Month: September 2015

Adult Mac ’n Cheese

Now I’m guessing that at some point in your childhood you ate a bowl, or perhaps many bowls, of baked macaroni and cheese. That thick, gooey, yellow, cheesy one-dish-meal, prepared with elbow macaroni swimming in some form of yellow cheese-food wiz!

You might still eat it today in that original form. For me it has been relegated to cafeteria, supermarket, or institutional steamtable fare. Now don’t get me wrong, if you like it, then keep eating it; however, I have moved on.

I always liked the idea of the dish, because there’s something comforting about a warm bowl of pasta with a cheese sauce. And for me, pasta—what’s not to like—the Mac ’n Cheese needed to be elevated, repurposed if you will, for more discerning palates.

So playing around in the kitchen over time, I came up with my take on what I now call Adult “Mac ’n Cheese.”

The two most important ingredients are the pasta and the cheese, so I started to experiment with those first. Once that was determined, the remaining ingredients were included to simply bring the dish together.

The elbow macaroni can stay if you are a purist, but there are so many other interesting shapes and textures of dried pasta that can add another dimension to the overall dish. For example, Cavatelli, Fusilli, Orecchiette, Penne, Radiators, Rigatoni, Small Shells, Trumpets, or Zucca. Whatever shape you choose, allow for ¼ pound of pasta per person, and cook the pasta 2 minutes less time than the package directions specify because the pasta will finish cooking during the baking process.

Now for the cheese. I’m not really certain what yellow cheese-food wiz is, but it had to go. Instead, my approach was not to use just one cheese, but a combination of three or four to achieve a more interesting depth of flavor and a nicer texture than what you get from yellow goo in a bowl.

The cheeses I selected and worked with to end up with the best combination were: Asiago Pressato, Caciocavallo, Fontina, Gruyere, Pecorino, Sharp White Cheddar, Smoked Blue, Smoked Gouda, Taleggio, and Toma. The cheeses I eventually decided on for the final dish were Asiago Pressato, a young fresh Asiago which melts very well; Caciocavallo, which is a southern Italian cheese similar to Provolone, which adds texture and is not as salty; Smoked Blue from the Rogue Creamery in Oregon, which crumbles nicely and adds a soft, understated smoky note; Taleggio, which adds richness and creaminess to the dish. For the topping, some grated Pecorino Romano was selected. So four cheeses in the pasta mix and one in the topping mix.

1 pound of dried pasta (small shells were used)
1 generous cup each of the cheeses:
Asiago Pressato (grated)
Caciocavallo (grated)
Smoked Blue (crumbled)
Taleggio (¼-pound piece placed in the freezer for 15 minutes; makes it easier to cut it into small ¼-inch dice)
½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
Olive oil
1 large onion finely minced
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme minced
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh parsley + stems finely minced
1 teaspoon pimentón dulce (sweet Spanish paprika)
½ cup flour
4 cups Half&Half
1 generous cup breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
White truffle oil (optional)

Mise en place

Mise en place

Cook the pasta, 2 minutes less than the package instructions, and drain well. Set aside in a large bowl to cool, drizzled with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent sticking.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil to cook the onion until it softens. Sprinkle with the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a large saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then whisk in the flour until a smooth roux forms. Sprinkle the pimentón over and slowly add the Half&Half, whisking continuously until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency without lumps. Whisk in the sautéed onion, mixing until combined, and then set aside.

Working with the bowl of pasta, sprinkle over the prepared cheeses to be baked in the pasta and mix to combine. Next, pour the sauce mixture over the pasta and again mix to thoroughly combine.

Generously butter a baking pan, approximately 14 x 10 x 3, and pour out the pasta mix, spreading evenly in the pan.

Finally, mix together the Pecorino, bread crumbs, and minced parsley, then sprinkle over the pasta to create the topping crust. Then, if using, lightly drizzle some truffle oil over the topping.

Bake the dish in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling below the surface. The sauce will be mostly absorbed by the pasta. Allow the finished dish to cool for several minutes to make cutting into serving portions easier.

From the oven

The dish comes together quickly once you have assembled all the ingredients. Part of the fun is exploring different pasta and cheese combinations to come up with the one you like the best. Makes a great dinner dish accompanied by a green vegetable or a side salad, and leftovers are even better the next day!



Give this receipe a try. Happy Cooking.

