November 27, 2012

Cajun Macaroni and Cheese


The weather has been running hot and cold here.  Literally!  I guiltily turned the central air on last week when the house just didn't cool down enough for our preferred sleeping temperature. 

After sleeping for 10 years above an uninsulated front porch (the "summer porch" a lot of older homes had, which is basically a room that's almost all windows, so you can catch a breeze in the summer heat), we REALLY have come to like a cold room.  This is definitely not the usual November weather- some days have been in the high 60's, and today is a much colder 34.

During one of the cold days, Jeffrey decided to write up a recipe we've been enjoying for a year or so. This is his own recipe, arrived at through trial and error.  Every batch was just a little bit better!

Cajun Macaroni and Cheese is definitely not an inexpensive comfort food because of all the cheese, but the taste is so good that every time I bring a container for lunch, someone in my office comments on how good is smells.  It tastes even better!

And as usual, we make massive amounts, because even with all the cheese, this recipe freezes very well.  If you're going to go to all the trouble of putting this together, you might as well be able to enjoy your hard work for awhile!


Cajun Macaroni and Cheese
yield = 14-16 servings

5 -6 slices fresh bread
1 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons minced parsley
½ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
24 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
1 large onion, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 pounds elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
6 cups milk, divided
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
1 pound American cheese, shredded
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)


Prepare two 9x13 casserole dishes by spraying with nonstick cooking spray.

Process bread into unevenly-sized crumbs.    Combine bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, black pepper, paprika and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Pour the melted butter on top of the bread crumb mixture and stir to combine.  Set aside.

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add sliced Andouille sausage and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is lightly browned and the onion is translucent (5-6 minutes).  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Transfer sausage mixture to a bowl, cover and set aside.


Start water boiling and prepare the macaroni according to package directions.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Start at about the same time you start the water boiling for the macaroni.

In the same Dutch oven used to cook the sausage and onions, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  When the butter is bubbling, add ¼ cup of the flour and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the rest of the flour, ¼ cup at a time, to make a roux.   Whisk in one cup of milk and whisk until smooth.  Whisking constantly, add two more cups of milk, one cup at a time, until smooth.   Cook until slightly thickened (about 2 minutes), then add the final 3 cups of milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce starts to thicken (about 10 minutes). 

Reduce heat to medium-low, then add the grated cheddar and gruyere cheeses 1 cup at a time, whisking until smooth before adding the next cup.  Repeat until all of the cheddar and gruyere are incorporated into the sauce, then repeat with the American cheese.  Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, paprika, cayenne, black pepper and salt.   Remove from heat.

Drain the macaroni.    Divide the macaroni and the sausage mixture evenly between the two casserole dishes,  add half of the sauce into each casserole, then stir to combine.  Sprinkle half of the topping mixture over each casserole, then transfer to the preheated oven.

Cook for 35 minutes, rotating the casserole dishes once during cooking.  Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Serve.  

We like to package the leftovers into sandwich-sized freezer-safe containers.  This size is good for an individual work-day lunch.  Microwave and enjoy!

October 20, 2012

Excellent Easy Pizza Sauce

In the past several months, I've been making a fair amount of pizza, and trying out a lot of recipes in doing so.   The various cooking magazines to which we subscribe have featured some pretty good pizza recipes in the past year.  For example, the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit featured a pretty good recipe.  The one I've been using the most, though, and the one I consider the best, is the pizza dough recipe from the April/May issue of Fine Cooking.  That recipe, for Make-Ahead Pizza Dough, was featured in the article "Pizza Your Way, Any Day," and is also at this link.  This recipe makes for fool-proof dough that lasts for days in the refrigerator and makes for as many as eight pizzas, depending on how thick a crust you want.  We prefer the cracker-thin crust option, though the photos with this post show one with a slightly thicker crust.

I go pretty simple for toppings, for the most part.  Sliced grape tomatoes, a crimini and shitake mushrooms and a mix of cheeses (mozzarella, gruyere and Parmesan, most of the time), plus some chopped, fresh basil and oregano.  Occasionally we'll toss on some arugula as well.

Good pizza requires good sauce, though, so I've been experimenting with sauce recipes and developed one we really like.

Easy Pizza Sauce

yield = 2 cups pizza sauce

1 can (28 oz) whole, peeled plum tomatoes (I use Hunts)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Add the olive oil to a 3-quart saucepan and heat until shimmering.  Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato, pepper and salt, stir thoroughly and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, by which time the sauce should have thickened and reduced to about 2 cups.

This sauce refrigerates in an airtight container for about 5 days.

September 23, 2012

Jeffrey's Peppery Steak Seasoning

The weather has cooled down here in central Iowa, and that has inspired Jeffrey to get out the grill.  This steak seasoning is savory and peppery.  If you aren't a huge fan of the black peppercorn's bite, just cut it back to your own preference level.  Enjoy!

Jeffrey's Peppery Steak Seasoning
(covers 2 8-ounce steaks)

2 teaspoons coarsely-ground fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Grind the black pepper on a coarse setting.  You can use Tone's Restaurant Black Pepper if you don't have a pepper grinder, but fresh ground really does taste better.  We got our grinder at the local Penzey Spices - they have very durable grinders.  After the pepper is ground, combine all the spices and stir to mix thoroughly. 

Use a paper towel to "dry" the steaks, and then rub an ample amount of the seasoning on both sides.  Let the steaks rest at room temperature while you get the grill going (about 15 minutes).

Grill steaks to preferred level of doneness.

We like to serve the steaks with mushroom and cherry tomato kabobs.

With our steaks, we like to add baked potatoes with sour cream, topped with chives snipped from our herb garden, and buttered fresh green beans.

September 17, 2012

Lemon Grass Lao and Thai Cuisine

Lemon Grass is my absolute Number 1 favorite restaurant in Des Moines.  We eat there at least once a week!  The entrees feature lots of stir-fried veggies, and sensible portions of lean meat.

The dining area is small but very tastefully decorated.  There is also outside seating, which we take advantage of when the weather cooperates.

The appetizers are so good, sometimes that's all we order!  They are always out of the kitchen in a flash.  My favorite is the pork eggrolls.  They're so crunchy-crispy, yet still just about melt in your mouth.

Non-soggy potstickers, YAY!
pork eggrolls
Jeffrey and I both like these!

Other favorites are pictured here: 

panang curry
volcano noodles

pad thai
tom ka, a wonderful coconut milk soup

Lemon Grass is located at 1221 8th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa.  They are closed on Mondays.  I also should note that portions are very generous, and reasonably priced.

September 16, 2012

We're back!

After a lengthy absence, here we are back at the blog.  In the interim, my son has graduated from college and moved to New York City, we have reconnected with Jeffrey's son (and his girlfriend!), we managed to sell our Knoxville home, and I had a surgery which included a hysterectomy and breast cancer removal and treatment.  During all this, Jeffrey has  managed to find the energy to boost his career, and is now the assistant director at the clinic where he works.  So many changes!

We have been slow to return to cooking, partly because our life is fuller now with the opportunities that a bigger city holds, and partly because there are so many great restaurants in the greater Des Moines metro!

However, things are starting to feel more settled now, so we have a bit more opportunity to share our cooking and recipes with you.  We won't be posting as frequently, but we hope you enjoy what we'll bring to the table.

Cats have *totally* settled in!