice baked sweet potatoes still have the delectably crunchy skin, and they serve as a unique change of pace for dinner. They’re also fairly quick to come together if you’ve already baked the sweet potatoes ahead of time; however, I rarely think that far ahead, so an easier way to prepare these is to get them fully baked and ready, slide them into the fridge, and twice bake them the next day or on the day of eating. This arrangement makes them great for potluck parties or really any sort of celebration where it’s nice to have things almost fully done ahead of time. Or it’s good for your lonely plate with a side of salad; we can’t all have dinner parties all the time. I’m looking forward to the leftovers today.

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Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2-4

2 large sweet potatoes

3 cups kale, chopped into ribbons

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Poke a few holes in the side of the sweet potatoes (I used a fork and poked along the midline so the holes would “disappear” once the potatoes were cut in half). Place the sweet potatoes in the oven directly on the rack, with a sheet pan a rack below to catch any drippings. Bake the sweet potatoes for approximately 1 hour, or until completely fork tender.

Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly, then, using a sharp knife, slice the sweet potatoes length-wise into two halves. Scoop out the sweet potato filling into a large bowl, careful not to rip the skin too much. Place the skins in a baking dish and set aside. Mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Add the cream and butter and mix thoroughly until the sweet potatoes are smooth and creamy.  Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese and mix.

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kale ribbons and sauté until softened and bright green, maintaining their crunch slightly. To the bowl of sweet potatoes, add sautéed kale and mix together. Scoop the sweet potato and kale mixture into the cooled potato skins, forming a heaping mound in each. Top each sweet potato half with the remaining 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese. At this point, the sweet potatoes can be refrigerated for a day or two until use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the baking dish of sweet potatoes into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges of the skin are just crisping. After 30 minutes, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil the sweet potatoes for 2-5 minutes, until the parmesan cheese on top is melting and browned. Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool slightly, and serve. These can be picked up and eaten by hand, or sliced easily with a fork. A side of salad rounds out the meal nicely- the one below just mixed greens dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and roasted pecans. Or, serve these up at a party and watch them disappear!

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An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 3: Spicy Slow-cooked Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Enchiladas are like tacos, or like most Mexican-inspired foods: they are subject to massive variation and yet, without fail, are delicious nearly every time. While the labor-intensive (yet rewardingly appetizing) vegetable enchiladas are distinct from the classic preparation in several ways, these chicken enchiladas are much nearer the traditional recipe. They have a kick, certainly, and the chicken is dramatically moist due to its slow-cooked preparation, but we’re back to basics with enchilada sauce here, topped with way too much cheese, of course. These enchiladas are ready for dinner so quickly, thanks to a little bit of advance preparation. If you don’t have a slow-cooker (or crock-pot), you could prepare the chicken by many other means: sautéing in a oiled pan, baking, grilling, etc. The slow-cooker does make things easy with primarily hands-off cooking time, requiring work only to chop some vegetables, assemble the ingredients, and, of course, prepare the enchiladas. Of the food presented at this dinner party, these were the favorites. They are spicy but not too spicy, flavorful but not unexpected, and cheesy but not overly rich. These enchiladas carry toppings exceptionally well, although I found a squeeze of lime to suffice. But if you have any guacamole left, any sour cream or creme fraiche (or even Greek yogurt), or some chopped cilantro on hand, by all means pile it on.

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Spicy Slow-cooked Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 cans enchilada sauce, divided

1/2 cup salsa (leftover roasted tomato and chile salsa would work well)

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 jalapeno, diced

1 can diced green chiles

1/2 cup chopped roasted red and yellow peppers

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

24 corn tortillas

4-5 cups shredded cheese (I used a “Mexican” blend)

The morning of cooking, pour out 3 cans of enchilada sauce into a shallow bowl and whisk in spices. Add a 1/2 cup of spiced enchilada sauce, 1/2 cup of salsa, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock to a slow-cooker and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate the enchilada sauce to use later. Add chicken, diced vegetables, and diced green chiles to the slow-cooker. Cover the slow-cooker, set to low, and cook for 6-8 hours, until chicken is easily shredded and cooked through.

