Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Bruschetta Grilled Chicken

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

This simple recipe was the perfect weeknight meal: very quick, easy cleanup, and delicious. I love the tomato/basil/mozzarella flavor combination just about any time I come across it, so this was sort of a no-brainer to throw together. Marinated chicken is flavorful and juicy when grilled (or cooked in a grill pan, for us apartment-dwellers!), then topped with fresh tomato salsa-style sauce and a bit of mozzarella. The result was kind of like a Chicken Parmesan, but much lighter (both in a caloric sense, and in the sense that it’s June, and it’s hot outside, and Chicken Parmesan sure feels like a winter dish). For a quick and easy side, I tossed warm penne pasta with olive oil, garlic, a bit of the fresh tomato “salsa” and some Parmesan cheese.

Bruschetta Grilled Chicken

  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinaigarette salad dressing, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/8 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

1. Pour 1/4 cup of dressing over chicken in a ziploc bag, refrigerate 20 minutes.

2. Grill chicken over medium heat on a grill or in a heavy-bottomed grill pan (about 6 minutes). Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, basil and remaining dressing.

3. Turn chicken over, top each piece of chicken with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle a bit of cheese over the top of each chicken breast. Cover, and cook an additional 7-8 minutes, or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

Note: I used a new Basil & Parmesan vinaigarette by Kraft to marinate the chicken, and it was very tasty, but any Italian style dressing that you like would work here. Because we don’t have a grill, or a lid for our grill pan, I stuck the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes to melt and crisp up the cheese. Totally optional.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Can someone please teach me how to photograph a casserole? I feel like I just can’t do them justice in pictures. If I take a picture of the casserole in the pan, aside from the lighting issues in my kitchen, all you see is some sort of cheesy/crunchy topping, and a casserole is much, much more than that. If I try to take a picture of the inside of the casserole, all you see is a bowl of…something. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, and it certainly doesn’t seem to illustrate the deliciousness of the casserole. So going forward, I’m going to need you to accept that this dish tastes better than it looks. Casserole dishes always do, as far as I can tell.

This casserole is one of my favorite casseroles in a long time. It’s a take on Chicken Cordon Bleu, traditonally a breaded chicken breast stuffed with ham and swiss cheese. This casserole takes those familiar flavors and turns them into a cheesy, baked pasta dish. Because David’s not a huge fan of ham, I used proscuitto. This would be good with ham, but the proscuitto adds an additional saltiness that paired well with the creamy cheese sauce.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 pound cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese, divided
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 cup half and half (I used Fat-Free half and half, and it was delicious)
  • 4 oz prosciutto, either diced or sliced into thin strips
  • 8 wedges The Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss Original Flavor (this is one full wheel of Laughing Cow cheese; I used light because we get these at Costco in a multipack, but you could use the full fat version if you want. There’s very little difference between the two).
  • 8 ounces (1/2 box) penne pasta (I used Barilla Plus Penne, but any small pasta should be fine: shells, rotini, elbows, etc.)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Boil pasta in salted water until tender. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the prosciutto and 1 tablespoon of butter until the prosciutto is heated through and crispy at the edges. Add the Laughing Cow cheese, 1/4 cup of the shredded Swiss cheese, half and half, garlic salt and pepper. When cheese is melted and smooth, cooked chicken and pasta and stir to combine. Transfer to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of shredded swiss cheese over the casserole evenly.

3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small bowl the microwave. Add the panko bread crumbs and stir to combine.  Sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the casserole is heated through, the cheese on top is melted, and the buttered bread crumbs have crisped. Serve immediately.

Note: I really enjoyed this, and I am sure we’ll be making it again. I think broccoli might be a welcome addition to the rich casserole for the next time–something to think about, anyway.

Smashed-Down Potatoes with Bacon and Cheese

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

This is one of those recipes that’s so bad for you, you know it’s going to be amazing. It’s a fried potato side dish from Guy Fieri, topped with crispy bacon, shredded Parmesan cheese, and a tangy sour cream topping. The best part is that it starts with whole baby yukon gold potatoes, which are boiled and then smashed down into the best of both worlds: a flat potato that crisps up all around the edges, but with a smooth, creamy, almost mashed-potato texture at the center.

