food my kids will eat…baked macaroni & cheese…

Posted by on Feb 16, 2011 in food | 0 comments

My kids love macaroni & cheese. A lot. So instead of pulling out the ever-present box of Kraft, I decided to scour the internet and my cookbooks for a homemade version. Early on I tried a fancy recipe from the Food Network. It included fontina cheese, egg noodles, and ham, but it was WAY too rich. Finally I settled for a basic no frills baked macaroni & cheese casserole from

I’m warning you…it is made with butter and velveeta cheese…there are no hidden vegetables in the sauce…and it is far from low-fat…but yes, my kids will eat it, and sometimes that is all that matters.


  • 1 pkg. (8 oz.) elbow macaroni
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 8 oz. Velveeta, cubed (plus any other leftover shredded cheese I have in the fridge)
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs


Cook macaroni as directed on package and drain. Melt 1 1/2 tbsp. butter in a saucepan. Blend in flour, stir in milk slowly, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Add seasonings and cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. Add macaroni and transfer to a buttered 1 qt. casserole. Combine bread crumbs and 1 tbsp. melted butter. Sprinkle over macaroni. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

The Finished Product...

Only after I loaded up their plates did I realize we were having an all-yellow meal...go figure...

He looks thankful, right?

Experimental Cooking

Posted by on Feb 12, 2010 in food | 1 comment

Every month, I anxiously await the arrival of two of my favorite magazines…Food Network Magazine and Every Day with Rachael Ray. Their glossy pages pull me in as I pore over the pages and strategize about which of the new recipes I will attempt to make.

“Attempt” is the key word here, because even though the titles shout things like “simple” and “weeknight cooking”, they seem to be addressing someone other than me. There doesn’t seem to be many articles for a very average cook who still can’t cook rice to save her life.

But all of my past disasters seemed to fade as I wrote my grocery list last weekend. I found myself picking out ingredients to make chicken with tarragon cream sauce, chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies, and a new stir fry recipe that involved me tracking down rice vinegar at Meijer. (It was even on sale.)

My glowing optimism on Sunday faded somewhat by mid-week, when I was forced to either attempt the new recipes or resort to macaroni & cheese. The magazines sit on the counter, the marked pages taunting me to toe the line and pull out my mixing bowls. I can only withstand the pressure for so long; the fresh ingredients wilting in the fridge force my hand, and I step up to the counter.

The first recipe I attempt is a chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookie recipe from Rachael Ray. The kids help me with the dumping and the mixing, and even though the dough looks suspiciously runny, I plop it on the cookie trays and toss them into the oven. 15 minutes later, I find…

Yeah…completely flat. How does that happen? Plus, half completely stuck to one of my cookie sheets, so the whole thing went right in the trash. Surprisingly, they still taste okay, especially after dipping them into the peanut butter filling, but instead of being soft and chewy, they are flat and crunchy.

After that monumental disaster, I am more than a little worried about dinner. Stir fry was on the menu, which isn’t that unusual, but I am trying a different marinade, sauce, and garnish. I’m a little obsessed with trying to find a stir fry recipe that I really like…maybe tonight is the night.

I mince the garlic, chop the peppers, marinate the chicken, go to get my trusty box of Minute Rice out of the cupboard, and to my horror, it is nowhere to be found! (Did I mention that I’m not good at cooking rice?)

Now the pressure is really on as I throw on a pot of rice and start to cook the stir fry. Everything looks great, until I pour in the sauce and it refuses to thicken. The picture in the magazine shows a beautiful thick glaze on each veggie, but mine just makes a soupy mess in the bottom of the pan. Maybe my corn starch is defective, because this happens…every time.

I don’t even check the rice because I’m too scared it is going to be crunchy like my last attempt, and I just serve it up. The stir fry with runny sauce goes on top, and voilà…

No, it does not look like the picture from the magazine. But…it’s edible, and the sesame seeds add a nice crunch. We top off our meal with sharp shards of my flat cookies dipped in sugared up peanut butter, and call it a night.

