Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

Roasted Pumpkin Pie Tarts

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No dessert says the holidays like Pumpkin Pie… For years I made my pumpkin pies like most everyone else in America, with a can stuffed with pureed pumpkin.  Until I started wondering why I was tossing out all my Halloween pumpkins and going to the grocery store to buy what I just threw out!  I had to stop the madness!  So, I started roasting my own pumpkin and mashing it up myself.  What I discovered was that the taste of a roasted pumpkin simply does not come in a can! Who would have thought???

It did take a little trial and error at first, this was before the days of Pinterest after all.  So what I learned was that you don’t want water-logged pumpkin pie, pumpkin requires a little draining, no biggie.  A pumpkin, even a small one is more than enough for one or even two pumpkin pies, so freezing the remaining pulp is a great idea.  And low and behold, one does not need condensed milk to make pumpkin pie! Go figure!

This is a super flavorful and healthy pumpkin pie recipe that can be made into single serving size tarts like I show here, or into a full size pie! Just use your favorite pie crust, either one you are making yourself or right out of the box, either way, this filling is amazing!  Just two simple extra steps and you get to utilize those Halloween pumpkins for more than Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and forget about using bland canned pie filling forever!

This pumpkin pie starts with a pumpkin… crazy I know!

Cut your small pumpkin in half.

Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and set aside for roasting!

Once your pumpkin is hallowed out, it’s time to roast it.

Spray a parchment lined cookie sheet with some non-stick cooking spray.

Roast for about 1 1/2 -2 hours until the skin buckles when touched.

This is what it looks like when roasted.

Scoop the flesh out from the skin.

Discard the skin. (this is great for your compost pile if you have one)

Place the flesh directly into a strainer set over a bowl. You want to drain any excess liquid.

Here is the liquid that came out of my pumpkin after a few hours of draining. I likely would have gotten a bit more had i done this over night.

Now mash the pumpkin and scoop out two cups full.

Place your two measured cups of roasted mashed pumpkin in a mixing bowl and store the rest for another pie or soup… this freezes well.

Add in 1/2 cup of half and half.

Some raw honey.

Cinnamon

Ground ginger.

Add in some fresh nutmeg… please do not replace the fresh nutmeg with the jarred stuff, it is not the same at all and will significantly change the flavor of your pie. If you do not have fresh nutmeg, simply omit the ingredient.

Add in two eggs.

Salt.

Mix.

Add in sugar.

Mix again.

This is the Pampered Chef Brownie Pan, it’s great for making small tarts and single portion foods.

Roll out your favorite pie crust.

Cut into square pieces to match the tart tray.

Spray with non-stick cooking spray and start forming your shells.

Once they are all formed you are ready to start filling.

I am using the large Pampered Chef Cookie scoop here.

Fill each shell.

Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

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Roasted Pumpkin Pie Tarts

Serves 18

Ingredients:

1 small (3-4lb.) pumpkin

1/2 cup half and half

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 heaping Tbs. raw honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

8-10 grates of nutmeg

2 pie crusts

cooking spray

Directions:

To prepare Roasted Pumpkin:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and place both halves cut side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Roast for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until tender.  Allow to cool.  Remove flesh from skin and place in a strainer set over a bowl to drain for a few hours.

To make tarts:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Mash drained pumpkin.  Measure 2 cups of mashed pumpkin and place in a mixing bowl.  Add in all ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Cut and fit crust into pie plates or tart pans.  Fill with mixture and Bake for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown on top.

Allow to cool, enjoy!

*Gluten-free when using a gluten free pie crust.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Semi-Homemade Cherry Cheesecake Pie

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Each and every winter holiday HAS to include my Cherry Cheesecake Pie! It’s a must.  My dad and uncles ask for it each and every year and would be terribly disappointed if it didn’t make it’s way onto the dessert table! My mom used to make this growing up for every winter occasion and over time the responsibility got transferred to me, gladly.  This recipe is so easy.  It’s so easy in fact that it wasn’t until very recently that I ever really made a real actual cheese cake!

