Macaroni & Cheese 2.0

Macaroni & cheese is probably one of the ultimate comfort foods.  I know it is for me.  There is nothing better on a cool & damp day than a big bowl of macaroni & cheese.  I believe it to be the ultimate comfort food so much so that I have already shared this recipe, about 4 years ago, not long after I started this blog.  It may actually have been the first recipe I shared since my family has loved it for years (I am not even sure where the recipe came from anymore though… I think it may be from a leaflet a food company put out).  But here I am, once again writing about macaroni & cheese…. I guess it has that kind of pull over me.  This time though, I suppose we could call it Macaroni & Cheese 2.0.  My children, as most kids, also love macaroni & cheese.  Little S loves any kind of pasta really… & she loves cheese, so pasta & cheese, it’s a winning combination for us!

This isn’t just my standard recipe for macaroni & cheese rehashed though.  It’s for macaroni & cheese with hidden cauliflower & squash, a macaroni & cheese that Little S loves.  In fact, I even made it with quinoa noodles & still, she gobbled it up.  It would seem that with her as long as I start with something she likes I can hide pretty much anything in it.

When sitting down to write this it became apparent to me that I watch FAR TOO MUCH Bubble Guppies. If you’re unfamiliar with Bubble Guppies, you likely don’t have young children… if you did, you would know. My girls have loved Bubble Guppies since they were about six months old.  It’s almost an obsession, really, but if they are fussy I can put on Bubble Guppies & all will be good.  bubble guppies 3Bubble Guppies is a show about 6 fish children – Molly, Gil, Deema, Goby, Oona & Nonny – and their teacher Mister Grouper & all of the adventures they have at school.  They learn about everything under the sea (my pun) & sing & dance along the way.  In every episode at lunch time there is a lunch pun/joke when the kids open their lunch boxes.  Often it is Nonny who comes out with the lunch joke, but not always.  I will admit many of the jokes make me groan but I still remember them! truck a roni & cheeseWhile thinking of Marconi & Cheese, Nonny’s lunch puns kept popping into my head… mac-a-pony & cheese, truck-a-roni & cheese, track-a-roni & cheese, macaroni & trees, kanga-roni & cheese… I could go on but I won’t.  Clearly I watch this show way too much.

But I digress, this post isn’t about Bubble Guppies, although I probably know enough about them that I could write about them.  So, back to macaroni & cheese.  Once again, the idea to add veggie puree came from Deceptively Delicious but I wasn’t sure about the recipe.  I knew the recipe my family has used for years was good & there was no reason why I couldn’t just add the veggies to that.  Deceptively Delicious suggests adding cauliflower or squash puree to the cheese sauce, I added both!  The trick to hiding veggies is not adding too much thus making them “detectable!”  But I was pretty sure that I could add both squash & cauliflower to this cheese sauce & my girls would be none the wiser… I was right!

This time when I made the mac & cheese for the girls I decided to up the health factor even more besides just adding veggies.  I also used Quinoa noodles.

My girls eat these noodles plain all the time & love them so I figured why not add them to the cheesy goodness!  I cook my noodles while also making the sauce (I’m always multi-tasking these days) & this recipe can come together fairly quickly.  If using quinoa noodles for the first time, know that they cook faster than regular pasta.  I find these noodles are usually done in about 7 minutes but be sure not to overcook them because they just turn to mush.  I also find the quinoa noodles don’t bulk up as much as regular noodles so you may actually want to cook a little more than what the recipe suggests.  If you don’t, you may find yourself with too much cheese sauce (though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like it really cheesy).IMG_3256

While your noodles are cooking, you’ll want to start the cheese sauce.  If you don’t have shredded cheese on hand, shred some first.  Lately, I’ve been buying shredded cheese a lot, despite the extra expense, just because it’s faster & easier with two little girls running around.  I like to have everything ready & close at hand before starting the cheese sauce as it needs to be constantly stirred.  So, add the butter to the pan & let’s get this show on the road.  Once melted, stir in the flour & seasonings & blend well.  Add the milk, stirring constantly until thickened.  The higher you have the heat, the faster it will thicken but you have to watch it closely so as not to burn your milk & ruin your sauce.  Once thickened, add cheese, cauliflower puree & squash puree.

