When you want something different from the traditional bread stuffing on Thanksgiving, wild rice stuffing is a great alternative. Wild rice has an earthy appeal that is so well suited for fall and winter meals. It is generously filled with complementary fall flavors with grains, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, and toasted nuts. To liven up these woodsy fall notes I added dried cranberries for a sweet and tangy zing and lots of fresh herbs. It is everything you expect in a stuffing recipe minus the bread.
I love wild rice and have always wanted to make wild rice stuffing, yet it has taken me all these years to finally do so. Tradition has a strong hold on what I make for our holiday meal. If it were only up to me, I would experiment and try new recipes every year. Yet, tradition overrules. Everyone has their favorite food that must be on the menu because Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without it. For my sons, that special holiday dish is pineapple stuffing, for me, it is all of the side dishes, but I particularly like my favorite stuffing recipe and pumpkin pie.
Wild Rice Stuffing
In the past, I sampled wild rice stuffing made with all wild rice and aromatics. As much as I like wild rice, I prefer it in a blend with long grain white or brown rice. The rice blend flavor is less overpowering and doesn’t compete with the other foods. Within this recipe layers of flavor builds from slowly caramelizing the onions then sautéing the mushrooms in the same pan. These flavors take time to develop, so be patient and cook the onions slowly until they turn golden and sweet. I promise it is worth it.
I adapted this recipe from an old Thanksgiving Menu article in Bon Appetite Magazine, Wild Rice Stuffing with Wild Mushrooms. My cookbook collection is filled with binders of old food magazine articles I read since the early 1990’s. At the time, any recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard to part with as I was dreaming of the day when it will be my turn to host a family holiday meal. I own binders full of recipes from old food magazines that still hold my interest 20 years later.
You have two choices for finishing the stuffing. One, stuff the turkey with the wild rice stuffing. Or, bake the stuffing in a baking dish. Both options have their advantages. If you stuff the turkey with wild rice stuffing, the stuffing absorbs the flavors of your turkey and gets very moist. The opposite happens, if you bake the stuffing. The stuffing stays moist, but the top gets crispy. The crunchy bits are Joe’s favorite part of the stuffing.
If you choose to stuff the turkey with wild rice stuffing, you must cook the stuffing until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) because it is cooked inside a raw turkey. Often, the turkey finishes cooking before the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. If that is the case, remove the stuffing and finish it in a baking dish covered with foil in a 350°F (176°C) oven, until it reaches the proper temperature.
Stuffing or Pilaf?
You can prepare this recipe with two options. First, prepare the wild rice stuffing as directed using the two-stage cooking process. However, if you want to make this for a regular dinner, as a side with a roast pork or chicken, serve the rice after it finishes cooking on the stove. The rice is plenty done plus it saves you 40 minutes if you skip the baking. For extra flavor toast the wild rice and white rice in butter and make this recipe as a pilaf.
Dietary Challenges Creating a Holiday Menu
When I make a holiday meal for my family, there are many types of diets I must take into consideration. Generally speaking, my meal needs to satisfy an omnivore diet, plus vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Sometimes dairy-free, low salt restrictions, and nut free restrictions need consideration. Satisfying everyone in the family requires some thoughtful planning.
Fortunately, wild rice stuffing is one of those side dishes that easily fits into all my dietary considerations. It is in the one size fits all category. First, it is gluten-free, so you can check consideration off your list. Second, cook the rice in vegetable stock and bake it in the oven for a plant-based meal. You get bonus points with your vegetarian and vegan friends because combining wild rice, white rice, and nuts create a meal with complementary proteins. Low or no salt store-bought stocks are good options, but homemade stock is even better for keeping salt intake down.
Fortunately, when I host a holiday meal, I do not have to make it all by myself. People enjoy contributing to a portion of the dinner. It makes them feel connected to the event and not burden the host with all the work and expense. Recruit as much help as you need and don’t be shy about it.
