Reinventing Mac and Cheese; Bacon Syrup Anyone?

It’s finally happening. After generations of unpronounceable ingredients resulting in hyper orange powder and a somewhat passable cheese flavor, Kraft Foods announced that they are changing ingredients in their much loved Kraft Dinner Mac and Cheese recipe. Starting in 2016 Kraft is going to use natural ingredients such as paprika and turmeric to color the cheese powder in an attempt to meet the request of over 300,000 people who signed an on-line petition asking the manufacturer to consider healthier options and remove the synthetic dyes and coloring.

mac and cheese recipe

As a Canadian, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I never tried Kraft Dinner until I was well into my teen years. My father, who took a dim view of Chef Boyardee, fast food and TV dinners, lumped good ol’ KD in that grouping and those 79-cent blue boxes of pasta and cheese powder never found a place in our family’s pantry.

I’m even more ashamed to admit that growing up I had no idea that there really was an actual pasta dish called macaroni and cheese that Kraft had based their popular boxed dinner on. As a kid, I just assumed it was some company’s creation that was well marketed and not allowed in our house. As you can imagine, my mind was blown when I finally discovered the real thing.

All these years later, I commend Kraft for doing the right (and popular) thing and making the changes. How will this affect the legacy of Kraft Dinner? Probably with increased sales and many long-time fans coming back to a product they grew up on.

But of course I wanted to do a homemade version of the real thing and make it the best and still the easiest way to make macaroni and cheese. The truth is, in the time it takes the water to boil even the most unseasoned home-cook can whip up a homemade alternative and have the only blue box be the recycling bin where the empty packages of real ingredients end up. Thus, I give you macaroni and cheese: done three ways.

I decided to do three ways so that no matter what your mood is, you can find one you like and make it. There’s a traditional version, a meat version and a jalapeño-bacon one.

Back in the 1960’s many Italian-Americans referred to any type of pasta as “macaroni”, so I figured that was carte-blanche to change up the pasta noodles as well. I went with elbow macaroni for the traditional, Fusilli (or Spirali) for the bacon/jalapeño one and small shells for the meat one.

mac and cheese, different noodles for mac and cheese

For the two meat-themed mac and cheeses, I wanted savory flavoring, but nothing overpowering so that it becomes a meat casserole instead of a macaroni and cheese. I cooked beef, lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, onion and chive until it was brown.

mac and cheese, beef mac and cheese

As for bacon, I wanted the bacon flavor to stand out, but not be overkill. So I used traditional butcher-cut (or thick cut) bacon without any additional flavors added such as maple, smoked, applewood, etc. All together now, in your best Homer Simpson voice, “Mmmmm… bacon…

mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese

If you’re someone who can’t or won’t eat bacon but you still want the bacon-y goodness, then I can suggest using a small amount of this; Torani Bacon Syrup. A little goes a long way and while it is salty, it’s also much sweeter than you’d expect.

mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese, bacon syrup

Adding jalapeños isn’t just about heat, it’s also about the flavor and the crunch. I marinate my sliced peppers in vinegar and salt overnight. If you don’t have time, you can use a store-bought version. It will be our little secret. Remember though; the more seeds, the more heat, so watch out.

mac and cheese, jalapeno and bacon mac and cheese

Making the cheese sauce is the most important part. Start with equal parts butter and flour. Add the cheese and your desired dairy choice milk or cream, depending on how thick you want it. Naturally if you’re making more than one kind, you’ll need to make more sauce.

Mac and Cheese: Shredded Cheddar


mac and  cheese, milk and cheese mixture on stove

For the bacon/jalapeno version, once the cheese is a sauce-like consistency, add the diced peppers and cooked bacon.

Add the noodles, mix with the sauce and bake at 350F for about 20 minutes. If you liked the added crispiness of a top coating, you can sprinkle breadcrumbs on the pasta before baking. Let it stand for a few minutes once out of the oven.