This pie hits all the flavor notes you look for in a cheesecake and it’s creamy and velvety to boot.  This could quite possibly be the easiest cheesecake recipe you will ever find! Half the ingredients are ready-made, which makes it a piece of cake, or pie as it were.  And the filling itself is a grand total of 4 ingredients!  With the pre-made pie crust and pre-made topping, that’s 6 ingredients!  So, if you have been asked to bring desert and you are looking for something quick and easy that will please a crowd, I highly suggest giving this recipe a try!

On this specific night, I made a cheesecake pie for dessert at my book club.  Normally, I make two of these babies and put topping on one and leave the other plain.  But, my book club is made up of a small group of ladies and so one was just fine.  The only issue was that neither of my sisters like cherry topping, they prefer their cheesecake pie plain.  So, I solved the issue by leaving the pie naked and serving the topping in a bowl on the side.  Which worked out great because I got to have extra topping! Haha!

Let me show you how I do it!

Start by adding two bars of room temperature cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix for about 2 minutes on high.

Add in one egg and scrape down the sides. Beat on high another minute until egg is fully combined.

Add in sugar.

And vanilla.

Unwrap a pre-made graham cracker pie crust.

Add mixture to the crust.

Smooth it out. Pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes or so at 350°F.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes until you start to see golden brown spots on top. When it comes out of the oven, it will be a bit puffy and have some cracks in it. This is normal.

The puff will fall, the cracks will remain.

Grab a can of pre-made pie filling, if you don’t like cherry, you could use blueberry or strawberry, heck even peach if you like.

Cover the top of the pie with the filling or dish it out individually like this. Place the pie slice on a plate and keep the filling in a bowl for people to help themselves.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Semi-Homemade Cherry Cheesecake Pie

 Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 bars cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust

1 can cherry pie filling

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add in 2 bars of cream cheese and beat on high for about 2 minutes until it is completely smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in egg and beat on high for another minute until completely incorporated.  Scrape down the sides again and add in sugar and vanilla and beat again until completely incorporated.

Pour mixture into the pre-made pie crust and smooth out.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown spots start to form on top.  Allow to cool and add topping as desired.

*When using a gluten-free cookie base, this recipe is easily made into a gluten-free recipe.  The filling is gluten-free. Check can ingredients for the topping.

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Roasted Chouriço & Potatoes (Batatas Assadas com Chouiço)

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The holiday’s are a special time.  It’s a time of year that all the traditional family recipes really shine!  Each year my sister prepares Roasted Chouriço and Potatoes for Thanksgiving because this is her favorite dish.  And I can’t say I blame her.

With the delicious traditional Portuguese flavors in full swing, these potatoes become tender and velvety.  And if you slice up a piece of the chouriço with some of the potato on your fork you end up with magic in your mouth!

If you are Portuguese, this recipe (or your family’s version of this recipe) may already be on your table.  If not, you might be looking for a new and interesting side dish to serve alongside your green bean casserole.  You may have guests that don’t care for turkey and would appreciate a different protein being offered.  Or hey, maybe you are going as a guest and want to offer to bring something you will enjoy and can impress the host with something unique.  Any way you slice it, this recipe fits the bill!  And if you have vegetarians among you, this recipe can easily be made without the chouriço!

Start with a clean bowl. This one is the Pampered Chef Small Batter Bowl, I love it because it’s like a giant measuring cup with a spout for easy pouring (and its oven and microwave safe!).

Open a small can of tomato sauce.

I used the Pampered Chef Can Opener to do this and so I have no sharp edges.

Pour sauce into bowl.

Add in Portuguese All Spice. If you don’t have this available to you locally, I posted the recipe for it at the bottom of my Beef Stew recipe, just take a look.

Add spice into sauce.

Add in a few spoon fulls of Portuguese Ground Red Pepper.

Add in half a beer (about 3/4 cup.

Add in kosher salt.

Crush a couple cloves of fresh garlic.

Dice it up and add it into the sauce.

Add in garlic and give the sauce a good stir.

Thinly slice half a large onion.

Place potatoes in baking dish. I am using the Pampered Chef Square Baker stone.

Cut up your chouriço into chunks.

Place in dish with potatoes.

Spread onions over top.

Pour sauce over top. Be sure to coat each potato.

Once all your potatoes are covered with sauce, cover with foil.

Once pan is covered in foil, place in a 375°F oven for 2-21/2 hours until potatoes are fork tender.

