Happy Holidays to you and yours! There’s no meal plan this week because I’m officially on vacation, going with the flow, spending time with the family, and generally just living life instead of planning it. As a nod to my usual shenanigans on here I thought I would share something special as a gift to the online universe (tis the season): The Gift of Holiday Cheese, my recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese, which I have included on the menu quite possibly a dozen times over the last year.
But first, I dedicate this post to my late Grandma Phyllis, who was the originator of this homemade delight. Grandma Phil guarded this recipe closely and wouldn’t share it with anyone for years – at least that’s how I remember it. She used to cook the most delectable goods when we visited… including mini cupcakes that were straight up magical and imprinted in my memory for all eternity. Somehow her mac n’ cheese became the stuff of legend in my childhood and I can remember her *finally* breaking down one day to tell me that “it’s really just a cheese sauce with chips on top”. I guess it wasn’t really that groundbreaking but at the same time, it made me feel so special when she whispered the secret in my little ear. My mother started making her own version of my Grandma Phil’s mac n’ cheese in our household soon after with an outrageously easy cheese sauce that’s made in the microwave and here I am, a couple decades later, carrying on the tradition.
(Grandma, I hope you aren’t pissed that I’m giving this recipe to the entire online world, but in my defence, my final product really doesn’t compare to yours so I’m sure there was some other secret you weren’t sharing!)
1/4 cup butter (or margarine)
4 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of powdered chicken stock*
*Note: If you don’t have powdered chicken stock then you can just use an additional 2 tablespoons of flour instead, but you’ll want to add salt to the cheese sauce since it is seasoned by the chicken stock.
2 cups of milk (or cream, or a mix of milk and cream… whatever floats your boat)
2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese (other cheeses are acceptable!)
3/4 package of macaroni
1 generous cup of BBQ chips (Ruffles brand is the very best in my opinion)
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
**Note: The recipe for this cheese sauce is made in the microwave. It’s so basic I feel like I should preface these directions by pointing out that you could easily make the sauce on the stovetop by just heating the milk slowly and whisking until it thickens… I’ve never done this myself because the microwave method is so tried and true, but I’ve made enough roux in my day to know that doing this on the stovetop would most probably yield the same results.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Boil the macaroni according to the time indicated on the package while you prepare the cheese sauce.
- In a large bowl, melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Add the flour and powdered chicken stock to the melted butter and mix well with a whisk.
- When the dry ingredients are well incorporated, add the milk and stir to combine.
- Microwave for 6 minutes (or until thickened), removing from the microwave every minute to stir the mixture with the whisk.
- Once thickened, stir the cheese into the mixture until it is completely melted.
- Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni and stir well to coat all the pasta.
- Prep the chips for the top of the casserole by putting them into a plastic bag and smashing them with something heavy, like a glass measuring cup or your fists.
- Grease a baking dish, add the cheesy macaroni, and top with the crushed chips and Parmesan cheese.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top of the casserole is golden brown.
Yum. Yum, yum, yum. Lately I have taken to doubling the recipe so I can make 2 casseroles and freeze 1. To reheat the casserole from frozen, you just throw it into the oven at 375°F for 1 hour, covered in aluminium foil. Remove the foil and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, or longer if it isn’t fully heated through. (My thanks to Martha Stewart for the guidance on cooking / reheating frozen pasta casseroles.)
My hope is that you will enjoy this cheesy dish as much as I do, whether on a cold winter night or any other time of the year. Because, really. Cheese.
The countdown is on. Well… it’s been on for a few weeks now, but I’m FINALLY in the last stretch – I have 5 working days until I take 3 full weeks off work, and I’m starting to feel extreme levels of excitement. This is pretty standard; my job is hectic on the best of days so it’s as though I am just in a whirlwind tornado of insanity the last few days before I take time off, so much so that I can’t really appreciate how much I am looking forward to the break until I exit the building on my last day and feel that palpable weight off my shoulders along with the sweet taste of freedom.
This time around is no exception. My week is already shaping up to be pure madness at work, so come Friday I will be doing the happiest of happy dances at 6PM when I walk out the door of the office. (Please, pretty please, let it be 6PM that I finish and not later!)
