Sweet and Savory Kale

I made this for the second time in 10 days just so I could show it to you.  I mean, that’s just the kind of person I am, you know?  I took this one for the team, but don’t get used to it or anything.  Just kidding, dear readers – I would have made it again with or without you. It was that good.  Actually, I have a confession regarding this one:  I’ve never had kale before this.  I know.  I can’t believe it either.

I know kale is having a moment right now, but I’ve always heard how bitter it is, and you have to cook it just so to enjoy it… and on and on and on.  Aside from all that, though, we already like greens around here.  I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that I could serve only cooked greens to my husband for every meal and he’d be OK with that – we love collards, and spinach, and turnip greens and we eat them regularly, so I never saw the need to pick kale during my shopping.  So what changed, you ask?  Well, I sent Jacob to the store for salad – like spring mix, folks – and he bought me this.  So I really had no choice but to cook it for dinner.  And since I had no reliable recipe to fall back on, I just used the one on the back of the bag.  And guys?  We loved  it.  It’s basically just cooked down with a sort of semi-vinaigrette (I say semi because you use some chicken stock, and I’d never put that in a vinaigrette) and that’s it.  I’ll probably make this one regularly with additions or subtractions as I have the time and/or inclination to play with it, but this one is definitely going to be a staple in our house, and I hope you’ll give it a try too.

 

SWEET AND SAVORY KALE

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion-chopped
3 cloves garlic-minced
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 lb bag of kale greens

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion softens stirring often about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, sugar, cider vinegar and chicken stock. Bring to a boil on high heat. Add kale, cover, and cook about 15 minutes stirring often. When liquid is reduced by about half and greens are tender, serve and enjoy.

*The recipe also had the option to add 1/3 cup dried cranberries for the last 10 minutes of cooking and then sprinkle with sliced almonds when served, which I omitted due to the preference of my guest, but I’ll definitely give that a try next time.

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Book Themed Baby Shower

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I’ve been dying to tell you all about this, because, quite frankly, it was awesome.  This is the third shower I’ve hosted with this group of ladies, and we are a great team.  We’ve sorted out our particular talents so that each of us is doing something we’re good at, and also that we enjoy…it really makes for one heck of a shower when you have such amazing co-hosts. The book theme was really fun and easy to work with, and we were able to coordinate all the food, games, and decor with no trouble at all.  My co-host with the Cricut (such an amazing device!  I want one!) made the banner above, as well as the tissue paper Hungry Hungry Caterpillar, and the clothesline for the  gifts was her idea as well.  Another friend (the adorable young man below belongs to her) came up with some children’s book trivia games for us (I didn’t win.  I was actually sad about that, but then, I don’t read a lot of children’s books these days…), and our fourth co-host made us some lovely invitations, of which I have no photo…but they were made to coordinate with our banner (above) and you can rest assured, they were adorable.  Your truly was responsible for the food, and I can’t even tell you how much fun I had with it.  Everything I made was meant to go with one of the books and here’s the list:

Green Eggs and Ham – Spinach and Pancetta Quiche

Goodnight Moon – Homemade Moonpies

Give a Mouse a Cookie – assorted cookies, including Homemade Oreos, Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbreads, Sugar, and Chocolate Chip (not made by me, but I will be telling you about them, because they have a secret ingredient that is Killer)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Carrot Cupcakes

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Baked Chicken Meatballs

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – fruit Kebabs

We also had Lemon-Berry Punch, which was a Martha Stewart recipe and came out quite well.  I’ve already share the meatball recipe with you, and I will be sharing the rest of them over the next week.  The carrot cupcake recipe came from (where else?) SmittenKitchen, and I’ll just direct you over to her site for the recipe.  As usual with Deb’s recipes, they turned out wonderfully – moist, tender, and tasty.  I did pipe wee carrots on top of them, and I was quite proud of how they looked, since I usually have no great gift for decorating.  Please do email, or comment, if you have any questions about any of our decor or the theme, etc.  We had so much fun being creative with it, but it took a few skype brainstorming sessions and quite a bit of time on Pinterest for us to put all of our ideas to solid plans and then to reality.  For now, enjoy some photos of the happy Mama-to-be, and be sure to check back in a day or two for the recipes!

