Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mac and Cheese

Who doesn't love mac and cheese?!?  Pasta is not typically my thing, but mac and cheese definitely is.  If you're going to eat something super carby, better make sure it's super delicious.  Don't sub out the Gruyere for another kind of cheese; it's key.  Buy it at Trader Joe's so it's not quite so expensive.  Also, I like how pretty the tomatoes look on top.  Also, the bread crumbs give it just a little crunch which is a nice touch.

Warning:  This makes A LOT.  Ina says 6-8 servings, but those would be pretty hefty portions.  I only make this when I know there will be people, other than just me, to eat it.     

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water.

Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it.

Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour.

Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.

While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.

Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Add the cooked macaroni and stir well.

Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

NOTE:  You can make this ahead and wait to add the tomatoes and bread crumbs.  If you're going this route, increase the baking time to 40-50 minutes. 

Source:  Ina Garten, again. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

And now, for the last, but still very important, part of Cafe Rio style meals:  Creamy Tomatillo Dressing! 


  • 3 tomatillos, cut into quarters
  • 1 package ranch buttermilk dressing mix
  • 1/3 cup mayo
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves (leaves, stems, the whole lot)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or chili powder for milder flavor)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix well. 

Chill in fridge for 1 hour prior to serving. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

I've mentioned my love of Cafe Rio before.  This probably won't be the last time I talk about it.  I made a modified version tonight which included my three favorite Cafe Rio elements:  cilantro lime rice, creamy tomatillo dressing, and the sweet pork.  We had burrito bowls that went something like this from bottom to top:  rice, black beans, pork, pico de gallo, tomatillo dressing, and cotija cheese.  It was pretty much amazing, if I do say so myself.  These flavors create a taste sensation.  I'm so happy I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Coming soon . . . recipe for creamy tomatillo dressing

 (Serves 12-15 people)
  • 7-8 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder (use a 3-4 pound roast if you're not making it for a big crowd)
  • 4 cups root beer
  • 4 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 4 tablespoons molasses or honey
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 teaspoons cumin

NOTE:  The above makes A LOT of sauce.  If you're using a small roast, half the sauce.  Or, you can freeze the extra.  I did that this last time and it made things a little quicker and easier. 
Salt and pepper the pork and cook in crock pot 8 hours or overnight on low in a small amount of water.
In the morning remove the roast from the crockpot and pull apart with fork, removing fat. (This is not my favorite part, but well worth it in the end.) 
NOTE:  Do not overshred the pork or it will turn mushy. 
Drain all the water from the crockpot. 
Mix rootbeer, tomato sauce, honey, garlic, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cumin in a bowl and then add it to the crockpot with the shredded pork. 
Cook another 3-4 hours in crockpot on low. (If you don't have this long, an hour or two will do.) 
Serve in a Cafe Rio salad or in burritos or tacos.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Steak with Tomato and Cilantro Sauce

I really hate when you get home only to find that you've bought Italian parsley instead of cilantro.  Especially when you bought organic.  UGH.  One just can't be subbed for the other.  Especially when you love cilantro as much as I do.  

The good news was that this was easy and quick and delicious.  I'm not one to just make a steak (sometimes meat intimidates me), which made me even more pleased with the results.  Super simple ingredients and super fast.  It's a winner, people.  Make it.  You won't be sorry.   

NOTE:  The recipe suggested cutting this up and serving it in warm tortillas.  I had it sans tortillas and it was perfect. 

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 1 1/4-pound top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 pound plum tomatoes, seeded, diced (I used grape tomatoes, halved)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Rub cumin and chili powder onto both sides of steak, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add steak to skillet and sauté until cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Transfer steak to plate.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet.
Add garlic and stir 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and cilantro. Cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cut steak crosswise into thin slices.
Mix any steak juices into sauce. Spoon sauce over steak.

Source:  Epicurious

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lemon Chicken & Peanut Sauce

I love, love, love these two dishes.  They are so good together.  They are pretty easy and so flavorful.  A super bonus is that the peanut sauce is good for a MONTH in the fridge.  I love that.  Once again, we have Ina to thank for two fabulous recipes.  What would we do without her?   
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • chicken tenderloins

Place lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic in gallon-sized Ziploc bag.

Add chicken and toss in bag to coat evenly. 

Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

Grill the chicken on each side, until just cooked through.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2/3 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk in the vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, and lime juice

Cook for 1 more minute.

