The house is quiet. I’m sitting at the table drinking my third cup of coffee, wearing leftover workout pants and yesterday’s hair. The echos of a thousand giggles are reverberating in my head, along with the story of the welcome we should always be. Yes, this is #kitchentherapy, and as promised, the theme is cheesy goodness, but even the best recipes are nothing without a place and people to share them.
And so, maybe this is really more about the sharing than it is about what food is being served. Because maybe sharing is a therapy we could all stand to receive these days.
It was her first time to visit CasaRock. She walked outside to the backyard, holding a plate of food and spying places to sit. Family dinner this weekend was loud like a playground party, with kids playing ladder ball and grown-ups who gathered from three states to catch up on life while Sunny Days filled the air with song. Joanne walked toward the patio table filled with the few faces she knew, but the sound of laughter under the wide summer sky caught her attention. And so, she turned around – and found her place at the kids table, next to 3-year old Kaia. “More corn pwease? I lub corn,” the toddler requested. “Mac and cheese for me!” squealed Tyler, our 5-year old granddaughter who believes the dish is good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And with that, Joanne became a glorious host at the table, fetching seconds and cheering for happy plates with the five little strangers. She took time to talk to all of them, and was eager to meet any needs they had.
Her granddaughter, Sylvia, was by her side. Sylvia herself was once a stranger to the mayhem and mess of family dinners, but as God would gloriously have it, her story was woven into ours. Brad and I have been Tio B and Aunt Ronne for five years now, and I remember the first time I got to show her smile to the world. Even Pearl had hot pink painted on her pup-stache to celebrate the day. Joanne remembers the moment Sylvia became her granddaughter, and she beams when she talks about what it means to watch her son and daughter-in-love parent with grace and love. “They are amazing – what God did is amazing.”
Hey Joanne, I see in your son the power of you. Welcome begets welcome. Kindness begets kindness. Grace begets grace. You are a picture of all we should be – sitting at the table and listening to the stories, serving and feeding and cheering. You are the reminder that there really are no strangers. You turned around, and I thought about Jesus turning around to listen to a woman who didn’t know Him at all. He could have kept walking toward the faces He could see, the faces that were familiar. And instead, He turned around. He saw that woman – and He gave her strength and courage. And in being seen and known, she was healed.
The kindness you share, Joanne, will never be wasted. We need to remember that. We need to believe that, too. Oh, and by the way, if you’d like to share that chocolate ice cream recipe, it would be great. Everyone – big and little – loved it. Thank you for becoming part of our God-crafted family.
OK, so it’s time for cheese. Here are three great recipes that are sure to be eaten in a flash – plus the THREE best cheeses to befriend a chef’s board. I’d like to know what your favorite cheese is too – that way, we can try it out at our next family dinner. And if you’re in town, remember that CasaRock is always open, and there’s a place at the table for you. We’re in this together, you know.
AMAZING MAC & CHEESE
(inspired by Ina Garten)
10-12 servings, unless you’re Tyler
1 pound macaroni or cavatappi (my personal favorite
1 quart whole milk (this makes it super creamy, so don’t skimp)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded mild cheese like mozzarella (I use the Philly brand version – it’s perfect)
2 cups shredded extra sharp Cheddar
2 cups mild Cheddar (even Colby works well)
2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. ground nutmeg (fresh, if you have it)
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375. In boiling well-salted water (Ann Burrell says “salty like the sea”), add noodles and cook until tender. Drain well and set aside in the pot (you’ll use it again later).
Heat the milk in a small saucepan to hot but not boiling. In a large saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter, whisk in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes (keep whisking). Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for another minute or so, until smooth. Take off the heat and stir in all those cheeses. Stir in the spices, and then pour that amazing cheesy goodness over the macaroni, mixing well. Transfer mixture into a 3-quart baking dish. NOTE: At this point, that mac and cheese is ready to eat. Trust me. But keep going. It’s worth it.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and combine with the bread crumbs, then sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs are toasty and the sauce is bubbly. Serve and celebrate.
GOOD GOLLY GOUDA
(the best appetizer always)
1 round of gouda, all wax removed
1 small package Pillsbury crescent roll dough (4 rolls)
1 T. dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 350. On a baking sheet, unroll the crescent rolls and gently press to seal the perforations (so you have a single sheet of the lovely stuff). Place the gouda round in the center of the dough, and smear with the mustard. Carefully wrap the gouda in the dough, being sure to seal it well (use a bit of water on your fingers, if needed, to help with the sealing). If you have any leftover bits of dough, be creative and make a flower, leaves, or the perfect initial and set aside.
Gently turn the dough-wrapped gouda over, adorn the top with your creative creations (if you made them), and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove carefully from the baking sheet and serve with crostini (here’s a great and super-simple recipe) or crackers. Watch that gouda disappear.
CHEESY TOMATO TART
(inspired by Real Simple)
Serves 8-10 appetizer portions
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 cups Campari, Cabernet, or heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick if large or quartered if small
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup whipped creme cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
10 sheets phyllo dough (find it in the freezer case), thawed
Preheat oven to 450 with a rack in the lowest position.
On a baking sheet lined with paper towels, arrange the tomatoes and sprinkle with the salt. Let rest for 10-15 minutes, and then pat dry with more paper towels. While the tomatoes are resting, stir together the cheeses, mayo, and spices in a small bowl. Set aside.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush with oil and place one phyllo sheet on top. Brush with oil, and add another sheet. Repeat until you’ve stacked all 10 sheets. Carefully spread cheese mixture evenly on top of the phyllo, leaving a small border. Top with the tomatoes and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Bake 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes, and then move to a serving plate, slice and enjoy!
THE THREE CHEESES!
Last, but not least, are the three incredible cheeses that are perfect for a chef’s board. Now, to be clear, we love a great Manchego, find joy in Sage Derby, adore Saint Andre, appreciate a mild bleu, and could eat a log of Trader Joe’s Blueberry Vanilla Goat Cheese in seconds flat. But there’s something about these three – they are absolute goodness.
Red Fox is a great cheddar with a perfect surprise – salt crystals that lend a tiny crunch!
This aged parmesan is perfection. There are other great varieties from Sartori (we’ve tried them all), but this remains the gold standard – no pun intended.
Seriously, this is the best smoked cheese – ever. It smells like a campfire, and it tastes like heaven.