Lemon Thyme and Ginger

Classic Baked Mac and Cheese and Then Some

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

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.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Colby Jack and White Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

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.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Making the roux

 

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

The béchamel sauce is ready to add the 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.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Assembled and ready for the breadcrumbs before baking.

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

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Steeping the milk with herbs.

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.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

And Then Some 

There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
  4. Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
  9. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

Serve Mac and Cheese with  Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs

Grilled Sherry Marinated Flank Steak

Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Herb Marinade

 

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Classic Mac and Cheese recipe with add-ins.

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. 

Course holiday side dish, Side Dish, Vegetarian
Cuisine American
Keyword mac and cheese, macaroni and cheese
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Author Ginger

Ingredients

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

Breadcrumb Topping

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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

  1. 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. 

  2. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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

  1. 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. 

  2. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer. 

  3. 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.

Recipe Notes

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) 

Classic Mac and Cheese recipe. A classic baked mac and cheese recipe with a creamy and cheesy herb infused sauce. Homemade seasoned breadcrumbs top the mac and cheese for a bit of crunch.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

Appetizers, Cheese, Fall, Recipes, Salad, Summer | August 15, 2018 | By

Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a nice alternative to the more traditional Caprese Salad. Both have their place as an exceptional first course or appetizer and both feature ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella nicely as the star ingredients. Yet creamy tomato and mozzarella salad have an element of surprise with heat from the jalapeño chilies, a slight brininess from the capers, and a bright lemony creaminess from the dressing.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

Mozzarella Salad

To make this mozzarella salad sing like the opening act of an all-star concert, be very particular about the ingredients you use.

Tomatoes

First and foremost, only use perfectly ripe tomatoes and locally grown tomatoes if you can get them. This mozzarella salad is at its best when the tomatoes are in season and bursting with sweet sun-ripened flavor. Out of season tomatoes just won’t do the salad justice. The juices from ripe tomatoes will blend into the dressing creating a sauce perfect for soaking up with good crusty bread. If you must make this salad before or after tomato season, use cherry or grape tomatoes as you can get a good tasting and ripe, hydroponically grown grape tomatoes during the year.

Also, use any variety of tomato, as long as the tomatoes are ripe. If you like to mix things up, use a variety of tomatoes with different shapes, sizes, and color. Yellow tomatoes are especially nice in this mozzarella salad as they have less acid than the red variety.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

Fresh Mozzarella

Second, use only fresh mozzarella. The vacuum sealed mozzarella you find in the dairy section of the store is no substitute. Even the brand that looks like it is fresh mozzarella. If it is vacuumed sealed it is not fresh.  Don’t even think about it. That cheese works nicely on a pizza but not in a salad. Fortunately, several markets make their own mozzarella, so it is not hard to come by. Often the mozzarella is kept in water, or just freshly wrapped in plastic wrap and sold the day it is made. Buffalo mozzarella is another alternative if you can find it.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Third, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Don’t use the generic extra virgin olive oil that is really a blend of oils, but real extra virgin olive oil with a fruity and peppery note and body. You do not need to buy the most expensive one, just a good one that you like.

More tomato recipes

Tomato Tart with Ricotta

Almost Classic Nicoise Salad for Two

Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing

Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

By using the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is hard to resist. It is immensely satisfying as only food made with fresh quality ingredients is. Both tomatoes and fresh mozzarella taste best when they are at room temperature, so serve the mozzarella salad at room temperature. Though, it is easier to slice mozzarella when it is cold and right out of the refrigerator. I recommend making the salad no more than an hour before you want to serve it. Unfortunately, mozzarella salad is not a make-ahead meal.

Additionally, I recommend slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes into reasonable size slices. My yellow tomato was very large, so I cut each slice into quarters. It was a lot more manageable that way. Also, I cut each mozzarella slice in half, especially the middle slices.

