Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

I’m back! This time with no  big promises or apologies, simply this ohmygoodness mac n’ cheese.

I don’t know many people who don’t recognize the beauty of macaroni and cheese. I’m twenty-something, and I’m no where near done with the cheesy goodness. It’s not something you grow out of. Perhaps you have the willpower to turn it away, but I bet you still crave it. And I don’t blame you.

There are many variations of the dish that I love. Sometimes, its nice to go classy and enjoy a truffled mac n’ cheese (Extra Virgin in NYC has my favorite); other times its necessary to add some bacon (try Anne Burrell’s). And then there are nights that you need to spice it up.

I made this recipe for Rob on a recent date night. He was in the mood for buffalo chicken, and while I’m not usually drawn to hot wings, I’m powerless to homemade mac n’ cheese.  Its a bit of a lengthy process due to the time required for prep work and baking, but the end product is worth it.

The cheese and hot sauce meld together to create the perfect harmony between man food and comfort food. And the texture? Spot on. The panko adds a nice crunch, without overwhelming each bite. For the final topping, we substituted goat cheese for blue. We only sprinkled it over half of the dish in fear of the flavors not pairing well, but I wish we covered the whole dang thing. The goat cheese doesn’t melt completely and keeps its creamy, smooth texture, which offers a cool  relief to the spicy sauce.

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

This recipe is modified from the Food Network Kitchens’ original. Although I tried to explain that adding celery wouldn’t make the pasta taste like celery, Rob was too skeptical (the dinner was for him after all). We followed the recipe from Tidy Mom instead, with only minor adjustments.

 Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter (divided)
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (if its small, use the whole thing)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup hot sauce (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3.5 cups)
  • 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (blue, if your a buff chick purist)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute.
  4. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the milk and cream, then add the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, then whisk in the sour cream until smooth.
  5. Spread half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top.
  6. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko, blue cheese and parsley. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
 
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Tagliatelle with Saffron Chicken

Little sis ready to cook

Tagliatelle with Saffron Chicken. YES, saffron and yes, yum. I knew that I had to try this recipe when I was browsing through my dad’s cookbooks and saw kitchen splatters on the pages. “Papa Miyashiro gave it the time of day, so the recipe must be good,” I thought.

Before I share details of the pasta, I must say its been quite a while since I’ve written anything. I am well aware that with the exception of my small loyal following, my absence in the blogging hemisphere has probably gone unnoticed. Even still, I feel a small dose of guilt for being MIA. About two months ago, I left my finance job and journeyed over to the fabulous Food Network. Next to being Ina Garten’s personal assistant, this is it: my big dream.

So where has all the blogging gone?

I’m inspired each day at work by the creative minds and delicious food, but I’ve also lost some of my kitchen sass and confidence. I’ve suddenly become hyper aware that I am a small fish in a big sea, or perhaps a small sprinkle on a big cake? I’ve realized though, that if I really want to be successful here, I need to continue to do the things that make me happy. Cooking is a huge part of that, and even if my little voice isn’t heard by many, sharing my passion is part of what contributes to this happiness. That’s how I came to this job to begin with.

But enough of that, this recipe is what I made with my little sister after my very first day working at Food Network. It went very smoothly aside from the fact that I doubled the amount of pasta. Unfortunately the creamy, delicious sauce really had to spread itself thin amongst too many big noodles. Next time, I will make this when I am in a less frazzled emotional state so that I am able to think clearly and logically. But aside from this small (or I guess realistically- big) mishap, the taste was all there. The touch of saffron adds a certain depth of flavor that I cannot describe quite yet.

And fine-I also have to admit that the chicken was bit overcooked. Womp. I was waiting for it to brown, and it never did! I’m slowly but surely learning the virtue of patience in the kitchen. I won’t be a savvy chef overnight, and however obvious that may seem to everyone else, I am finally coming to grips with that for myself. However, I still consider the dish a success, and a very suitable, self-congratulatory dinner to myself. At its core it is a no-fuss, comfort food–just a little more grown up, like me.

Bon appetit and happy holidays! Top on my 2012 New Year’s resolutions, eat and make more delicious food.

What the pasta should’ve looked like
My pasta, with too little sauce

Tagliatelle with Saffron Chicken
From Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole

Cook the tagliatelle in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 to 6 minutes, or according to the package directions, and drain.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and heat the olive oil. Cook the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove to a plate. Stir in the celery and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

Increase the heat to hight. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the wine is reduced by about half. Pour in the tomatoes and stir in the rosemary, saffron, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the cream and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Return the chicken to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and the sauce has thickened slightly. Add the pasta to the sauce and heat until hot. Stir in the parsley.

Serve immediately.

Pumpkin ravioli

Two Fridays ago, with no transition at all, fall began in New York City. By the next Monday, the autumn smell was undeniable. Hooray! 

