Up your boxed mac & cheese game

Macaroni and cheese remains my ultimate comfort food, but I generally don’t have the time to do it right. This variation is a decent compromise between the convenience of boxed mac & cheese and the awesomeness of the made-from-scratch variety.


  • 1 box of mac & cheese (I’m partial to Annie’s Shells and Aged Cheddar, but to each their own)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1-4 tbs milk (plain soy milk works, too)
  • 2 vegetarian sausage links (hereafter referred to as soysage)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1-2 dashes of your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • Black pepper to taste


  1. Bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil, add salt, then stir in the macaroni. The idea here is to salt to water so that we’re also partially salting the pasta.
  2. Follow the package’s directions for cooking time. About 2 minutes before the pasta has finished cooking, add in the frozen peas. If necessary, kick the heat higher to get it back to a boil.
  3. Zap the soysage links in the microwave for 1 minute, then slice into 1/4″ pieces. By this point, the pasta+peas should be done cooking, so remove them from heat and drain.
  4. In the same pot you cooked the pasta in, melt the butter over low heat. Once melted, add 1 tbs of milk, a couple of dashes of hot sauce, and the cheese packet. Wisk together until smooth. If it’s too clumpy, keep adding more milk, 1 tbs at a time until you’re happy with the sauce’s consistency. Finish it off with a few grinds of black pepper.
  5. Stir in the pasta+peas+soysage. Admire your handiwork, then eat it.

Mac & Cheese++


A few nights ago I caught an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown managed to spend 30 glorious minutes discussing popcorn (video embedded below).  Today I hit up the co-op for some peanut oil and multi-colored popcorn… I suspect these are the cereal version of heirloom tomatoes.  Brown’s directions are simple enough, though I’ve adjusted the amounts downward slightly.

  1. Add 1/3 cup of popcorn to a metal bowl with a  couple of tablespoons of oil.
  2. Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt on top and swirl it all together.
  3. Cover the bowl with foil, slicing a few air vents in the top.  As it turns out, if you make these big, you get sprayed with hot oil 🙁
  4. Place the bowl over medium heat and shake it (I didn’t have metal tongs, so I just used a hot pad) frequently until the popping stops.
  5. Season with a pinch of rosemary and thyme (the oil really seems to obviate the need for butter)

Absolutely brilliant!  Now I’ve a big bowl of the stuff, and am ready to queue up Lost on the Tivo!

And, because Alton Brown is infinitely more amusing than I am, a video of him explaining the same recipe:

New Cookbooks

I received a couple of wonderful-looking new cookbooks over the holidays, and last night I finally tried one of them out.  I decided on a spaghetti dish with broccoli, walnuts, and a ricotta sauce.  It was more exciting than it sounds–I finally got to use the zester I’d picked up months ago!  The only trouble was with the cheese; after stirring in the ricotta, it didn’t take on the creamy texture the photo in the book displayed.  After some Internet searching, I think the cheese should have been mixed or blended before-hand.  I’ll try that next time.  Other than that, it was fantastic and I have plenty of leftovers for tonight.

Red Lentil Pilau

One of the first dishes I made that I was really happy with was from a red lentil pilau recipe that I discovered a couple of years ago.  I cooked this a few times for Leslie back in Auburn Hills, and choose to bring it as a side-dish when Twinkle hosted Thanksgiving last year.  Last night I made it again for the first time in a year, and was quickly reminded why I love it so much: the ingredients are inexpensive, preparation is straight-forward, you can let it cook essentially unattended, and it re-heats extremely well for an easy lunch the next day.  Also, it’s delicious.  Here’s the recipe, slightly modified based on my own experiences:


  • 3 tsp Garam masala (you can find this spice mix at Indian grocers and sometimes at larger grocery chains)
  • 3 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped into 1/4″ pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups hot vegetable stock
  • 1 or 2 spring onions, thinly sliced


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan (it will need to hold all of the rice, lentils, onions, and stock).
  2. Stir the garam masala into the oil.
  3. Add onions and garlic.  Cook over medium until the onions soften (about 3 minutes).
  4. Stir in the rice and lentils and cook (stirring constantly) for 2 minutes.
  5. Slowly stir in the vegetable stock.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is cooked and all of the stock has been absorbed (about 30-40 minutes).
  7. Move the mixture to a serving dish and fluff the rice with a fork.  Garnish with spring onion and serve!


Twinkle introduced me to the wonders of leeks last year, and I keep finding new ways to incorporate them into my cooking.  First (since this was all new to me), a leek is a vegetable related to the onion, but tends to be more prominent in a dish’s flavor than if the chef had used onions instead.  I also find the texture to be more satisfying, but that’s just personal preference.  You can easily chop them up into strips and saute them with some garlic in butter, but I’ve lately found that I like to just get them sizzling for a minute or two, then add some salt and pepper, drop the heat to a simmer, and sweat them until they’re slightly translucent.

Yesterday I added some leeks prepared as above to a bottled pasta sauce with fabulous results.  They add a nice texture to the pasta dish (penne, in this case), and provide some extra variety to the flavor of the sauce.  For a quick side dish, you can saute the leeks until they just begin to brown, then splash in a bit of white wine and stir in some other vegetables (peas or zucchini work well), boil off the wine, and serve!