Monday, September 29, 2008

Macaroni & Cheese

I was asked to make a side dish for our son's cub scout den's Fishing Derby. My son enjoys attending the Fishing Derby each year and each year I make a side dish for it. I usually make macaroni and cheese. I figure that the adults will enjoy it and the kids may, too. To be honest, kids generally prefer the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from the blue box. In fact, my son is definitely one of those who will only eat Kraft Mac & Cheese. It doesn't bother me. I still like to make homemade mac and cheese now and then. I got this recipe from a friend of a friend. It has served me well. I know you'll enjoy it. It isn't gourmet food. I would call it comfort food.

Apparently, good 'ole mac and cheese has a long history in the U.S.A. I read a blog that indicated some people believe that Thomas Jefferson created the dish! According to an article in a 1996 "Restaurants & Institutions", Barbara Bell Matuszewski wrote that Jefferson served the dish in the White House in 1802. However, according to food historian Karen Hess, Jefferson did not invent the dish, he returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni mold. He was definitely the first president to serve macaroni and cheese at the White House and maybe the last!

I am also going to include a recipe for the dish from Mary Randolph's (Thomas Jefferson's cousin) "The Virginia Housewife," first published in 1824. It is an interesting recipe, to say the least.

Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz of uncooked elbow macaroni or shells
1 stick of butter
4 cups of milk
12 oz sharp cheddar (grated) cheese, reserve a handful to sprinkle on top
1 teaspoon of salt (I cut this down from 2 teaspoons in the original recipe)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cook the macaroni according to the package directions.
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter, whisk in flour to make a paste. Add milk. Bring to simmer over medium heat until thickened (about 1-2 minutes). Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese, stir until smooth. Stir the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce and pour into a 3 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes.

(You can easily do half the recipe in a 1-1/2 or 2 quart baking dish or even double the recipe for a large crowd.)

Mary Randolph's Macaroni and Cheese
from "The Virginia Housewife"

This is an example of a very early recipe for macaroni and cheese.


Boil as much macaroni as will fill your dish, until quite tender. Drain and sprinkle a little salt over it. Put a layer of macaroni in your baking dish, put on it slices of cheese, and on that a few bits of butter, then macaroni, cheese, and butter, until the dish is full, put on the top thin slices of cheese, bake in a 400° oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Dinner

On Monday, I made the long-awaited Chinese meal for D. He chose Mongolian beef as the main dish he wanted to try. I was a little intimidated to make a Chinese meal since I have never stir-fried anything before. The recipe I used was from but I also found a copycat of the Mongolian Beef dish that you can get at P.F. Chang's. I didn't try that one because I had a bottle of chili paste and hoisin sauce as well as some scallions that I wanted to use. In a few weeks, I'll try the P.F. Chang's copycat recipe and post it for you. Again, I cheated a bit on this meal because I bought the wonton soup at a Chinese restaurant. I asked them if they had any type of Chinese dessert but the owner told me that Chinese aren't too big on desserts. I know that I have eaten some yummy almond cookies and ice cream concoctions but I wasn't prepared to argue with the man. I just asked for a bunch of fortune cookies and called it a day! The Mongolian Beef went quickly (to say the least). I served it with Jasmine rice and steamed broccoli. The first course was wonton soup and the entire meal was followed up with fortune cookies. I just couldn't bear to use a whole cup of oil to stir-fry the beef so I used just 1/4 cup of sesame oil. It worked out fine. I will go out on a limb and call this my first experience making a Chinese dinner a super-success for me! I also used my brand new wok for the first time. It was great!

Mongolian Beef

· 1 lb sirloin or flank steak
· Marinade:
· 1 egg white
· Pinch of salt
· 1 teaspoon sesame oil
· 1 tablespoon cornstarch
· Vegetables:
· 4 green onions, sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
· 1 8-ounce can baby corn
· 1 garlic clove, minced

· Sauce:
· 3 TB hoisin sauce
· 2 TB water
· 1 TB dark soy sauce
· 2 tsp rice vinegar, or 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
· 1/4 tsp chile paste, or to taste

· Other:
· 1 tsp sugar
· 1 cup oil for frying beef (I used 1/4 cup sesame oil instead)
· 2 TB oil for stir-frying

Slice the beef across the grain into thin strips. Add the marinade ingredients in the order given and marinate the beef for thirty minutes. To prepare the vegetables, wash the green onions and slice on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Peel and mince the garlic. Rinse the can of baby corn with warm running water. Drain thoroughly. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside. When the beef has finished marinating, heat the wok and add 1 cup oil. When oil is ready, add the beef and fry until it changes color. Remove the beef from the wok and drain on paper towels. Clean out the wok with a paper towel, and add 2 tablespoons of oil for stir-frying. When the oil is ready, add the garlic. Stir-fry briefly, and add the baby corn. Add the green onions. Make a well in the middle of the wok by pushing the vegetables up to the side. Add the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring to thicken.Stir in the sugar. Add the beef and combine with the sauce and vegetables. Serve hot.

