Mac ‘n’ Cheese with a Twist

There aren’t many kids around who don’t like macaroni and cheese. It doesn’t matter how picky they are, kids just love this dish.

maccheeseWhether it’s the kind that comes out of a box like the one from Kraft or your own homemade version, mac ‘n’ cheese is classic comfort food.

And it’s not just kids who love it. Take my friend and former co-worker, Ryan Bakken. He had an insatiable taste for macaroni and cheese.

When we lived together as students and Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State Moorhead) and later in Grand Forks as young sportswriters at the Herald, Ryan probably ate mac ‘n’ cheese at least three or four times a week. The reason? It was easy to make and tasted great.

While I didn’t quite share his penchant for mac ‘n’ cheese, it is a favorite of mine. Therese makes it ever so often, and on the rare occasion, so do I.

Recently, I made a variation of mac ‘n’ cheese using the following recipe, which was shared with my grandson. He absolutely loved it, as did I. It’s almost as easy to make as the boxed variety, and it tastes even better. Give it a try. I’m sure that you will agree.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese with a Twist
3 cups uncooked macaroni
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
2 cups milk
1 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 cup croutons
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
Stir in milk, and heat to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 1 minute.
Add cheese and tomatoes. Stir until cheese is melted, then remove from heat.
Stir macaroni into cheese sauce and then transfer to an ungreased 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover with croutons.
Bake uncovered 30 minutes or until heated through.
Yield: Serves 8.

Prime Rib Vegetable Noodle Soup

Turkey or ham is a well-established meat choice for family get-togethers during the holiday season. But another that has gained popularity is prime rib or standing rib roast.

beefsoupA prime rib  or standing rib roast is cut from the back of the upper rib section of a steer. It is the choicest meat that you can find on the animal.

We’ve always been a turkey or ham family, but this year decided on going with a roast. So, I ventured out to L&M Meat in Grand Forks in search of a nice cut.

Owner Jeff Novak steered me in the right direction and recommended about a 6-pound roast and gave me directions on how to fix it. I opted to have L&M season the meat with a prime rib rub, and the result was fantastic.

We had a nice bit of leftovers, which I froze to fix at a later date, but the rib bones, which were loaded with nice meat, were put in a soup pot with a bunch of leftover and fresh veggies, some pasta a bit of vegetable broth. And once again, it provided us with another wonderful meal.

The soup, the recipe for which follows, is a wonderful way to used your leftovers and perhaps enjoy a little lower-caloric entree.

Prime Rib Vegetable Noodle Soup
Prime rib bones with attached meat from roast
8 cups broth
2 cups carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup whole-kernel corn
2 small leftover baked potatoes, cubed
2 tablespoons concentrated  tomato paste
1 cup tomato juice
2 cups cooked pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in stock pot and cook for 1 to 2 hours. Remove meat from bones and discard bones. Return meat to pot and serve.

Day-After Thanksgiving Turkey Soup

Thanksgiving is over, but for those who hosted a holiday meal, there’s the dilemma about what to do with leftovers. If you come from a big family, you’re lucky. You can send some home with them.

turkeysoupEven if that’s the case, there still is the turkey carcass. However, most cooks will tell you that’s no problem. Just make some turkey soup.

That’s what I did today. It was quick and easy, especially since I had some raw sliced carrots and some cooked green beans left over from Thursday’s feast. And frozen peas that we always have on hand cut are an easy addition.

The soup, which was on the table in less than two hours, and is very delicious as well as nutritious.

Day-After Thanksgiving Turkey Soup
1 turkey carcass
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup green beans
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup carrots, sliced
10 cups water
1 cup pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
Place turkey carcass in water with onion and celery. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove carcass and let cool. Add vegetables and pasta to pot. Take meat off turkey bones and return to pot. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with crackers.

Broccoli Pasta Salad

The first thing that usually comes to mind when a lot of people hear the word marinade is meat that’s been prepped for grilling. But others who are right at home in the kitchen might add pasta salad to the mix.

pastasaladOne of my favorite pasta salads is one that is comprised of broccoli, artichoke hearts, ripe olives, rotini and feta cheese that is marinated in Zesty Italian Dressing. And a recent sale on broccoli at our local supermarket made me think of Therese’s tasty pasta salad right away.

Per my request, she made a large batch of the salad recently, and we’ve been feasting on it ever since. And the thing about this salad, it gets better the longer it sits.

Broccoli Pasta Salad
1 large bunch broccoli, including stalks, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 16-ounce jar Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing
1 13.75-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts in brine
1 3.8-ounce can sliced pitted ripe olives, drained
½ cup (more or less to taste) of crumbled feta cheese
12 ounces cooked rotini
Mix all of ingredients and marinate overnight. 

