Nana’s Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

This post is for my childhood best friend and her mom. I know you’ll be reading this and you’ve wanted to know the “secret” macaroni and cheese recipe for a while now (I put sectret in quote not because this recipe is secret… but because it’s one of those things I had to be in the kitchen to learn, there wasn’t a written recipe for a while). This recipe is my progress so far at imitating Nana’s Macaroni and Cheese Casserole. It’s not quite as delicious as hers (yet). She jokingly told me last weekend that hers tastes better because of the added love. 🙂

To me, this is my all-time favourite comfort food. It reminds me of my childhood. When I was in grade school, Dad would pick my brother and I up from school during lunch hour and we would go visit Nana and Boppa (I had trouble saying Papa as a toddler and the nickname “Boppa”stuck). Nana always had a fantastic meal ready when we arrived. We ate lunch, visited, and Dad dropped us back at school on his way to work. Back then, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have a home-cooked meal every day. And to spend time with my family at every meal.

Nana’s repertoire seemed endless, I remember homemade soups (chicken noodle, cream of asparagus) and sandwiches (grilled cheese made with a sandwich press, ham, turkey, hot chicken with gravy). Lunch was rarely the same two days in a row.

My favourite was always the Macaroni and Cheese Casserole. This was Dad’s least favourite meal, so Matt and I would beg Nana to make it. And she would.

I miss those lunches. But it’s a fantastic memory! As we grew up, we went to different schools, Dad was moved to an office that was further away, and eventually Nana decided to move. We still try to get the family together on weekends for dinner when possible.

Over the years, I’ve tried my best to learn from Nana and imitate the recipe. You see, it was originally my Great Grandmother’s recipe and it had never been written down. Interestingly, Nana tells me that she and her sisters each have their own way of making the recipe. And each of them insists theirs is “just like mom’s” The differences are minor: the tenderness of the pasta before it is added to the casserole, the topping, the way you prepare the cheese, and whether or not you include the liquid from the canned tomatoes…

I hope to learn to make more family recipes, but this is the one that I hope to perfect soon!

Nana’s Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried macaroni noodles – approximate cost $0.60
  • 1 sleeve salted top crackers – approximate cost $0.60
  • 1 796 mL can of whole tomatoes, undrained – approximate cost $1.25
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt – approximate cost $0.10
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper – approximate cost $0.05
  • 1 egg – approximate cost $0.30
  • 1 cup milk (the type of milk has changed over the years, I currently use whole milk or 2%, Nana uses Skim or 1%) – approximate cost $1.33
  • 250 grams of medium cheddar cheese, cubed – approximate cost $3.50
  • 250 grams of medium cheddar cheese, shredded – approximate cost $3.50

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add the macaroni noodles.
  4. Boil the noodles for HALF of the recommended time (Nana calls this “parboiling”), about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water.
  6. Add the noodles to a large mixing bowl.
  7. Drain the liquid from the tomatoes into the mixing bowl with the noodles.
  8. Dice the tomatoes into small pieces.
  9. Add the tomato to the noodles.
  10. Add the cheese cubes and shredded cheese.
  11. Mix until well-combined.
  12. Pour the noodle mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish.
  13. Add the milk, egg, sea salt, and black pepper to the now empty mixing bowl.
  14. Mix the milk and eggs until well-combined.
  15. Pour milk mixture over the noodles (The noodles should be just covered, and it’s ok if a few tops of the pieces are not submerged. Add a bit extra milk if needed).
  16. Put the salted-top crackers in a plastic bag.
  17. Use a rolling pin to crush the crackers into fine crumbs.
  18. Sprinkle the cracker crumbs over the noodles, making sure to completely cover any exposed noodles so they do not dry out.
  19. Bake for 1 ½ hours (the edges should be slightly browned and the topping golden-coloured)
  20. Remove from oven.
  21. Allow the casserole to stand for 15-20 minutes on the counter.
  22. Serve and enjoy!

Makes about 8 servings (approximate cost $1.40 per serving).

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AcroYoga Workshop and Pasta with Bacon and Greens

Over the weekend, I attended an AcroYoga workshop hosted by Queen Street Yoga. 3 hours of intense work-shopping. The workshop started with some of the less scary exercises to get us warmed up. Check out this super awesome people-stacking (plank pose)!