If you wish, you can rip large bite-size pieces of the mozzarella and scatter the pieces over the tomatoes instead of layering each slice. This looks especially nice when you have different varieties of tomatoes in your salad and you arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in a random pattern.

#wesaytomaotes

Mozzarella Salad makes a delicious first course or an appetizer with slices of grilled crusty bread like a baguette. You are going to want something to soak up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and dressing. Either way, this tomato and mozzarella salad is a fine addition to your salad repertoire.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad Recipe.

August and September are the best months to enjoy ripe tomatoes so go get some before they are gone.

This recipe is adapted from Marinated Mozzarella with Crème Fraîche and Lemon and Marjoram by Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and Lemon Cream from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.

My Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe is part of a social media collaborative project featuring tomatoes. Below the recipe is a list of all the talented Instagramers and food bloggers who are participating in the #wesaytomatoes collaboration. Please check out their tomato recipes for more tomato inspiration

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella salad recipe. A fresh and brights tasting tomato and mozzarella salad with a luxurious lemon cream dressing and topped with minced jalapeno, capers and fresh herbs.
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Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a wonderful change from the traditional Caprese Salad. Like a Caprese salad, creamy tomato and mozzarella salad showcase both the tomatoes and mozzarella as the stars of the meal. Yet in this salad, the fresh mozzarella and sun-ripened tomatoes get a subtle yet complimentary embellishment from the lemon cream, minced jalapeño chilis, and fresh herbs. The layer of heat from the chili pairs nicely with the fresh cheese and creamy dressing and adds a crisp bite within this yielding salad. I like adding a subtle but briny tang to the salad, so I added capers for some extra lift.  

This is one of those salads that you don't really need to follow the recipe ingredients amounts exactly. Use this recipe as a guideline and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. The food pairings are lovely, but how much jalapeño, fresh herbs, capers, and dressing is best determined by your taste. If you use the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is a winner no matter how much jalapeño you add. When adjusting the ingredients to your taste, remember to start with less as you can always add more. It is much harder to take away.

If you can find fresh marjoram substitute it for the oregano. This dish benefits from the flavor of fresh herbs, so do not use dried herbs. If you are not a fan of oregano, substitute it with fresh thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary. 

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Marinated Mozzarella in Crème Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram from his book, Happy Days. The Creamy dressing is adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Lemon Cream, in his book, Six Seasons

Best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made. 

Course Appetizer, First Course, Salad
Keyword Mozzarella, Mozzarella Salad, Tomatoes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Infusion time for the Lemon Cream Dressing 2 hours
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes any variety or color
  • 1 lb (500 g) fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh Black pepper to taste
  • Lemon Dressing
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ - 1 jalapeño chili
  • 1 TB capers
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh oregano or marjoram to taste about 2 teaspoons or more

Lemon Dressing

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed remove green germ
  • Pinch Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp of lemon zest
  • 1 TB (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 TB (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Make the lemon dressing

  1. In a small bowl add the garlic and heavy cream and allow to infuse for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. This gives you a nice garlic flavor without the bracing bite from garlic. 

  2. After 2 hours, fish out the garlic cloves from the heavy cream and add the Kosher salt and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper, and lemon zest.

  3. Using a wire whisk, whisk the cream by hand until the cream just starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until airy but pourable. This won’t get thick like fully whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Best if used the same day it is made. 

Assemble the Salad

  1. Slice the tomatoes a shy 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and spread out in a single layer on a tray or cutting board. Lightly sprinkle the slices with flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper. Slice the mozzarella in ¼ inch (.5cm) slices.

  2. Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices around a platter by alternating slices of tomatoes with slices of mozzarella. 

  3. Slice the jalapeño pepper in half and remove the stem, white pith and seeds. The white pith and seeds carry most of the heat in the chili so if you want it a little spicier, leave some of the white pith intact. However, make sure you remove all of the seeds as they would look unappealing in this dish. Mince the jalapeño chili and sprinkle it over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You may only need about half of the jalapeño chili, but use as much as you want. 

