Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

gourmet mac and cheeseAs a kid, J and I both loved macaroni and cheese. How were we to know that it wasn’t made with real cheese? Thankfully, we’ve come to see how much more amazing this childhood favorite can be. I’ve made a number of takes off macaroni and cheese before, but this is probably my favorite. We don’t plan to feed Eli the box mac and cheese, so we’re hoping something like this will be his favorite go-to childhood meal. Give it a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1  medium red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 1% or skim milk
  • 5 ounces (1/2 package) of frozen spinach thawed or 1 bag of fresh spinach cooked down
  • 8 ounces gruyere cheese
  • 1.5 cups elbow macaroni (preferably whole grain)
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, diced

gourmet  (2)Directions

  1. Prepare pasta as directed on package; set aside to cool.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add onion, salt, and garlic. Cook down until soft. Add vinegar and cook for 1 more minute. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the white sauce (slurry version)
    1. Pour 1/2 cup milk into a measuring cup. While whisking, slowly add flour, making sure none sticks to the bottom. Once fully incorporated, add remaining milk and whisk well.
    2. Spray a skillet with cooking spray and pour milk mixture into the room-temperature pan.
    3. Heat pan over medium-low heat, stirring continuously to prevent sticking.  Continue to heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Once slightly bubbling, allow to bubble while stirring for 3 minutes (this is the thickening stage) and then lower heat to low.
  4. Add cheese to the white sauce and stir until fully melted. Add onion, chicken, spinach, and pasta; mix well until well incorporated.

Curried Cucumber Ranita

Cucumber Yogurt Curry SaladIt’s that time of year when there are more cucumbers than you know what to do with. We had six in the refrigerator and I wanted something other than sliced cucumbers and pickles. I was going through an old cookbook with loose recipes inside and Cucumber Ranita fell out. I love when that happens. The recipe wasn’t quite what I wanted (cream, whole milk yogurt, spices I didn’t have on hand, etc…), I just used the recipe as an inspiration for this recipe. We served it at a family party a few weeks ago and it was a hit.

Curried Cucumber Ranita

Ingredients

  • 4 cucumbers, about 6″ in size
  • 2 cups plain yogurt, regular or greek – the regular worked just fine and wasn’t too runny
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, diced
  • 1/2 cup Madras Curry Paste
  • 4 oz orzo pasta
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup peanuts

Directions

  1. Prepare the pasta per directions on package. 
  2. Finely shred 2 of the cucumbers. Mix with the yogurt and cilantro. Add the curry paste and stir well.
  3. Quarter the remaining cucumbers. You may want to remove the seeds or use seedless, but regular cucumbers worked just fine for me.
  4. Mix the yogurt sauce with the pasta. Add the cucumbers, raisins, and peanuts. Stir well. Serve cold.

Green Eggs and Goat Cheese

I have yet another egg bake to post about. This time it’s green, like everything else I’ve posted lately. Remember, green is good – in this case (and most of my recent posts) things are green because they are loaded with basil, which is hands-down my favorite herb. Between the CSA and my two basil plants in the garden, we have been (and will continue to be) eating lots of deliciously seasoned dishes.

Summer squash and zucchini have made it into our CSA box already. Where did the summer go?? Anyway, this is just the beginning of the squash surplus, so I’ve decided to start early with compiling recipes. This was the first dish of the year – green eggs and goat cheese. I prefer summer squash sautéed; something with the membranous texture of raw squash doesn’t sit well with me. I had never had eggs with squash before, but it makes for a very filling and satisfying breakfast. What do you like to do with your summer squash?

Green Eggs and Goat Cheese

Green Eggs (no ham)

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups of summer squash and/or zucchini, halved and sliced thinly
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 – 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 12 eggs (6 whole, 6 whites only)
  • Goat cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Suateed summer veggiesDirections

  1. Preheat over to 350F. Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Heat about 1 tbsp of oil in a pan. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the basil and mix well. Add the squash/zucchini and continue to saute until the squash begins to appear slightly translucent and soft.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the balsamic vinegar. I probably added 1/4 cup, but I love balsamic – add as much as you like.
  4. In a large bowl, add the eggs and whisk well. Pour in the vegetables mixture and mix well. Note the green eggs 🙂
  5. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Top with crumbled goat cheese, salt, and pepper.
  6. Cook for 40 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away and there is no standing liquid in the center of the egg bake. Since you added some oil to cook the vegetables, there may be some oil standing when it’s done (which is why I use the edges pulling away as a guide).