The cauliflower disappears right away & the squash simply gives your cheese sauce a nice orange colour.  I had both cauliflower & squash puree in the freezer this time, which meant I didn’t have to spend the extra time making purees first (I was able to pull the mac & cheese together in just a little more than half an hour).  Freezing the puree in quarter to half cup portions in Ziploc bags means that it only takes a few minutes to defrost in a sink full of water.IMG_3252

Once you have added your puree, the cheese sauce is finished & you are one step closer to delicious homemade mac & cheese.  Mix the sauce with the noodles & pour into a greased baking dish.  Mix up the bread crumb & Parmesan topping & spread over noodles.

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At this point you can put this dish right into the oven to heat if it’s close to dinnertime.  Or, you can cover it & put in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.  I often do all of my meal prep in the mornings while my girls are napping, so at this point it’s usually off to the fridge for my mac & cheese.  When you’re ready, bake for around half an hour until the top is golden & it’s heated through.  Serve & enjoy!

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Now, my mac & cheese is probably not as healthy as the recipe in Deceptively Delicious even if I did make it with quinoa noodles & two purees instead of just one.  My recipe has the crumb topping as well which the other does not.  But I can guarantee that mine tastes good, real good.  As I previously mentioned, even my picky Miss S gobbles this up, just like she did before I started adding veggie purees! IMG_3260 For this, I am thankful.  As she becomes increasingly picky I fear this might be the only thing I’ll be able to get her to eat.  And if that’s the case, then I will likely always have Nonny’s lunch puns about macaroni & cheese in my head! I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

Macaroni & Cheese 2.0

2 cups macaroni (or other pasta – this time quinoa)

3 tbsp. butter

3 tbsp. flour

Nutmeg & pepper to taste

2 cups milk

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup squash puree

1/2 cup cauliflower puree

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1 tbsp. butter

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare macaroni as package directs & drain.  In large saucepan melt butter, add flour & seasonings & blend well over low heat.  Add milk & cook, stirring constantly until thickened.  Add cheddar cheese, squash and/or cauliflower puree & stir until smooth.  Remove from heat, add sauce to macaroni (or vice versa) & stir well.  Pour into well greased baking dish.  Top with mixture of bread crumbs, buter & Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until top is golden & heated through.

 

 

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The City of 88 Beautiful Canals – Amsterdam

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything that you’ve probably forgotten who I am… or thought I had dropped off the face of the earth.  But I didn’t.  I’m still here.  I’ve just been suffering from a severe lack of motivation, not only for writing but for most things in general.  Yes, I have been in a slump.  You could call it the February Blues but I’ve been like this for some time.  I’ve also had boarders for the last six months which left me with considerably less spare time than normal but that wasn’t a bad thing… I’m certainly not complaining about having people around!

In the last couple of weeks, however, I have felt better… & of course, a vacation always does wonders for curing a case of the winter blahs.  While there were days I wished we were somewhere warm & on a beach, our trip to Amsterdam, the city of 88 beautiful canals, was wonderful despite the wintery weather.

DSC_0044Upon hearing the words canals & city in the same sentence, most people tend to think Venice, Italy, & until our trip to Amsterdam, I was no different.  I had no idea there were so many canals in Amsterdam, 165 to be exact (iamsterdam.com).  Nor did I realize that nearly 26% of the country is below sea level (www.holland.com) & that the highest point in the Netherlands is only 323 meters above sea level.  I guess the country is aptly named since Netherlands literally means lowlands or low country.  But wait, I was talking about canals, wasn’t I?DSC_0056You are probably wondering why the title of this post is The City of 88 Beautiful Canals & yet I just told you there were 165 canals in Amsterdam.  I will freely admit that math has never been my strong suit but there are no mathematical errors here.  88 Beautiful Canals refers to a Dutch tongue twister we heard while on a bus trip outside of Amsterdam.DSC_0410The Dutch sentence reads something like this: Wij smachten naar achtentachtig prachtige nachten bij achtentachtig prachtige grachten. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/yoursay/tongue_twisters/dutch/beautiful_nights_beautiful_canals.shtml)

