Super Easy Homemade Kraftstyle Mac and Cheese

Okkaaayyyy……..I have to admit over the years I have prepared a few boxes of the yellow, over processed, fake mac and cheese for my kids.  It usually occurs when they accompany me to the grocery store and they throw a few boxes of the stuff in the basket.  Disney’s Princess shaped pasta or Phineas and Ferb shaped pasta is a must according to them.  Can anyone really decipher what it is after it is cooked?  Apparently my kids can because it is super cool!  Everytime I prepare it, it just seems to scream fake and unhealthy, but of course it is super convienient and easy to make as I am running out the door to soccer practice or tutoring lessons.  My son is a carb loader so pasta is a staple in his diet.  He loves when I make him homemade Fettucini Alfredo but I only do so on special occassions because it is rather unhealty with all the butter and heavy cream.  I tried to find a recipe that sort of resembled the boxed stuff with a lightened down version of alfredo and came up with the following:

Homemade Kraft Mac and Cheese
8oz elbow macaroni (1/2 lb) (regular or whole wheat)
2 cups 1% milk
1tsp butter
1 tsp flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1.  Prepare pasta according to the directions.  Lightly salt and oil water before bringing to a boil.  (adds a little flavor to the pasta for preparation of mac and cheese)
2. While pasta is cooking take a sautee pan and melt butter on medium heat and add the flour.  Mix until combined and slowly add milk wisking while adding so no lumps remain from flour mixture.  The sauce should be nice and smooth at this point.  In French culinary terms this is a Bechamel Sauce.
NOTE: notice my note in bold letters!!  If your kids are anything like mine, they are creatures of habit and for me to serve them mac and cheese that is not “yellow” in color may send up a red flag.  I by no means am saying that this recipe will EVER replace Kraft’s box of goodness (?) but it may be able to be switched out at times.  So……with that said….at this point add a tiny tiny drop of yellow food coloring to the sauce to make it that signature yellow color.  More if need be to your yellow liking!!
3. Drain pasta in a colandar and shake off excess water.  Pour pasta in the cream mixture and add the parm cheese.  With a wooden spoon mix until parm cheese melts and it is ooeey gooey and combined.
4.  When you add the cheese at the end, you can also add some veggies too.  Some steamed broccoli, mushrooms or spinach would be a nice addtion if your kids like them.  I usually seperate them in to bowls and add the veggies that each family member likes afterward.

Happy Cooking!!  Enjoy.

Getting Ahead…

To date my blog postings have been about cooking and recipes….I am going to take a little hiatus today from that to discuss an experience I had this weekend with my children.  My husband was away in Florida caring for his mother, so I had the sole responsiblity of taking care of the kids for the entire weekend (nothing new – ahem) but nonetheless challenging.  A typical weekend in the winter for us consisits of a few agenda items to clear and then it is off to Jiminy Peak to ski!  Since my hubby was away and I myself am a novice skier, I opted out of that routine.  Instead, on Saturday we decided to go to the Kids Expo at the Plaza in Albany.  A more appropriate title could have been ” The Germ Expo” but that is another blog to write at another time.  Let me set the scence for those of you that have never gone, it is a mass of strollers and kids vying for pole position in a sea of overwhelmed parents.  In the background there are rows and rows of tables filled with children type propaganda and an occassional bounce house or a clown making a balloon.  Popcorn, cotton candy, ice-cream and candy are the main items for consumption with some free water bottles handed out by the sponsor Hannaford.

Our sole purpose for going to this event, or so I thought, was so my son (8) could see the Marvel Superhero Characters – LIVE!   It was a FREE half hour theatre showing in The Egg which showcased Ironman, Thor, Spiderman and Captain America.  A meet and greet was scheduled for after the show.  As we arrived at the Plaza around noon for the 1:00pm showing the back up of cars to get in to the parking garage was out of control.  Much to my dismay, arriving an hour early did not look like it was going to be enough time.  As I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed John sitting in the back with his Marvel Avengers t-shirt on I said to myself I have to figure this out.  We can’t be late.  My daughter Olivia (7) chiming in -“Mommy we have to do this for John”.  So I prevailed and tried to hop in the shortest line I could to get in to the garage, mauevering around lanes of traffic and stopped cars like Danica Patrick at the Daytona 500.  We paid the fee, parked the car, made notation in my phone which parking level, row, elevator, aisle we were in under the plaza and headed to the elevators.  Kids were skipping with joy and trying to contain their excitement.  As we walked in, we observed a few of the events taking place in the hallway but proceeded right to The Egg Theater to make sure we did not miss the free showing of The Avengers.  Rounding the corner to go through the doors to the theatre elevator I noticed a massive, I mean longer than long line of people, strollers, kids etc.  My mind was baffled at the amount of people waiting in line.   My kids had the same reaction…and the more I thought about it…..of course it would be busy.  It is a free event in the middle of the coldest winter we have had in decades.