  4. Sprinkle some of the fresh oregano, and capers over the salad. Pretend like you are Jackson Pollock and paint the tomatoes and mozzarella arrangement with the lemon cream. Depending on how thick the lemon cream is, I find it works best if you wave a spoon back and forth, filled with the dressing above the salad. You will get a random pattern of the creamy dressing but not a heavy and gloppy looking one. You will not use all the dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side for those who want more. 

  5. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad and extra herbs, capers and minced jalapeño, flaky sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. 


  6. Serve room temperature as a salad or first course. Or serve as an appetizer with crusty bread or grilled bread.
  7. This is best eaten the day it is made. If you have some leftovers, store in the refrigerator and eat up the next day. 

Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe.A fresh and brights tasting tomato and mozzarella salad with a luxurious lemon cream dressing and topped with minced jalapeno, capers and fresh herbs.

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© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Loaded Nachos

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

Who doesn’t love nachos? All that melty cheese, warm beans, salsa, avocado, and crispy chips just taste so good together. Unfortunately, when I order nachos in a restaurant the chips are soggy with rubbery cheese, and half the chips are naked. What is the point of getting nachos when most of the food on the plate are plain chips? It is like ordering a cheese burger and getting one partially covered with cold cheese.

Loaded Nachos, recipe

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

There is an easy solution. When I make nachos, I spread the chips in an even layer on a rimmed sheet pan, then cover each chip with bean spread (or refried beans), avocado, pickled jalapeño, and grated cheese. Once assembled, they bake in the oven until the cheese thoroughly melts. Why bother with this nacho assembly? Because it is just not a pretty sight, watching your family and friends wrestle and compete over the nachos covered in all that Tex-Mex goodness. With this process, no one gets stuck eating naked chips when they wanted the works.

There are several ways you can put these nachos together. One, buy the chips, bean dip or refried beans, and salsa already made, along with a couple of blocks of cheese and a ripe avocado. The only thing left to do is assemble and bake the nachos. Second, you can use a combo of homemade and store-bought items to make these nachos. The third option is, you can go all out and make everything from scratch.

My version is the second option. I made chips from store-bought tortillas and made the salsa verde. Everything else I bought. If you make everything from scratch, your nachos will have more nuance in flavor, especially the beans. However, these days it is easy to source good quality store-bought salsas, beans and chips. Why not take advantage of your resources? Whichever method you choose, buy the best quality ingredients you can afford.

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

Suggestions for making Nachos:

For my recipe testing, I discovered getting tortilla chips with a deep corn flavor depends on the tortillas you use. If possible, buy freshly made tortillas from a market or restaurant, and make the chips at home. Or, buy chips from a Mexican restaurant. Both options produce the best tasting chips. Nachos require thick chips that won’t break easily and not too salty.  Thicker chips hold up better. If you don’t have a Mexican market or restaurant in your area the store brand I had success with is, Simply Organic Yellow Corn Chips by Tostitos. However, the other corn chips by Tostitos are too thin.

Making your own chips requires some cooking skill, special equipment and deep-frying in 375° F (190°C) oil. You need an instant read thermometer, a 10-inch (25 cm)cast iron skillet, or Dutch Oven, or wok, and a spider strainer. If you do not have all the equipment, please don’t make the chips. Deep frying is tricky business and buying chips a lot safer.

I also provided a recipe for a raw salsa verde made with tomatillos, serrano chilies, onion, garlic and cilantro. The recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupak, but my method is different. (You can read my cookbook review on Tacos, here.) Instead of using a mortar and pestle, I made the salsa with an immersion blender. It was a breeze and finished in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, tomatillos are hard to find. I found tomatillos at my local Asian vegetable market, but I also saw them at Whole Foods. If you can’t find them substitute with your favorite store-bought salsa verde or red salsa.

