Crockpot Mac ‘n Cheese

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Crockpot Mac ‘n Cheese! I find this is seriously the best way to make macaroni and cheese for a crowd without all the fuss. It is so kid-friendly, in fact, you may discover you have an extra pair of helping hands without even asking. When using a slow cooker, the pasta softens as the sauce thickens into a hot, creamy, extra-cheesy youthful delight. Top it off with crushed potato chips for a heart-warming side dish.

CROCKPOT MAC ‘N CHEESE

Ingredients:

1 pound cellentani pasta, also known as cavatappi, uncooked

4 tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

4 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

1 cup potato chips, crushed

Instructions:

Spray the crockpot with nonstick oil. Pour the uncooked pasta into the bottom of the slow cooker. Layer the butter and cream cheese chunks over the pasta. In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, milk, and cream. Mix well. Pour over pasta. Stir to blend. Spread pasta into an even layer, being sure to coat everything in sauce. Cover and cook on LOW for 1-2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Be sure to spread macaroni into one layer after stirring to keep pasta coated with sauce. When pasta is done, sprinkle shredded cheddar and pepper jack over all. Stir to combine. Replace cover and cook 10 minutes until cheese is creamy and melted. Sprinkle with crushed potato chips before serving.

DIY Barbecue Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Clean Eating: DIY Barbecue Sauce! Have you ever began preparations for a recipe and realized you were short one ingredient? It happens to me all the time. Since I live in the country, it’s easier for me to peruse my pantry for a do-it-yourself recipe than to run into town. Perhaps you feel the same way. For example, instead of tomato sauce and tomato paste, I substituted a jar of cocktail sauce. When I checked the ingredient list, the cocktail sauce contained both items plus a touch of horseradish. I love the zing that horseradish provides. Once you realize cooking is all about the flavors you like, the rest is a breeze.

DIY BARBECUE SAUCE

Ingredients:

12-ounces cocktail sauce

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup raw honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons agave nectar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons liquid smoke

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon smoky sea salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions:

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cocktail sauce, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, Dijon mustard, molasses, agave nectar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, smoky sea salt, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Sauce will slightly thicken. Transfer to a sealed container. Refrigerate up to one week.

Hummus in Hindsight (without tahini)

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Hummus in Hindsight (without tahini)! Let’s spread the news: rules are meant to be broken. I put off making hummus because I had no tahini, sesame seed paste, in my kitchen. The last time I needed it I became frustrated because I couldn’t find it in the grocery stores. So I made it myself. The trouble is homemade tahini can be pricey as well as wasteful if you don’t use it all before it becomes bitter. Not cool. Now you have an alternative. Lose the tahini without sacrificing the taste. By adding sesame oil and spices, you still end up with a smooth, creamy paste to smear onto pita bread. And isn’t that the point?

HUMMUS IN HINDSIGHT (without tahini)

Ingredients:

15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Drizzle of sesame oil, for topping

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Red pepper bits, for garnish

Chives, for garnish

Instructions:

Using a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until coarse. With the machine running, add the olive oil, sesame oil, and lemon juice until smooth and creamy. Fold in the ground cumin, Himalayan pink salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Stir well to combine. Transfer to a shallow dish. Drizzle hummus with sesame oil. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Garnish with red pepper bits and sliced chives. Serve with celery sticks, red pepper strips, and pita bread.

Creamy Honey Mustard Dressing

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Creamy Honey Mustard Dressing! Imagine my delight at seeing thin sprigs of thyme with tiny spear-shaped leaves in the herb bed again. Although a perennial, thyme seems to thrive more in full sun. Doesn’t everything? Crush a few leaves to breathe in the slight, lemony aroma. Nice. There’s an easier way to remove the leaves without picking them off one by one. Position your thumb and forefinger at the non-root end of the stem, then pull backwards so the leaves fall into a dish. Discard the stem and you’re ready to go. Fresh thyme adds a nice finish to recipes whether you sprinkle the leaves as a finishing touch or use the entire sprig as a garnish. I like adding fresh herbs to salads and dressings. It’s like a delicious taste of sunshine.

CREAMY HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING

Ingredients:

1/4 cup raw Tupelo honey

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fresh lemon thyme, for garnish

Instructions:

In a small bowl, combine Tupelo honey, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, white vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Whisk together until smooth and creamy. Add lemon thyme leaves. Drizzle over salads and vegetables.

Kumquat Cilantro Salsa

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Waste Not, Want Not: Kumquat Cilantro Salsa! For those of you who love the taste of oranges, but hate the idea of peeling the skin, let me introduce you its distant cousin. The Kumquat; native to Southeast Asia. It’s about the size of an olive and can be either round or oblong. But here’s the best part: you can eat the outer skin. No peeling required. The kumquat has a sugary sweet citrus flavor that makes your taste buds boomerang between sour and tangy. Please note, there are tiny seeds, much like those in a grape, so you can either eat them or remove them.

KUMQUAT CILANTRO SALSA

Ingredients:

1 pound kumquats, washed and sliced with seeds removed

1 Roma tomato, diced

1/2 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Tortilla Corn Chips

Instructions:

Make sure the skin of the kumquat is blemish-free and not dimpled. Discard if necessary. In a bowl, combine sliced kumquats, diced tomato, sweet onion slices, and chopped cilantro. Gently toss. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. Drizzle over kumquat mixture. Refrigerate for one hour. Serve with tortilla corn chips.