World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese

I was a picky eater growing up,  especially picky about my macaroni and cheese.  I was a blue box kid.  No Velveeta or even homemade mac and cheese for me.  I only wanted Kraft.  Fortunately my tastes have matured.  That’s not to say I don’t ever reach for a box of Kraft when I’m tired, but now I usually make my mac and cheese from scratch.

Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of my all time favorite foods, so I set out to find the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe.  I tried a lot of them, and thought I’d found it… until I tried this.  This is the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had!!

My boyfriend likes it so much he asked me to teach him the recipe so he could cook it for himself.  This recipe, slightly adapted from Beecher’s Famous Mac and Cheese recipe (readily available on the internet), is sure to please.  It’s creamy, gooey, and cheesy and has a golden, crunchy crust.  Plus, it’s simple so you can easily put it together for a weeknight meal.  Your quest for a go-to macaroni and cheese recipe is over!

World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

4 oz. Elbow Macaroni
Beecher’s Flagship Cheese
Monterey Jack Cheese
1 tbsp. Butter
4 tsp. Flour
3/4 c. Milk
1/8 tsp. Salt
Generous 1/8 tsp. Chipotle Powder
Pinch Garlic Powder
Panko

1.  Grate 1 c. of Beecher’s Flagship and 1/4 c. of Monterey Jack.  Set 2 tbsp. of each aside for later.

A note on Beecher’s Flagship: It’s a blend of cheddar and gruyere.  So if you’re not fortunate enough to have Beecher’s in your store, you could substitute a 1:1 white cheddar and gruyere mix.

2.  Cook macaroni for two minutes less than directions (It will cook more in the sauce later).

3.  While the macaroni is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  I’ve had this with real butter and with a butter substitute, and I couldn’t tell a difference so use whichever you prefer.  Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour.  Allow to brown 2-3 minutes.

Roux

4.  Slowly whisk in milk.  As with the butter, I’ve had this with whole and skim milk and couldn’t taste a difference.

I add the milk a little at a time and mix until smooth between each addition.  Once you’ve mixed in all your milk, allow the sauce to cook until it bubbles and thickens.  (This usually only takes a few minutes).

5.  Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the remaining cheese, salt, chipotle powder, and garlic powder.

Add Cheese

6.  Pour the cheese sauce over your macaroni and mix.

7.  Transfer macaroni to a baking dish (I use a Pyrex 7″x3″) and top with the cheese you set aside in step 1.  Then sprinkle with panko crumbs.  This will give your macaroni a wonderful crunch!

8.  Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.  Then turn on the broiler and bake until the panko crumbs turn golden brown.  Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn!  It can go from perfectly golden to black in a hurry.

Mac and Cheese Casserole

Yum!! Now you’re ready to serve it up.  Grab a fork and enjoy the rich, gooey goodness!

Mac and Cheese

After you’ve had this mac and cheese, you’ll toss out your old macaroni recipe.  Yes, it’s THAT good!  And so easy to make.  Enjoy!  If you’d like to try a healthier version of mac and cheese, check out our Quinoa Macaroni and Cheese with Spinach.

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Thai Tofu Stirfry

I cook a stirfry at least once a week.  They’re easy, they taste GREAT, and you get so many healthy veggies.  This Thai-flavored stirfry is made with tofu, but don’t let that deter you (see How to Make Tofu Edible (and Enjoyable!)).  Give it a try and I know you’ll love it!

Thai Tofu Stirfry

This recipe, adapted from a Basil Tofu Bowl, is meatless and can be made vegetarian.  The stirfry is packed with healthy veggies and is served over fried quinoa, a protein-rich whole grain.  The Thai flavors in the sauce and the Thai basil, which adds great brightness to the dish, make this stirfry unique.  I will warn you, it packs a little heat.

Thai Tofu Stirfry

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

Stirfry
10 oz. Firm or Extra Firm Tofu, pressed (see How to Make Tofu Edible (and Enjoyable!))
2 cloves Garlic, minced
generous 1/4 tsp. Grated Ginger
2 tbsp. Lime Juice
1 tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 tbsp. Oyster Sauce (there are vegetarian varieties available)
1 tbsp. Sriracha
1 tsp. Honey
large handful Thai Basil, torn
2 crowns Broccoli
1-2 Carrots
Fried Quinoa
1 1/2 c. Cooked Quinoa (1/2 c. quinoa cooked in 1 c. water)
1/2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/4 Onion, minced
Soy Sauce
Butter

Thai Tofu - Ingredients

1.  Make your sauce by mixing the garlic, ginger, lime juice, soy sauce (I always use low sodium), oyster sauce, Sriracha, and honey in a small bowl.