When potatoes are fork tender, remove foil and turn all the potatoes again coating them with sauce and roast another 1/2 hour or so.

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Roasted Chouriço & Potatoes

Serves 6-9

Ingredients:

8-9 medium potatoes, peeled

1/2 lb. chouriço, sliced into 9 chunks

1/2 onion, sliced thinly

1 small can tomato sauce

1/2 beer (about 3/4 cup)

3 Tbs. Portuguese Ground Red Pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. Portuguese All Spice

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

In a medium mixing bowl add in sauce, beer, All Spice, garlic, salt and pepper.  Arrange potatoes, chouriço and onions in a baking dish.  Pour sauce over the potatoes, chouriço and onions being sure to coat each potato.  Cover with foil and roast for 2-2 1/2 hours until potatoes are fork tender.  Once potatoes are tender, remove foil and turn potatoes so they get again coated with sauce, roast for an additional 1/2 hour uncovered.  Serve hot. Enjoy!

*this is a gluten-free recipe.

Heat your oven-safe skillet over high heat with a bit of olive oil.  Place asparagas into the skillet altogether.

Pan Seared Asparagus

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Sometimes a simple side is the best way to go.  And if you haven’t tried asparagus in a while, this is the recipe to try!  Please do not confuse this with the stuff you get from the can all mushy and waterlogged.  This asparagus is a flavorful and substantial side dish that is tender yet still has some body to it.

I did not grow up eating asparagus.  As a matter of fact there really aren’t many Portuguese recipes for vegetable preparation because there was never much room on a Portuguese table for green veggies of any kind (well beyond couves/kale of course)! So, when I became and adult and started exploring the world of veggies on my own, I stumbled upon this one and fell in love!  I created this recipe and buy asparagus whenever it is on sale which is about once a month and serve it at my dinner table holiday or not.

If you have never worked with asparagus, you might be surprised at just how simple it is to prepare…

Start with fresh asparagus. This recipe does not work with canned or even frozen asparagus.

Wash and cut off the woody bottoms… I usually remove the bottom 2 1/2 inches.

Heat your oven-safe skillet over high heat with a bit of olive oil. Place asparagus into the skillet altogether.

Sprinkle with kosher salt and Peppercorn & Garlic rub. (I also like to add in some Hungarian Paprika)

Toss in your skillet with some tongs and continue to get a sear on each piece. Then pop in a pre-heated oven for about 5 minutes.

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Pan Seared asparagus

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed

3-4 Tbs. olive oil

1 tsp kosher salt

 

1/2 tsp. Peppercorn & Garlic Rub

1/4 tsp. Hungarian P

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.  Heat skillet over high heat with olive oil.

Be sure asparagus is dry from washing.  Place in heated skillet. Sprinkle with salt, Peppercorn & Garlic Rub and any other desired spices.  Allow to sear for one minute, then rotate which asparagus are making contact with the hot skillet using tongs.

Once all asparagus has been seared, place skillet in the oven for 5-7 minutes.  Serve immediately. Enjoy!

 

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Housewarming Apple Pie & 10 Open House Tips

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There is not much that can make a house feel like a ‘warm home’ like the smell of a home-made apple pie baking in the oven.  That is probably why when perspective buyers are to walk through a home, the advice usually starts with “bake an apple pie”.  Hence the Housewarming Apple Pie! As I have mentioned in past posts, my husband and I have listed our home and what better smell to have wafting through it than this? Absolutely none!

As part of ‘Home Month’ I thought I would list out some great open house tips like these for those of you who might be thinking of listing your home and then we can get right to the business of baking this beautiful autumn treat! Whether you are working with a realtor, which I highly recommend, or listing yourself, these tips are invaluable when presenting what you want people to envision as their next home…

10 TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT OPEN HOUSE:

1. Bake an apple pie or simmer some apple cider with cinnamon sticks on the stove.  Smell is one of those senses that are almost subliminal in helping people to feel comfortable in a situation.

2. Clean up. One might think this is self-explanatory, but sometimes we are blind to the “clutter” spots in our own homes, get those too!

