Tag: pasta

Adventures in Quinoa – Mac’n’Cheese is a Good Start

Change is good for the soul as they say. Good is certainly a matter of perspective, especially when we are talking about medical issues that result in a major change in the food we eat. Both my husband and my youngest were advised to remove artificial dyes, additives, preservatives and chemicals from the food they eat. In short, it means if you can’t pronounce it, then they shouldn’t eat it.

Add to this that the youngest also will not eat meat unless it is ground and hidden in something and even then he may pick some out(That is the sensory processing disorder, it is a texture thing.) and the older kids are pretty sure that cooking veggies is a crime against humanity in which a war tribunal should be constructed to execute a swift and severe punishment. Well that leaves us with organic PB & J’s for the rest of forever because I am not about to make three different dinners for five people.

Before I completely threw in the towel and bought a year’s worth of mason jars for making jam, I went to the internet.

We live in a golden age of information and misinformation where food is concerned. I could spend the rest of an eternity fact checking and cross referencing the articles available on this kind of thing. One alternative that kept popping up was quinoa.

Quinoa is a super versatile grain that is a cross between pasta and rice with a slight nutty flavor. Quinoa is also a big dietary component of those who are gluten free. Many recipes I found consist of other gluten free, dairy free, vegan friendly ingredients. Thankfully the restrictions I am working with aren’t quite as limiting. There was some tweaking involved when we started this new adventure.

New textures and dishes have a tendency to fly like a lead balloon around here if I am not careful, but I felt like it was worth a chance. Quinoa has many healthy characteristics and leads itself to a great side dish.

I started out with quinoa mac and cheese. Cheese makes everything better doesn’t it? Start out by cooking the quinoa according to the package directions. Some need to be rinsed before cooking, much like wild rice. Once it is cooked, combine the cooked quinoa, 2 cloves of garlic minced, 2 large eggs, 1 cup of milk and 1 ½ cups of cheddar cheese(More if you would like to sprinkle some on top), and a dash of salt and pepper. Combine until all the ingredients are incorporated and bake in a 9×13 pan at 350 for 30/35 minutes.

Quinoa Mac and Cheese. HOLY CHEESUS!!! Healthy and packed with protein (made with Almond Milk)...what if I added ground flaxseed into the panko crumbs for added fiber with the broccoli? There would be so much nutritional value that I wouldn't be able to feel guilty about the cheese :)

Serve immediately and be sure not to overcook this dish as the quinoa continues to soak up the extra moisture and you will lose all that creamy goodness. If you like, you can add steamed veggies before baking or top with panko bread crumbs and/or crumbled bacon for some extra crunch. Even our youngest was willing to try a few bites so all in all it was a win-win. Stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Quinoa.

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Homemade Ravioli and Meatballs in a Red Sauce

Despite what the calendar might say, there aren’t many signs of spring to be seen just yet. I’m not complaining though. The frigid temperatures have given me a valid reason to stay inside and try some of the many recipes that, for one reason or another, are not warm weather fare.

The first recipe I have always wanted to try was ravioli with red sauce and meatballs.(Don’t worry. Those of you who are screaming for a cream sauce…it is in the works.) We will break this up into three parts and walk you through the steps. While it does take a bit of elbow grease, the end result is well worth it.

PART 1: The Sauce

Red sauce goes by many different names. Marinara, spaghetti sauce, or “Sunday gravy” are just to name a few. Whatever you like to call it says as much about where you are from as what you would put into the sauce.

Mince up one large onion and at least two cloves of garlic. Melt one or two Tbsp butter and one Tbsp olive oil in the bottom of your stock pot then add the onions and garlic. In five to ten minutes the onions will become translucent. That’s when you know it is time to add the tomatoes and herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and marjoram are all good options for seasoning. Pick your favorites. How many cans of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes you use is entirely dependent on how many people you are trying to feed. Our family of five uses 6 cans combined. On low heat you can let this simmer all day if you like. The longer it simmers the more water that will cook off and more of the flavor will come through. If you are in a hurry you can thicken the sauce with tomato paste as well. Stay close to your stove though, stirring occasionally.