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Chicken Meatballs

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I know I’ve been AWOL for a week or so, but I have a really good excuse.  See, I had to make these meatballs.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I had to cater a baby shower…and these were on the menu. So technically that is true.  As soon as I get my pictures in order I will be posting about the shower, including some other yummy-scrumptious recipes.  But seeing as how I made these twice in three days (they are that good), I figured it was my duty to share them first.  But I feel I should warn you that they are made with ground chicken.

Gasp.  I know, right.

I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d ever buy ground poultry.  I mean, I make fun of folks who eat turkey burgers, because, really, what’s the point of eating a burger (B is for beef, people.  Or possible buffalo. Or bison.  Not turkey.) otherwise?  No judgements here – eat what you want – but for me personally, I like my ground meat red, and previously on the hoof.   So, when I was hunting for a killer meatball recipe, no one was more surprised than me that I chose one with ground chicken.  They also have pancetta, which helped make them more legit – let’s be honest, I’d eat a tire if you put pancetta on it.  And the recipe described them as tasting “cheesy”, even though there is not a single shred of cheese in them.   By that point in my research I was fully on board, and trying to think of which Publix I can go to where no one I know will see me buying ground chicken.

yes, I know that's bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it's only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

yes, I know that’s bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it’s only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

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The first batch I made for the shower I didn’t photograph, so you’re seeing my second batch which I made for dinner last night – much to Jacob’s delight.  He claimed they were awesome, and that’s a high compliment for someone who usually just says “Meh.  It’s OK.  I’d eat it again.”  Seriously.  He’s like the least excited eater ever.  Also, almost everyone who attended the shower requested the recipe, so I feel pretty good declaring them the Best Meatballs Ever.  They only take about 20 minutes to put together, and then another 15-20 to bake, depending on how large you make them, so it’s not a huge time investment, and are you really still here?  Why aren’t you out at a grocery store where no one knows you buying ground chicken (unless you routinely use ground poultry, in which case feel free to shop at your usual place).  They really are good people.  They don’t taste very chicken-y to me, more a general savory flavor, and they are very tender and moist.  I made the ones for the shower small, around 25 of them baked for 16 minutes, and the ones for our dinner were larger, only 12 and baked for 22 minutes.  So you can tweak them to suit your needs, but either way, you’ll be glad you tried them.

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Adapted from Gourmet via SmittenKitchen

Serves 4 as a main course, or more as appetizers

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped (you can swap in Canadian Bacon if you can’t find pancetta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.

Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. (Alternately, as in “I thought of this after the fact”, I’d bet you could render the pancetta for a couple minutes and cook the onions and garlic in that fat, rather than olive oil.) Cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan

Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (I had to use a whisk to get it to mix) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes.

The Daring Cooks July Challenge: Handmade Noodles

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks’ July hostess.  Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine.  She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

You can learn all about the Daring Kitchen here, but basically it is a group of bloggers who all make the same recipe and then post about it on a set “reveal date”.  It’s a lot of fun, and I’m really enjoying it, but this month’s task was quite a challenge for me.  I had already been in the kitchen all day, and I was getting frustrated with the lack of counter space, the dirty dishes, ect…it was just one of those days.  So when I started making my noodle dough, every little problem kind of stood out for me…and I also don’t have a pasta roller, which makes it really difficult to roll your pasta out at a consistent thickness.

I chose to make the egg fettucine recipe that was provided to us by the challenge host and it’s not very hard, and it really doesn’t take that long.  A pasta roller really helps, though.  So you start by making a dough with 2 cups of flour and 3 beaten eggs.  I made a well in the center of my flour, and slowly mixed the eggs in until they were all incorporated.  At this point you should  have a sort of dry crumbly dough that won’t quite come together.  I just ran my hands under the faucet and then worked the dough around a little until I got a cohesive mass.  The amount of water you add may vary, but be careful to do it in small amounts so you don’t have to add more flour as well.  Once you have your ball of dough, you knead it a few times until it becomes elastic, and then you should let it rest for between 15 min and a couple of hours.  I did a few dishes and came back after about 20 0r 30 minutes.

