Basic Mac ‘n Cheese

Oh man. Macaroni and cheese. Mac ‘n Cheese.

Just the mention of it’s name conjures up happy thoughts of warm, ooey, gooey goodness. Comfort food at it’s finest. 

Growing up, my mom always made mac and cheese from scratch. I didn’t even know any different. I never even had the Kraft Blue Box Mac ‘n Cheese with the unnatural neon orange dust until I was in college.

Of course, I loved the fake stuff and bought like 10 boxes (they were the epitome of cheap eats for a broke college girl!). But, my heart always belonged to the homemade stuff. And the heart wants what the heart wants, am I right? 

I love making macaroni and cheese because it is easy and my kids love it. Like most kids, they devour it. And I feel much better about giving them something I made instead of the “processed cheese food” found in the box. (*Important Note: I still give them the boxed stuff sometimes. So what? My mother-in-law doesn’t cook anything and she gives them the boxed stuff too. NBD. Just keeping it real, guys.) 

This is my recipe for basic macaroni and cheese. I’ll add some alterations you can make at the end of the post: 

1 box of pasta. You can any short pasta you want, but I usually use elbow, rotini, or shells.

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk (I use 2% because that’s what we have in the house all the time)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

4 cups shredded cheese. For this one, I used equal parts sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, and white cheddar. See end of post for alternatives.

Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions. I always do the lower end of the time because it will continue cooking in the oven. For example, if the box says 7-9 minutes, do 7 minutes. 

While the pasta is boiling, make your cheese sauce:

Melt butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir together until combined for a couple minutes. Keep stirring so it cooks out the flour taste, but doesn’t burn.   

Add the milk, one cup at a time. Stir well to combine. Let each addition come to a slow boil/simmer before adding the next cup. This is your béchamel sauce and should be thickened to the point that it will lightly cover the back of a spoon or spatula.

Stir in your salt and pepper and turn off the heat.
    

Add 2-1/2 cups of cheese and stir to combine, reserving the last 1-1/2 cups. Now you have a cheese sauce. 

  

Drain your pasta and add it back into the pot. Add the cheese sauce and stir to cover all the pasta in that liquid gold.

Pour the cheesy pasta into a baking dish and cover with the remaining shredded cheese.

  
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until golden and bubbly. 

Grab a fork and feel like a kid again.

  
 

*Tip:

You can make this ahead of time. Just stop before putting it in the oven. Cover and refrigerate overnight or freeze for a couple months. If you go the freezer route, I would use a disposable aluminum pan, not a glass baking dish. When it freezes, it will expand and could break your dish. 

Fun ways to switch it up: 

* Add chopped up ham. A great way to use leftovers from Easter or Christmas. Or just buy some ham and throw it in. It’s yummy.

* Add bacon. Bacon. Enough said.

* Add a spoonful or two of sour cream, mascarpone, or plain greek yogurt for extra creaminess (and extra protein from the greek yogurt!)

* Add a spoonful or two of pureed butternut squash as a way to sneak in some extra veggies. It doesn’t really change the flavor much or the color, so kids won’t even notice it. Yay extra nutrition!

* Speaking of extra nutrition, chop up some broccoli and throw it in.

* Play around with different cheeses. Cheddars are great, adding pepperjack gives it a nice kick, havarti is good, provolone, parmesan,gouda, muenster. Any good melting cheese. Combine a few and see what happens. Probably a whole lot of deliciousness! I’ve even heard of people adding blue cheese. That is definitely not something I would do, but my hubby would love it.

* Make a batch and put it in the fridge. After it’s cooled and hardened a bit, cut it into small squares. Set up a dredging station (a dish with flour and a dish with beaten egg). Dip the squares in the flour, then the egg, then back in the flour. Fry them in hot vegetable oil. It’s a great appetizer that everyone will love!

How do you do mac ‘n cheese?

