Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kielbasa Mac and Cheese

As you know, my husband, Michael, is very choosy about the food he eats, which is why I call him The Picky Eater. So, when he mentions that a recipe looks like a good one, of course I’m going to make it!

That’s what happened on a recent Sunday. My Picky Eater saw an advertisement from Johnsonville that included a recipe for their Kielbasa Mac n Cheese. He said it looked good. I took the recipe out of his hand and we got the ingredients on a trip to the grocery store later that day.

Of course, as a food writer, I am compelled by nature to change recipes. My mom asked me a couple of weeks ago, “Is there ever a recipe you don’t change?”

No, not many.

The first change was in the brand of kielbasa. Sorry Johnsonville, but my husband is loyal to Hillshire Farm, and being the picky eater he is, doesn’t want to try any other brand. Then, as I started to make the dish, I realized I had inadvertently picked up the “lite” kielbasa, made with turkey, beef and pork. Thank goodness The Picky Eater didn’t notice the difference!

The recipe also called for evaporated milk, which I don’t usually keep on hand. So I just used whole milk and adjusted the water and milk measurements. Plus it includes hot sauce that I left out since The Picky Eater doesn’t like spicy food. However, I do, so I added a little to my dish, but in the recipe I would be tempted to just use cayenne pepper.  I also cut most of the recipe in half since the original makes a large amount and I only needed enough for two people.  

The Picky Eater liked it! So did I. It would be fun to play around with different cheeses in this dish, such as gruyere, blue, provolone, or goat cheese, and my husband suggested using shell pasta instead of elbow macaroni next time. Then again, why tamper with success!

Kielbasa Mac and Cheese
Adapted from a recipe from Johnsonville
Serves 2 to 4 people

1 13-ounce polish kielbasa sausage, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 teaspoon oil
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
Hot sauce (to taste)
1 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a skillet (I used my well-seasoned cast iron), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the kielbasa and brown. Remove the browned meat to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Wipe out the skillet to get rid of any excess oil.

Add the water and salt to the skillet and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Be sure to stir often to prevent sticking. When done, most of the water will be absorbed into the pasta. Add more water if the skillet becomes too dry. If there is a little water left in the skillet, just leave it. It won’t hurt the dish.

Whisk together the milk, cornstarch, and hot sauce (if using). Pour it into the skilled with the cooked macaroni. Bring the milk to a simmer and cook for about 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and add in the cheeses and cooked kielbasa. Stir until the cheese melts. Add salt and pepper, to taste. (Be careful with the salt since both the cheese and kielbasa are already salty. You may not need extra.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chicken Cheese Soup for #SundaySupper

Soup was made for Sundays. You can start a pot in the morning and keep it warm to enjoy throughout the day, or just warm it up later for an evening meal. Today the #SundaySupper group of bloggers will share their favorite soup recipes to help chase away the winter chills.

I decided to make Chicken Cheese Soup, even though it contains an ingredient that I usually avoid using in dishes...Velveeta. Okay, I know I’m a bit of a food snob about some things. I buy expensive coffee and will only use real maple syrup that is made from the sap of a sugar maple tree. I make cakes from scratch instead of mixes and I make my own spaghetti sauce. Yep, I’m picky about the ingredients I use.

Is Velveeta really cheese? To be honest, I don’t know why I feel this way about it since I ate it a lot when I was a child. My mom had a Tupperware container that held the two-pound block size and my dad and I were notorious for sneaking into the fridge and cutting off a hunk for a snack. Mom called us her resident mice.

Plus, there is no arguing with results. Everyone loves this soup! I got the recipe from Mom in 1994. My stepkids from my first marriage begged for this soup while they were growing up and still make it today for their own families. Their friends even ask for the recipe!

Plus, this soup passed the most important test: The Picky Eater liked it! When he tasted it, his blue eyes lit up and he said, “It’s good!”

So bring on the Velveeta! I thought about trying a different cheese, but why tamper with success!

Chicken Cheese Soup

4 to 6 boneless chicken breasts
12 cups combination low-sodium chicken broth, cooking broth, and water
1 cup taco sauce (not salsa!)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 stocks celery, chopped
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup long-grain rice
1 pound Velveeta, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place chicken into a soup pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Measure the cooking broth and add low-sodium chicken broth and/or water to make 12 cups.