Smashed-Down Potatoes with Bacon & Cheese
Adapted from Guy’s Big Bite

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 pounds baby Yukon potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 3/4 pound bacon, diced
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (freshly grated, no green cans!)

In small mixing bowl combine sour cream, mustard, and white wine. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In large stock pot cover potatoes with water and add 2 tablespoons salt. Set heat on high and boil until fork tender.

In a large saute pan over medium heat cook bacon and saute onions until caramelized. Transfer bacon and onions from pan on to a paper towel to absorb grease. Distribute evenly on a platter and keep warm. Leave remaining fat in pan.

When potatoes are fork tender, drain, and with a clean kitchen towel, palm smash the hot potatoes to approximately 1/3-inch thick.

Reheat fat in saute pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat to oil medium heat and place potatoes in oil. Season with salt and pepper and brown on both sides, then transfer to onion and bacon platter. Repeat, adding more oil, until all potatoes are cooked crispy.

Top potatoes with Parmesan and then with sour cream mixture.

Note: Be sure to keep an eye on the potatoes–I didn’t have any trouble the first time I made this recipe, but this time, I think I let them go a little too long. These had a tendancy to start to crumble when I smashed them, which made it harder to fry the smashed-down potatoes intact.

Mara’s Grilled Cheese Burgers

Monday, May 25th, 2009

There’s been a lot of link love for Mara these days…what can I say? The thing is, ever since she hosted me as a guest for dinner, Leah and I have been talking about her recipe on that same post–Grilled Cheese Burgers. They were just as good as we thought they would be, and really, like Mara said on her site, “restaurant quality.”

It doesn’t seem like there’s anything earth-shattering here, but a little extra seasoning, and some special treatment for the bread made this burger something special!

Mara’s Grilled Cheese Burgers
Adapted from What’s For Dinner?

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded (I used Tillamook Medium Cheddar)
  • 2 Tbsp. Cholula hot sauce (but use whatever you like, and to your own tastes)
  • 1 tsp. Adobo seasoning (from The Spice House, of course!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. panko bread crumbs
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 8 slices rustic bread
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine first six ingredients in a mixing bowl, and using your hands, mix to combine. Do not overmix, or the burgers could come out tough. Divide the meat into four equal-sized patties.

2. Preheat a seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. When skillet is hot, brush the surface of the pan with extra virgin olive oil and place the burgers in the pan. Be careful not to move the burgers around in the pan, until they’re ready to flip. Also, don’t press on the burgers with the spatula–it looks cool, but really, it’s a bad habit, and just helps to make dry burgers. Continue to cook the burgers to desired doneness, flipping once.

3. While the burgers cook, brush the slices of bread on both sides with extra virgin olive oil. I used thick-cut slices of an artisan asiago cheese bread from the grocery store bakery. In a non-stick skillet or grill pan over medium heat, toast the oiled bread. It will need to be flipped once or twice to get good color–you’re looking to get it golden brown like a grilled cheese.

4. Serve the burgers on the toasted bread with slices of avocado and tomatoes. (I subbed mayo for the avocado on mine, but David liked the avocado slices).

Note: Like I said, nothing too out of the ordinary here, or so it seems, but something about the toasted bread and the way the burgers are seasoned made this an extra tasty burger. Because I used thick slices of bread, the toast was crunchy at the edges, but warm and soft in the middle, much better than any standard hamburger bun. The grilled bread made the flavors similar to a patty melt (without all those onions, of course!) but because they were cooked separately, the juices from the burger didn’t have the chance to get the bread all soggy.

In short: I really enjoyed this burger!

P.S. Speaking of burgers–get out there and enjoy one of your own. Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Aren’t three day weekends awesome?

Creamy Shepherd’s Pie Bowls

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I have always liked the idea of shepherd’s pie.

I really like ground beef, and casseroles of any kind tend to appeal to me (even though that’s the opposite of how I was raised–very few casseroles show up in my parents’ kitchen). I also like mashed potatoes, and can’t seem to make them without having a bunch of leftovers.