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The Best Open-Faced Bagel Sandwich Ever

There is a place in Long Beach that I used to go to often called The Bagelry and Bistro. I think it’s been around for awhile, but I didn’t discover it until college when my friend Dawn and I were going to lunch and she introduced me to this place. Oh thank you Dawn! (PS I haven’t talked to Dawn in so long. I remember her as such an amazing girl. She spent a lot of time on mission trips serving the Lord all over the world. That’s probably what she’s still doing now. She was loving and kind and had a big heart. The world needs more people like Dawn.)

BUT BACK TO THE BAGELRY… They make their bagels fresh all day and they are so yummy. They have this bagel sandwich there called The Palm Springs Bagel that I would get all the time. Of course when I moved from Long Beach to Culver City, I no longer had The Bagelry so close by. I, of course, had to make them myself. Thankfully, it isn’t hard.

Now, The Bagelry makes their own bagels and I haven’t quite ventured into that yet (maybe someday? Just to say I did it. Seems like a lot of work when you can get perfectly good bagels at the store bakery).

All you need:

Bagels. Any savory flavor you want. I suppose you could use a cinnamon raision but it probably wouldn’t taste very good with the lemon pepper!
Avocado
Tomato
Cream Cheese
Lemon Pepper seasoning
Purple onion (optional)

Assembling is pretty self explanatory:

Toast the bagels.
Spread the cream cheese
Slice the tomato and place on top of the cream cheese.
Slice the avocado and place on top of the tomato.
Sprinkle with lemon pepper.
Eat and enjoy!

*The Bagelry adds purple onion to theirs, but I’m not a fan of raw onion, so I leave it off.

Something a little different: Liebster Award

So Katie over at quirkyandwonderful.wordpress.com nominated me for a Liebster award. I’ve seen this award on other blogs and I really am so flattered that she liked my little blog enough to nominate me for one! Her blog is pretty great, so I’d suggest checking it out.


I’m still pretty new to the blogging world, so I am just going to copy Katie’s description of the Liebster award (I hope that’s OK!):

This is a blogging award given to newer bloggers by other bloggers to promote and welcome up-and-coming blogs. I have read several Liebster award posts, and enjoy the different questions and answers, as well as browsing the blogs nominated. It’s a great way to find new blogs, and to get to know the bloggers.

There are slight variations on the rules from blogger to blogger, but here’s basically how it works. (Note that accepting the award is optional.) If you are nominated, you can accept by writing a post that includes the following:

. Link back to the person who nominated you
. Include the instructions in your post
. Answer the 11 questions given to you by the nominator
. Display the Liebster award logo in your post
. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers
. Create 11 questions for the nominees
. Notify all nominees via social media/blog

I nominated a couple blogs I’ve been enjoying lately. I don’t know if these bloggers have less than 200 followers because I don’t know how to get that info. These are just blogs I enjoy reading who I don’t think have recieved this award already. Please don’t feel like you have to answer all the questions or anything, but I just wanted you to know how much I’ve enjoyed your blogs!

Kristin @ Tastefully Gluten Free. I love this blog and I’ve even included one of her recipes on my own. I’m not gluten free at all, but with her recipes, you don’t even notice that they are geared towards a special diet. They are just delicious and that’s what matters. I mean, c’mon. She has gluten free recipes with NUTELLA. Can’t hate that! Her photos are also beautiful!

Sonal @ Food Bound. I haven’t made any of her recipes yet, but her photos are beyond GORGEOUS (see? Simple pita bread never looked so beautiful) and I can’t wait to try some!

That’s it for now. I really like other blogs too, but I noticed they already have the award, so I didn’t want to double up :0)

Here are your questions:

1. What is your favorite book?.
2. What motivates you when you need it most?
3. If you had to be trapped inside a TV show for a month as a new character, which show would it be? (past or present)
4. Who was your favorite fictional character as a child?
5. If you could take any vacation at all, money is no object, what would you do/where would you go?
6. If you could only eat one thing for a year, what would it be?
7. Game night! What do you want to play?
8. “I never leave the house without my…”
9. What is a song you play on repeat?
10. If you were keeping a secret, what is the one thing someone would have to do to get you to spill the beans?
11. You are up for a major award. Which one is it and for what category? (Oscar? Tony? Emmy? Grammy? Teen Choice?!)

