The Adventures of Kitchen Girl

September 25, 2009

Saffron Scented Mac and Cheese

My family LOVES mac and cheese. So much that I have 5 different recipes for it that I make on a fairly regular basis. This is one that the kids love, but has a bit of a spin on it for the grown ups in the family. Saffron. The kids like that the saffron colors the dish a vibrant yellow color, kind of like the stuff from a box that I refuse to make for them since homemade is *always* better in my opinion. The adults like the way the saffron scents and flavors the dish and makes this traditional comfort food into something a little more special. I think saffron pairs really well with cheese and pasta... there is something delicious about the way it imparts a slightly sweet yet subtle earthy flavor. I also enjoy the way it scents a dish with a slightly floral note.

Kitchen Notes: The saffron in this dish is quite subtle and the regular and cayenne peppers can overpower the saffron if you are not careful. *I* personally love the spicy addition of the peppers to this dish, but want to make sure it's understood that it's better to leave out the cayenne pepper completely, if you want the true nature of the saffron to come through.

1 pound elbow pasta
1 onion, finely chopped
5 + 2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
5 cups low-fat milk
1- 8-ounce package low-fat cream cheese, cut into pieces
1- 8-ounce package shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Small pinch saffron threads
3 Tablespoons hot water
Salt and pepper to taste
cayenne pepper (optional, see kitchen notes.)

An hour or so before you plan to make the macaroni and cheese, grind your saffron threads into a powder using a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl combine the ground saffron and 3 Tablespoons of hot water and allow to steep. This will help evenly distribute the saffron throughout your dish and leave you with a lovely vivid yellowish color.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, then return to pot.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, cook onion in 2 Tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until the onion is softened. Transfer the onion to a bowl and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until just melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time, until smooth. Stir in the cooked onion and saffron water.

Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir until combined; season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

Serves: 6 as a main dish, 10 as a side dish.

September 21, 2009

"Scare Me S'mores" Bars

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by someone from asking me if I would like to develop and submit a Halloween treat recipe using any of the General Mills cereals that they would provide me with. Of course, I said yes!

The recipe I came up with is simple and my kids LOVED it. It's got all the elements of the classic s'more in an easy to make and serve bar form. It's definitely a recipe that the kids could help make and one they will certainly love to help eat up! As my eldest son said, "these are so good... it's scary!"

Scare Me S’mores
4 Cups Golden Grahams cereal
4 Cups Cocoa Puffs cereal
1 Cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips
10.5 ounce bag mini marshmallows
3 Cups mini marshmallows
½ stick (¼ Cup) butter or margarine
No stick cooking spray
13x9 inch pan

1: In a large bowl combine cereals, mini chocolate chips and 3 cups mini marshmallows. Set aside.

2: Spray a 13x9 inch pan with cooking spray or grease well with butter.

3: In another large bowl microwave the butter on high for 45 seconds or until completely melted.

4: Add 10.5 ounces marshmallows to the melted butter and toss to coat.

5: Microwave the marshmallow and butter mixture on high for 45 seconds. Remove and stir until well blended. Return to microwave for another 45 seconds until marshmallows are fully melted.

6: Add cereal mixture from step 1 into the melted marshmallow and mix to combine well.

7: Turn mixture into the greased pan and press firmly to spread mixture to the corners of the pan.

8: Cool completely before cutting into squares to serve. Wrap tightly to store.

Makes 24 servings.

September 18, 2009

Mayan Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

This recipe was born out of an act of desparation. Häagen-Dazs used to make a "Mayan Chocolate" ice cream that was to die for, but after being on the market a short time, they took it off the shelves in the US. I've heard rumors that it's still available in some other markets... but I don't know if that's true or not. Since the first time I had that ice cream, I have been a fiend for anything with chocolate and cinnamon. I've even made my own ice cream, trying to replicate what Häagen-Dazs did. It's always fallen short though. The other day I was planning to make some brownies for my kids, since they love them so much and suddenly it occurred to me that I could make them into Mayan brownies. It was simple enough and the results were delicious. The kiddos enjoyed them plenty... but the adults I've shared them with raved and raved. While this isn't the same thing as the ice cream I loved so much, it's a really good replacement. The flavor is very similar and it totally satisfies my Mayan chocolate craving. Serve one of these brownie cupcakes warmed with a scoop of ice cream and I'll bet you'll be in heaven too!

