More on Mac n Cheese

Move over apple pie. I do believe that macaroni and cheese is slowly taking over as the quintessential, all American standard. Well, perhaps I speak too soon. Nevertheless, it’s right up there with baseball and apple pie. And like all things American, mac n cheese is so versatile. I mean, think about it. Hundreds of cheeses in the culinary glossary from which to choose. Lots of pasta shapes, too. That spells creativity to me.

I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly grow up with macaroni and cheese. Being Italian, macaroni was a staple in my home. However, it was usually adorned with some type of red sauce, meatballs, or at least a vegetable sautéed in garlic and oil. I remember the time I asked my grandmother for mac n cheese. I had seen it on a television commercial. She proceeded to serve me macaroni laden with ricotta and Parmigiano cheeses. Delicious. But definitely not was I was looking for. It wasn’t yellow! My Mom eventually got the picture, and from then on the macaroni and cheese I was served came straight out of a box. Those convenient varieties still exist. But it’s the homemade and restaurant made creations that we’re all really after, isn’t it? And talk about your comfort food. Hot and steamy pasta loaded with all types of gooey cheese in a creamy sauce. How bad could that be on a cold winter’s day?

I’ve conducted lots of experimentation where mac n cheese is concerned. When I first began, I used only the processed cheese that so many of my friends who grew up with Southern Soul Food swore by. I usually served it right out of the saucepan. As my horizons expanded, so did my recipe collection. And recipes do abound. Of course, they almost always start with a béchamel cream sauce. Easy enough to prepare. What I like about Phyllis’ recipe (below) is that her béchamel incorporates shallots and garlic directly into the roux. Ingenious, as far as I’m concerned. If your base sauce boasts lots of flavor, you can only move up on the taste scale as you begin to fold in your cheeses. I use the plural here, because that’s really the only way to go. A combination of cheeses can only intensify and build a complexity that your mac n cheese is craving. What cheeses? The choice is wide open to you. Use your favorites. If you like the way they taste with crackers and wine, you’ll love them in your dish. Try to balance sharp with mellow, however. Too much either way and you might be disappointed.

Now, I mentioned that I used to spoon my mac n cheese straight from the saucepan. Kind of shortsighted at the time. A really magnificent macaroni and cheese should be baked. It gives the cheese, cream sauce and pasta some time to meld and get acquainted. And the crust that baking produces on top is a must. Whether you’re using breadcrumb or crumbled crackers, the contrast between the crunch and cream is heavenly. One note. Be sure to prepare your macaroni al dente. That’s to say, ever so slightly underdone. It will continue to cook in the oven.

Additions to your mac n cheese recipes can include smoky bacon or ham, or a spicy chorizo. I sometimes add steamed broccoli or spinach. Any complementary ingredient will contribute to a whole new dimension. And it will all be scrumptious. It’s like I said. We Americans are extremely resourceful. Mac n cheese is no different. No matter what flavorings you add, it will always be a quintessentially American dish.

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist BrianPreston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the


Cheese Sophistication


With Vanilla Wafer Crust

This light, ethereal Italian cheesecake will not disappoint. Unlike the New York style cheesecake which traditionally uses only cream cheese, the Italian version includes sour cream for tang and ricotta for lightness as well as cream cheese for structure.  The citrus zest is a must.

This cheesecake was inspired by one served in the 1990s in a little northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village called New Port Alba.  It’s both rich and delicate.  You can serve it with a few fresh berries or a fresh fruit coulis and a dollop of whipped cream.  Just don’t overwhelm the luscious cheesecake.

Vanilla Wafer Crust

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

20 vanilla wafers (Nila is a good choice)

1 T sugar

4 oz. butter, melted

Tightly cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the wafers and sugar. Process until the wafers are fine crumbs.  Drizzle butter into the crumb mixture.  Pulse to combine. Press this mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.


1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese

1 lb. sour cream

1 lb. cream cheese (or mascarpone)

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 stick sweet butter, melted

Pinch of salt

3 large eggs

3 T flour

3 T cornstarch

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ T pure vanilla extract

¼ t fiori di sicilia (optional)*

Finely grated zest from one orange and one lemon

Have all filling ingredients at room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl beat together ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese until well mixed.  Beat in sugar and then melted butter and pinch of salt.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, fiori di sicilia and zest, beating until completely mixed.