Here are the answers to the questions I was given by Katie:

1. How did your blogging journey begin? (And why have you continued?)

I’ve always loved writing, and I actually started with a different blog about 5 years ago after my son was born. I just wrote about everyday things, things that interested me, an occasional soap box moment, etc. Pretty much “my blog, my rules.” I struggle with self-confidence and would often scrap blog post ideas because “who cares?” I also struggle with having photos of my kids up too much on the blog. I’m sure it’s fine, but you never know. I think I needed something that was still personal to me, but not so intimate, thus was born this blog! I love food and I love cooking and I love how it universally binds us together. I can tell personal stories and share recipes. Going through other culture’s cuisines, I can also learn a thing or two and hopefully pass all that on to whoever stops by.

2. What is your favorite kind of weather?

I live in Southern California, so this is a bit of a trick question because we only have two kinds of weather! I love when it is sunny with blue skies, but about 75 degrees. Not too hot, not too cold. But on the rare times we do get legitimate AUTUMN weather, I am a happy girl! I love my boots and scarves!! Also, nothing beats sitting in your warm house, curled up with a bowl of soup while listening to the rain fall outside.

3. What is your favorite flavor combination in a dessert?

Chocolate & Peanut Butter

4. What is one thing you hope to accomplish or do in your lifetime?
Raise my children to be strong, smart, successful, kind, and generous. And LOTS of traveling to LOTS of places!

5. What is your favorite genre of music?

I am a country girl from way back. But a lot of this new stuff is bumming me out (except for Miranda Lambert. I adore Miranda Lambert!). I like stuff from the 90s and early 2000s. I also like 90s pop, and throwing it way back to Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals.

6. What is your creative outlet?

Cooking/baking or catching up on scrapbooking. But only scrapbooking when I can get my kids distracted with their own art projects for extended periods of time. As you may guess, I’m way behind on those projects!

7. What is your favorite smell or combination of smells?

Roses. And newborn babies. And onions and garlic sautéing in butter :0)

8. What is one of your favorite words and why?

Lackadaisical. I know it means “careless and lazy” but it is really an aesthetically pretty word, right? It should mean something else more happy and bright.

9. What is one of your favorite quotes and why?
I’m pretty sure this one speaks for itself. It is about not worrying about other people so much and just be true to yourself. We live in a broken world; that much is true. But that doesn’t mean you have to contribute to the brokenness. It sort of goes hand-in-hand with another quote I like: “It’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel & heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” Just imagine what this world would be like if everyone loved and respected each other. If everyone were kind to one another.

10. You have a whole day to yourself. how do you spend it?

I’m a bit of TV junkie, so probably watching whatever I want without lots of background noise. I can work on some sewing project while watching. I’d eat something really bad for me. I’d take a TV break to read for a while. Maybe head to the mall to do some window shopping, which would inevitably lead to finding something I just have to have.

11. What is your favorite memory from this summer?

Our family has had such a great summer. We just got back from Big Bear, so that is fresh in my mind and it was definitely a great memory I will always keep with me.

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Chicken Fingers 

My 5-year-old son has spent the better part of his life as a SUPER picky eater. Like, dinner could be a nightmare if chicken nuggets or mac n cheese weren’t nearby.  Finally, over the past year (maybe a little less), he’s been more and more willing to try new things. And surprise, surprise! He actually is discovering that he likes more than just chicken nuggets! It’s a dream 5 years in the making. I do many a happy dance these days.

My 2-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a total foodie! She will eat pretty much anything I put in front of her. Thank God, because 2 picky eaters would have been too much for me!

Now that my son is willing to try new things, I am able to give him healthier choices. He still has a strong preference for chicken nuggets so I figure being able to make them for him is way better than the store-bought kind. And he loved them! So who could ask for more?

(Let’s not kid ourselves, though. I’m busy. I totally have a supply of Tyson dino nuggets on hand at all times!)

This recipe is super easy and actually makes a lot, so you’ll have leftovers. It is an adaptation of this Betty Crocker recipe (meaning, I changed a couple things, but it is pretty much the same recipe. Credit where credit is due, people).

