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    Welcome to vmac+cheese. Here I'll share with you my love for all things food, interiors, design and style. I like to think of it as musings on a life worth living.

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Recipe: Chicken and Potato Leek Soup

Early last week, I felt a cold coming on, and even though the symptoms never got too bad, I took it as a sign that I needed to slow down and take it easy for a few days. The fatigue was the worst part — it felt like rolling out of bed would be the most laborious thing imaginable.

On the day I headed home from work early, I was craving a soup that was thick and chicken-y (always a sure sign that I’m sick). I stopped by the store and picked up a few ingredients to make myself a “get well soon” soup. Along with lots of rest, I’m convinced this is what got me back up on my feet!

This soup is extremely easy to make, even when you’re under the weather. After quickly browning some chicken and sweating vegetables, everything simmers together until soft, then is pureed to velvety smoothness. Try this on a cold, snowy night…or when you’re feeling the effects of the season. Either way, it’s guaranteed to satisfy.

Get the recipe: Continue reading

Recipe: Bucatini with meatballs and homemade tomato sauce

A couple weeks ago, Lara from Simply Irresistible posted two pasta recipes that looked SO good. Well, I mean, all of her recipes look really good, but I must’ve been craving pasta, because the minute I saw these, I wanted to make them right then and there. Which is weird, because at home, Joe and I typically stay away from pasta, mostly for dietary reasons. But the weather has been cooler, and the thought of a big, warm bowl of noodles just sounded really delicious!

Two Saturdays ago, we spent the day out and about, running errands and buying a coat for Joe, and it was drizzling all day. Inspired by Lara, I suggested pasta for dinner to make up for the miserable weather. I was blown away when Joe said, “Spaghetti and meatballs?” Done and done. And to make things extra special, I told him I’d even make the sauce from scratch.

This dish turned out really well! If you’re following exactly what I did, I’d recommend you save this one for a weekend, when you have a bit more time. However, you could easily make it a weeknight meal by using your favorite jarred marinara sauce.

Get the recipe after the jump! Continue reading

Carnitas Tacos with Escabeche

If you’ve met Joe and I, it’s no huge secret that Mexican is pretty much our favorite genre of food. It was omnipresent for me growing up in Texas, and since Joe grew up in the Midwest… well, let’s just say that once he discovered good Mexican food in California, he’s never been able to get enough of it.

When eating at home, we’ll usually stick to simple things like tacos and basic enchiladas, so last week when I saw Sara share a recipe for carnitas, I thought it might be the perfect thing to try on a lazy Saturday. Since we were staying home and doing absolutely nothing, there’d be no problem in letting the meat cook away in the oven for hours.

This would be a GREAT recipe for entertaining — the meat can be braising while you hang out with your guests or do other things around the house. I topped our tacos with peppers and veggies pickled in escabeche, a must for a rich, fatty taco filling like carnitas. Ever been to a taco truck? Escabeche is that delicious, spicy, vinegary concoction of jalapenos, peppers, carrots, onions and sometimes cauliflower. So good. A little avocado and a few sprigs of cilantro, and we were ready to go.

Well, once the margaritas got made.

Recipe notes

For the carnitas, I basically followed Sara’s recipe with a few changes. I used 1.5 beers (specifically, Victoria lagers leftover from our party) instead of one. I did not drain off the fat before putting everything in the oven, instead, choosing to let the meat cook in it and then draining it off at the end. Carnitas, after all, is basically pork confit. I also quadrupled the garlic and used Mexican oregano instead of regular. When the meat was done (I let it go for about 3 hours), I shredded it with two forks, and after draining the fat off of the cooking liquid, had so little left that I put all the meat back in and mixed it up with the softened garlic and juices. Do I really need to say more? It was ridiculously good.

For the escabeche, I followed this basic recipe, but of course had to make a few changes to that too. I used the same amount of apple cider vinegar recommended, and sauteed the veggies as instructed. However, since I was using a large aluminum pan (which can be reactive with that much acid), I made the sure the veggies were good and soft before adding the vinegar. I then quickly warmed the mixture up (but did not simmer it) before transferring to a glass bowl and allowing to sit for several hours. Also, I quartered the jalapenos instead of leaving them whole. And I did NOT attempt to can anything.

Really, this was so good and something I’d make again and again. Tons of leftovers too. Give it a try!