The menu this week has been designed knowing that the next 5 days will be high on the intensity barometer – so the plan is all about fast, easy, minimal effort, and lots of leftovers.
Weekend Food Party: On Saturday night I made Stuffed Peppers with a salad on the side. There’s something about the mix of ground beef and rice and onions and garlic that feels so right – it’s definitely what I’d call comfort food. Although I’m only cooking for one, I still stuffed two peppers so I can have leftovers for lunch on Monday.
For dinner tonight, this Italian Sausage Bake, which is currently roasting in the oven / smelling incredible. Granted, one shouldn’t really need a recipe for such a basic dish (roast veggies and meat, eat) but I’ve actually pinned this twice on my “Gotta Try This Recipe” board on Pinterest, so clearly I was feeling drawn to Katie’s Cucina and had to give this specific recipe a try. I’ve cut down on the ingredients ever so slightly since I am not feeding a crowd, but there will still be plenty left for dinner and lunch later this week.
Monday: Ginger Sesame Chicken Salad. I tried this recipe from Curtis Stone once and fell in love, so I’m looking forward to making it for the second time ever. As always, I am certain that I will have leftovers of this salad, so I will probably plan to spread it out over a couple days for lunch at work.
Tuesday: Freezer Food! There’s quite the build-up of goodies in my freezer from the last couple of weeks and months (Turkey Chili, Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Mac n’ Cheese) so I’m going to plan to defrost something – most likely the chili – to enjoy this week on a night that I’m going to be late getting home from the office.
Wednesday-Thursday-Friday: Leftovers galore. Seriously, even with the few meals planned and noted above, I think I will have too much food in the fridge. Plus my older sister comes into town on Friday (YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!) so I’m pretty sure something will happening with the family that evening. Three cheers for vacation time!!!
It’s been a strange adjustment period over the last few weeks where meal planning is concerned. Now that I’m living alone and don’t have a second person to feed (not to mention a second person who had a big and manly appetite), I find I need to shrink my meal plan substantially to prevent wasting food. Three meals at most is really all I need to plan for, especially since nearly all the recipes I love are made to feed 4+ people (and last time I checked, I generally have the appetite of 3/4 of a person).
This has proven challenging: I love food, I love to cook, I love trying new recipes, and I love making all my favourite dishes in regular rotation… so cutting back and paring down my menu on a weekly basis has been hard! It’s also a little sad to be making meals for one. I’m no Julia Child, but I do think that everything I make tastes really good so it’s always a bit of a bummer to take that first delicious bite and not have anyone sitting next to me to confirm that I have in fact made a delightful meal. Last weekend I had friends over for dinner and it was the highlight of my entire month. (And not just because they all told me that the food was excellent, it was also really nice to have human company in my empty house!) Sigh. Divorce problems.
On the plus side, at least I am enjoying food again. The first few weeks after the break-up were obviously really rough and I struggled with having no appetite and zero pleasure eating, even when I knew the food was delicious. Thankfully I am (sort of) back to normal and my desire to eat ALL the food and try ALL the recipes is back with a vengeance. So enough of my divorce talk – let’s get to the good stuff!
Weekend Food Party: I stumbled on this recipe for Peanut Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach in a BuzzFeed article earlier this week and knew immediately that I was going to make it this weekend. (Gotta say, one of the positive things about this divorce is the fact that I can now make whatever I want, and I’m sure that this vegetarian meal would have been on my ex’s veto list.) This was last night’s dinner, and I must say: YUM. It was warm and hearty and flavourful and I’m excited to have it again later this week. I omitted the clove because I don’t have any in the house but put in extra ginger to compensate, and man was it good. And of course, I doubled the recipe, putting half in the freezer to eat in a few weeks. (Hopefully it defrosts well… guess we’ll see!)
There was a surplus of cheese in my fridge (leftovers from my mini dinner party last weekend when I made Stuffed Shells and Bolognese) so I decided to make a double batch of my homemade Mac n’ Cheese – one for the freezer and one for my stomach this week.