Wild Rice Stuffing with Mushrooms and Cranberries
Wild rice stuffing is a great alternative to bread stuffing. It has all the flavors you love in stuffing from the caramelized onions, sautéed wild mushrooms, and toasted walnuts with an added boost from dried cranberries and fresh herbs. This is a great gluten-free stuffing alternative that all will enjoy.
This recipe is slightly adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine, Wild Rice Stuffing with Wild Mushrooms, I believe dating back to 2000.
You can prepare the wild rice stuffing a day or two in advance kept covered in the refrigerator then bake in the oven when needed. This recipe is easily scaled up or down as needed.
- 4-5 onions around 2- 2 ½ lbs (1 kg
- 1 cup (3 oz / 87 g) walnuts
- 8 TB (113 g) butter, divided one stick
- 1 ¼ lb (575 g) assorted wild mushrooms like crimini and shiitake stemmed and sliced
- 3 TB chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tsp Kosher salt divided
- 2 TB (30 ml) Brandy or Dry Sherry optional
- 5 cups (750 ml) vegetable or chicken stock
- 3 tsp fresh sage minced
- 1 1/3 cup (226 g / 8 oz) wild rice
- 1 ¼ cup (245 g / 8.5 oz) long grain white rice
- 1 cup (123 g) dried cranberries
- 2 tsp fresh rosemary minced
- 6 -8 large sprigs of Italian Parsley
Peel and slice the onions in half lengthwise then thinly slice each half in half-moons. Set aside.
Heat a heavy-duty skillet over high heat, to just before smoking hot. Toast the walnuts in the hot skillet. Keep the walnuts moving and jumping around the skillet so they do not brown and burn. The walnuts are toasted when you get a nutty aroma and the skillet seems shinier from the oils released from the walnuts, about 2-3 minutes. Immediately turn off the heat and tip the walnuts onto a plate to cool. Set aside.
Melt 4 TB (56 g) butter in a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter stops sizzling, add the onions slices and turn down the heat to medium-low. Stir to coat the onions with butter and cook the onions until caramelized about 30 minutes or longer. It is important to caramelize the onions slowly otherwise they will burn. Stir the onions every now and then to make sure the onions do not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. The browner you let the onions get the more flavor they bring to the wild rice stuffing. Add in a pinch of Kosher salt.
Once the onions are caramelized, scrape them into a bowl and set aside. Place the pot or sauté pan back on the stove with the heat up to medium-high.
Melt the remaining 4 TB (56 g) butter then add the mushrooms, pinch of the Kosher salt, and 1 tsp minced thyme. Stir to coat the mushrooms with butter, then sauté until the mushrooms release their liquid and cooked all the way through. There are too many mushrooms in on pot for them to brown, but if you get some browning on the mushroom all the better as it adds flavor. Add the brandy or sherry (optional), and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add the mushrooms to the bowl with the onions.
Meanwhile, while the onions and mushrooms are cooking, heat up the stock with 2 tsp minced sage and 1 TB thyme and remaining Kosher salt in a large Dutch Oven with at least a 5 qt capacity to a boil. Add the wild rice and bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and turn down the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Mix in the white rice and cover. Simmer until the white rice is just getting tender and most of the liquid is absorbed about 15 minutes.
Stir in the caramelized onions, mushrooms, cranberries, walnuts with the remaining tablespoon of thyme, 1 tsp minced sage, and 1 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
Finish by stuffing the turkey with the wild rice stuffing or bake the stuffing in a 9 x 13 x 2-inch (23 x 33 x 5 cm) baking dish.
To bake stuffing in the turkey:
Chop 4 of the parsley sprigs and add to the wild rice stuffing. Stir to combine. Loosely fill the neck and main cavities of the turkey with the stuffing. Loosely sew the skin flap over the neck area to secure the rice in place. Truss the legs of the turkey together. Add the remaining stuffing to a buttered baking dish large enough to hold the leftovers. Cover with buttered foil and bake in the oven with the turkey, until heated through about 25 minutes. Uncover stuffing then bake until the top of the stuffing is slightly crisp.
