Classic Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni & Cheese Process
A friend recently told me that in an article she read a statics showed that the top consumer of macaroni & cheese in the Unites States was a tie between toddlers ages 3-6 and college students. These two groups also tied in the most amount of time devoted to taking naps (fun fact!). Since I’ve been away at college, I can one hundred percent attest to these stats. The amount of naps I’ve taken and the countless pounds of noodles and cheese sauce I have consumed is too high to count! And I regret none of it.

Macaroni & cheese is a classic in my family. My mother and I have been playing around and trying new recipes for years. In recent years, she discovered a baked mac and cheese recipe that has an insane amount of cheese and cubes of butter melted into it. It is heavenly! Maybe I’ll do a blog post about it one day? But you might be saying “Nate, wait a minute. I don’t even know the first steps to making homemade mac & cheese!” Fear no longer my friend, because you are about to see that mac and cheese is super easy to make and way better than store bought.

Macaroni & cheese is essentially noodles and a Mornay sauce (which is essentially a fancy term for a basic white sauce with cheese). A Mornay sauce is this equation = roux + cream + cheese.

The beauty of this recipe is that it is completely adaptable! Experiment with different types of cheeses, seasonings, and even infused creams to add a deeper depth of flavor. Below I have included a list of some ideas you (and I) could try and experiment with.

Herb infused cream can add a beautiful depth of flavor to any savory or sweet dish. In a small sauce pan, heat up 1 cup of cream (either milk, heavy cream, or half and half) until it begins to steam.

Take the sauce pan off the heat and in 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of any fresh herb or spice (ie. Rosemary, mint, basil, sage, lavender, chamomile, etc.). Cover and let sit for 25 minutes. Strain out the herbs and store in an airtight container.

  • Herb infused butter: Mix together softened butter with any minced herb. Cover and use when needed!
  • Try different cheeses such as Havarti, mozzarella, feta, and maybe even goat cheese!
  • Season your mac and cheese
    • For heat: use red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, and/or cayenne pepper
    • Use fresh or dried herbs! My mother typically uses garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasons.
    • For a curry inspired dish: add a touch of turmeric for a beautiful orange/yellow color
  • Bake it in the oven!
    • Transfer to an oven safe casserole dish and top the mac and cheese with cheese, bread crumbs, bacon crumbles, fresh herbs, or even crunched up Cheetos or Fritos.
  • Chill it, bread it, and fry it! Great as an appetizer.
  • Have a “Build your own” mac and cheese party! Cook up a big pot of sauce with multiple types of pastas and toppings and let your guests build their own mac and cheese.

Macaroni & Cheese Beauty

Macaroni & Cheese Ingredients

12 oz. box elbow macaroni pasta
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. Clabber Girl Corn Starch
1 c. milk
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. Gouda cheese
1 c. cheddar cheese
½ c. Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions for Macaroni & Cheese

Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with lukewarm water. Add a pinch of salt and heat over medium heat until the water begins to boil. Once the water begins boiling, add the pasta and cook via the instructions on the book. Strain pasta through a colander and return to the Dutch oven.

Elbow Macaroni

In a medium sauce melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the corn starch. This mixture of corn starch and fat is called a roux. Allow the roux to cook for a few moments. Then slowly pour in the cream and whisk to combine.

Note. In order to have the sauce thicken up more quickly, heat the cream in the microwave for 30-45 seconds, just to warm it up. Having the cream roughly the same temperature as the roux will help it thicken up faster.

Whisk the cream occasionally until the sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Once the cream begins to thicken, lower the heat slightly and add the cheeses, whisking to combine. If the sauce seems too thick, add more cream. Stir continuously until the cheeses have melted into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Add the cheese sauce to the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Combining Macaroni & Cheese

Optional step: If you want to bake the mac and cheese, make sure to under cook the pasta slightly. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Transfer the mac and cheese mixture to a greased baking dish. Top with bread crumbs, a drizzle of olive oil, and a light sprinkle of cheese if desired. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.

Cinco de Mayo Party: Margarita Bar

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching and while everyone else may be thinking tacos and churros, I’m over here thinking about the salty, sour, and tart perfection of the Classic Margarita. As many of us gear up to celebrate, we often find ourselves focusing on the food and not the drinks. And it’s hard to fault that game plan, as the food is the star. This year however, I wanted to change things up and focus on the drinks for once. Because let’s face it, what’s a good party without a good cocktail? But then again, why settle for just one. While I love a classic lime margarita, I also love the versatility of it. There are so many variations on that drink it can make your head spin. But how to pull off multiple different flavors and combinations and still stay on theme?

