Blogs, Recipes

Homemade Mac & Cheese

As many of you know, I joined the initiative #EducateYourself. I knew some but I am learning so much more. As a foodie, I wanted to learn more about the Black Culinary community, this is where I learned about James Hemings and his brother. 

The story of James Hemings is  fascinating, here’s a little taste. 

In the 18th century, James Hemings was one of America’s most accomplished chefs. He was also Thomas Jefferson’s slave. Hemings grew up as a household slave in Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia estate. He could read and write and Jefferson trusted him. So when Jefferson sailed to France in 1784 to become America’s trade minister, he brought Hemings with him. While in Paris, Hemings was trained in the art of French cooking. He studied first with the caterer and restaurateur, Monsieur Combeaux, apprenticing with pastry chefs. After three years of study he became the head chef at the Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s residence that functioned also as the American embassy. Here his dishes were served to international guests, statesmen, authors, scientists, and European aristocrats.

In 1796, James Hemings was freed by Jefferson on the condition that James would train his younger brother to replace him as chef in the Jefferson household. In 1802, Jefferson served a “macaroni pie” at a state dinner, more than likely prepared from a recipe by James and cooked by his brother. Since that time, the dish has been associated with the United States. Unfortunately, no written record of the Hemingway’s mac and cheese survives.

Enslaved chefs played a huge role in refining some of America’s current staple foods, like mac and cheese.

If you want to learn more about James Hemings. Check out: Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America written by Thomas J. Craughwell . There’s even a children’s picture book, My Name Is James Madison Hemings written by Jonah Winter. 

Here is my Mac & Cheese recipe, inspired by the 1824 cookbook “The Virginia Housewife” written by Mary Randolph. It is believed that  Randolph’s recipe may have been one of James Hemings creations.

Pair this Mac and Cheese with Scout & Cellar 2019 Fiddleneck Chardonnay, Lake County, California

INGREDIENTS

  • Butter, to grease the dish
  • 16 ounces large elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 2 cups Half and Half
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups Italian cheese blend. shredded
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Smoked paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard powder

Topping:

  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crushed
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ½ cup shredded cheese
  • ¼ tsp Smoked paprika

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and butter a 3 qt baking dish (9×13″). Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add the dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente.  

While pasta is cooking, mix all 3 cheeses in a large bowl. Remove ½ cup of the mixed cheese and set aside, you will use this for the topping. 

Drain the pasta and drizzle olive oil over the pasta and combine to keep from sticking.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine.  Mixture will look like very wet sand. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often.  

Slowly pour in the 2 cups of the milk, while whisking constantly, until smooth.  

Next, slowly pour in the 2 cups of half and half, while whisking constantly, until combined and smooth.

Continue to heat over medium heat, whisking often, until thickened. 

Lower the heat and stir in seasonings and whisk together. 

Stir in 1 ½ cups of the cheeses, stirring to melt and combine.  

Stir in the rest of the cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully.  

Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish.  

For the topping, mix the 1/4 remaining cup melted butter, remaining cheese and crushed crackers together in a bowl; scatter the cracker mixture evenly over the macaroni.

Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the top is lightly golden brown for about 15 minutes.  

Recipes

Zucchini Taco Boats

Looking for an alternative to your Taco Tuesday?

These Zucchini Taco boats are made with fresh zucchini stuffed with seasoned ground beef, bell peppers, and topped with cheese and salsa. But the filling could literally be anything, from chicken and corn, to meatballs with tomato sauce! 

They are low carb and keto diet friendly. 

Start with 3 or 4 small zucchini. 

I used a small cookie scoop to scoop out the middle of the zucchini, but you can also use a small spoon. I got a little close to the edge on one of them, but don’t worry about it. The meat filling will cover it up. I love using the insides of the zucchini I scooped out to add filler, so place the insides to the side.  

Pour 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa in a baking dish- I used Pace. Lay the boats on top of the salsa and sprinkle each with salt. 

Now it’s time to make the filling.  Heat a pan over medium-heat and cook the meat. You can use any ground meat, I used ground beef.  Once the meat is cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the same pan and add a drizzle of EVOO.

Sauté the insides of the zucchini. Make sure to cook it down to reduce the liquid. Then add bell peppers,- any color,  I used red and yellow. Sprinkle it with chili powder, cumin, and salt. Stir together and cook for about two minutes. Add the red onion and garlic. It should start to smell like it’s almost Taco time! 

Continue to cook until vegetables are softened and water has absorbed. Lastly, add the meat back to the pan, and stir together. Once it is combined, it’s time to fill up the boats. Go ahead and fill those babies up- don’t be shy! Let the meat spill over if you need to.

I love cheese and, what’s a taco if it doesn’t have any cheese on it? Cover the filled boats with shredded cheese. I used Cheddar but Monterrey Jack or a Mexican blend would work great, too. 

Place the baking dish in the 400°F preheated oven and cook for 20-25 minutes. 

This recipe  is great if you’re looking for a low-carb option for tacos, or need to get more veggies into your diet. Try them out for Taco Tuesday and enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 Zucchini
  • 1lb Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup Mixed Red & Yellow Bell Peppers, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup Red Onion, diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced  
  • 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 2 teaspoons Cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 8 ounces Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Salsa

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F

Prepare your zucchini, cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a measuring spoon (teaspoon) to hollow out the zucchini forming a boat… save the insides and set aside. 

Pour salsa into a baking dish.

Place the zucchini boats in the same baking dish and sprinkle a small amount of salt over them.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef. Once cooked, transfer to a bowl. Wipe out the same pan and add a drizzle of EVOO.

Add the inside of the zucchini, water will release. Let it cook down to reduce the liquid, then add bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Stir together and cook for about two minutes. Then add the red onion and garlic.

Continue to cook until vegetables are softened and water has absorbed. Add the meat back to the pan, stir together. 

Once combined, fill each zucchini boat with the beef and vegetable mixture.

Top the zucchini boats with cheddar cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes or until zucchini has softened and cheese is melted.

Serve hot!