Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

I’m just going to start out by saying that you’re going to want to serve this macaroni and cheese as a part of your Thanksgiving meal, so go ahead and write it on your menu right now. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Okay, great. I’m glad you agree that this macaroni and cheese is DEFINITELY holiday-worthy. It’s also the-in-laws-are-coming-for-dinner worthy, or rainy-Saturday-watching-football worthy, or birthday-dinner worthy. This macaroni and cheese is perfect for any day, any occasion, and I advise that you make it often.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

One of my favorite parts about this mac and cheese? That it doesn’t require making a roux, and waiting 100 hours for your sauce to thicken. No matter how many times I make cheese sauces, I frequently have issues – the cheese separates and the sauce breaks, the sauce never quite thickens up right, the sauce thickens TOO MUCH, etc – and it was FABULOUS to not have to worry about all that. Definitely another tally mark in the “Pro” column.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese
serves 6-8

1lb macaroni noodles, cooked just shy of al dente
1 cup heavy cream
8oz beer
8oz cream cheese
6oz cheddar cheese, grated
6oz smoked gouda, grated (divided)
1 heaping tablespoon chile salsa*
heaping 1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
olive oil

*Let’s briefly discuss the chile salsa. I bought this salsa a while back, and despite its rather steep price tag, I would buy it again, a million times over. I use just the tiniest bit in all kinds of applications – mixed with some greek yogurt to top a baked potato, spread thinly on top of the cream cheese on a bagel, smeared onto a sandwich. The little hint of heat and smoke it adds to any dish is fantastic. I’d highly recommend it. HOWEVER: if you don’t have this particular salsa, and have no desire to acquire it, here are some alternatives for this particular dish:

– one minced chipotle pepper (with sauce), plus a teaspoon of smoked paprika
– any good, smoky salsa (preferably one with a less chunky texture), drained of its liquid
– one teaspoon each smoked paprika and chile powder plus a 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1.) Preheat your oven to 375°, and put your pasta water on to boil. Meanwhile, add your heavy cream, beer, and cream cheese to a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and place it over medium-low heat. Whisk occasionally as the mixture heats, until the cream cheese is well-combined with the cream and beer.

2.) Salt your pasta water well, and get your noodles cooking. Be careful not to overcook them; you want them to have a bit more bite than you want them to have in the final, baked dish.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

3.) Add the onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and chile salsa to the cream mixture. Whisk to combine everything. Then, add all the grated cheddar and all of the gouda, save for a small handful (set that small handful of gouda aside for the topping). Whisk until the cheese is melted and you have a smooth, even sauce. Turn the heat down to low.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

4.) Drain your pasta, and add it to the cheese sauce. Stir until all the noodles are coated.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

5.) Pour your macaroni and cheese into a baking dish (9×13-ish is fine). Sprinkle the panko and the reserved gouda over the top of the macaroni, and lightly mist or drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are just browned, and everything is warmed through. (Don’t over-bake this dish! It will dry out, and be slightly less delicious, and that will be sad.)

If you can manage not to go back for seconds and thirds of this stuff, then you are a stronger person than I am. The cheese sauce is SO flavorful and creamy; the chile salsa adds a perfect spice, without being too hot or overbearing, and it works beautifully with the smoky gouda. I will certainly never, ever, ever turn down a bowl of regular old mac and cheese – but this version takes mac and cheese to a whole new place. You should go there.

Beer and Chile Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is a traditional Thanksgiving dish, right?

Lasagna with Meat Sauce

I have a deep and unwavering love for pasta – and making pastas with fun and different combinations of ingredients, like cauliflower and bacon, or italian sausage and whole grain mustard. But, sometimes you just want a classic pasta dish – some good old red sauce filled with ground beef, and lots of mozzarella! For those days, this is a quick and easy, basic lasagna; I’d say it only required about 20 minutes of active prep time, it baked up fairly quickly (about 30 minutes), and it was incredibly tasty.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce
serves about 6, generously

For the sauce:
1 T olive oil
one medium yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1lb ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)
2 T tomato paste
28oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
14oz can diced tomatoes
2 t dried oregano
2 T sugar
salt and pepper

For the lasagna:
one batch of meat sauce
1/2lb no-boil lasagna noodles
15oz whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
12oz sliced mozzarella

1.) Start by making your meat sauce. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, and then add the onion. Cook until nearly translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

2.) Push the garlic and onion off to the sides of the pot, and add your ground beef. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the beef is browned and cooked through; drain any excess fat and liquid from the pot.