Now comes the fun part: rolling the dough.  As I said, this step frustrated me to no end, because while I could roll my dough out as thin as I wanted, as soon as I stopped rolling, it pulled back into itself and I ended up with giant thick noodles.  A pasta roller would have really come in handy here.  Anyway…you flatten your dough ball with your hand and then roll it out into a long sort of oval.  Then pull the two ends in and meet them in the middle:

See how thick my dough is?? It did not want to stay thin once picked up from the counter.  After this, you roll it out to the thickness of your desire.

Once you have it rolled out, you should lightly flour both sides so that when you roll it up it won’t stick to itself, but each time I lifted it from the counter it shrunk into itself, so I started flouring the counter too so I could just roll it up without having to pick it up again.  Then you just roll it up (like a yoga mat…I thought that was a great analogy from out hostess) and cut it into noodles – you can make them as thin or as thick as you want.

Once they’re cut, you just unroll them and drop them in boiling water and you’ve got handmade noodles.  Mine aren’t very pretty, but I’ll show you anyway:

I actually didn’t eat them the day I made them…I waited until the next day and had them with butter, salt, pepper, and chives.  Very simple, but not bad.  My noodles were inconsistent, some thin, some very thick, not all the same length, but they really didn’t taste bad…they just weren’t right.

This really was a great challenge, and I probably would have enjoyed it much more if I had come into it with a fresh mind (and a clean kitchen!).  So don’t let my un-enthusiasm for it stop you.  You can make your own pasta, and it could be lovely!

I took this recipe from our hostess’ instruction to us, changing only a few things since I did not use a pasta roller.

Preparation time: 

Egg Fettuccine – this takes about 2.5 – 3 hours total, in the following stages:

  • initial dough creation – about 10 minutes
  • dough resting – minimum 15 minutes to a maximum of 2 hours (I let it rest for 30 minutes and prepared the sauce during this time)
  • rolling and cutting of noodles – about 1.5 to 2 hours
  • boiling the noodle – about 5 minutes

Directions:

  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Push the flour out of the very center of the bowl, to make a ‘well’. Pour the beaten egg into the ‘well’.
  3. Slowly incorporate the flour into the egg by mixing a small amount of flour into the “well” at a time and mixing until incorporated. Start by mixing in flour around the perimeter of the egg, and gradually widening the mixing to include more and more flour. Mix until all of the egg is mixed into the flour.
  4. At this stage, use your hands to try to form a rough ball. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water and incorporate. Be careful to not add too much liquid – it’s better to slowly add water as needed, as opposed to trying to add more flour to a sticky dough. My trick is to wet my fingers, instead of pouring water directly into the dough. This ensures a minimal amount of water is added, and is more evenly distributed.
  5. Knead the dough for a few minutes, until it is smooth.
  6. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rest. It should be allowed to rest for at least 15 minutes, at most 2 hours. Take this time to set up your pasta roller, and/or to prepare the sauce.
  7. Divide dough into several equal pieces. Take one piece to start, and put the remaining back into the plastic wrap so that they don’t dry out.
  8. Form the piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten using the palm of your hand.
  9. Use a rolling pin to create a thin elongated oval.
  10. Place the dough horizontally on your work surface, and fold the long ends into the center, so that they meet. Press down on the edges to seal them. At this stage, you should have a rectangular shape.
  11. Roll into a long, thin rectangle. Carefully flip the thin dough over, and dust with flour on both sides.  Skip to step #15,
  12. Carefully roll the dough up (like rolling up a yoga mat). Choose how wide your noodle will be, and using a very sharp knife, cut through the rolled up dough. Unroll the noodles as you go, to prevent sticking.
  13. Repeat steps 8-15 for the remaining dough.
  14. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, gently drop in the freshly cut pasta, and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain and toss with sauce and enjoy immediately!