At this point it was operation regroup in my mind to see what the next strategy was going to be with this turn of events.  I conferred with the kids and asked what they wanted to do.  John whined and complained that he did not want to wait in line (mind you, we came to this for him) and Olivia said lets wait.  I was with Liv….”lets wait” won the discussion.  So we waltzed over to what we thought was the end of the line to wait and were confronted by a NYS Trooper.  He stated that everyone had to move because we were blocking an exit.  So we all shuffled over to another un-designated area to wait and were told that we were blocking people’s booths that we had move again.  Okay, I thought to myself….now I am on a pure mission to get in line and get up the elevator to the theatre for this show.  I nonchalantly wandered to an area deemed “safe” to stand which appeared to have other parents waiting as well.  As we were standing there, I heard one of the ushers announce that only 450 people would be allowed to view the show at this time.  My face turned red with anger and I had to hold back the agonizing scream trying to escape my mouth.  John and Olivia and I were probably 3 of 500 people waiting in line to see the Marvel Comic Avengers Characters (did I mention that was what we were waiting for?).  As I stood there, still on my mission, I quietly kept my mouth shut and monitored the kids fussing and scooting around while they waited.

As the line started to move, I was approached by a alpha type mother figure that firmly told me I needed to get behind her that I had “jumped” the line in front of her.  Now…..the last time I jumped any line was when I was probably 21 years old and Pearl Jam was playing at Lolapolooza at Spac.  I was in a line of college aged kids that had broken down the rope barrier from the lawn seats to the seat seats and stormed the stage to get to the front for a mosh pit.  NOW THAT IS JUMPING THE LINE!!!   But anyway, I politely let her go ahead and apologized.  As we began to move forward again, making small progress because all 450 people had to get on elevators to get up to the theatre, I was approached by yet another disgruntled mother with a stroller.  She pointed at me directly in my face and said I needed to get out her way that I  butted in front of her.  I nearly lost my mind and did not want to make a scene in front of my kids.  I politely told her to move ahead and explained the unorganized situation of trying to find a spot in line.  At first she did not care what I said and after a moment of silence she apologized to me as did her husband.  I simply stated that we were all here for the same reason (the kids) and that I was sorry if I delayed her progress with getting to the show.  As I glanced around looking for her kids I noticed she did not have any.  She had a sleeping infant in a car seat stroller and her husband had a spiderman shirt on!  I could not contain my exaggerated eye roll thinking her hubby wanted a meet and greet with Ironman.

We made it to the front of the line got a ticket and proceeded up the elevators to the theatre.  The doors opened and yet again another line to get in the theatre.  People were struggling to get to the front to have the best seat in the house.  As we entered the theatre which was almost to capacity, I noticed 3 seats right next to the door to leave.   Although they were not the best seats, we could make a quick exit and get to the elevators before the masses got up.  As I sat there waiting for the show to start I replayed the entire chain of events that got me here to the free Marvel Avengers Character Show.  It was all about getting ahead…..getting ahead in the line of cars, getting ahead in the line to get in, getting ahead to exit the show.  I feel like every parent in there was portraying the same message.  Would you believe that people were so anxious to get ahead and get out of the theatre that they left before the half hour show was even done.  They were quick to get out and get in line to go to the meet and greet.  It was rather sad and I don’t quite know if my kids picked up on it.  I do know that John said….mommy we do not have to go to the meet and greet, I think there are just too many people that want to go more then I do.  Let’s go and see the rest of the expo. So that we did.  We went on the “down” elevator while the rest of the over zealous parents and fathers went “up” to the meet and greet.  We left the “get ahead” crowd.  I was happy that we made it to the show and the kids got to see it but was also glad that all three of us put things in to perspective that being first or having the best seat is not always the way of life.  Sometimes taking the down elevator in this case was the best decision.

We meandered through the rest of the expo and left shortly thereafter.