To prepare enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce to the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Heat tortillas for about 20 seconds per side on a skillet or griddle. Dip the tortilla in the enchilada sauce, covering both sides. Rest the tortilla in the prepared pan and add about 1/4 cup of shredded chicken mixture to the tortilla. Top with 1-2 tbsp. shredded cheese, roll the tortilla tightly, and move to the corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times, filling two 13×9 pans with 12 enchiladas each (I found 10 fit longitudinally across the pan, with 2 transverse across the bottom). Top the enchiladas with an additional 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce per pan. Top the enchiladas with about 1 cup of shredded cheese.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven, and cook at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans once or twice during cooking. The enchiladas are done once the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbly. Top with your favorite toppings and serve warm.

This recipe may seem straightforward, but the product is utterly scrumptious. If you’re to start with any enchilada recipe, I’d start here. The slow-cooked chicken really adds another dimension of succulence, but it’s the spices and aromatics that really develop the flavor. You’d never even think to doubt that canned sauce can’t be elevated after trying these. However, now that I think about it, I’d love to try my own version of enchilada sauce next…

Try these out, really. There are no regrets on enchilada night.

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 2: Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

So you’re off to a great start for dinner: you’ve eaten a massive amount of guacamole, and you’ve sipped greedily on delicious sangria. But now it’s time to feast! I decided to make two types of enchiladas, primarily because I wanted to try out two different recipes. The vegetable enchiladas were significantly more labor intensive; however, they have the benefit of being vegetarian, (possibly) gluten-free, and (almost) every-other-dietary-restriction acceptable (vegan if you skip the cheese, which I’ve done previously. You don’t miss it if you pile on the guac to serve!). I’m not any of these things, but I do appreciate vegetables (massively so), and I like the idea behind making something a bit more non-traditional. To appease classic tastes, I also prepared (incredibly tasty) chicken enchiladas, which were simpler, more quickly prepared, and an all-around hit, so I’ll share those tomorrow. The vegetables in these enchiladas are pretty acceptable year-round, although I suppose fresh summer squash and corn could amp up the flavor a bit. Roasting and sautéing the vegetables imparts a more dramatic flavor, which sufficiently minimizes any “blandness” due to out-of-season ingredients. And, finally, we’re wrapping up all these veggies in a corn tortilla, smothering them in salsa, and baking them with cheese. Should we really be worried about anything?

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Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

24 corn tortillas

12 oz. manchego cheese, freshly shredded

Roasted Tomato and Chile Salsa

  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 packages/cartons grape tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (any color)

1 jalapeno, diced

3 zucchini, diced

5 oz. shitaki mushrooms, diced

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced

2 cups frozen corn

3 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. chile sauce

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour or cornstarch

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the salsa, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss vegetables with grapeseed oil and spices (leave out lime juice and cilantro). Pour the bowl’s contents onto the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are browned around the edges. Once roasted, add the roasted vegetables to a food processor with lime and cilantro and blend until smooth. If your food processor is too small, blend in batches. Alternatively, you could use a blender or immersion blender. This salsa can be made days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator.

If you’d rather save some time the night of cooking, dice/chop/prepare all the vegetables used for enchiladas the day before. They will keep well stored in individual containers in the refrigerator. This prep time is not to be dismissed; I believe I was chopping for well over 30 minutes. I’d highly recommend having everything prepared beforehand!

The day of cooking, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or VERY large pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic for about 20 seconds, until just fragrant. Add onions, peppers, jalapeno, and zucchini to the pot and sauté until softened (time will depend on cooking vessel; I’d estimate about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and sauté until softened and just releasing their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Pour in spices and chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture, and stir until flour has combined and cooked, about 3 minutes.  Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Or, if using cornstarch, mix cornstarch in about 1 cup of stock, whisking to combine. Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and, while stirring, add cornstarch-stock slurry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add frozen corn, stir, and heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add chopped cilantro, and stir. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour an even layer of about 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Now, set up your work station. The corn tortillas require heating on a skillet for about 20 seconds per side before use. I used a large griddle to heat multiple tortillas at once (with the help of my roommate preparing the chicken enchiladas simultaneously). I found working with about 2 heating tortillas was most efficient without burning or waiting. Next to the griddle or skillet, keep a large bowl filled with the salsa nearby. Have a large spoon ready in the vegetable mixture, and keep the shredded manchego cheese a quick reach away. To prepare each enchilada, heat a tortilla until softened. Dip in salsa on both sides, then let rest in the enchilada pan. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture, then top with about 1 tbsp. of manchego cheese. Roll the tortilla tightly and move to the furthest corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times. I found about 12 tortillas fit in a 13×9, with a row of 10 running longitudinally, and 2 fitting transverse across the bottom of the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled and squished together, top with another 1/2 cup of salsa per pan and a thorough sprinkle of manchego cheese (may as well use it all!). I had some leftover vegetable mixture (as I only made 18 enchiladas), so I added some of that to the top as well.After this, your hands will be a sticky mess of sauce, salsa, and cheese, but nothing a quick hand wash can’t handle.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I made these at the same time as two equally-sized pans of chicken enchiladas, so I rotated all 4 pans twice during cooking. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbly, and the entire floor of your condo building smells like mexican food, the enchiladas are done.