Daring Cook Challenge: Healthy Potato Salads From Around the World

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

Now, who knew all that about the potato??  I must say that this was an excellent topic for my first Daring Cook challenge, since I love the idea of potato salad, but am very picky about what goes into it.  I chose to make Cajun Potato Salad; the recipe was a printout from a long-forgotten website that I modified to my taste.  As a southerner, the potato salad I am most familiar with is the mayo-heavy version found in the deli sections of countless supermarkets across our fair nation.  Most people here in the south stay fairly close to that classic recipe with the occasional addition of pickle relish or bacon.  I don’t care for pickles in my potato salad at all, and while I actually like the taste of the classic version, it’s so heavy that I find that I can only take a few bites before being overwhelmed by it.  My version is very light, with no mayo at all, and the addition of andouille sausage really adds a smoky-spicy note that I just love.

You start out by sautéing the sausage in a little olive oil just until they start to get all brown and crispy.  I boiled the water for my potatoes while the sausage was cooking, and then when the potatoes were boiling (just until tender! Not too long or they’ll get all mushy) I diced my vegetables.  Now my recipe called for a green bell pepper, celery, and green onions, but I only had a very small green bell (and from my own garden no less! I’m really excited about that, by the way.) so I added a cubanelle pepper(also from my garden!).  Also, I had  no green onions, so I just used the half of a vidalia that was in my fridge.  On the subject of the veggies – I actually sauteed them in the oil that was left over from cooking my sausage.  I’m not even sure I’d call it sautéing – I really just threw them in for a minute to soften up and soak up some more of the sausage flavor.  I really liked the texture I got – not super crunchy, but enough to let you know you’re eating something fresh.
After my potatoes were done, I drained them and let them sit for a minute to cool off. While they were sitting I whisked together the mustard, vinegar (I actually used white balsamic, which I really liked in this – it was just tangy enough and not too sweet) and hot pepper sauce.  I added my potatoes to this, and tossed them around to coat.  Then I added the veggies drizzled the whole mess with some EVOO.  I actually used a little less oil than called for, since I had just soaked my veggies in it, and I didn’t want to overdo it.  The amount of mustard called for was right on for me.  It added a little kick to the dish, and helped tie everything together.

I have to say that the end result was delicious.  By far my favorite potato salad to date, and my future go-to recipe.  I think it would be incredible easy to modify, both the ingredients and the heat level, to your own tastes, and it wasn’t that hard to make either.  Simple and delicious – my favorite.

 

Cajun Potato Salad:

serves 6-8

3 lbs red potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 tbsp, plus 1/4 cup olive oil

8 ounces andouille sausage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp hot pepper sauce

1 tbsp whole grain dijon mustard

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup sliced green onions

 

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and saute until brown, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and add potatoes.  Cook just until tender, stirring occasionally , about 8-9 minutes.  Drain well.

Whisk together vinegar, pepper sauce, and mustard in large bowl. Transfer warm potatoes to bowl and toss to coat.  Gently mix in sausage, bell pepper, celery, onions, and 1/4 cup olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

 

Tomato and Corn Pie

For those of you wondering if I’ve lost my mind, let me assure that I haven’t.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated tomatoes.  With a passion.  I don’t even like them to be on the same plate as anything I’m planning to eat.  My family and friends have had to put up with this peculiarity for years, and they’ve kindly refrained from telling me that I’m completely mad, but clearly I was.  This pie has officially converted me into a tomato…well not a tomato lover, but at least a tomatoe liker.  I still won’t put them on a sandwich – that juice is just too much for me – but baked into this soft crust with creamed corn, cheese and fresh herbs was just perfect.

The crust is not your typical pastry, but rather a biscuit dough that bakes up into a wonderfully light and fluffy crust that really elevates this into the ranks of awesome vegetable dishes.  The bottom soaks up all the juices from the tomatoes and corn and the top gets all crusty and golden…perfect.

I’ve recently become very interested in eating seasonally and I’m trying to buy locally grown produce , so I do realize that this is the wrong time of year for a dish that is supposed to highlight the tomato, but I simply don’t care.  Now that I’ve had this, I will happily look forward to the day when my own garden with provide me with wonderfully ripe and juicy fruit (fruit? right?) to recreate this perfect summer dish.

