Archive | January, 2017

QueijoKef’s Kale Mac & Cheese Bake a la Amy’s

31 Jan

Like pretty much every post in the last year, I will use the preamble to remind you all that your friend ChefKef is a VERY busy woman and has little time to putter around the kitchen perfecting recipes these days. Turns out that that I’m not in this canoe alone, and that pretty much everyone I know is a busy m-effer. #thisisthirty

Luckily, misery loves company, and I am lucky enough to count QueijoKef among my people. This woman has been hacking the copy-cat recipe since at least 2004, when she figured out how to recreate the sweet-and-salty flavor of a Payday bar with ingredients sourced solely from the Village C vending machine. How’s THAT for ingenius? (Don’t ask, by the way, why we didn’t just get the damn Payday bar from said vending machine… that wasn’t the point.)

We’re long time fans of more or less everything in the Amy’s Frozen Meals line, and Queijo has had her eye on recreating the 3 Cheese and Kale Bake for some time now.

Because she’s so good at life, she’s put in the work and has already had her Eureka moment for 2017. She’s kind enough to share the fruits of her labor below. Truly, a thing of beauty!


QueijoKef’s Kale Mac & Cheese Bake


  • 1 box pasta, 12 ounces rotini (or similar) pasta, cooked al dente. GF or regular
  • 2 cups kale, shredded and de-stemmed
  • 4 tbsp butter + extra for baking dish
  • 1 can of coconut milk, 13.5 ounces (unsweetened)
  • 4 tbsp of coconut flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. of ground turkey, cooked (if adding an animal protein is your thing)


1. Cook pasta according to box directions for al dente. Drain, set aside.

2. Pre-heat oven to 375˚. Prepare baking dish (9” x 13” or similar) by wiping bottom and sides with cold butter stick.

3. For kale, lightly sauté shredded kale in batches, each batch with 1 tbsp of olive oil heated in a skillet with a pinch of salt until kale just begins to wilt (about 2-4 minutes) and set aside.

4. Begin to build the bake in the dish by tossing the pasta, kale, ground turkey (if using). and HALF of the grated cheddar cheese. Lightly toss. This will make it easier to incorporate the cheese sauce once done.

5. For roux (cheese sauce), begin by melting 4 tbsp of butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until just begins to bubble. Slowly add coconut flour while continuously whisking. Lower heat to medium-low and continue whisking until paste begins to lightly brown and bubble like pancake batter (2-4 minutes).

6. Slowly add about 1/3 of the coconut milk, continuously whisking. Raise heat to medium. Season with pinch of salt and black pepper and bring to light simmer, whisking occasionally until fully incorporated and no roux is left on the bottom of the sauce pan.

7. Slowly add about 1/2 of remaining cheddar cheese, continuously whisking. Slowly add next 1/3 of the coconut milk, whisking. Repeat with remaining cheddar cheese.

8. Slowly add remaining coconut milk, continuously whisking. After about 1 minute of incorporating, add about 1/2 of the parmesan cheese, continuously whisking. The mixture will begin to take on a melted cheese sauce quality. Remove from heat. If for some reason you are not continuing to step 9 immediately, stir occasionally.

9.  Carefully add roux to the prepped baking dish, tossing to distribute with all ingredients.
10. Top with other ½ of the parmesan cheese (this will be your crusty topping).

11. Bake at 375˚ for about 20 minutes, then raise to 390˚ for last 10-15 minutes of baking, or until top is golden brown and sides are bubbling. Remove and let cool.

The Tiramisu that Almost Wasn’t

27 Jan

When it was time to head home for the holidays, I had about 3 minutes to figure out what I was going to make for Christmas Eve dessert at MrKef’s family’s house. Considering that Staten Island is the epicenter of Italian America (sorry, Arthur Avenue), I decided to make Italy’s most famous sweet export: tiramisu. Without any time to prep at home in DC, I figured I could do all the shopping up there early on Christmas Eve morning, throw the trifle-like dish together and be done with the whole thing with enough time for it to sit and soak up all that delicious coffee-and-liquor flavor. What could go wrong? Ha.

