Macaroni and Cheese (stovetop version)

This is my favorite weeknight mac and cheese recipe. It comes from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine, in kind of a fancier version with country ham and a Parmesan basket, but the core of the recipe is quick, easy, and super tasty. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of macaroni, but that’s like, super saucy. I usually make a pound of pasta, and that seems a bit more reasonable, and feeds a whole family. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reheat well, or do well in the oven (ask me how I know), so it’s not great for potlucks and that kind of thing, but otherwise, it’s great.

Serves 4

1 lb. dried tubular pasta (elbows, cavatappi, penne, &c.)
2 TB butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 TB minced shallot
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated aged Gouda cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but on the al dente side of things.

2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until soft and fragrant, being careful not to brown them (the recipe says five minutes, but it’s less than that). Add the cream, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream has reduced by a quarter, and coats the back of the spoon.

3. Whisk in the grated cheeses, and cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. You can strain it at this point if you want, but I never do.

4. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce (or vice-versa, depending on your relative pot size), and simmer together for a minute or two, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.

The garlic and shallot measurements are a little silly, and I usually just go for one clove of garlic and one shallot. If you like breadcrumbs on top, you can do some extra garlic and shallot, cook them in some butter, and then add some breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and cook until toasty, then sprinkle them on top of the finished mac and cheese.

Corn Chowder

This is just a souped-up (sorry/not sorry) version of Corn and Potato Soup, which my mom used to make us for lunch sometimes. It’s hearty, and can be made completely vegetarian, if that’s your thing. It’s fantastic with fresh corn, but it’s still delicious made with frozen corn.

Serves 4-6 for dinner

4 TB butter, olive oil, or a combination of the two
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each dried sage and thyme
6 red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch-ish cubes
4 cups broth (veggie or chicken)
3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped flat parsley leaves

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until soft and golden. Add the garlic and herbs, and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

2. Add the potatoes, stir everything, then add the broth, and crank the heat up to high. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

3. Add the corn and the cream, and cook for five more minutes, or until cooked/heated through. Taste, and add salt and pepper, and more sage and thyme, if needed. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Notes: If you want to, you can start with about 4 oz. diced bacon instead of the butter. You can also use fresh herbs instead of, or in addition to, the dried ones. I don’t peel the potatoes, but you can, if you like. This time, I also threw in some diced sweet potato (that I did peel), about five minutes after the potato came to a boil.

Roast Chicken with Za’atar and Sumac

The essence of home cooking is asking ‘What do you want for dinner?’, and then everyone shrugs and says ‘I dunno’ or occasionally ‘Burritos’. So you head to the supermarket with no list, hoping that whatever they have on sale will inspire your next meal. I mean, I don’t know, maybe that’s just me, and everyone reading this is an expert weeknight meal planner, but I have a hunch that I’m not the only one.

In any case, as long as it’s not summer, and too hot for roasting, a whole chicken is a very respectable answer to the perpetual question of dinner. It’s fairly low effort, it’s almost always tasty, and you can go nuts with whatever seasonings strike your fancy. Look, you have to make your own fun, since it’s clear no one else in this family has any original dinner ideas.

Like a lot of my last-minute dinner ideas, this is a combo of two recipes, one — No-Fail Roast Chicken with Lemon and Garlic from Bon Appétit — for the method, and one — Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za-atar, and Lemon via The Splendid Table — for the flavor profile. And then you make adjustments based on what ingredients you have on hand, and your own experience and personal preference. For example, I trussed the chicken rather than slicing it open at the legs (because why would you do that?), and I used shallots rather than red onions, and I used a mixture of butter and olive oil. Oh, and I just tossed the spices on there without measuring them. Easy, delicious, and now you don’t have to worry about dinner again, until tomorrow night.

Grilled Pizza

We make homemade pizza fairly often in the winter, but who wants to turn their oven up to 500° when it’s in the 90s? Enter grilled pizza, which, you still have to stand around a hot grill for, but at least your whole house doesn’t get overheated.

I used Bon Appétit’s method for the pizza, but I really don’t like supermarket pizza dough, so I made my own

This is my second-favorite pizza dough recipe, because my favorite pizza dough recipe takes six hours, so you have to know before noon that you want pizza for dinner. This one, adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table, only rises for two hours, so you can be a little more spontaneous. I quadrupled the recipe, for six personal-size pizzas.

