Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leftover Maven: Thanksgiving Leftover Makeovers

Post-thanksgiving is always fun for me. I always like to take leftovers and make them into something new.

Here are some of the things we made from the leftovers of our Thanksgiving menu, in case you're looking for ideas.

Sotanghon (Mung Bean Thread Noodles) with Turkey Gravy, Turkey and Haricots Verts (and, oh yes, Calamansi)

Mung bean thread noodles are a favorite of mine. With them, you can prepare some of the fastest meals ever. You can also buy them in individual bundles, so you can make a little or a lot.

I always soak the noodles in hot water until they're al dente.

With this dish, I took some turkey gravy and thinned it out with a little water (you can also use turkey broth), added the noodles, scallions, leftover haricots verts, and soy sauce. My uncle brought me calamansi, Philippine lemon, from his garden, and it was such a treat to have that instead of lemon to squeeze over the sotanghon! Calamansi tastes like a lemon-orange to me. So delicious.

Curried Turkey Salad with Apples, Raisins, Candied Walnuts on Top of Arugula

My friend Ehryu posted on Facebook the following status: "just made turkey curry salad with celery, apples & raisins. This leftover is goooooood."

When I told her I'd like to put this on the blog, she wrote, "Throw diced turkey, apples, celery, raisins and some chopped scallions in the bowl, mix with some curry powder and mayo and voila! There you have it! Throw some chopped walnuts if you like extra crunch." So that's what I did. I put the turkey salad over some leftover arugula and used leftover candied walnuts.

Craisins would be lovely in this salad as well.

Tukey, Brie, and Cranberry Empanadas

I had brie leftover from my cheese platter, so I added it to the turkey and cranberry sauce to make empanadas from the leftover dough from Sergio's empanadas. These were nice, but the brie almost completely melted away, as it was triple creme brie (the good stuff).

If I were to do this again, I would probably make quesadillas, because they cook faster and the brie won't melt too much.

Serve with extra cranberry sauce to dip.

Sergio's Empanadas alla Mendocina

The day after Thanksgiving last year, Sergio made empanadas from his hometown of Mendoza, Argentina. This year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, he said, "I'd like to make empanadas."

I think we've got a tradition on our hands.

What makes Sergio's empanadas distinctive from the many beef empanadas out there are the onions. You use double the amount of onions as beef. Sergio says this was the way cooks stretched the filling, "el picadillo," when beef was very expensive. Mendoza-style empanadas are also baked, not fried.

In addition to onion and beef, Sergio puts hard-boiled eggs, olives, green and red pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. No potatoes. He did add some raisins, although that's not typical for Mendoza. I think he added those in a nod to my mother and Filipino empanadas, which are the empanadas we're used to.

The filling is cooked before filling the disks of empanada dough, and as Sergio taught me, there must be a lot of fat and juice. With Filipino empanadas, we usually drain the extra liquid, because when you deep fry them, liquid is not your friend. But with baked empanadas, you need the extra liquid to keep the filling juicy and moist.

My nieces joined Sergio to seal the empanadas. With his energy and enthusiasm, Sergio is a lot of fun for adults and kids alike. Cooking with him is very entertaining.

Sergio taught them how to seal the empanadas, a series of pinching and folding over, so it looks like braided rope. I found a video of this technique, called repulgue, here, although Sergio does the technique holding the empanada in both hands which is much faster.

Sergio baked the empanadas until they were a golden brown, and we served them for lunch, along with turkey soup with sotanghon (mung bean thread noodles), siopao (steamed pork buns), fried rice with canadian bacon and eggs, and a green salad.

Gracias, Sergio!

Sergio's Empanadas alla Mendocina
Makes about 25-40 empanadas, depending on how much filling you put in each empanada

1 lb. beef (20% fat)
2 lbs. onion, diced
1/2 cup oil, shortening or lard
1/2 can Goya black olives or 3 oz. olives, diced
2 boiled eggs, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
2 bay leaves

To taste:
Cumin (about 1 tbs.)
Kosher salt and pepper
Paprika (about 2 tbs.)
Oregano (about 1 rounded tsp.)

Goya empanada disks, defrosted (40-50)
A bowl of water
A beaten egg with a little milk and a pastry brush

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil over medium heat and add onions, green and red pepper, and celery. Salt to season the onion mixture and cook until translucent (about ten minutes). Add ground beef, breaking up the beef as you cook and turning and mixing in the onion mixture. While cooking, add your seasonings -- two bay leaves, cumin, salt and pepper, paprika, and oregano -- and olives. When the meat and onion mixture are almost cooked, add diced eggs and raisins. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Do not drain the filling. It needs to have fat to be juicy. Let the filling cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay out a disk and put a tbs. of filling in the center. Dip your finger in the water and wet the outer edge of the empanada. Seal by bringing the edges together and pressing them together, making sure none of the filling is breaking the seal.

Create the decorative edge by following this video. Of if that seems like too much trouble, use a fork to press down the edge, going all the way around until you go from end to end. Place on a baking sheet that's non-stick or is lightly greased. Or you can use Silpats on top of your baking sheets. Continue until you are done.

Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash and put in the oven.

Cook empanadas at 375 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

"The Love of a Family is Life's Greatest Blessing"

I have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving every year. My parents fly in and stay with us during the week. My siblings come in with their families, and my Uncle Pros and his family come. We don't see each other that much, maybe a couple times a year, so it's a real treat to get together.

We fall into our roles. I shop and cook most of the meal. My brother Ed sets the table. My Auntie Nanette always jumps in to wash dishes during the cooking process -- there are always lots of dishes! My mom supervises. My husband and the guys fry the turkeys. My dad always carves.

Then there's the series of horrible jokes from my Dad and Uncle Pros, running political commentary, story after story of our childhood, my nephew Christian who makes us laugh til we cry, and arguing about passages in the Bible. There's a lot of laughing and some yelling.

You know. Family.

This year was a little different, because my sister and family couldn't come (sad), but my older brother and his family came for the first time (happy!).

Brother Ed went about his task of setting the table, not easy in this decoration-less house. Edward always makes the table beautiful, making use of what the trees and bushes have to offer outside.

Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, Turkey So Fine

Then there's the turkey. As long as I've hosted, we've fried the turkeys. Fried turkey is the best! But this year, my husband was ready for a break, so we did something radical -- we roasted it.

The last time I tried to roast a turkey, it was disastrous. I called my Irish-American mother-in-law in a panic ... where to stick the thermometer? She tried to tell us, but we obviously couldn't follow directions. We took the turkey out, thinking it was cooked. It wasn't.


Luckily, we had fried a turkey -- the fried turkey was supposed to be the experimental turkey that year -- so we ate that.

This year, I had the opposite problem. I bought a 20-pounder, and I brined it as usual. I highly recommend brining. I was gleeful, thinking I was going to smoke this big boy over hickory wood on my new obsession, the Big Green Egg.

Alas, it and the roasting pan didn't fit into the Egg.

Plan B was to cook it on the Weber Grill. I figured it would take about 6 hours, so I started the turkey in the oven, using Anne Burrell's roasted turkey recipe. Anne's recipe is delicious, by the way, and the apple cider in her recipe and cooking the turkey at high heat for the first hour made the bird burnished and browned.

Four hours in, I pulled the turkey out and put it on the preheated grill, so I could use my oven for other things. Even though the turkey had one of those popping button things to tell you when it was ready, we decided to stick a thermometer in to check it. My brother actually knew how to use the thermometer on a turkey.

Uh oh.

It registered 170F in the breast. It was done, two hours ahead of schedule. Actually over done. And the popping button thing was still unpopped.

Luckily the brine saved the turkey. It was moist and flavorful if not the juiciest turkey in the world.

Then again, it's hard to beat the juiciness of a fried turkey.


Since we were planning to serve dinner around 6 pm, we had some light lunch fare.

The Italian Wedding Soup was a big hit, such a big hit that I don't have a picture. Italian Wedding Soup is a soup with little meatballs floating merrily in chicken broth, with some kind of green vegetable (I used spinach, but kale and escarole are also used) and sometimes shredded egg.

My mother made this soup the first time she cooked the Thanksgiving meal, when I was in college. We were all pretty sure she was going to mess up Thanksgiving -- I mean, a woman you have never seen cook your whole life is going to cook the biggest meal of the year? -- but that's another story.

It was also good fortune that I made Italian Wedding Soup as my sister-in-law Tina, who is Italian-American, shared with me that her mom makes the soup every year for Thanksgiving.

I also made a Butternut Squash Soup served with pepitas, for the vegetable lovers among us.

In addition to the soups and refreshing clusters of grapes, clementines, and cherries, we had a tray of salami, prosciutto di parma, provolone cheese, and sliced tomatoes lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, served with freshly sliced Tuscan bread. I made the mistake of asking the Italian deli man if I could try samples of the domestic prosciutto ($10/lb.) and the Parma ham ($22/lb.)

Duh. As if there was even going to be a contest.

Finishing up the lineup was an offering of triple creme brie cheese, strawberry rhubarb jam, candied walnuts, and water crackers.

Ah man. Were these good. The creaminess of the cheese, the sweet-tart flavor of the jam, and the crunch of the nuts and crispness of the crackers were irresistible.

I wish I had taken pictures of this lovely spread -- the deep and vibrant red palate of the jam, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes; the pop of orange from the clementines; the creamy whites of the cheeses, bread and crackers, the sugary brown of the walnuts, and the rosy prosciutto and salami. Pretty and a delicious preface to the main event.


I was perfectly on time most of the day. Until the turkey decided to be done two hours early.

Let's say the turkey got a good rest as I finished the rest of the meal, with the help of my sister-in-law who took over the salad, and my older brother who volunteered to make the gravy.

I threw a melange of cubed sweet potatoes, celeriac, carrots, acorn squash, and parsnips which I had tossed in olive oil, shallots, thyme, and salt and pepper to roast at 425F in the oven.

I quickly assembled the stuffing -- cubed Tuscan bread and crumbled cornbread, chicken broth, and a saute of onions, celery, apples, butter, and herbs -- and threw that in another oven.

I boiled the potatoes which Sergio had peeled and cut earlier in the day, and Tina helped mash them while I added a puree of leeks, chicken broth and butter I had made the day before, sour cream, and milk.

While my dad carved the turkey, I quickly made a sauce of shallots, white wine, orange juice, and chicken broth and tossed in haricots verts which I had blanched earlier in the day, to warm through and finish cooking.

Time for Dinner!

Salad of Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Roasted Beets, Arugula & Mesclun with Balsamic Vinaigrette (pictured above in the far left).

Brined, Herbed and Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy

Stuffing with Cornbread, Sausage, and Apples

Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Leeks and Apple Cider Gravy

White Rice, of course.

Sauteed Haricots Verts with Orange Sauce

Not pictured but still yummy:

Cranberry-orange-maple sauce
Roasted root vegetables


The best thing about dessert is I didn't make any!

We had:

Filipino cashew boats, courtesy of my mom who brought them with her

Pumpkin pie and apple pie, courtesty of my older brother
Pecan pie and apple crumble pie, courtesy of my work
Ricotta cheesecake and carrot cake, courtesy of my aunt and uncle

Final Thoughts

While this post is mostly about food -- this is a food blog, after all -- Thanksgiving isn't really about the food. It's about taking the time to reflect about all that we have -- family, friends, a roof over our heads, food to eat, gifts of our hearts and hands to share -- and to open our eyes and take in the great beauty that quietly surrounds us and that we sometimes take for granted. How lucky we are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

2 lbs. cut butternut squash
1/3 cup apple cider or orange juice
4 cups chicken broth (or water)
Kosher salt and pepper
Grated gingerroot (or take a couple slices and throw in)
A sprinkling of cinnamon

Serve plain or with creme fraiche, sauted apples, and/or toasted pepitas

Mashed Potatoes and My Life Story

This is SippitySup's picture of his lovely garlic mashed potatoes. Click here to go to his must-read post on mashed potatoes two ways, simple and sumptuous.