As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time making this dish aesthetically pleasing.  The dough was very hard for me to work with as it was written in the recipe.  It calls for 2 cups of flour, but at that amount I couldn’t scrape the “dough” out of the bowl, much less roll it out into a pie round.  I added some more flour – I’ve no idea how much, I just coated my hands and the counter (several times) and rolled it out as best I could, and it was fine.  Aside from that, this was really not too hard to make.  The worst part was getting everything ready to go in; peeling and cutting the tomatoes, chopping the herbs, etc.  I have no idea how you all peel tomatoes, but I just put them in a little boiling water for a few minutes until the skin pulls away and I can peel it off. And for those of you who have a strange aversion to mayonaise (you know who you are), you won’t even know it’s there, but you’d definitely miss it if you left it out (although you might be able to substitute something else like sour cream or creme fraiche).  Mixed with the lemon juice, and on top of the cheese, the mayo added just the right amount of creamy to balance out the tanginess of the tomatoes.

Overall, I’d say this dish was a winner.  It will be even more perfect once the tomatoes get ripe and it’s so hot outside that you can’t stand to turn the oven on for more than a few minutes.  Luckily this only bakes for about 30 minutes, so you can have it in and out in no time.   As for me, I can’t wait for the weather to get hot, and this was just the first taste of a beautiful summer to come.

Tomato and Corn Pie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 teaspoons melted
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 lb beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups corn (from about 3 ears), coarsely puréed in a food processor
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 7 oz coarsely grated sharp Cheddar (1 3/4 cups)

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then blend in 3/4 stick cold butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out 1 piece between sheets of plastic wrap into a 12-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Remove top sheet of plastic wrap, then lift dough using bottom sheet of plastic wrap and invert into a 9-inch glass pie plate, patting with your fingers to fit (there will be just enough dough to line plate without an overhang). Discard plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice. Arrange half of tomatoes in crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of corn, 1 tablespoon basil, 1/2 tablespoon chives, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, pepper, and salt, then sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Pour lemon mayonnaise over filling and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch round in same manner, then fit over filling, folding overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinching edge to seal. Cut 4 steam vents in top crust and brush crust with 2 teaspoons melted butter.

Bake pie in middle of oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes, then cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

whipped chipotle sweet potatoes

Hello again!  I’ve made something interesting for you.  I wasn’t quite sure how these would turn out, but they were actually pretty good, depending on who you ask.  I loved these smooth, smokey, just a little bit spicy, potatoes.  Jacob, however, was lukewarm.  He did qualify his opinion by explaining that when I told him I was making sweet potatoes, he was expecting sweet potatoes.  You know, that quintessential southern casserole with brown sugar topping.  I considered that, since I know he loves it, but I wanted to try something a little different.  The combination of sweet and spicy was just right, and it’s ridiculously easy to make.  You bake the sweet potatoes for a while – I think mine were in the oven just over an hour, but you know they’re done when they get really soft.  Then, once they cool a little, you scoop out all the insides and mix with butter, salt, pepper, and a chipotle chile.

You use a hand mixer to beat them until they are smooth, adjusting the seasonings as you go (be very careful with that chile!  They can be very strong, and you want to just barely notice that it’s there), and then put them back in the oven to bake for a bit until they’re hot again.

I loved that the chipotle added a little something unexpected to such an ordinary vegetable – it’s funny how the things I never would have thought to combine I usually enjoy the most.  And I think I enjoy the element of surprise in cooking almost as much as I do the way things taste.   If I had seen these rather ordinary looking potatoes offered on a table somewhere, I would probably have put them on my plate, but I would have been pleasantly surprised after that first bite.   It’s the tastes and flavors that catch you off guard that makes experimenting in the kitchen so much fun.

whipped chipotle sweet potatoes

  • 5 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo, mashed to a paste (1 1/2 to 2 chiles)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and butter a 2-quart shallow glass or ceramic baking dish.

Prick each potato several times with a fork, then bake on baking sheet until very soft, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

When cool enough to handle, halve potatoes and scoop flesh into a bowl. Beat potatoes, chile paste (to taste), butter, and salt with an electric mixer at medium speed just until smooth, then spread in baking dish.

Bake whipped potatoes until hot, 20 to 25 minutes.