1 to 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm water

1. Mix the dry ingredients, then add the water and mix until combined. Knead for about five minutes, until the dough comes together, and is soft, but not too sticky, adding more flour as needed.

2. Form into a ball (or as many balls as you’d like pizzas, if you’re increasing the recipe), and place on well-floured surface. Flour the top of the dough, cover, and let rise for two hours, or about tripled in bulk. Then make some pizzas!

Bonus no-cook pizza sauce recipe: Combine a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (these can be pre-crushed, or you can drain some whole tomatoes and run them through a food mill. You might have to experiment with different brands to get a flavor and consistency that you like) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a clove or two of minced garlic. Taste and add lemon juice or sugar if the flavor needs adjusting, then let it sit while you’re busy with your other pizza business.

Cold Sesame/Peanut Noodles

A delicious summer dinnertime staple that also became a topic of debate when some members of the family called it ‘pasta salad’. It’s okay, we had a long discussion about genre and qualia, and now they only call it that specifically to annoy me.

Serves 4-6

For the noodles and sauce
1 lb. noodles, usually lo mein or spaghetti, but you can use any other type if you like. While you’re doing everything else, you can cook them according to their package directions, drain, and cool them by rinsing them with cold water.
1/4 cup canola oil, or other neutral oil (you can use refined peanut or sesame oil for this part)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch finger of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup each of creamy peanut butter and tahini or sesame paste, or 1/2 cup total of either, depending on how you’re feeling, and what you have on hand
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar or black vinegar if you have it
2 TB Asian-style toasted sesame oil
1 TB honey
2 tsp (or more) sriracha, sambal oelek, or other chili sauce

Toppings, &c.
This is just what I put in this time, but I do it differently depending on what I have around/feel like. You could add cabbage, chicken, chilies, even other things that don’t start with the letter ‘c’. Just be aware that if you have a lot of toppings you might need to make extra sauce.
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 a large cucumber, halved lengthwise then sliced thin
1/2 lb. snap pea pods, halved
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
5 or so scallions, thinly sliced
large handful of cilantro, chopped
roasted peanuts and sesame seeds

1. Heat the oil and sesame seeds over medium heat in a saucepan. When the sesame seeds start to turn golden brown, add the garlic and ginger, stir, and remove from heat. Continue stirring occasionally until it stops sizzling.

2. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, stir, and let cool a bit before mixing with the noodles. Adjust the seasonings until it tastes good to you.

3. Toss in all your toppings, reserving some for a garnish if you like. Serve room temp, or chilled, whichever you prefer.

Pierogi Ruskie

Due to a combination of bad luck and stubbornness I ended up making pierogi in an un-air-conditioned kitchen in the middle of July. Fortunately, the whole family pitched in to help, and that’s basically my best advice for making dumplings (or dumpling-adjacent foods like ravioli or tamales): get a bunch of people to help. It turns what might be a difficult and daunting task into a party!

The recipe I used is from Polska: New Polish Cooking by Zuza Zak

Makes about 24 pierogi*

For the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter
large pinch of salt
approx. 1/2 cup warm water

For the filling:
2 onions
1 TB salted butter
5 oz. twaróg**
1 potato, peeled, cooked, and diced
salt and pepper

1. Make the dough by combining all the ingredients, using only enough water to bring the mixture together. Knead until smooth, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Chop the onions finely, and fry them in butter. Combine half of the onions, cheese, and potato for the filling. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Roll the dough as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. There are a few ways to make pierogi, but what we did was to cut out rounds, fill them, fold them in half, and crimp with a fork. If you need to, you can use some water to seal the edges.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently lower the pierogi into the water, cooking in two batches. As soon as they start to float up to the top, cook them for 2-3 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon to the pan with the onions.

5. Fry the pierogi for a minute or two, then serve.

*The recipe actually says ‘serves 2’, but unless those are two very hungry people, I think you can get away with more.

**The recipe recommends ricotta as a substitute, but any fresh or farmer’s cheese should be good. I used quark, which is kind of the same idea as twaróg as far as I can tell.