I was catching up on my blog reading and came upon SippitySup's funny post on mashed potatoes. It reminded me of my own childhood experiences of mashed potatoes, which aren't that typical anymore (how the U.S. has changed!), but I think a lot of people can relate to my story. I gave this talk in 2008 on mashed potatoes at my school, and it seems only fitting to share this the week before our U.S. Thanksgiving.


I am here today to talk to you about mashed potatoes, those creamy, steamy mounds of buttery goodness.

My most memorable encounter with mashed potatoes occurred in 1983 at the Thanksgiving table of the Golding Family. At the time, I was a freshman at college.  Laurie Golding was a sophomore transfer student, also in her first year. We met that fall on the field hockey field. We both played defense, I left wing and she a sweeper. We became teammates and good friends.

Since it was too far for me to travel back to my hometown, Laurie kindly invited me to her home to share Thanksgiving with her family.

Before I continue, I need to share a secret with you.

My mother had invested years of her life shoveling good manners into me. She developed in me the deep-seated belief that when I was out of the home, I was representing not only myself but the family.  Generations were relying on me not to deface the family name.

My long-suffering mother, me in the orange dress, and my family

With my ears ringing with my mother’s admonitions and my heart full with an internal promise to be on my best behavior, I and Laurie travelled the winding Mohawk Trail down the Berkshire Mountains, across the width of central Massachusetts to the bustling hamlet of Arlington, MA, home base for Laurie, her family, and her many relatives. This was a rare opportunity to stay in the home of a non-Filipino family. I was not only thankful but a little curious as well.

Imagine this scene. A lace-clad table extended to its full and glorious length, groaning with the weight of a glistening, golden turkey and all the side dishes. The table seemed to go on and on, surrounded by the members of the Golding Clan -- immediate family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and me. Everyone was talking and having a good time.  I was enjoying my foray into the life of another family. In the din of happy conversation and patter, I filled my plate and took my first bites.

Wanting to compliment the cook, I leaned forward so that I could address Laurie's mother from my position near the middle of the table, she at the end.

"Mrs. Golding, these mashed potatoes are delicious."

Encouraged by her smile, I continued.

"What brand are they?"

A flash of bewilderment crossed her face. Thinking she could not hear me amidst the noise, I spoke more loudly.

"What brand are the mashed potatoes? Hungry Jack or Pillsbury?"

At my question, the table chatter seemed to stop mid-conversation. Everyone looked at me and Mrs. Golding.

"Why, they're real, dear."

"Oh," I said, "I didn't know you could make mashed potatoes from real potatoes."

There was a pregnant pause, and then everyone burst out laughing. The thought of an Irish family using potatoes out of a box was unthinkable to them. To me, I knew I had just made a social gaffe of epic proportion and had flushed my family reputation down the proverbial drain.

The only time I had had mashed potatoes in my family before was once a year, at Thanksgiving. As an immigrant family new to this country in the 1960s, we knew little more about potatoes than McDonalds French fries or potatoes cut for stew. But, we knew that mashed potatoes were as American as turkey and apple pie. We saw the ads in the magazines -- every Thanksgiving table had a bowl of mashed potatoes. Every year, we would dutifully go to the grocery store and search the aisles for the box with the picture of the mashed potatoes. At the Enrique Thanksgiving table, the mashed potatoes would inevitably grow cold and congealed as the rice bowl was continually refilled and the platter of pancit was cleaned bare of its soy sauce and lemon scented noodles. The noodles represent long life in the Filipino culture and thus are present at every celebration. But the mashed potatoes, ignored as they were, had a place at the table, a rite of passage for a family of New Americans in the New World.

Pancit Canton

The Golding fiasco wasn't the only incident in my checkered life of bad table etiquette. Years before in 1974, I had made a similar gaffe, buried deep away from my mother and held to light only in the darkened box of the Catholic confessional. A sin? Maybe not, but surely something I thought could land me in purgatory – which is a threatened state of limbo for unrepentant Catholics -- if I didn't confess to the priest what I was shamefully hiding from my mother. In any case, Becky Garling, who was in the 4th grade with me at the Assumption School, and who also lived in my neighborhood, invited me to her house for dinner. This was actually the first time I would go for dinner at a non-Filipino's house. Again, I knew that the FAMILY, in capital letters, was relying on me to honor the family name. I was at the dinner table, and again, I was on the search for something polite to say to Becky's mother, who had just completed her dinner preparations. I scanned the table and its contents -- its plate of baked chicken, bowl of boiled carrots, and a lonely basket of Wonder Bread, sliced white bread that I knew was for lunchbox sandwiches. Something was missing... Aha! Excited with my discovery, I exclaimed to Mrs. Garling in my desire to be helpful with getting everything to the table.

"Where's the rice?"

When I saw the look of dismay cross Mrs. Garling's face -- you see, she had never had a little Filipino girl before to her dinner table – and heard her apologetic response,

“We eat bread, honey,”

my stomach fell to the floor. My poor mother. What would she do, with such a graceless daughter?

What was unthinkable to me at the time was that there could be a dinner without rice. In my house, rice was ever present, always available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, we had our share of Pop Tarts and Captain Crunch for breakfast and we ate the lifeless PB&J or ham and cheese sandwiches for school lunch. Well, at least three of us four children did. My older sister hated these sandwiches so much that she secretly threw them behind the clothes dryer until one day, with a broken dryer on his hands to fix, my dad exposed the hidden graveyard of dozens of crinkled paper bags filled with the remains of long forgotten sandwiches. Sandwiches, frankly, were flat, limp, and uninspired. But a breakfast of rice with eggs and fried Spam or bacon, sprinkled with vinegar? That was food that spoke to the soul. The same for an aromatic lunch of rice, stir fried meat, and vegetables. And dinner? Dinner was sacred. Rice wasn't an option but a must. How could one substitute a couple slices of sad Wonder Bread, I thought, for the life-affirming, fragrant, steamed rice?

Whether at the Golding table or the Garling table, these memories are carved in sharp relief in my mind’s eye, symbolic of the importance of food to culture. Within the United States, there are multitudes of Americans whose American tables celebrate the legacies of their first homelands. Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food for some, mixed with fond memories of family weekday dinners, holidays, and perhaps perfumed with the gratitude of previous generations that were sustained on the humble tuber. For others, it's white rice, not drowned in soy sauce or doused with butter and salt and pepper, but pure grains of pearly, sticky rice. For others, it's corn tortillas, cous cous, pasta, barley, or bread -- all meaningful in their own way, imbued with their own cultural power and memory.