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

Traditionally, nachos are made with refried beans. I used a black bean dip instead. Feel free to use what you like. The beans should be thick and somewhat smooth, so it stays put on each chip. The store brand I used was Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa. It was a little too thin, but it still worked. Look for a black bean spread or dip. If you prefer using refried beans, just remember refried beans are made with lard, so if you are serving vegetarians or vegans, find or make a vegetarian one. Here are links for home-made refried beans, and vegan refried beans from Serious Eats.

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

Helpful Tips Serving Nachos:

  • Serve nachos immediately. If you are entertaining, have all your ingredients made and prepared. After all your guests arrive and settled down, assemble the nachos then bake in the oven. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and 4 minutes to bake. Serve right away. This isn’t an appetizer which is placed on an hors d’oeuvres table and forgotten about.
  • Pass these appetizers around, or place in the center of a coffee table where everyone is sitting. Nachos are best eaten immediately. The longer they sit the soggier they become.
  • Make sure you grab a couple of nachos for yourself before they disappear. Maybe this is because I am more familiar with the eating habits of teenage boys, college co-eds, and athletes, but appetizers like nachos quickly disappear.
  • For a small cocktail party make one tray at a time. If you want more for later, make another tray just before you want to serve them. My sheet pan fit 24 chips.
  • Don’t forget the pickled jalapeño . A slice of pickled jalapeño on each nacho makes all the difference between good nachos and great nachos. They add some heat, and the acid brightens all the other ingredients.

Loaded Nachos, recipe.

 

More appetizers: Crispy Potato Skins with Cheese and Pickled Jalapeno, Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon, Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

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Loaded Nachos, recipe.

Loaded Nachos

Everyone loves nachos with lots of melted cheese and fixings. To make sure every person gets a chip loaded with all the nacho goodness, I have assembled and baked the chips in a single layer. With this recipe, you decide if you want to purchase all the ingredients or make the salsas and chips from scratch. If you rather not make your own tortilla chips buy restaurant style, or thick tortilla chips that are not too salty. The thicker chips stay crisp and won't break as easily. Serve immediately with creme fraiche and salsa verde.
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American, Mexican
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Author Ginger

Ingredients

Tortilla chips

  • 3 cups (675 ml) canola or vegetable oil
  • 6 fresh corn tortillas or thick cut, restaurant style store- bought tortilla chips
  • Kosher salt

Nachos

  • 4 oz (125 g) cheddar cheese
  • 4 oz (125 g) pepper jack cheese
  • 24 tortilla chips homemade or store bought
  • 16 oz 453 g jar bean dip or refried beans
  • 1-2 ripe avocados
  • 24 - 48 slices of pickled jalapeno peppers
  • Creme fraiche plus some milk for thinning
  • Salsa verde

Salsa Verde (or store-bought salsa verde)

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3-4 tomatillos about 5 oz (150 g)
  • 2 serrano chilies
  • ½ white onion minced
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 handful of cilantro minced

Instructions

Tortilla Chips

  1. In a cast iron skillet, Dutch Oven, or wok, add the oil and heat until the oil temperature reaches 375°F (190°C). Stack the tortilla chips and cut them into quarters. When the oil is hot, add a few chips to the oil and cook until starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the chips over to the other side and finish cooking. Use a mesh spoon, or spider and remove the chips from the oil and place on paper towels to dry. Sprinkle a small pinch of Kosher salt over the chips while they are warm. Continue until all chips are fried.