3. Play some soft music, think ambiance.

4. Leave.  Your realtor should tell you this, but perspective buyers normally won’t feel comfortable if you are hanging around. If you don’t have a realtor, find a trusted friend to handle the open house for you and have them gather information from anyone who tours the home on a sheet of paper with their realtor’s information.

5. Take pets with you.  You want people to feel comfortable and even if you have the friendliest animal in the world, you still don’t want Fido panting up someone’s leg.  Not to mention you never know what people’s allergies are.

6. Set your dining room table.  This helps people to visualize themselves eating dinner in your home.

7. Turn on lights.  You want to be sure people can see what they are looking for without searching out light switches. Seems basic, but sometimes very over looked.

8. Let in as much natural light as possible.  The more curtains and blinds you can open the better.  Natural light tends to make a home feel more open.

9. Make sure people know about it.  I can’t stress this enough.  Advertize the open house at least one week in advance.  Utilize sites like Craigslist, Yahoo Classifieds and Recycler.com.  Utilize social media, put your MLS listing with pictures up and advertize the date and time a week ahead asking that friends share the information.  Then a couple of days ahead of time, place signs in your neighborhood directing people to your home.

10. Don’t forget about curb appeal.  Remember, the first thing people see when they get to your home is the front door and the outside of your home.  Be sure your lawn is mowed.  Be sure toys are tidy if you have children.  And add a pretty touch like the Autumn Wreath we made last week!

Whether you plan on making this home-made apple pie for your next open house, to bring to a housewarming party for someone with a new home or just to enjoy around your family table, you won’t be disappointed with the outcome!  You could purchase a ready-made pie crust, but in case you are looking for the full effect, I will start off by taking you through a super tender and delicious home-made crust that can be used for virtually any pie!

Start by adding flour to a large bowl.

Add in salt and sugar (they look virtually the same, so I won’t bore you with two photos) 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 Tbs. sugar will do it.

Dice up some cold butter, very cold.

Add butter to the flour.

Then use some shortening. I used this butter flavored shortening which comes in this convenient bar that I keep in the fridge so it is cold as well.

Dice this up as well although it isn’t nearly as stiff as the butter.

Once you have both butter and shortening in the flour you are ready to cut into the flour.

If you have a food processor, have at it. Mine is on the fritz, but honestly, this process take like 45 seconds longer with a hand pastry tool like this one, so to me it isn’t worth making the mess of the food processor for one pie crust. If you don’t have either, you can still make a pie crust, in the old days, it was done with a couple of butter knives, so have at it, cut away!

You want to cut the butter into the flour until it looks ‘mealy’ like so.

To this, I add in very cold tap water.

You want just enough moisture for it to come together without being too sticky. It should still be flaky like so.  Try and do most of the working with your wooden spoon to avoid too much warmth from your hands melting that butter.  But, once it is almost there, you will need to help it along a bit.

Divide the dough in two, form two discs and place on a plate divided by parchment paper.

Add the second half right on top. Cover lightly and pop in the fridge while you make the filling.

Here are my apples… I have all different varieties here, some from the Farmer’s Market, some from the grocery store and some from apple picking! A variety of different apples, some tart, some sweet will yield you the best pie!

Cut them up to a medium slice. I don’t go too uniform as long as they are similar in size, shape doesn’t really matter to me. I like biting into a variety.  I don’t place them in a bowl, but rather a large pot. (that’s another secret)

So a lot of people like to use flour in their pie. One of my secrets to a pie that is not ‘watery’ is to use corn starch. I feel like it does a better job at thickening the apple juices. Also, if you pick up a gluten-free pie crust, you can actually have a gluten-free pie!

Add it into your pot.

Add in one tablespoon of cinnamon.

No need to stir yet, just sprinkle right on top of the corn starch.

Then the nutmeg. I have said this before, if you don’t have fresh nutmeg, omit this ingredient entirely. Please don’t use powdered nutmeg from a jar. The fresh stuff is not that expensive and the difference in the taste is substantial.

Sprinkle over the top.

Add in kosher salt.

Next add in just a pinch of Ground Allspice. This is NOT the Portuguese All Spice I use in my savory recipes. This is an actual spice that is called Allspice.

Add in sugar.

Now mix.

This is what you want it to look like.

