Tag Archives: casserole

Pioneer Woman’s Macaroni and Cheese

Permit me a few moments of fangirldom: Pioneer Woman is coming to Charlotte in May! Willow Bird Baking reader Jennifer M. told me about it a few days ago and my family’s been all abuzz since then. I was bummed that she didn’t swing by this-a-way on her last book tour, so I’m pleased as a plum that she’ll be here this time around. My mom, dad, and I are already planning to make some t-shirts, grab some dinner, and make a night out of going to see her. Mike has politely declined, citing the possibility of standing in line for hours. His loss!

In the meantime, I’ll make some macaroni from the PW blog. I was not actually in the market for a new macaroni and cheese recipe (except I would like to get the one Mike’s mom makes . . . mmm!). I have an old family favorite that I could eat every day. It’s more custardy than creamy, though, and Mike’s a creamy guy. So I thought I’d give the P-Dub’s recipe a whirl. (Can I call her that?? To her face? What do you SAY to Pioneer Woman, anyway?? Probably something gushy punctuated with a nervous laugh. We’ll see!)

Mmm, and is this mac and cheese creamy! It starts with a roux (cooked flour and butter), but actually isn’t that fussy. You add in some milk, dry mustard, and spices of your choice, cook until thickened, add your cheese, and voila: a rich, thick, creamy cheese sauce in which to dunk those little noodles up to their elbows (get it?). The creamy macaroni then goes into a baking dish, is topped with cheese, and bakes for 20-25 minutes. Pretty simple, very luxurious.

If you’re a creamy macaroni and cheese fan, this recipe’s for you. Just don’t undersalt! Pioneer Woman charges you with this command at least three times in her post, but I still undersalted mine. Go for it with that salt shaker! You don’t want to feel like you just took in a gulp of ocean or anything, but you do want to enhance the great flavors of the dish.

Pioneer Woman’s Macaroni and Cheese



Recipe by: Adapted from Pioneer Woman
Yields: 9 x 13 in. pan of baked macaroni (4 to 8 servings)

Ingredients:
4 cups dried macaroni
¼ cups (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons) butter
¼ cups all-purpose flour
2-½ cups whole milk
2 teaspoons (heaping) dry mustard, more if desired
1 whole egg, beaten
1 pound cheese, grated
½ teaspoons salt, more to taste
½ teaspoons seasoned salt, more to taste
½ teaspoons ground black pepper
Optional spices: cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook macaroni until very firm. Macaroni should be too firm to eat right out of the pot (about 5 minutes). Drain.

In a small bowl, beat egg.

In a large pot, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook mixture for five minutes, whisking constantly. Don’t let it burn.

Pour in milk, add mustard, whisk until smooth, and turn heat up to medium-high. Cook for five minutes until very thick. Reduce heat to low.

Temper eggs: Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. Whisk together till smooth. Pour egg mixture into sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth.

Add in cheese and stir to melt.

Add salts and pepper. Taste sauce and add more salt and seasoned salt as needed! DO NOT UNDERSALT (Would you believe I still undersalted mine, even with this warning? Don’t undersalt the macaroni and cheese, y’all!)

Pour in drained, cooked macaroni and stir to combine. Serve immediately (very creamy) or pour into a buttered baking dish, top with extra cheese and a sprinkle of paprika, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.




Enjoy!

P.S. Looking for something adorable for Easter? How about Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls or Lemon Burst Fairycakes?


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Baking to Freeze: Introduction!

New babies are such a joyous occasion, but the stress of getting used to a new, totally dependent little person in your life is sure to be a bit overwhelming. I’m so excited for my friend, A., who is expecting her new little one any day now (I’m sure it’s a girl, though we don’t actually know yet). She’s already so organized and has been nesting for months, but I wanted to do something to help her through the first busy days. What better than to do something I love (baking!) to support her as she adds to her family? I decided to make and freeze some dinners (and dessert, of course) for her to pop in the oven after Baby comes.

I’ve always loved the idea of giving friends gifts of food. Beyond merely supplying a need, personal, handmade gifts of food also supply warmth and affection. Sitting down to a hot meal is always satisfying and pleasant, and even moreso when it also represents the bond of friendship. It’s an intimate way to share a tiny piece of the load your friends are carrying. It’s lovely to be able to do something to help, and I hope the food turned out lovely for her.