Fall is my favorite time of the year (besides Christmas of course). I love the crisp, mild weather, the sweater and boot attire, and, most obviously, the food. Rich, warm flavors, often involving lots of butter. The kind of food that you just associate to good memories. Think Thanksgiving.

Anywho, when I began to sense autumn’s presence, my thoughts naturally drifted to none other but pumpkin. I’m certainly not onto to something new, as evident with Starbucks pumpkin latte phenomenon. In fact, my friends just made delicious pumpkin whoopie pies this past weekend. I am, I suppose, a big cooking-with-pumpkin proponent. There are lots of recipes I have in mind for this fall season, but the one I decided to try first was pumpkin ravioli. I should clarify that I did not in fact handcraft the ravioli; the main ingredient was store bought. But hey, I am coming to grips with the fact that its often more sensible and enjoyable to save time with premade ingredients.

I took the recipe from Giada: ravioli with balsamic brown butter sauce. The recipe suggests cheese, mushroom or squash ravioli. I’m still confused as to whether pumpkin is considered a type of squash, but I decided regardless that it would be delicious. And I was right. The balsamic vinegar added some pizazz to the foamy butter. I’m not sure if it sounds a bit strange to some, but with such earthy flavors from the walnuts and the cheese, the tangy hint from the vinegar is actually quite nice.

The dish was not an immediate success. Lesson learned: taste test. I didn’t use exact measurements, and I served myself before trying the sauce. Mistake. I had to add more cheese and more salt. While in most cases you have to be careful not to make a dish taste salty, salt is very important to enhance and highlight different flavors. Do not underestimate its power. (Example: every Food Network star will tell you to be generous in adding salt to cook pasta)

Giada knows her stuff. This recipe is as simple as melting butter and grating cheese, and is a perfect after-work meal. I enjoyed this dinner with a nice cold beer and the season premiere of Glee. It was a day when all I could think was my dad’s favorite saying: life is good.

(Photo from Food Network website)

 Ravioli with Balsamic Brown Butter
Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

18 to 20 oz store-bought ravioli (cheese, mushroom, or squash)
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c toasted, chopped walnuts *
1/4 c grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook 4 to 5 minutes, until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain ravioli onto a large serving platter.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan cook the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the foam subsides, and the butter begins to turn a golden brown, about 3 minutes, turn off the heat. Let cool for about 1 minute. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Transfer the ravioli to the saucepan with the balsamic brown butter. Sprinkle walnuts and Parmesan over the top. Serve immediately.

* To toast the walnuts, you can heat them in a skillet over medium-heat for 3-4 minutes. The walnuts have plenty of natural oils, so no need to add anything else. Stir often and heat until they become fragrant.

Truffled mushroom quesadilla

A little bit of truffle salt goes a long way. The black truffle salt from Dean and Deluca is amazing. If you ever wander into the store, you must try it. My sister Maria surprised me with a jar, and its one of my favorite gifts because its not something I would have splurged for myself.


Anywho.. I’ll give myself a nice pat on the back for this quesadilla. On a very ordinary night, with no special occasion, I casually whipped together a dinner that me very content. I mentioned in my last post that the truffle salt was not meant for the pizza I made. It should really be used in something where you are able to notice the depth of flavor it adds. A quesadilla is one option! I had a similar quesadilla a few months ago at a Bier International in Harlem. The service was terrible, the fries nothing special, but the quesadilla was pretty yummy. So I decided to create my own version.
What made this whole dinner even better, is that it didn’t cost anything extra for me to make. I made use of the ingredients I already had. Typical me had gotten too many mushrooms in preparation for the pizza. I heated some olive oil in a cast iron skillet and sautéed them with truffle salt. At this point, they already began to smell marvelous and I was becoming more hungry, excited, and proud of myself by the minute. In the same skillet, I heated the tortillas and layered it with MONTEREY JACK cheese and some left over manchego cheese (I am not a fan of yellow cheese in quesadillas). Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fresh herbs on hand, but I sprinkled a pinch of dried oregano on top of the cheese.
The combination of the cheeses and the mushrooms with the truffle salt has a rich, earthy flavor, making this the ultimate comfort food.  The quesadillas soaked up some of the oil from cooking the mushrooms, giving the tortilla a nice outside crisp and even more flavor. Obviously this does not avoid extra calories, but the added flavor was well worth it.

Truffled mushroom quesadilla 
makes 1 large quesadilla (8 small slices)

1/2 c sliced baby bella mushrooms
pinch of black truffle salt, to taste
tbsp olive oil
2 flour tortillas
1/2 c monterey jack cheese
1/8 c manchego cheese (optional)
1/8 tsp dried oregano

Heat olive oil in large pan. Sauté mushrooms with truffle salt until golden brown and tender. Transfer to plate. Place tortilla on same skillet. Add cheese with even layer on top and add mushrooms. Sprinkle with oregano. Place second tortilla on top. Heat until cheese begins to melt and flip. Remove when cheese is fully melted and to desired crispiness for tortilla. 