Angel Hair with Shrimp and Asparagus

One of the fun things about going shopping for groceries, besides running into friends or acquaintances who you haven’t seen for a while, is trying to come up with recipes that go with items that are on sale.

shrimpasparagusThis past week, our neighborhood Hugo’s supermarket had asparagus on sale. The price was so good that I bought a bunch on three separate visits.

On my third visit, I chatted with produce manager Loren Kartes. I complimented him on the sale price for the asparagus and in our ensuing conversation, he told me about a recipe he found on the website It was for a shrimp and asparagus dish that he said was fantastic.

That’s all it took for me to check out the recipe and decide that’s what we were going to have for supper that night. It was a good choice. Not only was the meal delicious, it took just a half-hour to prepare and have on the dining room table. And to top it off, it was low in calories and fat.

Angel Hair with Shrimp and Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 14½-ounce can ripe plum tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
12 ounces shrimp, peeled and deviened
½ cup fat-free chicken broth
2 ounces white wine
Salt and fresh pepper
½ teaspoons herbs de Provence (or your favorite herbs)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces angel hair pasta
Heat a large skillet on high heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. When skillet is hot, spray with oil and add shrimp. Cook shrimp about 2 minutes in each side until almost cooked through and remove from the pan. Set aside. Reduce skillet heat to medium, add olive oil and garlic and saute until golden, careful not to burn. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer about 4 minutes. Add white wine and broth and stir. Add asparagus, salt, pepper and herbs. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes on medium low heat. While sauce is simmering, boil salted water and cook pasta until desired tenderness. Drain when done. After sauce simmers 10 minutes, add shrimp to sauce to finish cooking, about 1 minute. (Do not overcook or shrimp will get tough). Add pasta to the sauce and toss well. Divide equally in 4 bowls and top with a good grated cheese.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 378 calories, 6.8 grams fat, 52 grams carbohydrates, 8.5 grams fiber, 31.6 grams protein.

Tomato Cheese Tortellini Soup

Soups that are thick and hearty are generally full of flavor. That can be said of most Italian soups, such as pasta e fagioli, stracciatella and minestrone. Many are also creamy as a rule. And the ones that are heavy on cheese and pasta makes them popular with just about everyone, even the kids.

tortsoupI recently was given the following Italian soup recipe by a friend, Penny Cieklinski, who said it is a family favorite. The recipe can easily be doubled, which will make for plenty of tasty leftovers.

And there’s nothing like nice Italian soup recipes to take the chill out of a cold, cold day

Tomato Cheese Tortellini Soup
½ pound Jimmy Dean pork sausage (hot)
½ pound pork sausage
1 26-ounce can tomato soup
13 ounces water
13 ounces milk
1 14½-ounce can diced Italian tomatoes
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
10 ounces cheese tortellini, cooked according to package instructions (can use frozen)
Italian seasoning, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Brown the sausage in a skillet on the stove top until cooked and crumbled. Drain and set aside. Put tomato soup, milk and water in a pot. Add meat, cooked tortellini, cheeses, tomatoes, Italian seasonings, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to simmer. Cook for 1 to 2 hours. Serve with crusty bread.

Mediterranean Shrimp Medley

Shrimp, broccoli and pasta is a combination that’s hard to beat. At least that’s my opinion. Add some white clam sauce to the mix and you have a dish that about as close to heaven as you can get.

shrimpbroccOne of my favorite entrees contains all of those ingredients. The recipe for Mediterranean Shrimp Medley comes from a cookbook titled “Seafood Lover’s Bible,” by Michael Bavota.

I’ve had the cookbook for several years and have made a number of the recipes, but the shrimp medley is my favorite. It takes very little time to make and contains no oil, butter or other kind of fat, which is one of the most appealing things about it.
Of course, it tastes pretty good, too.

Mediterranean Shrimp Medley
1 pound shrimp shell-on (any size)
½ pound angel hair pasta
1 stalk broccoli
½ bunch scallions
1 10½ ounce can white clam sauce
Peel, devein and rinse shrimp. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, boil shrimp for only 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut broccoli and scallions into bite-size pieces. Steam until broccoli is al dente and is vivid bright green.
Remove from heat. In a large skillet, heat clam sauce, vegetables and shrimp for 3 minutes at medium heat. Place pasta in shallow bowls or plates and spoon on clam, vegetable and shrimp mixture. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve with crusty bread.

Italian Style Goulash

The type of goulash that originated in Eastern European countries such as Hungary bear little resemblance to the kind a person would find in American kitchens. About the only similarities are that they both contain paprika and beef.

greatgoulashAmerican goulash is more like a casserole or hotdish, while versions that originated in Hungary are more like a stew or soup.

