Macaroni and Blue Cheese with Figs and Rosemary

Macaroni and cheese is the epitome of comfort food. It's not so bad out of the box, but nothing beats homemade. Sharp white cheddar, Roth Käse Buttermilk Blue Cheese, rosemary and black mission figs make this a deeply flavorful version fit for a special occasion. This dish is decadently rich. Serve it with crusty bread, a simple salad, and a glass of white burgundy for a delicious dinner.

This recipe calls for quite a bit of blue cheese, but the flavors come together perfectly and the cheese melts beautifully into the sauce. Just be sure to go easy on the salt as you are cooking. I usually don't like breadcrumb toppings on baked macaroni and cheese, so I developed this recipe without it. Feel free to add in this step if you desire. 

Macaroni and Blue Cheese with Figs and Rosemary

Serves 8 to 10 people

Ingredients

1 lb pasta (I used pipe rigate, but rigatoni or rotini would work well too)
10 Tbl butter, divided
1 1/4 C dried black mission figs, diced
1 1/4 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 C flour
3 C whole milk
2 C heavy cream
1/8 tsp nutmeg, ground
12 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled and divided
salt and fresh ground black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 400F. 

Grease a two-quart baking pan with one tablespoon butter and set aside.

Bring salted water to a boil in a six-quart pot. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain well and add the pasta to the baking dish. Toss with two tablespoons of butter. Set aside.

In a six-quart pot, melt the remaining seven tablespoons of butter of medium heat along with the onions, figs, and rosemary. Cook until the onion is soft, about six minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook an additional two minutes. Whisk in the milk and cream, and increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook, while whisking, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until fairly thick. 

Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in an 1/8 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, and the 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Quickly mix in the cheddar and the 3/4 of the blue cheese. (I find it is helpful to work in batches.)

When the mixture is smooth, pour it over the pasta.  Use a wooden spoon to gently mix the pasta and sauce together. Dot the top of the dish with the remaining blue cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. 
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned. 

Disclosure: I was asked to develop this recipe for the second annual "30 Days, 30 Ways" Mac and Cheese event hosted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. I received compensation for my participation. 

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Trish - Yum! This looks a perfect Sunday dinner dish.

Trish - Yum! This looks a perfect Sunday dinner dish.

Ron - I found your site through the mac and cheese blog. Yay Wisconsin cheese!

Ron - I found your site through the mac and cheese blog. Yay Wisconsin cheese!

Casey - I made this for my book club last night and everyone loved it! I reduced the butter a bit and served it with a salad as you suggested. Thanks!

Casey - I made this for my book club last night and everyone loved it! I reduced the butter a bit and served it with a salad as you suggested. Thanks!

Gemma - Thanks Trish. It is a great dish for entertaining. Enjoy!
Ron — Wisconsin definitely knows how to do cheese, I agree.
Hi Casey, so glad you (and your book club) liked the recipe!

Gemma - Thanks Trish. It is a great dish for entertaining. Enjoy!
Ron — Wisconsin definitely knows how to do cheese, I agree.
Hi Casey, so glad you (and your book club) liked the recipe!

Carrot Cake Recipe & Six Years of Pro Bono Baker

Six years ago today, I searched the internet for a recipe while making dinner in Hyde Park, Chicago and discovered the world of food blogs. My first few dozen posts were nothing to write home about, but I quickly became hooked on this worldwide community of food lovers — and this website as a place to catalogue my favorite recipes. 

Thank you dear readers, commenters, rss subscribers, flickr photo viewers, and twitter followers. I am continually honored to share this part of my life with you, and grateful that many of you do the same. This community grows rapidly each year, and while I have to admit to missing some of the intimacy and the earnestness of the early years, I am grateful for the inspiration and friendship that each new year brings. 

Best wishes to you all. I look forward to cooking with you in this new year!  I am off to New York for a long weekend and I leave you with this wonderful, classic carrot cake recipe. 

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¾ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ C sugar
1 C vegetable oil
4 large eggs
½ C unsweetened applesauce
3 C finely grated peeled carrots

For the frosting:

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ C unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¼ C powdered sugar, or to taste
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Method:

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Lightly grease three 9-inch round pans with butter. Line the bottom of the pans with lightly greased parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. 

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate after each addition, followed by the applesauce. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and beat to incorporate. Add the carrots and gently combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake, rotating the cakes once or twice during baking, until they begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans for 15 minutes before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until smooth.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat to incorporate. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and beat to combine. 

