“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” Julia Child
Greetings, friends! I hope that everyone is getting back into the swing of things now that September is officially here. Even though I am missing Summer & the relative lack of schedule, it does feel good to have a routine once more, especially now that the mornings are starting to become a bit cooler.
This week, I decided to create a back-to-school menu for you…for two reasons. One is thinking about dinner itself. Merely thinking about “what to cook for dinner” can become a significant source of stress during the week. That stress is not necessary…that is why I am here. Secondly, I think that I outdid myself this summer when I created this Mac N’ Cheese recipe. I am not kidding…I seriously think that this is the best Mac N’ Cheese that I ever made…but the real kudos go to Émilie for even thinking of this menu! Here’s how the story goes…
…Here we were, on the Vineyard. Second week…relatively peaceful & quiet. The Sound Boys were staying with us, as they had mold in their house…not good for 10 college guys with beautiful voices who sing for their food. I was making breakfast for everyone, but not much else…until, one afternoon, after she had finished playing her violin to raise money for the Animal Shelter, Émilie asked, “Mommy, can we make dinner for the Sound Boys just one more time? Pretty please?”
I looked up from writing my blog at the time, A Quick & Easy Beach Vacation Menu, which was the first meal we had prepared for the boys. There was Émilie, staring me down in the most angelic way. What was I to say? No? That would not an acceptable answer. After all, the Sound Boys had become my adopted sons. Therefore, one last dinner was in order. So, I asked Émilie, “Before I say ‘yes’, what are you thinking of serving?”
She, of course, had an answer. “Mac N’ Cheese, Mommy. My Mac N’ Cheese.”
I did not even know that she had a recipe. Anyhoo, after she recited the ingredients…lots of 6-Cheese Italian Blend, milk, butter & rigatoni pasta…I thought, “The Sound Boys would love that”. Have you ever fed 10 men between the ages of 19 & 23? I am here to tell you that they can consume more food than anyone I have ever seen. Mac N’ Cheese was a great idea, but it was August…Summer…& we were on the Vineyard…how would I make Mac N’ Cheese a “summer-ish”?
I then became inspired. “Corn, tomatoes & basil”, I responded.
“Huh?” was Émilie’s response. She had no clue where I was going with this.
I rode my bike to Morning Glory Farm, where I bought a bunch of corn, tomatoes & fresh pesto. I decided to create Summer Corn-Tomato-Pesto Mac N’ Cheese. After making a mornay sauce…simply butter, flour, milk & cheese, nothing fancy…I added the pesto, tomatoes & corn, 2 pounds of rigatoni, & a layer of bread crumbs moistened with olive oil & By The Sea Salt, which added a nice “crunch” to the Mac N’ Cheese.
If you need a good everyday seasoning salt, By The Sea Salt is the one for you! I put it on everything, & every summer, I buy 2 or 3 jars…this stuff is amazing! It is available online…try it…I promise you will love it!
I am happy to report that Summer Corn-Tomato-Pesto Mac N’ Cheese was a success! The Sound Boys loved it & ate every bit, which totaled about 4 pounds, as we added about 12 cups of 6-Cheese Italian Blend.
Liam, of course, jumped in & helped with the final preparations. The boys had a great time, as did we…& all tummies were full. Mission accomplished!
So, back to the recipe. The great thing about Summer Corn-Tomato-Pesto Mac N’ Cheese is that it is easy to prepare & the addition of the corn, tomatoes & pesto naturally compliments the cheese & pasta…why I never thought of this combination previously is beyond me. Since our return home, I have served this dish several times, with a few variations, of course. I now reprocess the store-bought with additional basil…& few cloves of garlic. I also add heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors to enhance the presentation. I even added deboned rotisserie chicken, which was really good, but I really think I like it best with corn, tomatoes & pesto…with extra basil, of course! Adding fresh basil to the pesto makes the pesto really stand out & is so bloody good with all that corn, cheese & tomatoes! The corn & bread crumb topping adding great texture as well.
Summer Corn-Tomato-Pesto Mac N’ Cheese is now one of my favorites on the “Back-to-School Menu” list! The recipe makes plenty, so you can count on leftovers as well, which are just as delicious…maybe even better!
All you need is a tossed green salad…because we are all about trying new things, I have gotten Émilie to try fig balsamic vinegar, & she loves it tossed on mixed greens & cucumbers. I know kids of all ages will love this salad…the fig balsamic vinegar pairs beautifully with the Mac N’ Cheese…dinner is served.
On the Vineyard, we started with Smoked Bluefish & Smoked Bluefish Spread. Unfortunately, we do not have anymore of those delicious delicacies. In general, I like serving smoked fish as an appetizer, as it is a people-pleaser & a light start to a heavier main course. At home, I typically serve smoked salmon & trout, as both are readily available in our markets & grocery stores. Skinny Smoked Salmon & Trout Cucumber Bites are high in protein, low in calories, & do not ruin hungry appetites! After all, if you are going to serve Mac N’ Cheese, why serve a heavy appetizer? It doesn’t make any sense. This is also a great snack for after-school or after-school activities…both smoked salmon & trout are so sweet…when kids try it, they usually like it. They just need to get past the fact that they are eating “fish”.
For dessert, Émilie & I made Peaches & Cream Popsicles…this frozen dessert is really easy & really good! All you need are 6 ripe peaches, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk & a blender…& a freezer, of course. I do not know anyone, big or small, who doesn’t like a popsicle. Popsicles are great to serve at the end of an evening because they’re fun…if having a dinner party, serve the popsicles with a little champagne. Your guests will really enjoy the combination!
I hope you enjoy this “Back-to-School Menu”! The menu really is super-easy & everything, with the exception of tossing the salad, can be done ahead of time…just keep the Mac N’ Cheese warm until ready to serve…which is great if you are involved with an overabundance of school & extra-curricular activities. I hope I’ve made your lives a little easier this time of year! Good luck & Cheers!
An Easy Back-to-School Menu
Champagne or Prosecco