The English translation: We long for 88 beautiful nights by 88 beautiful canals.DSC_0062-3Having heard this sentence spoken in Dutch, I can assure you that it is quite the tongue twister.  And needless to say, Colin & I did not master the Dutch pronunciation.  But it seemed like a fitting title for this post, as there are many beautiful canals in Amsterdam as you can see from my photos.DSC_0144Okay, so back to the trip.  Colin had to go for work…& I was tagging along.  His job is so much more exciting than mine… I never get to go anywhere exotic when my job requires me to travel.  Yet in the past six months alone, Colin has now been to Hamburg, Germany & Amsterdam, Netherlands for work…  Sigh…  At least this time I was able to go as well.  When we were first discussing it Colin was kind of hesitant but I quickly told him how it would turn out.  I could not go with him, but I would be upset & bitter that he was going to Europe again without me & it really wouldn’t be much fun for him!  I couldn’t help it.  I was going through Europe withdrawal.  While I was in university I had somehow managed to travel to Europe in 2001, 2003, 2004 & 2007… which meant it had been over 5 years since my last European adventure.  Now, my  husband is a smart man so it was quickly decided that I would indeed be going with him!  He had not been thrilled by his first European experience but I assured him that Amsterdam would be so much better merely because I would be there!  (Hopefully, I was right!).DSC_0212One of the great things about traveling to Amsterdam is how easy it is to get around, as it is in many other large European centers.  We flew into Schiphol airport & proceeded to take the train into downtown.  The train station is located directly under the airport so it was super easy… the hard part was finding the right track & dealing with a jet-lagged & tired husband (the picture below is actually from the day we left… he was not so smiley the morning we arrived)!  DSC_0660As I said, I’ve been to Europe several times & used public transit on many of those occasions.  I’ve navigated train stations & subways in Paris, Rome, Athens, & Berlin, so Amsterdam, where almost everything is posted in English, was easy.  This was a trip of firsts for my husband, however, including his first time on public transit & a train.  I find it amazing that at 33 years of age my husband had never been on a train before.  Of course, I realize now he probably would have been more receptive to his first train ride had we not just landed after an overnight overseas flight & had he managed to sleep for a few hours.  With only a few hiccups we made it to our hotel in downtown Amsterdam right next to the Central Station (this is the train station – not our hotel).DSC_0029Our first hotel was in a great location & we found we could easily walk almost anywhere from here.  DSC_0054We were only blocks from great restaurants & coffee shops as well as the red light district, which is an adventure all in itself. Since our hotel was right near the train station, access to the tram system was also right at our door step, which was great when it was raining.  We discovered during our time in Amsterdam that I am totally okay with wandering… my husband, however, would probably tell you it was aimless wandering.  If we had no specific destination I was far better to leave Colin back at the hotel!  Walking is one of the great ways to explore a new city though & a good way to get out of the tourist areas & discover how people really live (in Amsterdam it’s tall & skinny houses or houseboats!).DSC_0067DSC_0635Had we been brave, we might have rented bicycles.  I have never, in all my life, seen so many bicycles & all in one city.  I think I read somewhere that if there are 800,000 people in Amsterdam there are 880,000 bicycles!DSC_0161They are everywhere.  Literally.  We spent the week wondering how people ever found their bicycles again if they weren’t painted bright colours!  Bike lanes are standard in Amsterdam & heaven help the person who mistakenly walks in the bike lane.  Watch Out!DSC_0427I did almost get run over once, although it was not entirely my fault.  Not only was I afraid of being run over by a bike but I was certain that if we rented bicycles & tried to navigate the city that way, nothing good could come of it.  I am a klutz at the best of times & always running into things… (I actually managed to sprain one of my toes while we were gone if that is any indication).  Trying to ride a bike as a tourist in a city where the population cycles 365 days a year did not sound like a good time to me.  So we walked… & walked… & walked.DSC_0439Tulips are synonymous with the Netherlands & we saw lots of them while walking through the flower market (although I am sure we would have seen many more had it been springtime).  Colin suggested that we bring some tulip bulbs home since they were for sale everywhere.  Despite the fact that I don’t think we actually could have brought them home, it likely wouldn’t have been a good idea.  I do not have a green thumb at all & last year the squirrels dug up all my tulips!!  DSC_0433On one of our walks (in the rain) we came across Rembrandt Square (we missed the Rembrandt museum but saw his statue in the square).  Can you tell it was raining & wet?   DSC_0100Luckily there were things to do inside when the weather was bad… like tour the Heineken Factory!  DSC_0466One of the best parts about the Heineken tour, apart from tasting some fresh Heineken, was labeling our own bottle of beer.  For a small fee, of course, you could create your own label for a bottle of Heineken!DSC_0499DSC_0505 Now, we didn’t spend all of our time only in Amsterdam.  We did take a bus tour one day to get out of the city.  I have taken these kinds of bus tours before in other countries & while they are a great way to see the sites, they also have their draw backs… like being bound by the schedule & other people.  Overall, our tour wasn’t too bad, except for three couples who held us up continually from before the tour even started!  We made three stops while on the bus tour.

