Stove Top Ratatouille Mac and Cheese

It’s National Mac and Cheese Day today (Tuesday July 14th) and I’m celebrating this momentous occasion the only way I know how, by making a giant pot of the creamiest macaroni and cheese you ever did see. If that isn’t the perfect way to celebrate this beautiful holiday, then I don’t know what is. I couldn’t just give you some boring every day pasta recipe in a cheese sauce though, what kind of person would I be if I did? Don’t answer that. Nothing makes me happier than when two classic recipes come together in a delicious food explosion to make one unbelievable dish. It’s fun and exciting. Such is the case this time around because I’ve gone ahead and thrown ratatouille and mac and cheese together into the same pot. Blasphemous? I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I don’t think you should either.

I’ve teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese, once again, to bring you yet another out of this world macaroni and cheese recipe for their All Things Mac and Cheese site. If you’ll recall, earlier in the year, I made an Irish Colcannon Mac and Cheese that taught us a very valuable lesson; cabbage, potatoes and bacon in mac and cheese is always a good idea. Much like with that post, you’ll notice that the recipe won’t be included at the bottom of this page, like it normally is. You’ll have to click on over to their site to get the full recipe! I’m evil, I know, but it’s worth it! (I just want to keep you guys on your toes and make sure you’re paying attention). I’ll include a link at the bottom of the post so you can easily find the recipe and make it at home in honor of your new favorite holiday. Of course, you don’t only have to make it on this day. Do yourself a favor and be sure to make it all summer long because it’s everything you never knew you wanted. You owe it to yourself.

I’ve made and eaten ratatouille only a handful of times here and there, so I’m no expert in the matter. But I am an expert in cheesy sauces tossed around with noodles. I’m a pro at that. I wanted this recipe to be easy enough to whip up in a hurry, but still have all of the sophisticated flavors and tastes that the classic French dish has. It’s the best of both worlds, comfort food meets healthy. Quick side not though, am I the only one that thinks of a rat cooking in Paris, whenever ratatouille is mentioned? I blame Pixar and Disney for that. Although a tiny blue rat in a chef’s apron didn’t make this dish, I can guarantee you that it’ll still knock your socks off. Just blow them clear off your feet. That’s the power of mac and cheese and that’s why it has it’s own national holiday. That’s all I’m saying. 

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Breaded Steak Tortas

I grew up eating breaded steak, or bistec empanizado which just means breaded steak, on a regular basis. My mom would make it for dinner pretty regularly. She’d also make this same cut of meat without breading it and would cook it in a tomato sauce with lots of fresh tomatoes and sliced onions. I liked that one too, but let’s be honest, I’d pick fried breaded steak over anything anytime. I’d be crazy not to. Anyhow, with either dish she would make and serve it with some out of this world white rice, that even now I can’t replicate to save my life, along with freshly boiled black beans. She’d also serve the whole thing with fried green plantains (the starchy kind) and the sweet ones as well, which are just plantains that have ripened. I never liked the sweet ones like my sisters do, so she’d make us both. One of my favorite things she would do (and still does whenever I beg her for it) is take her amazingly delicious fluffy white rice that no one else can make quite like hers and mix it with the black beans that took hours to boil on the stove top. She’s against having them soak the night before so she just boils them on the stove with lots of water, garlic, and bay leaves. It’s amazing. I don’t always have time to cook dry beans so I’m forced to go with canned. Don’t judge me. I’m sure someone out there is slowly shaking their head. It’s not that bad. 

As I was saying though, this white rice and black bean mixture is my entire childhood wrapped in one incredibly easy dish. A lot of Central American countries (even Cuba) have this dish, although everyone calls it something else. My grandparents were from Nicaragua and there they call it gallo pinto. I think in Costa Rica it’s called the same thing. Don’t ask me to translate it because I have no clue what it means or what it refers to. All I know is that it’s delicious and addicting and can be eaten with anything. Next time you have some black beans and white rice leftover, mix the two together. This long rant about my childhood meals was to state that I could get down with breaded steak any day of the week. Especially when bread, cotija cheese and avocado are involved. That’s where this sandwich comes into the picture. Breaded Steak Tortas should be your new go-to sandwich. Torta just means sandwich, although it could also refer to a sweet cake of some sort. Isn’t it funny how one word can refer to different things? I find that funny for some reason. Anyhow, this isn’t cake though, this is a sandwich, and it’s the only way you should be eating your sandwiches, from now on. Don’t deprive yourself, your family or your friends of this glorious meal. You’d be cruel not to make it. 

