The Family Food Blog

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Making Use of the Balcony Garden: Macaroni and Cheese with Fresh Herbs

by thefamilyfoodblog

I grew up thinking I didn’t like cheese. My friends and I pretty much took that as fact during my childhood – one friend even theorized that I was borderline lactose intolerant. (We were both a little skeptical of “borderline lactose intolerance” actually being a thing, but how else would you explain that I didn’t like cheese but had to have my cereal and milk every day?)

Anyway. What I learned, one fine day in high school – when I tasted smoked gouda for the first time, on top of a water cracker, at a hotel in Monterey Bay – was that what I didn’t like was not in fact cheese, but cheese singles. Two very different things, as I came to find out. (Kraft, how you ruined me.) The same thing happened with macaroni and cheese a few years later: I learned that the real stuff was actually pretty delicious.

So when a recent trip to Costco left me with a brick-sized block of aged English cheddar, it was a no-brainer to make my own macaroni and cheese. I came across this recipe on the bus ride home from work yesterday and decided to adapt it to the ingredients we had and liked. I also cut down the butter and cheese a little to make it healthier.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz whole-wheat elbow macaroni (about half a box)
  • 6 medium Shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped with stems removed
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped herbs of your choice (I used oregano, lemon thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • olive oil or cooking spray to grease the baking dish
  • salt and black pepper

Instructions

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in the flour and mix for several seconds until bubbly. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring often to avoid lumps.

When the mixture starts to thicken and form bubbles (about 5 minutes), add in the cheese, herbs, mustard, and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat down to low and continue stirring until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and toss with the macaroni and mushrooms.

Toss the pasta and mushrooms with the cheese sauce. (Taste this, too – it’s delicious!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease the baking dish and pour in the pasta mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Use more or less breadcrumbs to suit your taste. If you’d like, sprinkle more fresh herbs over the breadcrumb topping.

Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

We countered the richness of the macaroni and cheese with a simple salad of spinach leaves, walnuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

 

A Family Favorite: Sweet Corn Soup

by thefamilyfoodblog

This weekend, my parents were in town and among other things, we enjoyed a lot of great homemade food – including family recipes that I’ve had many times over the years. One of those was my mom’s sweet corn soup, which we had Sunday night with some herb bread.

As this Google search will tell you, sweet corn coup is a key dish in Indian-Chinese cooking, the adaptation of Chinese seasoning and dishes to the Indian palate. My mom’s version is a little cornier (pun intended – this joke is pretty corny, isn’t it? All right, I’ll stop now) and creamier than the kind you usually get in restaurants.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 2 cans cream-style sweet corn
  • 2 cans whole kernel corn (drained)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • salt and pepper
  • green onions to garnish (optional)

Cream-style corn, whole kernel corn, and milk are key ingredients to this recipe.

Instructions

Start by melting the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the pan is hot and the butter melted, add the onions. Sprinkle with salt. Stir occasionally for about five minutes, till onions become translucent.

Toss the onions in the butter until they become translucent.

Add flour and mix well with the onions and butter for 3-5 minutes, or until the flour starts to turn golden brown, to create a roux, Add the milk and stir briskly, making sure the flour doesn’t clump. Once the white sauce starts to thicken, add the water, a little bit at a time. Once the white sauce has thinned, add the cream-style corn and mix together. Then add the whole kernel corn, turn the heat to medium, and stir well.

Voila! Sweet corn soup. Serve with bread.

Add pepper, salt, and even hot sauce to taste. Make sure you keep stirring the soup so that the corn doesn’t sink to the bottom and burn!

Tip: The consistency of this soup makes it a great pairing with a hearty bread, like a baguette, sourdough, or even garlic bread.

Aubergine and Paneer Subji

by Sanjukta Moorthy

This is a dish totally of my own invention, which I made for dinner earlier this week. I salted some aubergines to make Pasta alla Norma, one of my all-time favourite comfort foods.

Turns out we had no pasta whatsoever. Whoops.

So I thought, why not turn it into a subji?

