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Best Mac & cheese

The last few months have been a whirlwind. I’ve recently started a big project that I’m really excited to share with you. Earlier this year I signed a book deal with Stewart, Tabori & Chang, to turn Illustrated Bites into a book! I’ve been delaying announcing the news, because for a long time it seemed too good to be true. Last week I turned in my first chapter, so it finally feels real. Now that the ball is rolling, I felt ready to tell y’all about it.  The book is organized by season with four, five course meals that exemplify seasonal cooking. Like the blog, it will have illustrated recipes and how-tos, but it will have added emphasis on how to grow the produce yourself.  The working title is Illustrated Bites, From Garden to Table, to be released spring 2015.

2015 still seems like an unrealistic future date, but it will be here before I know it.  In the meantime, working on the book has totally consumed me. I’ve been trying hard to stay balanced, eat healthy, and get some exercise. To be honest though, all I want to do is eat comfort food and drink wine.  This mac & cheese recipe is comfort incarnate. It’s rich, flavorful, warm, and nostalgic. Also, it’s pretty easy to make. The last time I brought this to a pot-luck everyone went nuts for it.  If you’re looking for a crowd pleaser this Thanksgiving, I promise this one is a winner.

  • 1 lb. macaroni pasta such as cavatappi
  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup grated mild cheddar
  • 1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoon Butter
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper
  1.  Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2.  Boil and salt a large pot of water. Cook your pasta, until it’s super al dente. Your pasta box will have a recommend cooking time for al dente, just subtract a minute or two from that. Drain the pasta, rinse it with cold water, and set it aside.
  3.  In a sauce pot, combine the cream and the milk.  Add the bay leaves and gently warm, but don’t boil.  Set it aside.
  4.  In another sauce pot, melt the butter. When it’s foamy add the flour, and stir continuously until the mixture begins to brown. Remove the bay leaves from the half and half, and stir in about 1/4 of it into the flour and butter. Continue to stir, when the mixture is smooth, add a little more of the liquid.  Continue to slowly add the half and half, until it’s all incorporated.
  5.  Mix the gorgonzola and the cheddar into the sauce.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
  6. Butter a 9x13in pan.  Put in the pasta, and pour the sauce over the pasta. Toss in the parmesan cheese and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top.
  7.  Bake for 15-20 minute until it’s bubbling, and the breadcrumbs are brown. Serve hot!

I’ll continue to do new posts here, and give you updates on the book.  You can also follow my progress on Instagram and Twitter. I hope y’all have a great Thanksgiving!



Figs with Blue CheeseA simple treat that I’ve been enjoying a lot lately is figs with melted blue cheese, drizzled with honey. It’s a really quick and luxurious side dish or appetizer. Turn on the broiler in your oven and slice figs lengthwise. Place them in a baking dish face up and put a healthy slice of blue cheese on top.  Put them in the oven just long enough to melt the cheese, it only takes about a minute. After the cheese is melted, remove them from the oven and drizzle with honey. It is a really fancy seeming dish that takes all of five minute to prepare. Go ahead, treat yourself!

cheese straw ingredients I don’t usually keep many snack foods around the house. Mostly because I try not to eat too much processed food but also because they’re pricey. When I’m grocery shopping I never have enough money in my food budget for the ingredients I need for meals AND bags of chips and cookies. However, just because I don’t often buy snack food doesn’t mean I don’t often want snacks. A good compromise I’ve reached is making my own. That way I still get to have greasy, fatty, oh-so-delicious snacks, but the extra work of preparing it myself keeps me from constantly grazing on junk food.

One night recently, my sweetie and I were staying in to watch a movie and we wanted a salty treat to go along with the film. After a few minutes of flipping through our copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman I came across his recipe for Simplest Cheese Straws and few a variations later I came up with my own version of Spicy Cheese Straws. This recipe make 8 servings and they keep well in a sealed container for a few days.

