Macaroni Pie

I was first introduced to Macaroni Pie when I met my husband.  It is one of those comfort foods that is part of most Sunday dinners and  holiday dinners in Barbados.  I fell in the love with the spicy undertones and the tangy bites of the cheese sauce and the firm yet tender texture of the pasta.  Its like snuggling into a quilt fresh and hot from the dryer on a cold, snowy day; heavenly!!  Over the last 26 years of our marriage, I’ve developed my own version of the Macaroni Pie.  Adding and tweaking things until it has become a family classic!

A mixture of olive oil and butter is a great combination that adds depth and flavor. It’s a great base for the vegetables to saute in and for the sauce!

After the vegetables are sauteed add flour to make a roux.  A roux is basically a way to thicken a sauce using a starch (in this case flour) Don’t worry if it looks slightly lumpy because as you add the milk and keep stirring it turns into a smooth thickened mixture.

Add the flour into the sauteed mixture and stir it in quickly to avoid lumps.

After the milk mixture begins to thicken add the cheeses and stir in.  It will melt and turn into an amazing and delicious sauce.

Add pasta into the sauce and pour into a 9″ x 13″  in pan and top with Parmesan cheese and Panko breading.  I love Panko because it becomes crunchy and delicious when baked without adding any additional fat.  If you decide to use regular bread crumbs add a couple of tablespoons of butter to the bread crumbs before spreading it over the top of the pasta.

Wish you could smell this.  It’s the perfect crunch on the top with cheesy goodness on the inside.

Nothing like the perfect comfort food!

Here’s the recipe:

Macaroni Pie

1 16 oz box of mini Fusicili or elbow macaroni

½  yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

5 green onions

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic , minced

1 tsp Chili ( like Shiracha)

1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

4 cups whole milk

1 cup grated Sharp cheddar

1 cup grated mozzarella

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Topping

¼ cup Japanese bread crumbs (Panko)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

In a large 6 quart pan bring water to boil.  Liberally salt the water (2-3 tablespoons) add pasta and cook about 7 minutes until pasta is al dente. Drain.

In a sauce pan heat butter and olive oil together.  Add green onion, yellow onion and red bell pepper and stir fry 2-3 minutes.  When onions are translucent, add the garlic and stir fry an additional minute.  Add salt, fresh cracked pepper, mustard and chili sauce. Stir together another minute or so and add flour to the mixture, quickly stir in all the flour, when its incorporated, slowly begin to pour in the milk and keep stirring.  Mixture should start to thicken.  Add Mozzarella, Sharp cheddar and Parmesan  stir until cheese is melted.  The sauce should be flavorful and smooth.  Add pasta to the mixture and pour into a sprayed 9 x 13 baking pan.  Sprinkle Panko and Parmesan cheese evenly over the pasta and bake for 20 minutes.  Serve warm.

North African Style Couscous

Couscous is a semolina pasta made out of durum wheat.  It is a staple food in pretty much most of North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya).  It’s cooked plain or in a wonderful salad type dish and usually eaten with meat stews that are slow cooked.  This dish goes wonderfully with the Tajine style Moroccan Chicken or just by itself as a refreshing salad or side dish.

Start by boiling

2 cups chicken stock (because it gives it such a depth of flavor but if you’re trying to make it a completely vegetarian dish then use vegetable stock or plain water) and ½ tsp kosher salt together.

Add  1 1/4 cup of couscous and  take off the heat.  Cover and let sit for 5-6 minutes.  Fluff with fork.

In a large skillet heat  ¼ cup olive oil and add 1 small chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic minced into small pieces.

Saute  for 3-4 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is very fragrant then add the couscous and toast for 8 minutes or so, couscous should get slightly brown.

Take it off the heat and pour into a large bowl and while still warm:

Add to couscous:

½ cup feta cheese

Chopped bell peppers

Chopped avocado

½ cup flat leafed parsley

Cucumber

Toasted almonds

Flat leaf Parsley, Curly leaf parsley and Cilantro

Dressing:

¼ cup oil

1 large lemon, zested

¼ tsp salt

Pepper (fresh cracked if you can)

Juice from lemon

Whisk to make dressing.  It will become a delicious opaque golden colored dressing. Pour over couscous and toss together.  Enjoy right away as a side dish or with any Moroccan style stew!

Tajine Style Moroccan Chicken

Tajine is a clay pot that is used in North African cooking.  If you have a long clay pot make sure you use a heat diffuser so it doesn’t crack on the stove top.  If you don’t have a Tajine, don’t worry a nice big skillet with a lid will work just fine. You will need about  8-10 Chicken Thighs with skin. Please use bone in chicken thighs or even a whole chicken instead of boneless, skinless chicken breasts because you need the extra flavor of bone in chicken.  Wash and pat the chicken pieces dry.  Rub each piece with the spice marinade and put in a ziplock bag overnight in the refrigerator.