Photo credit to Leena and Emma from Queen Street Yoga

At one point, I tried to be the third person in the stack. Turns out it’s not so easy for a person of average height…

Chair pose – it was surprisingly hard to get to this pose, but fairly easy (at least for me) to maintain once there.

Photo credit to Leena and Emma from Queen Street Yoga

Transitioning from one pose to another was probably the most difficult part. It took a lot of strength (and trust) for both the “base” and the “flyer.”

Photo credit to Leena and Emma from Queen Street Yoga

Throne pose was probably my favourite one to learn at this workshop. It was stable. As the “flyer,” there was a lot of stretching and core work.

Photo credit to Leena and Emma from Queen Street Yoga

The class was so much fun! I got to catch up with a few of my yogi-friends before and after class. Learned some new yoga poses. Got a good workout. And most of all, had a lot of fun while learning! If you ever have an opportunity to try an Acro-Yoga class, give it a try! It’s very different from a more traditional class, but tons of fun.

Understandably, at the end of three hours I was exhausted… so I went to Dad’s for dinner (and had a long walk with the dogs). Thanks dad! I probably would not have made a nutritious dinner on my own that night, I very much appreciated having someone else cook for me. 🙂

What does this have to do with the dish I’m sharing today? Absolutely nothing. Except that, after this class, I was craving a meal that was both healthy and filling, which reminded me of this pasta that I made a few weeks back and am just getting a chance to share with you today.

Pasta with Bacon and Greens

Ingredients

  • 500 grams whole grain spaghettini – approximate cost $1.50
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil – approximate cost $0.40
  • 6 slices of bacon, diced – approximate cost $3.00
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced – approximate cost $0.15
  • 3 fresh eggs – approximate cost $0.60
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese – approximate cost $1.00
  • 4 tablespoons sea salt – approximate cost $0.30
  • 1 cup Cookin’ Greens Athlete’s Mix – approximate cost $1.00
  • 1 zucchini, sliced – approximate cost $0.75
  • 1 onion, diced – approximate cost $0.75
  • 300 grams crimini mushrooms, sliced – approximate cost $1.25

Method

  1. Cook the bacon pieces in a wok over medium-high heat.
  2. Remove the bacon pieces to a plate when crispy.
  3. Bring a pot of very salty water (about 4 tablespoons of sea salt) to a boil.
  4. Cook spaghettini according to package.
  5. Add diced onion to the wok, cook until softened (about 5 minutes).
  6. Add minced garlic to the wok, cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  7. Add slices of crimini mushrooms, cook until softened (about 4 minutes).
  8. Add slices of zucchini and Cookin’ Greens Athlete’s Mix, cook until softened (about 3 minutes).
  9. Return bacon to the wok and mix well with the vegetables.
  10. Remove from heat.
  11. Combine fresh eggs, Parmesan, and olive oil in a mixing bowl, whisk until completely combined.
  12. Place the cooked spaghettini in a large mixing bowl.
  13. Drizzle with the egg mixture, stirring constantly so the noodles are covered in the sauce and the egg cooks (pasta should still be hot).
  14. Add the vegetable and bacon mixture and mix thoroughly into the pasta.
  15. Serve and enjoy!

Makes about 3 servings (approximate cost: $3.57 per serving).

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Shrimp and Fiddlehead Pasta

It’s just about the end of the season to purchase fiddleheads. They have such a short season, I’ve only seen them available in stores and markets in the spring. Particularly, the month of May. After that, they disappear for another year. I tried fiddlehead ferns (or, frequesntly referred to simply as fiddleheads) for the first time last spring. Not because I was cautious of trying them, but mostly because I didn’t know how to cook and enjoy them. I gave them a try anyway, and sautéed them with garlic and butter. They were delicious!

They look like this:

That’s the first batch of fiddleheads, sautéed with garlic and butter, that I made this season. Before I had read more about preparing and serving them. They tasted wonderful despite not trimming the brown spots.

This spring, I decided to browse recipe blogs for more exciting ideas for serving fiddleheads and more information on preparing them.

To prepare fiddleheads:

  1. Soak fiddleheads in a bowl of cold water to remove dirt.
  2. Remove from  bowl using a slotted spoon.
  3. Empty bowl and rinse out dirt.
  4. Repeat at least once more.
  5. Trim the brown spots from the cleaned fiddleheads.
  6. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  7. Blanch fiddleheads for 2-4 minutes.
  8. Remove from boiling water and place in an ice bath.

