Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not so Barenaked Mac and Cheese

I'm the lunch supervisor at the kids' school, which means that I spend 50 minutes each day in two of the primary classrooms and outside on the playground.  During my most recent jaunt through the Grade One class, my daughter, having seen her friends' lunches, told me she wanted Kraft Dinner (Kraft Mac and Cheese for all you Americans who haven't listened to "If I Had a Million Dollars").  I told her that we didn't have any, so she asked if we could buy some.  I don't really like the stuff and I'm not willing to buy it when it's not on sale, so I said no, not this week.  She humphed and I decided to compromise.  We needed a side dish to go with the leftovers for supper and I was certain we would have more of this casserole remaining for kid lunches the next day.  So, after some searching I think I have finally found the best Homemade Mac and Cheese out there!

I found this creamy mac and cheese on, but I've changed it to suit my tastes.  It seems like the sauce is too runny, but trust me, it really does bake up very nicely so don't try to thicken it up any more than the recipe causes it to.


8 ounces (1 ¾ cups) uncooked elbow macaroni
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (or half and half mixture of mozzarella and cheddar)
3 cups milk (I used 1% and it worked great)
1/4 cup butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
(you can also add garlic, mustard powder, tobasco sauce, according to your tastes.  I put mustard and garlic in, but I think I'll try without next time.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
sprinkle of paprika
(I used smoked paprika and it was too smokey.  I think I'll omit the paprika next time.


1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cook macaroni according to the package directions. Drain.

3. In a saucepan, melt butter or margarine over medium heat. Stir in enough flour to make a roux. Add milk to roux slowly, stirring constantly. Stir in cheeses and other seasonings, and cook over low heat until cheese is melted and the sauce is slightly thickened. Put macaroni in a large casserole dish, and pour sauce over macaroni. Stir well.

4. Melt butter or margarine in a skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and brown. Spread over the macaroni and cheese to cover. Sprinkle with a little paprika.

5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Grape Expectations

Through the generosity of some friends from church, we received many pounds of grapes, white and purple. I decided to make grape jelly out of these grapes since the rest of the family was not enjoying eating these seeded grapes. After a quick Google search, I became a grape processing professional (Not at all!)
The consensus among grape juice/jelly web sites was to first wash the grapes and pick them over for any bad grapes. Take the grapes off the stems and mash them with a potato masher. I opted to just run them through my food processor the first time. I only had 4 lbs of white grapes, so it didn't take too long. (And these didn't stain when the juice leaked out a little.)

With the concord grapes, I washed and picked them over, then put them all into my big huge stock pot. I didn't want to mash them and then move them and get my entire kitchen all stained, so I mashed them with the potato masher in the stock pot. Some of the grapes didn't get mashed, but they break down as they cook, so I wasn't too worried.

So after your grapes have been squished up, one way or another, put them on the stove in a pot that holds at least twice the volume of the grapes. Turn the oven on to medium high heat to get the grapes up to temperature, stirring occasionally, then turn down to medium-low heat to allow the grapes to break down and release their juice. How long you let them sit really depends on how many you have. When I had 4 lbs of white grapes it took about 15 minutes. When I had 15 lbs of concord grapes, it took about an hour. Anyway, you want to let it simmer for a while to get the juices out of the grape. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing burns on the bottom. (You shouldn't need to stir too much if you're simmering on low.”

Prepare another bowl or pot, big enough to hold all the juice, by wrapping a cheesecloth over the top of the bowl and securing with an elastic band or twine. Let the cheesecloth sag a little if you have a large amount of grapes to strain. Pour the grapes over the cheesecloth and let them sit for at least an hour. I found that I needed to stir them a little every 20 minutes or so to let the juices move around and drip through. I also covered it, just to make sure the fruit flies didn't make their homes in my grapes.

What drips through is the juice that you use to make your jelly. It may form crystals after sitting in the fridge for a day, but that doesn't affect the juice or jelly, so don't worry about the crystals. Different pectins have different recipes, so I can't tell you how much you'll need, but you can always top it up with another kind of clear juice (apple, cranberry, pear, store-bought grape). The first recipe I made, with store-brand pectin, called for ¼ cup lemon juice, 4 cups of grape juice and 4 ½ cups of sugar. The second recipe that I made, with Certo pectin, called for 5 cups of grape juice and 7 ½ cups of sugar. They both tasted great.

If you decide to skip the jelly and just drink the juice, I have to tell you that it is very sweet if you drink it straight up. We ended up mixing it half and half with water and it still tasted just as good (if not better) than the store-bought stuff. It was just too sweet and concentrated straight from the grape!