Monday: PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps. This recipe is sooooo good. I’m sure I have featured it a few times already this year and I can’t wait to make it again. The main reason it made it to the chalkboard this week is because it includes ginger on the ingredient list and I was already picking some up for the Peanut Stew, and I really hate seeing ginger go to waste in my fridge. Also it’s sooooo good. Did I say that already?
Tuesday: Movie Night! I’m going out with friends to see a movie! I have a social life!
Wednesday: Fajita Chicken Bake. This is so easy to make. It’s literally roasted chicken breasts with peppers, onions, seasoning, and cheese. A little rice on the side… Easy with a capital E.
Thursday and Friday: Leftovers Au Max. Peanut Sweet Potato Spinach Stew. (Sweet, sweet stew.) Mac n’ Cheese. (Cheesy, carblicious goodness.) Fajita Chicken. (Spicy, cheesy yum.) PF Chang’s Chicken. (So PF. Much Chang.) If I somehow miraculously consume all of these things before then, well, I’ll improvise. Or more likely I will somehow end up not making one of the above before next weekend. It’s all very strange, this single life.
This week’s menu is all about favourite dishes or ingredients that are seasonally appropriate (meaning: cheesy comfort food / the last of the in-season produce that I’ll be able to source in Canada for the next few months). My last menu ended up stretching out over 2 weeks between dinners with my parents and a few random unexpected nights out… so this week I am back at it with a “light” menu (meaning: planning less meals than there are days in the week under the assumption that I will eat leftovers / enjoy takeout / share dinner with my new best friends – my mom and dad).
Sunday Food Party: I almost forgot about this delicious Chicken Enchilada Casserole that was the very first recipe I ever featured on This is an adventure, way back in 2013. The bean-corn-onion mixture in this recipe yields twice what you need to make the casserole so I decided to go double or nothing make two casseroles which will allow me to freeze one for future enjoyment.
Monday: I’ll be testing this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Alfredo since squash is fantastic this time of year and I love me some Alfredo sauce. (Cheesy creamy sauce? Yes, please.) I’ll make a side of green beans to have with the squash, sautéed in some butter and garlic, yum.
Tuesday / Wednesday: Salade Niçoise à la Andrea. There’s this great sandwich and salad place about 5 minutes from my office and they do a nice twist on this classic French salad with chickpeas instead of green beans and potatoes, and I’ve concocted my own version with spinach, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, tuna, hard boiled eggs, and a simple balsamic dressing made with dijon mustard and a touch of honey. The eggs and chickpeas and tuna have so much protein that this salad is insanely filling, I looooove it.
Thursday: Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tomato Soup. So simple, so good, enough said.
Friday: Who knows? This is an adventure.
My last post ended with a list of the good and bad that comes with divorce, and I have since identified another “good” item to add to the list: Meal Planning! It is incredibly easy to plan a menu when you don’t need to vet your ideas with someone else and seek approval to try a new dish. So today I’m feeling like – Andrea 1, Divorce 0.
On the menu this week is whatever I want, whenever I want… I might as well erase the days of the week on my chalkboard since it feels like my plans are never really stable these days. Last week when I meal planned (sans chalkboard), nothing really stuck – I ended up trying out a yoga class one evening, changing my mind about a new recipe I wanted to try, and struggled with having no appetite, all the while working around visits to the house. (Dear Universe: Please help me to sell my house ASAP, cool? Thanks so much, bye.)
So please know while I list days of the week and corresponding meals on here, it’s just for the sake of form and not at all representative of my chaotic life. I’ll probably end up eating McDonald’s tomorrow for all I know (which my younger sister has reminded me more than once is the universal meal of divorcees around the world).
Weekend Food Party: I baked this weekend for the first time in ages! I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner on Saturday and I offered to bring dessert so I could make a double batch of the brownies that I tested and featured on this blog way back in 2013. This afternoon I made White Bean Tuna Salad for lunches this week and dinner this evening, because my new favourite thing to eat on Sunday night is salad. (I know. What?! I’m telling you, being single opens up all kinds of doors – stand alone salad for dinner would never have flown in this house a few months ago.)
