Ben’s Best Mac and Cheese

I have never made this recipe myself. But I have eaten it!  and leftovers were today’s lunch!  It was made in my kitchen last night by our youngest son, Ben, who has made it before and declared this his best!  I offered him the chance to be a guest blogger on Kitchen Keepers and when he declined he said I could share the recipe on the blog.

Joe had an emergency hospitalization which prompted fresh gratitude for the helping hands of two of my sons who live nearby.  Sean came and helped take his Dad to the hospital on Monday.  Ben came to help last night and cooked our dinner.  Try this when you are craving  cheesy, delicious comfort food!  By the way, Sean recently made his famous homemade Corned Beef Hash for us.  I will include his recipe sometme soon.  And just so you know, son Jeremy who lives too far away to pop over for week night suppers, is a gourmet cook, too. I am one blessed Mom, and their wives appreciate them, also!

Ben’s Best Mac and Cheese

Sea Salt

1 pound Dreamfield’s Penne Regate pasta

2 cups of chopped Canadian Bacon

3 cups milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick)  butter, divided

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

8 ounces Gruyère, grated (2 cups)

8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)

1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp Penzey’s French Four Spice  or 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1  cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Into a large pot of boiling salted water.add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Put chopped Canadian Bacon in skillet.  Heat and stir until slightly browned.

Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyère, Cheddar, Gorgonzola, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and spices. Add the Canadian Bacon and cooked pasta, stirring to mix.  Pour into a buttered 3-quart baking dish and top with bread crumbs.  Dot with small pieces of remaining butter.  Heat in oven until bread crumbs are golden brown and the sauce on pasta is bubbling.

Salmon Souffle

Salmon souffle is (like many of our favorite recipes) a dish with a story. Thirty-seven years ago, my good friend and neighbor Jean Merrill presented me with a gift: a cookbook titled Helen Corbitt’s Potluck.  I see several things that make me smile every time I take it from my shelf in the kitchen. First there’s its tomato red binding with a fanciful line drawing of a cow with some leaves in her mouth on the bottom right corner.  Just inside, the inscription “Mary Ann – thanks for being such a good friend. Love Jean  ’75.”  There’s the same cow from the front on the page.  Only this time she is standing with a pig and a chicken on her back.  The pig has a bottle of wine and a strawberry on its back, and the whole crew is plopped into a huge pot of vegetables labeled POTLUCK.  Not such a remarkable title for a cookbook unless you also know that Helen Corbitt was no everyday cook with her list of dishes to take to church dinners. This feisty chef authored 4 other cookbooks and is best known for her position as Director of Foods for Neiman Marcus and her menus for the Zodiac Room there.  So what makes me laugh when I pick up PotLuck is the unlikely face any recipe in there would actually find itself being called that.   In its pages, this little book has narrative and humour, and treasures from its author.  Poppy-Seed Dressing is one of her best known recipes. I have made  I have made Artichokes and Crab and a wonderful Lemon Rice Soup.  For my nieces bridal luncheon in 1983, I served Helen’s Cold Yogurt Soup.  But the recipe I have used so often that the book opens to its page is this one.  And every time I have made it, I have used leftovers, because the 1 1/2 cups of flaked salmon it calls for is just about right for leftover bits when I grill a salmon fillet.  I think Helen, the queen of sass and souffles,  would have approved.

Salmon Souffle

3 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon curry powder (we like to use a heaping teaspoon or more)

1 1/2 cups fresh or canned salmon flakes

Pinch of thyme

Salt and pepper

1 cup milk

4 eggs, separated

Melt the butter, add flour and seasonings, and cook until bubbly.  Add milk, bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from stove.  add egg yolks beaten until light and the flaked salmon (no bones or skin). Cool.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Pour into a buttered souffle or casserole dish.  Place dish into a larger baking pan and add hot water carefully into the bottom pan (hot water bath).  Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  Left over chicken or ham works well instead of salmon.

Serve with Bengal Sauce, recipe follows.

