Chili Mac and Cheese II (or No Pre-Cook Mac & Cheese)

Mac & CheeseFullSizeRenderA while ago, I posted a recipe for chili mac and cheese.  Recently, I was deciding what to cook for Rose Friday, our mommy and me’s weekly get together, and I came across a recipe for mac and cheese that required no pre-cooking.  I spruced up the recipe to add some veggies and protein, and made this.  This recipe makes a really good-sized pan of mac and cheese, so feel free to cut it in half if you don’t want too many leftovers.  This is based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and the NYTimes.  (Apologies for the limited pictures, I had to put this together quickly, and then we gobbled it up fast!)

Here’s what you need:

2 cups full fat cottage cheese

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon mustard

4 cups milk, divided into 1 cup and 3 cups (I did 2% – I would recommend that or whole milk)

2 pounds shredded cheese (I did half extra sharp cheddar, half jack; I recommend grating yourself – and not buying pre-shredded – as it melts better)

1 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3/4 cup chopped sweet peppers (or bell peppers)

1 can black beans, drained

1 can kidney beans, drained

(UPDATE:  If you want to make this as regular mac & cheese like you see in the first picture above, just omit the tomatoes, peppers, beans and spices, add 1 tablespoon mustard and 1 tablespoon ketchup, and feel free to mix up the cheeses)

Here’s what you do:

(1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9×13 baking dish.

(2) In a blender or food processor, combine the cottage cheese, spices, mustard, and 1 cup milk.  Blend until smooth.

(3) In a large bowl, mix together the cottage cheese mixture, the remaining milk, 3/4 of the cheese, the pasta (uncooked), the tomatoes, the peppers, and the beans.

(4) Pour the macaroni mixture into the buttered pan, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  (I also recommend putting a larger cookie sheet under the pan so the liquid doesn’t boil over into the oven.)

(5) After 30 minutes, remove the foil, lightly stir the macaroni, and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the macaroni.  Return to the oven uncovered and bake for another 30 minutes.

(6) Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before eating.


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MokimoTo meet her newest grandson, Simon’s Cucu (pronounced sho-sho), his grandmother from Kenya, came to visit.  In an attempt to make some Kenyan food, Patrick and I darted around the kitchen and made mokimo, a dish that combines potatoes, corn and greens, as well as a chicken curry that a website told me was “Kenyan” (not sure it really was, but either way, it tasted great).  It was a delicious family dinner that I hope you will enjoy.  Granted my mokimo wasn’t spot on for a traditional texture, but it was yummy!

Here’s what you need:

2 very large potatoes

3 ears corn

2 heads greens (we did kale, but a more traditional choice would be something that breaks down more easily, like pumpkin leaves)

2 tablespoons butter or oil (or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:

(1) Cook the potatoes.  We peeled ours, cut them up, and microwaved them until they were soft.

(2) Cook the corn.  We shucked ours, placed a damp paper towel on top, and microwaved for about 3 minutes.

(3) Prepare the kale.  First, we steamed it by removing the leaves from the stems, putting them in a dish with some water in the bottom, covering the leaves, and microwaving for about 3 minutes.  Then, we blended the leaves in a food processor.

(4) Prepare the dish.  First, mash the potatoes with the butter or oil and salt and pepper.  Then stir and mash in the kale or other cooked greens.  Finally, stir in the corn.  Then further season with salt and pepper until it tastes good.  (You can also stir in mashed beans if you like!)


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Tomato Basil Salad

tomato basil saladFor my first Mother’s Day, my mom and dad bought me an Alice Waters’ cookbook – The Art of Simple Food.  I’ve been reading it to learn new techniques, and picked up a few tips:  (1) cook with what is in season, it will provide the best flavor with the least effort, (2) make sure your textures are varied, and (3) make your own salad dressing, but be sure to use high-quality vinegar and oil.  With these in mind, I whipped up a delicious salad, first for my grandparents and then for my husband, and finally for my sister and brother-in-law, and it was a hit for everyone.