Monday: Last week I made a batch of Turkey Chili for dinner one night and froze half of it, so I’ll defrost that one night when I don’t want to cook, served with some couscous and a mound of grated cheese.
Tuesday: Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage Tomato Sauce. I forgot about this one but found it on my “Recipes I Love” Pinterest board so I’m excited to try it again. I remember it being super easy to make because you cook the sauce while the squash roasts, so I feel like it will be a good weeknight meal when I am feeling industrious one night.
Wednesday: TBD. I mean… every single night of my life is TBD and I now know that I should always plan that at least one night will be take-out, or dinner with my besties (aka my parents), or just a melange of leftovers / random food in my pantry, or who knows, dinner with friends?
Thursday: Breakfast for Dinner. I LOVE breakfast for dinner. Eggs, Sriracha Sauce, Cheese, Toast, Beans, COME ON. I predict this will become a regular staple dish in my meal planning in the coming months. It’s just so quick and easy and comforting, and since I have started up yoga classes on Thursday nights I need to always plan for something that I can throw together as soon as I get home.
Friday: Beef and Broccoli, another dish from my “Recipes I Love” board that I know I can make pretty effortlessly on a work night. Plus I have tons of frozen meat in the freezer right now so not having to buy the meat made this an easy choice.
Anyone following this blog might infer that I have been starving over the last 3 months since I have neglected to share my weekly adventures in meal planning – but rest assured, I’ve been eating! Menu making on the other hand? Well, let’s just say that Summer 2015 has been an even split of one crazy project at work (thus junk for dinner at night) and glorious boating weekends (thus many a picnic with mini sandwiches). My man acquired a little beater of a boat and while he’s been fixing it up, I’ve been occupied with another all-consuming project at work… so things like blogging and gardening and and cleaning and meal planning (and generally doing anything other than driving to the office or tanning on a boat) have been abandoned and forgotten. These days, my life looks like this:
Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. BOAT!!!!! BOAT!!!!!!!!!! Sleep. Repeat.
It’s time to reset – there isn’t enough moderation in my life and I need to get into a more healthy pattern of balancing work and home. (Not that there’s anything wrong with spending my weekends on a boat, but even Lily is feeling neglected these days and that poor dog needs all the attention she can get.) So first things first: I’m restarting my weekly meal planning, or at least I’m going to try.
Sunday Food Party: As the saying goes, Go Big or Go Home. I decided to kick things off by putting a few favourites on the menu to get me back into the swing of cooking up a storm on the weekend. We’re long overdue for a large batch of my Bolognese – I’ll freeze most of the sauce but I’ll save some for later this week.
For lunch (today and every other day this week), I’m throwing together the Lemon Parsley Bean Salad that I’ve featured here a few times – it never gets old and I’ve got plenty of herbs in the backyard to toss in there. I also got a fillet of salmon that I’m going to cook as a side to the salad for some extra protein.
Next, a double batch of my Homemade Mac n’ Cheese – I’m going to freeze one and keep the other for dinner one night this week. I love a giant serving of that cheesy carbliciousness along with some greens, like this beauty from a few months ago (and yes, those are chips on top – my not-so-secret ingredient in this heavenly casserole):
Finally, (I told you this Sunday was a big one!) I am trying out this Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta, and Basil. (Yummmmmmmmmm. Why, why do I love ricotta so much!?) Sadly, the zucchini in this recipe will NOT come from my garden (the crisis in July turned into a full blown epidemic in August), but I picked up some zucchini from my local market, which is just as good.
Monday: Turkey Tacos with Homemade Taco Seasoning. This seasoning. Oh. My. Yes. It is so good!!! I urge you to try this and forever replace the weird processed stuff from the grocery store. It’s so easy to put together: Chili Powder, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Red Pepper Flakes, Oregano, Paprika, Cumin, Salt, Pepper, BOOM. As the recipe says, use 2 to 3 tablespoons with 1/2 to 3/4 cups of water over 1 pound of browned meat… so simple, so good! We’ll have some corn on the cob as our side along with all the classic taco toppings: salsa, sour cream, cheese, greens, etc.
Tuesday: Spaghetti Bolognese, courtesy of my Sunday Food Party.
