Macaroni and Cheese Muffins

February 22, 2013 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

If you are a parent of younger kids, you are well aware of the constant struggle to get your children to eat something new and different. Most days, the only acceptable home cooked meals (i.e. not fast food or bagel bites) are either pasta, chicken, or mac and cheese…which, of course, is just another form of pasta. A key trick which we are often told as parents is to keep the meals fun and interesting, and the kids will then be encouraged to try something new. Unfortunately, being a full-time working parent does not allow one much time during the week to think beyond the routine menu, let alone get creative.

While this dish may not be completely new to your table, this clever variation on the American classic does help bring a little fun and excitement to mealtimes. My sister-in-law made a variation of these for our family Superbowl party just a few weeks ago, and the kids ate them up! Not only are they simple to make, but they also give you a chance to get a bit more creative with a standard mac and cheese dish. Feel like sneaking some veggies into your children’s diet? Add some finely chopped broccoli or cauliflower to the mixture. Or top the bites off with a slice of tomato and a bit of extra shredded cheese (they’ll look like little pizza cups). Wanna get a bit more fancy for the adult servings? Try using a bit of prosciutto to line the baking tins! You can also switch up the cheeses that are used in the recipe below, or use another recipe to your liking…our family mac and cheese recipe calls for shredded American cheese instead of mozzarella.

You can go with either the large or mini bite-size muffin tins, depending on your preference. Although I’d rather use a nice home made macaroni and cheese recipe for this (the AllRecipes.com version is listed below), you can also use the boxed stuff if that is your preference. For an even cheesier taste, substitute the bread crumb crust with crushed cheese flavored crackers. This is also a good meal to get into the Friday night mix during this Lenten season. Just remember to leave out the prosciutto!

Macaroni and Cheese Muffins
Courtesy of AllRecipes.com

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese*
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese*
1/2 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, olive oil and salt; set aside.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for about 8 minutes, it should still be a little bit firm. Remove from the heat, drain and return to the pan; stir in the butter and egg until pasta is evenly coated. Reserve 1/2 cup of sharp Cheddar cheese and stir the remaining Cheddar cheese, milk and mozzarella cheese into the pasta. Spoon into the prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle the reserved cheese and the bread crumb mixture over the tops.

Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the topping is nicely browned. Allow the muffins to cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan. This will allow the cheese to set and they will hold their muffin shape.

*Our family mac and cheese recipe does not use mozzarella, but rather shredded American cheese. You can use your own mac and cheese recipe, or simply alter the above recipe to your liking).

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Our Night Out at The Restaurant School

February 18, 2013 Menu No Comments

Last week, my wife and I got to experience a very unique and memorable night out on the town. We were invited to our friend Traci’s birthday dinner at the prestigious Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. To say that this dinner was anything less than an unforgettable event would be a lie. Of course, being both a foodie at heart and a seasoned graphic designer by trade, supporting the arts (whether it be visual, musical or culinary) is something that I take pride in. Having the opportunity to dine in an environment almost completely operated by students was not only gratifying, but also educational…for both the staff and those of us dining that night. Having heard over the years how much of a great experience it is to dine at the Restaurant School, I was sure to pay full attention to and soak up every moment that we had at the dinner party.

Offering both Associate and Bachelor of Science degrees in Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Restaurant Management and Hotel Management, the Restaurant School presents students the opportunity to experience working in in a high-end restaurant right from the get-go, preparing them to take on the culinary responsibilities in some of the most elite and celebrated locations around the world. In exchange, the patrons get to enjoy five star treatment and and cutting edge menu selections influenced by some of the top chefs in the area…all prepared and served by the students themselves. The diners not only get to enjoy a delicious and creative meal, they also get to give back to the students by allowing them to perfect their craft. It’s a win-win situation!

