Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Good news! I got back in the kitchen again this week and actually made and photographed a recipe!

Sorry I’ve been so lacking on recipe posts, I guess I’ve just been really lazy since my Christmas break and haven’t been able to get back into the groove.

This has been compounded by the fact that my computer is at death’s door and I dread having to use it because it’s SO SLOW and the battery dies in about 20 min. I’m going to start using Nate’s computer but it’s a Mac and I’m putting it off as long as possible since I’m a PC girl.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

But anyway, let’s get to this recipe. I think we all know that homemade mac and cheese doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff in the blue box- although I’m partial to the Velveeta Shells and Cheese variety that comes with the pack of squeeze cheese.

Whenever I make macaroni and cheese from scratch, the cheese sauce looks so smooth, creamy and delicious in the pot, but then after you toss the noodles in it and put it in the oven, it kind of separates and turns to a texture I don’t like at all. It gets kind of dry (which I guess some people like) and just not cheesy at all.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved Velveeta cheese. In fact I just remembered that for breakfast I used to eat an english muffins toasted with Velveeta melted on it and sprinkled with bacon bits. I don’t know how I came up with this, but MAN was it good….and I kind of want one of those sandwiches right now…

Anyway, I know Velveeta is artificially colored and probably so bad for you, but I’m convinced that in order for mac and cheese to be palatable, it needs to contain some of this delightful cheese product. Well this recipe is the best of both worlds. The cheese sauce is made using my favorite artificial cheese, keeping it smooth and delicious even after it’s baked, but then there’s real cheddar sprinkled on top for even more cheesy deliciousness.

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

This particular recipe gets a little kick from the tomatoes with green chiles, and I’ve made it extra healthy by adding loads of veggies. I also added tofu since Nate and I don’t love chicken but I wanted some added protein. You could definitely sub chicken if you’d like.

I could not stop myself from eating this!

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole ~ ElephantEats.com

Zesty Mac 'n Cheese Casserole
Serves 6
A spicy, cheesy pasta casserole chock full of veggies!
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Ingredients
  1. 16-oz. package corkscrew pasta (or whatever shape you like)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 medium onion, diced
  4. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  5. 8 oz. mushrooms, diced
  6. 1 (10-oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  7. 10-oz. pasteurized prepared cheese product, cubed (like Velveeta, which comes in a box or shredded)
  8. 10 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
  9. 8 oz. super firm tofu, cubed and drained- i found a pre-cubed version (you could also sub chicken if you want)
  10. 1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
  11. 1/2 cup sour cream
  12. 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cook pasta for slightly less time than package recommends so it's al dente. It will cook more in the oven so you don't want it to be too mushy.
  2. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms and sauté 5-10 minutes or until tender.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and green chiles and prepared cheese product; cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in broccoli, tofu, soup and sour cream and stir well. Mix in hot cooked pasta until blended.
  4. Spoon mixture into a 9x13 baking dish; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese.
  5. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Adapted from Southern Living
Adapted from Southern Living
http://www.elephanteats.com/

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese ~ ElephantEats.com

Guys, I’m so far behind! I have so many things I still need to share with you but just haven’t either made the recipes or assembled the posts- the recipes from my cooking class in Italy, and also the finished coffee table ottoman I made!

But in the meantime, you’ll have to settle for this grilled cheese, which is pretty darn delicious. I mentioned this very early on in my blog, but Nate is a creature of habit. He literally eats the same breakfast and lunch EVERY day of the week. So occassionally, on the weekend, he’ll request grilled cheese instead of his daily turkey sandwich. 

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese ~ ElephantEats.com

I usually just use up whatever is in the fridge on these days, sometimes coming up with really good combos. That’s how this sandwich came about. I do often add pesto to his grilled cheese, but on this particular occassion there was some leftover roasted butternut squash.

The combo of the squash, the pesto and the melty cheese was just too good not to share. I think you could also use some thanksgiving leftovers for a very tasty grilled cheese combo- maybe with some sweet potatoes? some cranberry sauce? Oh man, the combinations are endless!

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese ~ ElephantEats.com

On other fronts, I’m scrambling to make decisions on my house because it’s going much faster than I thought. The demo is complete and framing will apparently be pretty much done by the end of next week. Because of this, my contractor informed me that I need to pick out my roof color by this Friday (!). And then I need to pick out all my bathroom fixtures and cabinetry by the end of next week so that the plumber will know where to put the plumbing. I didn’t realize that the cabinet itself made a difference, but they need to know how high any shelves inside it are, etc, that would obstruct the pipes so they can plan accordingly.