Bake the stuffing in the turkey until the turkey is done, and remove the stuffing while the turkey rests. Immediately check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing is done when it reaches 165°F (74°C). If the internal temperature is lower than 165°F (74°C) remove the stuffing from the cavities and place in a baking dish and cover with foil. Continue to bake the stuffing until the temperature reaches 165°F (74°C)
Remove the stuffing from the cavities and spoon into a serving bowl. Mince the remaining parsley and sprinkle over the top. Keep warm until time to serve. Serve hot.
To bake stuffing in a baking dish:
Butter a 9 – 13- 2-inch baking dish. Add half of the minced parsley to the rice stuffing and stir to combine. Tip the rice stuffing into the baking dish then cover with a buttered piece of foil, butter side down. Bake in a 350°F (176°C) for 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove the foil and bake until it starts to crisp on top, another 20 minutes or so. You do not have to concern yourself with the internal temperature reaching 165°F (74°C) because it was not cooked inside a turkey. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle over the top. Serve hot.
I believe the wild rice stuffing is delicious and ready to serve just after cooking on the stove. If you do not want to go through the extra step of baking it, however, this extra step gives you a crispy top, feel free to do so. Wild rice with mushrooms and cranberries makes a great rice side dish. This is a hearty flavored rice meal and will work well with oven roasted or grilled meats, and fish like sea bass, tuna, salmon or swordfish.
You can substitute the long grain white rice with long grain brown rice. Cooking times will vary and take longer with brown rice.
Extra mushroom flavor
For extra wild mushroom flavor, add 1 tablespoon of porcini mushroom powder to the stock. You can also reconstitute some dried wild mushrooms like porcini or chanterelle mushrooms, then chop them up. Add them to the sautéed mushrooms.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is amazing to realize no matter how much time goes by, special memories remain as vivid as if it happened a day ago. Even if it is just a portion of the memory, a picture of that moment develops like a photograph creating a snapshot of time. Such is the case of my childhood Halloween memories. What I remember most about Halloween is Mom making caramel apples and popcorn balls for trick or treaters brave enough to walk up our steep and dark road. Mom was not crafty and rarely made homemade gifts or treats, but every Halloween she spent the day dipping apples in sweet caramel and forming popcorn balls like it was her mission in life.
Our house was situated on a side road up a very steep hill. The surrounding houses in the neighborhood were scattered around the hill, in valleys, and down along the bay. It was steep territory to traverse and the neighborhood kids cleared trails from house to house creating shortcuts, so we could easily walk from one friend to another with the purpose of climbing up and/or down the hill only once in our travels. Walking up to my house was a steep hike and Mom believed that anyone who was willing to walk up our hill on Halloween deserved a reward for their efforts.
On Halloween, we traveled in packs, so mom could expect at most three groups of trick-or-treaters from the neighborhood. She bestowed upon her Halloween trick-or-treaters with not one, not two, but three treats: caramel apples, popcorn balls, and hot apple cider. We could sit and eat our treasure right there in the comfort of our kitchen or continue on our costumed journey. I am not sure if we timed it so we would stop at my house midway on our travels to warm up and take a break. Often, we paused only long enough to drink our hot cider, and then went on our way seeking more candy treasure. Mom was always so happy to see everyone dressed up in their costumes, and those caramel apples never tasted so good.
Despite my vivid picture of Mom dipping apples into caramel, I have no memory of how she made them or what recipe she used. Additionally, I cannot remember ever seeing a recipe for caramel apples in her recipe file either. Chances are she got the recipes from either Joy of Cooking or Sunset Magazine, but after a couple of years making them she knew the recipe by heart.
My lack of family recipes from Mom left me to figure out how to make caramel apples on my own. I did not keep up her Halloween tradition, but I love caramel apples and want to bring them back into my life. Over the years I tried a couple of different recipes and I found two options producing delicious caramel for apples. You can choose to go all out and make your own caramel for dipping. Or, you can go the semi-homemade option and melt soft caramel candies for your caramel sauce.
Tips for making caramel apples
Making caramel apples is
easy, temperamental and I learned some helpful tips the hard way from my mistakes and triumphs.