Spicy Cheese Straws:

  • One pound of grated cheese. I used a 50-50 combination of cheddar and jalapeno jack but you can really use any hard cheese.
  • 2 cups of flour.
  • 8 tablespoons of butter.
  • A few drops ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  • 1/2 teaspoon italian spices.
  • Salt for sprinkling.
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Grate the cheese.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the flour with the cayenne, italian spices, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal.
  5. Stir in the cheese and knead it by hand until it comes together. Add a few drops of water at the time to help bring the clumps together but don’t add more than one tablespoon of water.
  6. Roll the dough out into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Then cut into 1/2 inch wide strips.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
  8. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown.
Cheese Straws

Kale PieI’ve been on a pie-baking kick lately and I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with different fillings for savory pies. This recipe is my most recent (and successful) incarnation of a savory vegetable and cheese pie. It turned out so well, I had to share it with you. Savory pies make a great main course or a killer side dish. It keeps well in the fridge for a few days and I enjoy the leftovers with a fried egg for breakfast. You’ll probably find it doesn’t stick around that long though; this is one of my boyfriend’s favorites and he usually makes short work of it. (I have to specifically ask him to save me some!)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


pie crust

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  1. Mix together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in the olive oil and mix until moistened.
  2. Stir in the warm water.
  3. Knead the dough until it’s soft and elastic but not sticky.
  4. Divide the dough into two portions, one for the top crust and one for the bottom. The portion for the bottom crust should be slightly larger.
  5. Set the dough aside while you prepare the filling.

Pie Filling:

pie filling
  • 1 bunch of Kale
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 6 spring onions
  • 8 oz fresh ricotta cheese
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cube the the sweet potato and chop the kale and spring onions. Finely chop the garlic.
  2. In a large pot combine the olive oil and garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant.
  3. Add the sweet potato, kale and spring onions and cook until everything has softened and cooked down but is not mushy. About 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add the cumin, paprika, and cinnamon.
  5. Remove from heat and drain off any excess liquid.
  6. Stir in the ricotta cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Assembling the Pie:

pie assembly

  1. Select a pie dish about 2 inches deep and 10 inches wide.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out the the larger portion of the dough. Place it into the bottom of the dish and shape it so it comes up and over the sides of the dish.
  3. Transfer the filling to the dish and spread it out evenly over the dough.
  4. Roll out the second portion of dough and place it over the filling, so that it meets the edge of the dish. Shape and trim the dough as needed.
  5. Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal.
  6. Puncture the center of the dough with an one inch X

Bake for 50 minutes to one hour.

ricotta ingredients

Last night, I made cheese. Whole milk ricotta cheese… and damned if it wasn’t easy! I had a half gallon of whole milk that wasn’t going to last much longer and I wanted to make use of it. Homemade ricotta is a quick way to utilize milk that would otherwise go bad.

Cheese seems like such a complicated food that I never thought it would be something I could just whip up in my kitchen. I thought the same thing about yogurt before I started making my own. The more I learn about cooking from scratch, the more empowered I feel. So much food we buy is processed, packaged, and labeled that it is easy to get disconnected from its humble origins. It nice to get back to basics, cut out the middle man, and just do it yourself.

Okay, I’m off my D.I.Y soapbox. Really, I’m just learning all this myself and I’m an overly enthusiastic student. Back to cheese making, here is what you need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized. This milk is dead, you can’t make cheese or yogurt out of it. Its dead… dead I tell you!)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (one large lemon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • square of muslin or other mesh cloth
  • thermometer
  1. Mix together the milk, lemon juice, and salt.
  2. Heat to 185 degrees on medium low. As it heats, the curd will separate from the whey.
  3. Remove from heat and let it set for ten minutes.
  4. Line a colander with the muslin and spoon the curds into the muslin.
  5. Tie up the corners and hang from a spoon over a bowl for 30 minutes.

ricotta cheese

TUH-DUH! Ricotta cheese! The volume of cheese you’re left with is a lot less than the milk you started with so I wouldn’t recommend going out to buy fresh milk to do this. But this is an awesome way to use up milk thats about to expire. Making this cheese also leaves you with a lot of whey. You can drink it or use it to boil grains, make oatmeal, or use it anywhere which you would normally use water. Its high protein and pretty darn good for you.

Happy cheese making!

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