Here’s what you need:

For the salad:

2 cups arugula

2 cups baby spinach

8 basil leaves

5 ounces cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup crunchy salad topping (first time I did fried onions, the other times sweetened pecan pieces)

Optional:  1/2 cup chopped cheese, such as feta or fresh mozzarella

For the salad dressing:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Optional:  1 teaspoon minced shallots and/or 1 teaspoon mustard

Here’s what you do:

(1) Prepare the salad by tearing the arugula and baby spinach into pieces.  Cut the basil into ribbons.  Slice half the tomatoes in half, and the other portion of them into quarters.  Mix all of that together in a bowl with the crunch topping and cheese (if using).

(2) Prepare the dressing:  Whisk together the vinegar and salt.  Then whisk in the oil.  Finally, whisk in the shallot and/or mustard (if using).  Then whisk the entire mixture together.tomato basil salad dressing

(3) Right before serving, re-whisk the dressing, pour it over the salad, and toss.

Enjoy!tomato basil salad

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Adult Brazilian Limeade

Adult brazilian limeadeOur mommy and me group got together with moms, dads and babies for a taco party.  Our gracious host requested margaritas, and when I offered to make them, but revealed I was going to use Jose Cuervo margarita mix – even though I have a cooking blog – I was told I could be forgiven.  With that, I knew I had to do better.  So I made three pitchers of this adult limeade and it was a big hit.  (Note I got 3 pitchers by multiplying the recipe times 20).  This recipe was originally Instagrammed on the Anthropologie blog – goes to show you never know where the inspiration for your next meal or drink will come from.  This is really refreshing!  And thanks Mary, Mike and Henry for a great party!

Here’s what you need:

1 lime, quartered

1 cup coconut water, divided in two

2 tablespoons condensed milk

1 tablespoon plus two teaspoons white sugar

1.5 ounces rum or tequila


Here’s what you do:

(1) In a blender, blend together the lime, half the coconut water, condensed milk and sugar.

(2) Pour the lime mixture through a mesh seive so you remove all the lime chunks.

(3) Mix the remaining coconut water and alcohol into the lime juice mixture.

(4) Pour over ice and enjoy!

*Note – I also made this with a meyer lemon.  It was pretty large, so I tripled the other ingredients, and it was deliciuous that way too!  I imagine it would also be nice with a regular lemon as well.

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Herbed Veggie and Rice Casserole

Brown rice and veggie casseroleSo sorry it’s been forever since I’ve posted!  I’ve been cooking a bit – but I have this little one attached to my chest at all times, so it’s been hard to find the time.  He’s a great “helper” in the kitchen – he sleeps in the ErgoBaby while I chop and mix and bake.  But I knew it had been too long, so I wanted to get a couple of recipes up on the blog.  This weekend I wanted to cook some simple items that used up ingredients in my fridge.  I had some shredded carrots, some shredded cheese, and some herbs I had purchased for another dish.  Add the farmer’s market, some rice, and the desire for some healthy food, and here you have it!  This was super easy to make and tastes great.  And you can feel free to use different veggies you have lying around, or different cheeses, or use more or less of most of the ingredients.

Here’s what you need:

2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice (or rice of your choice)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion

2 zucchini

1 head greens (I did swiss chard)

1 cup shredded carrots

1 bunch asparagus

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup plain greek yogurt (nonfat is fine)

1 cup shredded cheese (I had gruyere and sharp cheddar in my fridge, so I used that)

2 tablespoons each of the following herbs, chopped:  mint, dill, basil, chives

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 1/2 cups parmesan (or a parmesan/romano/asiago blend)

Here’s what you do:

(1)  Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove.  Set aside.

(2) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

(3) Using the grating attachment to your food processor, or using a hand grater, or chopping into smallish pieces, grate the onion.  Heat one tablespoon olive oil over high heat and saute the onion.

(4) While the onion is sauteing, prepare the zucchini using the same technique (I did the grater on my food processer; I was also able to use it for the cheese).  Add the zucchini to the onion after a couple of minutes and continue to cook.

(5) Remove the leaves of the greens from the stems and shred into small pieces.  Add to the zucchini/onion mixture.

(6) Snap the asparagus stalks where they naturally break, and cut the pieces with the tips into bite size pieces. Add to the veggie mixture.

(7) Cook the veggies for about 5-10 minutes, until they are all softened.

(8) Then, in a large bowl, mix together the rice, yogurt, veggies, herbs, salt and shredded cheese (saving the parmesan for later).