That’s what I get for experimental cooking…shock, stress, surprise, and once in a while…success!

— Rachel

What’s a “wannabe foodie” to do?

Posted by on Sep 17, 2009 in food | 2 comments

I recently checked out two “foodie” books from the library…The Man who Ate the World by Jay Rayner (a food critic who also judged Top Chef Masters this summer) and Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (yes, the movie just came out). I’m not quite sure when I am going to find time to read them, other than pulling a “Renae” trick and hiding them in the bathroom so I can read a page or two here and there, but I’m looking forward to them.

You see, I consider myself a “wannabe foodie”. I diligently watch shows like Top Chef on Bravo, Chopped on the Food Network, and look up all the unfamiliar words on wikipedia…like ceviche and carpaccio and tartare. I read my Food Network Magazine cover to cover and dog ear the pages that look interesting, and sometimes I even try to make a few things (with varying success).

I also watch every season of The Next Food Network Star, and wish that I had any kind of cooking chops to apply to be on that show. Because seriously…even though the winner this year was touted as a “Mom”, one glance at her bio and you would see that she had a whole lot more training than they made it seem with their editing.

Me? Not even close to being a candidate…and even though I like to see the amazing things that they create, it is just not realistic for my everyday life. This takes me back to my point about being only a “wannabe foodie”. If we go out to a fancier restaurant, I usually end up getting the filet mignon, not the seared scallops or black cod three ways. I really don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that I may not like…which may be practical, but it’s not quite daring. Plus, when I’m cooking at home, I have a hard enough time getting my kids to eat things that aren’t breaded or look like noodles, so what’s a girl to do?

So, here’s my idea. It would satisfy my desire to cook good food, but it wouldn’t involve trying to feed my kids eel and mussels.

Everyone has at least one “surefire” recipe…maybe one that your family craves…maybe one you are constantly writing out for someone. On top of that, there is usually some story behind it about what makes it special. One that came to mind for me is my Mom’s punch. It is delicious, it has a long colorful history, and everyone always asks for the recipe.

Anyways, I think it would be cool to compile a whole bunch of those recipes, along with a picture and a short story, and share them on a blog or in a book or something. Wouldn’t it be great to have a book of recipes that work, instead of having 20 cookbooks that you probably make only four recipes out of each one? Wouldn’t it be great to have recipes made by real people, not chefs that can cut onions paper thin or make a delicious salad out of a rutabega, dandelion stems, and a peach? (nothing against chefs or anything)

I know…that’s what is for…but I think that having the connection to the family or person would make the food come alive.

That’s my idea. I’ll never be on the Food Network or demonstrate how to sear salmon, but who knows…maybe I can still celebrate good food…in my own way…

My Cooking Achilles Heel…Rice…

Posted by on Sep 8, 2009 in food, memories | 3 comments

I think every family has stories that inevitably come up at least once at major (and some minor) holidays. For my family, it includes stories about when the furnace broke while my parents were out of town, when Sam ordered the Kobe beef, when our Dodge Omni started on fire, and when I burned the rice.

Yep…I get the rice story. It’s not a glamorous story by any means, but it does come up all the time. I was in Junior High, home with my sisters, when I decided to help my parents out by starting the rice for dinner. Such good intentions…gone horribly wrong…

There are varying accounts of what happened next, but basically, after the water started boiling, I dumped in the rice, put the lid on, and forgot to turn the burner down to low. Twenty minutes go by…maybe less…I’m watching a movie and not paying attention to the rice. Kristin comes and kindly informs me that something is going on in the kitchen. I run into the slightly smelly kitchen, lift the lid on the pot, and smoke pours out. Yikes. Then, I do the first thing that pops into my 13 year old head…I toss the pot onto the counter.

Not the best move for a kitchen with laminated countertops…the next thing I hear is a loud “POP”! I thought maybe the rice was exploding, not realizing that the sound was the countertop splitting from the heat. So, I took the pot, flung it into the sink where it should have been in the first place, and turned on the water. I was just examining the layer of blackened rice on the bottom of the pot and the gaping hole in the countertop when the door opens and (cue ominous music) my parents walk in.