3.) Add the tomato paste to the beef mixture, and stir until it’s evenly distributed. Open your can of whole, peeled tomatoes, and use a pair of kitchen scissors to chop them up a bit – no need to be exact about it, I just kind of stick the scissors into the can and chop away. Pour the chopped whole tomatoes, and the diced tomatoes (with their juices) into the pot, and stir.

4.) Add the oregano and sugar to the sauce, along with another healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine well; let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until it’s slightly reduced and thickened, stirring occasionally.

5.) Preheat your oven to 375°. While the sauce reduces, make your ricotta filling. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg, and about 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until the consistency is smooth.

6.) When the sauce is ready, it’s time to assemble your lasagna! I used a 9×9 baking dish, but any equivalent size will do. Begin with a layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top the sauce with a layer of lasagna noodles (breaking some up to fill the dish from side to side, if necessary), then a layer of the ricotta mixture, then a layer of sliced mozzarella. Repeat the layering 2 more times, ending with the mozzarella.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

7.) Lightly spray the top of the lasagna with some olive oil, and place it on to a larger, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Once you remove the lasagna from the oven, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes before serving, so the layers have a chance to set, and you don’t end up with a runny mess.

This lasagna was delicious! And, because the active prep time is minimal – it was great for a weeknight. I threw the sauce together, got some stuff done around the house while it simmered, then assembled the lasagna, and caught up on some laundry while it baked! I served it with a garlicky kale salad and some fantastic, crusty dinner rolls (recipe coming soon), and it was perfect. Of course, the lasagna made for several days of great work lunches, as well, much to my husband’s delight.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

You could also make this lasagna ahead if you wanted to. Assemble the day before you want to cook it, wrap it and stick it in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake it, allow the lasagna to sit at room temp while the oven heats, and then bake it as usual. Alternatively, you could bake the lasagna, allow it to cool completely, then wrap it tightly and freeze it. When you’re ready to serve it, it can go straight from the freezer to the oven; it will require an extra 15 minutes or so of baking time.

Why don’t I make lasagna more often?

Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto and Chicken Thighs

Pasta is a great staple to keep in the pantry – it makes for a quick and easy dinner any night of the week, without much stress or thought. Unfortunately, though, you can get stuck in a rut pretty quickly – noodle + red sauce + protein gets a little boring week after week. This pasta dish is about as quick as opening up a jar of marinara, and tossing the noodles into boiling water – it probably involves about 5 more minutes of prep, but it’s super flavorful, and a total departure from your usual red sauce and ground beef.

Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto and Chicken Thighs

Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto and Chicken Thighs
adapted from here
Serves about 6

1 pound orecchiette, cooked until al dente
8oz shelled pistachios*
2-3 T chopped fresh mint
4 green onions
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
about 2/3 pound chicken thighs, baked and shredded

*If you can’t find shelled pistachios, you’ll need about 16oz of unshelled pistachios to get as much as this recipe requires. You’ll also need a high threshold for searing pain in your fingertips, as shelling that many pistachios is an exercise in frustration and throbbing hands.

1.) Start by preheating your oven to 350°, and baking your chicken. I happened to have a package of chicken legs in the freezer, so that’s what I used – but regular chicken thighs will work great. Rub the meat with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a foil-lined baking dish for 30-45 minutes (bone-in chicken will require more toward 45 minutes; boneless should be cooked through in 30). Remove the chicken from the oven, let it cool slightly, and shred with two forks.

2.) While the chicken bakes, set your pasta water to boil, and make the pesto. Add the pistachios to your food processor, and pulse until the pistachios are well-chopped, but still fairly chunky (about 10, one-second pulses). Add the mint, 2 of the green onions, and garlic, and pulse a couple more times; then, let the food processor run while you drizzle the olive oil in. Keep in mind that you want everything to be evenly processed, but you still want the pesto to have a good amount of texture.