Mac and Cheese: Done Three Ways


The Foodfella's Best Mac and Cheese
Serves 4
An easy, healthy and homemade way to make the ultimate comfort food.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
25 min
  1. 3 cups Pasta
  2. 3 tbs Butter
  3. 3 tbs Flour
  4. 2 cups 2% Milk or 10% Cream
  5. 8 slices Bacon or 1 lbs Ground Beef
  6. 3 sliced Jalapenos (for the bacon version)
  7. 2 cups Shredded Cheese
  8. Salt & Pepper (to season beef)
  9. 1 tbs Butter or Olive Oil (for cooking beef)
  1. Boil pasta in lightly salted water. Remove from heat when done, drain and set aside. (Do NOT rinse)
  2. Cook meat, either bacon or beef if you are making the meat version. Set aside once cooked.
  3. In a saucepot, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour to get 'paste-like' consistency'.
  4. Slowly add milk or cream then add shredded cheese and continue to whisk until there are no lumps and it has become cheese sauce.
  5. Add drained pasta to cheese sauce and mix well.
  6. For the beef add the meat now or for the bacon version, add beacon and jalapenos.
  7. Mix well then bake in oven in a baking dish, covered at 350F for 15 minutes. Let stand once baked for 5 minutes
Life In Pleasantville
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Cheesy Beef Lasagna

Houston, we have a problem. I may now be totally addicted to Campbell’s® Condensed Tomato with Basil and Oregano. First, it was the Classic Weeknight Tacos, then it was Our Favourite Meatloaf and now this Cheesy Beef Lasagna. Soon, I’m going to be buying this soup by the case.

lasagna 3

The flavour this soup gives to this lasagna is amazing. So much so that I’ve made it twice in the last two weeks. *unbuttons top button of jeans and pats belly* Yup, it’s totally fair to say that I’m addicted.

While the taste is what I love most, this is also one of the easiest lasagna recipes I’ve ever come across. Lasagna, in the past, has always been a strictly weekend thing. I whipped this recipe together on a Wednesday night for my daughters and their hungry friends. It takes less than 20 minutes to assemble and the rest of the time is in the oven. So while it was cooking, I was getting other things done.

Cheesy Beef Lasagna

Both times that I’ve made this was for a crowd, but the next time I make it I’m going to divide between two smaller pans and freeze one for another meal.


Cheesy Beef Lasagna
Serves 12
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Meat Sauce
  1. 2 tsp olive oil
  2. 2 cups onion, chopped
  3. 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  4. 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  5. 3lbs lean ground beef
  6. 2 tbsp chili powder
  7. 3 cans CAMPBELL'S Condensed Tomato with Basil and Oregano Soup
  8. 3 cups CAMPBELL'S No Salt Added Ready to Use Beef Broth
Cheese Mixture
  1. 4 cups light ricotta cheese
  2. 3 cups mozzarella, shredded
  3. 1 cup Parmesan, grated
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 12 oven ready lasagna noodles, uncooked
  6. 1 tsp black pepper
  1. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes until the vegetables caramelize.
  2. Add the garlic and ground beef and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or until the beef is well browned. Add the chili powder and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the soup and cook for 5 minutes. Add broth and continue to cook for 10 minutes or until the meat is cooked. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, half of the mozzarella cheese, eggs and black pepper. Mix well.
  5. Preheat oven to 375F. Spread 2 cups of the meat sauce in the bottom of a 9"x13" pan. Layer 4 lasagna noodles on top, overlapping noodles slightly to cover the bottom.
  6. Spread half of the cheese mixture over noodles. Layer with 2 1/2 cups of meat sauce and 4 lasagna noodles.
  7. Spread the remaining cheese mixture on top of the second layer of noodles, layer with 2 1/2 cups of meat sauce and 4 lasagna noodles.
  8. Spread the remaining meat sauce on lasagna noodles, top with Parmesan cheese and remaining mozzarella cheese.
  9. Cover with foil and back for 45 minutes at 375F.
  10. Uncover and continue to bake for 15 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.
Life In Pleasantville
Disclosure: I am part of the Campbell Company of Canada Ambassador program with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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Cheesy Beef Skillet Dinner

Ah, the holidays. A time to pause and reflect on the wonder of the season. It’s the time of year we slow down to enjoy it all. Riiiight. I don’t know about you but as slow as it seems for December to get here, it feels like somebody throws the calendar on warp speed December 1st. Am I right? I’ve got concerts and fundraisers and parties and dinners thrown on top of all the regular things I do that don’t take time to pause and reflect, like work and my children’s extra-curricular activities. It makes me perfectly nuts.