[PS — Don’t forget to enter the I Am print giveaway! There’s also lots of other places you can go to try your luck and win. Go here to see where!}

‘Green’ Chicken with Summer Corn Salad

I don’t know what it is, but so far this summer, I really feel like I have not been taking advantage of the amazing produce available this time of year. Seriously, that baked ratatouille I made recently has kind of been the highlight. I’m lucky enough to work somewhere that has a farmers market right outside my office door each week, so I really, REALLY have no excuse not to be enjoying as many fruits and veggies as possible!

Last Friday night, Joe and I decided to stay in and make something summery at home to remedy the situation. I opted to roast some bone-in chicken breasts, smothered in garlic, lemon zest and LOTS of basil. While they were in the oven, I tossed together a simple salad of fresh corn, tomatoes, chopped kale, avocado and even more basil, dressed with a zippy lemon and dijon vinaigrette. Despite the fact that it was 55 and misting outside, it was totally summer on a plate.

Green Chicken (aka Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Basil and Garlic)

Serves 2, easily

This chicken is so named because before you stick it in the oven, the herbs should cover it so fully that it looks, well, green. Once this starts cooking, your kitchen will smell amazing. Fair warning.

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil (about two loose handfuls), cleaned and finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 bone-in split chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels. 

Preheat your oven to 425°.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the meat and stir to combine. The mixture should be pretty thick with herbs. If it’s not, chop some more basil and throw it in.

In a baking dish, place the chicken skin side up. Gently loosen the chicken skin from the breast, then using a small spoon, stuff/spread some of the herb mixture underneath the skin. Using your fingers, move the herbs around under the skin until it’s coating most of the meat. Repeat with the other chicken breast, then pour and spread the rest of the herb mixture all over the top of the chicken. Go wash your hands. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes (this could take a bit longer if the chicken breasts are large). Half way through the cooking process, use a large spoon to baste the chicken with some of the juices accumulating in the pan. Roast the meat until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast reads 160°. Remove from the oven, baste with the juices again, and let rest for five to ten minutes. Serve.

Summer Corn Salad

Serves 2-3 easily (probably more if you’re doing a light serving of this salad!)

For the dressing:

  • 1 small shallot, skin removed and minced
  • Juice of 2 small lemons
  • 1 tbsp dijon 
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • — kosher salt and freshly pepper to season

For the vegetables:

  • 2 cobs of corn, husked, de-silked and kernels cut from the cob with a knife
  • 1/2 pint sun gold (orange) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes, diced
  • small handful of kale, chopped (any variety of kale will work — lacinto or curly)
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 6-7 basil leaves (whatever’s left of the bunch), cut into a chiffonade or chopped

In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and gently whisk together until emulsified. In a medium bowl, combine all the vegetables, then pour in as much of the dressing as you’d like. Toss everything together and allow to sit while the chicken finishes cooking. Serve together.

Blackberry and nectarine muffins

Quite a ways back, I posted a recipe for homemade sweet cream butter, which I’d whipped up in an emergency to go with some muffins I’d baked for Joe. Like I mentioned before, muffins are one of his favorite breakfast items on the weekend, but I hadn’t made them in forever — they didn’t really mesh well with our beach-ready summer diet! But now that the trips have passed, we’ve been a bit more lenient and have fallen back into our hedonistic, refined-carb ways. So, the muffins made an appearance this past weekend.

This muffin recipe is something I’ve experimented with over the years, and reflects my personal taste in the pastry. They’re pretty rich, definitely cake like, and the raw batter may almost confuse you since it doesn’t take on the usual thick, gloppy consistency one might expect in a muffin mix. What’s great about this recipe is that you could make it with no fruit or other garnishes and have a very basic vanilla-almond muffin that you could load up with your favorite jam. But this time of year, when there is so much good fruit in season, I like to add in different berries or stone fruits.

Bake a batch, settle in with some freshly brewed coffee and a stack of magazines, and you’ve got the perfect start to the weekend.

Blueberry and nectarine muffins

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (you can also substitute 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar, packed
  • –a few shakes of ground cinnamon

Wet ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (if you don’t have this and don’t want to buy it, you can omit it)
  • 1/2 pint blackberries, washed and drained
  • 1 whole nectarine, diced

Preheat your oven to 400º. Line a muffin tin with paper cups, or brush the tin with melted better, so that the muffins don’t stick.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and set aside. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the wet ingredients with a small whisk or fork, being careful not to stir too vigorously and smash the fruit.

When you’re ready to bake, pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and use a spatula to gently fold the mixtures together. Don’t stir too hard, or the batter will develop gluten and become tough. You just want to blend these together — in fact, if you see a couple loose pockets of dry flour, that’s okay. The consistency will be like a thick cake batter.

Using a 1/4 cup measure, spoon the batter into the muffin tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on your oven), until the tops of the muffins are golden brown. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then gently remove from the tin and serve with a pat of butter.