Our dinner party was exceptionally special. First off, by request of the birthday girl, this was a semi-formal event. Opportunities for my wife and I to go out to dinner without the kids are often few and far between, so being able to dress up for a night out on the town was fun. The party took place in a private dining room, which had an all-white decór and blown-glass ornaments dangling from the ceiling. The menu was made up of seven-courses, personally paired up by both Traci’s husband and the Chef. The French influenced menu, including a frisée salad, lobster bisque, Scottish salmon with beluga lentils, ginger sorbet, a main course of either roasted chicken or New York strip steak, a cheese course (featuring a sheep, goat and cow’s milk sample) and a miniature dessert selection were accompanied by a featured wine list that was hand selected by our sommelier.  The Pouilly Fuissé Nicolas Potel Burgundy and the Di Majo Norante Sangiovese were two of the most delicious wines I’ve ever tasted, and were paired beautifully with our meals.

What made this night even more exceptional and memorable was the seating arrangement for each course. There were four tables of 5 seats to accommodate all 20 of us. We each received a seating card at arrival, with our name and seven numbers on the card, ranging for 1 to 4 (for example, my card had 4-4-3-2-1-1 listed under my name) The numbers represented which table we were to sit at for each course. This was an great opportunity for all of us to mingle and speak to one another throughout the evening. Even though I did not know many of the guests at the start of the dinner, by the end of the party we had all laughed and joked together at one time or another that night. This arrangement, by the way, was not planned by the school, but rather by our hosts. It was a unique and original way for everyone to mingle and have a good time.

One of the biggest highlights for me personally was being offered a personal tour of the kitchen. Traci’s husband, Scott, is on the board of directors for the school, and like myself is a foodie at heart. Being that he took time to show me around in the kitchen and giving me the chance to speak with the chef personally really was icing on the cake for me that night. Seeing the students hard at work in the kitchen while having the Chef express his gratitude while showing pride in his students was awe inspiring. Somehow I felt at home and at one with the entire staff that night.2

Of course, the best part of all was having an opportunity to spend quality time with some of our closest and best friends. Coming from an Italian-American culture where food, family and friendship all blend into one, this night was definitely one that will be memorable for a long time to come.

If you are looking for a unique and education dining experience, I highly encourage you to enjoy a meal at the Restaurant School. It is an experience that I guarantee you will walk away from with a smile.

The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College is located at the corners of 42nd and Walnut Streets in University City, Philadelphia. Please call 215-222-4200 for more information or reservations.

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Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

February 4, 2013 Appetizer, Menu 1 Comment

I realize that this post is a day past the Superbowl snack food deadline, but if the game could be delayed for a black-out, this recipe surely could be delayed until I was able to taste it and decide that it was worth sharing. Now that I’ve had the chance to try them, I have no problem saying that they are a phenomenal snack food to serve up for any game or party. Inspired by Rachael Ray’s recipe, this dish  has all of the tangy flavor and heat of the traditional buffalo wing. Unlike Rachael Ray’s alternate buffalo chicken meatball recipe, where the meatballs are served in a hot sauce, this recipe actually incorporates the hot sauce into the meatball mixture. The flavor of the chicken and the sauce are blended perfectly, and there is no messy eating factor to it. Served up with toothpicks and a side of bleu cheese or ranch dip, there’s no losing with this recipe!

 

 

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Inspired by Rachael Ray’s Buffalo Chicken Meatball recipe
1/3 cup hot sauce (I prefer Frank’s)
4 tbspn butter
1 lb ground chicken (I used the 85% lean version)
1 egg
3/4 cups breadcrumbs
1 tspn salt

Heat butter and hot sauce in a sauce pan over medium heat until butter is melted and is blended with the sauce. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Combine ground chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, salt and hot sauce; mix well. Roll into small, 3/4 inch meatballs. Place on a sprayed 9″x13″ baking dish. Bake at 450˚ for about 15-20 minutes, or until meatballs are firm.

Let cool for 5 minutes, serve and enjoy!

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