Needless to say, for a decision-making-a-phobe like me, I’m getting quite stressed out :( I really thought I’d have more than 2 wks to decide everything!

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese ~ ElephantEats.com

Also, this weekend we went down to Nate’s moms and I had him videotape me preparing a dish so I could enter The Great American Cookbook Competition. It’s some contest Rachel Ray is having that my aunt told me about. I highly doubt I’ll win, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try :) Hopefully Nate can make me look better on the video through editing than I actually came across on tape, because I most certainly could never be an actress. 

I hope that you all have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Chanukkah to those that celebrate!!!

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese ~ ElephantEats.com

Butternut Squash Pesto Grilled Cheese
This isn't really much of a recipe, but more of an idea
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Ingredients
  1. Bread slices
  2. Cheese slices
  3. Leftover roasted butternut squash, cut into slices
  4. Pesto
  5. Butter
Instructions
  1. Spread the insides of the bread slices with pesto. Top with a couple slices of cheese and then then enough squash to cover. Using a knife, spread/flatten the squash as much as possible.
  2. Close sandwich and spread butter over the outsides of the bread. Cook in a pan or in a panini press (my favorite way to make grilled cheese) until cheese is melted.
  3. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. The possibilities of fillings inside grilled cheese are endless!
http://www.elephanteats.com/

Thanksgivukkah! Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Cinnammon Sour Cream ~ ElephantEats.com

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a Thanksgivukkah recipe for you guys today.

What is Thanksgivukkah you ask? It’s when Thanksgiving and Chanukkah coincide! Chanukkah goes by the Hebrew (lunar) calendar and so it’s not always in December like Christmas. It has been in November before, but it’s extremely rare that in falls on Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgivukkah! Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Sour Cream ~ ElephantEats.com

Nate is a lovely hand model

According to Wikipedia, the last time it happened since Thanksgiving was declared a U.S. federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln was 125 years ago, in 1888. The next time Thursday, November 28 will fall during Chanukkah will be in the year 79811, assuming the Jewish calendar is not revised. Crazy huh?

Being that Jews love to eat, and food bloggers love to cook, you can guarantee that this Chanukkah will have some awesome Thanksgiving/Jewish inspired treats.

The traditional Chanukkah foods are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts). If you notice, both of these foods are deep fried in oil, which is no coincidence. Oil is very important to the holiday of Chanukkah. You can read more about it here if you’re interested.

Thanksgivukkah! Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Sour Cream ~ ElephantEats.com

I’ve already seen plenty of riffs on latkes for Thanksgivukkah, involving sweet potatoes rather than regular spuds. Honeslty I don’t think that’s so original, as Jews have been doing that already for years. Then I saw people made turkey donuts, which is just plain gross. I also saw a pumpkin rugelach or pumpkin kugel (pudding). 

But I wanted to be original. So I tried to think of other Chanukkah “things.” The other traditional food to eat on Chanukkah, if you can call it a food, is chocolate “gelt” or chocolate coins.Usually these coins are used to gamble while playing dreidel, a game involving a little spinning top.

Thanksgivukkah! Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Sour Cream ~ ElephantEats.com

Gelt is really just money, or coins, so I figured a recipe could look like gelt without actually involving the candy that we love to eat on this holiday. That’s when it occurred to me- sweet potato gelt! I thought about using carrots since they’re smaller and would look more like coins, but they’re not as Thanksgiving-y as sweet potatoes. 

I added the dipping to sauce to make it more kid-friendly (kids love dipping!) and also to inject some more fall flavor (citrus and cinnamon) into the dish. Obviously this dish goes way beyond Thanksgivukkah and would be a welcome addition to any dinner, or even as a fun pass-around appetizer. 

