I confess, I used to be a boxed macaroni and cheese person. As a teenager, I worked front desk at a local hotel. An older lady there made the best baked macaroni and cheese. While at the time I diddn’t have my heart set on re-creating the dish, it managed to stick with me for a decade. My mom always made homemade macaroni and cheese, but it wasn’t a cheese sauce. It was elbows, butter, and lots of cheddar cheese layered and baked. Still delicious, but there’s something about a gooey, cheesy sauce that really captured my heart.

Fast forward 10 years, I decided to try to find a recipe that I would consider “a keeper” for baked macaroni and cheese. I tried several recipes I’d found on the internet that looked good, but none really resonated with me. Then, I decided to give the recipe off the side of the elbow macaroni box a shot. Low and behold, I fell in love. I’ve changed it some over the years, but I’m glad I gave that “side of the box” recipe a shot. You never know! Feel free to top with a seasoned breadcrumb if you like, but I think that’s more of a “Yankee” thing, and just not the way I was raised. I like my macaroni and cheese soft and creamy. But, I have done it that way before…and it was delicious. Enjoy!

I consider today to be the last day of summer. Here in Maryland, there is already a crispness in the air in the mornings. School buses are on the move, and dare I say it, but I’ve already seen a few leaves changing color. It’s been a wonderful summer for me and my family. We’ve got a new baby on the way (due on Christmas Eve!), had an abundance of fresh seafood, many glorious days at the beach, and plenty of good food on the table. Even though I have not been regular with my blogging, rest assured I still have been putting out “good eats” on the regular. This, my friends, was one of our favorite dishes this summer. Beef tacos and chicken tacos are wonderful, but a good fish taco is on another plane of existence!

Now, of course you could grill or pan sear your fish for a healthier option. But, I gotta give two-thumbs up for the beer batter. I used my husbands home brewed 60 Minute IPA, and the beer flavor really shined through. The fish also stayed crispy long after frying. We were nibbling on fish nuggets long after dinner was over! I like to employ a double-shell technique for these. I had some wonderful blue corn taco shells that I got while in the “big city” a month or so ago. But, they are very fragile. My solution was to wrap a flour tortilla around the corn, and it really does give it a little something extra as far as the texture is concerned. We topped ours with a spicy chipotle ailoi, pico de gallo, and of course the traditional thinly sliced cabbage.

They’ve definitely become a favorite in our household, even with our 2 year old Drew. He couldn’t get enough of the fish, as well as the Spanish rice I served it with (which, I will have to blog on it’s own in another post…it’s insanely good as well!). I see us having this dish in the cold winter months as well for sure!

potstickers

Who doesn’t love potstickers? I’ve always loved them. I’d always order them from the local chinese restaurant. But, they’re usually flabby and greasy. Neither of which I find to be an appealing trait. So, a few years ago I decided to try to make them at home. My first few attempts I found to be very frustrating, and more or less fruitless. I used the packaged round wontons, and they just wouldn’t cooperate for me. I ended up throwing them all away in disgust.

So, when this dish came up in cooking class last fall, I must admit that I was a bit nervous. Visions of balled up dough and bits of ground pork all over the kitchen came flooding back to me. Thankfully, these were a breeze to make. The homemade gyoza wrappers were so much easier to work with than the store-bought variety. ‘Round these parts we like pan-fried dumplings, but feel free to steam, or (Heaven forbid!) deep fry them as well.  If you think this batch will make too many for your needs, no worries. They freeze beautifully! Just quick-freeze them on a baking sheet, then place them in a Ziploc bag for storage. Good for up to 3 months. Cook as directed, but add about 7  minutes of cooking time when covered.

Allow me to introduce you to this recipe. We go way back. I first stumbled upon it when browsing The Spice House’s website (which is owned by Bill Penzey’s sister. They’re just a whole family chock full of spice tycoons, I tell ya). At the time, St. Patrick’s Day was right around the corner. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef, unless it’s in hash form. The recipe called for Guinness to be used, so I though it would be a festive alternative to the traditional corned beef and cabbage. I was right, it was a huge hit. I went out with some girlfriends that evening, and when I returned…it had all been consumed by the husband.  And make no mistakes folks, it was a large roast.

Needless to say, it since became my standard pot roast recipe. So much more flavor that your  standard Crock-Pot variety pot roast. Not only that, but I feel like it’s been improved upon by trying out different beers. I had heard wonderful things about coffee-braised pot roasts. So, I thought it would be very interesting to combine the two. Again, boy was I right!

We have  2 oh-so-wonderful local breweries in my area (hey – we don’t have much, but we’ve got good beer by God!). Both happen to make wonderful, rich dark stouts that use coffee in the brewing process. The first is Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout. If you haven’t heard about DogFish, and like beer, do yourself a favor and try something out. You can find them nationwide, if you look hard enough. The second is Evolution Brewing Company’s Rise Up Stout.  “Evo” started  up about a year or so ago, right here on the Eastern Shore, and have been putting out wonderful craft beers. Chances are if you don’t live in the Chesapeake area, you won’t find them. But, by all means, get out there and explore the beer coolers at your local stores. Lots of great microbreweries are springing up all over the place. I’m sure you could find something near you that is equally as wonderful!

I don’t list potatoes in the recipe, but feel free to add them in with the rest of the other veggies. I usually use red potatoes that I’ve halved.  However, it’s wonderful with mashed potatoes too. You want as much of the gravy as you can get, folks. Enjoy this recipe, I promise you that you won’t miss that corned beef a bit!