Oven Roasted Kale Chips

The pants are snug, the sweaters are loose and the bathing suits are hanging on the the racks in the stores!  The “hunkering” down for the winter is nearing a close……one can hope.  As of late in the Teliska house I am on a kale chip kick.  They are easy  and  cheap to make. The ingredients are usually on hand in the house and on most days I can get the kids to eat a handful if cooked and seasoned just right.  Over the years I have worked in numerous restaurants and my fondest memories of kale was when the chef at last thought threw a piece on the plate for garnish.   It was plump and pretty and a wedge of lemon sat nicely in the crease of the leaves.  Nowadays it is a SUPER FOOD!!  Who would have thought?  I still use for garnish on occassion when I do a fruit and veggie display for a catering but more often than not I love to cook with it.  It is great in soups and stews or sauteed with mushrooms and fresh garlic as a side dish.  My favorite are the kale chips.  It is a great snack.  It is an ongoing debate in my house as to the length of time they should be cooked.  I like them them super crispy, my kids like them not too crispy but not too underdone and my husband likes them in the middle!  So 3 trays it is!!! After a few batches you can decide how well done you like them.  Enjoy.

1 Bag Washed and Trimmed Kale
(You can buy a fresh head of kale, wash well, and trim stalks off so only leaves are left)
(Bagged kale is located in the bagged letttuce section of grocery store)
1/2 cup light olive oil
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
(I buy the garlic in the  green tube (Gourmet Garden) in the fresh herb section!! BEST invention since sliced bread – so fresh and easy to use)
fresh ground pepper
Sea Salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Spread kale in a thin layer on a cookie sheet.  (it seems like alot but they cook down just like spinach) A full bag is usually 3 cookie sheets.  Remove any woody looking stems from the batch.  They will not crisp and will add moisture to the batch.
3. In a small bowl add olive oil and garlic and mix with a fork.
4. Using a fork, drizzle a third of the mixture over each cookie sheet  making sure that you get some of the garlic on each tray of kale. The garlic roasts in the oven over the top of the kale and smells great.
5. With a pair of tongs mix each bunch of kale until the oil is distrubuted on each leave and there is garlic throughout.
6. Put cookie sheets in the oven for about 5 minutes.  When 5 minutes is up mix kale with a pair of tongs to insure that the leaves do not crisp up too much.
7. Bake for another 5 minutes until you see the leaves begin to crisp and become dry looking.  At this point you can remove or you can leave in for another few minutes.  Again it is personal preference as to how crispy you want your chips.
8. Remove from the oven and sprinke with sea salt and a dash of pepper.  Be careful not to over season with salt.  The kale is extrmemely pourous and if you put too much salt it will ruin your batch.

We tend to eat them right off the tray when they are cooled and they don’t last long.  If you do have some leftover, I usually put them in an airtight tupperware to keep them crisp.  Enjoy!!

Potato, Bacon and Cheddar Soup!

I am assuming everyone is still shoveling out from today’s storm.  In between getting the kids dressed to go out and play (takes longer to get them dressed then the amount of time they play outside), shoveling and tidying up the house from wet snow drenched boats and clothes thrown all over the floor, I pulled a few ingredients out to make a hearty pot of soup for lunch.  One of my favorites over the the years to make and was a huge hit at the cafe – Potato, Bacon and Cheddar Soup!  I had a request from Miss Olivia today to make some bacon for breakfast this morning.  Normally on a school day I would not have the time to make bacon, but since they were off today I went ahead and fried some up.  The house still smells of residual bacon grease and it is early evening. Anyhow, I kept about 4 pieces for the soup or I should say – hid 4 peices for the soup.  I had a lingering baked potato from dinner the other night and some shredded cheddar cheese leftover from the various dishes prepared for SuperBowl Sunday.  What is a football snack without loads of cheddar. So….the remaining items I typically have in my pantry as stock items.  Always good to have boxes of chicken, beef and vegetable stocks this time of year if you like to make soups and stews.  The key to successful cooking is to have a well stocked pantry of items that you like to use often and that have multiple uses.  On a day like today, I was not about to trek to the market to grab something I didn’t have.  Below is the recipe.  Enjoy!!