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Fried Shrimp Po’boy Sliders

I’m currently spending a few weeks in New Orleans, so in honor of such an occasion, I thought I’d share one of my favorites from the city. Fried Shrimp Po’boys…in slider form. Because we all know that sliders are always 100 times better than their original counterparts. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. In a city that is so rich with delicious cuisine, though, it seemed only right that I should mark the occasion with food. I find myself making food be the solution to everything. I think this is the only way to go. I’ve eaten at a few po’boy places in Nola while I’ve been down there, and although I’ve had some great sandwiches in each, the best to me is still Johnny’s in the French Quarter (I’m sure some people will yell at me and tell me I’m wrong). I’m no New Orleans expert and perhaps it’s a tourist trap, but to me (and my taste buds), it’s one of the best. I also think it’s partly because I first tried it with Julian. He got a catfish po’boy and I ordered the crawfish. We took it to go and then walked to the WWII museum eating our sandwiches along the way, and wishing we had ordered another one to share. Now we can eat as many po’boy sliders as we’d like and not feel guilty about it, because ten of these sliders count as one normal sized sandwich. It’s true. 

I’m no stranger to sliders. Someone even referred to me as “The Slider King” of the world (that someone might’ve been me, but that’s okay). Sliders and I go way back. It’s a love affair that I don’t think will ever go away. And I don’t want it to. Some of my favorites from the site are Pot Roast Sliders, Fried Green Tomato and Shrimp Sliders, and Loaded Baked Potato Sliders, just to name a few. Here’s a hint, if you search for “Sliders” on the site you’ll be able to find many more. That’s free of charge for you because I like you guys so much. Maybe not as much as sliders, but still, you’re up there on my list. 

If you’ve never visited New Orleans before and have always wanted to go, I highly recommend it. I can’t give you guys a trip (I’m not Santa Claus, or Oprah) but I will do the next best thing. I’ll give you the recipe for these po’boy sliders! Whaaat?! Say it ain’t so!! My generosity knows no bounds. Now you can feel like you’re right here with me. That’s pretty awesome. If you really think about it, I’m doing you a favor. You don’t have to pack and travel to the airport and get through security and fly on a plane and then have the best time ever, but all the while knowing you have to go back home inevitably and so you get depressed about it. You don’t have to go through all of that. I’m saving you from it. Instead, you can make a batch of these sliders and bring New Orleans to you. TO YOU! Isn’t that so much better?! I think it is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some more food while I’m here. 

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The Classics: Chili Cheese Dogs

Perhaps you guys can help me settle a long time debate I’ve had with everyone in my family. Actually, with all the strangers I’ve ever come across in my life. I won’t say that I always ask the same question to every single stranger I encounter, because that would make me a weirdo freak, but I also won’t say that I don’t ask the same question. I insist that the hot dog links themselves are called weenies. That’s what I’ve always called them, even when I was a kid. Somehow though, everyone always laughs at me and tells me that they’re actually called hot dogs. We end up getting into a big debate because how else are you supposed to distinguish the weenie and the weenie and bun combination from each other? Weenie is the proper name. I know it. You know it. And it’s about time everyone else knows it. I think you all should leave a comment down below and tell my family how wrong they are. Jonathan knows best. Weenies for life! (End rant).  

Let’s really get down to business now. It’s time for another installment of The Classics. It’s been a while since we’ve talked about classic recipes on here and I think that now is a good time as any. The last time around I was tempting you with a Yellow Cake covered in chocolate buttercream frosting. A real childhood favorite of mine. I’ve been doing this classic series for a while now and just in case you don’t remember some of the other recipes, I’ll happy to refresh your memory. That’s what I’m here for. We kicked things off in the first installment with Buttermilk Fried Chicken. The fried chicken of your dreams. We then moved on to some of America’s favorites like Cinnamon Rolls, Apple Pie, and Bacon Cheeseburgers. Click on the links and experience them for yourself.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you at this very moment is that you really need to be putting chili and cheese on top of everything this summer. Everything. Don’t you dare let the season end without making a big pot of chili at least once. If you make it more than once, you’ll be my new best friend, though.  I know what you must be thinking, “Jonathan, it’s so hot during the summer! Why should we make a big pot of steaming hot chili, slaving away in the kitchen over a hot stove stirring chili all day long?! That’s madness!” Well, when you put it that way it does sound a little kooky, but come on people…it’s chili! Chili never needs an explanation. I shouldn’t have to force you to make chili. That’s blasphemous. Just in case you weren’t convinced enough though, I decided that hot dogs topped with chili and lots of shredded cheese needed to be involved. They’re invited to the party and they want you to celebrate with them. Are you going to leave them hanging? These chili cheese dogs are calling out your name. I think you better answer. It’s the only way to celebrate the summer. Trust me. 