First, make sure there is no wax on the apples. The wax just creates a slippery surface on the apples and the caramel will slide right off. This is one reason why making caramel apples with freshly picked apples is ideal.
All apples bought at a grocery store are coated with wax. To remove the wax, drop apples one at a time in just boiling water for less than a minute. Make sure the apple’s entire surface area gets a good soaking from the boiling water. Be careful with the amount of time the apples spend in the hot water because you do not want to cook them.
Remove the apples from the hot water and rub them with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. You can also add apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the boiling water. The acid helps break the bonds of the wax. Before you dip each apple in the caramel, make sure the apple is dry.
Another method to remove wax from apples is to wash the apples and rub super fine sandpaper over the apples being careful not to break the skin. Rinse off and thoroughly dry the apples. (Full disclosure, I have never tried this, but I am very tempted to for the next time I make caramel apples.)
Second, firmly secure each stick, popsicle stick, or lollipop stick inside the apple. However, do not push it all the way through the apple. The juices from the apple will leak out and weaken the caramel.
Third, chill the apples for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before you dip them in the caramel. Cold apples will set the caramel faster.
Fourth, if you do not make your own caramel, use the best quality soft caramel candy you can buy. The better the quality of the caramel, the more reliable it is for dipping. Do not use store-bought caramel sauce.
Fifth, less is more. Allow the excess caramel to drip off. Aim for a thin even layer around each apple. This will help prevent the caramel from sliding down and pooling around the base of the apple. The pooling caramel is often unavoidable. You can fix it by pressing on the caramel and pushing it back into shape over the top of the apple.
Sixth, refrigerate the caramel apples until the caramel sets. Once set, serve them or dip them in melted chocolate, then chopped nuts or candy if using. Refrigerate the chocolate dipped caramel apples until the chocolate sets and gets hard.
More Apple Treats
If you have leftover caramel apples, slice them up and briefly sauté them in butter. Serve the sautéed caramel apple slices over vanilla ice cream, french toast, waffles, or Dutch Baby pancakes.
Classic Caramel Apples
- 8-10 medium tart apples like Granny Smith
- 8-10 handles like lollipop sticks popsicle sticks or clean tree sticks
- 1 recipe of caramel sauce
- 8 oz (200 g) pistahios, or other nuts like walnuts or pecans, chopped fine (optional)
Caramel Sauce from Tartine
- 1 cup (225 g) sugar
- ½ cup (133 g) unsalted butter (one stick)
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) heavy cream
- ¼ cup (60 ml or 85 g) light corn syrup
- 2 TB (30 ml) maple syrup
- 1 TB (15 ml) Blackstrap or dark molasses
- ¼ tsp (1 ml) real vanilla extract
- Pinch of Kosher salt
Caramel Sauce Using Store-bought soft Caramel Candies
- 1 lb. (500 g) 500 g soft real caramel candies
- 3 TB (45 ml) heavy cream
- 1 TB (15 ml) real maple syrup
- 1 TB (15 ml) dark molasses
Prepare your apples
Wash and dry the apples. Remove the wax from the apples before you start. See the Caramel Apple blog post for wax removal instructions.
Secure the handle into the apples. Pierce one stick into the stem end of each apple. Do not push the stick all the way through the apple because the juices will leak and weaken the caramel.
Place the prepared apples on a tray and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. If using parchment paper, lightly spray it with cooking oil. Set aside.
Make the caramel sauce
Tartine caramel sauce
Add all the ingredients into a heavy-duty saucepan with a minimum of a 3-quart capacity. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Occasionally stir the ingredients to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom of the pan. Bring the caramel to a boil and cook the caramel until it reaches 236°F (113°C), about 7 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and rest the caramel until it cools down to 180°F (82°C).
Continue to Make the Caramel Apples.
Caramel Sauce Made from Soft Caramel Candies
Add water to the bottom portion of a double boiler filling the saucepan until it reaches shy of 2-inches up the side of the pot. Place the top portion of the double boiler on top then add all the ingredients to the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and melt the caramel. Occasionally stir the ingredients to incorporate the ingredients and promote even melting. Once the caramel is melted, turn down the heat to low and begin making the caramel apples.
