Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mac 'N Cheese

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I stared curiously at the box of Velveeta giving me sexy little winks and putting out that "come hither" vibe on me. But it was just sitting there all warm on the grocery store shelf....the non-refrigerated shelf! And so sadly, I could not bring myself to put that box of "cheese" in my cart. I know, I know...I've heard all the dirty little secrets about how it makes your mac 'n cheese oh so creamy. Just add a few other gourmet cheeses and nobody will know. And yet, I still could not do it. Does that make me a snob??? I hope not.

Instead, I compromised with a little cream cheese, and kicked it up (sorry, I don't really like Emeril but sometimes you just need to kick things up) with some cayenne and basil. Yum! This is comfort food at it's finest and even when it's 70 degrees in February, you gotta love it.

Mac 'N Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni or other pasta
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 t. powdered mustard
3 cups milk (I used 1%)
1 T. grated onion
1/8 t. cayenne
1 egg
2 T. chopped basil
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 package cream cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Stir in the milk, onion, and cayenne, whisking so no lumps form. Simmer for about ten minutes until thickened up a bit.

Temper the egg and add back to the mixture. Stir in cheeses and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Pesto Cheesecake

I had this at my friend Cathy's Christmas party and loved it so much that I tracked the baker down for the recipe. I'm not sure that "cheesecake" is the right term for a savory dish like this, but whatever the name, I'm digging it bigtime. I suggest reading the entire recipe before starting.

Pesto Cheesecake courtesy of Rebecca A.

¼ C bread crumbs
2 T grated parmesan cheese

2 – 8oz packages cream cheese
1 C ricotta cheese
½ C grated parmesan cheese
½ t salt
1/8 t cayenne
3 large eggs
½ C pesto sauce
1/3 C pine nuts
2- 3 T. Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350. The instructions call for a 9 in springform pan but you can use a pie dish that is about 10 inches in diameter. Rub butter over sides and bottom of the pan and sprinkle with about 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese.

Filling - With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, salt and cayenne until well blended then add eggs one at a time, beating well. Transfer half the cheese mixture into a separate bowl and mix the pesto into one of the portions of cheese. Spoon the pesto cheese mixture into the pan, sprinkle with 1 T. bread crumbs, then add the plain cheese mixture on top and smooth gently. (I added too much breadcrumbs in the want the layers distinct, but my sprinkling of bread crumbs was so thick that the layers came apart too easy when cutting into it). Sprinkle pine nuts over the top and add the rest of the bread crumbs.

Bake for about 45 minutes or more until the center doesn't jiggle and it is lightly browned. It will puff up slightly and then fall back when cooled. Garnish with springs of basil.

Cut into small wedges for easy serving. Crackers would be great alongside.