Tag Archives: fresh bread crumbs

Cheddar-Ricotta Mac and Cheese

I can’t believe I don’t have a mac and cheese recipe on the site. My go-to recipe is Martha Stewart’s “Macaroni and Cheese 101” from her 1999 magazine issue. I should have either the magazine or the recipe cut out somewhere. I can’t do better than her combination of white cheddar and nutty Gruyere, but today I’m doing a yellow cheddar and adding some ricotta for the second cheese just for a change. It should be a milder cheese flavor, but still have a nice creamy texture.

I see a lot of mac and cheese recipes that use the no-boil method, but I don’t like the fuss of the long cooking under foil and then the second cooking without it. Plus, some of the photos of those dishes show that the whole thing has bubbled up over the sides, because of all the extra liquid needed to cook the macaroni. I’m just going to stick with a cheese sauce made from a traditional white sauce, and boil the macaroni first. The one extra step today is pulsing the ricotta in a food processor, so it’s creamy and not gritty. I also do that when I want to add it to an Italian tomato sauce.

I’m halving my traditional recipe that uses a whole pound of macaroni, because there are just two of us, and while big dishes are lovely to look at, they are hard to consume. We’ll eat it again tomorrow or the next day, but that’s enough.

Cheddar-Ricotta Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Preheat oven to 375°; butter a 2 1/2 quart baking dish, one with plenty of room to hold any bubbling sauce. You can see that mine came right up to the top.

8 oz elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions

1 1/2 cups ricotta, whole or part skim, pulsed in food processor until creamy

8 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) cheddar cheese, shredded

2 cups white sauce:

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups milk

crumb topping:

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

2-3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

  1. Prepare the macaroni and the cheeses; set aside.
  2. Make white sauce: melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat until bubbling. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until the flour is completely incorporated with no lumps. Stir in milk, stirring or whisking often until sauce is thickened.
  3. Stir cheeses into white sauce, stirring until melted.
  4. Pour cheese sauce over cooked macaroni in buttered dish. Stir to cover all the macaroni.
  5. Make crumb topping: combine all three ingredients in a large bowl, stirring/tossing quickly with a fork, to coat all with the butter. Crumble over the casserole.
  6. Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes until the topping is browned.

Macaroni and cheese is a great meal by itself, but we had bacon on the side and a frozen vegetable mix.

Chicken Burgers

These burgers are made from boneless, skinless thighs for a more moist and flavorful burger than you would get with white meat. You can grind (or really mince) chicken in a food processor, but you have to be careful not to turn it into a paste. I use the food processor to grind ham, and I might use it for beef, but poultry is so tender and sticky, that you need to be on your toes. A search on the web will show you that freezing the poultry chunks first can help you reach the right grind before it turns into a paste. Luckily, I have a grinding attachment for my stand mixer, so the grinding is really easy and foolproof.

I looked around at what others do to make such burgers and found that some just shape the meat. Some add breadcrumbs both inside and outside the burgers; some just outside. I thought about breading them, as I do my fishcakes, but I was hoping for a more traditional burger this time. I did add a small proportion—1/2 cup per 1 1/2 lbs chicken—of fresh breadcrumbs to the mix, just to make them a little lighter, but not enough to detract from the chicken. Two tablespoons of half and half was the only moisture added, no egg, which actually can toughen a meat mixture and dry it out. I didn’t overdo the flavoring additions, just some chives, salt, and pepper. They turned out flavorful and juicy, browned in a cast iron skillet and served on ciabatta rolls with a quick homemade burger sauce.

Regardless of how you grind the chicken, it will be sticky and hard to form into patties. I placed four mounds of the meat mixture on a sheet of plastic wrap, then placed another sheet over them to do the shaping. then I put them in the fridge for a few hours until time to cook. It helped keep the meat in the patties instead of stuck on my fingers.

Chicken Burgers

  • Servings: 4 burgers
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons half and half or milk

oil for browning

  1. Grind your chicken, unless you purchase it ground at the store.
  2. Mix all the ingredients, except the oil, lightly.
  3. Divide into four portions and place them apart on a sheet of plastic wrap.
  4. Place another sheet of plastic wrap over them, using the wrap to press down and shape the patties. You can refrigerate them at this point if not ready to cook. I cut them apart in the wrap to easier place them on a plate.
  5. In a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat enough cooking oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. When shimmering, add the patties and cook for about 8 minutes per side, until browned and done in the middle. I used a thermometer to test for about 165°

The quick sauce was a mixture of mayonnaise, A. 1., ketchup, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. I would have added garlic powder if I had any!

Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole

Put down that can opener! There is no condensed soup in this recipe, but it’s still easy to make.

This is one of those recipes put together with things from the pantry—rice, sour cream, cheese, carrots, and, of course, chicken. Your ingredients might vary, but that’s how new favorites are born. I hadn’t even thought about blogging this recipe in advance, so there is just this one photo of the dish as it came out of the oven:


Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Preheat oven to 350°; butter a 1 1/2-2 quart shallow baking dish

1 cup brown jasmine rice or whatever rice you have on hand

2 1/2 cups chicken stock or bouillon, such as Better Than Bouillon® chicken base

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1 large onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced—or whatever vegetable you have on hand, such as fresh or frozen broccoli or peas or a combination of vegetables

5 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream—or heavy cream or half and half

2 cups shredded cheese, such as Sargento® 4 Cheese Mexican

Optional: 1 cup breadcrumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons melted butter (I keep fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer made from leftover rolls)

IMG_2786I try to keep a number of pantry items on hand, because I just don’t have the temperament to plan out a week’s worth of recipes every week, and it’s nice to be able to put together a dish without having to run to the grocery for just a few items and then spend more than you want on impulse buys.