Just to clarify, subji is the Hindi word for ‘vegetable’, which Indians will use to describe a vegetable dish – what’s basically known commonly as a ‘curry’. Those who know me will know that I hate the word ‘curry’ because of the stereotype of terribly greasy, spicy and unappetising Indian food that goes with it!

I put this dish together using my knowledge of spices and my mother’s special homemade garam masala (thanks for both of those Amma!)

Indian food is really easy and can be fantastic if you know what spices work together, and the various ‘stars’ (vegetables, chicken, lamb, beef, fish etc) which work well with them.

Garam masala is fantastic with everything and my mother’s super special mix is really nice and sweet with a nutty smell, and it’s full of flavour and always reminds me of home. I thought some of that, with a little coriander powder, some coconut milk and maybe a dash of paprika powder would make a simple but really satisfying and comforting dish which would remind me of home. Which it did!

We had some paneer (Indian cottage cheese, you can get it in every supermarket) in the freezer, which after some quick Googling, discovered could be defrosted in the microwave for a few minutes. We defrosted about 200g for about 3 minutes, which brought it to room temperature.

So here it is: my surprisingly fantastic invention! It was a massive ego boost, because now I know I can cobble together a nice Indian meal without fuss and just rely on my own knowledge of tastes!

Serves 2

2 large aubergines, sliced (I cut them widthways into thirds, then cut those individual pieces into sticks about 1cm square)

200g paneer, cubed

1 can coconut milk

2 onions, chopped or sliced

2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (available in all supermarkets and a fantastic storecupboard staple for Asian and Indian food. If you can’t get it, a 1 inch piece of ginger and about 2 cloves of garlic, mashed together or chopped finely will do)

3 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp coriander powder

2 tsp paprika powder or mild chilli powder

Parathas, naans, chappatis or rotis to serve

Chop or slice the onions, and in the mean time bring your wok or large saucepan to a medium heat with some olive oil.

Add the onions and the ginger-garlic paste, and leave them for about 5 minutes to soften – this should be done on a low to medium heat, to get all the sweetness out of the onions.

Once that’s done, turn the heat up and add the garam masala and coriander powder. Indian food relies on the base of either onions or onions and tomatoes to be flavoured first, and strongly, then that flavour then being distributed across the rest of the dish. Adding the spices now will also help them cook a little and release the aromatics.

Now add the cubes of paneer. For the paneer to cook, it needs to brown on as many sides as possible – just like halloumi, basically. When the paneer looks beautifully golden, you can turn it over. The best way to do this is to leave the paneer in the pan for a few minutes on one side, on a medium heat, so that it browns, then to turn it over and shake everything around, let that sit for a few minutes too and then repeat etc.

When the paneer is browned on as many sides as you’d like, add the slices of aubergine.

I had salted the aubergine a few hours before, in the hopes of making the Pasta-That-Never-Was. I’d recommend doing that, because it draws out the moisture, meaning you have to use less oil to cook the aubergines. The easiest way to do this is to add about 2 tsp of salt per aubergine, to a tea towel so you can pat the aubergines dry before cooking. Leave them from anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, bearing in mind that the longer you leave it, the less it needs to cook, meaning that you can eat that much faster. Always a good thing. Don’t forget to wash the aubergines in a colander or sieve before you cook them – this removes the excess salt but still makes sure they’re really salty so won’t need to add any more to the dish. If you haven’t salted your aubergines before-hand, about 1-2 tsp would do for this dish, and you can add it with the aubergine.

Stir the aubergines around and turn the heat up. In a few minutes you’ll see the skin start to blister and turn a lighter purple, and the paneer will get a little more golden. This is all good, and means your dish is about 15-20 minutes away from completion, hurray!

Keep this mix stirring, you want to coat everything in the yummy spices.

When the aubergine has cooked for about 5 minutes, add the can of coconut milk. Turn the heat up, so it bubbles a little, let it bubble for a few minutes then turn the heat back down again.

At this point, you can add the naans/chappatis/rotis in the oven to warm through. If you’re making parathas,

 Taste it now, and if you think it could use a little more salt or garam masala, add it now. This is also the time to add your paprika, so let that cook for a few more minutes.