The first step of creating A.’s meals was scouring the internet for which dishes would freeze well, thawing and baking instructions, and packaging tips. After all that searching around, I thought it might be nice to create a “one-stop” post on Willow Bird Baking about creating frozen meals. Hopefully this will be helpful for those of you with expectant friends, new neighbors, or even friends going through times of grief. Using this post, you ought to be able to bake one (or both) of two freezer-friendly casseroles and a batch of frozen cookie dough, print labels/thawing instructions, and get tips on preparing products for the freezer.

Now, onto the food! I chose two lasagnas for my freezing escapade. One is a Mexican Lasagna, which folks joke is neither Mexican, nor a lasagna! It’s very easy to throw together. The other is a Classic Italian Lasagna, which is Italian and is lasagna, and is much more time consuming. It’s a labor of love. Which casserole you choose really depends on your goal: if you want a quick and easy recipe, choose the former, but if you enjoy making more complex recipes, choose the latter (or both). I personally hadn’t made a “real lasagna” before, so I wanted to give it a shot! Finally, I chose to make some cookie dough for a dessert, since it freezes very well. Martha Stewart’s Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies sounded hearty and delicious. Because of the large quantities of food, I decided to keep half and give half. That way the baking does double duty, and A.’s freezer doesn’t get overbooked!


LOTS of food!

Click on the recipe below that you’re interested in baking (or baking to freeze!) to find the recipe, printable labels, and thawing instructions:

Recipe #1: Mexican Lasagna

Recipe #2: Classic Italian Lasagna

Recipe #3: Chunky Peanut Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies

Finally, here are some great tips for freezing casseroles, to which I would add the following:

  • Consider packaging: disposable baking dishes are a kindness, since they won’t need to be returned. Make sure all of the dishes you’re preparing will fit in the freezer when packaged and wrapped!
  • Label your meals: In addition to the name of the dish, include instructions on thawing/baking, a “date packaged” and “good until” date, and the recipes (this will allow friends to calculate nutrition information, peruse ingredients, and even make the dish again, if they wish). I’ve included PDF labels for each of the dishes below, so feel free to download and print them. The labels can be cut out and glued on 4×6 index cards to make them sturdier.
  • Wrap food better than you think you need to. Double layers of plastic wrap, pack things in ziplock bags, etc.

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Baking to Freeze: Classic Italian Lasagna

Classic Italian Lasagna is the second recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!)

This recipe could quite literally take you all day to make, but if you’re like me and you love a culinary challenge, go for it! If you’d rather cut out a bit of the labor, you can substitute a jarred spaghetti sauce of your choice for the tomato sauce.

Pay special attention that you season each part of the lasagna well (the pasta, the sauce, the meat, the ricotta mixture).




Cooling off in the fridge before freezing! My first real lasagna!




Baking to Freeze Recipe #2: Classic Lasagna


Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis, with tomato sauce by Tina
Yields: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Quick Tomato Sauce:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon diced shallots
1 large can tomato puree
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons basil (to taste)
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper

Béchamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows (I would add more for a bolder tomato flavor)
Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chuck beef
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:
Make quick tomato sauce: Sautee onion, garlic, and shallots in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Add a large can of tomato puree and all spices and herbs. Let sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Make béchamel sauce: In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish (disposable oven-proof baking dishes are wonderful for freezing in), spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce (NOTE: if you’re freezing the lasagna but don’t have a disposable baking dish, line a glass baking dish with foil and leave the ends hanging over the dish. Assemble your lasagna in the dish and bake. Then, after you’ve cooled, you can freeze the casserole, pull it out using the ends of the foil, and store it in a large ziplock bag. When you’re ready to thaw and bake, you can use the original dish). Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining béchamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes. (If freezing, bake for 30 minutes covered, remove cover and bake for 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and wrap well — double up layers of plastic wrap. Store in freezer for up to 3 months).

Thawing Instructions: Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook 20-30 minutes or until lasagna is heated through and bubbly.

Pictures of the process:


Béchamel sauce with tomato sauce mixed in.




Lasagna assembling about to begin.




Lasagnas ready for the oven (and an interested Byrd in the background).




Yeah . . . that’s my usually tidy kitchen after a full day of lasagnaing (during which I think I used almost every dish and utensil I own — and most of my roommate’s as well). And I’m a clean-as-you-go person, too, but what can I say?




All packaged and ready!




A nice plate of lasagna and cheesy garlic bread after reheating!

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

Preview:

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