“Yes, of course you could do this at home, and you should!” A/W



Grilled Eggplant and Roasted Bell Pepper Terrine

The word terrine is one of those culinary terms that can have more than one meaning. Terrine can describe the utensil used to assemble and form the final dish, or it can describe the dish itself, which can take on numerous and varied preparations.

A terrine dish or mold generally has straight sides, can be simple or elaborate, sometimes with handles and sometimes without. It can be as simple as a bread loaf pan and made of porcelain, stoneware, laminated cast iron, or ovenproof glass to cite a few examples.

The assembly of the dish itself is usually a layering of ingredients that could be a mix of meat or game, seafood, or vegetables. One preparation uses either fresh uncooked ingredients that are layered, set in a bain marie, baked, cooled, sliced, and served. Or, it can be assembled using precooked ingredients, layered, weighted, chilled to set, and then sliced and served. Some terrines can even be encased in a pastry crust.

The fun for me in making terrines is that there are numerous combinations which allow for some level of creativity: the presentations can be visually striking, with the end result an engaging opening to a meal with family or friends, or it could simply be the main dish accompanied by a salad of your choice and some good rustic country bread.

The recipe I am sharing here is a vegetable terrine. The ingredients are end-of-season vegetables layered with oven-dried tomatoes, oil-cured olive tapenade, and fresh young chèvre. The finished dish is dressed with the basil vinaigrette and sprigs of fresh parsley from my herb garden.

However, instead of the vinaigrette, a slice of this terrine could be accompanied by a basil pesto or a parsley coulis, or simply a sprinkling of a minced fresh herb mix and a drizzle of olive oil.

Preparation Notes

  • A simple bread loaf pan was used to layer and shape the terrine.
  • The chèvre was creamed and flavored (recipe follows).
  • The tapenade was a pantry item (recipe follows), however jarred tapenade could be substituted. Note: Little to no salt is required in the terrine if you use tapenade.
  • The oven-dried tomatoes were housemade (recipe follows), however you can substitute reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes.
  • The bell peppers (tricolored, red-orange-yellow) were charred under the broiler so they could be skinned (recipe follows), however charring could also be done on an outdoor grill, over the flame on a gas stove, or simply use bottled, roasted red peppers.
  • The eggplant slices were cooked on a very hot grill pan under the broiler, however the charcoal or gas grill could be used.
  • The layering starts and ends with the eggplant slices so keep in mind that the slices placed on the bottom of the loaf pan or mold will become the top of the finished terrine—use the best slices there.


Basil Vinaigrette

1 cup basil leaves, packed
1 small garlic clove
1 small shallot
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon honey (many options)
1 tablespoon mustard (many options)
Juice of ½ lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the first seven ingredients into the work bowl of a food processor and run until blended. Scrape down the sides, add a pinch of salt and pepper, then process again while slowly adding the olive oil in a stream down the feed tube. Add only enough oil to emulsify the vinaigrette. Check for seasoning, transfer to a jar, and set aside until ready to serve with the terrine.


Flavored Chèvre Cream

8 oz plain fresh chèvre
2 to 3 tablespoons Half & Half
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
Finely minced zest ½ lemon
Pinch of both black pepper and red Aleppo chili pepper

In a large work bowl, use a fork to mash the chèvre moistened with the Half & Half. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Set aside until ready to assemble the terrine.


Oil-Cured Black Olive Tapenade

1½ cups pitted, black oil-cured olives
3 to 4 anchovy fillets
2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely minced
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon bay leaf-fennel seed-rosemary powder, made in spice grinder
Pinch of both black pepper and red Aleppo chili pepper
Olive oil

Place the first seven ingredients into the work bowl of a food processor, and run until blended. Scrape down the sides, then process again while slowly adding the olive oil in a stream down the feed tube. Add only enough oil to bring the mixture together into a smooth puree. Set aside until ready to assemble the terrine. The leftover tapenade can be placed in a jar, topped with a little olive oil, and stored in the refrigerator for months.


Oven-Dried Tomato Puree

12 fresh San Marzano or plum tomatoes, or 12 sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic or sherry vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

If using the fresh tomatoes, slice in half lengthwise and remove all the seeds and water. Place on a lined baking sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Place in a 200 to 225-degree oven and leave for the next 6 to 8 hours until dried and shrunk to one third the original size. Note: I was able to source some end-of-the-season locally grown San Marzano tomatoes, so this was the method I used to prepare them.