My living as a foreigner in my own land, so to speak -- because I was born here in the United States -- and being a rice eater in a land of mashed potatoes and Wonder Bread -- prepared me for my own experiences abroad, living in Italy and Japan. Fast forward to yet another dinner table in Florence, Italy, in 1986, this time the vinyl-clad table of my Italian host family with my Chevy Chase, MD, born and bred Italian-American roommate, Erica Antonelli. In front of us was a first course of risotto, an Italian rice dish. It was absolutely delicious, creamy and dotted with pinkish morsels of seafood. My roommate inquired what it was, to which our host mother replied, "Polpo." Erica, whose ethnic Italian background was not that helpful to her speaking the language, looked to me for translation. "Octopus," I said helpfully.  Erica leaned forward over her plate and blew like a whale, powerfully evicting the offensive mouthful, sticking out her tongue like it was scalded. I felt sorry for Erica’s mother. As for me, I had already learned my lesson.

I hope that -- as you enter others' homes or countries that are not exactly like yours or as you welcome people from different cultural backgrounds into your home – you will remember that everyone comes to the table, so to speak, with different cultural expectations. What may seem unthinkable to you may be completely normal and even endearing to someone else. All is worth experiencing and celebrating, even with a few social gaffes here and there. I hope that you will appreciate all the world has to offer in terms of food and the cultural power it has, to beckon, evoke, and transform. Hopefully, you will learn to love new flavors, textures, and combinations, and make lasting friendships and memories along the way.

By the way, I now know how to make excellent mashed potatoes. And not out of a box.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Apples

This stuffing has been a mainstay at our Thanksgiving dinner table, along wiith the deep-fried turkey and Mark's pecan pie. If you're near a Stew Leonards (CT/NY) or Whole Foods, the cornbread and the round loaves of white bread with thick crusts (don't get them pre-sliced) work great.

If you want, you can add dried cranberries, cherries, or apricots. You can put toasted nuts in. Stuffing is stuffing, but what makes it nice is the interplay of sweet and savory.

1 lb. sweet italian sausage (buy it not in links if you can)
1 stick butter
Chicken broth (about 3 cans, 2 1/2 cups, or 20 oz.)
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 granny smith apples, cored and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbs rubbed sage, crumbled
1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
Parsley, chopped
1/2-3/4 lb. good bread with crust, cut into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 lb. cornbread, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put cut bread and crumbled cornbread into a large bowl.

Brown sausage, drain, and put in bowl.

Melt butter over medium heat. Add celery and onion and cook til softened. Add apple and cook until softened. Add herbs and mix.

Add veggie mixture to bread and integrate. Add approximately 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth and mix to wet the stuffing.

Cook 30-40 minutes.

Serves 8-11 adults

Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Leeks

The only time I make mashed potatoes is for Thanksgiving. Other than that, I rely on my Irish American mother-in-law to make them when we're over her house for dinner.

12 baking potatoes, skinned and cut into cubes
4 large leeks
2 tbs. butter
1/2 stick butter (optional)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk

Boil potatoes with salt for 15-20 minutes.

Simmer leeks in chicken broth for 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree.

Drain potatoes and put through a ricer or mash. Add leeks, sour cream, butter, and milk, adding the milk slowly so that you don't put too much and then have watery mashed potatoes.

Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Can be reheated in microwave before serving.

What Are You Making for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving 2008

My friend Tania is super organized. She's had her Thanksgiving menu planned for awhile.

I've been super busy at work, but I can't really use that as an excuse.

I always wait until the last minute.

It's more exciting that way. Plus, I'm kind of craving-driven, so how do I know what I'll be craving days from now?

But it's the weekend before Thanksgiving now, and I know I've got to start shopping and cooking for my larger family who starts arriving on Wednesday. We'll have 15 on Thanksgiving Day.

That said, here's my thinking right now. Readers, what are you making or thinking about making? I'm likely to change my mind.

Soup and Salad Lunch
2 soups (which ones do you think I should do?)
Puree of fennel soup served with bacon bits and croutons (make ahead)
Butternut squash soup served with pepitas and crushed amaretto cookies (make ahead)
Italian wedding soup (make ahead)

Foccaccia (make ahead)
Salad of blue cheese, candied walnuts, roasted beets, arugula & mixed greens with champagne vinaigrette.
Small tray of salami, cheese, grapes, clementines, and nuts

Brined and herbed turkey smoked/roasted on the Big Green Egg (defrost in brine on Sunday and Monday, take out of brine Wednesday and leave uncovered in fridge overnight; thinking of using Anne Burrell recipe)
Cranberry-orange-maple sauce (make ahead)
Stuffing with cornbread, sausage, and apples (prep earlier in the week)
Mashed potatoes with sour cream and leeks

White rice
Roasted sweet potatoes, wild mushrooms, and celery root
Sauteed haricots verts or asparagus with orange-balsamic glaze

Pecan pie (make ahead)
Whatever my brothers are bringing.

Friday Supper

Pork tenderloin with fresh herb crust (paste of rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, cayenne and olive oil since I will have these herbs on hand from the turkey) roasted on bed of sliced onions, a couple bay leaves and apple cider at 425 until brown and then 350 until at 149 degrees; sauce made from drippings with apples, dried cherries, and cognac.

Possible Turkey Leftovers
Turkey with black beans and salsa verde
Turkey and shrimp gumbo
Turkey, brie and cranberry phyllo triangles
Turkey soup

What will you make?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Filipino Pork BBQ (Barbikyu)

Crunchy on the outside. Caramelized. Sweet, sour, and salty at the same time. That's Filipino Barbikyu.

Heaven on a stick.

So you say, "Where are the skewers?"

Well, they're here.

But they're not right. And I knew it. But I had people over for dinner, so I bit my tongue (now that's unusual!). And we ate bland, soft skewers that were pale imitations of Filipino BBQ.