The details get a little hazy after that. I don’t remember if I got in trouble or what we had for dinner that night or if I ever finished watching the movie…but regardless, it is a story that has been retold countless times, sometimes with great detail and other times it is consolidated to simply “remember when Rachel burned the rice?”.

The strange thing is that ever since that point back in junior high, I have had issues with rice. I usually make Minute Rice, because if I make regular rice, I almost always goof it up. Seriously! I burned a pot of rice last week, because I once again forgot to turn the burner down while it was cooking. I couldn’t believe it. It is like my “cooking Achilles heel”.

Do I have a mental hiccup because of that experience? Or is it because of the family story telling sessions? Maybe it is simply a coincidence? I guess it doesn’t matter, but don’t plan on eating rice if you come to my house for dinner…I just can’t chance ruining another pot…or another countertop!

Salute to Kitchen Gadgets

Posted by on Feb 13, 2009 in food | 1 comment

We all have them – those overstuffed drawers filled with kitchen gadgets we never use. For me, it is things like kitchen twine, a couple egg seperators, bottle covers that look like Piston jerseys (not sure why they are in there) and several teeny little Tupperware containers which fit well, not much.

However, there are a few things that I could not live without…let’s see…my micrograter that I use for zesting, my lettuce knife, my meat tenderizer to flatten chicken breasts, and my adjustable measuring spoons…just to name a few of my favorites…

But today, I was feeling especially thankful for my jar opener. It is nothing fancy-just this flower shaped piece of thin rubber that gives you extra traction when you are trying to open up difficult bottles. I used it today on a bottle of apple juice which used to be no problem, but they have started making caps on many things narrower on purpose…have you noticed? My Dad told me the reason – I forget the specifics, probably something environmental which you know – go green and all – but wow are they hard on the hands…

So, here’s to you – drawer that always gets stuck because the extra spaghetti server jams it up – drawer that keeps all those extra things that I can’t bear to part with, like my old zester that I will never use – drawer that is dangerous to reach into because you never know if you will grab the electric meat thermometer or the wrong end of a dull paring knife.

I salute you for being there when I look for my egg slicer one time a year and for attempting to keep the “good stuff” near the front…most of the time…and for indulging my need for gadgets…

It’s chaos folks, but in this case, it’s…dare I say…helpful??

My Resignation…as a Baker…

Posted by on Oct 2, 2008 in food | 6 comments

After scraping another failed dessert into the trash today, I have decided to resign (hopefully temporarily) from baking.

Yesterday, I attempted to make a Berry Pizza, with a pizza crust as the base, cheesecake topping and a fruit garnish. I totally overcooked it, and after unsuccessfully sawing at it with my pizza cutter, decided that the best place for it was…the trash.

Today, the kids and I made Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. We followed the directions, but for some reason, they spread all over the pan and by the last batch, it was just a big glop of crusty cookie remnants. Another deposit into the trash followed.

This malady isn’t recent…it has been plaguing me for a while. The last couple batches of chocolate chip cookies that came out of my kitchen were flat as pancakes. I’m not joking! I thought it was maybe from putting too many chocolate chips in them, but I’m thinking that something else is at work here.

Could it be expired ingredients? Possible…my baking soda is probably pretty old.

Could it be my little sous chefs sabotaging my results? Unlikely…they are the stirrers and taste testers, but don’t measure out many ingredients.

Could it be…me? Maybe…I’m usually trying to do multiple things at a time, which can result in issues, especially with baking where everything has to be so precise. Yesterday, when I was making the Berry Pizza, I was also making tacos, refereeing arguments and who knows what else. Sometimes I think I need to try to focus on just one thing at a time instead of trying to multi-task so much. It does not necessarily make you produce a higher quality product, just do an adequate job at more things.

Whatever the reason is, I will now keep myself from further disasters by sticking to “break-and-bake” cookies and store-bought delicacies. Well, probably at least until Madi asks to “make something” again, and I have to roll up my sleeves and try again…

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