Bring the broth to a boil. Add the taco sauce, onion, carrots, celery, and bouillon cubes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the rice, turn the temperature to a simmer, and cook until the rice is soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

As the rice cooks, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. When the rice is soft, add the chicken to the pot, and then add the Velveeta to the soup, cube by cube, stirring until the cheese melts. Add salt and pepper, to taste.  

The Sunday Supper group promotes getting the family around the dinner table at least once a week. Here’s a list of everyone’s soup creations for today:

Do The Poultry Dance (poultry soups)

Where’s The Beef (Beef Soups)

Pass The Pork. Please (Pork or Sausage Soups)

 Under The Sea (Seafood Soups)

 Eat Your Veggies (Chock Full o’ Vegetables Soups)

Some Don’t Like It Hot (Chilled Soups)

Be sure to join in on the #SundaySupper chat on Twitter today at 7 pm ET.  Follow the #SundaySupper hash tag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat.

Don’t forget to check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake from The Family Recipe Box

My dad’s birthday was this past weekend, so the Picky Eater and I headed to the family farm in Missouri to celebrate. As I’ve mentioned before, this farm has been in my family on my mom’s side since 1909. My great grandparents, grandparents, and now parents have all lived there during its existence. When I imagine good home cooking, I picture that farmhouse kitchen where so many loving hands prepared delicious sustenance for hard-working farmers.

Dad loves chocolate chip cookies. Since I’ve made them for his birthday in the past, I decided to try a recipe I found for a chocolate chip cake that came from my cousin Lori, who died from cancer a few years ago. We weren’t close since we never lived in the same area and only saw each other a handful of times. Her aunt, Sue, (who is also my second cousin, or first cousin once removed, or whatever works) sent many of Lori’s recipes in a collection of family favorites she copied for me a few years ago. In some ways, I feel like I get a better picture of who Lori was through the recipes she enjoyed.

However, there was one problem with this particular recipe: I only had half. The front of the recipe card was copied, but not the back. So I had to wing it!

After reading the ingredients, I decided to make this a bundt cake and create a chocolate glaze to go on top. Walnuts were listed in the recipe, but not added to the batter. My guess is they were sprinkled on top of the cake, either before it was baked, or afterwards on melted chocolate. Since Dad likes nuts in his cookies, I put them in the batter.

The glaze will seem very sweet by itself, but it works on top of the cake. To change things up a bit, replace the boiling water with hot coffee. You won’t really taste the coffee, but it will enhance the chocolate flavor.

Everyone enjoyed the finished cake. It’s rich and dense, so small slices are best. (Serious chocoholics can always have seconds!)  


Dad, my nephew, Nick, and The Picky Eater waiting for Dad to blow out his candles. I love this photo, even though it is slightly blurred.
Dad with his cake in the farmhouse kitchen. Happy Birthday, Dad! Glad you liked the cake.
Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

For cake:
1 3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal (not quick or instant)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For glaze:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 to 4 tablespoons boiling water (or hot coffee)
1 teaspoon vanilla

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the oatmeal and boiling water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.

Once the oatmeal has absorbed almost all of the water, add the sugars and butter. Mix until the butter is melted and combined. Mix in the eggs one at a time until well combined. Slowly add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and hand-stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Allow the pan to cool for 5 minutes, and then turn the cake onto a rack to cool completely.

For the glaze, place the chopped chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl. Zap on high in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until the chocolate and butter are just completely melted and combined. (Mine took 1 minute total.) Add the sifted powder sugar and enough boiling water to get a pourable consistency. Whisk in the vanilla.

Spoon the glaze over the top of the completely-cooled cake, allowing it to flow down the sides. Use as much or as little as you like—I didn’t use all of it. The remainder would taste great on ice cream! Allow the glaze to set for a few minutes to harden a bit. Ready to serve!  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Old-fashioned Butterscotch Pudding

I’ve wanted to make this recipe for a few months, but other recipes (and a busy life) got in the way. Finally I spent some time in the kitchen to create this dessert from long ago.

I grew up enjoying butterscotch pudding, but I have to confess it was the box-mix kind. In fact, I’m not sure I ever tasted the homemade version until now, but Mom said Mamaw made homemade all of the time, so chances are I’ve had it in the past. Also, Grandma (Dad’s mom) made butterscotch pie for my mom whenever she knew we were coming for a visit. It’s one of Mom’s favorite desserts.