Leftover potatoes is what lead me to shepherd’s pie this time. I read through a bunch of different shepherd’s pie recipes, before deciding how I would make mine.

I really liked the flavor of the dish, but I’ve got to say–the pictures leave something to be desired. Once it came out of the baking dish, it did not look like something you would want to eat, which is why I have no plans to post pictures. If everyone really wants to see, and leaves comments to that effect, I might be persuaded.

That being said, even though it wasn’t pretty, it was very, very tasty.

Creamy Shepherd’s Pie Bowls

For filling:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 can beef consumme
  • 1 can mixed vegetables, drained
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon mild curry powder

For potato topping:

    • about 4 potatoes, mashed (I used leftovers)
    • 1 cup shredded cheese (we had Gouda on hand, but Parmesan would be good, or anything you like, really)
    • 1/2 cup sour cream

    1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet, with garlic powder, salt & pepper, and curry powder. Do not drain the drippings (they will be used to build the sauce).

    2. When the meat is cooked through, add the can of vegetables.  Sprinkle with the flour and stir until everything is evenly coated. Continue cooking for one or two minutes so that the flour is browned, to remove that chalky raw-flour taste.

    3. Add the can of consumme, Worcestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until sauce thickens. Pour into a baking dish. (I used a Corningware casserole dish, 2 1/2 quarts. Pyrex would probably work fine here as well.)

    4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the potato topping.

    5. In a medium mixing bowl, combine mashed potatoes, 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese, and sour cream.

    6. Carefully spread the mashed potato mixture over the top of the meat filling. Spread to the edge of the dish to avoid the sauce leaking out of the dish. Use a fork to add texture to the top of the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until heated all the way through. The mashed potatoes should be brown and crispy at the top and edges.

    Note: I’m calling this a shepherd’s pie bowl (and this is part of the problem with the pictures) because the mashed potatoes kind of ran together with the filling once you scooped it out of the pan. It was delicious, but not really the two separate textures that you expect from a true Shepherd’s Pie. I do have some ideas to correct that, and will try them next time. One is simply more mashed potatoes. A thicker layer of potatoes would have browned better and held up more easily I think. My other idea was to treat the mashed potatoes like a potato pancake batter, adding an egg and a little bit of flour along with the cheese and sour cream. I actually would have done that this time, but we were out of eggs. I’ll definitely be making this again, but I do hope to get the potato crust better next time.

    Baked Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage

    Friday, May 15th, 2009

    Last week, I handed David a cookbook and asked “What should I make for dinner?”

    I should not have been surprised when he thumbed to the Pasta chapter for inspiration.

    Nor should I have been shocked to hear him suggest variations on the theme of noodles, cheese, and sausage.

    I wasn’t surprised. I really wasn’t. I ended up making this Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage from the Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook.

    Side Note: don’t think I’ve talked much about this cookbook before, and I really should. I picked up it up at Costco in a two book set (bundled with the Bon Appetit Cookbook). I like both books. Though they don’t have pictures of every recipe, what it lacks in illustrations it makes up in volume. Each book contains hundreds of recipes. The one we’re talking about today is broken down into sections on Starters, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Pasta & Rice, Chicken/Poultry, Salmon, Shrimp, Meat, Potatoes, Vegetables, Breakfast, Quick Breads, Frozen Desserts, Cookies & Brownies & Pies & Cakes, Custards & Puddings & Fruit Desserts, and Drinks.

    Food Network Magazine has divided its recipe sections into weeknight cooking and weekend cooking. I really like that distinction. I love to cook, but there are things that just don’t make sense for a Wednesday night, and I appreciate the ability to flip through recipes knowing that I have the time and energy to prepare any of them. This set from Bon Appetit really makes the same kind of distinction. While I like both books a lot, the Fast Easy Fresh cookbook is really for weeknight cooking. The Bon Appetit Cookbook is more weekend fare. (P.S. Not to oversell it, but for the price of either book, you also get a free subscription to Bon Appetit magazine. Not a bad deal at all, if you’re into that sort of thing. And I am!)

    Now, back to David’s pasta.