(9) Spread the rice mixture into a baking dish, and then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and then the parmesan cheese.

(10) Bake for about 20-25 minutes until hot and the cheese on top is browned.


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Brownie Cake Cookies

Brownie Cake CookiesEvery time a new Smitten Kitchen post passes through my email, I pretty much always want to make the recipe.  One of the most recent posts was no exception.  It was a recipe called the Browniest Cookies.  To be candid, I am not a huge cookie fan, but do love brownies, and figured the combination would be delightful – soft and chocolatey and fudgey without being too doughy.  Last weekend I spent the day with my sister and her in-laws and not only did Kathy and I have a great time together buying the ingredients (and chatting with the Odwalla juice sample lady at Vons for a while), but we also had fun making these cookies.  Because they were a bit cakier, and less fudgey, than expected, I called them Brownie Cake Cookies.  I am considering reducing the flour a bit the next time I make them to see if they will be a bit more brownie.  But regardless, they were delicious and quite easy to make!

Here’s what you need:

1 stick unsalted butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped up

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons white sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup flour

2/3 cup semisweeet chocolate chips

Here’s what you do:

1.  On the stove over low heat in a pan big enough to mix all the ingredients together, slowly melt together the chocolate and butter.  In other words, throw it in, stir it frequently, and let it melt.

2.  Once melted, remove from heat.  Whisk in the sugars.  Then whisk in the eggs one at a time.  Then whisk in the vanilla, baking soda and salt.

3.  Add the cocoa powder to the mixture and stir just to combine.  Then add the flour and stir again to combine.  Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.Brownie Cake Cookie Batter

4.  Put the dough in the fridge and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.  About 15 minutes in, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

5.  Once the dough has firmed up, using a parchment paper or a silicon mat lined pan, scoop the cookies in about 2 tablespoon dollops and place them on the non-stick paper.  Leave some room in between for spreading, but don’t worry, they don’t spread much.  (It’s okay if you need to bake in two batches.)

6.  Bake the cookies for about 11-13 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two on the pan.  Once firmed up, remove from the pan and finish cooling on a rack.

Enjoy!Brownie Cake Cookies

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Good Old Fashioned Meatloaf (MBL Style)

MeatloafThis weekend, Patrick and I decided comfort food would be a nice way to spend Sunday evening – especially after I left him alone all weekend while I attended Brittany’s bachelorette party.  We went for meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  The recipe for the meatloaf is one my grandma had copied from a magazine years ago – Patrick and I actually first made it together on one of our first Christmases as a couple (after a 15 mile bike / rollerblade ride – good times).  This is the first time we didn’t make it with all turkey (and we made it a little larger than last time to have more leftovers), but no matter how we make it, it always tastes delicious.

Here’s what you need:

Veggies, finely chopped or chopped in the food processor:  1 onion, 5 scallions, 1 bell pepper, 3 stalks of celery, 3-4 peeled carrots, 4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup half and half (I use fat free)

1/2 cup ketchup

3 eggs (or the equivalent with egg whites)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

3 pounds ground meat (you can do extra lean turkey, lean turkey, 90/10 beef, 85/15 beef, or your favorite combo – I’ve only done all extra lean turkey, or half extra lean turkey half beef)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Here’s what you do:

1.  Prepare the veggies by chopping them up by hand by using a food processor.  Heat the olive oil in a pan, and saute the veggies so they release some liquid, for about ten minutes.  Allow to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

2.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, half and half, ketchup and spices.

4.  Add the meat to the half & half mixture.  Then add the bread crumbs and the cooked veggies (without the liquid).  Knead the mixture together for about 5 minutes with your hands.

5.  On a cookie sheet lined with foil (and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray), form the meat into a large, loaf-like shape (or you can break it into two loaves).

6.  Bake in the oven, covered with foil, for about 1 hour, or until the meat is fully cooked.

Eat with salad, mashed potatoes, on a sandwich, or as is.