I don’t have a photograph of the finished product, because I slipped these into the oven after guests had arrived, and within minutes of being done they were somehow gone entirely. These can be eaten as is, unadorned, or topped with anything from a fresh squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, guacamole, or sour cream. I’ve said these are labor intensive, but they are so delicious, so flavorful, and so worth it. They absolutely should be dinner for Brian.

Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Ah, who in the midwest isn’t craving hearty, cheesy, warm, melty macaroni and cheese? As the temperature drops palettes change to demand warm, heavy dinners; there’s an inverse relationship between weather and healthy eating, I think. Except maybe if you can squeeze a couple vegetables into even the most indulgent of dishes. Not that were shooting for pale diet food; rather, let’s just eat something that tastes good and satisfies that ever-demanding need for pasta in December.  I’m at it again with the vegetarian menu, although this is anything but a side dish. The mushrooms are meaty and hearty, in an appealing vegetable way (not a gross this-is-fake-meat way). And the kale is there to substantiate the plate and give an occasional deep crunch (also you probably have a bit left over, I’d think?). This comes together pretty quickly, if you’re a multi-tasker. Otherwise you may leave things to simmer as you move onto the next task. Either way, this cooks warm, stays warm, goes down warm, and leaves you somewhat sleepy.

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Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Serves 2-3

4 oz. (1 cup) gemelli pasta* (or your preferred pasta shape)

2 tsp. olive oil

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

Large bunch kale, rinsed and chopped

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups milk, anything but skim

2 tbsp. flour

3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (by hand from a block, for freshness, preferably)

Salt & pepper, to taste

Bring a large pasta pot to boil with water and a heavy pinch (or pinches) of salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, preferably undercooking by a minute or two to keep al dente (italics for pretension, thanks).

(If you’re a multi-tasker, while water is coming to a boil, slice mushrooms, wash and chop kale, and shred your cheese).

As the pasta is cooking, add 2 tsp. olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add kale and saute until wilted, about 2-3 minutes longer. Season and pour into a bowl on the side, to be added back in later.

In the same skillet, after vegetables are done and pasta is ideally still boiling away, melt 1 tbsp. of butter over low heat. In a large ball jar, add 2 tbsp. flour and 2 cups of milk. Shake, shake, shake until the mixture is smooth and creamy without discernible flour lumps. Pour the flour-milk mixture into the skillet with melted butter and whisk over low heat until it is melded and smooth.** Increase the heat to medium low, bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, and let reduce until thickened to an admirable consistency, approximately 5 minutes or so.

(If you’re a multi-tasker, your pasta finished cooking while the milk-butter-flour mixture was simmering. Drain your pasta, toss with a touch of olive oil in the strainer, and set aside).

Once the milk mixture has reduced, add grated sharp cheddar cheese and whisk over low heat until it melts into the sauce. Once the sauce has come together, toss pasta with the sauce in the pan over low heat, until mixed thoroughly. Cook pasta in the sauce for 1-2 minutes to bring to an al dente (eh hem) texture. Add vegetables back into the pan and fold into the pasta. Remove from heat and serve.

I ate this with a side of steamed broccoli, but, rest assured, this meal suffices on its own (with enough nutritional value to boot).

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* I love gemelli pasta. I don’t know what it is about the texture or the way it adheres to sauce so well or the way I can grab just the perfect amount of noodles on my fork; to me, it is perfect.

** The sauce technically being created here is a béchamel (autocorrected accent), and, with the addition of cheese, a mornay sauce. Traditionally, this is prepared by heating together butter and flour over low heat to create a roux, which then is used to thicken the later-added warm milk. By preparing this sauce with milk shaken with flour, you end up using less butter and less flour, which lowers the calorie count of the recipe. Nonetheless, the sauce is delicious, and I scarcely can tell the difference (especially once there’s cheese).