The Indisputable Romance of Mac & Cheese

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When it comes to Valentine’s day, strawberries and champagne are all well and good. But let’s be honest: I’d rather have cheese. Lots and lots of melted, soul-comforting cheese. What’s more romantic than cracking the perfectly-golden surface of melted gruyere and plunging two spoons into the pasta-laden depths of a shared bowl of mac’n’cheese?

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I partnered with Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to design my dream Valentines dinner using seriously fresh local Berkshires ingredients. After leafing through the pages of Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris KichenI fell in love with a roasted root vegetable salad, studded with crisp bacon and accented by sweet apple and dollops of goat cheese mousse.

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To me, the best desserts marry subtle sweetness with a hint of salt. Since discovering the concept of dates sautéed in olive oil with sea salt in Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey, I’ve been eating them as a snack or for breakfast with yogurt. But why not take it to the next level by pairing them with SoCo Classic Vanilla ice cream? The verdant oil soaks into the dates and the salt melts into the ice cream and it’s altogether divine.

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Try something (or everything) from the menu below for a cozy night in with someone you love. You’ll have to let me know how it goes, because on February 14th I’ll be eating Biscoff cookies and drinking a celebratory glass of overpriced wine on a plane to Minneapolis for the birth of my very own niece (!!!!!!)

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad (Adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo)

For the Salad

  • 3 carrots (i used rainbow yellow and purple, as orange isn’t very Valentines-y), sliced into small cubes or half moons
  • 3 parsnips, washed and sliced into small cubes or half moons
  • 1 Fuji apple, peeled and sliced into small cubes
  • 1/2 lb. slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 1 cooked beet, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 daikon or rainbow radish, washed and thinly sliced
  • 2 handfuls of green lettuce of your choice
  • 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil

For the goat cheese mousse

  • 3 1/2 oz. goat cheese, such as Monterey Chevre (I used the garlic and herb!)
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup milk

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400º
  2. Place the cubed carrots, parsnips, and apple on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute oil. Place in oven and roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Place a sheet of parchment paper on another baking sheet. Spread cubed bacon evenly over parchment paper, and place in oven with roasting vegetables. Bake until the bacon is lightly browned and crispy and the smell is heavenly.
  4. While the veggies and bacon are roasting, make the mousse. Place milk and goat cheese in a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk or electric hand mixture until smooth and free of lumps.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
  6. Fold half the whipped cream into the goat cheese mixture, mix gently, and fold in the rest. Place the mousse in a zip lock freezer bag and place in the fridge,
  7. To assemble the salad, arrange roasted vegetables, bacon, beet and radish slices, and greens on a plate. Cut a small corner off the bottom of the ziplock bag and pipe the mousse onto salad plate as desired.
  8. Whisk remaining olive oil and vinegar together and sprinkle lightly over salad to serve.

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Little Sister Mac & Cheese

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 – 3 T all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, lukewarm
  • 1/2 an onion, peeled, studded with 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 10 oz. macaroni elbows
  • 6 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 2 oz. grated Gruyere, some extra for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375º
  2. Pour the milk into a pyrex measuring cup and set it in a large bowl of boiling water to warm.
  3. Butter 2 10 oz. ramekins (if you have them) or a 9×13 casserole pan and set aside
  4. Make the roux (full disclosure, a roux is finicky, but don’t let them intimidate you! I messed up twice before getting it to behave…) Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add in the flour one sprinkling at a time, whisking vigorously, until a thick paste forms. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Next, pour 2 cups of the warm milk into the roux a little at a time, whisking constantly. If the mixture begins to separate, keep whisking and it should become smooth.
  6. Return milk/roux mixture to heat and add clove-studded onion, bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper. Continue whisking and add more milk if the mixture gets too thick (it should be the consistency of a smooth soup). Cook for 8 minutes, whisking frequently.
  7. Cook pasta according to instructions on box, drain, and set aside.
  8. Add grated cheddar and most of the gruyere to the roux mixture and stir to incorporate. Mix in the cooked pasta and distribute evenly into two ramekins or the casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining gruyere.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

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Sauteed Dates with Olive Oil, Sea Salt, & Vanilla Ice Cream (Adapted from Delancy, by Molly Wizenburg)

  • Olive oil
  • Whole dried Mejdool dates (3 or 4 per person)
  • Crunchy salt

Instructions

  1. Place heavy skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
  2. When the oil is warmed and runs loosely around the pan, add the dates, spacing evenly around the skillet.
  3. Cook, turning the dates frequently wit a pair of tongs so that they heat on all sides. Be careful not to burn them–you just want to heat them enough so each side begins to blister ever so slightly.
  4. Transfer dates to a serving plate and sprinkle generously with salt.
  5. Place 2 scoops of ice cream into a dish and top with 3 dates. Indulge.

P.S.

For a behind the scenes peak at my cooking/photographing process, check out my video with the lovely Masiero’s of Guido’s!

XOXO and happy Valentine’s from Little Sister Kitchen

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