Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ham and Swiss Macaroni Cups

The first try at this recipe... it didn't go as planned. I needed 3 pie crusts, and only had one. I loaded all the kids into the van, and made a quick run to the store for more pie crusts. Only someone had bought out the entire store, and there were no pie crusts! None at all! I racked my brain with baby on the hip, and decided to try using biscuits instead. Well...the end result was okay. The biscuits didn't make good "cups" because they filled the muffin tins completely during the baking process, so I scooped out the bread from the middle, filled the hollows with mac and cheese, and served them anyway. 2 of the kids liked them, 2 didn't. Can't win them all, right?

I first saw this idea on "Picky Palate," (see my blog list), and wanted to try it. Only one problem... the hubby doesn't like spaghetti. I love pasta...did I mention I lived in Italy for 2 years, but married a man who just can't make a meal outta pasta?

I had to come up with another plan, and still make it appealing to the kids.'s my take on these cute little "cups" of pasta. Honestly...I'm the one who was craving macaroni and cheese, but I wanted to add protein and a veggies, so that explains the ham and peas. I am using a standard mac and cheese recipe, (I found mine on the Internet, and altered it to my liking)-- I suppose you could make it out of the box, but this is really have to try it!

I made the "cups" in my 12 count muffin tin, but that got me thinking...when the kids get older I could use my oven proof ramekins, or small individual gratin dishes so they'd get a bigger portion....hmm. Okay, my brain is thinking too far ahead!

I really like bread crumbs on top of mac and cheese, and using panko bread crumbs makes a nice crunchy topping. You can find panko bread crumbs in the asian section of the grocery store. I find myself using them more and more instead of regular bread crumbs, to coat chicken, fish, sprinkled on top of casseroles, etc.

These are "as cute as pie," and hopefully your kids will eat 'em up!

Ham and Swiss Macaroni Cups

3 refrigerated pie crusts, thawed if frozen
Non-stick cooking spray
1 cup elbow macaroni (I use Barilla Elbows because the tiny ridges help the sauce cling to the pasta)
1/2 stick of butter (yes, use the real stuff)
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup chopped deli ham
2 cups swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Butter spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 12 count muffin tin with cooking spray. Using a large cup or small bowl about 4 inches in diameter, cut out 12 circles. (BTW, that plastic mug I used is from David's college days, and he'd make his coffee in it, and the occasional cup of tea for me... ahh, the memories...)

You will need to use all three pie crusts. (Don't toss the scraps, either... just ball them up and throw 'em back in the freezer. If you roll them all together, it should be enough for 1 complete pie crust). Gently press the circles of pastry into the muffin cups, ease out any air bubbles, and make sure the dough comes all the way to the top.

Gently prick the cups on the bottom and sides--once on the bottom and twice on the sides should do it. This keeps the pastry from puffing up too much during the baking process. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Take them out and set aside to cool while you make the mac and cheese.

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions, or until just al dente, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and let that bubble away for a couple of minutes. This will cook the flour a bit, and eliminate the raw taste of it in your sauce.

Now, add the milk slowly, whisking while you pour. You don't want lumps in your cheese sauce. Turn up the heat to medium and let it come to a gentle simmer--and keep whisking.

Once the milk comes to the boil, let it simmer for a few minutes; it should get nice and thick. Add your cheese, a cup at a time, stirring with a large spoon until it's all nice and melted, and then throw in the parmesan cheese.

You now have a luscious pot of cheesy goodness...go ahead and sample away, but be careful, it's really good, and you don't want to sample too much...

Season to taste with the salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. I use the white pepper because black pepper would just show up too much. But if all you have is the stuff in the red and white can, don't worry, it's no big deal. I like a trifle more nutmeg that the recipe calls for, but do it the way you want to.

I assume you saved the pot you cooked the pasta in, because you are like me and are intent on washing as few dishes as possible, right? Toss your pasta back in that pot, add the cheese sauce, and stir. Then add the ham and peas, and gently stir again until everything is coated in cheese heaven.

Preheat the oven again to "broil." Take a clean spoon (not the one you've been using to sample with...but hey, it's your kitchen, so if you do, I'll never know), and put a nice big spoonful of mac and cheese into the pie crust cups. Sprinkle with some of the panko crumbs, and then give each cup a squirt or two of the butter spray. (You'll have some left over, you can use it to make 12 more cups or just save it to eat later--I had some for lunch the next day..mmm).

Slide the pasta filled cups into the oven about 4-6 inches away from the broiler for about 3-4 minutes or until the panko crumbs turn a glorious golden brown. DO NOT LEAVE THEM! Every broiler is different, but they're all notorious for burning your food if you are not vigilant. So stand right there and watch 'em... and make sure the little ones are at least 1,000 feet away when you take them out, or those precious little fingers will get burnt to a crisp.

Let the pasta cups cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving. This time, Christina ate a few bites, the older two cleaned their plates and Gabriel...sigh...I have to be honest...refused to eat it. He didn't eat it last time either. This is my baby boy who is a world class eater, but for some reason, mac and cheese is not his thing. Oh well. Rebecca did say:

"Mommy, these are YUM-MEE!"

Good enough for me...God bless your table tonight!

1 comment:

Jenny said...

They look so good Kimberly! I love the pasta addition! Great step by step photos too!

I have the same countertops as you!