PART 2: The Meatballs

Making your own meatballs is fairly simple. If you have ground meat and an ice cream scoop you are ready to get down to it. 2 ½ lbs of meat will feed the whole family and provide plenty of leftovers to freeze to use later for quick meals on weekday nights. Ground turkey is what is used around here but you can use whatever tickles your fancy. Combine the thawed meat with bread crumbs, minced onion, minced garlic, eggs, salt, pepper and some the herbs that were mentioned above.The amount of bread crumbs will change based on the meat used, the size of the eggs as well as the weather. No, I’m not joking, humidity changes things.

Use a stand mixer or kitchen gadget if you like but nothing seems to work quite as well as my own two hands to get this completely worked together.  You are looking for a consistency of meaty play dough.

Once mixed, use an ice cream scoop to get uniform sized meatballs, that way they will all be done at the same time. Bake at 350 on a cookies sheet with a rack to allow the grease to drip off. Use a meat thermometer to check for proper temperature.

PART 3: The Pasta

Use a food processor with a dough blade or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. You will need some arm strength left for the rolling pin.

First, start with 1½ cups of flour and 2 eggs. Start on the lowest setting unless you would like to recreate a mushroom cloud of flour dust in your kitchen. Once it is looking incorporated then add just enough water to make the dough workable. Start with one tablespoon and add one more at a time. You don’t want it too sticky. Once you have dough that has pulled away from the sides of bowl and is forming a natural ball then cover with plastic wrap, tin foil, or a bowl with a snap seal lid. Let it rest for at least thirty minutes.

When you are ready to start rolling the dough split it into two pieces. It makes the rolling easier.(If you are lucky enough to have a pasta roller this is a snap.) Roll out your dough till it is less than an eighth on an inch thick. Cut it into 2×2 squares, a pizza cutter or pastry wheel will make quick work of this.

When I made these I used fresh mozzarella but you can use spinach feta, squash anything you like. With a small teaspoon place the filling on one half of the 2×2 square, brush with an egg wash along the edges and crimp the edges with a fork. Once the ravioli is assembled they can be frozen and used at a later time.

Cook the ravioli in small batches to prevent them sticking to the bottom of your pot or each other. Boil them for 3-5 minutes and ladle them out and repeat. Serve with the red sauce and meatballs.


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Mac and Cheese: The Next Level

By simply using the words “comfort foods”, you have got yourself a whole conversation when in a group of friends. It’s meaning is as wide and as varied as we are.

One common comfort foods may be pasta. That old familiar “blue box” macaroni and cheese may have been one of the first things you were allowed to cook by yourself. Even the most poor college student could rummage through the couch to find enough to afford a meal to make it through one more cram session. As adults with children of our own we may even still reach for our powered packet friend from time to time. But mac and cheese doesn’t have to be a last resort and we can even ditch the blue box, at least for the moment.

Once the pasta is boiled and drained the real corner stone of any great cheese sauce it the roux. Roux is not just for the great kitchen chefs behind sparkling sliver doors. It’s for you too, I promise.

While it’s binding abilities may seem a bit mystifying it’s really not magic. If you can understand a one to one ratio you’ve got it! When making a roux you need equal parts of fat to dry. The trick is equal parts by weight not by volume(Thanks, dad!). So that means if you are using four tablespoons of butter you need to whisk in four tablespoons of flour. Keep stirring while it’s cooking. The cook time depends on your own preferences. However, the darker the roux the less thickening ability it will possess. Once it’s to your liking, add your cold cream, milk, or the liquid of your preference and… Bingo bang-go! You have a great base for your cheese sauce.

Now comes the fun part. The cheese! The tried and true cheese of choice is of coarse cheddar. If you are at my house, the sharper the better. For those of you who like a kick, pepper jack is always tasty too. Gouda and blue cheese can add depth and dimension for those with a more distinguished palette. Mix and match, pick and choose, with the cheese the world is your oyster.

mararoni and cheese

Steamed veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach can all be used as stir in options. Although, steaming them first and removing as much water as you can is helpful. Adding extra liquid may thin out your dish. Finishing touches can be anything from simply adding additional cheese on top, some precooked bacon, ham, chicken, or even pork chops. Once finished, you have a one-pot meal that the entire family can enjoy.

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