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Chicken Meatball Tortilla Soup

Am I the only one that enjoys eating soup during the hottest days of the year? I don’t know if I enjoy it so much as I’m just used to eating steaming bowls of broth and veggies on super hot days. It brings me back to my childhood where my mother would decide that cooking soup all day long was only logical when the temperature rose to a high number. Her logic behind it would always be the same, “the heat from the soup counteracts the heat from outside and hence, it cools you down.” Does this make sense? It makes perfect sense. I remember playing outside and staring up at the windows in the house and it would be foggy and steamy from the heat of the stove and I’d be miserable and a little excited (but don’t tell my mamma) because I knew that soup was in store for us. This also meant that we’d be eating it for a few days because whenever my mamma made soup, she made enough to feed the entire neighborhood. ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD. She would have it cooking away on the stove in the biggest pot I’d ever seen, and would stir it with a bowl. Not a spoon, but a bowl. Standing on a chair because she wouldn’t be able to reach the top of the pot from the floor. If that’s not dedication, then I don’t know what is. 

Not much has changed since then, except we’re all a little older now, but my mom is still making too much soup and I still get the craving for a giant bowl whenever it begins to warm up. Two of my favorite soups are meatball and chicken tortilla (neither of which I grew up eating, go figure), so I thought the smartest thing to do is to combine them both into one mega soup. It was the only solution. That way, I can eat both of my favorites at the same time, without having to make them both separately, which I’m not opposed to doing by the way. Best idea, or extra best idea? Either way we all should be having soup this summer because it’s the way to go. My mamma says so, and after all, mammas know best. Don’t try to fight it, just accept it. 

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Roasted Cauliflower and Sausage Pasta

I cook a lot because of what I do for a living, but I don’t have to tell you that, I’m sure you already knew this. If you looked in my fridge right now you would see an obscene amount of food. It’s packed with food storage containers filled with various dishes, ranging from appetizers to salads to entrĂ©es from the week’s work. Sometimes it’s crazy how much of it there is in my house at any given moment, but crazier is the fact that we can’t always seem to eat it fast enough. We’ll have friends or family over often, and basically force food down their throats and even then we’ll find ourselves eating a certain dish for several days in a row. It’s a good thing I happen to really love leftovers. It’s not a good thing that Julian is meh about leftovers. 

Because I spend so much time in the kitchen on a daily basis, there are times every now and then where the last thing I want to do is get in the kitchen, yet again, and make dinner. Sure, on more than a few occasions what I make and shoot ends up becoming dinner, but as much as I would love for Chunky Monkey Sticky Buns and Strawberry Pistachio Cupcakes to be a hearty supper, it doesn’t always work out that way. Unfortunately my doctor says I need a well rounded meal with protein and vegetables. The nerve! On those days, I find myself making the easiest of dishes. We’ll have tacos (my go-to option) or tuna sandwiches (against Julian’s wishes) for dinner because it’s the quickest thing I can whip up without going crazy because I’ve just spent the entire day in the kitchen. Julian will cook a few nights out of the week which totally makes me happy, and I’ll just spend the night on the couch drinking a cocktail and bask in the pampered life.

We’ve recently made a valiant effort to have a date night at least once a week (every Thursday) where we go out and enjoy a meal somewhere we’ve never eaten before. It gives us a chance to try one of the many restaurants in our neighborhood. I do have to admit though, at times, mainly due to me falling in love with a particular place, we’ll go back to the same restaurant a few weeks in a row. On one of these evenings we tried a cauliflower dish that was out of this world. It was battered and fried and served with a garlic aioli and I couldn’t get enough. Easily one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten outside of my house. Ever since then, cauliflower and I have become the greatest of friends. We’re kind of, sort of inseparable. I’ve now added this Roasted Cauliflower and Sausage Pasta to the rotation when I don’t really feel like cooking because it’s so easy to make. I can shut off my mind and bring it together in no time at all. Although it’s simple with only a handful of ingredients, it’s one of the tastiest pastas you’ll ever try. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow. 

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