I think the real determinate of a good tiramisu are homemade lady fingers, but my willingness to reinvent the wheel is low these days, so I planned to buy some delicious made-fresh-in-the-bakery-by-a-nonna-that-morning ladyfingers SOMEWHERE on Staten Island. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not how the home of Wu Tang rolls–none of the bakeries I visited/called were willing to sell just the lady fingers… but they would kindly sell me the already-made $60 tiramisu. Grazie, ma no.  Realizing this wasn’t going to be my most authentic tiramisu ever, I was CERTAIN I could at least find the Stella D’oro packaged ones in any grocery store with this concentration of people eating 7 fishes on Christmas Eve… only to find that I was wrong again. In fact, when I asked the kind teenager at Stop’n’Shop (whose name tag read “Giovanna,” for what it’s worth) where I could find the lady fingers, she happily pointed me over to the berry section, where I realized she was talking about these:

… friggin kill me. But, I decided to go with the flow for once in my damn life, and threw them in my cart without creating too much of a scene, when what I really wanted to do was this:

Then, of course, I couldn’t find the Italian dessert wine the recipe called for in THREE different liquor stores (including one named Pete MILANO’S, for crying out loud). At this point, I had pretty much abandoned all hope that this was going to be a successful dessert, headed back to MrKef’s house a bit dejected, and put to use the weird assortment of ingredients I wanted and those that I wound up with. Somehow, I came up with this:


Not bad for a lot of pinch hitting! It looked better than most of my creations, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to taste great. After a lot of worrying and preambling, I dished it out after dinner, and- to my great surprise- it got universal and enthusiastic thumbs up. MrKef’s dad is a seriously discerning consumer of confections, and when even HE went in for seconds, I let out a sigh of relief and decided to claim victory after all. Staten Island, you won the battle, but you did not win the war.

My original intent was to follow Jamie Oliver’s recipe— reflected below are the many changes I had to make. The great news is that –once you accumulate the damn ingredients– this guy basically puts itself together, the idiosyncrasies of Italian Americans on Staten Island not withstanding.



  • about 20 pre-made dessert shells
  • two 16-oz containers mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 7 oz muscato
  • 1 small Dunkin Donuts black coffee
  • about 1/3 c kahlua
  • 7 oz good-quality white chocolate, melted
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 1 bar good-quality dark chocolate, for shavings


  1. Using a stand mixer or electric beater, combine the mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks, and wine until smooth.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine coffee and Kahlua.
  3. Arrange 4-5 dessert shells in a single layer in your dish- this could be a trifle dish, deep pyrex pan, or whatever you have at hand. Drizzle the coffee/Kahlua mixture over the cakes–I tend to give the bottom layer a pretty heavy drizzle and get lighter as I go up. Then, drizzle the white chocolate over the cakes, then a layer of mascarpone mixture. Repeat until you get to the top of your dish, making sure that the final layer is mascarpone.
  4. Dust with cocoa powder. Scrape a large spoon across the back of the chocolate bar towards you to make shavings– there is really no rhyme or reason to this, but I suggest keeping the wrapper on and just opening up the back of the wrapper to avoid melting the chocolate all over your hands. Arrange shavings over the top.
  5. Let sit in a cool place or refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving. If chilling in the fridge, pull out about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Apple and Greek Yogurt Cake

24 Jan


Need a simple cake without weird ingredients that doesn’t take 12 hours to make? For once, you’re in the right place. I made this absolutley fool-proof cake for a room full of Giants fans a few weeks ago, and it was delicious enough to keep our spirits up even after our team let us down. Pretty much everybody had seconds, which I take as the ultimate endorsement.

Original recipe from the incredible Smashing Plates — I changed up the syrup to reflect what MrKef had on his bar, and swapped out walnuts (blech) for slivered almonds. Those are reflected below.