I was crushed. These were not the Q I remembered from when I was a kid. My dad would partially freeze pork butt and slice it into thin slivers. Pounds and pounds of pork, as Filipino Q is always party food. We would get a big plastic bag, throw the pork in and then pour in a liter of Seven Up, glugs and glugs of soy sauce, lots of garlic, and lemon juice. After the pork had marinated, a bunch of us would thread the pork on an army's worth of bamboo skewers and then my dad would grill them until they were crunchy and browned.

No matter how much you made, these skewers would fly off the table until there was just a bunch of sticks in the trashcan. You'd have to be careful not to poke yourself with one of those errant sticks when you took out the garbage.

Fellow Pinoys, you know what I mean, don't you?

To get back to my Q predicament, it wasn't my husband's fault that he didn't grill them to crispy goodness. He's not Filipino, so how could he know?

I also didn't have the pork as thin as it could be. I took a shortcut since I didn't have a lot of time. Instead of a pork butt, I bought packages of thin cut pork chops, and my daughter and I pounded them thin, before I sliced them into one inch strips. Good idea except we should have pounded them more until they were 1/3 as thin as the skewered pork in the picture.

Thin means the pork cooks fast and you can cook it over a little higher heat without worrying about burning it to a cinder. Since they were fatter, my hubby cooked them over medium-low heat, which totally makes sense. But then they aren't barbikyu.

After dinner, I unthreaded the leftover pork from the skewers and put them in the fridge, saying a silent apology for their unglamorous appearance on my dinner table and misrepresentation of Filipino food.

The next night, I took the leftover pork,cut them into bite size pieces, and put them in a new small batch of marinade. Then I took them out of the marinade and stir fried them in a skillet until the sugars in the marinade caramelized and the pork took on a beautiful reddish-brown color and were crispy.

Like I remembered, this pork flew off the plate into my daughters' mouths. There wasn't enough to go around.

Now that's Filipino barbikyu.

Cook's Notes:

1) This sauce is based on a ratio 2 parts Seven Up to 1 part each soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, and 1/2 part lemon juice, which means this sauce is a little tilted toward the sweet. If you're a salt or sour lover, then adjust the ratio to up those flavor components. The rest -- garlic, onions, salt and pepper, and any hot sauce -- is to taste. If you don't have fresh garlic and onion, use powdered. If you don't have Seven Up, use Sprite, ginger ale, or some other sweet liquid like apple juice, pear juice, apple cider, or orange juice. No fresh lemon? Use bottled lemon juice or vinegar. No brown sugar? White sugar, honey, agave nectar -- fine. No ketchup? BBQ sauce, hoisin sauce (use 1/2 recommended in ratio) or a little tomato paste (use 1/4 recommended in the ratio) will do. Filipino food is not fussy, and if you go with the idea (sweet, sour, salty), you'll get something good. Of course, no matter what you do, you always want to taste your marinade and adjust it, so the taste is balanced and calibrated to your taste buds.

2) You can substitute chicken thighs for the pork. Instead of skewering, you can cut the meat into thin slices or cubes, marinate, and stir fry as a quick variation. Or just marinate chicken thighs or pork chops, for even less fuss.

3) If you buy a pork butt, partially freeze it so that it's easier to cut. Cut the bigger cut of meat into 1-inch slabs and then cut very thin slices of meat against the grain.

4) What does it mean to cut them thin? I think slices should be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick, but to tell you the truth, I've never measured them before. Other comparisons I could think of are like Philly cheese steak but a tad thicker because you're going to skewer it. Or a little thinner than pre-pressed Gyro meat. Or like thick cut bacon. Next time I make this I'll post a picture, but in the meantime, if you google "Filipino pork skewers" in images, you can see what the skewers might look like.

5) If you're using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for a few hours.

6) When cooking on the grill lay out a piece of foil on the grill, and when you put down the skewers, put the skewer handles above the foil. This will help them not burn.

7) This recipe is scaleable, up or down. Having a big party? Make more. Just cooking for a few people, scale down. No problem.

Filipino Pork BBQ
Serves 8-10
For printable recipe, click here.

3 lbs thin cut center cut pork loin chops, pounded until very thin (between 1/8-1/4 inch) and cut into 1 inch wide slices against the grain (or you can use pork butt, partially frozen for easier cutting, and slice thin)

1 can 7-up (12 oz.)
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup or banana ketchup
6 tbs. lemon juice (about 2 lemons, squeezed)
8 garlic cloves, smashed
4 big scallions, chopped or 1 small-medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
Ground black pepper
If you like spice, add 2 tsp. sriracha hot sauce or more, or 1-2 tbs. Frank's red hot sauce, or any chili sauce or fresh chilis.

Basting sauce:
1/2 cup Seven up
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs. lemon juice

Prepare the pork as noted above. Mix the marinade ingredients together well. Combine the pork and marinade in a Ziploc bag. Seal and put in the fridge for a minimum or four hours, but better yet overnight or up to 2 days.

Soak bamboo skewers in water for a few hours or overnight to avoid burning when cooking.

When getting ready to cook, slide pork onto skewers, putting several pieces on each skewer as fits with room on the bottom to hold the stick.

Barbecue over medium-high heat over hot coals or gas grill until pork is done, basting as necessary to put a nice glaze on the meat. Depending on the thickness of the pork, you can char the meat first and then move it to a cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. Serve with fresh lemon wedges.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Food Blogs and Friends

For picture credit, click here.

I was sitting in a work meeting the other day, and the conversation turned to the downsides of technology. "Kids these days don't know how to really communicate. All they do is use Facebook or text. Why don't they pick up the phone or meet in person?"

I had to disagree. Even though I grew up in the days of dial phones, tvs that had only 4 working channels, and typewriters, I understand that technology can actually build relationships and create friendships one would otherwise never have.

In the early to mid-1990s, I was actively involved in In those days, only people who worked or were affiliated with universities had access to the internet and to the affinity groups that linked people with like interests together.

I became so close to some people in that when I became pregnant with my first child, several people virtually got together and sent me $250 as a baby gift -- big money even by today's standards, given to me by people I had never physically met but who knew me well.