Cool and use as a dip for Grilled Lemon Chicken skewers.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Source:  slightly modified from Ina Garten.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Coconut Thai Rice

I made this rice to go along with lemon chicken and peanut sauce.  The flavor is subtle, but yum-o.  The coconut milk is key.  They sell it at Trader Joe's.  I feel like I should get some sort of cut for promoting TJ's so often. 

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 1/2 cup Jasmine rice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 cups coconut milk (1 can)
  • handful of chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • juice and zest of 1 lime

Cook garlic and onion in butter.

Add rice and brown. 

Add chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro, salt, and lime juice and zest.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer Berry Crisp

One of my co-workers, Suzanne, is a fellow food lover and often passes along recipes.  I love it because she's usually already tested the recipe and includes tips.  Thanks Suzanne!
This is a goodie and perfect for this time of year.  When she made it she used all blackberries and raved about the results.  I followed the recipe and used the three different berries only because I didn't have a good spot for blackberry picking.  It was delicious, but I will, at some point, try the straight blackberry version.  Also, this makes for a great breakfast the day after!   


  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Crisp topping:
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Gently combine the berries with the sugar, flour and cinnamon; place in the baking dish.
NOTE:  Use something that is deep enough that the crisp won't bubble over like a 9 inch square pyrex.  You could also make individual servings in ramekins.
Prepare the topping: Combine the oats, flour, both sugars and salt in a bowl.
Add melted butter until topping resembles coarse meal.
Sprinkle evenly over the berries.
Place the baking dish on a baking sheet.
Bake in the center of the oven until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 45 mintues to 1 hour.
Serve in dessert bowls with vanilla ice cream.
Source:  Epicurious
Oh, and there were leftover berries and my friend had brought me an amazing loaf of homemade French bread so I made this French toast the next day.  Thanks for the delicious bread, Kelly!! 


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Garlic Green Beans

There's a fantastic dumpling house in Bellevue called Din Tai Fung.  They have the best garlic green beans.  These are pretty close.  I like to go heavy on the garlic.  Blanching the beans keeps them crisp.
  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, both ends removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves, minced (depending on how strong you'd like them)
  • freshly ground black pepper

    Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 90 seconds.
    Drain immediately and immerse in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
    When they are cool, drain and set aside.

    Heat the butter and olive oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat and cook the garlic for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned.

    Add the string beans, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss together.

    Source:  Ina and the Food Network

    Carne Asada

    This marinade is perfect for steak tacos.  Set some aside before marinating the meat (or make extra) so you have some to drizzle on top of the tacos.  YUM!

  • 2 pounds flank or skirt steak
  • corn tortillas
  • shredded Jack cheese, for serving
  • Pico de Gallo, for serving

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

    Place garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse a few times.
    Add lime juice, orange juice, and white vinegar. 
    With the food processor running add the olive oil. 
    Pour marinade in a plastic bag with steak and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1-8 hours.
    NOTE:  Do not marinate longer than 8 hours or the meat will become mushy. 
    Cook steak on an outdoor grill or a ridged grill pan over medium-high flame (you can also use a broiler).
    Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking.
    Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper.
    Grill (or broil) the steak for 7 to 10 minutes per side, turning once, until medium-rare.
    Remove the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle.
    Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal.
    Source:  Tyler Florence

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Chocolate Molten Cakes

    I love these molten cakes because they are oozy and rich, but not too rich.  Vanilla ice cream is a must!  You want the center to be runny, hence the name molten cake.  The trickiest part is getting them out of the ramekins.  Use a small knife to loosen the cake from the dish.  Try to scoop to the bottom as much as possible otherwise they tend to get stuck.
    NOTE:  These can be made one day ahead.  Cover and chill until ready to bake. 

    • 5 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
    • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 3 large eggs
    • 3 large egg yolks
    • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/2 cup all purpose flour

    Preheat oven to 450°F.
    Butter six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups. (Lay the butter on pretty thick so they don't stick!)
    Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted.
    Cool slightly.
    Whisk eggs and egg yolks in large bowl to blend.
    Whisk in sugar, then chocolate mixture and flour.
    Pour batter into dishes, dividing equally. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

    Bake cakes until sides are set but center remains soft and runny, about 11 minutes or up to 14 minutes for batter that was refrigerated.