Potato Bacon and Cheddar Soup

4 pieces of cooked bacon
1 cooked medium sized baked potato – diced
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 cup small white onion diced
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups half and half
1 cup cheddar cheese
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt and pepper and garlic powder
Topping: Diced green onion, shredded cheddar and a dollop of sour cream

1. Dice bacon in to small pieces and put in the bottom of a heavy bottom saucepan.  Sautee until fat begins to render and bacon becomes warm and crisp.
2. Add garlic and onion and sautee on medium heat until onion begins to sweat.  Be careful not to burn garlic.
3. Add potatoes and mix together.  Do not worry about the potatoes breaking up.  It will add a nice thick consistency to the soup if they do break apart a bit.
4. Add chicken stock and half and half at the same time.  Be careful not to add cold half and half to hot chicken stock or it will curdle and look  and taste terrible.
5. Slowly simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes until hot.  Stir frequently.
6. Once the soup is warm and combined add the cheddar cheese.  Continue to mix until all the cheese is melted.
7.  In a small glass ramekin melt the butter in the microwave and add the salt, pepper, garlic powder and flour.  With a fork, mix it all together to make a roux.  A roux is equal part fat and flour and it will thicken the soup and bring it all together.
8.  While the soup is on medium heat, add half of the roux with a wire wisk and mix until combined and begins to thicken.  Add remaining roux and mix again.  Keep on medium heat and continue to mix for a few more minutes until it is thick.  Do not leave on heat too long or the soup may break (milk seperates  from the stock and looks curdled).
9. Remove from heat and ladle in to a bowl.  Top with a dollop of sour cream and some diced green onion and a sprinle of cheese!!  Yummy!!!

Crockpot Chicken Marsala – On the Go!!

I picked my son up from school early for a doctor’s appointment that was about a 1/2 hour from my house.  I rushed home to get my daughter off the bus before we had to hop back in the car to drive another 1/2 hour to her tutoring lesson.  Knowing we were not going to get home until about 6:30 that evening with 2 starving kids, starving mom along with dad running in the door hungry, I thought to myself, what am I going to whip up for dinner.  I am trying very hard not to eat out or buy take out.  One – it gets expensive and two – we are all trying to watch our diet and constant eating out is not healthy!!  As you all know, I am a huge proponent of keeping things in the freezer for those nights you need to pull something out…..but I have to say, I did not even have anything in there to pull together.  However, in the fridge I happen to have had boneless chicken breasts, a container of sliced button mushrooms and towards the back of the veggie drawer a bundle of asparagus that appeared to have weathered the holidays and not gone bad!  Soooooooo…….in between John’s doctors appointment and Olivia’s tutoring session I pulled together Chicken Marsala in the crock pot for when we got home at 6:30ish.  Was it an effort to do in that short period of time –  slightly- but well worth it at 6:30 when we walked in the door and the house smelled like Villa Italia on a Saturday night!!!

Here is the recipe for you to try:

1 Package of Boneless Chicken Breasts (about 2-3lbs or 5 chicken breasts)

1 container of sliced button mushrooms

1 cup marsala wine

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp flour

1 clove garlic chopped

1 cup of water or chicken stock

1 bunch fresh asparagus

1.  Remove chicken breasts from the container and trim and cut off all fat.  Slice down the center to cut in half (butterfly) and make them thinner (trick is to cut back on the cooking time in crock pot – if they are thinner they will not take as long).

2. In a nonstick skillet drizzle with olive oil and put on high heat.   Sear chicken breasts until brown on each side about 3 minutes.  Before removing, sprinkle with flour to coat all of the chicken breasts.  Remove from pan and place in bottom of crock pot.

3. Drizzle pan with a little more olive oil and add garlic and  empty container of mushrooms in pan.  Sautee for about 5 minutes until slightly brown and garlic has cooked down a bit.

4.  With heat on high in the pan, add one cup of marsala over the mushrooms.  Be careful when using a gas stove that the alchohol does not ignite.  Cook down until the smell of alcohol is dimished.  About 2-3 minutes.  Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper and pour over the top of the chicken in the crock pot.  Add one cup of water to the crock pot.

5.  Cover the crock pot and cook on high for about 3 hours.  5 hours on low.  Chicken breasts must be on the thin side to cut back on the cooking time in the crock pot.  If full chicken breasts untrimmed please adjust time accordingly.

6. Meanwhile wash and trim asparagus.  Trim just beyond the hard woody stem.  I usually snap off the stem towards the end and it usually breaks just about in the right spot.

7. A half hour before chicken is done add the asparagus to the top of the chicken in the crock pot.  It will steam on top for the last half hour and is a nice addition to the meal.  After 3 hours the sauce should thicken and the chicken should pull apart.

8.  Serve with rice!!  Enjoy!