Fast forward thirteen years later to when I started a new culinary adventure, this food blog. Things are way fancier these days, with individual blog templates, pretty photography, and search engines like Google, but behind the newest gizmos and gadgets are people.

And people connect. We become friends. We become involved and invested in each other.

Like when I teared up when reading about Ravenous Couple's engagement. Or reveled in La Table de Nana's idyllic life with her gorgeous grandchildren. Or enjoyed Mid-Autumn festival with Little Teachow. Or checked in on SippitySup who broke his jaw in an over-raucous game with his nephews (can you imagine a food blogger with his jaw wired shut?).

I could go on and on about Aggie, Trissa, Ellie, Zurin, Jackie, Nat and Annie, Mike, and the fantastic food bloggers that I follow.

Talented cooks, yes. But stellar people, even more.

So are food blogs really about food? Maybe. Or maybe they're about sharing the joy of every day moments and what we have in common, no matter where we live, our gender, sexuality, religion, what color we are, how much money we have in our pockets, or whether we're young or old.

As Ravenous Couple's tagline so aptly says, we're "cooking up life."

Amen to that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Filipino Beef Empanadas

I had a leftover baked potato that was sitting in the fridge. What to do?

I'm sure others may have thought of home fries or potato skins, but I thought of Filipino beef empanadas. These turnovers are encased in a flaky pastry dough and filled with a simple filling of beef, potatoes, and raisins. They are normally deep-fried, but they can be baked as well.

I didn't have time to make empanada dough, so I bought pre-made pie dough at the grocery store. It's not perfect, but it's certainly convenient. [Note: go here for a great empanada dough recipe.]

I also decided to bake the empanadas, and I learned something. My recipe below is delicious for frying, but I found the baked version a little dry. Next time around, I will add a little beef broth and a cornstarch slurry to the beef mixture, so the meat is a little juicy but not runny. Juicy is not good for hot oil, but would be favorable in the drying heat of the oven.

Considering that all the empanadas disappeared in a matter of minutes, I suppose I they were still tasty. But, next time, a moist and flavorful filling will be my goal.

I used a 3-inch round cutter, so they were appetizer size -- empanaditas. Use 4- or 5-inch cutters to make regular size empanadas.

Filipino Beef Empanadas
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 medium potato, diced (I had a cooked potato, but you can use a raw one too.)
2 scallions, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Tomato paste or sauce (optional)
Soy sauce
Salt & pepper
2 boxes Pillsbury pie dough (or make your own empanada dough)
3-4 inch round cutters
1 egg, beaten (this is your egg wash)

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add a little oil (about 1 tbs. or more) when hot. Add potato and season with paprika, cumin (just a little cumin as this is not a typical Filipino seasoning), kosher salt and pepper. When lightly browned, set aside. (If your potato is uncooked, add to the skillet and add a little beef broth or water and cook until tender.)

Add a little more oil and a little butter (1 tsp. each) to the skillet and turn heat down to medium. Add garlic and scallion and saute for a few turns of your spoon. Add ground beef and saute until browned. Sprinkle beef with paprika, soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. If you have some tomato sauce or tomato paste, add a spoonful to taste.

Add raisins to your liking and potatoes, and let cook with beef mixture for a couple minutes.

Now taste. Your filling should more intensely flavored than if you were going to eat it alone. Remember that the flavor has to come through with all the pie dough.

If you're going to fry your empanadas, put mixture in a strainer over a bowl and let cool. Don't throw away the strained liquid, because if you want your mixture to be wetter, you can add some the liquid back. If you're going to bake the empanadas, you may not want to strain it at all but keep it juicy.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll the pie pastry and roll a little thinner with a rolling pin to your liking. Cut out rounds (I got 12 rounds out of one pie crust). Fill each empanada with a teaspoon of filling, making sure you have some beef, potatoes, and raisins in the empanada. Encase filling with dough by folding over the dough over the filling and pressing the dough closed at the edges. Take a fork tine and press down along to the edges to seal. Place on a cookie sheet. Repeat with 2nd pie dough sheet.

Brush empanada tops with egg wash. Take a wooden skewer and poke a couple air holes in the tops of the empanadas.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Asian BBQ Shrimp with Asian Slaw

What do you do when you only have an hour to make a dish to take over to a friend's house?


Just kidding. Make Asian BBQ Shrimp like I did.


I was looking forward to going over my friend Claudia's house all week. She lives on the water, and it's beautiful. It was also potluck, so I was thinking about what I could bring over.

Thinking and doing are two different things however.

I had work commitments on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, and thus no time to cook in advance. On Saturday, I also was at work in the morning until 2 pm. I had the wherewithal to take a 2 lb. bag of frozen large shrimp out of the freezer to defrost before I left for work, so when I got home at 3 pm, all I had to do was figure out what to do with them for the 4 pm party.

I decided to make an Asian style marinade with pantry ingredients, including hoisin sauce (Chinese BBQ sauce), soy sauce, and Thai sweet chili sauce. A 15-minute soak in the flavorful marinade and a 2-3 minute sear on a hot skillet made these shrimp a snap to cook.

While the shrimp was marinating, I made a quick Asian slaw out of shredded Napa cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots, which I dressed very lightly with a dressing of rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and Thai sweet chili sauce. I used the slaw as a bed for the grilled shrimp.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the shrimp, which were fine at room temperature, and ate it as a salad. If people chose, they could also take a piece of shrimp from the platter without the slaw and just eat it as a finger food.

Fast. Flavorful. Festive. I would say this dish is BBB-worthy, wouldn't you?

Asian BBQ Shrimp

2 lb. bag of frozen shrimp, large (31-40 per pound), defrosted
2 tbs. soy sauce
3 tbs. hoisin sauce (please use a good Asian brand and not the fake artificial-ingredient laden hoisin sauce in many grocery stores; if you're in the grocery store, read the ingredient list and pick the most natural one if you can't find Koon-Chun, Lee Kum Kee, or Kikkoman)
1 tbs. BBQ sauce (American)
1 tbs. Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tbs. honey
1 tbs. rice wine or sherry
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thinly sliced scallions for garnish

Mix together marinade ingredients. Rinse shrimp in a strainer of any ice residue and put in a bowl. Mix the shrimp with marinade and let marinate 15-30 minutes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a little oil to the skillet and lay shrimp down flat one by one, making sure to leave spaces between the shrimp and not overcrowd the pan (this will allow the shrimp to sear vs. steam). You'll probably have to cook the shrimp in several batches. Cook 1-2 minutes or until top side is getting opaque on the sides and on top and then flip over and cook an additional 1 minute or until opaque all the way through. (Note: you can also skewer these and cook them on the grill or just stir fry them in the marinade.)