Tomatoes prepared for drying in the oven

Tomatoes prepared for drying in the oven

Sun- or oven-dried tomatoes

Sun- or oven-dried tomatoes

If using the sun-dried tomatoes, soak in warm water for 30 minutes until reconstituted, and drain well.

Once the tomatoes are ready, place them in the work bowl of a food processor, add the vinegar and drizzle with some olive oil. Pulse and scrape down the sides until a thick puree is formed. Add just a pinch of salt and pepper to taste, and set aside until ready to assemble the terrine.


Roasted Peppers

3 large bell peppers (not green), all one color or a tricolor mix
Olive oil

This method is the best I have come across for using the broiler in your kitchen oven. It is foolproof! The credit goes to Chef Andrew Carmellini, who shared this method for the home cook in his book Urban Italian.

Slice the peppers in half lengthwise directly through the stem. Remove the stem, the ribs, and all the seeds. Place the pepper halves on an ovenproof sheet pan, skin side up and drizzle with olive oil. Heat the broiler to high.

Once the broiler is up to temperature, place the sheet pan 4 to 5 inches below and begin to blacken the skin side of the peppers. After 5 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees and broil another 5 minutes.

After the first 10 minutes, turn the peppers over so that the cut side faces the broiler and do the same 5 plus 5 minutes on that side. Remove the peppers after the second 10 minutes.

Place the hot peppers in a large bowl and tightly cover with clear film to allow them to steam and cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin over the bowl so as not to lose all the juice from the peppers. Discard the skin and set the peppers aside until ready to assemble the terrine.

Filling mise en place

Filling mise en place

Grilled Eggplant

3 medium to large eggplants; firm unblemished skin and no soft spots
Olive oil

Remove the ends of the eggplants, then slice them lengthwise into ½-inch slices, leaving the skin on for the most part.

Using a grill pan or large ovenproof sauté pan, initially heat the pan on the stovetop and at the same time heat the broiler in the oven.

Lightly brush both sides of each eggplant slice with olive oil. Once the pan has heated, add several slices but do not overcrowd so as not to steam the eggplant slices during cooking.

Place the pan 4 to 5 inches under the broiler and begin to cook. After 4 to 5 minutes, turn the slices over and broil again, until the slices are tender and showing grill marks if using a grill pan. Place the finished slices on paper towels to drain while cooking the remaining slices. Set the cooked eggplant aside until ready to assemble the terrine.

First prepare the pan by very lightly coating the sides with olive to help the clear film liner adhere. Next cut two pieces of clear film to line the bottom and sides of the pan. Allow for at least a 3-inch extension on all sides which will be folded over once the pan is filled.

Lining the mold

Lining the mold

Now begin to layer the ingredients, starting with several slices of the eggplant as the first layer, and then adding the other ingredients in whatever order you like, separating each of those layers with another layer of eggplant slices in what resembles a culinary mosaic.

For example, if the second layer is strips of the roasted peppers, consider spreading a thin coating of the tapenade to punctuate that flavor. Cover that layer with several more slices of the eggplant and then spoon and spread a layer of the chèvre topped by a layer of the tomato puree. Next another layer of eggplant slices and so on until the terrine is built.

One the pan or mold is full, fold the clear film overhang to seal the terrine. Cut several pieces of thin cardboard or chipboard to fit over the top of the sealed terrine to function as a barrier and a platform to hold whatever you use to weight the terrine down. I happened to use an antique clothes iron, but canned beans or tomatoes are just as good.

Place the weighted terrine in the refrigerator for the next 24 hours so that it can set up. Once it has time to set, remove the weight, and holding the cardboard, carefully pour off any liquid that has accumulated.

Next, peel back the clear film, put a platter on top of the pan or mold and invert the terrine. Tap the bottom gently, lifting one side and then the other, gently pulling the clear film down. The terrine should slip out of the pan or mold cleanly.



Wipe off any additional liquid that might have collected on the platter and again chill the terrine. After 20 minutes or so, slice the terrine into 1-inch slices using a serrated blade knife.

Plate a slice, spoon around whatever sauce you are using, in this case the basil vinaigrette, and garnish with parsley sprigs, or fresh basil leaves.



Happy Cooking.
“Yes, of course you could do this at home, and you should!”