    NOTE:  When refrigerated, I find that they need more like 16-18 minutes. 
    Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Immediately turn cakes out onto plates.
    Serve with ice cream.

    Source:  Epicurious

    Wednesday, September 5, 2012

    Cilantro Lime Rice

    My last month of college I budgeted a pretty hefty sum of money to eat at Cafe Rio, a fresh-Mex-ish restaurant in Utah that is better than the average fresh Mex.  When I visit Utah, my plans usually revolve around when I can eat there.  Sometimes I dream about it.  My sister and I have talked about a 6 hour road trip to eastern Washington to visit a new location there.  It's that important and that good. 

    There are lots of copy-cat recipes out there, but this is my fave for the rice.  It is served at the bottom of a Cafe Rio salad and topped with many other delicious things that I will post at some later date.  I also like this as a side dish for anything Mexican. 

    I used Basmati rice this time because it is what I had.  It tasted great!  I also made it the night before and reheated it on the stove.  I added some chicken stock so that it wouldn't be too dry.  It was de-lish!

    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1 ¼ cup uncooked white rice
    • juice and zest of 2 limes
    • 2 ¼ cups chicken broth
    • 2 tablespoons (or more) finely chopped cilantro
    • ¾ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon cumin
    • pepper to taste

    In a skillet melt butter with rice.
    Add the chicken broth and the rest of the ingredients.
    Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Nanaimo Bars

    I rediscovered these a few years ago.  My mom made them growing up and my dad repeatedly tells the story of how he ate half a pan of them as a kid and now can't go near them.  I, however, can go near them.  They are pretty much to.die.for. There's butter in all three layers.  They are rich and sweet and go down nicely with a glass of milk.  This recipe makes a 9 x 13 pan, but they are pretty thick so I cut them fairly small so they go a long way.  Share with friends and/or co-workers and they will love you forever. 

    I cut these ones even smaller than normal and put lettering on them for a baby shower a while back. 


    Bottom Layer:
    • 1 cup butter
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2/3 cup cocoa
    • 2 eggs, well beaten
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 4 cups graham cracker crumbs (one 14.4 ounce box)
    • 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes 
    • 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped (Use a food processor if you have one.)
    Melt butter, sugar, and cocoa in a bowl set over hot water on medium heat or in a double boiler.  Mix well.   

    Remove from heat and add eggs and vanilla.   
    Place graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts in a large bowl.

    Add cocoa/butter mixture and mix well. 

    Line 9 x 13 pan with parchment with handles hanging over the edge.  This makes removing the bars MUCH easier when they're done. 

    It should look something like this:


    Press firmly into a 9 x 13 pan using your fingers and/or a tart tamper.
    Place in refrigerator while mixing the next layer.

    Second Layer:
    • 1 cup butter
    • 4 tablespoons custard powder
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    • 2 tablespoons milk

    Cream butter and custard powder.

    Add powdered sugar a little at a time. 

    Add milk and beat until light and creamy.

    Spread on top of bottom layer.

    Place in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

    NOTE:  Scrape the bowl well a time or two while you're mixing this layer. 

    Top Layer:
    • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
    • 4 tablespoons butter

    Melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over hot water on medium heat or in a double boiler.

    Mix well and spread on top.

    Chill in refrigerator.

    NOTE:  I think these taste better at room temperature, but I still keep them in the refrigerator until it's time to serve them.  Let them sit out for a bit before eating. 

    Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

    I loved my children's literature class in college. Not surprising since this has become one of my passions as a teacher.  My professor was inspiring and fun.  He wanted us to develop our own love of reading so that we could model it for our students.  One day towards the end of the semester, his wife brought us cookies and milk and shared this recipe with us. 

    I really love that these have Rice Krispies in them.  The texture is so great.  This last time I made them I used Trader Joe's mini peanut butter cups instead of chocolate chips and they were amazing. 

    WARNING:  Do not over bake.  Cookies, in my opinion, should never be crunchy.  It's okay if they look a little gooey when you take them out of the oven.  Leave them on the pan for a bit and they will continue to cook and be soft and chewy and delicious.       

    • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 1 cup white sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 cups oats
    • 2 cups Rice Krispies
    • 12 ounces chocolate chips

    Cream butter and sugars. 

    Add eggs and vanilla and continue to mix.

    Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

    Add oats and Rice Krispies and mix well.

    Add chocolate chips. 

    Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.