My favourite was the Fiddlehead Pasta from Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes. The original recipe is vegan, so I made quite a few adjustments to suit our meal preferences.

This isn’t the most cost-effective dish I’ve made. In fact, it’s a bit more on the expensive side of what I would usually cook… but it’s delicious and perfect to serve if you happen to have an occasion to celebrate and want to cook at home instead of eating out. (I think my excuse was making it through my first conference.)

Shrimp and Fiddlehead Pasta

Adapted from Fiddlehead Pasta (Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound uncooked shrimp, shells removed (otherwise it takes a long time to eat!) – approximate cost $10.00
  • 1 pound fiddleheads, rinsed and brown spots trimmed – approximate cost $5.00
  • 3 cloves of garlic – minced – approximate cost $0.75
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes – approximate cost $0.10
  • 2 tablespoons butter – approximate cost $0.15
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil – approximate cost $0.15
  • 1 lemon, juiced – approximate cost $0.75
  • 1 lemon, sliced into four wedges – approximate cost $0.75
  • 1 package of whole grain spaghettini (or your facourite type of pasta) – approximate cost $3.00
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt – approximate cost $0.05

Method

  1. Prepare the fiddleheads (clean, trim, blanche, and move to ice bath).
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  3. Add salt and pasta.
  4. Cook according to directions on package.
  5. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  6. Add olive oil and minced garlic, cook for about 1 minute.
  7. Add shrimp and fiddleheads and cook until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through (about 5 minutes).
  8. Add chili pepper flakes and lemon juice.
  9. Serve fiddleheads and shrimp over pasta and with a lemon wedge on the side.

Makes 4 servings (approximate cost: $5.18 per serving).

Day 27: Chocolate

Why is there a picture of pasta when the topic is chocolate? It’s hard to believe, but these ravioli pieces are stuffed with braised beef and dark chocolate. It was delicious. I’ll admit, I was skeptical about this pasta. I didn’t think I’d like it. Chocolate and beef seemed like a weird combination. It was delicious. I might try to make it myself at some point.

Uncooked tomato sauce served with raw zucchini or spaghetti noodles

This tomato sauce is among my favourite dishes. It’s easy to make, healthy, tasty, and versatile. There’s so many ways to present it and it can be enjoyed for either lunch or dinner.Since finding the recipe on TheKitchn last summer, I’ve prepared the sauce a number of times with slight variations each time to suit whomever is enjoying the dish.

Here are a few variations you can try:

  • Make it a raw meal by making zucchini “noodles” with a spiral turner
  • Serve with cold or hot spaghetti noodles
  • Make it vegetarian by excluding the meat
  • Include a salty, cured meat such as prosciutto, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • Use a blender to puree the ingredients into a sauce-like consistency (do this after marinating the mixture)

This sauce is fantastic because you can make a large portion, set some aside in a dish and pack it for lunch. By lunch time, it’s marinated enough to enjoy! You can also let it marinate all day and simply prepare your choice of pasta when you arrive home and dinner is ready in 15 minutes!

Try not to put the tomatoes in the fridge at any point. I find that chilling them takes away from the flavour of the finished meal. However, I do always store the leftovers in the fridge and let it warm to room temperature before enjoying.

Uncooked tomato sauce

Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes – approximate cost $2.00
  • 1 pint of mixed tomatoes (any combination of yellow, orange, pink, green, etc.) – approximate cost $2.00
  • 3 medium-sized Roma tomatoes – approximate cost $2.00
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely minced – approximate cost $0.50
  • 10 leaves of basil, cut into fine strips – approximate cost $0.75
  • 1/2 cup olive oil – approximate cost $1.50
  • Salt to taste – approximate cost $0.05
  • 200 grams of meat, such as prosciutto or bacon (Optional) – approximate cost $3.50
  • Parmesan cheese (optional) – approximate cost $0.50

Method

  1. Slice all of the various tomatoes into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Place garlic, basil, and olive oil in a large serving bowl. Stir mixture well. Cover with plastic wrap and allow mixture to sit on the counter for 3-4 hours.
  3. Place tomatoes in olive oil mixture. Stir mixture until all tomatoes are coated with oil and garlic is evenly distributed throughout the sauce.
  4. Recover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture marinate for 2-4 hours (leave on the counter).
    1. Note: If you don’t have time to marinate the basil in the oil before adding it to the tomatoes to marinate, you can skip this step and mix it with the tomatoes immediately. But there’s more flavour if you can include the step.
  5. Add salt to taste.
  6. Serve over cooked spaghetti noodles or spiralled zucchini “noodles” (for a raw dish) and, if desired, top with more fresh basil leaves, meat of your choice, and Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 6 servings (approximate cost: $1.55 per serving of sauce without meat, or $2.13 per serving of sauce with meat).