I’ve tried my hand at a Hungarian goulash a few times. My favorite recipe is one that former co-worker Brad Schlossman shared with me several years ago. He said it was his Grandman Jennie Nartnik’s recipe and was one of his favorites. (Jennie was of Slovenian descent.)

Here’s another goulash recipe I came across recently that appears to have its roots in Italy. It contains tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan cheese and other things that one might find in a hearty pasta dish from the country located on the Mediterranean.

Italian Style Goulash
Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
2 cups cooked pasta of your choice
1 6-ounce can mushrooms, drained
1 15-ounce can kidney beans
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 large onions
2 green peppers, cut up
1½ pounds ground beef or 1½ pounds turkey
¼ cup bacon
Fry bacon and cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside. Brown ground beef/turkey, onions, and green peppers in a large skillet. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, mushrooms, Italian Seasoning, and garlic. Cover and cook at medium heat for 15 minutes. Stir in bacon and cooked macaroni. Place in lightly greased 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Cajun cuisine, the style of cooking named for the French-speaking immigrants who were deported by the British from Acadia (now the Nova Scotia area of Canada) in the mid-1700s, isn’t necessarily hot and spicy. But it can be.

pic1BRyQxWhile the base of most Cajun dishes is the mind “holy trinity” ingredients — bell peppers, onion and celery — some others contain generous amounts of spices and ingredients that aren’t for the faint of heart. Some entrees that come to mind are jambalaya, gumbo and blackened fish.

Recently, a friend, Monte Lund, inquired about a recipe for Cajun Chicken Pasta. He said he was looking for something that was spicy but didn’t contain peppers. I told him about the following recipe, which we like. It can be as spicy as you want it to be. And it doesn’t contain peppers.

I made it the other night (using pheasant breasts), since we hadn’t eaten it in a while. I doubled the recipe because our grandson, Rakeem, was dining with us. He enjoyed two generous helpings of the dish, and took one home, so I knew it was OK.

The dish is contains 924 calories and 63 grams of fat per serving, so you might want to take this into account when you’re planning the rest of the day’s meal.

Cajun Chicken Pasta
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
4 ounces linguine, cooked al dente
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
1 thinly sliced green onion
1 to 2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place chicken and Cajun seasoning in a bowl and toss to coat. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute chicken in butter or margarine until chicken is tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat, add green onion, heavy cream, tomatoes, basil, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and heat through. Pour over hot linguine and toss with Parmesan cheese.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis serving: 924 calories, 61 percent of calories from fat, 63 grams fat (37  grams saturated), 280 milligrams cholesterol, 839 milligrams sodium, 49 grams carbohydrates, 2.5 grams dietary fiber, 3.2 grams sugar, 40.5 grams protein. Note: To thicken sauce, add some cornstarch. And to make spicier, add more Cajun seasoning.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

There’s no shortage of restaurants that serve authentic Italian food these days. That’s especially true in large cities. Even smaller ones such as Grand Forks in North Dakota and East Grand Forks across the Red  River in Minnesota are no exceptions.

9970b91e-b379-4a52-9a29-f292b637a067I have to admit, good Italian food is a favorite of mine. Whether it’s a vegetable primavera, lasagna loaded with spicy sausage or a pasta with seafood, Italian cuisine  is something I could eat everyday.

My most recent foray in search of Italian food led me to Mamma Maria’s in the downtown mall in East Grand Forks, where I had a spicy shrimp and pasta dish that was simply scrumptious. Therese also was quite pleased with her spaghetti with Bolognese sauce. And Diane Amiot, who along with her husband, Ron, dined with us, thoroughly enjoyed her homemade lasagna.

As mentioned earlier, I could eat Italian on a daily  basis, so you shouldn’t be surprised that we had spaghetti with a homemade meat and tomato sauce for dinner, just two days after our visit to Mamma Maria’s.

The recipe, which follows, is one I’ve perfected over the years. It can vary from time to time, depending on what kind of ground meat we have available. Our most recent spaghetti featured ground beef and pork sausage. (I often use ground bison, elk or venison.) To give it a little more of a taste of Italy, I ground up some fennel seeds.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound pork sausage
2 6-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
1 pint whole tomatoes
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
1 to 2 tablespoons Lawry’s Mediterranean Herb Salt
1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil
Saute onion, celery, garlic, mushrooms, pepper and carrots in olive oil until translucent. Add tomatoes, sauce and paste along with sugar, salt and herbs. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Serve over spaghetti.
Yield: Serves 8.