Cheesy Beef Skillet Dinner

Needless to say balls start to drop around here in a big way and the first thing to suffer is meal time. There are only two options this month, fast and delicious at home or take-out. There is no dawdling in the kitchen with labour intensive recipes because nobody has time for that. I have more pressing things to do, like finding time to slow down and enjoy it all for example. That’s why this Cheesy Beef Skillet Dinner from Campbell’s is a hit this month. It easily fits into the fast and delicious category and it allows me time to focus on more important things.

Campbell's Cheesy Beef Skillet Dinner
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  1. 1 tbsp canola oil
  2. 1 lb ground beef
  3. 1 tbsp steak spice
  4. 1 onion, chopped
  5. 1 green pepper, chopped
  6. 2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
  7. 1 28 oz/796 ml can diced tomatoes
  8. 1 can Campbell's Low Fat Cream of Mushroom Soup
  9. 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  10. 2 cups macaroni, cooked to al dente and drained
  11. 3 cups ages Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  12. 1/4 cup green onion, chopped
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Crumble in ground beef, season with steak spice. Cook, breaking up into small pieces, for 5 to 7 minutes or until browned. Add onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, soup and mustard. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in cooked macaroni and 1 cup cheese until well combined.
  3. Sprinkle the top with remaining cheese and green onion. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  1. Bump up the fibre in this recipe and stir in cooked whole grain macaroni.
Life In Pleasantville
I know I’m not alone during this frenzied month and so does Campbell’s which is why they’ve created a fun site called Holiday Secrets Exposed. Share your kitchen disasters or embarrassing holiday dinners and take comfort reading other people’s confessions of holiday meals gone awry. You can also find great holiday hacks and recipes like this one to help make the season merry and bright. Need a great recipe for a potluck? You’ll find it there. Maybe something for a quick weeknight meal before you race to the Christmas concert? The bottom line is this, you’re not alone. The holidays are crazy but you shouldn’t need to stress about meal time, especially when Campbell’s recipes are Simple to Make, Easy to Love.

Disclosure: I am part of the Campbell Company of Canada Ambassador program with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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Celebrate World Pasta Day with Delectable Homemade Ravioli

Collage Ravioli

Pasta is unleavened dough formed into various shapes and boiled. Did you know that there are over 600 shapes of pasta and that their names describe their shapes? Spaghetti means cord, vermicelli means little worms (ew), rotini are spirals … you get the idea. Pasta is a staple food of traditional Italian cuisine with the first official reference to pasta dating back to 1154 in Sicily.

October 25, 2014 is World Pasta Day. Yes, you heard that correctly. World. Pasta. Day. YAY! World Pasta Day was founded in 1995 at the World Pasta Congress. And yes, the World Pasta Congress is also real.

Not that we ever need an excuse to prepare delectable pasta dishes, but I for one am not going to miss making something special. So we better get onto those preparations. We wouldn’t want Millicent ( to think that we’re not up-to-snuff on this stuff, right?

If you’d like to celebrate Pasta Day this year with a most delectable treat, why not make some homemade ravioli. It’s a little tedious, but it’s not as hard as you think and the result is sure to produce an evening to remember … perhaps even better than Candace’s The “I’m Getting Lucky” Beef and Beer Stew *wink*.


There are very vew ingredients required for the pasta dough: all-purpose flour, good quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, milk, eggs.

In a mixing bowl, put 5 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 1 1/2 tsp of olive oil, 2-3 tbsps of milk. Gently mix, breaking up the yolks with your fingers. Don’t get all tidy on me, this where the messy fun begins.

Homemade ravioli

Dump 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour onto a clean surface and make a well in the centre.

Llife in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

Start incorporating the flour into the wet ingredients. Use your fingers to slowly drag the flour into the middle. You’ll see in the picture that you incorporate the flour a little at a time, not all at once. By the way, are your hands dirty yet?!?

Life in Pleasantville homemade rvaioli

When you are almost done mixing all of the flour in and a dough ball starts to form, you may need to use a pastry scraper (a spatula works if you don’t have fancy-pants kitchen gadgets!)

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

Once you have a dough ball, your workout for the day begins. Knead for approximately 10 minutes until the dough is a bit elastic and has a nice sheen. Don’t skimp on the kneading, this is the love that makes the pasta extra scrumptious!

If it’s too dry, add a splash of milk. It should feel moist, but not sticky.