Serve hot, room temperature, or cold, as an appetizer or main dish.

Asian Slaw

1 tbs. Asian rice vinegar
1 tbs. sesame oil
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
Ground pepper

2/3 medium Napa cabbage, finely shredded
Shredded carrots as preferred
Shredded red cabbage as preferred

(Other nice ingredients to add to this slaw would be slivered mango, nashi (apple pear), pear, or apple; slivered daikon or jicama; sesame seeds or ground peanuts; slivered chiles etc.)

Mix together dressing ingredients and adjust seasonings, making it sweeter, saltier, or more tangy as you prefer.

Mix together slaw ingredients and lightly dress with dressing. If there's a lot of dressing, strain the extra dressing out, so the slaw stays crisp.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pork Chops with Dried Cherries and Apples

Oh, you're going to like this one. Guaranteed.


If you follow this blog, you know I'm a wing-it kind of cook. I feel more comfortable following my own instincts rather than following recipes. And I like to make use of what's in my fridge and in my pantry.

Today I had my eye on the apples and apple cider we got from an apple picking excursion last month and a bag of dried bing cherries that I picked up from Trader Joes the other week. I also had fresh thyme in the fridge, a can of chicken broth in the pantry, and Courvoisier brandy in my liquor cabinet.

Score. Perfect ingredients for a sauce.

All I needed to do is pick up some pork chops for a perfect fall meal.

Mmm. This was delicious, the pork juicy and meaty and the sauce tart and sweet. To balance off the fruit, I served the pork with sauted shredded brussel sprouts, which are slightly bitter, and pecans which I toasted in a dry skillet and then sauted with a little butter, sugar, and a splash of apple cider. Baked potatoes finished off the meal.

Some of my tips for cooking on the fly which I am teaching to my children:

1) I follow the Asian way of cooking and try to incorporate the different taste sensations into my dish: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, umami. I also think about texture and color, because in addition to taste, texture and eye-appeal are important parts of eating. This dish, with the sides, is firing on all cylinders, which is what makes it so successful.

2) I have some tried and true cooking techniques. One of my favorite techniques whether it's chicken thighs, beef steak, prime rib, or pork chops, is to pat the meat dry, season it (kosher salt and pepper are often all a meat needs), sear the meat on both sides over medium-high heat on the stove top in a oven-proof pan and then stick in the oven to finish cooking. You can choose to finish your meat in the oven "dry," stew it, braise it, or cook it with a little bit of sauce which I what I did here. If you cook it dry, you can serve it dry or serve with a gravy, sauce or salsa. Perfect this technique and you can make hundreds of dishes.

3) This sauce is based on a ratio of 2 parts base (chicken broth/salty), 1 part cider/fruit juice (sweet/sour), 1/2-1 part liquor. The rest -- dried cherries, thyme -- are flavor enhancements. Cook the sauce down by half and thicken; you could add heavy cream to soften the bright flavors, but I would test the cream in a small amount of sauce to make sure it doesn't curdle (milk or half and half will likely curdle because of the acidity, although the thickener may help hold everything together -- I didn't try this, but it's a worthy experiment, don't you think?). If you follow tip #1, you would taste the sauce for balance. If it's too sweet, you'd add vinegar or lemon juice although since I used dried cherries here, they added the needed acidity. It it's too sour, you'd add more sweet (sugar, honey, etc.).

4) If you think in terms of flavor components, it's easy to change this sauce by substituting flavor components. Instead of apple cider, you could use pomegranate juice, orange juice, etc. Instead of dried cherries, you could use cranberries, pomegranates, orange marmalade, oranges, apricots, prunes, raisins. Instead of cognac, use port, rum, red wine, white wine, or nothing if you don't cook with alcohol. For flavor enhancements, onions, garlic, root vegetables, fresh ginger, allspice, cinnamon, coriander, mustard. Just think of what flavors go together and you'll put together a great sauce. If you're not sure what goes together, less is more. Just stick with the barest combinations as they'll still taste good. (A good analogy here is a grilled cheese sandwich. White bread, American cheese slice, and butter is the basic combo, and it tastes good. From there you can could add ham, use brie cheese instead of American, some mustard might be nice, and how about sauted poblanos, etc. You get the idea.)

Do you not want to make a sauce but a glaze? You could either simmer down this sauce until it's glaze-like, or you could just make a whole new combo based on the idea of sweet and sour. So for example, you could take equal parts honey and balsamic vinegar, add enough water or cognac so that you could plump up the dried cherries and simmer on the stove top a few minutes.

You could also easily substitute the protein. Instead of using pork chops, you could use pork scallopine or cook a whole tenderloin. Chicken, turkey, and duck would also work well with a sweet and tangy sauce.

I admit that sometimes I don't get where I want to go with my wing-it cooking, for for the most part, it really works out well. I hope you try this!

Pork Chops with Dried Cherries and Apples

1 14.5 oz. can of chicken broth (College Inn)
3/4 cup brandy (I used Courvoisier cognac)
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup dried Bing cherries (from Trader Joes)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbs. of cornstarch mixed with some water

4 center cut pork chops (little more than 1 inch thick)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Penzey's Bicentennial Rub (optional)

1 apple (Macintosh, Granny Smith, or another good cooking apple), peeled and cored
1 shallot, minced


Combine everything in the sauce but the cornstarch slurry, which you'll add at the end. Bring to a simmer and simmer until it's halved in volume.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dry off pork chops on both sides with paper towels.

Dust generously on both sides with salt, pepper, and Bicentennial Rub (optional).

Heat a large oven-proof skillet (like a 12-inch skillet) over medium-high heat. Sear pork chops on all sides until brown. When seared, set aside.

