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Monday, December 31, 2012

Mac and Cheese - Quick, Easy and not from a Box

Comfort food on cold snowy days has to include Macaroni and Cheese. It's so easy to make from scratch.  Here's what you need to keep on hand:
Kraft Cracker Barrel® Sharp Cheddar Cheese (you can use other sharp cheese)
Creamette® Macaroni
Now for the two secret ingrediants
McCormick® Dry Mustard and McCormick® Cayenne Pepper

I must take a minute here to comment on the Cheese. This is important because it is the taste of the dish. Cracker Barrel Cheddar is made down the street in Wisconsin. So what, you say. I know the cheese makers and in conversations I have learned that milk for central Wisconsin produces the finest Cheddar Cheese in the world. We have two Cheese plants in my little town and both, year after year win international cheese competitions. These plants sell their cheese to Kraft. That's why, for the best flavor I recommend Kraft Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar Cheese.

The way I make macaroni and cheese breaks all the rules but it will always be perfect and so easy to make. Notice there are no measurements.  That's how incredibly easy this is.

Here we go.

In a Sauce pan of rapidly boiling water add 1 tablespoon of salt and  2 cups of macaroni noodles.  (see instructions below on cooking macaroni)
While the macaroni is cooking grate about 1 1/2 cup of cheese (or you can buy the pre shredded cheese and then just use one 8 oz package)
When the pasta is cooked, drain and place back in the pan. Turn the heat down just a little.
Now plop in 2 tablespoons or there about of butter followed by 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir to melt the butter and mix the flour with the butter.
Add enough milk to bee seen but not cover the pasta (this is about 2 cups) I just pour it in until I can see the milk. If you don't add enough, you can always add more later. This is a very forgiving process.
Add 1 tsp of Dry Mustard, 1/2 tsp of Cayenne Pepper, 1tsp of salt, and a sprinkle of black pepper.
Stir until the milk thickens to the consistency of gravy. It should pour off the spoon (again if it is too thick add more milk). When the milk mixture has thickened and is bubbling add the cheese and stir to mix. That's it, you're done.

If you want to dress up your Mac and Cheese with a Tex-Mex flair, serve with  a dollop of Ro-Tel® Tomato and Green Chili and a side of Tostitos® Corn Chips. Comfort food at it's best.

If you are new to cooking pasta here's the skinny.
Add 1 tablespoon salt to 3 quarts rapidly boiling water in deep kettle. Drop 2 cups macaroni into the boiling water gradually so water keeps boiling. Cook, uncovered, at fast boil, stirring occasionally with long fork to prevent sticking. Cook just until tender ( see time on package). Test by fishing out on noodle and eating it, if not done cook 1 minute longer.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bulk freezing of Onions, Celery and other aromatics

 You want a great soup, stew, dinner and you want it quick. If you keep fresh celery and onions always on hand you know you throw most of them away. Their shelf life is limited as they get rusty and limp. Also, who wants to cry every time you make a stew?  If you start your stew, like I do,  in the crock pot in the morning - you don't want to go to work smelling of chopped onions. That's a good way to spend the morning alone.  So here's a solution: your freezer! I chop and freeze 5 to 10 lbs  of onions at a time, less of celery and peppers. One gallon freezer bag will hold 5 lbs. It's easy and will take under 30 minutes to prepare and chop large aromatics like celery and onions, 5 minutes to wash and freeze leafy herbs. The key to this is the oil, it keeps the vegetables from clumping and seals them from freezer burn and taste change.

Having these aromatics on hand at easy reach will change the way you make dinner and save you time and frustration.

Drizzle oil over the top 
I keep bags of chopped celery, peppers, onions, Parsley, Thyme, Basel, and Sage frozen in my freezer. They will keep for 3 to 6 months and are a real timesaver not to mention they taste like fresh. What you need beside your freezer:
Freezer bags ( either Glad® or Ziploc® they have the best seal)
Pompeian Extra virgin olive oil (If you like the buttery taste of olive oil use the dark green oil, if not use the light oil)
Large jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with sides

break up Onions and store in bag
Next step: Onions, Peppers, Celery
Coat the bottom of the pan with a generous amount of oil
Place onions in cold cold water to clean and peal. The cold water will revive the freshness of the onion.
Chop the onions and place on cookie sheet or jellyroll pan.
When all the Onions are chopped, drizzle oil over the top and place the pan in the freezer to freeze overnight. Next day break up and place in freezer bags. That's it.
Follow the same procedure for peppers and celery
The oil will prevent freezing into lumps. To use simply measure and place in your dish.

Leafy herbs freeze as is - remove large stems when frozen
Parsley, Thyme, Basel, Sage or any leafy herb
The procedure is somewhat similar with the exception of the chopping.
Place in very cold water,
Coat the bottom of the pan with oil
take out of the water and pat dry then place on the pan one layer deep.
Do Not add more oil.
Set in freezer overnight
Next morning remove large stems from Thyme and Parsley,  place in freezer bags.
To use, crumble frozen herbs into stews and soups for a fresh herb taste.

Happy cooking

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Freezer is your best friend for quick, great meals

Life is very fast these days, and we are all very busy. In most homes both partners work. Breakfast and dinner are easy meals to opt for fast or convenience foods. So why not make it easy in the morning? Cook all the bacon or sausage and store it in the freezer. It is so easy to pop it in the microwave. Add a scrambled egg, bagel some cheese and a quick breakfast for on the go folks.  Time to prepare this Breakfast is under 2 minutes.

Now to tackle Dinner. When you need to make a little, make a lot. The secret is it takes the same amount of time to make 1 meatloaf or 10. So making multiple dinners at the same time is a no brainer. After dinner package up the multiples and tuck them away in the freezer for future meals. This making multiple meals works well with any casserole dish as well as the following:
Pot roast
Pulled Pork
Chicken (Freeze meat off the bone)
Chicken and Dumplings
All Soups
All Roasts (make sure to slice all the meat)