You have to let the dough rest before rolling. You can wrap the entire ball with plastic wrap, but I like to cut mine into roughly 3 equal balls. Now they don’t have to be perfectly the same size, but I’ll confess, I’ve been known to take out my kitchen scale to get darn close. Make sure one ball is slightly bigger (25 grams?)  because you’ll want to cut off a small piece to clean your rollers (if using a pasta roller).

Place tightly wrapped balls (*tee hee*) in the fridge for about an hour.

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

While your dough is resting, you can prep your filling. This is where you let your creativity soar! You can stuff your ravioli with pretty much anything you like, as long as the filling is precooked. Mushrooms, onions, beef, pumpkin, duck, spinach … the possibilities are limitless.

My favourite filling is 1 cup of finely diced sauteed onions or shallots with a bit of crushed garlic, 1 cup of chèvre or any other creamy cheese, 1 cup of finely chopped (almost shredded) poached chicken breast, a handful of freshly grated Parmesan, a splash of high-quality balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction, salt and pepper to taste. Mix up your choice of ingredients until you find a combination that you LOVE!

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

To roll the dough, you can put some backbone into it and use a rolling pin until you have really thin sheets. I prefer to use a pasta roller to create nice, consistently thin sheets of pasta. The design of the pasta roller hasn’t changed in forever, a simple and effective tool.

Start by passing a small piece of dough through the rollers to clean them.  If you are following along, you can cut the small piece of dough off the largest of the three balls you placed in the refrigerator. Flatten the rest of the ball into an oblong pancake and roll it through on the largest setting (the setting where the rollers are the furthest apart).

Fold it in half or thirds depending on length and run it through sideways. Do this a few times, then lower the setting, one number at a time (the rollers should be getting closer and closer together).

Roll the pasta through each setting without folding, until you have a very thin sheet of pasta. On my machine, I go the very last setting.

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

Place a sheet of pasta on a board or on a ravioli cutter. Brush egg whites on the areas that need to “glue” together. Place a dollop of your filling in the “holes” if using a cutter or spaced in two rows along your sheet if using a board.

Life in Pleasantville Homemade Ravioli

Place a second sheet of pasta over top. Make sure you create a good seal. When you cut each individual pillow with the ravioli cutter (or a knife if working on a board), each pillow should come out perfectly sealed, otherwise they will explode and filling will leak out when you boil them.

Life in Pleasantville Homemade Ravioli

Place finished ravioli pillows on a cookie sheet and place in fridge until ready to cook. You can lightly flour the cookie sheet if your ravioli is sticking.

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

Add ravioli to rapidly boiling water until they float to the top (about 2-3 minutes). Don’t overfill the pot. Work in small batches.  After all of your hard work, you don’t want them to stick and tear open.

You can serve them from here with your favourite sauce. Simple crushed fresh tomatoes, olive oil and basil would be YUMMY. Or, you could really go upscale and make a brown butter sage sauce.

Life in Pleasantville homemade ravioli

Melt about 1/4 cup of butter in a large skillet. Cook until it turns a nutty brown colour. Watch it closely because you can easily burn your butter *she says without ever having experienced this problem before*.

Add a handful of fresh sage leaves and toss them in the butter. You can chop the leaves if you wish, but they crisp up really nicely when left whole.

Toss the cooked and drained ravioli in the skillet and let them fry up a bit.

Life in Pleasantville Homemade Ravioli

Transfer to a fancy serving plate and garnish with grated Parmesan, toasted nuts, whatever your taste buds desire.

Enjoy with your favourite somebody and a few glasses of wine. Buon appetito!

Life in Pleasantville Homemade Ravioli

Sources: Days of the Year

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Quick Bolognese Sauce

This recipe for quick bolognese sauce simply bursts with flavour. It is also a quick, easy meal for during the week. It’s adapted ever so slightly from a Barefoot Contessa recipe to include whole San Marzano tomatoes instead of crushed. I prefer the chunks of tomato in it over the crushed version. I also dropped the pepper a bit as I found it too strong.

quick bolognese sauce

I’m not sure what it is about San Marzano tomatoes but they are simply the best. This, of course, could explain the wonderful flavour to this sauce. Or it could be the wine. You be the judge.

Quick Bolognese Sauce

2 tbsps olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided (now go ahead and pour yourself a glass too)
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 lb of pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Stir in garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Pour 1 cup of wine into the skillet and scrape up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tbsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper. Break up the tomatoes using the back of a fork or a potato masher. Stir until well combined. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, take a sip of wine and then bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, add the nutmeg, basil, cream and remaining 1/4 cup of wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until thickened.