When you think the spices have all mixed well and the coconut milk has thickened enough, the dish is probably done.

Garnish with chopped coriander if you have any, then serve with yoghurt and your breads!

Enjoy, let me know if it worked for you!

Quinoa and Asparagus with a Poached Egg

by thefamilyfoodblog

I came across this recipe of Aida Mollenkamp’s on Pinterest a while back, but didn’t get around to trying it out until about a week ago. Why the delay? It’s simple enough: Giant was out of quinoa the week I discovered the recipe, and then I forgot about it, until P, who is extremely talented at poaching eggs, browsed through my pinned recipes and found it again.

It being a weeknight and us being impatient and hungry, I adapted the recipe a little bit.

Quinoa and wild rice with asparagus and a poached egg in brown butter sauce.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa (I used a quinoa-wild rice blend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 stalks asparagus
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and cut into two-inch pieces. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Bake for 8-10 minutes (more or less depending on the thickness of the stalk).

While the asparagus is baking, bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the curlicues of the quinoa grains start to separate. Drain any excess water.

Note: The original recipe suggests toasting part of the quinoa to give the dish some extra crunch. I found that the wild rice in my quinoa mixture accomplished the same goal.

To make the brown butter sauce, melt the butter in a small frying pan for about five minutes, until it starts to darken. Remove from heat and mix in the balsamic vinegar.

Poach the eggs (this video explains it well). To serve, mix the quinoa with the asparagus and put on a plate. Top with the poached egg and drizzle with brown butter sauce.

Serve immediately for best results. If cooking ahead of time, wait to poach the eggs until right before serving.

Baguettes and a Trip to the Farmer’s Market

by thefamilyfoodblog

Yesterday, we started off the morning with a trip to the local farmer’s market. After seeing all the brightly colored heirloom tomatoes the vendors were selling, I decided that this weekend wouldn’t be complete without at least one serving of bruschetta. So, in addition to some deliciously strong blue cheese from the really friendly dad and daughter of Spring Gap Mountain Creamery (seriously, this cheese isn’t for the faint of heart) and a huge bunch of basil for just $2.50 (sadly, more leaves than Basily has ever produced in his lifetime), we picked up some red, yellow, and purple-green tomatoes.

That big red one was a monster, weighing in at 1.5 pounds on its own.

We followed this recipe for French baguettes, using the bread machine again for the kneading work. Wow, was the dough sticky. If this continues (and it might; the outcome was so tasty) I may have to invest in a dough scraper. How very fancy cooking store of me.

Two baguettes, ready to go into the oven.

We were out of eggs, so the baguettes didn’t get the nice glowy egg wash treatment. And for some reason (perhaps the low humidity in our air-conditioned apartment?) the dough didn’t rise as much as we hoped. The result was a baguette that looked and tasted a lot more like ciabatta. Not really cause for complaint in my book!

While the bread was baking, I got started on the topping for our bruschetta.

So colorful.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 large leaves of basil, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Allow to sit for at least ten minutes for tomato juices to run and flavors to meld. Serve immediately, at room temperature, on top of fresh, hot, crusty bread such as ciabatta or a baguette.

If bread is not fresh, spoon tomato mixture on top of bread and place in a warm oven for 5 minutes. Then serve.

That’s one of our two baguettes, cut in half and then sliced lengthwise. The second will likely be tonight’s dinner.

Inspired by a Lemon Drop

by thefamilyfoodblog

Earlier this week, we had a girls’ night out at the Melting Pot and while waiting for the first of four courses, a bunch of us ordered their basil lemon drops: cucumber vodka lemon drops garnished with either a basil leaf or slice of lemon. (Apparently, it was a new addition to their menu and the choice of garnish depended on which bartender you got.) Anyway, I’d previously been experimenting with using cucumber slices and lemon wedges to liven up a glass of water, and the lemon drops got me thinking – what if there was a way to combine the two? Since vodka tends to absorb the flavor of its mixer, maybe something like a lemon drop could be made using water or club soda instead. Given the record-breakingly hot summer days we’ve been having, it sounded pretty refreshing.