    The Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage is just what the title of the book promises. The recipe came together fast, and uses just enough prepared ingredients (the marinara sauce, sausage) to be simple–without compromising flavor. Freshly grated cheese and fresh herbs bring a brighter, fresher taste to the dish than the pasta we’d normally throw together on a weeknight.

    rigatoni

    Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage
    Adapted from the Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook. (4 servings)

    • 1 pound box rigatoni noodles
    • 8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
    • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    • 3 cups prepared marinara sauce
    • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
    • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
    • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
    • 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
    • Extra-virgin olive oil

    1. Cook rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

    2. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Saute sausage in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking up into crumbles as it cooks. Add garlic, stir 2 minutes. Drain off excess drippings and return to medium-high heat.

    3. Stir in marinara sauce, crushed red pepper, and cooked pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to 9×13 inch broilerproof baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan over top.

    4. Place under broiler until cheese melt and begin to brown, watching closely to prevent burning (about 1 1/2 minutes). Sprinkle rigatoni with fresh parsley and drizzle with olive oil.

    Toasted Ravioli

    Monday, May 11th, 2009

    When I was about 7 years old, an Olive Garden opened near our house. Of course, by “near our house,” I’m pretty sure I mean almost an hour away. Which to a 7 year old, seemed even longer.

    When we got to the restaurant, there was the longest wait for a table that I had encountered in my young life. I didn’t really go out to dinner all that often, so that isn’t surprising. And a brand new restaurant, one that doesn’t take reservations? Of course, everyone should’ve seen that coming. I remember waiting impatiently with my parents and grandparents for our table. It felt like standing in line at Great America. I was hungry, and thirsty, and tired. My sister, who couldn’t have been older than 2 or 3 was of course eveb more crabby than I was. We waited and waited and waited.

    The one bright spot in this endless wait was when the host brought out appetizers for the full lobby. They were just samples, a show of good faith, a thank you for sticking it out through the long delay. But I remember them, in part because I was starving, and in part because they were delicious.

    Toasted Ravioli.

    My mind boggled at the thought. I’m pretty sure the only ravioli I’d eaten actually came in a Chef Boyardee can. Maybe a frozen tray. Nothing against the food I grew up with (there are plenty of great cooks in my family) but ravioli wasn’t something that we ate with any regularity.

    Toasted ravioli, though. That was something I could get excited about. They were hot and crispy, with spicy marinara sauce for dipping–just like a mozzarella stick. I don’t think we would have ever tried them if the host hadn’t been passing them around. It sounded too weird, and we didn’t really order appetizers back then. I’m glad we got the chance to try them though, because everyone liked them. My mom will still order them for her entree at the OG, and when I worked there as a server in college, they were a favorite of mine.

    These days, though, I can make them at home. It’s super easy.

    Toasted Ravioli

    • 1 package refrigerated bite-sized cheese ravioli (if you want, you can use frozen, but be sure to thaw them completely first. You can also use any flavor you like, but I like the cheese ones for this).
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • Extra virgin olive oil

    1. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. You want the oil to shimmer, but not smoke. If it starts to smoke at all, turn off the heat and let it cool down before trying again.

    2. Place beaten eggs in a shallow dish. Combine bread crumbs and cheese in a second shallow dish.

    3. Dip ravioli in eggs to coat, and then dredge in bread crumb mixture until covered completely. I usually do this in three separate batches. Let the ravioli sit for about 5 minutes, to make sure the coating really sticks to the pasta.

    4. Place ravioli into preheated oil in a single layer. Fry for 1-2 minutes per side, turning once, until golden brown. Remove to a large plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all ravioli has been fried. If you’re making these for a large group (they’re great for that!), cooked ravioli can be held on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven to keep them warm and crisp. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

    Pear Butter (and a panini!)

    Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

    A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. Now from what I understand, this farmer’s market is a much bigger event during the summer, when it takes place outside, and we were there for one of the last weeks inside. No matter. We had a good time and picked up several tasty treats. One of those treats was a jar of Pear Butter from Seedling.

    I’d never even heard of Pear Butter, but of course there were samples, and the samples were quite convincing, so we picked up a jar. If you’ve never had Pear Butter (or Apple Butter) for that matter, the term propbably requires some explaination.