Lower oven heat to 300 degrees.  Transfer to prepared pan and bake for one hour.  Turn off heat and let cake stay in oven, door closed, for another hour.  Remove and let cake cool completely in pan, set on a wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove sides of pan and serve slightly chilled.

*fiori di sicilia-an intense vanilla and citrus flavoring available online from King Arthur Flour.

Cheese sophistication -

Cheese–Milk’s Leap Towards Immortality: Victor on Cheese

They say that long ago a man had a container made from an animal’s stomach. Not uncommon in the BC years. He filled his pouch with some fresh milk one day in preparation for a long journey. Well, the rennin from the stomach lining helped coagulate the milk, producing curds and whey. Voila! Cheese was born. Of course, there’s no way to substantiate this story. I believe it – or something like it – is true. I like to call these phenomena “food accidents.” I’m sure that’s how wine and bread leveners were discovered as well. Call me a dreamer. But isn’t it amazing how such delicious foods can have such meager and haphazard beginnings?

Cheese & Fruit,

There’s actually nothing meager about cheese. I believe it’s one of our most sophisticated foods. So many varieties, all with nuances that distinguish them from one another. Some have actually been knighted with the names of cities. I’m not surprised. Cheese, like no other food, shows that we are truly fortunate to possess taste buds. It speaks of history, craftsmanship and creativity. It makes for incredible pre-dinner fare, marvelous entrees and indulgent desserts. Not many foods can say that.

Soft Cheeses,

There are thousands of types of cheeses, from hard to runny, pungent to mild. Cheese can reflect the gentle fragrance of wind swept fields. Or it can be a bold and brassy thing that dominates the plate and fills a room with aromas. Excellent examples of the range of cheese experiences include everything from the delicate, milky texture of fresh mozzarella to the creamy, mushroom-like flavor of brie to the robust, in-your-face aroma of Roquefort. What’s for you? Well, I’m tempted to list every one of my favorites, and describe each one of them. But cheese is a purely personal thing. Really subjective. The best advice I can give is to visit a fine cheese shop, or even your supermarket, and explore. Use your eyes. What looks interesting? Take a sample. Better cheese establishments will gladly offer. Then take your choices home, and enjoy with crusty breads, fresh or dried fruits, nuts and of course, wine. You’ll know straight off what turns you on. Once you’ve established that, then you can begin to incorporate cheese into your culinary repertoire.
Italian group of cheeses,

I personally look to add cheese to as many recipes as I can, to heighten complexity of flavors. When I’m simmering a chicken soup, I place a pecorino Romano rind into the pot. It doesn’t melt, I assure you. For my chicken pot pie, I incorporate a sharp cheddar into the crust. Really savory. My sizzling steak almost always includes a dab of blue cheese in the final presentation. As for my cream sauces, the addition of cheese is always a refinement. I usually begin with a béchamel, and then rely on my kitchen cleverness. I stir in grated parmesan to top my steamed asparagus. Edam is added when saucing my blanched broccoli. My Alfredo sauce gets a dollop of blue cheese, too. Just my taste. It all works.

Salsa Dip & Cheese,

Truth is, cheese really enhances and romances a meal. When I want to dazzle my love, it’s brie en croute as an appetizer, for sure. A Gruyere soufflericota, brie en  croute for dinner, absolutely. Decadent cheesecake – especially the Italian ricotta variety – a must. It just adds richness to the occasion – especially when we’re not celebrating anything special. And that’s what I’m usually looking for. A way to make our culinary journey exceptional. Cheese surely does that. With sophistication. And in great taste.


The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~G.K. Chesterton (They obviously don’t know everything.)

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin,
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at http:/

Grilled Pizza with Ham and Pineapple

You don’t really want to light the oven to 500 degrees on a hot July day,  do you?  This easy grilled pizza should get you in the mood for some outdoor summer relaxing.  Just a few simple ingredients showcase the smoky flavor and crispy crust.