You can use almost any tomatoes you have on hand, but having a small variety of tomatoes tends to give the dish more flavour. If you’re not using smaller tomatoes, use 6-7 medium-large sized tomatoes.

Raw Cucumber and Tomato Soup turned into Pasta Sauce

Ever since the Raw Food Workshop, I’ve been searching for ways to incorporate raw food into my repertoire. I’ve started following a few new-to-me blogs looking for ideas and searching through their archives.

If you’re interested in learning how to prepare raw foods, check out:

Please send me your suggestions if you know any other raw food blogs that I should look into!

Raw Cucumber and Tomato Soup

Adapted from Raw Food Passion

Ingredients

  • 1 avocado – approximate cost $1.50
  • ½ English cucumber – approximate cost $0.75
  • 4 tomatoes – approximate cost $2.50
  • 1/4 cup cilantro – approximate cost $0.50
  • 1 dash of sea salt (more or less to taste) – approximate cost $0.10

raw cucumber and tomato soup

Method

  1. Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Makes about 4 servings (approximate cost: $1.34 per serving)

Unfortunately, this soup didn’t go over very well. Neither B nor I seem to be fond of cold soups. I made a Gazpacho soup last summer and our reaction to both of these soups was about the same: it seems more like a sauce or a chip dip than a meal itself. I’m sure this is very tasty if you have a taste for cold soups. However, I will not be making this again.

We both dislike wasting food, so I attempted to transform this soup into a pasta sauce. I can no longer call it raw, but at least everything will be eaten. This sauce very much tastes like the remnants of the soup, but with a few adjustments, I think we will be able to finish it off in the next few days.

Cucumber and Tomato Uncooked Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 avocado – approximate cost $1.50
  • ½ English cucumber – approximate cost $0.75
  • 5 tomatoes – approximate cost $3.00
  • 1/4 cup cilantro – approximate cost $0.50
  • 1 dash of sea salt (more or less to taste) – approximate cost $0.10
  • 3 cloves of garlic – approximate cost $0.25
  • ½ teaspoon of chili peppers – approximate cost $0.10
  • 1 pint of assorted tomatoes (grape, cherry, yellow, etc.) – approximate cost $3.00
  • 200 grams of prosciutto slices, cut into strips – approximate cost $3.00
  • Spaghetti noodles – approximate cost $1.50

uncooked tomato and cucumber sauce

Method

  1. Combine avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro, sea salt (or, the Raw Cucumber and Tomato Soup), garlic, and chili peppers and blend until smooth and move to a mixing bowl.
  2. Slice assorted small tomatoes and add to the blended mixture
  3. Cook spaghetti noodles according to package and drain.
  4. Assemble pasta – I let the noodle cool slightly before placing them in my bowl, followed by a generous helping of sauce and topping with a few slices of prosciutto.

Makes about 8 servings (approximate cost: $1.71 per serving)

Turning the soup into a pasta sauce wasn’t a perfect solution. It tasted better than the cold soup and prevented waste. If I have make just the sauce and wasn’t trying to salvage a dish, I would have left out the cucumber and avocado. I also found that the flavour was better the next day when I ate the leftovers for lunch. (Or maybe I’m imagining it?) B was not a fan.

Kitchen tips: Boiling pasta

Pasta is a staple in a student’s diet. This stereotype rings true in my kitchen (especially when I’m on a school term). It cheap, easy to make, and can be tossed with just about any scraps in the fridge that need to be used up.After quite a few years of boiling my pasta in salted water with a little bit of oil to keep it from boiling over… I find out I’m doing it wrong! While adding the oil is a convenient and easy way to keep the pot from boiling over, turns out it has negative effects on the end product. My aunt tells me (and I believe her because she’s got much more experience cooking than I do) that the oil prevents sauce from sticking to your pasta.

So what can we do to keep the pot from boiling over without adding oil to the water? Try turning the burner temperature down to medium when the water first comes to a boil and take the time to check on your pasta every few minutes to make sure it is not in danger of boiling over.

Do you have any other tips for cooking pasta?

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