Place one cake layer on a cake stand and spread with ¾ cup frosting. Place another layer on top and repeat. Finally, add the third layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Serve the cake at room temperature.

Nick and I decided to make this cake for Christmas and we knew oven space would be scarce. We made the cake layers on Christmas Eve and wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap once they were cooled completely.  The cake kept well overnight. 

show hide 26 comments

Nupur - Congratulations, Gemma! Happy birthday to your wonderful blog- I enjoy reading it.

Nupur - Congratulations, Gemma! Happy birthday to your wonderful blog- I enjoy reading it.

Gemma - Thank you Nupur! I still love reading your wonderful blog! I am happy to have met you in person years ago as well. I hope you are well.

Gemma - Thank you Nupur! I still love reading your wonderful blog! I am happy to have met you in person years ago as well. I hope you are well.

Rich - Wow six years! I have been a lurker on your inspiring website for at least half that time. First time commenting. Thanks for the great recipe and stunning photos.

Rich - Wow six years! I have been a lurker on your inspiring website for at least half that time. First time commenting. Thanks for the great recipe and stunning photos.

Shannalynn - Happy blog birthday!

Shannalynn - Happy blog birthday!

Terry - Happy new year and happy anniversary, Gemma! It’s beautiful, thoughtful blogs like yours that constantly inspire me and make me glad to be part of this warm, welcoming community.

Terry - Happy new year and happy anniversary, Gemma! It’s beautiful, thoughtful blogs like yours that constantly inspire me and make me glad to be part of this warm, welcoming community.

Marieke - That cake looks amazing! I can’t wait to try the recipe! Congrats on six years–impressive!

Marieke - That cake looks amazing! I can’t wait to try the recipe! Congrats on six years–impressive!

Kalynskitchen - I miss some of the feeling of the early years too; I know exactly what you mean.
Happy blog birthday. Six years; it’s a long time!

Kalynskitchen - I miss some of the feeling of the early years too; I know exactly what you mean.
Happy blog birthday. Six years; it’s a long time!

Nishta - Gemma, belated congratulations on number six! Yours was one of the first food blogs I started reading and is certainly a big part of the inspiration for starting my own.
I love your taste, your voice, & your photographs. Cheers to six more years!

Nishta - Gemma, belated congratulations on number six! Yours was one of the first food blogs I started reading and is certainly a big part of the inspiration for starting my own.
I love your taste, your voice, & your photographs. Cheers to six more years!

Gemma - Thank you Rich, I’m glad you have been enjoying the site for so long! I love when lurkers come out of the woodwork.
Thank you Shannalynn!
Thanks Terry, right back at you!
Thank you Marieke, it was a delicious addition to our holiday menu.
Thanks Kalyn! It’s nice to know so many people, like you, who have been around just as long.
Thank you for your kind words, Nishta. I am consistently inspired by your blog and your humor.

Gemma - Thank you Rich, I’m glad you have been enjoying the site for so long! I love when lurkers come out of the woodwork.
Thank you Shannalynn!
Thanks Terry, right back at you!
Thank you Marieke, it was a delicious addition to our holiday menu.
Thanks Kalyn! It’s nice to know so many people, like you, who have been around just as long.
Thank you for your kind words, Nishta. I am consistently inspired by your blog and your humor.

kickpleat - Congratulations on the 6th year of blogging! I think this year will be my sixth as well, which seems so OLD. Ha! And yes, I know exactly what you mean by missing the earnestness of it all. Sigh, those were the days. But it’s still awesome, just different now. Love the cake. So glad to have been reading for all these years and here’s to many more!

kickpleat - Congratulations on the 6th year of blogging! I think this year will be my sixth as well, which seems so OLD. Ha! And yes, I know exactly what you mean by missing the earnestness of it all. Sigh, those were the days. But it’s still awesome, just different now. Love the cake. So glad to have been reading for all these years and here’s to many more!

Gemma - Thank you Jeannette, I’m so glad to have a blog that is growing old with yours! I’m happy to have been following you all this time as well. Cheers to you!

Gemma - Thank you Jeannette, I’m so glad to have a blog that is growing old with yours! I’m happy to have been following you all this time as well. Cheers to you!

Hypnotherapy London - This really looks good! Going to give the recipe a go. Thank you for all your great blogs, full of tips.

Hypnotherapy London - This really looks good! Going to give the recipe a go. Thank you for all your great blogs, full of tips.

Gemma - You’re welcome!

Gemma - You’re welcome!