Baked Ratatouille

Fall may have my heart when it comes to fashions, but food wise? I’m totally a summer girl. Who can say no to the bounty of fresh vegetables, fruits and fragrant herbs that hit their peak this time of year?

One of my absolute favorite dishes to make in the summer time is ratatouille. A traditional dish hailing from the Provence region of France (and pronounced rat-eh-too-ee…it took me forever to get it right), ratatouille is traditionally made by stewing together tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, squash and herbs. There’s much debate about the ‘proper’ way to make it, and like many French dishes, it seems like the right way to make it is the way your grandmother did.

In any case, I had yet to make a batch this summer, and was dying to get back in to the kitchen after several weeks of vacationing and dining out. I had also had this image pinned on Pinterest for a while, and it inspired me to try my hand at a sort of baked ratatouille, made a bit more decadent (and very non-traditional) with a crusty, cheesy topping. All the same flavor, but it would look much prettier when it was finished! As I was making this, I remembered another French dish called confit byaldi, which is a variation on ratatouille and was also featured in the 2007 Pixar film by the same name. Mine is definitely not as fancy as that, but it was SO simple to put together and it tasted like summer. On a Wednesday night in August, who can ask for more?

Baked Ratatouille

Serving: The recipe below makes enough for one large round baking dish. I divided my vegetables up in to one medium oval dish, and another smaller one. Depending on whether you were serving this as a main course or as a side dish, the recipe can feed between 2 and 4 people.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • –pinch crushed red pepper flake
  • 1 medium-large zucchini
  • 1 medium-large yellow zucchini
  • 1 orange heirloom tomato
  • 4 medium vine tomatoes
  • 1 small Japanese eggplant
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • –Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Note about the vegetables: Be sure to purchase squash, eggplant and tomatoes that are roughly the same size in diameter. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you end up with a really skinny zucchini and a fat eggplant, you may have to do some trimming to get the dish to look as nice. When I made this dish, I used a regular bell shaped eggplant, and that made things more difficult, which is why I’m recommending the use of Japanese eggplant. They tend to be more cylindrical.

For garnish:

  • –Asiago or your choice of cheese (I’d try Parmigiano Reggiano, or even goat cheese! But whatever you have around and will melt well.)
  • –Fresh basil, julienned

Preheat your oven to 400°.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add in the onions and let cook for a minute until they just begin to soften. Add in half of the chopped garlic, the crushed red pepper flake, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occassionally, while you prepare the vegetables. Lower the heat if you notice the onions are browning too quickly.

While the onions cook, slice the ends off the squash and eggplant, as well as the stems off of the tomatoes. Then, slice each vegetable so that it is about 1/4″ thick. You can make this more thick or less thick — the most important thing is that you make your cuts consistent, so the vegetables will all cook evenly. If you make the cuts thinner, keep in mind they can cook faster; thicker, and they will take a bit longer (though the flavor can develop more).

Once the vegetables are prepped, add in the tomato paste to the pan with the onions. Stir to distribute and “melt,” until the paste has coated the onions and the mixture is fragrant. Transfer the onion mixture to the bottom of your baking dish, and drizzle with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Next, begin arranging your sliced vegetables in the dish, alternating by color. You can arrange these in whatever pattern you want; I like to stack them in an outer circle first, then fill the inside area with leftover pieces. Sprinkle the rest of the garlic over the top of the arranged vegetables, then season the whole thing with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the mixture is very bubbly and the vegetables look tender. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn your broiler on to high. Layer shaved or sliced cheese on top of the cooked vegetables, then bake underneath the broiler until the cheese gets bubbly and brown. Let the dish sit for a couple minutes, garnish with freshly chopped basil, and serve. This is delicious with grilled steaks, roasted chicken, and would also be awesome with pasta or cous cous!

You are what you eat

How awesome are these photographs? Can you guess what they are? Each photograph features a magnified view of common foods. Taken by photographer Caren Alpert (and discovered via Susannah on Jezebel), I thought it was fascinating to see these items up close (there’s lots more to look at on Caren Alpert’s website!).

From top to bottom, the items are: a pineapple leaf, a fortune cookie, a sundried tomato, an orange Lifesaver, a shrimp tail, and a cross section of a Brussels sprout.

It’s interesting to me how the real foods — the sprouts, the shrimp — look like other things you find in nature, while the processed foods…well, don’t. My favorite are the shrimp tail and the pineapple leaf. So much texture, and so pretty to look at!

{Image Credits: 1 2 3 4 5 6}

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