Tag Archives: cheese

Clever Comfort: Stand Up Mac & Cheese

rigatonicakeThis dinner was inspired by Martha Stewart and the need to use stuff up (namely, half a brick of cheddar cheese). A while back, I discovered the rigatoni “cake” at Martha Stewart dot com. The idea was too clever not to try, so I used my own red sauce recipe and followed the assembly instructions successfully. The end result: a delightful looking cake of tall pasta tubes with cheesy topping. Sliced in giant wedges, it just begged for candles and a round of Buon Compleanno. It’s the kind of recipe that delivers . . . provided you are patient and attentive to details.

Tonight, I decided to try a cheesy version. I made two individual portions in a pair of mini-springform pans for dinner and prepared the rest in a smaller baking dish to freeze for later. With a little garnish of bacon and tomato salad on the side, this comforting meal is sure to satisfy. We had some tilapia and white wine to go with. Next time, I think I’ll skip the fish and make a bigger salad.


Standup Mini Mac & Cheese with potato crusted tilapia and salad.

The process might seem complicated, but it’s really easy and fun to do. Kids could definitely help with the recipe, and the results are really special.  Dinner was awesome, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Tips For Success:

  • Rigatoni: Don’t overcook the pasta. To make sure the tubes don’t collapse, boil them approximately 8 minutes so they are slightly underdone. Tossing the noodles with oil and parmesan helps the pasta stick together and stand up in the baking dish. Pack them in the dish gently so the tubes don’t close. Can’t fit all the tubes? Use the leftovers to make tomorrow’s lunch or a midnight snack.
  • Cheese Sauce: The sauce must be thick enough to cling, but thin enough to pour. Inexpensive cheddar, American cheese, or Velveeta will make the creamiest sauce, but many combinations of cheese will work nicely, so there’s a little room to experiment according to your taste.
  • Crust: Fancy Mac & Cheese deserves a delicious crust. Seasoned bread crumbs, cheese, potato chips, cornflakes . . . however you like it. A tasty crust helps protect the pasta ends from hardening during baking. To prevent cheese sauce leaks: sprinkle a little crust mixture on the bottom of the pan before you assemble the pasta.
  • Baking: A springform pan makes the perfect shape and best “cake” presentation, but I’ve also used a rectangular glass baking dish (cut squares for serving).  Put the baking dish on a cookie sheet to prevent spills in the oven. Be sure to let the baked pasta cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Stand Up Mac & Cheese

Mini Mac

Mini Mac

It’s all about the technique . . . and that yummy cheese sauce! I managed to make the sauce in the time it took to boil water and cook the rigatoni. If you aren’t confident about juggling two tasks at once, make the pasta first and assemble it in the baking pans, then focus on the sauce. Use a springform pan for the prettiest results and easy slicing. A regular baking dish with high sides will do, though.

Cook the Pasta

  • Cook 16oz rigatoni (~450g) in boiling salted water about 8 minutes (a little underdone).
  • Drain pasta, rinse briefly in cold water (to stop cooking), and drain well.

Assemble the Pasta:

  • Toss cooled pasta with 1 Tbs olive oil, S&P, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan.
  • Grease a 9″ springform cake pan (or whatever pan you’re using)
  • Arrange the pasta tubes (standing on end) in the baking pan. Tilt the pan slightly as you build the rows of tubes, so they don’t fall over. Pack tightly but gently, so tubes stay open to hold the sauce.

Add The Cheese:

  • Make the Cheesy Bechamel Sauce (recipe below).
  • Spoon the cheese sauce over the pasta, allowing it to run between and into tubes. Don’t worry about completely filling the tubes.

Make The Crust:

  • Combine about 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs with 1 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp paprika, and S&P. Toss with 2 Tbs olive oil and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle topping over rigatoni, pressing into place.
  • Cover the pan with foil (a little olive oil on the foil helps keep it from sticking).
  • NOTE: You can stop at this point and refrigerate or freeze to bake later.