Fennel and Radicchio Winter Salad Recipe

I celebrated Christmas at my parent's house this year and Nick and I were put in charge of making the salad and dessert. We made a delicious carrot cake (which I will tell you more about next week) and this vibrant winter salad. Hardy fennel and radicchio are available in most places during the winter and their bold flavors are strong enough to complement the pecorino, toasted pecans, and savory dressing in this recipe. I followed Faith Durand's recipe at The Kitchn exactly. Next time, I might try this with a more citrusy dressing – though the soy sauce based option was nice.

  

I've been working more hours than I expected at the American Library Association and I am really enjoying the experience. The people are wonderful and I feel useful. (Making a bit of extra money for next semester doesn't hurt either.) It has been fun to work in the Chicago Loop again, an area I especially love during the holiday season. 

Though, the full work schedule means that I haven't had the time I expected to reconnect with friends or work on personal projects. I had grand plans of finally redesigning and moving this website, working on my XML skills, and enjoying parts of Chicago that I don't often get to visit. I have been able to visit with most of my extended family though, and for that I am very grateful. 

Nick made me a beautiful book of some of his favorite recipes from this website for Christmas. He did all of the layout by hand, making it a far more time-consuming – and more beautiful – book than the ones I typically order for loved ones through online photo services. It was a nice way to look back on the last several years. I still have a lot to learn, but it is encouraging to see a physical representation of how my photography has improved since the early days in 2005. I am sometimes tempted to tear everything down and reshoot it all – but other days I appreciate the steady progress this website displays. 

I hope everyone enjoyed some time off with friends and family over these past few weeks.  Have a happy and safe celebration this evening.  I look forward to sharing more photographs and recipes with you in the new year!

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Jessie - I love the photos in this post. Happy holidays!

Jessie - I love the photos in this post. Happy holidays!

Gemma - Thanks Jessie. Happy holidays to you as well!

Gemma - Thanks Jessie. Happy holidays to you as well!

Garlutti - hello my name is…MARIMI
is the first visit to your blog, I love nature, growing my own garden and kitchen barbecues, I invite you to share blogs. Happy New Year
GREETINGS FROM SPAIN..FROM SABORES&OLORES…MARIMI

Garlutti - hello my name is…MARIMI
is the first visit to your blog, I love nature, growing my own garden and kitchen barbecues, I invite you to share blogs. Happy New Year
GREETINGS FROM SPAIN..FROM SABORES&OLORES…MARIMI

Gemma - Greetings from Chicago Marimi!

Gemma - Greetings from Chicago Marimi!

Mushroom Bourguignon Recipe

 

My first weekend back in Chicago was a snowy, blustery one. Roofs were blown off buildings, buses were traveling at a comically slow speed, and I made a trip to the nearest shoe store for some very ugly, but very waterproof snow boots. I was back in the city for a brief visit in order to interview for two winter internships with the American Library Association. I'm happy to report that I will be able to accept both of them and I'm looking forward to working with and learning from the APA and ALCTS staff members.

After my interviews, I took the train back to Champaign in order to work for a few more days at my graduate assistantship before officially leaving for winter break. Amazingly, I managed to work ahead over 45 hours this semester, which will allow me pursue other work experience with my time off from school. Campus is covered in a blanket of snow and ice, and though it is finals week, many students have already left and everything is quieting down.

Tonight, I will take my sixth train ride in six days back to Chicago – and hopefully stay put for a bit. Long days of travel and bracing cold have me hankering for warm, hearty dinners like this mushroom bourguignon.

Mushroom Bourguignon

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter, softened
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices (no stems)
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 C full-bodied red wine
2 C  vegetable broth
2 Tbl tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 Tbl flour
1 C frozen pearl onions, peeled and thawed
Salt and pepper
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Method

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Sear the mushrooms for three to four minutes.  The mushrooms should brown, but don't cook so long that they release their juices.  Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the carrot, onion, thyme, salt and pepper for about 10 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. Add the garlic and cook one more minute.

Add the wine to deglaze the pan, and then turn the heat all the way up and reduce the liquid by half. Add the tomato paste, broth, and the mushrooms- along with any juices. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender.

In a small bowl, mix one tablespoon of butter with the flour until smooth. Add this mixture to the stew and simmer for 10 more minutes, or until the stew has the consistency your desire. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the stew over a bowl of egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and a small handful of Italian flat-leaf parsley.

show hide 8 comments

Alex - Looks delicious! On a slightly different note: any tips for an aspiring librarian? I’m in between college and grad school, looking to get experience in libraries and not having much luck with anything other than volunteering.