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Perfect Homemade Pizza

Homemade PizzaI have always been a little afraid of making homemade pizza – I have an aversion to undercooked dough, and couldn’t stand the disappointment of spending time making my own dough, topping it and baking it only to come out with something mushy I would refuse to eat.  Not sure what inspired me this weekend to give it a try from top to bottom (no Boboli) – maybe it was our four hour brunch with Desiree at Little Dom’s in Silverlake – seeing all those wonderful Italian delicacies go by.  Whatever the reason, I turned to my most trusted cooking blog for a dough recipe I could handle – Smitten Kitchen – combined some of my favorite toppings, and ended up with four delicious pizzas (that have lasted us meals and meals).  Below is the recipe for the dough, and some inspirational ideas for the toppings, but feel free to use whatever you like.  Also note I did this with a pizza stone (my first time using our wedding present from nearly two years ago), and while I have seen that you can do this without one (like with a metal pan), I can’t promise the same level of cooked crust perfection.

Here’s what you need

to make the pizza crust, enough for two thin-crust, larger than personal-sized pizzas (topping ideas to follow in the “here’s what you do” section):

3 cups flour (all-purpose)

2 teaspoons table salt

1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons olive oil


Here’s what you do:


1.  Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir together.  Add the wet ingredients (water and olive oil) and stir until you have as much of a ball as possible.

2.  On a lightly floured surface, dump the “ball” of dough and all the little bits.  Place your bowl upside-down over the dough pile and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.

3.  Come back and knead the dough into a ball (this time it will actually make a ball, unlike at the stirring step).

4.  Spray your bowl with cooking spray, flip the dough ball around in the bowl to make sure it’s all lightly coated, and cover the bowl with saran wrap.  Allow to rise for 2 hours.  (Don’t clean your floured surface, you will use it again.)

5.  When two hours have passed, remove the dough ball from the bowl and replace on your lightly floured surface.  Cut or break it into two equal pieces, squish the air out of both pieces, and then create two balls.  Put them back into the bowl, re-cover with saran wrap, and allow to sit for at least another 20 minutes.

6.  When it’s time to bake, preheat your oven, with the pizza stone inside, as high as it will go (around 500/515 degrees).  Allow it a good 15 minutes to preheat (unless you have a fancy-schmancy oven that actually tells you its temperature, in which case, just wait until it alerts you it has reached the desired temperature).

7.  While your oven is preheating, roll out your first ball of dough into a nice circle that’s pretty thin.  Place a sprinkling of cornmeal on the pizza stone, then put your rolled dough on top.  Bake for about 3 minutes.

8.  Remove the stone from the oven, flip the crust over (yes, we are slightly cooking the underside to avoid sogginess), top with your favorite toppings, and bake on the stone for another 8-10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and brown and the edges are slightly browned.

Homemade PizzaTOPPING IDEAS:

Patrick and I actually decided to double the recipe above and made four pizzas.  While there wasn’t a ton of variety between three of the four, here are the two basic ideas that we made which were delicious:

First, we made Patrick’s favorite, fig jam, prosciutto, mozzarella, all topped with arugula dressed in balsamic vinaigrette.  That recipe is actually on my blog here: FIG PIZZA.  Only difference is we made our own crust this time, and it was delicious.

Second, we made three variations on margherita pizza, which all turned out great.  Here is the basic gist:

For the sauce, combine half a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, one minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper.  Spoon a thin layer of this over the pizza crust (after the three minutes of cooking).

Top the sauce with a handful of ribbons of freshly cut basil.  (At this point, we also added some turkey pepperoni and Hilshire Farms smoked chipotle beef sausage.  It was really good.)

Top the basil with some circles of fresh mozzarella, some shredded regular mozzarella, and some Parmesan cheese.

Bake to perfection (about 8-10 minutes), and to be really decadent, add a little splash of olive oil to the top after you remove it from the oven.  (For some of the pizzas, we also sauteed half a sliced brown onion with a package of sliced white mushrooms in some olive oil.  We added these after baking so as not to weigh down the crust or make it mushy for leftover purposes.)


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Jewish Brisket (Grandma Gloria’s recipe)

brisket cooked with root veggiesWith the Jewish holidays recently passed, and the baby in my belly asking me to eat a little more beef than usual, I felt like whipping up a brisket.  Grandma sent me this recipe while I was in college and decided to host my first Jewish holiday (I think it was Passover but can’t be sure).  This recipe is pretty hands off – once the meat is in the oven (for literally hours), there isn’t much to do.  Note that I use an electric knife to cut the brisket – per Grandma’s instructions.  It’s the only recipe I ever use the electric knife for, and I actually use one that Grandma gave to me.  But you can always use a regular knife if you want.  This dish is warm, satisfying, and delicious.