Add in two tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Turn on the heat to medium. This is my second secret.

Cook while stirring occasionally for about 8-10 mins. Your goal is not to fully cook the apples, but to melt the butter and sugar so they are evenly distributed and gel well with the corn starch. And to par cook the apples.

At about the half way of cooking mark add in the juice of half a fresh lemon. Again, if you don’t have fresh lemon, please omit this ingredient. There is no substitution for fresh lemon juice. This lemon is my third secret, it provides just enough tartness to counter the sugar.

Once the filling is made, take one round out of the fridge at a time, you want this to stay cold. Place it on a rolling mat if you have one, I LOVE this one and use it quite often for all kinds of projects. You’ll also want to have flour at the ready to help with sticking. Flour the mat and the top for the round lightly to prevent sticking.

Roll out to a little larger than your pie plate.

To easily add your crust to your plate without breaking, roll it onto your rolling pin using your mat to help lift.

Once it’s on your rolling pin, unroll it onto your pie plate.

Now you are ready to fill.

Once filled, repeat the rollingout process and place second crust over the top.

Form a pretty edge being sure that you are sealing the two crusts together to prevent leaking.

Here it is with the completed edge, cut off any remaining edge.

Add in vent holes, this is important to allow the steam to escape.

Next, make a thick egg wash with one egg yolk and just a splash of water.

Brush onto the the crust.

Sprinkle with sugar. (At this point you could store in the fridge for later or bake right away… If you are planning this for an open house, make in the morning and pop in the oven just before show time! Just let your realtor know to take it out and place on stovetop when ready!)

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45-50 mins until crust is golden brown.

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And even better than this is Alla-Mode!

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Housewarming Apple Pie

Serves 6-10

Filling Ingredients:

7-9 large apples, different varieties, peeled, cored and sliced

1/3 cup corn starch

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs. cinnamon

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp Allspice

1/8 tsp. fresh nutmeg, ground

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Ingredients for Pie Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, diced

1/3 cup cold butter flavored shortening, cubed

2 Tbs. sugar, divided

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup cold water

1 egg yolk, beaten with splash of water

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Prepare pie crust first and refrigerate while preparing filling.

To prepare crust: Place flour in a large bowl.  Add in butter, shortening, 1 Tbs. sugar, and salt.  Cut together with a pastry cutter until crumbly.  Add in water, mix with wooden spoon until water is absorbed fully.  Finish bringing dough together quickly with hands.  Avoid touching with warm hands as much as possible. Divide dough, form into two discs and refrigerate until ready for use.

For the apple filling: Add apple slices into a large pot on the stove.  Add in corn starch, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and stir.  Turn on heat to medium and add butter, stir.  Heat for 5 minutes stirring a few times to distribute the ingredients as they melt. Add in juice of half a lemon, sitr again.  Heat for another two minutes and remove from heat.

Roll out the pie dough.  Place one half in pie plate, fill with apple filling and lay the second rolled dough on top.  Pinch together edges and form a seal then make into a pretty crust edging.  Place vent holes on top of the crust to allow steam out.  Brush top with egg wash (1 beaten egg yolk with splash of water) and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbs. sugar.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool for at least one hour before serving.

Enjoy!

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Portuguese Bean Soup (Molho de Feijão)

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This amazingly creamy and hearty soup was one of my Vavó Olinda’s specialties! She would always make a batch of this at the same time as she made a batch of Feijão Assado (Portuguese Baked Beans). The soup would always get eaten up first and then all week long, the baked beans were there to enjoy… I’ve never been able to decide which one I prefer more, but I can tell you I love them both. My Vavó passed away in 2007, she was 93 years old and sharp as a whip and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and think about all the wonderful time we had together shopping and cooking, eating and talking, and just spending quality time with one another.  I was truly blessed to have the special connection I had with my Vavó and this is one of those recipes that brings her right back to me.  Funny how food does that.

My Vavó always referred to this soup as Molho de Feijão although many refer to it as Sopa de Feijão.  Whatever you like to call it, it’s a simple recipe really.  Under 10 ingredients, no soaking of beans, no special tools needed.  The creaminess comes from the combination of the pasta, potatoes and beans, no milk at all. A bowl of this soup and a nice fresh Portuguese Pop-seco bread roll is all you need for a hearty lunch or even dinner.  It freezes beautifully, so I highly suggest making the full batch even if it is too much for your size family.