2.  Heat a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  While the skillet is heating, cut your tofu into 1 inch squares.  Once your skillet is hot, sear your tofu ~3 minutes per side until lightly browned and set aside.

Thai Tofu - Sear Tofu

3.  While the tofu is searing, cut your broccoli into florets and peel and cut the carrots into your desired shape (as you can see, today I went with sticks).  I used broccoli and carrots because they are two of my favorite stirfry veggies, but feel free to use whatever vegetables you prefer.

Once the vegetables are cut, cook them in the skillet.  Broccoli takes longer to cook than carrots so I add it 3-5 minutes before adding the carrots.  When your vegetables are done, the broccoli should be bright green.  Set the vegetables aside with the tofu.

4.  Now it’s time to fry the quinoa.  (Tip: For any fried rice-type dish it’s good to cook your rice, or quinoa in this case, the day before and store it in the fridge.)  First, heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat then saute the onion and garlic until lightly browned (~2 minutes).  I usually use a yellow onion, but today I had a red onion on hand.

Then add your quinoa to the skillet with a little bit of butter.  Cook, stirring frequently, until hot (3-5 minutes).

Finally, you want to add soy sauce to your quinoa.  I never measure soy sauce for fried rice dishes.  I just drizzle some in, stir it, and decide whether or not to add more based on the color.  This stirfry is not very saucy so the quinoa needs to have plenty of flavor on its own.

Thai Tofu - Fried Quinoa

Season the fried quinoa with freshly ground black pepper and plate.

5.  Add the vegetables and tofu back to the skillet, add your sauce, and stir.  Cook until the tofu and veggies are reheated and the sauce is well-distributed.  This should only take ~3 minutes.

6.  Stir in the Thai basil and cook a few seconds until slightly wilted.  Serve over your fried quinoa and dig in!!

Thai Tofu Stirfry

This stirfry, bursting with Thai flavors, is a delicious and healthy weeknight option.  You won’t even miss the meat, I promise!

How to Make Tofu Edible (and Enjoyable!)

Have you ever wanted to try tofu, but didn’t know where to start?  Or maybe (like me) your first attempt didn’t go so well?  You should definitely give tofu a chance… or a second chance as the case may be.  It’ll add a nice variety to your protein repertoire and serve as the base for many tasty dishes.

I first tried cooking tofu when my boyfriend started ordering it at restaurants after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemna (which is a great read, by the way.  I highly recommend it!!).  I may have started making it for him, but now I make it for myself.  It’s a great way to get your protein while having a meatless meal.

If you’ve tried tofu before but didn’t like it, it was probably a texture thing.  If not prepared correctly, tofu can be a soft, wet, unappetizing mess.  But if you fix it right, it can have a great texture.  Plus, tofu acts like a flavor sponge so as long as your sauce or marinade is good, your tofu will be good!

The first step to tofu perfection is choosing the right tofu.  You want to make sure you get extra firm or super firm.  Be aware, silken tofu is also graded.  So pay attention because you DO NOT want extra firm silken tofu!  (Learn from my mistake.)  Wildwood (pictured below) is my favorite brand.

Wildwood Tofu

So now that you’ve got your extra firm (non-silken) tofu and you’ve taken it out of the packaging, what do you do?  Don’t be intimidated by the pale block in front of you.  It’s time to conquer your fear!  Just two simple steps will make it edible.

The first thing you want to do is portion it and freeze it.  That’s right, I said freeze it.  Freezing greatly improves tofu’s texture. You don’t want to cook it on the same day you buy it.  I keep tofu in my freezer so it’s ready to cook whenever I decide to have a meatless meal.

I separate mine into 5 oz. portions.  If you haven’t tried out these Ziplock Perfect Portion bags, you should!  They are wonderful!  They make it easy to defrost the right amount of meat and keep those yucky meat germs off the outside of your bags.  After you portion the tofu, put it in a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer.

Tofu - Portion and Freeze

Move your tofu to the refrigerator the night before you want to use it.  Once it’s defrosted you want to press the tofu.  The more moisture you get out, the better the texture.  First, I cut the tofu in half so it’s thinner.

Tofu - Slice

You can either use a tofu press or use a couple cutting boards.  If you choose the second option, place the tofu on paper towels on a cutting board and cover with more paper towels and another cutting board.  Then put something heavy on top of the cutting board.  I use my enameled cast iron dutch oven.