So I tried it out.

You can see the bubbles!

Ingredients (per drink)

  • 8 oz unflavored sparkling water
  • 2 leaves of fresh basil
  • 2 thin slices of lemon
  • 2 thin slices of cucumber, peeled
  • few drops lemon juice (optional)
  • ice (optional)

Instructions

Rub and slice the basil into thin strips to allow its flavor to release, and add to a glass along with lemon and cucumber slices. Top with sparkling water. Add a few drops of lemon juice and ice if desired.

* Pro tip: Mix the drinks about 30 minutes ahead of time to give the flavors more time to blend.

Homemade Veggie Pizza

by thefamilyfoodblog

Recently, P’s cousin B was in town. After a few days in a row of eating out, we were ready to save some money and eat at home, but wanted a meal that was still “fun.” A.k.a. pizza!

We used the bread machine to knead ourselves up some dough, following the Basic Pizza Dough recipe in this book:

Ingredients, per 17×11 pizza crust

  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

Instructions

Refer to the book for details, but in short, we put all the ingredients in the bread machine on the “dough” cycle (19 min on our machine) and allowed them to mix and knead. After taking the dough out, we spread it out on a foil-lined baking sheet and allowed it to rise for a few minutes.

You can toss the dough, too, if you’d like.

While the machine was going, and later as P was preparing the dough, I cut up the toppings.

The cutting board was getting pretty crowded by the time I was done.

Ingredients, per pizza

  • 1 pizza crust (recipe above)
  • 8 tbsp pasta sauce of your choice
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 handful fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 medium Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp marinated roasted red peppers
  • 1 tbsp fresh Italian herbs (I used basil and oregano), cut into thin strips
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, spread out the crust, leaving the edges thicker than the center. Drip the olive oil over the crust and spread using the back of a spoon.

Spread the pasta sauce over the crust, leaving some space at the edge. Add a layer of shredded mozzarella, followed by the remaining toppings.

Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cut, and serve immediately.

Just cut into your desired size and shape, and serve!

Fun with Olive Garden Breadsticks

by thefamilyfoodblog

Awhile back, we went to Olive Garden for lunch. The meal was so-so, but their famous (or possibly infamous, if nutrition levels are a factor) breadsticks are well-known for a reason. And to my surprise, our waiter was willing to pack us a few to take home along with our leftovers. So we did.

Apparently, giving breadsticks away is a standard thing, since they have a special reheatable bag for them. It was news to me.

We enjoyed a few of these breadsticks in the standard way, along with pasta or soup or whatever, but when we were down to the last three, I felt like getting creative. Lo and behold: mini sub sandwiches. How you fill the sandwiches is of course up to you, but here’s what I did.

Cut each breadstick lengthwise, leaving one edge connected so that the sandwich can be “opened” and “closed”.

Ingredients, per serving

  • 2-3 breadsticks, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 – 1/3 avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 tbsp marinated roasted red peppers, sliced
  • 1 oz Toscana pepper cheese, sliced

Instructions

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees. Once preheated, bake breadsticks for about 3-5 minutes.

Arrange filling ingredients in the inside of each sandwich. Serve immediately.

Filling ingredients that you enjoy in a panini would also be tasty here.

Asian Lamb Salad

by Sanjukta Moorthy

My boyfriend and I marinated some lamb steaks last night and wanted to have it with some salad ingredients to make it Asian. We  used some ideas from Nigella Lawson as a base, but this is our own invention – a Maddox-Moorthy masterpiece, as Andrew would call it!

It involves a few very different steps – first is to marinate the lamb steaks, the second is to crisp some garlic potatoes, and the last is to assemble the whole thing.

This turned out brilliantly, the perfect mixture of flavours and textures. The lamb was tender and juicy, the potatoes were nice and crisp, the mango adds a really lovely softness and the salad itself is refreshing.

We were thrilled with it, even more so because we invented it and it ended up tasting so delicious! I hope you enjoy it – it’s sweet, sour, spicy, tangy and surprisingly light.

