One-skillet beef mac & cheese

This easy, one-pan, beef mac & cheese immediately became a favorite at my house after I tried the recipe a few months back.  It is one of my son's favorite dishes and he can devour it in minutes (and could likely eat the entire pan himself if you let him). So after making it so many times, I thought I'd post it here on the blog for quick reference; I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots before the sunset as I plated it for dinner last week.
And with summer essentially in the rear view mirror (how did that happen!) and the change to cooler temps making us crave heartier meals, macaroni and cheese comes to the rescue.  This one-skillet dish comes together in less than 30 minutes so it's easy enough for busy weeknights.  

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Christina Lane's blog, Dessert for Two.  My son loves a bunch of her recipes, which I make over and over again. This skillet mac & cheese recipe is one and it comes from her savory cookbook, Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two. Honestly, my son could eat the entire skillet so as time went on, I've snuck in a bit more meat and pasta (as much as I can without overflowing my 10-inch skillet) to amp up the portion.  If you're feeding more than two people as a main for dinner, I suggest some garlic bread and/or a big platter of roasted vegetables to go alongside.  
This macaroni and cheese gets its creaminess and thickness from a combination of milk, water, cornstarch, and, of course, cheese - cheddar cheese, to be exact.  The cheddar gives it such a great familiar flavor but I've also made this with some pepper jack cheese thrown in, and since it melts so well, it gives the mac & cheese a great texture.  In other words, don't be afraid to personalize it.  

I think the same goes on the flavor front when it comes to the spices.  A mix of spices including chili powder and smoked paprika give this mac & cheese a nice smokey flavor but I've experimented with different proportions and I sometimes throw in other spices from my spice box. When I first made this recipe, the flavors were a bit too strong for my son so I tampered down the spice levels.  But now...he's grown used to it and I'm pretty heavy handed with the spice.
Another way to mix and bulk this up - add some vegetables into your mac & cheese.  I often toss in some broccoli and when all else fails, there's always frozen peas on hand. It's fair to say that almost everything tastes good in a creamy cheese sauce!



Tiramisu

A couple of weeks ago, I made tiramisu for a very special occasion.  Not only did I recently celebrate a big birthday, my brother - who's ten years old than I am - marked a milestone birthday of his own!
About a week before my brother's big birthday, my sister in law planned a family gathering to celebrate not only his birthday but ones for two of my nephews (late August and early early September is a busy time!).  There was champagne and nibbles, ice cream cake for the kids, and we planned to go out to dinner.  I wanted to contribute a little something to the at-home festivities and I knew it would be tiramisu.

My brother orders tiramisu for dessert almost every time we go out.  It might well be that we tend to go to an Italian restaurant when my siblings and I go out to dinner together but all the same, tiramisu is just a favorite dessert of his (and my husband, too; it seems to be a "guy" thing). Before this, I'd made individual tiramisu but I'd never done the traditional classic version in a larger serving pan.
I was a little nervous about this.  Making something you haven't really made before for a special occasion - even when it's just family who wouldn't mind if things aren't exactly stellar - is a bit daunting.  This is the time when you do some homework, cross your fingers, and get to work.

Making this tiramisu wasn't without some minor hitches but all was well.  My tiramisu, with amaretto as the liqueur of choice, turned out just fine.  I'm told it was quite tasty, actually.  I have to say I enjoyed what I tasted very much even though I'm no expert.  The important thing is that the birthday boy said it was as good as any restaurant's, and I have to be satisfied with high praise like that!
The tiramisu I turned out is a compilation of a few recipes, leaning heavily on David Lebovitz's recipe I used previously for the individually portioned ones.  It uses egg yolks as well as egg whites (as opposed to heavy cream), which I think makes for a lighter texture and flavor.  We don't personally have issues with using raw eggs but you have to decide on your comfort level in that regard.
It's no wonder so many people love tiramisu.  It's rich and creamy, yet so light.  The coffee flavor, as well as amaretto liqueur in my case, gives it just the right kick.  
Photos of the sliced tiramisu above are actually from the second tiramisu I made.  My husband angled for his own "personal pan" and I was happy to oblige.



Chocolate Heaven in a cupcake

I realize it's not exactly a novelty for me to be here, ranting and raving about chocolate cake.  I mean, it was just a few months ago when I was swooning over those amazing ultimate chocolate cupcakes.  I can only assure you that I'm always sincere!
While I do like to "play the field" when it comes to chocolate cakes/cupcakes (and chocolate desserts in general), I have a lot of room in my heart to love a lot of recipes!  This gets proven again and again as I eat and discover all the wonderful chocolate cake renditions out there.  It's all about diversity and mixing things up.
So today, let me add another chocolate cupcake love affair to my list.  In a roundabout way, these cupcakes come by way of Savannah, Georgia.  You see...my family and I went to Charleston, S.C., recently on vacation.  During that trip, we drove to Savannah one day.  Aside from wanting to see the lovely city, I really wanted to visit Back in the Day Bakery.  I am so happy we made the pilgrimage (particularly as I learned that they would be closed the following week for summer vacation)!  The place was as charming as I expected and the people might well have been sweeter than the treats.

While we were there, we tasted these mind-blowing Chocolate Heaven cupcakes.  We tried one and went right back for another!  They were amazingly moist, with a super fluffy, tender crumb.  The cupcakes packed some wonderful chocolate flavor and somehow the cap of chocolate sprinkles on top of the creamy frosting was just right. I fell hard for these chocolate cupcakes.
The amazing Chocolate Heaven cupcake at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia
We didn't make it to the bakery that day until early afternoon.  By then, and given the fact that August is a slow month for Savannah, there wasn't a ton to choose from and I can only say that I'm so grateful there were still some of these chocolate cupcakes in the case!  Chocolate Heaven, indeed!  I wish we'd had time and space to try more of their treats but we'd just eaten lunch in Hilton Head, had plans to visit Leopold's next for ice cream, and had dinner reservations.  To say that I'd want to go back to Savannah just to have more food from Back in the Day Bakery is not an exaggeration. Hopefully, someday...

In the meantime, you know what I love to do...try to recreate something wonderful I ate on vacation, back home!  Since one of the lovely women working at the bakery told me these cupcakes were a relatively new addition, I didn't have high hopes of finding the recipe...until I looked and realized there is a Chocolate Heaven cake recipe in the first cookbook!!  Bingo!  I realized this would take me pretty close to what we enjoyed in Savannah so I took the cake recipe, reduced it down from a 3-layer cake, and turned out some cupcakes!
So how did my homemade version compare to the ones at the bakery?  The good news is they taste very much alike.  I realized that to make a good old-fashioned bake, it takes good-quality ingredients, time and love in the way of patience in the process.  Here specifically, I also think sour cream is one of the "secrets" as well as really good chocolate in the form of Scharffen Berger, and coffee.  
Not surprisingly, the ones at the bakery were superior.  While the home version were moist, the bakery cupcake was fluffier, with more of an open crumb.  My cupcakes baked up with slightly rounded tops while the bakery's were flat, making a great base for an even and generous layer of frosting.  I skimped in comparison when it came to frosting on my cupcakes but for all that, these cupcakes still transport you to heaven for a few moments while you're devouring them.  I would surely love to eat them again and again!
Don't skip the chocolate sprinkles on top of these cupcakes because for some reason, they are just so right here!  They somehow reinforce the whole chocolate experience. 



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