DIY Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has been “all the craze” for past few years. I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon and am at the point that I am making a conscious effort not to (so.hard.to.resist). The whole thing just feels way too much like a marketing/foodie/hipster fad that I can see right through. The part that makes me laugh is how people never buy plain, unsweetened yogurt to eat (except me and J, I guess), but then the second it has Greek tagged to the front and enough foodies are blogging about it, everyone talks about how much they love this tangy/sour yogurt. Really, Greek yogurt is just normal yogurt with more water removed, making it thicker (and ultimately has more protein per spoonful). That’s it. If you like that, great! If not, don’t feel like you need to jump on the bandwagon anytime soon…I’ll be back here if you need some company.

One thing we can all agree on is that Greek yogurt is expensive. Like, really expensive (this is where the marketing conspiracy theory comes in…). If you are money conscience like me, but love your Greek yogurt, stop over at Mel’s Kitchen to learn how to make homemade Greek Yogurt. Her recipe is very similar to my earlier post “EASY homemade yogurt” but with tips on how to make it thicker. Enjoy!

Banana Walnut Almond Ice Cream

The day after I posted about purchasing an ice cream maker I spent a few hours in the kitchen trying to come up with the perfect recipe. I had read that using low-fat options, like skim milk, made the ice cream more ice than cream. I had read of some success people had with 2% milk and half-and-half, so I I thought I would start there. Instead of 2% milk I wanted to try Vanilla Almond Milk – the fat content is about the same, but the calories in almond milk are almost 1/2 AND the almond milk already had the vanilla flavoring and sugar, saving even more. The half-and-half was just because it is hard for me to purchase real cream (that will have to change).

So I began my simple recipe of 2 ingredients. I removed the bowl from the freezer and put the lid on to star the machine. The directions said it should be running when you add ingredients to prevent sticking. I added about 1 1/2 cups of almond milk and 1/2 cup of cream to my running ice cream maker.

As you can see from the picture the “ice cream” was more like ice milk. It had vanilla flavor but was not creamy. I was disappointed, but not defeated. We had tried banana ice cream in the food processor a few weeks ago and I remembered how thick and creamy the banana dessert was. We had a few ripe bananas on the counter, so I grabbed two, mashed them up and added them to the mix. I let it run for another 20 minutes. The mixture was creamier but also runnier since the bananas hadn’t been frozen.

I remembered another trick I had read on a blog somewhere – freeze the mixture in ice cube trays for later. I grabbed an extra ice cube tray and filled it up the mixture. The next day J and I decided to give it a try. We popped out 8 ice cubs of banana-vanilla-almond ice cream and put them in the food processor. I then addded about 1/4 cup of walnuts. I pulsed the mixture until it looked like a crumbled mess. Then I turned it on and let it go. The mixture will eventually turn into a ball and then smooth out. The final result (after about 2 minutes of running) was this:

Pretty nice, huh? The texture and taste were just like ice cream but not as sweet, so we both felt satisfied after our serving. I was quite pleased for my first attempt. The walnut pieces were still pretty big, so if I did this again I would first blend the walnuts into a walnut butter and then add the cream mixture. You could also use peanut butter instead. I will cotninue to experiment and be back with more recipes (possibly some that include real cream).

Homemade Frozen Desserts (WITH an ice cream machine)

At first glance, the title might appear to be a duplicate post from last month. Note the subtle difference… “WITH.” That is right, we got an ice cream machine. After a quick search on Craigslist I found a new, still in the box, 1.25 quart ice cream machine for only $20. A simple request of $15 for the machine if the seller could meet  that day resulted in us driving away with our own ice cream machine just a few short hours later.

We decided to get this ice cream machine for two reasons (besides the great price). First, the non-machine methods are time consuming and aren’t quite the same as the real thing. Second, the “real thing” is just too sweet for me. Don’t get me wrong, sweet is delicious, but that is just the problem. Something that sweet is just too hard to say, “no” to when it stares me in the face. I want something that is subtlety sweet and just as delicious, so that when I finish my bowl I am satisfied…not feeling like a drug addict who just needs one more. By making our own ice cream I am determined to come up with the recipe that is just that.

The non-dietitians reading this might think that this sounds crazy, but there is a method to my madness, I promise. Your taste buds change every 3-4 weeks. This is why if you give up a food for a month the next time you eat the food, it just doesn’t taste like you remember. All of our taste buds are programmed to like sweet, salty, and savory (fat), because those are the things that ensured survival back in the days of hunters and gatherers. Unfortunately, our society now has more sugar, salt, and fat at our disposal, and food companies monopolize on the idea. Most things we eat have more of these ingredients than they really need to taste good. These ingredients are cheap, so it is to the manufacturers benefits to use more than needed. Why? First, they will ensure that everyone’s taste buds are digging the food. Second, they will work to change our taste buds to like more sugar, salt, and fat, leaving us more addicted (we are fatter, they are richer).  I could go on and on, but I think you get the point 😉

I am so excited to try it out and have complied a few recipes to test. Here are just a few. If you have a favorite, please share! Once I perfect my own recipe I will take pictures and post.