Easy…enter the Margarita Bar.

Margarita Bar Cinco de Mayo

Behind every tasty and delicious margarita is good tequila and fresh ingredients. Like I said before, there are a TON of different flavor combinations that you can make, some of the ones that I came up with are featured in the pictures throughout this post. I went with 5, but you if you go with just 3 flavors you’re still headed in the directions of an amazing Cinco de Mayo party!

Here’s the low-down on how to make a margarita bar for Cinco de Mayo:

Simple Syrup:

This is where you’re getting the sweetness in the drink from, especially in drinks that are highly acidic (like a classical margarita), and the simple syrup helps balance the sweet and tart/sour flavors. To make simple syrup you just need equal parts water and granulated sugar. Place in a pot on medium heat and simmer until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool before using.

Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita
Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita

Fruits/Juices/Herbs:

Whatever flavor combinations you decide on, this part is key to making a tasty margarita. If you’re just using juices and herbs you’re all set to throw everything in your shaker, shake, strain into a glass over ice and enjoy. If you’re using fruit, like the Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita then you can muddle the strawberries, jalapeno and mint together or blend everything into a puree like I did. This will give you a slightly thicker margarita, but nevertheless delicious.

Tequila:

This to me, is what makes a margarita a margarita. I prefer to use silver tequila in my drinks, especially for a classic margarita or the Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita so I get the drink color I’m looking for.

Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita
Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita

Grand Marnier:

Is your drink still really tart from all the lime juice? Grand Marnier will help cut that too with some add sweetness. Triple sec or any other orange liquor will work, so go with your preference. Not all margaritas call for it, so it’s really up to you if you want to include it in your drink, but I’d really suggest making the trip to the liquor store if you don’t have it on hand as it can make a world of difference in the outcome of your cocktail.
Once all your ingredients are a go, it’s time to figure what you are going to serve. You can premix a large batch or have all the ingredients ready to guest can make their own drinks. Whichever direction you decide to go in, here’s a list of some of the essentials you’ll need on your Margarita Bar.

Pitches/Wine Carafes/Drink Dispensers:

Whether you’re going with large batches or single serve, you’re going to need a few of these for the beverage table. Premix large batches with all the liquid ingredients (the Lemon Basil Margarita is perfect for this) and serve in a large drink dispenser for guests to pour their own. If you want your bar a little more interactive, use full or half carafes to fill with different juice flavors for guest to choice from.

Lemon Basil Margarita
Lemon Basil Margarita

Drink Shakers:

Give everyone a change to be a bartender for a night! If you’re doing a serve yourself bar, litter your beverage bar with drink shakers for guest to use. Have one on hand just in case if you’re premixing, you never know if you might need it and it’s good to have on hand.

Ice Bucket & Scoops:

These are a must have. Even if you decide to go with drink dispensers, don’t risk pre-icing your drinks and watering that flavor down. Have ice available for guest to add to their cup before pouring themselves a drink. If you’re going for a self-serve make your own drink kind of bar than you can’t pull that off without a lot of ice. Not only do party goers need it for their drinks, but for the drink shakers as well. Be sure to have a bag of ice on hand just in case your ice dispenser can’t keep up too, you’ll thank me later.

Coconut Lime Margarita
Coconut Lime Margarita

Glasses:

You are going to need lots and lots of glasses! If you’re anything like me, than I doubt that you have a secret stash for tons of margarita glasses lying around. No worries though, I used all kinds of different glasses. I think it adds to the charm of a Margarita Bar, plus you don’t have to dish out any money to buy all new glasses just for the party. Pilsner and rocks glass, as well as some mason jars worked perfectly for me!

Little Plates/Shallow Rimmed Bowls:

You can not have a margarita without salt. Okay, you actually can. But you definitely can’t ditch the salt when hosting a Margarita Bar so little plates or shallow rimmed bowls are perfect for this. You can use ones that go with your theme colors or just stick with white like I did. Be sure to have one out for each margarita flavor you are going with or just a couple if you’re sticking with just one salt for all the flavors (kosher salt worked for me, but you can buy margarita salt too). The salt that you’re rimming your glass with is just another area where you get to impart different flavorings and put a spin on your margaritas to kick them up a notch (like the cayenne salt for the Mango Orange Margarita), so get creative if you want.