I like to press my tofu for an hour or more but at least give it 30 minutes.  Check the paper towels periodically and change if they become saturated.

Once your tofu is pressed, it’s edible.  Now it’s time to make it enjoyable!  My favorite ways to cook tofu are to stirfry it, sear it, bake it, or fry it.  I generally don’t recommend it in something like a curry.  You’re adding back all that moisture you took out.

Thai Tofu Stirfry

Following these simple steps, you can make delicious tofu dinners at home!  Check out our Thai Tofu Stirfry recipe (pictured above) or Blackened Tofu Tacos for an easy and delicious tofu dinner.

Mexican Roasted Corn Salad

Looking for a little variety in your next Mexican meal?  Try this simple Mexican Roasted Corn Salad as a side dish instead of the typical rice.  Roasting gives the corn great flavor and texture!

Mex Corn 6_2

This is a great weeknight side dish as it comes together quickly and requires very little effort.  Enjoy!

Mexican Roasted Corn Salad

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

2 c Frozen Corn, defrosted
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 tbsp. Chopped Cilantro
1 tbsp. Greek Yogurt
2 tsp. Lime Juice
2 tbsp. Grated Cheese
Salt
Pepper

1.  Mix corn with olive oil in a bowl then season with salt and pepper.

2.  Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer.  I typically use a rimmed baking sheet so the corn can’t fall off the sides.

3.  Roast at 400° F for 15 minutes, stirring a couple times during cooking.  The corn should be starting to brown lightly.

Mex Corn - Roasted

4.  While the corn is cooking, make your dressing by mixing Greek yogurt and lime juice.

5.  Once corn is done, mix in the dressing, cilantro, and cheese.  For the cheese you want a white, easy-melting cheese.  I usually use Monterey Jack or Farmer’s cheese.  Dig in while it’s hot!!

Mex Corn Salad

Green Citrus Chicken Enchiladas

I’m always looking for ways to incorporate more healthy foods into my diet.  Avocados are known for their good monounsaturated fats, and they have many other vitamins and minerals.  This recipe uses avocados to create a delicious, creamy sauce.  If you’re not accustomed to working with avocados, check out our Tips for Cooking with Avocado.

Green Enchiladas

Now, don’t these look delicious!  Dig in and enjoy these creamy Mexican treats while getting all the healthy goodness of avocados.  I should warn you, this isn’t a super-simple, whip-it-up-in-10-minutes kind of dish, but it’s well worth the effort!

Green Citrus Chicken Enchiladas

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

12 oz. Chicken Breast, marinated in Mexican Citrus Marinade
Salt
Pepper
Chipotle Powder
4 Fresh Tortillas (check out our recipe for homemade)
Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
Fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped
Green Avocado Sauce
1 tbsp. Butter
1 tbsp. Flour
1 c. Chicken Broth
6 tbsp. Fat-free Greek Yogurt
1/4 tsp. Cumin
1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. Pepper
1 Avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 c. Coarsely-chopped Cilantro
1 tbsp. Lime Juice

1.  Melt butter in skillet over medium heat.  Then add the flour, whisking for 2-3 minutes until golden and bubbly.

2.  Slowly whisk in the broth.  Tip: Adding a little broth at a time, whisking til smooth with each addition, will help you avoid a lumpy sauce.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

3.  Add Greek yogurt, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper to the skillet.  Remove from heat and whisk until smooth.

Enchiladas - Greek Yogurt
This is my favorite Greek yogurt brand.  Fage also works nicely.

4.  Put cilantro, avocado, and lime juice in the blender.  Pour sauce into blender then puree until smooth.

Note: This sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until needed.

Enchiladas - Avocado Sauce

5.  While the sauce cools, cook your chicken.  Season both sides with salt, pepper, and chipotle powder.  I like to use a grill pan, but cook it however you prefer.  Allow to rest 5 minutes to seal in those tasty juices!  Then cube.

6.  While the chicken is resting, cook your tortillas.  Homemade Flour Tortillas definitely have the best flavor.  If you’re going to make your own, make them medium-sized (see Step 3 in our recipe).  If you don’t want to make your own, the raw tortillas you can buy at the store are the best alternative.  They’re usually in the refrigerated section near the Mexican cheese.  They taste so much better than precooked tortillas, and they only take about a minute each to cook!

Enchiladas - Tortillas

7.  Now it’s time to assemble your enchiladas.  Put some avocado sauce down the center of each tortilla then top with chicken, cheese, and cilantro.  The sauce is already creamy, so you don’t need a lot of cheese.  It functions mostly to help hold the enchiladas together.  Roll up your tortillas and place, seam side down, in a baking dish.

