Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sausage and Jalapeno Loaded Mac and Cheese

Day 87

With a title like that, I knew I’d get your attention. Seriously, loaded mac and cheese?? As if good, old-fashioned mac and cheese isn’t decadent enough??? We have a winner here, I promise. 
Although we have most likely all noticed a trend for adding your own ingredients to restaurant macaroni and cheese bowls, I tend to shy away from them. They are often loaded with preservatives and “cheese product” to make them creamier. The version I’m sharing here is from scratch, so any concerns about potentially unknown ingredients is for naught.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015

Today’s recipe is the ultimate comfort food with the added volume of meat and spice. It is perfect for baking and serving in individual ramekins as a main dish, possibly served with a tomato caprese or a Greek salad. Of course, if you’re feeling especially hungry, go ahead and use a 9x13 pan and call it a side dish!

Another really nice thing about this loaded mac and cheese is that the add-ins are very versatile. You could substitute bacon and mushrooms or fried onions and crab for the sausage and jalapeno, for example. It’s important that you make it your own, and it will work as long as you keep your add-in portions similar for substitutions. 

Here’s hoping that you’ll find reasons to eat this rich comfort food as often as possible. 

Sausage and Jalapeno Loaded Mac and Cheese

1 lb. mild breakfast sausage
salt and pepper to taste
1 small sweet onion
2 cloves minced garlic
½ cup sliced pickled jalapenos, chopped finely*
4 tbs. butter
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated Swiss cheese 
1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
½ cup grated Fontina cheese
16 oz. cavatappi pasta**
2 cups half and half
½ cup heavy cream
dash of hot sauce- optional 
2 large eggs, beaten
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese***
Splash of whole milk, as needed

*(I used pickled jalapenos in a jar but fresh are fine as long as you reduce amount to ¼ cup)
**Macaroni also works

***Note: It’s always better to buy blocks of cheese and to grate/shred them yourself. Sure, it is a little more of a hassle, but pre-grated cheese does not melt nicely, and you’ll be much happier with the end result if you grate your own. Often, I grate/shred all cheeses at once and store them in large Ziploc bags to make dinner preps faster and easier. Also, I use the grater attachment to my food processor for large quantities of cheese, but hand-held or free-standing graters are great for arm workouts too! 

In a skillet, crumble and cook the breakfast sausage, then scoop onto plate lined with a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Set aside. Use sausage grease to sauté onions until translucent. Add jalapenos and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Scoop onion mixture on top of sausage mixture. Set aside.

Cook the cavatappi pasta until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside. 

To make the sauce, in a large saucepan, melt 4 tbs. butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking to combine. Allow to cook for about a minute, constantly whisking to avoid lumps. Pour in the half and half, whisking constantly, then cook sauce 3-5 minutes or until bubbly and thick. Add heavy cream, 1 tsp. of salt, 1½ tsp. black pepper and dash of hot sauce. Stir to combine. 

Slowly pour about ¼ cup of the hot sauce in a small bowl with the beaten egg, while CONSTANTLY stirring the egg with a fork or small whisk as you pour. (This is important or you’ll have a scrambled egg in the sauce!) Once successfully combined, pour the mixture into the pot of white sauce, stirring constantly. Add all cheeses except the goat cheese and cheddar and stir to melt. 

Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat. Add a little whole milk as needed to think the mixture if it feels too goopy. Add the sausage-onion mixture and stir until nicely coated. 

Place in individual ramekins that have been generously greased with butter, and sprinkle each with some goat and cheddar cheeses. 

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until bubbly and hot. 

Source: Original recipe below, from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, but modified here. You can NEVER go wrong with Ree’s recipes, so check out the original below.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Yin-Yang Macarons

Day 86

My daughter Tate encouraged me to help her on her/our first try of one of our favorite desserts, macarons. Macarons are not to be confused with macaroons, the decadent little coconut puffs that are often drizzled with chocolate.  Macarons are similar to pavlova, an egg white meringue cookie, but are made with almond flour and served, sandwich-like, filled with a decadent cream. 
Photos by Taylor Fowler
For ours, we chose not to use food coloring, but it’s definitely an option for you if you prefer a splash of color.  We also chose to fill them with a chocolate buttercream because we liked the idea of a simple black and white presentation. 

Tate was in charge of this one, so we started with a helpful how-to video that you might also find useful if you try them. The link is below the recipe, and it contains some very handy tips to warn you of any potential pitfalls. 

I am pleased to report that, although ours weren’t as professional in appearance as those we saw on the tutorial, they were certainly just as tasty. 

Yin-Yang Macarons

3 egg whites
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 cup almond flour

It really is best to watch the video we watched if you’re going to make these cookies. The directions are there, with tips. We substituted the chocolate buttercream filling (with directions below), if you are interested, and we did not use artificial food coloring. 

Chocolate Buttercream Filling-
2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
3½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1- 3.5 oz dark chocolate bar (70% cacao), melted
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract 
4 tbs. heavy cream


Cream butter and sugar in mixer until light and fluffy. Add heavy cream, salt, and chocolate and beat until well mixed and creamy. Add vanilla and mix just until blended.