Pyzy Come, Pyzy Go

In addition to the Milk Bar(ish) cake, for my son’s birthday dinner we made pierogies, and one of my favorite cabbage recipes (and those recipes are forthcoming, I promise). We had also planned to make pyzy, which are a kind of dumpling with a potato dough and usually a meat filling. Unfortunately for us, they completely disintegrated in the hot water. Fortunately for us, the strained mashed potatoes with meat, mixed with the shallots fried in butter that were going to be the sauce for the pyzy, were honestly really good. So much so that, while I do intend to try making pyzy again with a different recipe, I’m also considering trying to make the failed pyzy again on purpose.

Alas, poor pyzy

My brother is a chef, and one time he had to fill in for the pastry chef while she went on leave. Macarons were on the menu, and he asked her for advice on how to make the finicky cookies all come out looking good. Her secret? “Buy a lot of extra almond flour.” Cooking can be unpredictable, and sometimes things just don’t turn out, even if you’ve got a lot of experience. If you’re lucky, you might create something new, or at least salvage dinner. If you’re not, and the only thing you made was a mess, then hopefully you learned a little, or have a funny story to tell on your blog. Look, if the popularity of BA’s Gourmet Makes teaches us anything, it’s that people love a good kitchen disaster, so I hope you enjoy mine.

Chicken Thigh Sandwich Number 1: Thai-Inspired

It all started when my husband brought home chicken thighs for dinner, and nothing else. He was planning on marinating and grilling them, but he only bought five thighs for our family of four (including two teenagers), and had no plans for sides, except ‘I think we have stuff for salad?’. We did have some leftover hamburger buns, so I suggested making sandwiches, and, honestly? It was a great idea, and we both ended up wondering why we hadn’t been making them all along. So, I don’t know if you’ve all been holding out on me, and secretly making chicken thigh sandwiches this whole time, or what, but I know like a thousand different ways to marinate chicken, and probably a million different toppings, so chicken thigh sandwiches done all different ways are the current weeknight dinner craze over here.

For the chicken:
The marinade I used was from Barbecued Chicken, Bangkok Style, found in True Thai by Victor Sodsook. The original recipe makes enough marinade for two 3-lb. chickens, so you can halve it, depending on how much chicken you’re making.

1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
2 TB yellow curry paste, or 1 TB curry powder
2 TB fish sauce
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro, including stems, chopped
2 1/2 TB light brown sugar, or palm sugar
1/2 TB ground white pepper

1. Throw everything in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Coat your boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the marinade (I mean, just get as many thighs as you want to eat, which is probably more than five), cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 24.

2. Prepare a grill with low coals/heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and cook slowly on one side with the cover off for a few minutes, and then covered for another few. Flip, and do the same thing, for a total of about 20 minutes, or until they’re done/the internal temperature reaches 165° F.

For the sauce:
AKA, your secret weapon, Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce, also from True Thai

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB Chinese-style chili-garlic sauce

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar to a low boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the rest of the sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chili-garlic sauce and remove from heat. Let cool and serve at room temperature. Go ahead and pour this stuff on anything, it’s the best.

For the peanut slaw:
I kind of just stirred together shredded cabbage and carrot, store-bought peanut sauce, lime juice, and salt, until I liked how it tasted. Then I added chopped up peanuts and cilantro. I didn’t have any scallions, but they’d probably be good, too.

For the cucumber relish/Ajaat:
There are lots of different recipes for Ajaat. This time I tried the one from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker, and it was good. It’s a little on the sweet side, though. Also, I couldn’t find any Thai chilies, or Serranos, which is what I usually substitute, so mine was made with Fresno chilies.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups
8 oz. medium, crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced into triangles (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 oz. shallots, also quartered and sliced (abour 3/4 cup)
6 grams fresh red Thai chilies (about 4), thinly sliced
6 TB white vinegar
6 TB sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Generous 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Combine the cucumbers, shallots, and chilies. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, water, and salt, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour enough to cover over the cucumbers, and stir well. You can eat it after just a few minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day. Just before serving, sprinkle with the cilantro leaves.

For the sandwiches:
Use whatever kind of sandwich roll/bun you like (we had brioche). Split and top with a chicken thigh. Drizzle with the sauce, then top with slaw and relish. You could probably toast the buns if you like, but they were fine without.

I know it’s like four different things, but they’re all very easy, and some of them you can make ahead of time if you like. And they are so good, you guys! I promise you will be glad you got on the chicken thigh sandwich bandwagon before it was cool.