Serves 4.


The Creative Cook

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread

I was sitting in my chiropractor's office last Friday morning, reading a back issue of Southern Living Magazine. It was ironic since I was due to attend a Southern Living at Home party that very night. Well, I came across the most delicious-looking recipe for a banana bread. I had no ripe bananas at home but I kept thinking that this recipe could be very tasty if I made it with apples. I knew I had an 8 oz package of organic cream cheese getting ready to expire in my fridge, too. I had a few Honey Crisp Apples in my refrigerator and a large bottle of natural apple sauce. My creative juices started flowing (which is a rare event). I high-tailed it to the market to buy some pecans and then went straight home to bake Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread! What I did with this recipe changes it significantly but I want to credit the original chef. According to the magazine article, the original recipe was sent to Southern Living Magazine by Willie Monroe from Homewood, Alabama. Thank you Willie! I used regular cream cheese because that is what I had and I cooked one of the honey crisp apples for about 10 minutes in a saucepan to give the cake a bit of crunch. You can use only the applesauce but I thought the addition of the apple did something really nice for the bread. I did not follow the suggestion of toasting the pecans just to save time.

Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread

Makes 2 loves

1-1/4 cups chopped pecans, divided

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 (8-oz) package 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1-1/2 cups applesauce (or one or two lightly cooked and diced apples plus applesauce)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 3/4 cup pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring after 6 minutes.

2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

3. Combine whole wheat flour and next 4 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in applesauce and apples, 3/4 cup toasted pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup pecans or topping (recipe below).

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides of bread pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil during last 15 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks. Let cool 30 minutes.

Note: You can store these loaves by wrapping them tightly with plastic wrap and again with aluminum foil after they cool completely. They freeze well for up to 1 month. I doubt they will last that long in your freezer!

As I mentioned, the Southern Living article gave several alternative toppings. The first was a toasted coconut topping. Although I really love coconut, neither my husband nor my son is particularly fond of the stuff so I didn't choose it. The second is a Cinnamon topping which sounded perfect. The third choice involved peanut butter so I knew that one was out. I will say that if you want to top both of your apple loaves with this particular topping, then double it. I was only able to top one of the loves with this recipe. It was delicious.

Cinnamon-Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread (topping recipe)

Prepare recipe as directed through Step 3, omitting the pecans sprinkled over batter. Stir together 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup chopped pecans (not toasted), 1-1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 teaspoon melted butter, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Lightly sprinkle mixture over batter in pans. Bake and cool as directed.

I will tell you that I made one "blooper" while I was making the batter for this bread. I was in a hurry to get done so I could be outside when D's bus arrived from school. I grabbed what I thought was vanilla out of my closet and dumped it into the batter. I immediately realized (by the smell) that I had actually grabbed root beer extract and dumped that into the batter. Yikes! I dug all that root beer flavor out and, fortunately, no one said the cake tasted funny so I am thinking I was successful in getting it all out.


The Creative Cook

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spanish Potato Pepper Fritatta

This is a recipe that D and I tried a few weeks ago. We had eaten dinner at the wonderful and world famous Moosewood vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York when we were up in Syracuse for our friends Nancy and Rick's wedding back in the beginning of August. If you are ever in Itaca, please be sure to have dinner at the Moosewood Restaurant. They don't take reservations so we got there early on a Sunday night and waited for a table. It was worth the wait!

Having eaten dinner at the Moosewood, D wanted to try a recipe from the Moosewood Low Fat Favorites cookbook that I have owned since the mid-1990's. I am certainly NOT a vegetarian but I have tried many of the other recipes from this cookbook. This recipe was one I never tried before. I am not sure why because it contains all the "good stuff" that I love to eat. I was fairly suprised that D was willing to eat it since it contains eggs. He claims not to like eggs but eats them on occasion. Go figure kids??!! Anyway, this recipe turned out great. We all enjoyed the frittata. It motivated me to get another Moosewood cookbook out of the library. I am now perusing the Moosewood Celebrates cookbook, so who knows what other Moosewood recipes will appear in my blog in the near future! Stay tuned. . . .