I hope you enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgivukkah! You know you want to celebrate it ;)

Thanksgivukkah! Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Sour Cream ~ ElephantEats.com

Spiced Sweet Potato "Gelt" with Orange Honey Sour Cream Dipping Sauce
Serves 4
A perfect appetizer or kid's food for Thanksgivukkah or just any day of the year!
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Potatoes
  1. 4-5 sweet potatoes/yams (try to find ones with a small diameter to make smaller "coins")
  2. Cooking spray or olive oil
  3. salt/pepper/cinnamon for sprinkling
Dipping Sauce
  1. 8 oz. sour cream (I used low fat)
  2. 1 Tbsp orange zest
  3. 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  4. 1 Tbsp honey
  5. 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425. Cover a large baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Cut sweet potatoes crosswise into 1/2" thick rounds. Either toss with oil or place on the prepared baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt/pepper/cinnamon.
  3. Put potatoes in oven and cook, flipping them halfway, 20-25 minutes or until cooked and soft enough to be pierced with a fork, but firm enough to be picked up without falling apart.
  4. While potatoes are cooking, whisk dipping sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.
  5. Let potatoes cool to room temperature so you can pick them up without burning your fingers and serve with sauce on the side for dipping!
http://www.elephanteats.com/

Orange Seitan with Green Beans and Peppers ~ ElephantEats.com

My friend Erica came over to dinner a few weeks ago and I cooked up this meal. It was SUPER easy and she liked it so much that she made it for dinner later that week too!

That was also the day I made the fluffy pb frosted brownies, which she got to sample. Lucky girl ;)

She brought one home to her bf and he apparently gave it a thumbs up!

Orange Seitan with Green Beans and Peppers ~ ElephantEats.com

Since Nate doesn’t like the taste of beef, and I hate touching raw chicken, I’m always experimenting with new protein forms. We both love seitan so I picked some up at Whole Foods assuming we’d find a use for it. I went to use it, thinking it was sliced in pieces, but it was actually ground.

I had never had ground seitan before but it was actually a really perfect substitute for ground beef! I love the texture it added to this dish and I’ll definitely be making it again. Be sure to serve it over a big bowl of white (my fave) or brown rice. Mmmm mmm!

Orange Seitan with Green Beans and Peppers ~ ElephantEats.com

Also, I finished another pet portrait! This one was a present for my parents of their long-haired mini dachsund, Sparky. I think it’s my best one yet!

Mini Dachsund Pet Portrait ~ ElephantEats.com

Orange Seitan with Peppers and String Beans
Serves 4
A healthy, vegetarian version of chinese take-out!
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Ingredients
  1. zest from one orange
  2. 1/2 cup orange juice (juice the orange you zested and add water to get to 1/2 cup)
  3. 1/4 cup brown sugar
  4. 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  5. 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  6. 2 tsp chili garlic sauce
  7. 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  8. 2 tsp cornstarch
  9. 2 tsp vegetable oil
  10. 3/4 lb fresh green beans, ends cut and trimmed into 2-inch pieces
  11. 2 red peppers, sliced thin and cut into 2-inch strips
  12. 1 lb ground seitan
  13. 2 scallions, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk the orange zest, juice, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger and cornstarch.
  2. In a large nonstick pan, heat oil over med-hi heat. Add green beans and peppers and cook for about 3 min. Add seitan and cook til beans are crisp tender.
  3. With a slotted spoon, transfer everything to a large bowl.
  4. Give the orange juice mixture a stir and add it to the pan. Cook, scraping up any brown bits until thickened, about 2 min.
  5. Add veggies and seitan back to pan, along with any juices. Warm through.
  6. Serve over white or brown rice to soak up all that yummy sauce!
Adapted from Very Culinary
Adapted from Very Culinary
http://www.elephanteats.com/

Bread with Pecorino, Honey and Orange Zest ~ ElephantEats.com

Since SO many of my readers requested it, I’ll do a very brief summary of my trip to Italy. I think I will have to do a separate post about my cooking class with some recipes, since there’s too much to tell about that! 

Unfortunately, my family isn’t big on remembering to take photos (thank goodness Nate loves to!), so all the photos I have were taken with my iphone.

I began my trip in Florence, where I met up with my parents who had already been traveling for a week. Here’s the famous Duomo which was a short walk from our hotel.

Duomo, Florence, Italy ~ ElephantEats.com

Sadly, I didn’t consume as much gelato as i would have liked because my stomach was bothering me for most of the trip…and I was too full after meals to get it. It’s pretty crazy how often you see people eating gelato, though, and at all times of the day!

I’m pretty sure there more gelato stores in italy than Starbucks are in the U.S., and that’s saying a lot since I love in NY where there’s practically a Starbucks on every corner. But in both Florence and Milan there were at least 2 places to get gelato on every single block. 

Florence is pretty small, so we could walk pretty much everywhere. The Ponte Vecchio was so close by that we ended up walking over there for shopping and dinner a couple times. 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence ~ ElephantEats.com

As I mentioned in my other post, we took a day trip to Chianti where we had a private cooking class at the Ristorante Malborghetto with Chef Simone.