Apple and Greek Yogurt Cake


–For the cake:

  • 1 stick + 1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 c Greek yogurt (per usual, Fage is best but you do you)
  • 1.5 c flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced into 1/2 inch pieces

–For the syrup:

  • 2/3 c water
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/3 c booze of your choice (I did about 40% whiskey and 60% rum)
  • about 1/2 c slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch cloves


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan (two 8-inch cake pans would probably also work as well, but wouldn’t be as pretty).
  2. Cream butter and sugar on medium-high in a stand mixer. Once light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time. Stir in yogurt. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and spices until just combined. Fold in apples by hand. Pour into pre-greased baking pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until center is set and fork inserted comes out clean. Set aside to cool in pan.
  3. While cake cools, combine water, sugar, honey, and alcohol in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until thick and syrupy, 10-15 minutes or so.
  4. Toss the toasted almonds in a few TBS of the syrup and the cinnamon and cloves. Poke several holes throughout the cake all the way to bottom with a skewer. Pour the syrup over the cake in a few stages, letting it soak in before pouring again. Sprinkle the syrup-ed and spiced almonds over top. Rest for at least 2 hours, then enjoy.

Everything now…is in our hands

20 Jan

A friend reminded me of one of my favorite Baldwin quotes a few weeks ago, and it’s as timely now as it was then:

Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!
-James Baldwin

And in other Baldwin news, I am really looking forward to this movie:

Savory Baklava (or, how to turn vegetables into dessert)

17 Jan

JetSet and KimmieKef recommended the sort-of-new cookbook Smashing Plates. I got it last week, and pretty much every page is already dog-eared for future cooking. I hope you’re all looking forward to some new Greek Easter dishes this year… or at least being conscripted into taste-testing the recipes I try.

Our recipe for today actually comes from the author’s web site, which is equally replete with new takes on traditional Greek fare. It also answers the question JetSet has been wondering for the last 7 years or so: how can we make vegetables dessert? The answer, it turns out, is to combine caramelized onions cooked down with cinnamon, tomatoes, feta, almonds, dill, and dates, and then to layer them with phyllo and butter.


Yeah, she went a little crazy with the filter– sue me. At least I’m trying.

It’s important you know that this pie is neither sweet nor savory–it’s the best of both. MrKef  and some non-Greek, normal eaters gave the swavory thing big thumbs up, and I would definitely recommend this pie for a brunch–because who the hell knows which meal or flavor we’re supposed to be eating at 11:30am with a bottomless carafe of mimosa, anyway?

Tomato, feta, almond and date baklava


  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium white onions, finely sliced or minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of granulated sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 1 bunch dill, finely chopped (or 3 teaspoons dried)
  • 10 vine plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped (keep half of the juice)
  • 3 TBS tomato purée
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 packet phyllo pastry (9 sheets)
  • about 1/2 stick butter, melted (sub olive oil- this is just for spreading on the phyllo)
  • 3/4 c sliveredalmonds, ground down to a crumble (either by food processor or just by banging them)
  • 7-8 large Medjool dates, pitted and finely sliced
  • 2 c feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons clear honey (optional)


  1. Lightly butter or oil the bottom and sides of your longest pyrex pan or rectangular aluminium baking dish (I used a 13×9 pyrex). Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large-bottomed pan. Gently fry the onions over a low heat, add the garlic, cinnamon and sugar, then increase the heat. Fry for about 12 minutes, until caramelized. Add the dill, tomatoes and half of their juices and the tomato puree and cook for another 10 minutes, until reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Remove outer bag from phyllo, and gently roll out the dough. If you are new at phyllo, lightly dampen a paper towel and cover the dough with it, as it dries out if you are moving slowly. Place one sheet of phyllo in the greased baking dish, then gently brush it with melted butter or olive oil, being very generous. Be sure to get all the corners and ends. Repeat 3 more times, for a total of 4 layers. Don’t worry too much if these layers rip, as they will be covered by deliciousness in a minute anyway.
  4. Spread half the onion mixture over the pastry, top with half the almonds, the dates and half the feta. Repeat butter/phyllo layers for another 4 layers, and top with the remaining onions, almonds and feta. Do another 4-5 layers of phyllo/butter, making sure that the last one is as pretty and untorn as possible.
  5. Lightly score the top, cutting diamonds or squares, brush with butter and splash with a little water. Place on a baking tray and cook for 30–35 minutes until golden.To get maximum flakiness, turn up the heat to 400F for the last 5 minutes of baking, keeping a close eye to avoid burning.