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 eggs
1 cup pancake mix (the real mix, not the “just add water” kind)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (it would probably be yummy with chedder too. Experiment!)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons melted butter

Cut your chicken into fingers. You can also use pre-cut chicken tenders. I don’t see why you couldn’t make them smaller and make them nuggets, if you wanted. The biggest point is to make sure they are as much the same size as possible.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, set aside.

Put the pancake mix, cheese, garlic powder, salt, and paprika in a gallon ziplock bag.

Working in batches, coat the chicken in the egg and then put in the bag. Do about 1/2 at a time. Even less would work. Don’t crowd it otherwise it won’t coat well.

Place the chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet (make sure to spray the foil with non-stick spray first. This is very important. Don’t ask me how I know that.) Drizzle with melted butter.

Bake at 450 degrees for 7 minutes. Flip, and bake 7 minutes more.

Enjoy!

I dipped mine in BBQ sauce, but I’m not going to lie; it didn’t need it. Maybe ranch would have been good if you need a dipping sauce at all. Or maybe if you used cheddar instead, the BBQ sauce would have been good. I think it was the combo of BBQ and Parmesan that wasn’t quite the bees knees.

It was still super delicious though! My hubby requested we add this to the rotation. Works for me. Anything I can get ALL my family to eat at the same time is a winner in my book!

See? He loved it!

And of course she liked it! She’s my foodie protege! :0)

Cinnamon Rolls and Orange Rolls

I’m part of a Fantasy Football league and Saturday was our draft. We start early in the morning, around 8:30 or 9:00, so everyone brings yummy breakfast food and we make ourselves a nice little breakfast buffet.

My contribution this year were cinnamon rolls and orange rolls, and they were pretty delicious, if I do say so myself. I may have left them in the oven a bit long (they were a bit crunchier on the outside than usual), but they were so soft and gooey on the inside, it was hardly noticeable. 

I use my bread machine to make the dough for these rolls. You guys, I love my bread machine and recommend one to everyone. It is definitely one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. Whenever I’ve tried to make dough without the machine, it never rises right. Something about the temperature of the water having to be just right when proofing the yeast throws me off. It’s always either too warm or too cold. With the bread machine, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s always been perfect every time.

 

For the dough, I just use the recipe from Betty Crocker in this book: 

the title is no lie

1 egg plus enough water to equal 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon

1/4 cup butter, softened

3-1/2 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons bread machine or quick active dry yeast

You just put everything straight into the bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer, generally wet to dry ingredients. I’ve found that this particular book lists the ingredients in the order you put them in. Not sure if that is the case for all cookbooks, though, so check the user manual.
   

That’s it for the dough. Just select the setting you want and push start. I set mine and then picked up my son from school and took him to karate class. By the time we got back, the dough was done. (Well, the first batch. I made two batches of dough. I wouldn’t suggest doubling the recipe because it does go through a rise cycle in the machine and it may not fit with too much dough. Play it safe and do two separate batches.) 

just pick a number for your dough and done! couldn’t be easier!

  

a nice little window to watch what’s going on with your bread. And it tells you what stage the dough is at.

  

After the dough is done, set it on a floured surface for about 10 minutes to rest. I’ve learned that the resting is important in rolling yeasty dough out because otherwise there will be too much elasticity and it will be hard to get rolled out. Same with pizza dough, FYI. 

Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, brush liberally with melted butter and add your filling. I made two kinds:

1. Cinnamon: brown sugar, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice. I covered the whole thing with brown sugar (eye ball) and then sprinkled a bunch of cinnamon on top (again, eye ball, and use your nose. You can tell when there is enough cinnamon. Trust me.) The pumpkin pie spice was at the suggestion of my hubby. I put a little bit on top. It wasn’t over-powering and it added a roundness to the flavor of the traditional cinnamon.

  

2. Orange: I used a little bit less butter on this one, but still brush some on there. I then spread about half a jar of orange marmalade. You can do more or less if you want.

  

Once the dough is covered with whatever you are putting inside (other options are chopped nuts, raisins, nutella), roll it up. Starting on one of the long sides, roll the dough, pulling a little as you go. Once the dough is in a log shape, I tend to pull it gently (VERY) to stretch it out a little more.