Here’s our first course. A juicy, grilled porcini with rosemary, garlic and truffle oil.

Cooking Class, Ristorante Malborghetto, Chianti ~ ElephanEats.com

We also made the most amazing homemade gnocchi in bolognese. We made parmesan bowls to serve it. 

Cooking Class, Ristorante Malborghetto, Chianti ~ ElephanEats.com

 Here’s my mom helping make the tiramisu.

Cooking Class, Ristorante Malborghetto, Chianti ~ ElephanEats.com
Here’s my dad enjoying the finished product. 

Cooking Class, Ristorante Malborghetto, Chianti ~ ElephanEats.com

On the way home from Chianti, we stopped at San Gimignano, a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany. It was so so beautiful!

San Gimignano ~ ElephantEats.com

We ended up doing a lot of walking while we were in Florence…we had to go up a bunch of steep staircases and hills to get to Basilica di San Miniato al Monte.Florence, Italy ~ ElephantEats.com

Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Florence ~ ElephantEats.com

But it was worth it because the view at the top was spectacular.

Basilica di San Miniato al Monte 2 ~ Elephant Eats.com

Next up was Milan. The most beautiful Cathedral was near our hotel. The Duomo di Milano is a Gothic cathedral that took nearly six centuries to complete and was literally JUST finished, if you can believe it. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory.

Milan Duomo ~ ElephanEats.com

We were told that the church needs money, hence the billboards on the scaffolding!

Milan Duomo ~ ElephanEats.com

Milan has a bike share program just like the CitiBikes that were recently introduced in NYC. Europe is way ahead of the U.S.!

City Bikes, Milan ~ Elephant Eats.com

One of the days that we were in Milan, we took a day trip to Lake Maggiore. The climate in the lake region is mild all year long, and so there’s the Alpinia botanical garden above the town of Stresa there.  

We visited it and it was gorgeous.

Botanical Gardens, Lake Maggiore ~ ElephantEats.com

Alpinia botanical garden  ~ ElephantEats.comAlpinia botanical garden  ~ ElephantEats.com

Alpinia botanical garden  ~ ElephantEats.com

But anyway, back to the important stuff…the food!

My parents have been to Florence several times now, and this was my second time although I don’t remember the first too well. Anyway, my parents had apparently been to this one little cafe that they really wanted to find again because one of the things they had was this delicious bread with honeycomb, cheese and orange zest. We walked all around trying to find the place but couldn’t. Finally my mom remembered that she had sent an email to her friend with the restaurant name in it so we went back to the hotel just to get the info! Luckily after some searching we found the email and went immediatey back out to go there for lunch. 

cantinetta dei verrazzano, Florence ~ ElephantEats.com

It was called Cantinetta Dei Verrazzano and I HIGHLY recommend that if you’re in Florence, you stop in for lunch or dinner. 

We split some meats and a salad but the highlight of the meal was when the server came to our table carrying a giant honeycomb! He put out plates with a small slice of a whole wheat bread, with a slice of some sort of Pecorino Romano cheese (i think). He then scraped the honeycomb with a spoon and put the delicious honey drippings on top of the cheese. And finally he zested an orange on top. The combination of flavors was incredible and I knew I had to recreate it at home so Nate could experience it!

Bread with Pecorino, Honey and Orange Zest 2 ~ ElephantEats.com

This isn’t a recipe so much because honestly, there are no real amounts, but I thought I should introduce you all to this flavor combination that somehow I had never heard of before. It’s not so easy to find honeycomb around here, so I just used regular honey. I hope you’ll try this at home!

Bread with Pecorino, Honey and Orange Zest  ~ ElephantEats.com

When I finally get a chance to recreate one of the dishes I made in my Italian cooking class, I’ll be back with a recipe for that :)

Bread with Pecorino, Honey and Orange Zest 2 ~ ElephantEats.com

 

Bread with Pecorino, Honey and Orange Zest
An easy appetizer with the most amazing combination of flavors from Florence, Italy! I don't have any amounts because it really is up to you...
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Ingredients
  1. Whole Wheat bread, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  2. Pecorino (or other hard cheese), sliced 1/8 inch thick and cut into pieces
  3. Honeycomb or honey
  4. Orange zest
Instructions
  1. Place bread squares on a plate.
  2. Put a small square of cheese on each slice. Put a large dallop of honey on each and then zest orange on top.
http://www.elephanteats.com/