Wednesday: Chicken, Broccoli, Rice. Our old favourite and we’ve got lots of chicken breasts chilling in the freezer (pun intended) ready for my man to do his thing.
Thursday: Mac n’ Cheese, courtesy of my Sunday Food Party along with some fresh green beans from my local market.
Friday: To be determined. I’m guessing we’ll be out for the night, or feasting on leftovers, or grabbing some takeout because my man’s best friend is getting married Labour Day Weekend so there are friends in town and lots of happenings.
Well, it was bound to happen. My unfaltering, magical, no muss, no fuss vegetable garden finally decided to give me a hard time. July 2015 will forever go down in history as the month that the garden stopped being low maintenance and started stirring up trouble.
THE CRISIS: Last weekend, I awoke to a startling development in the garden. Nearly all of the leaves on my zucchini plants were covered in strange looking white spots and I could tell right away that something was amiss. After dashing back inside to consult with the Internet, I quickly surmised that the odd white splotches were most probably powdery mildew.
What is powdery mildew? My online research tells me that it is essentially a mold that develops on the leaves of certain plants when conditions are very wet and humid. (So, for anyone living in the greater Montreal region – basically June through August.) My man worked in landscaping in another lifetime and had already taught me that it’s important to avoid watering the leaves in the vegetable garden, so I have always made sure to water only the soil at the base of each plant; but we’ve had a somewhat rainy season followed by some fairly humid days (thanks, Mother Nature). Powdery mildew develops on the top and bottom of leaves but it can easily spread down the stem and into the entire plant, which can ultimately impact the yield and quality of fruit coming off of the plant.
THE SOLUTION: There are apparently a few different ways to handle a powdery mildew crisis. A lot of the articles I read suggested spraying the leaves with a homemade concoction of water and baking soda (or in one case, water and milk); others implied that the entire plant may need to be scrapped if the mildew has spread too much; but nearly all of them recommended cutting the sick leaves as soon as possible to hopefully prevent the powdery mildew from infiltrating the entire plant (or worse, garden). I decided to go for the most basic solution and cut off all of the leaves that were covered in the white stuff, as well as any other leaves showing signs of mildew growth.
By the time I got through one of the two zucchini plants, there were only a handful of leaves left! It also became glaringly obvious that the second plant was patient zero – the entire thing was COVERED in white splotches and even the stems were blanched. So, with a heavy heart, I tore the entire plant out as gently as possible. (The Internet also told me that powdery mildew spores travel by air so it’s important to be really careful when extracting the infected leaves.)
As I completed my crisis management mission, the zucchini corner of my garden was looking pretty sad and forlorn. The remaining plant toppled over as I was cutting back the leaves so I awkwardly tried to replant it. There were already a few zucchini babies at the base of the plant and I’m not sure if they will make it after the great leaf purge of 2015 since they really depend on the leaf shade to develop. That said, last year’s zucchini harvest was wild and the plants seemed to grow on an infinite trajectory, so I’m cautiously optimistic that what’s left of the plant will somehow flourish and deliver despite the crisis.
THE UPDATE: Just a few days after cutting back, I was pleased to find healthy green leaves sprouting up in the space their sickly sisters and brothers previously occupied. The zucchini babies at the base of the plant were looking a little withered but a few new ones were starting to grow in as well, so things were looking to be moving in a positive direction…until yesterday…when the white stuff came back. Blerg.
I cut those trouble-makers back as soon as I spotted them, and did the same this afternoon when 2 more leaves appeared to have caught the mildew, and now I’m beginning to think I may need to try out that baking soda-water mix to see if I can get my poor zucchini plant back on track. To be honest, the saddest part about this entire crisis is that I’ve spent the last 12 months finding zucchini recipes on Pinterest in preparation for a zucchini explosion in the backyard. Oh well. Adventures in gardening!
On a happier note, my cucumber plants are spectacular – I plucked my first little cucumber on Sunday morning and upon close inspection of the leaves, they do not appear to be bound for the same fate as my zucchini plants. There were a few suspect leaves that looked a little questionable, but I cut them back and everything looks to be in order…for now…
To be continued!