You don’t hear a lot about butterscotch anymore. It’s that old fashioned. And when you do, it is often a negative reaction, like the one I got from The Picky Eater. Needless to say, he wasn’t one of my taste testers this recipe.

If you’ve never been a fan of butterscotch pudding, I want to encourage you to try the homemade version. It makes all of the difference! If you’ve never tried it before, give it a go, especially if you like caramel and toffee, which are similar to butterscotch.

As I was researching butterscotch pudding recipes (there’s a great Washington Post article on the history here), I came across recipes made with a variety of methods. Some have you melt butter and brown sugar together first. Others add egg yolks. A few do both.

I liked this recipe from Epicurious. It was simple and took very little time to make. One important thing to remember is to use dark brown sugar, not the light brown kind. It makes a difference in the flavor, though the pudding with the light brown sugar did have a nice caramel flavor. But it wasn’t butterscotch.

I also came across recipes that included liquor, mostly scotch, whiskey, or rum. I had some brandy on hand and the finished product tasted lovely. So if you want a grown-up version, just add a little kick to your pudding at the end.

This recipe tastes great. The butterscotch flavor is mild, so it may be a good start for someone who isn’t a fan of the flavor or never tried it before. It is also very easy to make…great for beginning cooks or ones short on time.

Old Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding
Adapted from an recipe
Make 4 servings

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons liquor (scotch, whiskey, run, brandy), optional

In a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan, add the dark brown sugar, cornstarch and salt, and whisk together until well blended. Whisk in the milk and cream. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, whisking often. Once the boiling point is reached, allow to boil for 1 minute while constantly whisking. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla, and liquor (if using.) Pour into 4 serving dishes and cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Build-Your-Own Grilled Cheese

I’m sorry I haven’t posted a lot this month. My day jobs as a freelance journalist and part-time preschool teacher have kept me busy! I’ve worked on articles about the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (great place!), a chocolate and art auction in Baldwin City, and the local Designer Show House.

As you can see, not all of my stories are about food. It seems to come in waves: One month it’s all about food, and the next it’s about home improvement and other topics.

Add to my schedule a few days of fighting the nasty cold virus that my preschoolers are passing around. Before I knew it, January was done!

Yesterday I was at Kansas City’s Union Station to tour the Science of Rock and Roll exhibit for an upcoming article. (It was a fun experience. If you’re in the area, go see it!) While there, The Picky Eater and I had lunch at Harvey’s at Union Station, a great restaurant located in the Grand Hall. Back in the early days of the Station, there was a Fred Harvey lunch counter where travelers could get a tasty meal. Harvey became famous for his food service along the rail lines around the West, with restaurants staffed by the Harvey Girls. Today’s modern version of the restaurant offers a relaxed yet refined dinning experience.

One of the Harvey’s menu selections was a build-your-own grilled cheese sandwich. Diners can choose from a variety of breads, cheeses, toppings, and meats to create a sandwich to fit their personal tastes. I chose smoked gouda and herb chevre on sourdough bread with spinach, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions. The result was a gooey, delicious lunch combination. (I wish I’d taken a photo, but I was hungry! Sorry.)

Build-your-own grilled cheese sandwiches are a great idea for a family supper, young-people’s sleep over, or a casual grown-up gathering. Everyone can pick what they like, and the sandwiches can be toasted quickly on the stove, electric skillet or griddle, or in a panini press.

The setting can be as casual or elegant as you wish.  Kids can pick from American, cheddar, or jack cheese, while grown ups may choose feta, pepper jack, swiss, or bleu cheese.

I wrote about my ultimate grilled cheese sandwich last summer. It’s topped with provolone, sharp cheddar, and feta cheese with baby spinach leaves and pesto.

Harvey’s suggests picking two types from a cheese selection of brie, smoked gouda or cheddar, Swiss, cheddar, American, herb chevre, pepper jack, queso fresco, and bleu cheese.  Then diners can select up to three toppings, including avocado, caramelized onion, oven dried tomato, Granny Smith apples, roasted garlic, candied jalapeno, mushroom, spinach, and roasted pepper. For their meat toppings, which cost a bit extra, the selection includes ham, turkey, bacon, prime rib, and Italian sausage.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless (don’t forget the breads!) and only limited by your imagination and budget.  

What would you put on your grilled cheese sandwich?