In the same skillet, add a little oil and butter over medium heat. Add minced shallots and saute for a minute and then add the sliced apples. If the shallots start burning, add the apples sooner. Cook the apples until they're soft and a little browned.

Add about a cup of your simmering sauce to the skillet with some of the cherries. Add back the pork on top of the apples and sauce.

Stick in the oven and cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 149 degrees (use a thermometer and stick it into the center of the pork to check the temperature). This will take around 20-30 minutes, depending on how thick the pork is and how long you had it over heat when you browned the pork.

When the pork is done, put on a platter, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Pour the apples, cherries and sauce from the skillet to the sauce in the saucepan and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thicken up the sauce by adding a little cornstarch slurry. Stir and when the sauce comes up to a simmer, see how thick it is. If you want it a little thicker, add more of the slurry.

Pour finished sauce over pork, top with a little fresh thyme or parsley and serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Please Support Your Local Food Bank Today

The call from the Food Bank to our director of community affairs was heart-wrenching: "I'm calling you on my knees," the executive director said, "we are desperate. Please can you do a food drive for us?"

Our school responded immediately to the pressing need in our community with an all-school, one day food drive, which was very successful. In 24 hours, the school gathered and donated almost 2 tons of non-perishable food items to the food bank.

To my fellow food bloggers and readers, I ask you to consider what you can do today to help with hunger in your community. Make a donation. Write a story on your blog. Email your friends and family. Get your school or workplace to run a food drive. Ask for donations to the food bank instead of holiday gifts.

As Ben Franklin said, “The good an individual can do is insignificant compared to the collective good a group can do.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce and Parmesan Shards

I bought a spaghetti squash for the first time. My sister-in-law Tina told me a long time ago that this was a great, healthy substitute for using pasta, and today was my day to try it.

The prep is simple. Basically you cook it, either in the microwave or in the oven (or both, as I did), until it's soft, and you shred it with a fork. Serve with flavorings and/or sauce of your choice.

The squash was so hard that I found it difficult to cut in half. To get around that, I poked holes in the squash with a metal skewer and microwaved it on a plate for 5 minutes on high, so that it would soften a little.

I let it cool for a few minutes, cut it in half, brushed it generously with olive oil, and roasted it at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes until it was soft.

I shredded it, salted and peppered it, and served it with marinara sauce and big shavings of parmesan. It was absolutely delicious.

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce and Parmesan Shards

1 spaghetti squash
Olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed

Finely chopped scallions
Salt and pepper
Parmesan shavings
Marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

While oven is heating, poke squash with a metal skewer several times to create steam holes. Put on a plate and cook on high in the microwave for 6 minutes.

Take it out of the microwave and let it cool a few minutes. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Brush the cut sides generously with olive oil. Rub the cut sides with the smashed garlic, drop the garlic into each half and put a pat of butter on top of each garlic.

Put cut sides up on a cookie sheet and into the oven. Roast until the squash is soft and easily shreds with a fork lengthwise, 30 to 50 minutes depending on the size of the squash. Squash will also be lightly browned on the edges.

Shred squash and put in a serving bowl. Remove large garlic pieces and discard. Salt and pepper to taste. Add sliced scallions and parmesan. Serve with marinara sauce on the side.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baked Macaroni & Cheese

I grew up eating Filipino food or processed foods like Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee and hot dogs. When I left my parents' house, I knew how to make fried rice and bistek, but had no idea how to roast a chicken or make gravy.

My mother-in-law taught me how to make gravy by eye. She would mix flour into the drippings in the roasting pan, cook it for a few minutes over medium heat on the stovetop, and then slowly add broth or water until it became a luscious sauce.

Essentially she taught me how to make a roux (a mixture of equal amounts of oil and flour) and then add liquid to make a sauce.

I translated her cooking into a formula I would never forget: 1/4 cup fat, 1/4 cup flour, 2 cups liquid = sauce. You can make a gravy, wine, or milk-based sauce out with these proportions. You can go up or down in size. Once you know the ratio, you're good.

I taught this formula to my daughter, Christina, who wanted to make mac and cheese. Whether she's making a little or a lot of pasta, she gets it: cook equal amounts of melted butter (fat) and flour together over medium heat for a few minutes until the floury taste is cooked out. Add milk (slowly) until it's incorporated. Add seasonings like mustard, paprika, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Add cheese until it's cheesy. If it's too thick, add a little more milk. Add pasta, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Tonight, we decided to try making a mac and cheese and sticking it in the oven. We thought it might need a little more liquid because of the extra cooking time in the oven, so we added 3 cups of liquid instead of the normal 2 cups.

Regarding cheese, we're not purists. We use whatever's in the house. This time around, we had shredded mozzarella, a part of a block of cheddar cheese, Kraft American cheese slices, and parmesan cheese.

It was delicious! Christina loved the addition of the buttered panko topping to her usual stovetop mac and cheese. We served it with the best braised short ribs ever. My husband, who doesn't normally eat carbs, had two helping of this irresistible and classic American favorite.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups (skim) milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
A couple dashes worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
12 ounces sharp cheddar or other cheeses, shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta in heavily salted, boiling water until al dente, as directed on the pasta box. When done, drain (don't rinse), set aside in a medium casserole dish, and toss with a little butter, so the pasta doesn't stick together.

Melt 3 tbs. butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add flour and mix into the butter with a whisk. Cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat to cook the floury taste out.

Increase heat to medium and slowly add milk a little at a time, whisking to incorporate. Go slowly, adding 1/4 cup at a time at first, whisking continuously, and then 1/2 a cup at a time, so that the flour has a chance to absorb the liquid and your sauce will be smooth.

Add paprika, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in cheeses. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Add pasta to the sauce and mix together. It should be saucy. Add the pasta and sauce to the casserole dish.

Melt a tbs. of butter in the microwave in a bowl. Add panko breadcrumbs and stir until coated. Spread panko mixture evenly over pasta.

Cook in the oven for 30 minutes or until it's browned on top and bubbling on the edges. If it's bubbling but not fully browned, you can put the dish under the broiler to quickly brown the top.