Bengal Sauce

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon flour

1 cup milk or half and half


1/2 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons grated coconut

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Melt butter, add flour, cook a few seconds.  Add milk and cook until smooth and thickened.  Add seasonings, coconut and nuts.

When I made this earlier this week, I served Italian plum halves filled with homemade fig chutney which I baked alongside the souffle.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Ben requested an amazing dessert for his birthday cake this year.  I expected him to ask for Tiramisu but he remembered how much he liked this, so when we had him and his wife over for a birthday dinner, I made Sticky Toffee Pudding.  It is a traditional dessert in England but graced our Texas table just fine!  Easy to make, rich and gooey – try it when you have guests for dinner, or on a holiday buffet.  The individual portions make it simple to serve, but make more than you think you need. Someone just might eat two!   My recipe is adapted from several sources, including

Sticky Toffee Pudding

1 ¼ cup dates (no need to chop whole dates – now small packets  of  chopped   dates are available in the dried fruit section of your supermarket)

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

8 Tablespoons softened butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

                Toffee Sauce

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick)

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped

1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 8 (6-ounce) ramekins or mini Bundt muffin pan with butter and flour or spray with baking spray. Combine dates, water, and baking soda in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Put salt and flour in a bowl, stir with a fork, and set aside.

Heat a medium pot of water to use for water bath.

Combine butter and brown sugar; using an electric mixer, beat for several minutes. Add vanilla extract, then add eggs one at a time. Stir in dates and flour mixture.Divide batter evenly among prepared ramekins and set into two baking dishes. Pour simmering water into the bottom of the baking dishes until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully place baking dishes on the center rack of the oven. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. During baking, you can make the sauce.

                                                                 Toffee sauce:

Melt butter over medium heat. When it foams, add brown sugar and vanilla extract or seeds, stir and heat until bubbling and turns the color of maple syrup, about 5 minutes. Add cream in a slow stream while stirring. Cook until the sauce bubbles up, about 2 minutes.

When the cakes are finished, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. Once the cakes are cooled enough to handle, loosen with a knife run around the edges and invert to remove to serving plate. Serve warm, with warm toffee sauce drizzled over the top.

Texas Tomato Pie


I have made several variations of pies named Tomato Pie.  There have been tomato tarts with French ancestry made with puff pastry, a Greek version with lots of thyme and lemon produced on sheets of phyllo, Italian flatbread with olive oil and tomatoes and basil, close kin to pizza.  Southern tomato pies may all have tomatoes in common, but little else other than a tender flaky crust.  What makes this pie a Texas pie?  Pecans and jalapeno peppers!  And it just may be the tastiest tomato pie ever.  My recipe is the result of combining ideas from recipes in Texas Recipes and the lovely Houston Junior League cookbook titled Peace Meals.  Peace to you and yours when you sit down to share this meal!  It needs only a garden salad tossed with a light citrus vinaigrette as an accompaniment.

Texas Tomato Pie


 9-inch pie crust, unbaked
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup brie cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground  pepper
3 cups grape tomatoes, sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup minced jalapeños
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Basil, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place pie crust in the oven at 375 degrees for 5 minutes or until the bottom begins to brown slightly.

Remove from oven, sprinkle 1 cup of the mozarella over the bottom while still hot, then set aside while you work on the filling.

1. Wash basil leaves and pat dry.  Roll leaves together and slice thinly for chiffonade. Mince garlic and mix with basil.

2. Mix pieces of brie,  remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese with mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and  pepper.

3. Seed and mince jalapeno peppers.

4. Cut the grape tomatoes into thin slices.

5. Layer these ingredients into pie.
Scatter tomatoes over the mozzarella cheese in the pie crust. Sprinkle salt and jalapeños over the tomatoes, then the garlic and basil mixture over the tomatoes and jalapeños.

With a teaspoon, put dots of mayonnaise and cheese mixture over the top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Bake for 45  minutes or until the crust is golden brown and pie is bubbling.