So there you have it. That's all I've learned about grapes in the last few days. I welcome suggestions and ideas from anyone with more than three days experience in the grape juice/jelly-making business.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Friday's Husband

I'm currently reading a book called "Have a New Husband by Friday", by Dr Kevin Leman, upon the recommendation of a few women.  I am on page 122 of 212 and here's a summary of what I've learned so far:

The attributes that my husband could have by Friday?  He already has them.

I don't know why I'm still reading this book instead of writing my own about how wonderful my husband is.  I know, it's got stuff in there for me to do to be a better wife.  The problem is, my hubby is so good to me, it's hard to want to try sometimes.  (Aaron, if you're reading this, please don't take that to mean you need to stop being so swell!)  Don't worry, that doesn't mean I'll stop wanting/trying to be a good wife.  Just that he is honestly so patient with me and my shortcomings that I get complacent about my personal betterment sometimes.

I'm also finding that the generalizations in this book make me mad.  Women are more organized.  Men are not.  Women can think about more than one thing at a time.  Men cannot.  Women see the clutter on the floor.  Men do not.  I'll tell you, in this house, my hubby is more organized than I am, is already thinking ahead to the next thing, and sees the clutter that I do not see.

I think Dr. Leman needs to write a book to help my husband get a new wife by Friday.  That'll be the one that I need to read!

Honey, thank you for being that ama-za-zing, awesome, wonderful husband that you are.  I try to let you know how much I appreciate you, but I know that I still take you for granted far too often.  You are one in a million, a rose among thorns, a Drew Brees among Matt Leinarts.  I love you!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Things That Make Them Go "Mmmm"

It seems that every time I make something, I'm taking pictures, imagining putting it up on my blog here, so I can share delicious food ideas with you.  And then I decide not to put it up here.  It's either because the pictures didn't look good or I decided the recipe was too long and drawn out or I just got lazy.

Today, because my feet hurt from standing all day, I am sitting here, typing this recipe to share with the world.  It's not too ground-breaking, but the last time I made it, all three kids ate and ate and ate and didn't say much until they had cleaned their plates.  Three kids, eating, and chewing and "Mmmm"ing equals a very tasty meal.

And so, without further delay...

Mexican Lasagna

2 large (3 small) chicken breasts
1 pkg taco seasoning*
8-10 large tortillas*
1 can refried beans (398 mL)

1 1/2 cups salsa
300 g cheddar cheese, shredded

Cube chicken and pan-fry until no longer pink.  Add taco seasoning and a splash of water (a couple tablespoons, maybe).  Cook a few more minutes to let the seasoning permeate the chicken.  Give it a spin through a food chopper for a few pulses, just until the chunks are broken up and shredded.

Cut tortillas in half. 

Arrange in a 9x13 pan with the cut edges of the tortillas touching the outer edge of the pan.

Fill in any holes with tortilla pieces.

Spread half the refried beans on the first layer of tortillas. 
(I cannot get this picture to turn the right way.  It's very weird.  It has a mind of its own.)

Top that with half the chicken. 
(I cannot get this picture to turn the right way either.  It's got its brother's mind.)

Top the chicken with about half a cup of salsa. 

Top the salsa with 1/3 of the cheese.

Repeat that process, layering tortillas, beans, chicken, salsa, and cheese a second time.

To top the lasagna, lay one more layer of tortillas.  Spread the remainder of the salsa on top

and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. 

Bake uncovered at 350 F for 20-30. 

Allow it to sit about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.  This tastes great topped with sour cream.

Of course, you can add whatever you like into this recipe.  I'm a big wimp when it comes to spicy food, so I do not put jalapenos or any other spicy pepper in here, but I'm sure they'd taste great if you like extra heat.

* I've started making my own seasoning and tortillas.  Here are the recipes that I use.  The tortillas take a little time (about half an hour altogether) so make them ahead of time.

Taco seasoning
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix with the meat, adding 1/2 a cup of water if using ground meat.  Allow to simmer for a few minutes until well combined and the water has started to evaporate off.
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tbsps butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup warm milk or water (maybe more)

(Works best in a stand mixer, with dough hook.)

Combine all the ingredients except milk. Now slowly add the warm milk or water to knead to a soft dough, kneading well for 4-5 minutes. (In a stand mixer, I only mix it for a minute or so.)

Cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap.  Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Cut into eight equal pieces and use a rolling pin to roll out like very thin tortillas, approx 8″-9″ size.

Pre-heat a griddle to medium-high and place each tortilla on the hot griddle for about 10 seconds on each side and remove. They should have a few light brown spots when they come off.