Here’s what you need:

1 beef brisket with fat on top, 3-5 pounds (I recently did 5 pounds, it was about 4 pounds meat and one pound fat)

2 packets onion soup mix

1 jar Heinz chili sauce

2 packages frozen pearl onions

1 package frozen chopped bell peppers (optional)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

4 small new potatoes (optional but you end up with roasted veggies in the pan at the end)

1 large sweet potato (ditto.  Note, you could do all sweet potato, regular potato, carrots, or other root veggies)

enough liquid to fill the pan about 1 inch high (I did about 3/4 red wine, 1/4 water, you could also do all water, or broth, but probably not all wine)

Here’s what you do:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In a large roasting pan, place the brisket fat side up.  Spread the onion soup mixture on the brisket.  Then spread the Heinz chili sauce.

3.  Scatter the chopped up root veggies around the brisket (if you are using them).  Then pour the peppers and onions on top of the brisket.  Throw the garlic cloves around the edge.

4.  Fill the pan up with about 1 inch of liquid (water, wine, broth, your choice).

5.  Cover with heavy duty foil and cook on the middle rack for about 2 hours.

6.  Remove from the oven, cut the brisket in thin slices against the grain using an electric knife, and place back in the gravy.  (If the liquid is getting low, add more.)

7.  Bake for another 1 hour if the meat was already fully cooked and tender, or 2 hours if the meat wasn’t fully cooked and starting to get tender.  If you go for two hours, check after 1 hour to see if you need more liquid.

8.  When the meat is done cooking, it will be very soft and flavorful.  If you think it’s still a little tough, just cook it some more.  The more it cooks, the softer it gets.  Feel free to serve it with noodle pudding, or just eat it with the root veggies.brisket


P.S. Here is a picture of the recipe Grandma emailed to me while I was in college:grandma's brisket recipe

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Vodka Sauce

Penne a la Vodka SaucePerusing Pinterest, I came across a pretty tasty looking recipe for vodka sauce.  I’m not usually one to cook with cream, but the recipe writer said she wasn’t either.  It looked like a pretty simple recipe, not overly creamy, but just enough to make it tasty.  I was feeling adventurous so I cooked up a double batch, and served it with penne.  It was soo good and while it took a while to complete, didn’t take a lot of work.

Here’s what you need for a single batch:

1 pound pasta (I did penne), cooked according to package directions

2 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 medium onions, diced or chopped (I did mine in the food processor)

3 cloves garlic, diced (I did mine in the food processor with the onion)

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup vodka

2 cans San Marzano whole tomatoes

handful fresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dried basil

1/2 cup heavy cream

Here’s what you do:

(Note – Step 10 mentions eating the sauce today or tomorrow.  If you want to eat today, it’s probably a good idea to cook the pasta while you are on step 7 – the 1.5 hour oven step.)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a pan that you can move to the oven and has a tight fitting lid.

2.  Add the onion and garlic over medium-high heat and cook for about 5 minutes.

3.  Add the crushed red pepper, oregano and salt and cook another minute or so.Vodka sauce - cooking onions

4.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

5.  Add the vodka, turn up the heat, and cook until it reduces by at least half, about 3-5 minutes.

6.  Using your hands, remove the tomatoes from the juice and crush them into the onion/vodka mixture.  (Be careful, they squirt.  I find it’s best to first poke a hole with your finger and then crush).  You won’t use the juices, so reserve for another recipes, or do what I did, and whip up a batch of meatballs at the same time, using the tomato juice to cook the meatballs.

7.  Mix the tomatos into the onions, cover with the lid, and bake in the oven for an hour and a half.

8.  Remove from the oven, and working in batches, puree the tomato mixture until smooth, adding the basil to the food processor with the tomato mixture.

9.  Return the smooth sauce to the pot, add the heavy cream and the parmesan cheese.  Bring to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.cream into vodka sauce

vodka sauce

10.  If you want to eat immediately, cook the pasta according to directions on the package and mix the sauce into the pasta with a little extra cheese mixed in.  Or you can allow the sauce to sit overnight to allow the flavors to meld and then serve the next day over fresh pasta.


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