Pizza dough:

2/3 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees)

2 t instant dry yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t salt

1 ½ T olive oil

Add yeast to warm water, mix and set aside. Place flour and salt in food processor.  Add oil and mix.  Pour yeast mixture around mixture and pulse just until a ball forms.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly.  Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise about one hour until doubled in bulk.  Punch dough down and divide into two equal balls.

Tomato Paste:

2 large flavorful tomatoes cut into 1-inch slices

1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into ½-inch slices, salt and pepper to taste

Place tomato slices on a vegetable grill pan. Set on grill over indirect heat. Turn over after one side begins to char. Place onion slices directly on grill over indirect heat.  Turn over after one side becomes charred. When both tomatoes and onions become soft, mash together and add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

2 T yellow cornmeal for baking sheets


1 1/3 cups coarsely grated fresh mozzarella (Place in freezer for 15 minutes first.)

3 T freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

4 canned pineapple slices, coarsely chopped

6 thin slices cooked ham, coarsely chopped

Prepare a hot grill.  Sprinkle cornmeal over two baking sheets. Roll out each ball of dough into a 10-inch round. Place each on a baking sheet. Slide onto the grill until lightly browned.  Lift up with a large spatula to check the underside.  They cook fast..  Take off the grill with the spatula and turn over onto those same baking sheets.  Brush the tomato paste over each, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the two cheeses over the pizzas.  Arrange pineapple pieces in a single layer over pizzas and sprinkle with ham.  Slide the pizzas onto dry grill.  Cover the grill and cook until the crusts are crisp and brown and cheese is melted.   They can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes.  Keep a close watch. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 8.

Photographer Bill Brady
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Briarcliff Indoor Farmers Market Season Finale

The very first eggs from Feather Ridge Farm's pullets

A last look at this season’s lively Briarcliff Indoor Farmers Market. Time to check the local outdoor farmers markets--Community Markets.

THE PLACE for artisan bread and cheese

Gorgeous Shitakes and Oyster Mushrooms

Fresh fish on Ice

The Doughnut Man

Eggs, Milk, Cream and Chicken from Feather Ridge Farm

Macaroni and Cheese revisited

macaroni and cheese 4

Macaroni and cheese you say?  How tres ordinaire.  But there is a crisp chill in the air and I don’t know about you, but I say comfort food is my plat du jour.  Yes, I know that you can no doubt find a recipe for macaroni and cheese on the back of a pasta box, but as with all food favorites, there is a palatable version and there is an ethereal version.  The best macaroni and cheese I have tasted is the Croton-on-Hudson, NY  Umami  Cafe’s award-winning white truffle oil laced dish and, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario,  the restaurant Zee’s creamy version.

I have put together the best features of both and added, what I think is the crowning feature, an abundant crusty topping of buttery fresh breadcrumbs.

Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups coarse crumbs from good quality bread, crusts removed

5 T butter (divided)

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely minced

3 T all-purpose flour

1/8 t smoked sweet paprika

2 t Dijon mustard

1 quart whole milk

½ t freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. elbow macaroni or corkscrew pasta

4 cups cheese, grated   (combination of sharp cheddar, gruyere and colby)

½ cup finely grated Parmegiano reggiano

(white truffle oil optional)

Lightly sauté the breadcrumbs in 2 T butter and set aside.  Sauté shallots and garlic in 3 T butter in a 4-quart saucepan just until translucent.  Add flour and stir over medium heat for two minutes.  Add smoked sweet paprika and mustard.  Slowly add and stir in milk. Add pepper. Grate cheese on grating disk of food processor or large holes of box grater.

Cook macaroni 2 minutes less than package directions instruct.  Set aside ½ cup of cheese mixture for topping. While macaroni is cooking, add remainder of cheese to milk mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Taste for salt.  You may not need any as the cheese is salty. Stir well-drained macaroni into cheese mixture and pour into an oven-proof casserole dish.  Sprinkle reserved cheese over macaroni and then the breadcrumbs.  Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes until there is a light crust on top. Guests can sprinkle a few drops of white truffle oil on top if they like.

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