Here is your bag of beans. Any white bean will do it, but my Vavó always prefered the smallest bean available.

I wash the beans twice… The first rinse in a strainer just to get out any dirt that might be left behind.

Then I get a pot going with some water…

Pour the beans in…

and agitate them with my hand to reveal any stray pebbles or bad beans, I pick them out and carefully pour the water out leaving the beans in the pot… The water usually takes with it anything I missed in the first rinsing.

Then I fill the pot again with water and set over high heat on the stove.

While the pot is starting to heat up on the stove, I chop up one onion into a fairly small dice.

Add that onion into the pot.

Crush, peel and mince two cloves of garlic.

Crush, peel and mince two cloves of garlic.

Then add that into the pot.

Bring the water to a boil and cover and turn the flame down to the point where the water is at a gentle boil. DO NOT ADD SALT.

While the pot is set to simmer for a couple of hours you can prepare your ingredients… 5-6 potatoes.

Peeled and washed.

Peeled and washed.

Diced into a relatively small dice.

1/2 lb. of chouriço. This is hot Portuguese Chouriço.

Peel and slice.

After a couple of hours on the stove, this is what you get… Do not stop boiling until your beans are to this point of tenderness. If you look closely you will see many of them are starting to bust open.

At this point you can add salt.

Add in your potatoes.

Add in your chouriço.

Add in a couple of tablesspoons of ground red pepper. BE CAREFUL here. I put in a couple of tablespoons because as you can see, my pepper is mostly lacking seeds, if you have a spicier version of this pepper, reduce the amount, more can always be added at the end, but once it’s there, you can’t take it away. Stir this all together and cook for about a half hour until the potatoes are fork tender.

Now add in your pasta and stir. My Vavó loved the small shells in this soup, and so that is what I am using today. However, you could also use a Dilatini. Something short and hearty, but still fine. An elbow is a bit too much.

You want to over cook the pasta here… this is not a place for al-dente… After about another half an hour, this is what you should see…

Add in half a small can of tomato sauce. Taste for salt and you are done.

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Portuguese Bean Soup (Molho de Feijão)

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

1 16oz. package dry white Navy Beans, rinsed and picked through

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves, garlic, crushed and minced

1/2 lb. Hot Portuguese Chouriço, peeled and sliced

5-6 medium potatoes, peeled, diced

1/2 package small shells pasta

1/2 8oz. can tomato sauce

2 Tbs. ground red pepper (wet)

1 Tbs. kosher salt, plus more to taste

Directions:

Fill a large pot about 3/4 with water.  Add in dry beans, onion and garlic.  Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 1 1/2 -2 hours until beans are very tender.  Most of your water will have evaporated, refill the water.  Add in chouriço, potatoes salt and red pepper.  Bring back to a boil and cover,  cook for about 30 more minutes until potatoes are good and tender.  Add in pasta, cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Add in tomato sauce and taste for salt.  Serve with  fresh bread… Enjoy!

*Note – a gluten free adjustement for this recipe is to either simly omit the pasta or use a gluten free pasta, it will be just as delicious!

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4-Cheese Mac&Cheese

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This is the time of year that people start to crave Mac&Cheese. Whether for a football party, a church pot luck, Thanksgiving or a Sunday side or a regular ole weeknight meal, Mac&Cheese is on the menu for many Americans starting in September and continues until you just don’t want to turn your oven on anymore sometime in June.  Now, we are talking baked macaroni and cheese here, this is clearly not the boxed stuff.  Although, the boxed stuff has its place, I see them as two totally different animals entirely.

I never really had REAL Mac&Cheese growing up.  This is not a Portuguese meal and I was never exposed to it.  Not until maybe the last 10 years or so did I really even come to understand the appeal.  I had tried it a few times in my 20’s and honestly I don’t remember who made it, but it just wasn’t very good. Not having grown up with the dish, I had no real point of reference to fall back on.  But, people would always tell me just how much they love it, so I didn’t want to give up on trying it.  There were a few times I gave some a try at a party or gathering and was starting to see where people were coming from, but it still wasn’t there for me, honestly, I found it kind of boring.