Nachos

  1. Pre heat the oven to 425°F ( 218°C) with the rack in the middle position. Line a large rimmed sheet pan (18" x 13" / 46 cm x 33 cm) with aluminum foil. Set aside.
  2. Prepare your garnishes of creme fraiche and salsa verde
  3. Add the creme fraiche, or sour cream, to a small bowl and add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Continue to add just enough milk so the creme fraiche will easily drizzle over the nachos. You do not want it too diluted, but the creme fraiche drizzles easier when it is slightly thinned out. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready.
  4. If you are making the tomatillo salsa do so now before you bake the nachos. See recipe below.
  5. Grate the cheeses using the large holes of a box grater, or food processor. Place the grated cheese in a medium size mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
  6. Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  7. Spoon a tablespoon of bean dip over the center of each chip, spread it out into an even layer.
  8. Slice an avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Thinly slice each avocado half lengthwise and scoop out the slices with a spoon. Arrange one slice of avocado over each chip covered with the beans. Depending on the size of your avocado, you might need to cut each slice in half to fit on the chips. I was able to get enough slices from one avocado.
  9. Place one slice of pickled jalapeno on each chip, then cover them with grated cheese .
  10. Place the sheet pan with the chips in the oven and bake until all the cheese has fully melted, about 4 minutes.
  11. Immediately place the nachos on a serving platter and serve with the creme fraiche and salsa verde. You can drizzle the salsa verde and creme fraiche over the nachos and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, or you can serve the creme fraiche and salsa verde on the side.

Salsa Verde

  1. Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with the salt and use the side of your chef's knife to make a pulp with the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing the side of the blade on the garlic and salt until the garlic turns into a smooth pulpy consistency. Add the garlic pulp to the bowl of a food processor, blender, or immersion blender.
  2. Husk, wash and dice the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos in the bowl with the garlic.
  3. Add the minced onion.
  4. Cut the Serrano peppers in half lengthwise and cut off the stem. If you want a milder salsa, remove the seeds and the white pith. They contain most of the heat, especially the pith. Mince the serrano chilies and add them to the bowl with the tomatillos. Add the honey and process all the ingredients until you get a smooth salsa, or to your desired consistency. Stir in the minced cilantro and pour the salsa into a small serving bowl.
  5. Serve immediately or cover with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Homemade salsa is best used the same day it is made. If several hours pass before serving, hold off from adding the cilantro until just before serving.
Nutrition Facts
Loaded Nachos
Amount Per Serving (4 g)
Calories 0
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Loaded Nachos with black beans, avocado, pickled jalapeno slices and grated cheese.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

Each year as my garden matures, the herb garden expands as well. Slowly, the herb bed has inched deeper into the precious sunny real-estate and has started replacing my lawn. I add one or two more herb plants a year and build my dream herb garden. One herb plant that is thriving is my chive plant. Fortunately, it is not growing out of control, but remains nicely contained in a tall spiky mound.

Cheese and Chives Herb Bread

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

The plant grows without a lot of disturbance because I rarely use fresh chives in my cooking. However, it needed a thinning and removal of all the spent flowers before they spread their seeds. Afterwards, I was left with a large bundle of chives and a new challenge, how to use up all the chives before they go bad. This is the type of challenge I enjoy, and inspires me to look for new ideas.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

I wanted to make something different, yet easily prepared and quick to finish. What I dreamed of was a recipe from Season 3 of The Great British Baking Show, Ian’s quick bread with wild garlic. While watching the episode, the smell of the wild garlic and bread traveled across the ocean and through my television, and I have craved it ever since. Unfortunately, I could not find his recipe. Rather, I came upon a recipe, which although is not British in nature, has that oniony-bready fix I was looking for.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

This recipe is a savory bread with chives and cheddar cheese by Dorie Greenspan on the website, Serious Eats. It was exactly what I was craving, a savory quick bread to unload my bundle of chives, and give me some immediate satisfaction. I slightly adapted her recipe, and used Gruyère cheese, chives, garlic chives, lemon thyme and nixed the walnuts.