Make the Caramel Apples
Remove the chilled apples from the refrigerator and bring near your saucepan with the caramel sauce. Position the prepared rimmed sheet pan at the opposite side of the caramel sauce.
One at a time, dip an apple into the caramel, turning it over to get an even coating of caramel. Lift the apple out of the caramel and let the caramel drip back into the pot. Turn the apple around to encourage the caramel to evenly drip off and not collect over one spot. Turn the apple right side up and hold it upright for 30 seconds.
If you are dipping your apple into chopped nuts or candies, turn the apple upside down and dip the apple into the bowl filled with nuts or candy.
Place the finished apple on the prepared sheet pan. Once you are done with all the apples. Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator and chill the apples until the caramel firms up.
Once set, serve immediately. Store the caramel apples uncovered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
After you dipped all your apples and notice caramel pooling at the base of the apples, you can press the caramel back into place with your fingers.
Many different types of nuts and candies taste great with caramel apples. Sprinkles, Heath Bar Crunch, Chocolate Chips, and or any nut will easily stick to the caramel if chopped in small size pieces.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Macaroni and cheese must be one of the most popular foods around and it is easy to understand why. Mac and cheese is pure comfort food with the creamy and cheesy sauce coating tube-shaped pasta. I can’t decide which type of macaroni and cheese I like more, stove-top mac and cheese or baked, as both have their merits. For this blog post, I decided to go with baked mac and cheese because I love the layer of crispy breadcrumbs over this cheesy casserole. They add welcome textural contrast to the smooth and creamy macaroni. In my opinion, this classic baked mac and cheese is the ultimate mac and cheese because it is creamy and gooey in a good way, with lots of cheese and extra flavor from the herb-infused sauce.
What is Mac and Cheese?
What is the foundation ingredient in Mac and Cheese? Other than the macaroni, it is the Mornay sauce made with cheddar cheese. A Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce, (white sauce made from a roux and milk ) with melted cheese. These two sauces are two of the five mother sauces from French cuisine and are the backbone to a lot of American food.
Traditionally, a Mornay sauce is made with Gruyère cheese, so for this recipe, I decided to stay with tradition and use Gruyère cheese. Because mac and cheese would not be mac and cheese without the sharp taste of good cheddar, I combined a blend of two kinds of cheese for a full-flavored cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes call for using all cheddar cheese, but the texture of a sauce made with only cheddar cheese is gritty. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the nature of the cheese, but it is just not that pleasant to eat.
Extra Cheese Flavor
I discovered to make a smooth cheese sauce with cheddar cheese, using two types of cheeses is essential. Plus the proportion of cheddar must be less than the second cheese in the sauce. Making cheddar cheese the less prominent cheese diminishes the gritty texture and makes a velvety smooth sauce. I recommend two cheese combinations, one with 12 oz (350 g) of Gruyère and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar. Or, for a more economical meal substitute the Gruyère with 12 oz (350 g) of Colby jack cheese and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Either combination produces a silky and cheese forward sauce perfect for mac and cheese.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese and where I got the idea of combining Gruyère cheese with cheddar cheese. After my disappointing mac and cheese with 100% cheddar, I sought out more inspiration to fix the gritty texture and her recipe did just that. There is a lot of cheese in this recipe and it is very rich. Yet the combination of Gruyère with its’ aged and nutty flavor with sharp-tasting cheddar give this sauce extra body and flavor. The cheese flavor comes through and is not mild which is a common complaint about a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes.
If Gruyère cheese is too expensive you can use a combination of Gruyère and Swiss cheese or substitute the Gruyère with Colby jack. Colby jack is a milder tasting cheese and usually a favorite with younger children. These two options give you two mac and cheese recipes, one for adults and one for children. Although the recipe has so much cheese in the sauce I believe children will like both versions.
