Friday, June 10, 2011

Baked Mac and Cheese

I’ve made homemade macaroni and cheese a few times, and it was always good but I never followed a “recipe”.  My friend Amiee (from my college days) also has a blog and posted this.  This recipe has been slightly adapted to suit my family and the ingredients I usually have on hand. It is way tastier than any of the concoctions I’ve made in the past, and I get consistently awesome results. 

Baked Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Amiee @

8 oz large elbow macaroni
2/3 lb Cheddar/Colby Jack/whatever your preference, shredded
4 oz cream cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cans evaporated milk
6-8 slices of American cheese, unwrapped
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 stick of butter, sliced
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 ½ cup bread crumbs (I always make fresh – just put 2-3 slices of bread into the food processor and pulse into crumbs)
Tony Chachere’s seasoning
Boil pasta in a large pot, according to package directions. Drain. Pour noodles back into the same pot. Toss in butter slices. Mix until melted. Pour in all the evaporated milk. Then add the shredded cheese. Add seasoning and taste your mixture until it tastes salted enough. Once you think you've got that part right, add the beaten egg. Mix well. Pour half your mixture into a small casserole dish (8x8 or equivalent).  Randomly scatter half of your cream cheese cubes and press them down.  Then top with your American cheese slices – you may only need 4 of them. Add the rest of your pasta mixture and top with the rest of your cream cheese cubes.  Mix the melted tablespoon of butter and the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle over the top of your Mac and Cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until sides are nice and bubbly and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

This is the perfect amount of food to use as a side dish for 6-8 people. I’ve heard it reheats well, but we’ve never had leftovers.  Since this is a very rich dish, I usually serve it with something light like grilled chicken and a salad.  I’m sure it could also be fancied up by using stronger regional cheeses, adding broccoli to your pot of boiling pasta (then making it the same way), or by adding cubed turkey, chicken or ham.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Banana Muffins

Confession:  I love muffins.  I especially love muffins that are made with banana, pumpkin, zucchini, or anything else that will make for a dense, moist texture.  These are the muffins that stay good for days on the counter top or months in the freezer.  Add chocolate to any of those muffins and I'm sold.  I also love google.  I had some spare bananas and wanted to bake a new twist on an old favorite.  Google lead me here.  Having failed miserably almost every time I've tried to make a quick bread, I now adapt all the quick breads I make into muffins.

Chocolate Banana Muffins
Adapted from

3 ripe bananas, mashed (approx 1 lb)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (pick your favorite sweetness-I almost exclusively choose semi-sweet/dark)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients until just combined and batter is thick and chunky. Fold in the chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into prepared tins until ½ full. Bake until muffins have risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the muffins from the tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield approx 15 muffins.  These muffins freeze beautifully!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Birthdays and Cupcakes and Brownies, oh my!

For special occasions, I’ve recently started making my friends food instead of buying gifts.  Food tastes good.  Food always fits.  You don’t have to worry about a gift receipt when you give someone food.  Also, I don’t like the pressure of an occasion gift. If I see something *perfect* for you in August, I’ll buy it and give it to you just because I like you…I won’t wait till Christmas.  On the flip side, you probably won’t get a Christmas gift from me unless I happened to find that gem during the month of December.  As an added bonus, when you give someone food, they almost always share it with you. 
I have lots of friends with springtime birthdays.  I did a lot of baking in May.  For two of my friends, the inspiration (read: entire recipe) came from here and here.  (Thanks, Joy the Baker!) 

(I also made these cupcakes in their full-size glory for Cinco de Mayo – what can I say…when you’re a housewife you have to make your own party sometimes – and they were literally the best cupcakes I’ve ever made!)
Jodi turned 30, so I made her 30 mini cupcakes for her 30th birthday.  I took them with me when I went to get my hair cut and colored (before we became friends she was my stylist).  She shared them with all her co-workers, and of course (coupled with the fact that I brought this guy) I was the most popular girl there.
Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
makes about 2 dozen cupcakes
Borrowed from Joy the Baker who adapted it from The Gourmet Cookbook
For the Cupcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
For the Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup dulce de leche, plus more for drizzling
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper or foil liners.  Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add butter and sugars.  Beat on medium speed until fluffy and pale brown, about 3 minutes.   Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add one egg.  Beat on medium for one minute.  Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition.  Stop the bowl and scrape down the sides as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract.
Add half of the flour mixture to the egg and butter mixture.  Beat on low speed and slowly drizzle in the buttermilk.  Beat until just incorporated.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the bowl and add the rest of the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and finish incorporating with a spatula.  Try not to over mix the mixture.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake pans, filling each liner about two thirds full.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean.  Let rest in the cupcake pans before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cupcakes should be completely cooled before frosting.
To make the frosting:
Place cream cheese in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, until very soft and pliable.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the butter and dulce de leche.  Beat on medium speed until well incorporated.  Stop the mixer and add the salt and powdered sugar.  Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fluffy and lighter in color.  Generously spoon frosting on top of cupcakes, or use a large frosting tip to pipe on frosting.
For garnish, I heated a few spoonfuls of dulce de leche of a low flame until just pourable.  Then I drizzled it over the cupcakes and topped with a few sprinkles.  Add a few sprinkles of fine sea salt if you're feeling fancy.  I stored the cupcakes in the fridge for an hour to chill the frosting slightly.  
I like to enjoy my cupcakes within two days of preparing them.  Feel free to wrap and refrigerate them because of the cream cheese in the frosting.  Let come close to room temperature before serving.

*The first time I made the frosting I needed about 6 cups of powdered sugar (it was hot and kind of humid outside) to make it pipable.  The second time I only needed the 2-3 cups. 

I decided to make brownies for Steph for her birthday last week.  I decided she should get one moist, delicious brownie for every year we’ve been friends.  That’s a significant amount of years.  We’ve seen each other through some significant stuff.  And these were some significant brownies.
S’mores Brownies
Borrowed from Joy the Baker who adapted it from Bon Appetit, October 1991

1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed with your hands
12 big marshmallows  (I also diced 6 additional marshmallows and stirred them into the batter. These marshmallows dissolve when baked, so you can leave them out, or throw them in.  Up to you!)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9x13-inch baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Combine first 3 ingredients in small bowl. Stir butter and chocolate in a medium sized bowl over a  heavy  saucepan of simmering water.  Stir chocolate and butter in this double boiler until melted and smooth.
Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Stir in warm chocolate mixture, then dry ingredients. Fold in graham crackers.  Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows.  Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30- 40 minutes minutes.
Marshmallows will be browned and puffy but will deflate as the brownies cool.  Cool for at least 20 minutes than slice with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with hot water if it gets too messy and sticky.  Serve or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.
*The only alteration I would make to this recipe is instead of broken graham crackers in the brownie, I would break off large chunks and put them on top (kind of slide them in under the gooey marshmallow) when there's about 5 minutes of baking time left.  The grahams inside the brownie went soft, and I would like to see them add some crunch.
Happy baking!