The first was Marken, where we visited a wooden shoe factory.  It was interesting to walk around this little Dutch village (& see how people live in the country) & then visit the wooden shoe factory. DSC_0168The girls working inside were dressed in traditional Dutch clothing & of course, wooden shoes.  They assured us that wooden shoes were really quite comfortable but I still have my doubts.  We learned that wooden shoes are made either from willow or poplar because the wood is initially soft & pliable after being soaked in water but when the shoes dry they become hard & durable.

DSC_0181DSC_0214We were given a demonstration about how the machines today make wooden shoes.  It is a rather interesting process & the machines can turn out a wooden shoe in a matter of minutes.  The machines create a mirror image so if you want to make a left shoe you need to place the piece of wood on the right hand side.  There is one machine that carves the initial shape of the shoe, another that carves out the inside & then the finishing touches are completed by hand.  I believe we were told that there are only something like 20 people left in the Netherlands who know how to make wooden shoes by hand – it is a dying art.DSC_0217We also learned about different types of wooden shoes – who knew there was more than one!  The ones with pointy toes were worn by fisherman, to help them retrieve their nets.  The ones with rounded toes were worn by farmers so that if an animal stepped on your toes, it wouldn’t hurt. DSC_0201 Perhaps my favourite shoe, however, was the smuggler shoe, worn during the Second World War (imagine that – me liking something that has to do with the war!).  The smuggler shoe named because of its reverse footprint.DSC_0195  The shoe was carved in such a way that if you were walking forward, the footprints your shoes left would make it appear that you were walking the opposite direction.  That, if you ask me, is pretty ingenious.

The second stop was Volendam where we visited a cheese factory & museum.  Upon arrival there was a short presentation on how Dutch cheese (Gouda) is made.  DSC_0265Most of our time at the cheese factory was spent wandering the store, sampling different flavours of Gouda & deciding what kind of cheese to purchase to bring home.  Colin & I ended up with some smoked Gouda (which I often buy here at home but I’m sure what I buy here does not even compare with what we bought in Volendam) & the traditional spiced Gouda with cumin seeds (which is my favourite).  YUM!

DSC_0271DSC_0274Once we had our fill of cheese we were free to wander the town of Volendam before boarding the bus again & heading to our final destination.  DSC_0291The final stop was the village of Zaanse Schans where we saw some old fashioned windmills. DSC_0322 Since it was wind turbines that brought us to Amsterdam in the first place, we figured we had better see some of the old fashioned ones too.DSC_0232

DSC_0326DSC_0341DSC_0343DSC_0351DSC_0353We also took a canal boat tour in Amsterdam but it was not quite what we were expecting.  It wasn’t quite as bad as the boat tour we took in Frankenmuth, but it wasn’t the best ever.  DSC_0378Colin & I both agreed that during the summer, it would probably be fabulous.  In February, not so much.  The boat was crowded & due to the cold temperatures all the windows fogged up making it virtually impossible to see anything.  The rain didn’t help either!

On the days when Colin was working, I visited some of the many museums in Amsterdam with the wife of a colleague of Colin’s who was also tagging along.  We visited the Anne Frank House (http://www.annefrank.org/).  DSC_0506While in university I had taken numerous courses relating to the Holocaust & I knew the story of Anne Frank well.  It was sobering to actually see where her family hid during the war & learn more about the Frank’s life in hiding & their capture.

DSC_0514We also visited the Dutch Resistance Museum (http://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/en/museum).  I have to thank Tanya for indulging the history geek in me on this one… sometimes I forget that not everyone likes military history or places relating to the Second World War as much as I do.

The botanical gardens in Amsterdam was another amazing place we visited.  DSC_0517While I am sure it would be even more beautiful in the summer, when all of the outdoor plants were in full bloom, it was still very interesting. DSC_0571 There are a number of endangered & almost extinct plants, 4,000 different species of plants to be exact, that are housed within the greenhouses of the Hortus (http://en.dehortus.nl/homepage).  DSC_0563DSC_0568One of the coolest things I thought was the cork tree… It makes me think that perhaps synthetic corks in wine are not so bad after all if it means saving these beautiful trees.