  

Next, take a knife (serrated, preferably, but not necessary) and cut your rolls to whatever size you want. I’m of the “bigger is better” mind-set when it comes to cinnamon rolls! The recipe says it will make 15 rolls, but I only got 10 out of each batch of dough I made, so maybe mine were a bit bigger.

Place the cut rolls into a baking dish and set in a warm, dry spot covered with a towel to rise for a couple hours. They should double in size.

Bake at 375 degrees for 23-28 minutes.

You can make these the night before if you want (I did). You just put them in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Take them out of the fridge and let rise for 2 hours before baking.

  

While the rolls are baking, you can make a glaze. 

For the Cinnamon rolls: 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir together. You can add more milk if you want it thinner or more sugar if you want it thicker. My goal here was definitely a glaze, so I didn’t want it thick like a frosting. 

For the Orange Rolls: 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, the zest of one medium orange, the juice of half an orange, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Again, add more juice or more sugar based on the consistency you want. 

Remove the rolls from the oven and let the cool for a couple minutes before drizzling with the glaze.

Enjoy and make sure to share :0)

sooooooo yummy!!

 

Shredded Chicken Burritos (Freezer Friendly!)

I have a confession about these burritos.  This recipe isn’t mine, but I don’t remember where I got it.  I just wrote it down and put it in a folder with all the other recipes I collect.

If whoever created this recipe just happens to come across this blog, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due. I wouldn’t want someone stealing credit for my recipes either!

P.S. These are delicious and easy and freezer friendly! The holy trinity for this busy mama!

Shredded Chicken Burritos

1 T canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T ground cumin1 t chili powder
2 T lime juice
1 15oz can pinto beans
1 15oz can chopped tomatoes
shredded cooked chicken (about 4 cups) You can use a store-bought rotisserie or you can make your own with boneless skinless chicken breasts
tortillas
shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Stir in garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Add tomatoes and lime juice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Add chicken and beans and stir together. Let simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add mixture to a tortilla and top with plain greek yogurt (or sour cream) and shredded cheese.
  

FREEZE IT!  You can let the mixture cool and put it in freezer Ziplock bags in batches. When you are ready to eat, just take a bag out of the freezer and put the mixture in a pan over medium low and reheat until thawed and hot. Then make your burritos.

Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup 

I love chicken tortilla soup. It does seem, though, like one of those dishes that can be either really good or disappointing depending on where you get it. You remember my friend Eva Longoria? I’ve never been disappointed in any of her recipes. I didn’t, however, care much for her tortilla soup. Which is a bummer.

Up until I created this recipe, my go-to was Trisha Yearwood’s* recipe. Now, don’t get me wrong, her’s is delicious. I mean seriously good eats!  It’s very comforting.

*side note: I met Ms. Yearwood once and we talked about cooking. It was pretty great. I also met her hubby. You may have heard of him? Garth Brooks. It was one of the greatest days of my life. Now back on track….

Now, I’m pretty sensitive to spicy food, and this soup was at my limit. My 2-year-old loved it though! She takes after her dad that way. You can adjust the spice by adjusting the chipotle and adobo sauce you put in.

So, while it may be 80 degrees in August right now, bookmark this recipe because it is delicious and perfect for a cold night… When we get one again!

Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup

1/2 onion diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
Sautée in about a tablespoon of olive oil until soft
Add:
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 chipotles from a can diced
About a spoonful of the adobo sauce (you can add more or less depending on how spicy you want it)
Shredded chicken (I just bought one of those roast chickens from the grocery store. The texture was perfect!)
1 can seasoned black beans. I think sometimes they are called Cuban style
1/2 bag of frozen corn
1 box of chicken stock

Mix it all together and let it simmer for at least 30 min. Just before serving, squeeze half a lime into the pot.

I served it with cheese, avocado, and crispy tortilla strips (cut tortillas and crisp up in a little vegetable oil in a skillet)

This is actually a photo from my friend Britni. I’m so thankful she asked for the recipe right when I made this initially or I would have probably forgotten how I made it. She said she loved it too!