Mango Orange Margarita
Mango Orange Margarita

Bowls:

You’re going to want bowls of various sizes. This is perfect for garnishes if your serving out of drink dispensers and a must have to serve lime wedges needed to rim your glass with before dipping into the salt. If you’re going with a make your own bar, then little bowls are just right for all the herbs and various fruits you might be using.

Festive straws that match your theme are a great thing to have on the bar, as well as plenty of cocktail napkins. Little chalkboard signs are a great way to label the different drinks if your serving out of drink dispensers. If you can nab some larger chalkboard signs, write out the recipe for the single serving drinks that are available so party goers can make their own.

Once you have all the essentials gathered, it’s only a matter of displaying the bar in a way that is uniquely you. Keep it casual in the kitchen or set up a whole beverage bar station that is sure to be a talking point. Whatever you do, when throwing a Margarita Bar, have fun…and enjoy!

Star Wars Butter Cookies with Royal Icing

It is not often that 3 of my key interests come together, but in preparation for May 4th, I was able to bake Star Wars cookies. May 4th, or as fans know it as May the Fourth be with you Day, is the perfect reason to break out the Star Wars cookie cutters and get into the kitchen for some fun. I decided to use our classic butter cookie recipe and frost the cookies with our royal icing. I choose butter cookies as you don’t have to refrigerate them before cutting into shapes and I didn’t want an overly sweet cookie that also had frosting on top. I made 3 batches of dough and divided each dough ball in half. I then dyed the dough different colors so that I could have a variety of colors to work with. The Darth Vader cookies and star shaped cookies weren’t dyed with food coloring, but I have the measurements for all the other amounts of food coloring below. Keep in mind the colors will change when you bake the cookies, so the dough will be more vivid than what the end cookie is. Chewy looked green until he went into the oven, but even he came out looking alright.

Dying Star Wars Butter Cookie Dough:

Yoda Dough: 3 drops of green in a half a batch of cookie dough

Yoda Butter Cookies

 

C3PO Dough: 4 drops of yellow in a half a batch of cookie dough

C3PO Butter Cookies

Chewbacca Dough: 11 each of red and green, 10 yellow in a half a batch of cookie dough.

Chewbacca Butter Cookies

The Darth Vader and star cookies have no dye. Here’s an end shot where one can see the difference before and after baking.

Finished Star Wars Cookies

I brought the cookies into work to share with everyone and for a mini photo shoot. Some of my co-workers even brought in their Star Wars memorabilia to get in the final shot. To frost the cookies, I wanted to add some eyes to C3PO, Chewbacca and Yoda. I only made a half batch of the royal icing since I didn’t need a whole lot of frosting and the original recipe called made 2 cups. I haven’t worked with royal icing before, but I choose it because it stays shiny even after it dries. It is also a very thin frosting that is perfect for details such as lines and eyeballs. I used plastic sandwich bags and cut the corner to get the icing to flow out slowly. I had multiple bags so that I could dye them with food coloring for the different ways I wanted to decorate the cookies. It is also easy to squish around the frosting in the bag once you’ve added food coloring to get a consistent color.

Here’s the final shot below:

 

Star Wars Butter Cookies

Clabber Girl Butter Cookie Recipe:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp Clabber Girl Baking Powder
2/3 cup butter softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar

Sift flour, add Clabber Girl Baking Powder; set aside. Cream butter thoroughly; add sugar and cream well. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture. Pack dough into a cookie press to make beautiful butter cookies. Force dough through press onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden around edges. Makes 2-3 dozen small cookies.

Royal Icing: (this is a half of the full recipe on our website)

1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 egg white
1 to 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar plus more as needed
1 tsp. water plus more as needed

Lightly beat the egg whites with a fork until broken up. Stir in the lemon juice and water.

Sift the sugar over top, then stir in until the mixture is smooth and well blended. If necessary add more sugar or water to obtain the desired consistency:

For glazing the cookies tops, make it fairly fluid but not so runny that it looks separated. For piping or drizzling, make it stiff enough that it will hold its shape.
For decorating, stiffen the mixture with more sugar, stir in the desired food coloring, and add piping or drizzled accents as desired.