Ready, Set, Bake!

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • Bake 15 minutes, then remove foil.
  • Bake another 10-15 minutes until crust is lightly browned.
  • Let rest at least 15 minutes before serving. Run a knife along the side to loosen pasta, then remove the outer ring of the springform pan and cut in slices.
  • Garnish with real bacon bits and fresh tomato slices.
  • NOTE: If baking from fridge/freezer, use 350° oven and bake ~ 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake (or broil if pasta is well heated) until topping is lightly browned.

Cheesy Bechamel Sauce

Fat plus flour equals a roux, the beginning of any good gravy or thick sauce. Cook and stir, cook and stir. Watch over your sauce as it cooks, and stir constantly.

  • In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 Tbs butter with 1 Tbs olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add 2 Tbs flour and stir a minute or two, then add 2 cups cold milk, stirring briskly to combine.
  • Season with S&P, 1 tsp mustard, a dash of granulated garlic, a little fresh grated nutmeg, and a dash of worchestershire sauce.
  • Stir frequently as the mixture returns to a boil, then lower the heat a bit and cook until it begins to thicken (stir constantly).
  • Cook a few minutes more until it reaches a saucy consistency, then turn off the heat and stir in 2 cups grated cheddar and 1/4 cup grated parmesan until sauce is smooth.

Garlicky Gammon BLT with Havarti Cheese

The BLT on toast with mayo is a classic sandwich, infinately tweakable. This version takes advantage of fresh summer veggies, and the toast and bacon get an upgrade. Creamy Jalapeño Havarti brings everything together with a little kick of spice. There’s mild garlic flavor in the buns, which get a good shmear of garlic butter before being toasted crisp and golden, and a final drizzle of yummy dill and garlic flavoured yogurt dressing instead of mayo. The dressing also makes a nice dip for carrot sticks or chips.

How to Cook Gammon Bacon:

Gammon bacon is not like ordinary bacon. One slice contains two portions: a round piece from the loin (back bacon) attached to a streaky piece from the side, effectively providing two distinct meat experiences.

gammon bacon I separate the loin from the streaky part and pan fry the pieces over medium low heat. The loin piece is quite lean and should be cooked through but remain tender (a minute or two each side, depending on thickness). Cook the streaky parts a bit longer over low heat so the fat renders off and the pieces become crispy. Drain them on paper toweling.

Garlicky Gammon BLT

This recipe makes two sandwiches. One slice of gammon bacon per sandwich is plenty, but for a more generous serving of meat allow two slices per person. I know, you can’t see the bacon in the picture. Really, the bacon is in there; I swear! Fellow Foodie Fotographers: if you have any advice for sandwich posing, I’d love to hear it.

gammon BLT

2 Nature’s Blend Olive Oil & Garlic Buns
Garlic Butter
Handful of baby field greens
Havarti Cheese with Jalapeños
Two slices Gammon bacon, cooked
One heirloom tomato, sliced
Garlicky Dill Dressing

  1. Make Garlic Butter:
    Mix 2T softened butter, 1 garlic clove minced, dash of paprika, S&P.
  2. Make Garlicky Dill Dressing:
    Combine 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/8 tsp granulated garlic, 1/2 tsp dried dill, S&P.
  3. Spread buns with garlic butter. Toast under broiler until golden. Let them cool.
  4. Place sliced Jalapenño Havarti Cheese on the bottom bun, then top with cooked Gammon bacon, baby greens, and tomato slices.
  5. Drizzle with Garlicky Dill Dressing and add the top bun.
  6. Enjoy thoroughly.