Drain pasta and spoon into pasta bowls. Ladle bolognese over pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan.

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Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing

I recently had the opportunity to test the new Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressings. What I love about these dressings is that they’re made with real fruits and vegetables, have no artificial flavors or colors and, most important in this post-heart attack home, is that they are also low in salt and fat.

I’m happy to share the recipes I tried with Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressings because they each have a bold, fresh taste that is perfect for salads, but also because I found them extremely versatile and perfect for so many other recipes. I tried these dressings with greens, which were delicious by the way, but I also set out to see what else I could use these dressings in.

So without further adieu, meet the versatile Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressings, perfect for salads and so much more.

Fire Roasted Tomato with Basil Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing

1 lb fresh pasta
Assorted vegetables for roasting (I used eggplant, zucchini, red onion, tomatoes)
1/4 to 1/2 cup Kraft Fire Roasted Tomato with Basil Dressing
1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Heat oven to 400F. Slice zucchini, eggplant, and red onion, and tomato in 1/2 inch slices. Drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Roast in oven 25 to 30 minutes or until brown and cooked through. Toss occasionally while in oven to ensure even roasting. About ten minutes before vegetables are done, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and throw in a large bowl. Remove vegetables from oven and cut larger pieces into bite size. Toss vegetables, pasta and dressing in bowl. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese on top and serve immediately.

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing

Salad Option:Toss fresh watercress and cherry tomatoes with Kraft Fire Roasted Tomato with Basil. Serve with sliced baguette.

Roasted Yellow Pepper, Garlic & Lime Guacamole

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing

I actually took this recipe from the side of the bottle, since I’m a huge guacamole fan. Also, avocados, are good for the heart.

2 avocados, chopped
1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/3 cup Kraft Roasted Yellow Pepper, Garlic & Lime Dressing

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing Guacamole 2

Salad Option: Toss baby greens, chopped tomato, cucumber and a handful of cilantro with Kraft Roasted Yellow Pepper, Garlic and Lime Dressing.

Berry Balsamic Baked Goat Cheese Appetizer

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressingn Goat Cheese Appetizer

Inspired by a recent trip, this recipe is a great appetizer and is extremely simple to make.

4 oz goat cheese
Half a square of store bought puff pastry
1 egg for egg wash
1 cup of each of Honeydew and Cantaloupe melons
8 tbsp Kraft Berry Balsamic Dressing

Preheat oven to 425F. Beat one egg with 1 tbsp water for egg wash. Wrap goat cheese log in pastry and place on rimmed baking sheet, seam side down. Brush with egg wash. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile drizzle 1 tbsp of Kraft Berry Balsamic Dressing on each plate, add a tablespoon each of Honeydew and Cantalouple melon. Slice log into 8 and place each piece on top of dressing and melon. Drizzle a little more dressing on top if you desire.

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing Goat Cheese Appetizer

Salad Option:Toss fresh baby spinach with halved strawberries, chopped walnuts, and red onion with Kraft Berry Balsamic.

Garlic Parmesan with Roasted Cauliflower Warm Potato Salad

Kraft Fruit & Veg Dressing Warm Potato Salad

3 lbs fingerling or baby potatoes
4 oz pancetta, diced
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
1/2 cup Kraft Garlic Parmesan with Roasted Cauliflower Dressing

Boil potatoes until soft. While potatoes are cooking, fry up pancetta until crisp. Drain potatoes and let cool slightly until you can handle them and then slice in half in a large bowl. Toss with crisp pancetta, green onions, dressing and Parmesan. Spoon onto plate and sprinkle a little more Parmesan on top before serving.

Kraft Fruit and Veg Dressing Warm Potato Salad 2

Salad Option:Try a traditional Caesar salad here with fresh, crisp romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, bacon, and croutons tossed with Kraft Garlic Parmesan with Roasted Cauliflower.


Looking for some inspiration of your own? Kraft Canada has an incredible salad creator to help you come up with your own masterpiece.


This is a sponsored post by Life in Pleasantville on behalf of Kraft Canada.

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Lemon Garlic Spaghetti

My husband was on vacation the last two weeks and took over the kitchen. This was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, he’s a damn fine cook. I’m keeping him.