My Extra Step
What makes my recipe different from The Barefoot Contessa’s is I steep the milk with garlic and herbs before I make the Mornay sauce. This extra step really makes a difference in flavor. Fortunately, it does not add extra time because you can easily steep the milk while you wait for the pasta to cook. Unfortunately, it does give you one more pot to clean, but I promise you it is worth it. Dried bay leaves, fresh sage and garlic steep in warm milk and change the sauce from ok to distinctive. Steeping herbs is one of my favorite ways of adding extra flavor without changing the look of the sauce. The sage flavor in this sauce is not too herby or assertive and comfortably rounds out the cheese and cream flavors like putting on a brand new pair of socks. Its soft, comfortable and invigorating.
And Then Some
There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.
- If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy sauce add a 4 – 8 oz (125 – 225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes after you mix the sauce with the macaroni. Personally, I believe this recipe has more than enough cheese in it, but people love the extra cheese.
- If you use the Colby jack and cheddar cheese combination, add about a half cup (125 ml)of Romano or Parmesan Reggiano to the macaroni after you mix the cheese sauce and pasta. The Romano or Parmesan will add some extra flavor to this mild cheese sauce.
- Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Fried prosciutto is also delicious. Tear pieces of prosciutto and cook them up in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil until crispy.
- Add frozen peas to the stock pot with the pasta 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
- For pure decadence, add 1 ½ lb (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. (Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe).
- Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
- Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Serve Mac and Cheese with Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Classic Mac and Cheese and Then Some
A classic macaroni and cheese recipe with a smooth creamy-cheesy macaroni filling. I added an extra step of infusing the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to develop extra flavor in the sauce and complement the cheeses. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese, ground garlic and dried herds over the macaroni and cheese before baking in the oven. The breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch and textural contrast to the delicious and gooey macaroni.
Make macaroni and cheese with any tubular shape pasta like elbows, shells cavatappi or a small penne or ziti shapes are nice. But it is important to undercook the pasta before you add it to the sauce. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven so undercooking it beforehand prevents the macaroni from getting soggy and limp.
Macaroni is a great make ahead casserole and you can make it two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Make the casserole up to the point before putting on the breadcrumb topping. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure you freeze it in a freezer-to-oven safe baking dish.
If refrigerated, take the casserole out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking to bring up to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap then add the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in foil for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly.
If frozen, remove the plastic wrap and cover the casserole with foil bake for one hour, then remove the foil and bake until hot and bubbly.
Best eaten hot on the day it is made.
Store leftover macaroni and cheese covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce gets drier, but it heats up well in a microwave.
Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 cups (1 L) whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 lb. tubular shaped pasta like elbows shells, or cavatappi
- 6 TBS Butter
- 6 TBS all-purpose flour
- 12 oz grated Gruyère cheese or Colby Jack
- 8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1-2 tsp Dried herbs like parsley oregano, or sage or Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot
- Several rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, or use 2-3 slices of whole grain bread
- 2 TB melted butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Parmesan Cheese
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- 1-2 tsp of dried herbs like parsley, oregano, sage or basil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C / Gas Mark 5) with the rack in the middle position. Butter a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish.
Cook the pasta and Flavor the Milk
Heat a large stock pot filled with water until boiling. Season with salt and cook the pasta for half the amount of recommended time. Drain the pasta. Shake out any excess water from the colander then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat up the milk and cream with the sage, bay leaves, and smashed garlic clove in a saucepan to just shy of boiling. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat then let the milk and herbs steep for 15-20 minutes.
Make the Topping
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, make the topping. If making fresh breadcrumbs, take the bread slices and rip each slice into four pieces then place in a bowl of a food processor. Process the bread until it becomes crumbly but not gummy. Add the melted butter, parmesan cheese, and dried herbs if using, and process until combined. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and set aside.
If you are using panko breadcrumbs, pour the melted butter into a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and mix together. Add the parmesan cheese and dried herbs if using. Mix together and set aside.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the flour and whisk to blend. Continue to whisk the butter and flour to make a roux for about 5 minutes. You want to remove the flour taste and smell. Be careful not to brown the roux.