Hannah - Congrats on the internships! And I’ll have to try the recipe – looks delish!

Gemma - Thank you, Hannah! They are going well. I’m busier than I expected, but I am really enjoying the experience.

Anita - I finally got around to making this – I just wanted to point out that you never say when to add the onions. But it sure was tasty!

Gemma - Whoops, thanks Anita. I’ll correct it. Glad it turned out well for you!

Gemma - Just re-read the recipe Anita, it’s there in the second paragraph under method ;)

Dave - Hi Gemma – Just made this last night. It was terrific!

Gemma - Glad to hear it! It was great to see you two last weekend. I’m glad we were all able to get together before Evan’s move.

Savory Florentine Cake Recipe

It's hard to believe that my first semester of graduate school is nearing an end. After one more class and two more papers, I'll be in Chicago working at a soon-to-be-finalized internship and falling back into familiar habits. I'm looking forward to having a bit of time to focus on a few personal projects and to running on the Chicago lakefront as I train for the Illinois Marathon in April. 

A few months ago, I received a review copy of Silvana Nardone's Cooking for Isaiah in the mail; a cookbook of gluten-free and dairy-free meals and the antithesis of my typical diet. I have a few friends with a gluten or dairy intolerance and I was drawn to some of the simpler recipes in the book. This Florentine Cake is quick, delicious, and it doesn't require any special ingredients. 

You are probably wondering why I'm posting a recipe that calls for fresh tomatoes in December. When I visited the winter farmer's market in Urbana this past weekend, one farm had some very nice greenhouse tomatoes. I bought a few with this recipe in mind. However, the dish would be great with oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves or even thin slices of winter squash.

 

Florentine Cake with Tomato-Garlic Gratin

Adapted from Cooking for Isaiah

(The original recipe called for 8 eggs and 1 clove of garlic)

Ingredients:

1/2 C rice cereal crumbs
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt
1 Tbl olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
5 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and pressed dry
2 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F

In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredients and set aside.

In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, spinach, and 1 tsp of salt. Pour the egg mixture into the hot skillet, shake to even out, and place the tomatoes on top. Cook without stirring for about 4 minutes, or until the edges are set and the center is beginning to set. 

Top with the garlic crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for ten minutes or until golden and set in the center. Serve warm. 

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Sandra - Thank you for posting this! I love your website, but I often can’t eat what you post because I have Celiac Disease (though, you have more GF recipes than you may realize)!

Sandra - Thank you for posting this! I love your website, but I often can’t eat what you post because I have Celiac Disease (though, you have more GF recipes than you may realize)!

Gemma - Thanks Sandra. I bet you are right. Your comment makes me want to go back through and tag the recipes that are GF for readers like you. I’m sorry I didn’t think of that before! Perhaps I will find the time over my winter break. Thanks for reading!

Gemma - Thanks Sandra. I bet you are right. Your comment makes me want to go back through and tag the recipes that are GF for readers like you. I’m sorry I didn’t think of that before! Perhaps I will find the time over my winter break. Thanks for reading!

kasia - This is perfect – I’m having a potluck dinner with a friend with gluten allergies, and this looks delicious. Is it necessary to use frozen spinach, or could you use fresh? And would that mean different amounts?

kasia - This is perfect – I’m having a potluck dinner with a friend with gluten allergies, and this looks delicious. Is it necessary to use frozen spinach, or could you use fresh? And would that mean different amounts?

Gemma - Hi Kasia, frozen certainly isn’t necessary. Fresh would work fine, but I would wilt it a bit (and discard any moisture that is released) before you use it. The main concern is to avoid a soggy dish by removing excess moisture from the spinach, whether it is frozen or fresh. I’m always surprised by how much spinach reduces when it is cooked. Buying by weight should theoretically make the amounts even, but I would buy extra just to be safe.
This is definitely a “brunchy” dish, but I think it would work well for a dinner too.

Gemma - Hi Kasia, frozen certainly isn’t necessary. Fresh would work fine, but I would wilt it a bit (and discard any moisture that is released) before you use it. The main concern is to avoid a soggy dish by removing excess moisture from the spinach, whether it is frozen or fresh. I’m always surprised by how much spinach reduces when it is cooked. Buying by weight should theoretically make the amounts even, but I would buy extra just to be safe.
This is definitely a “brunchy” dish, but I think it would work well for a dinner too.