Rosemary Cauliflower Mash- A New Favorite

12 Jan


At our staff end-of-year party, a coworker made the best thing ever: a cauliflower mash with the taste of stuffing and the texture of mashed potatoes. It is as easy as roasting two heads of cauliflower and whirling it with some other delicious ingredients in a food processor. For the love of all things holy, go whip this up for your next meal.

Rosemary Cauliflower Mash


  • 6.5 TBS olive oil
  • 2 heads of cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 head garlic
  • about 1/4 c whole milk or half and half
  • half stick of butter
  • ancho chili powder (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Toss cauliflower in 4-5 TBS olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice the head of garlic across the top so all the cloves are exposed. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the garlic and wrap loosely in tinfoil. Roast the cauliflower until tender and garlic until fragrant and soft, about 40 minutes. While those roast, saute the onion with the remaining olive oil until soft and fragrant.
  2. Place the roasted cauliflower in food processor. Squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves into the food processor. Add remaining ingredients and grind to desired texture, adding milk if necessary.

Winter Running Essentials

9 Jan

When I first moved to DC a million years ago, the winters were pretty mild–I don’t think I even had a real winter coat down here during college (though I did have a wool scarf named Pinky…long story). But, sadly, times and climates change, and DC living now requires me to own an ice scraper and a pair of warm, waterproof boots. Blech.

I’ve also accumulated a well-curated (if I do say so myself) winter running wardrobe– I may not need to outrun the law in Fargo, but I do need basic staples that will hold up to ~20 mph wind, RealFeel temps in the single digits, and the occasional frozen precipitate. Here are some tried-and-true favorites that keep me feeling like this til April:viola

  1. Thermal running tights that actually do their job

    You get what you pay for with these guys– it takes a feat of textile engineering to keep someone warm and dry for a 90-minute workout in 20-degree weather. A lot of cheaper tights just pile on the fleece so you feel all warm and toasty for about a mile, after which you realize that your sweat has frozen the tights to your skin. (Let me tell you, that is a post-run recovery I wish on no one.) After six years with my first pair of Sugoi Subzero Tights, I just bought my second pair and they are worth every penny–warm, wicking, and wind resistant.

  2. Layers for weather from chilly to friggin’ freezing

    “Dress in layers” is probably the most oft-given piece of winter running advice. My addition to the canon is that all layers are not created equal–you’ll need a base layer, a cold layer, a pretty cold layer, a friggin’ freezing layer, and a vest. My general rules go like this:
    — 37-44F : a tank top, a thermal long-sleeve, and a running vest
    — 22-36F, all the above +a thicker running pullover.
    –anything under 22 means I pull out the big guns and swap the pullover for this UnderArmour sweatshirt that I’ve had for years and years

    The great news is that TJMaxx and Marshall’s are always chock full of Nike and Under Armour layers–2 of my 3 long-sleeve thermals and both thicker pullovers I own came at big discounts from pilfering through those “active wear” racks. My personal preference is a lower neckline or a quarter-zip so I can cool down without peeling all the layers off–but I know a lot of people shudder at the idea of an exposed neck in the winter. Whatever floats your boat.

  3. Something-anything- to keep your ears warm

    Mary has been chronicling the great beanie vs. ear warmer debate this season– I am squarely Team Ear Warmer. I have never owned a fancy one (though I would really, really, really love this one), and have found whatever piece of fleece is in the bargain bin at Modell’s to be perfectly adequate.

  4. Awesome gloves

    For awhile I thought the $0.99 CVS cotton gloves were reasonable hand protection… and then I found these amazing Lux gloves, which totally changed the game. I wear them when it’s under 40F, and they are wonderful. For colder days (under 30F), I think these waterproof, windresistant gloves are great (another incredible piece of advice from Mary!).

  5. Buttpaste to protect what your mama gave you

    Alright y’all, it’s time for real talk– there is not a warm, wicking fabric in the world that can spare your tucous a serious chapping if you go into the sweat+wind+cold triple threat tundra without some buttpaste. For a longer discussion on the topic, read this my thoughts on half marathon training through the winter. Alternatives include vaseline, chamois butter, and body glide, but I stay on some damn buttpaste if I’m gonna be braving the elements longer than an hour or so.

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