    According to Wikipedia, Apple Butter is a highly concentrated applesauce, made by cooking apples so long and slow that the sugars in the apples carmelize. Despite being called Apple “Butter,” there’s no butter, cream, or dairy of any kind involved. And the final product isn’t anything like butter, really. It’s more of a jam-like spread (though not quite as thick). We use it to spread on toast, mostly. The caramelization gives the apple butter a unique sweet taste. David, who favors apple jelly almost exclusively, likes apple butter a lot. His favorite use is to slather it on a toasted english muffin.

    This Pear Butter was similar to Apple Butter—it had the same unique sweetness, but the pears gave it a little something special. I have been very happy to have it around.

    The one other place I’ve seen apple butter at work is, oddly enough, in college. The dining hall made a surprisingly delicious sandwich with turkey, dill harvati, and apple butter. It sounds strange, I know, but the sanwhich was the perfect balance of salty and sweet. I decided to use the same flavors to make a panini using roasted turkey, leftover harvati cheese from our fancy Macaroni & Four Cheese, and of course, our new Pear Butter.

    Pear Butter, Turkey, & Harvati Panini

    For each sandwiches:

    • Two slices of good quality bread (We like this sourdough)
    • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
    • 1 tablespoon apple butter or pear butter
    • 2 ounces thinly sliced roasted turkey (from the deli)
    • 2 ounces harvati cheese, sliced
    • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

    1. Preheat a panini pan and press over medium high heat.

    2. Spread one slice of bread with the mayonnaise. Top with one layer of cheese, followed by turkey, and then another layer of cheese, in that order. Spread the remaining slice of bread with apple or pear butter to complete the sandwich. .

    3. Spread the outside of the sandwich (both slices of bread) with butter.

    4. Place in panini pan and top with press. The sandwich is done when the bread is crisp all around and the cheese is melted all the way through. Slice in half and serve immediately.

    Note: I wouldn’t say these sandwhiches were perfect, but if I had the ingredients laying around again, I’d definitely try to perfect it. They were quite tasty as it was. The two differences were the use of sourdough instead of plain, from a bag, sliced wheat bread (I’d say the sourdough was probably an improvement), and using regular harvati instead of a dill-flavored harvati (this could have made the sandwhich better).

    Fried Macaroni & Cheese

    Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

    Is there anything worse for you than Fried Macaroni & Cheese?

    I thought not.

    But like so many other things that are terrible for you… it’s one of the most delicious!

    If you’ve never had Fried Mac & Cheese, you’re missing out. The first time I tried it was at The Cheesecake Factory with my mom. It was so good as an appetizer that we skipped the entrees! I’ve also had it at TGIFriday’s. What’s different about making it at home is that when you control the ingredients–using olive oil to fry, and a homemade Mac & Cheese with real cheese (not OrangyProcessedCheeseFood)–the result is so much tastier than anything a chain restaurant can dream of serving.

    This version has a light, crispy crunch on the outside, while the middle comes together as a warm, gooey, cheesy center. I’ve seen it served with marinara sauce for dipping, but if you start with awesome Mac & Cheese, I think a sprinkle of crunchy sea salt over the finished product is all you need.

    Fried Macaroni & Cheese

    • leftovers from your favorite baked macaroni & cheese recipe, chilled overnight. (I used the leftovers from this delicious spin on traditional mac & cheese.)
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup panko Japanese-style breadcrumbs
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
    • salt & pepper
    • extra virgin olive oil, for frying

    1. Slice the macaroni & cheese into 1-inch thick slices. Keep chilled until ready to use.

    2. Heat a 1/2 inch layer of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, until the surface shimmer. You want the oil to be hot enough to crisp the mac & cheese, but you don’t want the oil to smoke.

    3. Place the flour in a shallow dish and sprinkle with salt & pepper. In a second dish, lightly beat two eggs together. In a third dish, combine the panko and parmesan cheese.

    4. Dredge two slices of the mac & cheese in flour and shake off the excess. Next, dip the slices of mac & cheese in the eggs, and then finally in the panko/parmesan mixture.