Once I find the perfect recipe, I will need to make some ice cream sandwiches. August 2nd is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, so I better get to work! Here is a list of ice cream sandwiches to try. I plan to first perfect a healthy vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and then scoop in between two of my favorite cookies.

Homemade Frozen Desserts (without an ice cream machine)

I recently learned that you can use ripe, frozen bananas to  make creamy frozen desserts…why did I not know about this before?! This began my search for homemade frozen treats that I can make during this (excessively) hot summer. I have yet to try them, but I am accumulating a list and figured I’d organize them here. Most of these recipes don’t require anything you wouldn’t already have at home, but there is a new product out there called Yonanas that is like a soft serve machine.

Healthy Options

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt made with yogurt

A take on Chunky Monkey and Chubby Hubby with yogurt and bananas

Fruit-flavored frozen yogurt with jell-o and yogurt

Strawberry frozen yogurt

Bananas in a bag recipe

2-ingredient banana ice cream (peanut butter and bananas…my favorite food combination!)

Less Healthy Options (okay in moderation!)
Most of the ice cream recipes seem to need heavy cream of sweetened condensed milk. I am guessing this is due to the fact that you aren’t using a machine but still want a creamy texture. If you try any of these recipes and make healthy modifications, please share!!

Homemade ice cream in a bag

Mix and chill homemade ice cream 

Homemade ice cream in a pan

Simple sorbet

Easy mix-and-freeze ice cream

The ice cube method for making ice cream

EASY Homemade Yogurt

This is probably the coolest thing I have ever done with my slow cooker! Yes, that is right, I made yogurt in my slow cooker. I am so excited to tell everyone about this!

I found the recipe at A Year of Slow Cooking. It is a blog documenting a woman’s challenge to use her slow cooker everyday for a year. I think this is the coolest thing ever, since we are all so busy and rarely ever have time to cook good family meals. Plus, the slow cooker is much cheaper to run than an over – it only costs about 2 cents per hour!

Now, on the yogurt, The recipe is for whole milk (AKA vitamin D milk, which by the way has no more vitamin D in it than regular milk) but anyone who knows me knows that I would probably never even consider of purchasing whole milk. At the end of the recipe, Stephanie (the author of the blog mentioned above) mentions you can use unflavored gelatin with a lower fat milk. She also mentions you can strain runny yogurt with a cheesecloth or coffee filters. We had skim milk in the house (of course) so despite all of the warnings on her website about using whole milk for your first time, I decided I try the recipe with skim milk and unflavored gelatin.

The result was a little runny, so I let it sit overnight in a colander lined with coffee filters that I put into a big bowl. If you do this you want to make sure that the colander is not touching the bottom of the bowl – if it is, the liquid won’t be able to go anywhere! If the colander is too big for the bowl, your yogurt may strain into your refrigerator; you could place the colander on a smaller bowl and then place all of this into a larger bowl to catch any extra liquid.

I did loose about 1-2 cups of liquid, so the skim milk version does not make all 8 cups. If you really wanted to stick to skim milk, you could add some powdered milk and/or more gelatin to the recipe. This should help thicken the liquid up.Regardless, this is WAY cheaper than purchasing yogurt at the store. We buy 32oz plain yogurt tubs at Aldi’s for $1.60, which is an amazing deal (it would be $3 or so at Jewel Osco). We buy 1 gallon of milk for $1.89 at Aldis and the gelatin was about 25 cents a packet. Basically, we got about 2 tubs of yogurt for $1.15. I am going to try this with 2% milk next time; I think it will get a much higher yield.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 qt crock pot
  • 8 cups (half-gallon) of milk
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 bath towels

 Directions
  1. Turn your crockpot on low and add the milk. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.
  2. Unplug the crockpot after the 2 1/2 hours and let sit for 3 hours.
  3. Remove 2 cups of milk from the crockpot and replace the lid. Pour the milk into a bowl and add 1 packet of unflavored gelatin (if using low-fat milk) and 1/2 cup yogurt. Whisk well and pour back into crock pot. Whisk everything in the crockpot well and replace the lid.
  4. Cover the crockpot with towels. Let stand 8-9 hours.
  5. If the yogurt is runny, line a colander with coffee filters or a cheesecloth. Place this into a bowl or pot so that the calendar is not touching the bottom. Scoop the yogurt onto the filters. Let stand in the refrigerator until it reaches the desired consistency. The yogurt closest to the filters will be thicker than the yogurt on top, so you can mix it together for an intermediate consistency.
  6. Scoop into containers and store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. Reserve 1/4 cup for your next batch.