So, I set out to create a Mac&Cheese that I could really get behind.  It definitely took a lot fails.  Learning to get that sauce just right took a lot of practice and I got to see just why I had tried so many mediocre versions of the dish.  Eventually, I got it to good.  Once I got it to good, then I could tweak it to really good. From there, I worked on it until it became what we have today, a delicious, not boring, really yummy, 10-years-in-the-making 4-Cheese Mac&Cheese.

I start by filling a large pot with well salted water.

Once you set your water to boil over high heat, you want to start prepping your cheese…

Here are your four cheese. Notice how they come in block form… the key to a good mac&cheese starts with shredding your own cheese. Not just because cheese you shred yourself turns out better, fresher and isn’t dried out by preservatives like flour or corn starch, but because you get to choose exactly what kind of cheese to use. Most of these varieties of cheese are not found in the preshredded bags hanging in the dairy aisle.

Shred each kind and leave each in their separate little mound.

Each cheese is chosen for a specific reason… Muenster has a lovely flavor and is a great melting cheese, so it adds in a smoothness to the recipe.

Monterey Jack is also a great melting cheese, but adds in a little more bite as it is a jack cheese.

Then forget about boring mac&cheese we are adding in some Pepper Jack! This is also a nicely melting cheese, but it is full of delicious flavor with that kick of pepper.

And last but not least a nice sharp aged cheddar. Use whatever your favorite is, but I have been addicted to Cabot Creamery’s Alpine Cheddar. I eat it nearly every morning with a cup of tea. It’s got these beautiful little crunchy bits from the aging process, OMG, yum!

Now that your cheese is set, your water should be boiling, so start the macaroni going…

I like a to use a macaroni that has ridges. I go back and forth between these medium shells and Barilla's elbows. I say Barilla's, because their elbows have ridges.

I like a to use a macaroni that has ridges. I go back and forth between these medium shells and Barilla’s elbows. I say Barilla’s, because their elbows have ridges.

Once the water is boiling, add in the pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add in the pasta.

Give it a stir right away. You want to cook covered over low heat (enough to keep it boiling) until about 1 minute under the package instructions, al dente.

Give it a stir right away. You want to cook covered over low heat (enough to keep it boiling) until about 1 minute under the package instructions, al dente.

In a large sauce pan add in 4 Tbs. of butter. You want to set your burner to med/low.

To that add in about 4 Tbs. of flour. You want to cook this flour for about a minute to get rid of that raw flour taste. If you are making this dish with a gluten free pasta and wish to keep this a gluten free dish, just use the same mesurements in corn starch, but you don't need to cook it off, just wisk to combine and move on.

To that add in about 4 Tbs. of flour. You want to cook this flour for about a minute to get rid of that raw flour taste. If you are making this dish with a gluten-free pasta and wish to keep this a gluten-free dish, just use the same measurements in corn starch, but you don’t need to cook it off, just wisk to combine and move on.

Wisk that until somewhat smooth, if its a little lumpy, just add the next step in very slowly until you get a smooth mixture.

Wisk that until somewhat smooth, if it’s a little lumpy, just add the next step in very slowly until you get a smooth mixture.

Slowly add in 3 cups of whole milk. The first cup should be added extra slowly to ensure your wisking allows for no lumps.

You should come up with a nice smooth base sauce.

This is one of those secret ingredients that can only be done if you do it exactly like this. If you have fresh nutmeg, grate some in. If you only have the kind of nutmeg that comes powdered, skip this step, it will kill your recipe.

Add in one cheese at a time, wisking slowly after each addition until fully combined.

I won’t go through pictures of all four as it looks pretty much the same for each step, just take it slow. This isn’t something that can be rushed.

Once all four cheeses have been combined, this is the kind of thickness you should have in your sauce.

To this add a fair amount of fresh cracked black pepper.

Before draining your macaroni, reserve one ladle of the pasta cooking water.

If your sauce is at the end stage after you’ve added in the black pepper, then great, add in the entire ladle of water to the sauce…. I know, you are ruining that lovely creaminess, but trust me, the sauce is too thick right now… remember, it still needs to be baked and our macaroni is al dente, so it needs to finish cooking. If the sauce is too thick, you will get a clumpy, dense macaroni and cheese. And nobody wants that.