Enchiladas - Fill Enchiladas

8.  Spread more avocado sauce over the top of your enchiladas.  Then sprinkle with a little more cheese (again, you don’t need a lot).  Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes at 375° F.  The cheese should be melted and the sauce may be starting to lightly brown in places.

Note: You’ll likely have some avocado sauce leftover when you’re done.  This can be kept in the refrigerator 1-2 weeks and works great in place of sour cream in tacos or as a dip for quesadillas.

Now you’re ready to enjoy the creamy goodness of these Green Citrus Chicken Enchiladas!  Make it a meal by serving with Mexican Roasted Corn Salad or one of our other Mexican flavored Veggies and Sides.

Enchiladas Meal

Tips for Cooking with Avocado

Avocados, technically fruit, are full of healthy monounsaturated fats and essential nutrients.  If you’re looking to incorporate more of this superfood in your diet, check out these tips for selecting, preparing, and storing avocados.

Selection

To make sure you choose nice, ripe avocados the next time you visit the produce section, perform these two simple tests.

1)  The avocado should be soft.  I’m not talking mushy, but it should give under your fingers if you squeeze it.  (In my experience soft avocados tend to have skin that is more brown than green)

2)  Remove that little woody piece at the end of the avocado (see below).  If the color inside is green, you’re good to go.  If it’s brown, the avocado is overripe.  Find a different a one.

Avocado - Selection

Preparation

Once you’re ready to use your avocados (I wouldn’t recommend waiting more than a few days after purchasing), they’re really easy to cut, pit, and peel.  First, slide a knife into the center of the avocado, parallel to the long axis, until you hit the pit.  This doesn’t require a particularly sharp knife.  I use a steak knife from my cutlery set.

Then cut along the axis until you meet your original cut.  Now that you’ve cut all the way around, twist the two halves.  They should come apart easily.  The pit will be stuck in one of the halves.  Gently remove the pit with a knife or fork.  If you’re interested, you should be able to plant this pit to grow your own avocado.  I’ve never tried it so I can’t give you any advice for planting.

Avocado - Halved

After you’ve cut and pitted your avocado, you need to peel it.  Slide a spoon just underneath the skin (seen below), and run the spoon around the edges of the avocado.

Avocado - Peel

The entire half should come away from the skin in one piece.  Now you can slice, mash, or puree your avocado as called for in your recipe.

Storage

Often, I use only half of an avocado at a time.  Storing these things can be tricky.  They brown very easily!  The first thing you want to do is lightly brush the surface of the avocado with water.

Avocado - Brush with Water

You don’t want to soak it.  You need only a thin layer of water.  This layer helps seal the surface of the avocado to prevent browning.

Next, wrap the avocado in plastic wrap.  Now you can stick it in the refrigerator to use the next day.  Or if, like me, you don’t need it for several days, put it in a freezer bag and freeze.  Move to the refrigerator to defrost the night before you need it.

Avocado - Wrapped to Freeze

Following these simple tricks, you’re ready to use these rich, flavorful, healthy fruits in your kitchen!

Mexican Citrus Marinade

On weeknights, I often turn to chicken tacos or quesadillas for a quick, easy dinner that I know will be delicious.  Fortunately, I found this recipe for Mexican Citrus Marinade which takes the chicken’s flavor up a notch!

Marinating Chicken

This simple marinade utilizes ingredients that you probably have on hand and can be thrown together quickly.  As long as you plan ahead, this shouldn’t add much time to your dinner preparations.  I like to whip this up and get my chicken marinating before I head to the gym in the evening.  Then it’s ready to go when I get back.

Mexican Citrus Chicken Marinade

Prep time: 5 minutes + 1 hour marinating time

Serves: 2

Ingredients

2 tbsp. Lime Juice
2 tbsp. Orange Juice
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic
Handful Fresh Cilantro
Salt
Pepper

Marinade Ingredients

1.  Coarsely chop your cilantro and garlic.

2.  Combine the lime juice, orange juice, olive oil, garlic, and cilantro.  Mix and season with salt and pepper.

3.  Pour marinade over chicken and marinate in refrigerator for a few hours, turning once.  Ideally, you want to marinate it at least one hour, but even 30 minutes will work.

Note: This is not a marinade that you can leave your chicken in overnight!  The citric acid in the lime and orange juices can actually start to break down the chicken if left too long.

Marinating Chicken

Use this marinade to make juicy, flavorful chicken for tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, or enchiladas (such as our delicious Green Citrus Chicken Enchiladas)!