Remove the herbs from the milk and add the milk into the roux a little at a time. Whisk the milk and roux continuously to thoroughly mix them together between each addition. Make sure you get into the crevasses of the pan to mix in all the milk and flour. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. You know it is done when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce then run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce does not run and break the line, the sauce is done.
Once you have a thick sauce with a smooth texture, add the ground mustard, and hot sauce (if using), and a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk them into the sauce and taste. Add the grated cheese in increments whisking the cheese and sauce thoroughly between each addition. Wait until the cheese has melted between each addition as well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble and Bake
Scrape the cooked macaroni into a bowl with the cheese sauce then stir to mix. If you are adding add-ins like crispy bacon or broccoli, add them now. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer.
Place the macaroni filled baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan to collect any sauce that bubbles over while baking. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the macaroni is bubbly. The internal temperature should register 165°F (74°C) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
And then some:
If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy mac and cheese, add up to a half pound ((225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes to the macaroni mixture and stir to combine.
Add a half cup (125 ml)of grated Parmesan Reggiano to the Macaroni and cheese sauce before scraping it into the baking dish.
Caramelize two onions, then add them to the mac and cheese before baking.
Add blanched broccoli or cauliflower flowerettes to the mac and cheese before baking.
Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half-inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Or try fried pieces of prosciutto.
Add frozen peas to the boiling pasta water 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
Add 1½ lbs (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Add sliced tomatoes over the top of the mac and cheese then sprinkle with breadcrumbs before baking. (Ina Garten's recipe)
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is tart week in my household with both sweet and savory tart recipes for yours and my pleasure. Because it is fig season, I am compelled to make something at least once using figs. I love figs. They are a beautiful fruit with its simple pear shape, deep purple color, and a seductive subtle but jammy interior. That rich eggplant purple is one of my favorite colors and I find anything with that color totally irresistible.
Fig and Almond Tart
Several years ago, I discovered this tart recipe on Food Network by Giada De Laurentiis but I thought it was very rich and sweet. Because I wanted to make a fig and almond tart, I decided to give this tart recipe another try with some minor changes. I adapted the tart recipe by reducing the amount of sweetener in the filling, so the sweet flavor does not dominate the fig and almond flavors.
The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar in the pie crust, and one tablespoon of sugar plus 2 tablespoons of honey in the mascarpone cheese and almond paste filling. In my opinion, it was too rich, so I reduced the sweetener to only 1 tablespoon of honey in the filling. For me, this minor adjustment made all the difference.
I do like the sweetened pie crust and did not change the amount of sugar in that recipe. However, feel free to adjust the amount of sugar in the crust from 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 ml). The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar and I believe the sweetness in the crust blends the crust with the filling. Otherwise, the strong flour flavor in the crust will compete with the figs and almonds.
My experience baking with almond paste is limited, but what I have learned so far is each brand tastes slightly different for both almond flavor and sweetness. Depending on your brand of almond paste could determine how much sugar you need to add to the filling. Before you begin mixing the filling, taste the almond paste to determine how sweet it is. Then mix it together with the mascarpone cheese and other filling ingredients, then taste again. Add more honey or sugar if you wish. I like the amount of sweetener I have in this fig and almond tart recipe, but if your almond paste is on the less sweet side, you may need more.
For another tart recipe using almond paste, make Almond Cherry and Peach Galette.
Another trick to get more almond flavor without adding extra almond paste is, add a few drops of pure almond extract. Be careful adding the almond extract because it is strong and only use pure almond extract. Imitation almond extract tastes like chemicals and not the real deal, just like imitation vanilla extract.
The most common almond paste brands available are Solo and Odense almond paste. Solo comes in a box or can, and Odense comes in a tube. You want to make sure it is pure or real almond paste. I have used both brands with good results. You will find almond paste in the baking aisle.
Almond paste and marzipan are two different ingredients and not interchangeable. Marzipan is made with almond paste and extra sugar and more egg whites. It is the almond paste that gives marzipan its characteristic almond flavor.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own almond paste.