Dorie explains in her recipe; the French refer to just about everything made in a pan as a cake. A loaf such as this, is called, “cake salé” (meaning, salty or savory cake). This is a very light and cake-like bread that is perfect as a snack or appetizer paired with wine, beer or any cocktail. Like cake, it is light and airy in texture, but it is rich in flavor from the cheese and herbs. I also enjoyed this herb bread for lunch as avocado toast with lemon thyme and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

As Dorie recommends, this is a bread recipe to play around with. Use the dough as your foundation and switch up the cheese and herbs as you wish. A traditional cake salé recipe from France uses Emmentaller, Gruyère, or a mixture with Parmesan. She made her recipe with cheddar cheese and chives for a local US inspired loaf. She also recommends other add-in substitutes like nuts, diced ham, olives, pesto and cooked vegetables.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

More appetizer ideas:

Crispy Potato Skins- 2 ways

Spinach Artichoke Dip with Bacon

Asparagus with Orange Mayo

Making this cheese and chive herb bread is an amazing sensory treat. Every time I snipped, spread and stirred the chives, their scent came forward like an herbal wave engulfing the dough. Once in the oven, the smell of the baking herb bread filled my house with comforting aromas of melting cheese, bright onions and baking bread.

I love it when I discover something new and it turns out to be a smash hit. This recipe is so easy, I am sure to make it several times and continue to personalize it. I know something is delicious when every 5 minutes my husband and son kept repeating, “Oh, this is soo good. This is really good”. This is no exaggeration. It was all I could do to keep them from eating the whole loaf.

Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

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Cheese and Chive Herb Bread recipe

Cheesy Herb Bread

A savory quick bread filled with cheese and fresh herbs makes for a wonderful snack or appetizer. This pairs exceptionally well served with chilled wine or cold beer. This recipe is adaptable to suit any mood or taste. Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan or other hard cheeses are great fillers with a variety of fresh herbs. I like chives with lemon thyme, but basil or any combination of herbs will taste great. Anything goes with this bread. The recipe is slightly adapted form Savory Cheddar-Chive Bread by Dorie Greenspan on www.seriouseas.com
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup 268 g All-purpose flour
  • 1 TB Baking powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp Kosher salt amount of salt depends on the cheese and other add ins
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground white pepper
  • 3 large eggs room temperature
  • 1/3 cup 75 ml whole milk, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 oz 75 g coarsely grated cheese like Gruyere or cheddar
  • 2 oz 50 g diced cheese like Gruyere or cheddar
  • 1/2 cup 125 ml minced chives or other herbs
  • 1 - 2 TB chopped lemon thyme

Instructions

  1. Set the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 375˚F / 190˚C / Gas Mark 5, and generously butter a loaf pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper until evenly combined.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl add the eggs, then whisk until well combined and somewhat frothy. Add the milk and olive oil and whisk together.
  4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Mix until everything is just combined. You do not want to over work the dough and there is no need for the dough to be thoroughly mixed together. Stir until everything is just mixed, it won't be smooth.
  5. Stir in all the cheese, herbs and any other add ins you have, like chopped walnuts. The dough is thick, but carefully work in the cheese and herbs until evenly distributed. Don't overwork the dough.
  6. Scrape into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The bread is done when it has a golden brown crust, and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of your pan and remove the bread from the pan. Cool the loaf on the rack until it is at room temperature.
  8. Best eaten the day it is made, but it will keep for a day, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the counter.
Nutrition Facts
Cheesy Herb Bread
Amount Per Serving (1 g)
Calories 0
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

 

© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Why make ricotta cheese and add one more thing to do in your busy day? Is it really necessary to make ricotta cheese if I am already making a lasagna that takes too long? The answer is an unflappable yes because the taste is 100 times better than store-bought. Ricotta cheese bought in grocery stores tastes gummy, gritty, and filled with additives to prevent the whey and curds from separating. Ricotta should have a pure milk flavor, not a chemical flavor.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Another good reason to make homemade ricotta is a small gesture, but a good one. Sourcing milk from small farms will reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, milk from cows that are allowed to graze, eat a natural diet of grass, and produce hormone and antibiotic free milk, tastes better and is better for our health. Further, clean farming practices and less plastic containers in the world will ultimately make it a healthier and cleaner place.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