Kitchen Notes:
* I LOVE a big cinnamon flavor, use less if that would better suit your taste.
* These are excellent without frosting also, especially if serving with ice cream.

6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into cubes.
8 oz. 70-percent bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips


1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Prepare cupcake pan with paper liners. This recipe makes about 12 small cupcakes.

3. Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water and stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

4. With a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat the sugar, salt and cinnamon into the chocolate mixture. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and mix vigorously until the batter is very glossy and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Lastly mix in the chocolate chips.

5.Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan, filling about half way, and tap the pan bottom on the counter top to level the batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out moist but clean.

6. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove the brownies from the pan and cool completely on the rack before frosting.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

From: Sugarlaws
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, cut into pieces
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp sugar
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup light cream

1. On a double boiler, heat chocolate, vanilla and butter until melted, stirring to make sure there aren’t any lumps. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until lightened in color. Add cooled chocolate mixture and beat for about 3 minutes, until fully incorporated.
3. Add the cream in a steady stream, continuing to beat until fully mixed through. Spread on a prepared cake or allow to cool and pipe to decorate a prepared cake.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of frosting.

September 10, 2009

Smashed Potatoes and Spinach

I love to combine mashed potatoes with other vegetables to change things up a bit for my family. I'm lucky in that my kids eat their vegetables with little argument, but certainly mashed potatoes are one of their absolute favorites... by adding in another veggie to the mix they still get the comfort food they crave and I get peace of mind knowing they are eating something better than just mashed potatoes. Also, something I've noticed with my children is that they don't want gravy or extra butter with these. There is so much flavor already in the potatoes that they don't need it! Gotta love that :)

I've used several vegetables with the potatoes in this manner... peas (aka champ), shredded Brussels sprouts, carrots, rutabaga, parsnip, sweet potato, corn, cabbage (aka colcannon), beets, winter squash. Experiment and find what combinations work for your family and let me know what you like. Really Good Stuff!

Speaking of children and getting them to eat what's good for them... what tips or tricks do you have to share? Do you have any secret weapons that work for you when it comes to getting kids to eat healthy?

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 stick butter or lower fat butter substitute
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup milk (add this to taste, sometimes you don't need a whole cup!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped (frozen could be used, but fresh is better!)

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain well and return to the pan.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the scallions, chopped spinach and garlic and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted and scallions are soft. Remove from the heat.

Return the pan with the potatoes to medium-low heat and cook for 1 minute, shaking the pan. While mashing with a potato masher, slowly add the milk, mashing until the potatoes are creamy. Add garlic, scallion, spinach mixture and stir to incorporate. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve hot wit a pat of butter atop each serving. Serves 4-6.

September 1, 2009

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Yesterday marked the beginning of the new school year for my 3 kids, so I decided it would be nice to have something "just out of the oven" waiting for them when they returned home. There's nothing like coming home after a long day to a house that smells of something delicious. I had a few bananas that were past their prime for eating out of hand, so I knew banana bread would be just the thing. Especially with the chill that's been in the air here the past few days... it makes me think Fall and that makes me want to bake! My children *love* peanut butter and sliced banana sandwiches... so this was a natural choice for us.

The beautiful thing about this recipe is it's simplicity and variability. As long as you follow the basic recipe, you can add so many different things to make this bread your own. I like to make a "Piña Colada" bread using shredded coconut and crushed pineapple (measurements below) instead of the peanut butter. Just be sure to use butter or margarine in place of the peanut butter when making another version or your bread will be too dry.

I hope you'll try this easy recipe and jazz it up in your own way for your family... they'll love you for it! Enjoy!

4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mash bananas in a large mixing bowl with a fork until fairly smooth. Add in the peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla and combine well. Add in the cinnamon, baking soda and salt and mix again. Lastly add the flour, mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour. When a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, the bread is done. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and serve! Makes one loaf.

Kitchen Notes:
If you don't like peanut butter, you can make this into a more traditional banana bread by substituting 1/3 cup melted butter, margarine or applesauce (keeps the bread moist without the added fat) for the PB.

Variations my family likes:
1/2 cup of shredded coconut.
3/4 cup well drained and squeezed canned crushed pineapple.
3/4 cup chopped nuts (we like walnuts).
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips.
3/4 cup raisins.