You want to use figs that are just starting to ripen and getting soft. I used black mission figs, but any type of fig will work in this tart recipe. Stay away from figs that are too soft and mushy. They are over-ripe and do not taste as fresh. I recommend inspecting the figs before you buy them because they often have moldy figs mixed in with the ripe figs. Figs are very perishable and quickly become over-ripe so use them as soon as possible after you buy them.
To store figs, remove them from the plastic container and place them on a paper towel-lined plate in one layer with space between each fig so they can breathe. Cover the figs in plastic wrap. You can keep the figs on the counter for a couple of days, but they will last longer in the refrigerator.
More recipes using figs:
Mascarpone vs Cream Cheese
What is mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone cheese comes from Italy and is similar to cream cheese, but it has a higher milk fat content because it is made with cream. Cream cheese is made in America and by law must have at least 33% milk fat and 55% moisture. Cream cheese also has additives, like gums to give the cheese a thicker appearance. They are not equally interchangeable in a recipe because of the differences in consistency, texture, milk fat percentages, and additives in cream cheese. You will find mascarpone cheese in the cheese department or deli department near the crème fraîche. If possible do not substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone cheese in this tart recipe.
Fig and Almond Tart
- 1 ½ cup 213 g all-purpose flour
- 1 -2 TB (12 - 24 g) sugar
- Zest from one lemon
- 10 TB ( g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch (1 cm) pieces
- 3 TB ice water
- 3 ½ oz (101 g) almond paste, room temperature and cut into ½ inch ( 1 cm) pieces
- 1/3 cup (76 g) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 TB honey
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pure almond extract to taste (if needed) a couple of drops
- 12 figs, stems removed and sliced into fourths lengthwise
- 2 tsp of Minced sprigs of Rosemary or Lemon Thyme optional
Make the pie dough
Food Processor Method
Add the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse until the mixture looks like large course sand with uneven clumps. Turn on the machine and add the water in a steady stream until large clumps form being careful not to overwork the dough. Tip the mixture onto a clean and lightly floured surface and pat into a disk. Wrap the pie dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
If making by hand, add the flour sugar, lemon zest, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together until the ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cubed butter and toss them with your clean hands until coated with flour. Smash the butter with your fingers to mix into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal with uneven sizes. Add the ice water and stir with your hands briefly until the dough comes together. Tip the dough onto a clean and lightly floured surface and shape into a flat disk. Wrap the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Mix the almond filling
In a clean bowl of a food processor, add the almond paste, mascarpone cheese, honey, and vanilla. Process until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape down the side of the bowl to blend and process again. Make sure there are no clumps of almond paste in the mix. Taste and add a couple of drops of almond extract if you want the filling to have more almond flavor. Go very light with the almond extract because it is very strong.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with the oven rack in the middle position. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Assemble the Tart
Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and if it is too hard, let it rest at room temperature for a couple of minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a lightly floured and clean work surface. Whack the dough with your rolling pin across the dough to soften it up and start forming a circle. Rotate the dough 180° and whack it again 4 times across the dough. Turn the dough over and repeat.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin starting at the center of your dough and roll it in one direction away from you. Move the rolling pin around the dough circle and roll out in one direction. Turn the dough over and continue to roll and shape the dough until you have a circle with a 12-inch diameter and is ¼ inch (.5) thick.
Transfer the dough onto your prepared baking sheet by draping the dough over your rolling pin then easing the dough into place.
Spread the almond filling over the dough in an even layer leaving a 2-inch (5 cm) border. Layer the fig slices in concentric circles over the almond filling beginning at the outer rim and working inwards.
Heat the jam for 15 seconds to loosen it up and spread the jam over the figs. You might not use all of the jam, but you want an even layer that is not too thick.
Fold the dough border over the toppings to create an edge. Pleat the border to maintain the circle shape. You can bake the tart right away, but if it took you a while to arrange the tart filling over the dough and you are concerned about the tart expanding and opening up when baking, refrigerate the tart, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown color. Transfer the tart on the sheet pan to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the bottom of the tart with a metal spatula or offset spatula and slide the tart off the parchment paper onto your serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Best eaten the day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.