I wanted to share this recipe because it is so simple and quick. If you are at all skeptical about starting another project, I believe this is a great way to ease into making ricotta cheese. The recipe makes a small batch, enough to use in pancakes, or to make one of my favorite appetizers, ricotta with lemon zest, mint and honey spread on toasted bread.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta Recipe

This recipe is from the cookbook, Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Additionally, Kenji is the founder of the website, Serious Eats, which I reference a lot. He is all about the science of cooking and puts recipes through rigorous testing to come up with the best practice to produce the tastiest results. This recipe will produce about 1 cup of fresh ricotta and could take 5-15 minutes from start to finish. Another easy bonus is, it is prepared in the microwave.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

However, the recipe is not without its challenges. When I first made it, the bowl I used barely fit inside my microwave. I believe the lack of space around the bowl made an unevenness in the way the milk heated up. The temperature of the milk between the top and bottom of the bowl differed by 10 – 15 degrees. This resulted in producing less ricotta from the quart of milk than the recipe indicated. The next time I made the recipe in the microwave, I used a Pyrex mixing bowl and had better results.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

Keys to Success making Ricotta

You will need an instant read thermometer. Getting the milk to 165F is crucial to making ricotta. It’s important to make sure that the milk doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.

Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. The milk carton label must inform the consumer of the type of pasteurization process. All organic milk sold in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized. This is done to make sure the milk has a longer shelf life. Ultra pasteurized milk will not turn into ricotta cheese since the good bacteria needed to help create the curds is non-existent.

Distilled vinegar produces the cleanest taste. Lemon juice will give the ricotta a distinct lemon flavor. Regardless of which acid you use, the flavors in warm and freshly made ricotta were more pronounced. The flavors mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. The ricotta became drier overnight as well.

A microwave safe bowl with a wider mouth had better results than an 2 quart liquid measuring cup. Additionally, remember that this won’t work exactly the same across all microwaves.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta reicpe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe
What to make with fresh Ricotta?

Mix one cup of ricotta cheese with zest of one lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Spread the cheese on toasted baguette and drizzle with honey. It is a creamy, bright and slightly sweet appetizer plus it is easy to prepare.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta recipe

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Homemade Ricotta recipe

Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese

A simple recipe for homemade ricotta and finished in about 5 - 7 minutes. It produces a creamy ricotta, perfect as a spread on toast. (See blog post for ricotta spread recipe). It is a great recipe to use and get familiar with the ricotta making process. This is a recipe from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 7 minutes
Servings 1 cup ricotta
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 4 cups/ 1 liter whole milk not ultra-pasteurized
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup distilled vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice about 2 lemons

Instructions

  1. Line a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large and deep bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Gently stir. Use a bowl with a 2-quarts capacity. Place the bowl in the microwave and turn on high for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Check the temperature of the milk, if it is not 165˚F / 74˚C, continue to microwave checking every minute or 30 seconds until the milk reaches 165˚F / 74˚C. You will see the milk curdle and the liquid (whey) become clearer and separate from the curds. If the liquid is milky and without a clear separation between the whey and the curds, the ricotta is not finished. There is a 165˚F/ 74˚C to 180˚F / 82˚C temperature window to work in.
  4. Once the milk/ricotta cheese reached the desired temperature, take the bowl out of the microwave and lightly stir for a few seconds.
  5. Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheese cloth lined strainer. Scoop out as much of the curds as possible, then gently pour the remaining liquid into the strainer. Drain the ricotta to your desired texture. 5 minutes will have the creamiest and moist texture. 15-20 minutes will produce a texture that is spreadable and slightly moist. 2 hours or refrigerated overnight, will produce dry and crumbly curds.

Recipe Notes

This recipe can be made on the stove top in a large saucepan. Add all the ingredients into a medium saucepan with the heat set at medium to medium-low. Stir the milk constantly and gradually heat the milk to 165F / 74C. Continue as directed to drain the whey.

© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

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