By the way, this recipe is originally from an old issue of Gourmet magazine.

baked penne with cheese, cauliflower, and crème fraîche

That’s really just a fancy way of saying macaroni and cheese, but don’t be fooled.  It was absolutely wonderful.  I would probably never have made this if not for the fact that I went to the farmers market last week and bought crème fraîche that has been moldering away in my fridge ever since.  Yesterday, when I realized that I should probably use it up pretty soon, I went on over to epicurious to find something to do with it.  This recipe was perfect for me because, believe it or not, I’ve never knowingly eaten cauliflower.  Since I started this blog, in part, to help me branch out and try new things, I figured I should probably jump right in.   I don’t know why I’ve never had cauliflower – maybe because it’s white, but I always just think of it as this bland vegetable that’s not as good as broccoli.

I was definitely wrong, because it was the cauliflower that moved this dish beyond simple mac and cheese, and into something that I can’t wait to eat as leftovers.  There were also tomatoes, a little onion (the recipe called for green onion, but I had half a sweet Vidalia left over from hamburgers this weekend, so I used that instead) and LOTS of cheese.  The recipe calls for “about 9 oz” of Comté, or a mix of Gruyère and fontina, but you try finding Comté or fontina in my Publix.  I had 6 oz of Gruyère, so I used that and added some sharp cheddar into the topping.

You start out by cooking the cauliflower – not too long, 5 or 6 minutes.  You want it to be cooked, but still a little crispy.  If it’s still a little crisp, it stands out really nicely next to all the soft pasta and the sauce.  Add some tomatoes and onions…the tomatoes add just a little freshness to all that dairy.  And oh my goodness, the dairy.  Heavy whipping cream, nearly 4 cups of cheese, and crème fraîche – but don’t worry, you won’t go into a dairy coma, I promise.  The sauce seems impossible as you’re making it – it’s so thick and gooey, but just cook it over low heat and keep whisking it around, and it’ll be fine.   Once everything is cooked you just layer it all in a baking dish and stick it in the oven for 25 minutes or so, and when you pull it out…cheesy, saucy goodness.  The crème fraîche makes it a little tangy, and the cauliflower adds just a little veggie crunch to the whole thing.  Also, this was my first experience with ‘home-made’ breadcrumbs, and I was amazed at how easy it was!  I had a sour dough french bread round that I was using for sandwiches, and I just threw some in my food processor, and voila!  Breadcrumbs! I know I shouldn’t be so impressed with that – I mean, breadcrumbs?  Shred a few slices and you’re good, right?  But really, these turned out all toasty and crunchy…perfect.

Yes, I know it looks like your grandma’s mac and cheese, but it’s not.  It still feels like your favorite comfort food, but with more depth of flavor, and it does have a vegetable in it after all, so it gets credit for being kind of healthy (I’m going to pretend like all that heavy cream and cheese doesn’t completely cancel out the nutritional value).

So, I tried something new, and it turned out amazingly.  Despite the simplicity of the finished product, I’m really proud of this dish.  Not just because it turned out like it was supposed to, but because I used the cauliflower instead of substituting broccoli just because I’m more familiar with it.  It seems like such a small thing, but I’m so excited for the next time I can hardly stand it.

Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Crème Fraîche

  • (1) 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound head of cauliflower, cored, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 cups coarsely grated Comté cheese (or half Gruyère and half Fontina; about 9 ounces), divided ( I used all Gruyère, and some sharp cheddar for the topping part)
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano ( I used romano)
  • 1 cup crème fraîche*
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 10 ounces penne (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from crustless French bread ground in processor)

Cook cauliflower in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Using large sieve, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add tomatoes to pot; cook 1 minute. Remove from water; peel and dice tomatoes. Reserve pot of water.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower; sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and green onions. Cook 1 minute to blend flavors. Remove from heat. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups Comté cheese; whisk until melted and sauce is smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan, then crème fraîche and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Return reserved pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; return pasta to same pot. Stir in cauliflower mixture and sauce.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon in half of pasta mixture; sprinkle with 1/2 cup Comté cheese. Top with remaining pasta mixture and 1/2 cup Comté cheese. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in small skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Remove from heat; mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle crumbs over pasta.

Bake pasta uncovered until heated through and bubbling, about 35 minutes.