1 large onion (about 2 cups sliced)
2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green
1 cubanelle or other mild fresh chile pepper
1 pound potatoes (about 3 medium), scrubbed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
6 egg whites
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cut off the ends of the onion. Cut it in half lengthwise, peel, and then cut each half into thin strips. Stem and seed the bell peppers and the cubanelle. Cut them into thin strips. Cut the potatoes into 1/8 inch slices.

In a 11 or 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the onions and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, cubanelle, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, water, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper until blended. Stir the potatoes, onions, and peppers into the eggs.

Coat the bottom of the skillet with the remaining teaspoon of oil and return it to the medium heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in the potato-egg mixture and distribute the vegetables evenly. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the edges are firm and the bottom has browned. Place a large, flat plate or pizza pan over the skillet and flip the skillet over so that the frittata falls onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes more, until the eggs are fully cooked. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

The cookbook suggested this frittata for either breakfast or brunch. We ate it for breakfast. I think it would also make a great dinner. I love potatoes and eggs and had some memorable frittatas when I visited Spain many years ago. This frittata was just as memorable for me!

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 20, 2008

German Dinner

Last week, D decided that we should make an international meal each week. This week he chose the country. He picked Germany. I am not particularly fond of sausage and I didn't want to deal with marinating beef for Sauerbraten. Since we hadn't really planned this event for a very long time, I decided to go easy on myself. I picked a Chicken Schnitzel recipe that claims to be "low fat" but who knows. I also made "Authentic" German Potato Salad. The potato salad was an especially big hit with D. But both the boys enjoyed our German dinner. I didn't have time to bake any Kuchen or Strudel so I went to our local grocery store and bought some mini apple strudels which were also wonderful.

Chicken Schnitzel (Low Fat)

1 lb chicken breasts or tenderloins
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cracker meal
2 tablespoons oil, low fat
salt and pepper to taste

1. Beat chicken with a mallet until thin.
2. roll chicken in flour.
3. Dip chicken in egg and then roll in cracker meal.
4. Fry in hot oil until brown.
5. Salt and pepper chicken and serve with gravy and noodles. Serves 5 to 6 people.

Sauce for Schnitzel or Noodles:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1-1/4 cup water
2-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter

1. In saucepan cook onion in oil until brown. Remove and set aside.

2. Melt butter in saucepan then deglaze pan with the wine. Add water. Cook until reduced to half.

Authentic German Potato Salad


3 cups diced, peeled potatoes
4 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


1. Place the potatoes into a pot, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Drain, and set aside to cool.

2. Place the bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Fry until browned and crisp, turning as needed. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Add onion to the bacon grease, and cook over medium heat until browned. Add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper to the pan. Bring to a boil, then add the potatoes and parsley. Crumble in half of the bacon. Heat through, then transfer to a serving dish. Crumble the remaining bacon over the top, and serve warm.

Well, German day was a complete success. Next week is my choice. I chose Chinese because I love Chinese food and there aren't any decent Chinese restaurants in our area. We have to drive over half an hour to find descent Chinese. We'll see next week how my first attempt at a Chinese meal goes.


The Creative Cook

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ziti and Eggplant

I am sure I've mentioned that I LURVE eggplant! My brother-in-law, S has a garden full of it growing like crazy. The stuff is soooo good. I especially enjoy the Japanese eggplant that he is growing. The only problem for my sister is that they become overabundant and it is hard to know what to do with them all. My mom makes a mean eggplant Parmesan that she freezes and gifts me with on occasion. Gotta love that woman! But I felt like making an eggplant dish on my own that didn't require lots of frying. I found this one that my family enjoyed very much. I didn't use Ziti because I didn't have any in my pantry. I used Penne instead. It was wonderful with the Penne. You will definitely love this eggplant. Another idea that I got from a friend of mine was to make the sauce and then put it into the blender. That way the kiddies and the hubby will never know that the sauce has "good for them" eggplant and peppers in it. I am not Jessica Seinfeld or anything but I do think this is a good idea for those who don't like veggies. Fortunately, my boys aren't opposed to chunky tomato sauce as long as the veggies are cooked thoroughly. This recipe comes from

Ziti and Eggplant


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
ground black pepper to taste
1-1/4 teaspoons white sugar (optional)
1 (7 oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into strips
1 (16 oz) package dry ziti pasta

Cooking Instructions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the eggplant about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, black pepper, and sugar. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes. Mix the roasted red peppers into the skillet with the eggplant mixture. Continue cooking until eggplant is the consistency of the rest of the sauce.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place ziti pasta in the pot, cook 9 to 11 minutes, until al dente, and drain. Serve the eggplant and tomato sauce over the cooked ziti.