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 lamb steaks

400g potatoes

2 cloves garlic

1 red chilli

1 mango

1 head of lettuce

2 spring onions

A handful of mint

A handful of coriander (optional)

2 tbsp Chimichuri marinade (or lamb spice mix sold in the spice section of most supermarkets)

Salt and pepper

For the dressing:

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1-2 tbsp lemon or lime juice

2 tsp Chinese fermented chilli paste (optional)

Marinade the lamb in Chimichuri, lamb spice mix, salt and pepper, making sure you rub it all in thoroughly. Leave for a few hours or overnight ideally.

Next, the garlic potatoes. Slice them thinly then parboil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, lightly saute some garlic, chilli and spring onions in a pan. Take care to do all of this on a medium heat or you’ll burn the garlic!

When it’s softened and the potatoes are parboiled, turn the heat up and add the potatoes. Add them carefully so they don’t break apart, and layer them in one layer. Leave it for a few minutes on each side so the potatoes cook and then crisp. Then turn them over and do the same thing. You may need to do this in two batches. Be really careful adding and then turning the potatoes!

Now, cook the steaks however you want. We have a sandwich toaster which we use for everything from eggs and bacon to steak – and it takes a few minutes for steak! You can cook them in a frying pan or a grill pan or however else you like.

As the steaks cook, cube the mango carefully into bite-sized pieces and add to a large serving bowl with the warm potatoes.

Chop some mint or coriander if you’re using it and add to the bowl with half the salad dressing.

Tear in the head of lettuce, and when the steaks are cooked, slice them into thin pieces and toss with the rest of the salad.

Serve immediately, with warm bread if you have it. Ideally the potatoes and steaks should be fresh out of the pan, with everything else cold – it’s a great combination of temperature and textures!

Enjoy!

Espresso and Ramekins: Exploring Sur la Table

by thefamilyfoodblog

One of my aims in starting this blog was to bring together aspects of food and eating that aren’t usually combined, to create a more complete picture that properly reflects real life. Hence the recipes, restaurant reviews, and exploration of ingredients. Most of the food-related blogs I’d seen focused on either recipes or restaurants, and when tossing around the idea of my own blog, I realized that that just isn’t how I – or most of you, I’m guessing – eat. Those bloggers who post new recipes every day impress me to no end and give me plenty of Pinterest fodder, but when reading their posts, I always wonder: do they ever get bored or tired or simply want to take a break from cooking?

And to the restaurant mavens, I ask: don’t you ever just want a PB&J or some cereal and milk?

So, in keeping with that idea of the “complete food experience,” I thought I’d write about a little shopping I did yesterday afternoon. I was in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of DC and had an hour to kill between my morning dance class and lunch with a friend. Since fancy cooking store* Sur la Table happened to be right between the class and our lunch spot, I decided to stop by. Soon after entering, a sales associate gave me a free cup of coffee in exchange for watching her demonstrate this Nespresso cappuccino maker. As my main purpose in being there was to use up some time, I was happy to oblige.

Um, the coffee was good. More importantly, though, it was HOT. Which meant I was going to stay put in that air-conditioned store for at least twenty minutes, switching that hot cup from hand to hand until it finally cooled enough to drink. And then drinking it.

I decided to spend that time browsing through their dishware and sale section. I’ve sort of been on the hunt for small bowls lately, something the right size for ice cream or dip or a bunch of grapes. Ramekins, I discovered while searching, are another nice option. The biggest difference is that unlike bowls, they don’t have rounded interiors. But in my opinion they more than made up for that in terms of sheer cuteness. Especially the tiny 1 oz ones, which would have made a great casserole dish for Barbie and Ken.

I seriously considered the Nantucket ice cream bowls, but wasn’t able to tell if they were microwave- and dishwasher-safe. By the time I had finished oohing and aahing over those and the adorable mini ramekins, my coffee had cooled to a drinkable temperature. I quickly perused their food offerings (this pancake and waffle mix was tempting) but ultimately didn’t buy anything.

* Technical term. According to popular use, Williams-Sonoma and the Corningware store also fall into this category.