3.) Remove the pesto to another bowl, and stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Set aside. Salt the pasta water well, once it has come to a boil, and cook your pasta.

4.) Before draining the pasta, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water; drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and shredded chicken thighs to the pot, and pour in the reserved pasta water. Stir until everything is well-combined.

5.) Take your remaining green onions, and cut them into 1/2″ pieces on an angle. Garnish your plates of pasta with the green onions, and more grated parmesan.

Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto and Chicken Thighs

This pesto is GOOD. It’s incredibly flavorful, and pairs nicely with the richness of the chicken thighs, but the two don’t compete with one another. The green onions and mint lighten it up enough so that it’s not heavy, and the pistachios are nutty and salty and crunchy, which is a great departure from your typical tomato-based meat sauce. Paired with a big salad and some crusty bread, this dish would be great for company!

You could definitely make the pesto a day or two ahead of time; just allow it to sit out at room temperature for about an hour before mixing it with the pasta (the chill of the fridge stiffens up the olive oil, which makes it hard to mix into the pasta when it’s cold). Also, you can totally omit the chicken if you’d prefer for this to be a vegetarian dish!

Seriously, the shelled pistachios are worth the extra $1,

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

Well, friends, I have been sick for over a week now. And I tell you what – I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I’ve alternated between making comfort foods (like this tomato soup), snacking on whatever sounded good when I had no appetite, and ordering takeout on the days that cooking seemed an insurmountable task. Finally, I hauled myself to the grocery store on Sunday (my most sincere apologies to anyone who had to witness my sneezing, snotty, slightly-green-faced self), and loaded my cart up with all kinds of stuff to make a veggie-packed, comforting minestrone soup. I am not always much of a soup person, but a big bowl of soup filled with vegetables and pasta and lots of parmesan sounded like just the thing I needed.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

Added bonus: it was pretty darn quick to make! So, about the time I felt the need to retire to my fainting couch for a rest, everything was in the pot and ready for a simmer. Excellent.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons
serves 4-6

5 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced small
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
two 15oz cans petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 3-4″ parmesan rind*
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
8oz small pasta, cooked until al dente
Freshly grated parmesan

For the croutons:
one 3-4 oz ciabatta roll, cut into 1″ cubes
1 T olive oil
kosher salt
garlic powder

*Even if you are not in the habit of buying fresh chunks of parmesan, this soup would be a good reason to start. The rind of the parmesan adds a lot of flavor to the soup as it simmers, and it would be tough to pull comparable flavor from simply adding parmesan to the soup. As I go through parmesan, I just throw the rinds into a plastic ziploc bag, and keep them in the freezer for use later. If you don’t already have a rind waiting for you, just cut it off the fresh chunk of cheese you bring home from the store, and use it right away!

1.) Add the bacon pieces to a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and turn the heat to medium. Allow the bacon to cook until crisp, and then remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Drain off all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease.

2.) Add the carrots and onion to the pot, stirring to coat with the bacon grease. Season with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about one minute more.

3.) Pour the tomatoes and chicken stock into the pot, and bring the soup to a boil; immediately reduce to a simmer. Add the cannellini beans, green beans, parmesan rind, oregano, and pepper to the pot, and allow everything to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the green beans are bright green, and crisp-tender.

4.) While the soup simmers, make your croutons. Preheat your oven to 350°, and line a small baking sheet with foil. Pour the olive oil over the bread cubes, and toss until all the cubes are well coated. Sprinkle the croutons with the kosher salt and garlic powder, and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

5.) When the soup is ready, spoon some pasta into the bottom of the bowls, and then ladle the soup over it. Top with some of the reserved bacon, croutons, and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

This soup covers a lot of bases: salty (parmesan and bacon), crispy (croutons), creamy (pasta and beans), and healthy (lots of veggies)! The crisp green beans lent a nice freshness to the soup, as well. One small side note: if you are planning to serve ALL of the soup immediately, you could add the pasta (already cooked) right into the soup a few minutes before serving, so it just warms through. However, if you’re planning on having leftovers, I find it’s best to keep the pasta separate from the soup, and just add it right before serving; that way, the pasta doesn’t get soggy and mushy from soaking in the soup.

Fingers crossed a few servings of this soup will kick the tail end of this illness,