The Creative Cook

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

I had a few pounds of stew beef in my freezer and I was anxious to use it. I really love beef stew. Funny, but my husband has an aversion to beef stew because he ate Dinty Moore Beef Stew all through his childhood. I kept telling him that my beef stew wouldn't taste ANYTHING like that Dinty Moore stuff he ate way back when. I supposed that some people like the canned beef stew but I couldn't imagine eating it as a child. My mom always cooked fresh meals for us each and every day. They weren't always creative meals but they were always fresh and healthy. In fact, she couldn't have been too creative because my sister and I were very picky eaters. We mostly ate spaghetti and meatballs, alio y'olio, steak and potatoes, chicken and french fries, meat loaf, chicken soup, rice balls, etc. She had a slightly Italian twist to her cooking but not too much because of my sister and me. Picky is probably an understatement for what we were. Impossible may have been more like it. Well, I'm over that picky stage now and I like to eat. My thought was to make a beef stew in the slow cooker but without using all the MSG and other chemicals that are in the instant soups. I am also sensitive to using less salt because my husband has high blood pressure and so does my dad. I looked at several recipes that I found on the net and combined two of them. I then decided to throw everything into my slow cooker and let it cook for several hours. It worked out great. My husband is now a beef stew loving convert! D liked it too. He had already eaten dinner and decided to try a small bowl of the stew. His comment was "yum". Again, he really doesn't like veggies so this recipe is a god-send with all the peas, carrots, and green beans. All the recipes I found suggested fresh vegetables but I had a bag of frozen mixed vegetables in the freezer that I used instead. Also, be careful if you are buying pre-made beef broth. I found that even some of the organic brands contain MSG. READ the ingredients!

I've probably mentioned before on this blog how much I HATE lima beans so you'll never find them in any of my recipes. You can, of course, add them to your heart's desire as long as you aren't inviting me over for dinner! I think you'll like this stew. It is tasty and easy to make.

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

2-3 pounds of lean chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
4 cups sliced carrots
2 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup chopped fresh green beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup chopped parsley (fresh)
dash salt
dash freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil and butter.

While the pan is heating, arrange the flour on a large dish. Season the cubed beef with some salt and freshly ground pepper (if desired) and then toss in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour and add the beef chunks in a single layer to the hot pan, being careful not to over crowd the pan, you might have to work in batches (I did). Thoroughly brown all of the cubes on all sides. Once the beef has been browned remove it to a plate and reserve.

Add the wine to the pan and bring up to a simmer while you scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon being sure to loosen up all those tasty bits. Once the wine has gotten hot add the browned meat, thyme, potatoes, onion, smashed garlic, salt and pepper to taste and beef stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the liquids start to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes. I then transferred this to my slow cooker and added all the vegetables, the tomato paste, cold water and the parsley. Cook for 2 hours on high and another 4 hours on low in the slow cooker.

We ate this stew sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and it was really good. Enjoy!

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mini Meat Loaves

I made another kid-friendly dinner last week. It went over well with my family. I liked the idea of these little meat loaves because they are loaded with spinach. I don't know about your family, but my son doesn't ever request spinach (or any vegetable for that matter) for dinner, so any way that I can get him to eat it without complaints, I'm gonna do it! I also like the serving suggestion of a side-dish of broccoli. The recipe came from the May 6, 2008 issue of Woman's Day. Yes, I had it sitting around for quite a while but I'm glad I finally tried it. The magazine says that they cut the calories from 376 for regular meat loaf down to 257 for this new version. I say, try it you might like it.

Mini Meat Loaves
Serves 6

3 slices whole-grain bread
1lb ground turkey
1/2 lb lean ground beef
Whites from 2 large eggs
2 Tbsp minced dried onion flakes
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp each garlic powder and salt
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 Tsp ketchup, divided

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. You'll need a rimmed baking sheet lined with nonstick foil.

2. Tear bread into food processor. Pulse to make course crumbs. Add remaining ingredients and 2 Tbsp of the ketchup. Pulse just until blended. Form into 6 loaves (5 x 2-1/2 in. each, about 1 scant cup per loaf) on a lined pan.

3. Evenly spread tops with remaining 4 Tbsp ketchup. Bake 20 minutes until cooked through and instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Per serving: 257 cal. 27 g. pro, 13 g car, 2 g fiber, 11 g fat (3 g sat. fat), 78 mg chol, 473 mg sod.


The Creative Cook