Pizza with mushrooms, pizza with corn?

Pizza was on the menu last week for date night with Rob. After we came up with the plan, pizza was everywhere. It wouldn’t leave me alone! It came up in conversation, in daydreams, and as specials on Cooking Channel. The universe was speaking to me. I simply had to make pizza.

Being the yo pro (young professional) I am, my time for relaxing at night is limited. Therefore, I figured that I’d save some time and humiliation by buying pre-made dough. I was, on the other hand, ambitious in making two different types of pies.

 
Pizza #1:
For whatever reason, when I decided to make pizza, I also decided that one of them had to have mushrooms. I don’t eat them too often, but they give pizza a very earthy flavor which I was craving. I based my recipe search around them and found a  Bon Appétit recipe for a three cheese pizza with mushroom and pancetta, which I later discovered was written by Giada. This was an obvious plus for me, since along with every other person in the world, I adore her. 
Perhaps I am feeling more confident in my own skills because surprisingly, I used Giada’s pizza as a springboard for my own creation. I followed the basic baking directions, as well as used the suggested fontina, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. However, for another reason unknown to me, I wasn’t feeling the pancetta so much, and decided to substitute it with italian sausage (my pizza intuition was obviously very strong this week). 
Rob’s into food with a kick these days, so we picked spicy italian sausage. After sautéing the meat, we added the mushrooms to the same pan with some olive oil and a tinnnny bit of truffle salt. I was very nervous about over-salting the pizza after reading some of reviews. To be honest, I am not sure the mushrooms needed any salt at all considering the other salty ingredients. Although I am a fan of matching truffle salt and mushrooms, I will save the combo for something where the flavor of the combo can really shine. As a final touch, my smart boyfriend suggested adding chopped basil, which obviously turned out to be an excellent decision. It gave the very hearty, cheesy pizza a fresh punch. Next time I will add it in towards the latter portion of the baking, or even at the very end, to make the basil more prominent. 
Pizza #2 
When talking to my sister recently about things I have been cooking, she loudly exclaimed, “What’s up with your recent obsession with corn.” Rob loves corn. And if you are now concerned that I may have actually put corn on the pizza, your suspisions would be correct…
Rob swears by it, and I reluctantly agreed to try it out. Shockingly, I found recipes and restaurant menus online featuring this odd combo. I began to think that perhaps he wasnt so crazy after all. It should also be noted that I am always telling him to be open-minded when it came to food, so it was time for me to follow my own advice.
I decided to pan roast the corn in a cast iron skillet to char it, trying to bring out a smoky flavor. To accompany the corn, I sautéed chopped red onion with some olive oil and a pinch of salt. We had two mini doughs ready for pizza #2, due to a drawn out struggle with the rolling process. One corn pizza was three cheese and the other just had mozzarella.
Corn on pizza? Yes. It is downright delicious. The corn added a nice texture to each bite, along with a hint of sweetness (No worries though- this pizza still falls under the savory category). The deliciousness  of the caramelized onions only added to the overall success. 
I was very unconvinced when Rob initially told me that I would like corn on pizza. I couldn’t be more wrong. The pizza tasted equally good as left overs the next day. Try it!

Three Cheese Pizza with mushroom and sausage
inspired by recipe from March 2007 Bon Appétit
Premade pizza  dough
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 cup coarsely grated (or chopped) fontina 
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated mozzarella 
2 oz crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, finely sliced
1 italian sausage, casing removed
Basil, finely chopped
Olive oil for sautéing
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. 
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and sauté until brown, breaking into small pieces with tongs while cooking. Transfer sausage to a plate covered with paper towel. Add mushrooms to skillet, with a small amount of oil if needed. Sprinkle with pepper and salt (if desired). Sauté until brown, about 5 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Spread marinara sauce over pizza. Sprinkle cheeses over, then mushrooms and sausage. Sprinkle with basil (or wait until after pizza is cooked) Add salt and pep to taste if desired. 
Bake pizza until brown on bottom and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

Three cheese pizza with corn and red onion
Premade pizza dough
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 cup coarsely grated (or chopped) fontina 
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated mozzarella 
1 cup yellow corn (we used canned)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
Basil, finely chopped
Olive oil for sautéing
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. 
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn and sauté until brown. Transfer corn to bowl. Add onions to skillet, with a small amount of oil if needed. Sprinkle with pepper and salt (if desired). Sauté until brown, about 5 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Spread marinara sauce over pizza. Sprinkle cheeses over, then corn and onions. Sprinkle with basil (or wait until after pizza is cooked) Add salt and pep to taste if desired. 
Bake pizza until brown on bottom and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.