DSC_0592Although it was a sunny day, it was also quite chilly so my favourite greenhouse was the tropical one, where we were hit by a wave of warm, humid air.  I could have stayed there all afternoon & imagined I was on that beach.DSC_0574Despite the fact that we did see snow while we were in Amsterdam, the winters are not as harsh.  There were already crocus’ coming up in early February in the garden at the botanical gardens!DSC_0587Colin & I both agree that we would like to go back to Amsterdam again… perhaps in the summer, when it’s nicer!!  During tulip season would be fine by me.  There are so many things left unexplored & left to see.  One of the most interesting things we saw while there was something that we could easily not have… the man in the tree.  If you don’t look close, you’ll miss him.DSC_0619Apparently no one knows how he got there…. one day he wasn’t there & the next he was… in the city of 88 beautiful canals.  Wouldn’t you like to visit?DSC_0617

Comfort Food

It was a miserable, blustery fall day.  The wind was howling & leaves were flying all over our yard.  It was pouring rain & gloomy… the kind of day that is good for nothing but staying inside curled up on the couch with your favourite someone or a good book.  I was getting ready to make dinner & given the kind of day it was, figured I had better make some comfort food.  I am not going to lie, I also needed to use up some milk, but mostly my decision to make Double Cheese Macaroni was because of the weather.

Everyone has their comfort foods & mine happens to be pasta of any kind.  I don’t know, there is just something so warm & of course, comforting, about pasta.  I think I like it because I can throw in whatever I feel like eating given the type of day I’m having & it will always turn out good.  I’m not sure I’ve ever made a bad pasta dish, which perhaps is remarkable given that I rarely follow recipes… pasta just seems to be one of those fool proof things.

Which brings me back to Double Cheese Macaroni.  Making this dish is one of the rare times that I do actually follow a recipe for pasta.  My family has used this recipe for years & it is probably one of the first things my brothers & I learned how to make when we were younger.  For a few years, while growing up, each of us had to cook one night a week… which worked out pretty good since there were five of us & five nights in a week.  Although I freely admit I am bad at math, I do know there are seven days in a week… just wait, I’m getting there…  Each of my parents took a night, us three kids each had a night & we were off the hook on weekends.  There was only rule – we were not allowed to make Kraft Dinner.  While we may have grumbled about it at the time, my brothers more so than me, this is one of the greatest things my parents could have done for us.  As a result of being required to cook one night a week the three of us are now really good cooks as far as I am concerned.  In each of our respective families, it is the boys & I who do the majority of the cooking.  Double Cheese Macaroni was one of those recipes we learned to cook on as it was easy to make & the end result was always oh so yummy! The recipe originally came from one of those recipe pamphlets put out by manufactures to give you ideas on how to use their products.  I think this one was for Lancia pasta but I’m really not sure – I have a photo copy only of this recipe, not the entire pamphlet.

Now that I am an adult I sometimes change things up a little when making this recipe.  I hardly ever actually use “macaroni” probably because I often have trouble even finding it in the grocery store.  Any type of pasta will do… this last time I used penne & it is turned out as great as if I had used macaroni.  Sometimes I vary the cheese depending on what’s in my fridge… cheddar, marble… I don’t think I’ve ever used mozzarella but now that I am thinking of it, it would probably be pretty good too.  When I make this dish for my husband, who is a meat guy, I usually add cubed ham, so that we’ve got everything in one dish.  I’ve also, on occasion, added a layer of sliced tomato in the middle which is quite good & adds some bright colour.  The options are pretty much limitless with this recipe… & leftovers make great lunches!

Double Cheese Macaroni 

Double Cheese Macaroni - My Comfort Food

2 cups macaroni (or any pasta)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt, nutmeg & pepper to taste

2 cups milk

2 cups grated old cheddar cheese

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare macaroni as package directs.  Drain.  In large saucepan melt butter.  Add flour & seasonings; blend well over low heat.  Add milk & cook, stirring constantly until thickened.  Add cheddar cheese; stir until smooth.  Remove from heat.  Add macaroni to sauce, mix well.  Pour into well greased 1 1/2 quart (2L) baking dish.  Top with mixture of bread crumbs, butter & Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 350 F 25-30 minutes.  Makes 6 servings.

Enjoy!