Marinade  for chicken (preferably overnight):

1 ½ tsp Cumin

1 ½ tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 tsp Paprika

4 chopped garlic cloves

Pulp from preserved lemon (recipe included)

1 tsp kosher salt

The next day, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large heavy bottom skillet and place the chicken skin side down.  Sear both sides of the chicken for about 5 minutes each to get a nice brown color.  You’re not cooking it all the way through just locking in flavor and color.

Set the chicken aside.  In the same pan add the following:

1 Spanish Onion, chopped

1 Preserved Lemon – rinse well and chop the lemon skin into small pieces

1 Red bell pepper chopped

Saute a few minutes and then add the following:

1 cup golden raisins

½ cup Kalamata and Moroccan Olives (use a combo)

Fresh garlic  about 5 cloves chopped

1 tsp grated ginger

½ cup each chopped Cilantro and flat leaf Parsley

Sauté a few more minutes and add chicken back into pan.  Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.  Add 1 cup water and cook an additional 20-25 minutes, covered.  Taste for salt and adjust.  Because preserved lemons and olives are salty be careful with how much additional salt you add. Serve with couscous.

Kitchuri

Kitchuri is a very Bengali dish.  Made with rice, lentils, vegetables and sometimes even some meat thrown in.  It’s  the South Asian version of a casserole.  The variety of “kitchuri” is as limitless as each cook’s imagination but two things remain a constant, rice and lentils.  Growing up in Bangladesh, eating Kitchuri was a delight because we usually ate it at picnics or outings, sometimes cooked over an open fire.  Often the kitchuri would have seasonal vegetables, or leftovers from the day before added to it.  I knew whenever I smelled Kitchuri cooking that good things were going to happen that day.

On a recent trip back to Bangladesh, Kitchuri took on a new meaning.  We visited Child Sponsorship Programs and villages where lives were literally being saved.  Children ate one meal a day during school, often it was their only meal.  The meal always consist of Kitchuri because of the high nutrient content and an additional source of protein such as eggs or chicken or fish.  Cooked in a giant pot, the humble Kitchuri had taken on a super hero role!

2 cups Basmati Rice

1 cup red lentils

1 whole spanish onion, chopped

3-4 serrano chillis, chopped

2 whole cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

4 cardamom pods, crushed

3 whole cloves

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red chili peppers

4 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

1/4 cup oil

salt to taste

4 cups water

1 1/2 cup Assorted chopped vegetables , such as zucchini, shredded carrots, English peas, yellow squash

Wash rice and lentils thoroughly until water runs clear and set aside.  Heat oil in a large 5-6 quart pan and add onions and Serrano chilis.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and stir fry another 3 minutes or so until all the flavors are released.  Add 1 tsp of salt, turmeric, cumin and chili powder along with garlic and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add all vegetables and 1/2 cup of water and stir fry for a minute or two before adding the rice and lentils and the rest of the water.  Bring mixture to boil, stir then turn down temperature to low and cover pan.  Let simmer and cook until all water is absorbed about 10-13 minutes.  When all water is absorbed, rice and lentils should be nice and tender if additional water is needed, add it at this point and cover pot for another 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Take out cinnamon sticks and bay leaves before serving.

Chicken Korma

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1 whole chicken or 8- 10 chicken thighs

3 bay leaves

4-5 whole cardamom pods, crushed

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion chopped

1   8 oz can of tomato sauce

1/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

1 ½ tsp turmeric

2 tsp paprika

2 tablespoon Fresh garlic and ginger paste

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 whole Serrano chilis

4 dried plums (prunes) cut into halves

Cut whole chicken into smaller serving pieces and take all skin and visible fat off, wash thoroughly or if using chicken thighs, take skin off the thighs and cut the thighs in half.  This helps with getting spices more evenly incorporated into the meat.  Using chicken with bone in will always give greater flavor than boneless/skinless chicken.  If you are using boneless chicken, please use boneless chicken thighs and not chicken breast (again for better flavor)

Wash chicken thoroughly, place in a large heavy bottom pan.  Put all ingredients into pan and mix together well.  It will be a pinkish/ reddish color.  Put on medium heat keep stirring every 5-8 minutes and when mixture comes to a boil, cover and lower temperature to medium low and check every 10- 15 minutes and stir gently.  The chicken will naturally release water as it cooks, when the overall liquid goes down and the chicken is tender and the gravy looks fairly thick, add about 1 ½ cups of water and continue to simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes.  Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to serve hot with either plain rice or a rice pilau.