On the negative side, his meals tend to be a little caveman-ish. You know? Meat. Lots and lots of meat. I’m a little over meat right now. So tonight I made up this Lemon Garlic Spaghetti and it was FABULOUS. Even the meat eater loved it.

Lemon Garlic Spaghetti

1 lb dried spaghetti
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 lemons
7-8 basil leaves, chiffonade
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for sautéing garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for on top of pasta
1 1/2 cups reserved pasta water

Place a large pot of salted water on stove and bring to boil. While waiting for water to boil, toast pine nuts in a small sauté pan over medium high heat until they begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside. Mince garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft and just starting to turn golden, set aside. Cut a chiffonade of basil and place in prep bowl. Zest three lemons, so that you have at least 1 tbsp of lemon zest, and squeeze juice through small strainer. You should have at least 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

When water comes to boil, place spaghetti in water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of pasta water and then pour pasta into strainer and wipe out pot so that it’s dry and place back on burner over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of reserved water, olive oil, heavy cream, sautéed garlic, and lemon zest and bring to boil for two minutes. Add pasta back into pot and toss well. Pour 1/4 cup lemon juice over pasta, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and toasted pine nuts and continue to toss until liquid is absorbed. This is a good time to taste test and see if you want it more “lemony”. If so, add remaining lemon juice and remainder of pasta water if you find your pasta too dry. Toss in basil as final step. Serve with sprinkling of Parmesan on top.

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Macaroni Salad

Remember the macaroni salad your mom used to make for picnics and the beach? Whatever happened to that anyway, right? Well, here it is. It’s every bit as good today as it was when you were a kid and it’s a perfect summer side with chicken & ribs, or burgers. It’s also the perfect make-ahead salad when entertaining company around the barbecue.

Macaroni Salad

4 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup white sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup grated carrot
4 radishes, thinly sliced

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni, and cook until tender. Rinse under cold water and drain. In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in the onion, celery, green pepper, carrot, radishes and macaroni. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving to let flavours develop, but is best if made a day ahead. Stir well before serving.

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Lobster and Shells

I am currently obsessing over dill. I simply can’t get enough. So when I came across this recipe in my Barefoot Contessa book How Easy is That?, I knew I had to try it.

Lobster and Shells

Kosher salt
Good olive oil
1/2 pound small pasta shells
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and small-diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound cooked lobster meat, medium diced
3/4 cup good mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced fresh dill

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt and some olive oil. Add the pasta and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente. Add the corn to the pasta and cook it for another two minutes, until the corn is tender. Drain the pasta and corn together in a colander and pour them into a large mixing bowl. Add the scallions, diced pepper, tomatoes, and lobster, tossing gently to combine. Allow to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Pour over the pasta and mix well to bind the ingredients. Stir in the dill, 4 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for up to 6 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Check the seasonings and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Pleasantville Note: Lobster is expensive. There’s no two ways around it. So make this for people you really, really like. For those you’re sort of iffy on, a great substitution would be a pound of small cooked shrimp.

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Pasta with Asparagus & Caramelized Onions

First off, I’d like to start a petition please to classify pancetta as a food group. Line forms behind me. Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, you won’t be surprised to hear that there is pancetta in this recipe, along with caramelized onions and asparagus. Cue the singing angels because it’s yummy. This has been a springtime staple now for 7 years in this house! Another delicious recipe from the bible, Fine Cooking.

Pasta with Asparagus & Caramelized Onions

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, peeled if thick, and cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (about half a batch) Caramelized Onions
3/4 cup homemade or low-salt chicken broth
3/4 lb. dried gemelli, penne or rotini
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tsp. sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, put 2 Tbs. of the oil and the pancetta in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the pancetta begins to brown and renders much of its fat, 5 to 7 min. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels. Raise the heat to medium high, add the asparagus, and season with 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir often until the asparagus starts to brown, about 3 min. Add the caramelized onions and chicken broth, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook until the asparagus is tender, about 4 min. Stir in 1/4 tsp. pepper and set aside in a warm spot.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring often, until it’s just tender, about 11 min. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the asparagus. Set the pan over medium-high heat and toss well. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano, the vinegar, and the cooked pancetta and continue cooking, stirring, for 1 min. to meld all the flavors. If the pasta begins to dry, add the reserved pasta water. Serve with a drizzle of the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and a sprinkling of the remaining Parmigiano.

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