After adding in that ladle of cooking water, this is now your sauce consistency. See how it got loosened right up?

Now that your sauce is set, hopefully it is timing out to be the same time as when your macaroni is ready, so let’s take care of that next…

You have already reserved a ladle of pasta cooking water, so now it’s time to drain out the rest and get to mixing.

Return your drained macaroni to the cooking pot. Your shells will naturally hold on to a little bit of the water, not to worry… This is cooked al dente, so it’s perfectly ok.

Pour your sauce over the macaroni.

I know this looks way too saucy right? It’s not, trust me.

Taste for salt at this point and add if needed. When I say taste, I mean taste with a piece of macaroni, you want to make sure the seasoning is right and this is your last shot.

I like to spray with cooking spray although it may not be necessary if you have the right dish.

Now you can add in to your baking dishes. This is a 12″x12″ baking dish and all of the Mac&Cheese would fit here, but for my family, we are only two adults and two small children, so I decided to divide it into one large dinner size portion.

One portion to freeze for later in this metal pan.

And one small casserole as an individual serving for my husband to bring to work.

Next and final step is the topping!

These are the scraps left on the cutting board from shredding your cheese… you want to gather those up and use them for the start to your topping.

Place them in a smallish bowl.

Baked Mac&Cheese just isn’t the same without a nice crispy topping. Start off with dicing up some butter.

Now, panko breadcrumbs, in my opinion, are the only way to go here. Add them in to your cheese and butter. (If you are making this gluten-free, I would suggest doing 1/2 gluten-free bread crumbs and half grated parmesan cheese, making it 5 cheese mac&cheese!)

Sprinkle with some salt and that’s it.

Just take a fork and combine, slicing with the side of the fork further breaking down that butter and cheese and folding the bread crumbs into it.

Liberally sprinkle over top.

Don’t forget the extra dishes…. However, I want to say, if you are freezing some, great, add this on… but, if you are refrigerating until the next day, hold off on adding the topping until just before baking. If you refrigerate the panko, they tend to soften up, hard to have a crispy topping with softened bread crumbs.

Bake the larger dish on 375°F for 40 mins, less for smaller dishes (I kept the individual one in there for 30 mins)… Everything is cooked, the goal here is to let the sauce marry with the macaroni and the topping to crisp up and brown a bit.

done6

done3

Recipe for 4-Cheese Mac&Cheese:

(serves 6)

1 cup Muenster Cheese, shredded

1 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

1 cup Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded

1 cup Aged cheddar cheese, shredded (Alpine cheddar preferred)

4 Tbs. flour

4 Tbs. Butter

3 cups milk

1 cup macaroni cooking water

1 lb. medium shells macaroni, cooked with salted water to al dente (or elbows with ridges)

 

fresh cracked black pepper

kosher salt to taste

For topping:

2 Tbs. butter, cubed

1 cup panko bread crumbs

real nutmeg, grated

1/2 cup combination of above shredded cheeses

1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions:

In a large sauce pan over med/low heat, melt butter. Wisk in flour and cook for a minute.  Slowly add in milk while wisking slowly.  Heat through until hot enough to melt cheese.  Add in each of the four portions of cheese separately, being sure to wisk each one in to combine fully before adding the next.  Your sauce should now be pretty thick.  Add in a few grates of nutmeg.  Then add in a few cracks of black pepper.  Now continue wisking and wisk in one ladle of the hot macaroni cooking water (about 1 cup). Your sauce should be a bit more thinned out now.

Drain macaroni and place back into large cooking pot.  Pour sauce over macaroni.  Mix together and taste for salt.  Add salt if needed.  Pour into prepared sprayed casserole.

In a small bowl combine all the ingredients for the topping and mush together with a fork.  Liberally sprinkle over top of the casserole.

Bake at 375°F for 30-40 mins. until golden brown on top.

Enjoy!

*Gluten-free adjustments can be found in the tutorial portion of this recipe. (use gluten-free macaroni and replace flour with corn starch also replace the panko bread crumbs with 1/2 gluten free bread crumbs and half grated parmesan cheese)