    5. When the oil is ready, carefully place the breaded macaroni & cheese slices in the skillet and fry until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels. While hot, lightly sprinkle with salt (preferably flaked sea salt). Cover with a loosely-tented piece of foil to keep the fried slices warm while you continue cooking the rest of the macaroni & cheese.

    Note:  We chilled our leftover macaroni & cheese in a plastic container shaped like a loaf of bread, which made it easier to slice evenly. We’ll be making this again for sure…probably any time we have leftover Mac & Cheese!

    Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs

    Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

    This was a fun one for me. You guys have caught onto the fact that I’m a Top Chef fan, right?

    Of course you have.

    Well, my all-time favorite Top Chef is Stephanie Izard. She’s talented, but also gracious and humble. I was really excited to see her win the title, and David and I are looking forward to checking out her restaurant when it opens up. She’s a Chicago girl, after all!

    Last weekend, David pointed out Stephanie’s website to me, and it took me about a minute and a half to decide to make this Macaroni & Cheese dish. I sent David on a shopping trip for ingredients almost immediately.

    We were not disappointed. The apples added a unique flavor to the traditional Mac & Cheese, but were a welcome touch of sweetness in a sea of creamy, salty cheese sauce. I skipped the ham, since David isn’t a fan. Though I can see how it would be a good addition, I can’t say that I missed it. (I did decide to double the bacon and add half to the breadcrumbs and the other half right into the macaroni & cheese). This dish was heavy enough to stand alone as a meal, even without the meat. If you want to add them, it would be good with either ham or grilled chicken, though.

    Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs
    Adapted from www.stephanieizard.com

    • 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used salted butter–no problems)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 4 cups ciabatta cubes (about 6 ounces of ciabatta bread, cubed)
    • 1 small onion, halved
    • 6 cups whole milk (we keep 1% on hand, so I used 5 1/2 cups of 1% milk with a 1/2 of heavy cream…worked out just fine!)
    • 8 ounces bacon (6-8 strips), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, cubed (we had Honeycrisp on hand)
    • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    • 1 pound conchiglie pasta (I used a different shape that we had on hand, anything that’s going to catch the sauce is good)
    • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
    • 4 ounces aged cheddar (1 cup grated)
    • 6 ounces whole milk mozzarella (1 1/2 cup grated)
    • 4 ounces smoked gouda (1 cup grated)
    • 4 ounces havarti (1 cup grated)
    Instructions:

    Preheat the oven to 375° F.

    Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, steeping in the butter for about 1 minute, until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the bread cubes to the pot, tossing to coat them in the garlic butter. Spread the butter-coated cubes across a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bread is very crisp. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

    Put the onion and the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom.

    While the milk simmers, return the Dutch oven to the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot again, add the bacon pieces and render until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside with the cooling bread cubes. Add the apples to the hot fat in the pan, sautéing for 1-2 minutes, until the apples are just soft (not mushy). Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and toss to coat.

    Put the cooled bread cubes and bacon in a food processor and pulse several times to form bread crumbs.

    Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to the package directions.

    As the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk together, forming a thick paste, or a roux. Let the roux cook for a minute or so, until it begins to smell nutty. Strain the milk and discard the onion. Slowly add the hot milk to the roux, about 1/2-1 cup at a time, whisking well to avoid lumps. Continue incorporating the milk until a thick sauce forms. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of mozzarella and add the rest of the cheese to the sauce, stirring as it melts.

    When the pasta is done, strain it and add it to the cheese sauce along with the apple mixture. Stir to combine all of the ingredients and pour into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cover the macaroni and cheese with the bacon breadcrumbs and scatter the reserved 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top. Put the dish on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Broil the top until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly.

    (Serve immediately or hold in a 300° F oven for about 30 minutes).

    Note: Love, love, loved this! When I finished the sauce and moved it to the baking dish, I was concerned that the cheese sauce was a little on the thin side. It thickened in the pan to a perfect consistency. Even better, the chilled leftovers set up so well that David suggested I make Fried Macaroni & Cheese, which is what we did with the leftovers. Come back tomorrow for the recipe!