Pimento Cheese Burgers with Bacon Studded Slaw

Pimento BurgerGingerman recently expanded our cable services, for which I am truly thankful because now I get the Food Network. The last time I had it was during the second season of The Next Food Network Star when the bold and brash Guy Fieri beat sugar baker Reggie Southerland in the finals. I like both of them, but Guy was totally made for American TV. He now hosts several shows on Food Network including:

I watched an episode of Ultimate Recipe Showdown featuring burgers, and the cooks were really creative. There was a turkey burger, a vietnamese burger, and a unique artery-clogging Croque Monsieur burger, but the winning patty was 74-year-old Harold Cohen’s Southern Pimento Cheese Burger which looked incredibly nummy. Harold made his own slaw and pimento cheese, right there on stage, so I followed his lead and started from scratch.

Osage pimentos Pimentos are the little red bits stuffed in a martini olive. They are slices of sweet, succulent, heart-shaped Cherry Peppers, a type of red bell pepper (Capsicum annuum). The taste is distinctive, and pimento cheese is popular in the Southern US. Homemade pimento cheese is definitely better than that thick orange goo in a jar we used to eat in white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Like the slaw, pimento cheese spread gets better if it rests a while, so I made it ahead of time. It comes down to three simple things: cheese, creaminess, and spice. For authentic taste, be sure to use real pimentos, quality cheddar cheese, and don’t forget the pickle juice! I’m a big fan of sharp old cheddar, but you can use a blend of cheeses if you want (some recipes use Monterey Jack, Colby, or American cheese). There are oodles of recipes out there for Pimento Cheese Spread, so really it’s one of those things you can make to suit yourself.  The peppers and cheese must be the star of the show, but there’s room to experiment. After the mixture sits in the fridge, the flavours get a chance to know each other better. Delicious!

I used a mini-processor to blend everything together coarsely. Add a little extra liquid (milk or water) or a bit more cream cheese make an even smoother puree. Melting the cheese first is another way to create a more homogenized spread, but I like having cheesy bits that can melt on a burger (or under a broiler on toast).

Slaw isn’t something I usually make, but I do like eating it. I wanted mine to be crunchy, tangy, and creamy, with a hint of sweetness. I compared a few recipes and started by sautéing a little bit of minced onion, then mixed that into some honey and apple cider vinegar, a shake of celery seed, mustard, and some mayo. It came together fine and tasted pretty good, but something was missing. I think it needed some lemon to wake up the flavours, plus I discovered I don’t really like celery seed much.

Harold jacked up the meaty flavour in his burger by adding chopped ham to the ground meat and topping it off with bacon. I  just wanted to have a good burger with a whole lotta that cheese spread on it. I figured bacon bits would be awesome in the slaw, though. That turned out to be a good idea, and it kinda made up for the presence of celery seed.

For the burger patties, I mixed up some ground sirloin with a few spices (nothing fancy) and cooked them in a skillet while a couple of buns went under the broiler to toast. When they’re ready, they get a good shmear of homemade pimento cheese spread. Top off the burger with a fair bit of delicious bacon studded coleslaw, add a side of cherry tomatoes, and a sprinkling of Terra Stix for crunch. Yum. Yum yum yum. It was a sloppy delicious mess, and I’d definitely make them again.

Curious Pimento Cheese Spread

  • Pimento Cheese SpreadSmall jar of pimentos with juice
  • 2 TBS minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • Dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce
  • Splash of worchestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs pickle juice (yes, juice from the pickle jar)
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • Canadian cheddar (about 1 1/2 cups grated)

Mix together everything except the cheddar, then fold in the grated cheddar, cover, and let sit in fridge until ready to use. Slather it on burgers, spread it on toast, or dollop some on an omelette.

*Note: The fresh version is really nice on hot foods or as a grilled cheese, but sometimes I make this using powdered onion and garlic instead (1/4 tsp onion powder, 1/8 tsp garlic powder).

Bacon Studded Slaw

Make the Bacon Bits:

Chop 6-8 slices of thick bacon into small pieces. Cook over medium heat until browned and crispy. Drain bits on paper towel.

Mix the dressing:

  • 2 Tbs minced onion, cooked briefly
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 2 Tbs mayo
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • Dash of celery seed (optional)
  • S & P

Toss dressing with:

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • Homemade Bacon Bits