I keep 3-4 types of rice on hand (Arborio, brown, white, wild blend) and a number of cheeses. When I made this yesterday, I had part of a Parmesan wedge, 2 packages of the Mexican shredded cheese, queso fresco, and about a cup of shredded pepper jack. I pick up a container of sour cream every week, because it comes in handy in so many ways, especially when I just want to throw something in a tortilla. So you can see how this recipe came together.

  1. Cook the rice in 2 cups of the chicken stock. It takes about 45 minutes to cook the rice, during which time you can prepare the rest of the ingredients. Use the remaining 1/2 cup of stock to use if you think the final dish needs more moisture. The important step here is cooking the rice first. You can make a casserole in which the rice cooks in the oven, but it has to be tightly covered, and then the other ingredients can overcook. The worse scenario is when the rice doesn’t cook and you wait and wait or eat crunchy rice. Just cook the rice first.
  2. In a large saute pan, saute the onion and carrot in 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
  3. Remove the vegetables and add the chicken cubes to the same pan, stirring to quickly brown in 2-3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat.
  4. Turn off the heat and return the vegetables to the pan, then stir in the rice, sour cream, and shredded cheese.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with the breadcrumb mixture or reserved cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, until top is browned and the casserole is bubbling around the edges.

My favorite things about casseroles:

  • cleaning up the kitchen while it’s in the oven
  • the ease of one-dish meals
  • crunchy toppings

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

We don’t eat Italian red sauce very often, and by that I mean maybe once a year. We used to eat it more, but just found things we liked better—lighter sauces, more vegetables, even pizza with white sauce instead of red. Even during the last few years when we were eating a red sauce more often, we had moved away from the thick sauces to ones made with canned crushed tomatoes that didn’t seem to mask over other flavors in the dishes.

That’s what I’m aiming for in this dish that uses up the last of the garden tomatoes. I’m just going to peel, seed, and crush the tomatoes, and then decide when I see the results if it needs any tomato paste for body, and as I always do, I’m going to cook the meatballs in the sauce. I’ve never liked the results of meatballs browned first; I like to just form and drop them into the pot of sauce and let it simmer until it’s all done. That method has produced both flavorful, tender meatballs, and flavorful sauce., as well as a lot fewer pans to wash.

Perhaps you can see in this video of today’s sauce with the meatballs removed the consistency after it has cooked down a bit and had a small can of tomato paste added:

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6, about 20 meatballs
  • Difficulty: easy
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My red sauce ingredients are always simple and this will be the first time I’ve written them down, so don’t dwell on the proportions of any of the ingredients. Just use amounts that seem right to you. We like a lot of garlic; you might like more herbs. Likewise with the meatballs—I like grated Parmesan in them, and more garlic.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

This big pile of tomatoes, peeled and seeded, crushed with your hands or a potato masher is what I am working with. I don’t have a scale, so can’t tell you how much weight I’m using, but the quantity, crushed, comes half way up in this 6 quart pot. If using canned crushed tomatoes, I would use at least two large 28 oz cans for a single meal for 4-6 people.

The following are the ingredients I used for my quantity of tomatoes:

3 quarts tomatoes, peeled, seeded, crushed by hand or vegetable masher

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

6-8 large cloves garlic, chopped or grated (you can see the small chunks of garlic in the video)

1/4 cup dried or 1 cup fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano (or basil if you prefer)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: 1 small can tomato paste, added after meatballs are cooked (see below)

Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium heat while making the meatball mix.

Ingredients with garlic
Ingredients with garlic


1 1/4 lbs ground beef, 80% lean

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 egg

1/4-1/3 cup milk, half and half, or condensed milk—I used half and half, but you could use stock if you don’t like to cook meat with milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: herbs to match what you use in the sauce

Mix all ingredients by hand as you would for meatloaf. If you use dry breadcrumbs instead of fresh, you might want to let them sit in the milk for a few minutes to soften. Form into meatballs, dropping them into the sauce as you make them. Don’t worry if they come to the top of your sauce and are not covered; they will cook fine that way. Do not stir at this point, so you don’t break up the meatballs. Cover pot and simmer for about a half hour before stirring to allow the meatballs to hold their shape. simmer for another hour, for a total of 1 1/2 hours, covered.

Meatballs dropped in sauce

Remove the meatballs and raise the heat from simmer to low. Cook the sauce, uncovered, to desired thickness. Add up to one small can of tomato paste to further thicken or enrich the sauce. I did add one can because the majority of my tomatoes were not plum tomatoes, and thus were a little more watery. Return the meatballs to reheat when you are happy with the sauce consistency. Serve with pasta and more Parmesan for garnish. I used Barilla Plus® angel hair pasta, a pasta with extra protein and fiber. The meatballs are very tender cooked this way. The sauce is not one of those intense, heavy red sauces, but one with a lot of fresh tomato flavor and pieces of tomato. It seems lighter, but that’s probably just me fooling myself.