Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Creamy Stovetop White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

The creamiest, cheesiest mac and cheese you'll ever taste! This quick and easy stove top version can be ready in 20 minutes and is perfect as either a splurge worthy dinner or tasty side dish!

I have a hard time turning down a good mac and cheese - sometimes I channel my inner 5 year old and order it simply as my meal! While I'm an equal opportunity mac and cheese fan (I'll even eat the - gasp - microwave in a cup kind when a craving hits!), super creamy versions are my favorite.

I've made this recipe several times (including this summer with my children's chef camp - they inhaled it!) and I will warn you that it doesn't reheat well. You really need to serve it almost immediately or it begins to break apart and become gummy and grainy. The upside is that it only takes 20 minutes so you can easily whip it up just a few minutes before dinner is served.

Creamy Stovetop White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
16 oz pasta, any shape (cavatappi is my favorite)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
16 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded (do not use pre-shredded)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Once the butter melts, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 1/2 minutes, whisking constantly. 

Reduce heat to medium and gradually whisk in the milk and heavy cream until no lumps remain. Continue cooking, whisking often, until the sauce thickens and bubbles. 

Reduce heat to low and slowly add the cheese, whisking until melted and smooth. Add the salt, mustard, black pepper, and cooked pasta; stir well. Cook another 1-2 minutes or until the pasta is well coated and hot.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta

Chicken sausage, tomatoes, cream, fresh spinach, basil, and cheese: all the makings of a big bowl of yum. This delicious meal is weeknight friendly and super easy!

Can you believe we are *thisclose* to Christmas? Every year, I decide I'm going to be on the ball: decorate the house, bake for the office, make homemade gifts, ship the presents home in plenty of time, and order cards to send out. And every year, the first Sunday of Advent arrives on the heels of Thanksgiving and I find myself in a race to the finish line. This week and next week, in particular, are crazy busy with work related events to attend and host. And that list above? Not a single thing done!

All that to say - I get it. Pinterest has blown up with adorable baked goods, fancy kids crafts, and professional looking decorations and I'll be lucky to ship my presents out on time!

This pasta is for the rest of us - the people barely holding it together this holiday season. It's so easy you won't find yourself wishing you had just thrown in a frozen pizza when you got home. It's absolutely one of our favorite pasta dishes!

I typically use sundried tomato chicken sausage but you can use any variety you like.

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta
1 pound pasta (I love spirals!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
1½ cups half and half
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 8-ounce bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

Cook pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and tomato paste and continue cooking for an additional minute. Add the chicken sausage, using a wooden spoon to break up the pieces. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the sausage is completely cooked through. 

Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the half and half and Parmesan. Simmer lightly, stirring frequently, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Add the spinach, tomatoes, and basil and stir to combine, using the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed. 

Top with extra Parmesan and basil and serve.

Adapted from Cook Like a Champion

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sausage and Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Sweet acorn squash is packed full of rice, sausage, mushrooms, and herbs. This sweet and savory dish is warm, filling, and perfect for a cold winter day.

I love all squash but think acorn may be my very favorite. I love that you can practically turn it into dessert by loading it up with brown sugar and butter, or stuff it full of rice and sausage and make it an easy dinner! The sausage makes this a simple "all in one" meal for the meat eaters in your life but without the sausage, it'd also make a great side dish (especially at a holiday function).

If you haven't already had your fill of squash, don't miss your chance this year!

Sausage & Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash
1 lb mild Italian sausage
8 ounce mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon ground thyme
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Carefully slice each squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves skin side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 50-60 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until nearly cooked through. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the chopped mushrooms and ground thyme. Continue cooking until the meat is no longer pink and the mushrooms are softened. Add the rice, stir well, and cook 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and stir to ensure all rice is submerged. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Once squash is cooked, remove from the oven and reduce heat to 350. Scoop the cooked mixture into each half, filling as much as possible. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve hot.

See Aimee Cook

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