This is my favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipe. It uses the fine cheddar cheeses produced right here on Prince Edward Island at the COWS Creamery.
When I think of “comfort food”, one of the first that comes to mind is Macaroni and Cheese. So simple to make and it does not take any wild or unusual ingredients.
My preference of cheese for this dish is that made by COWS Creamery right here in PEI, actually not far from where I reside. Their cheeses have been award winners for years now, attesting to their fine quality made, of course, possible by the high quality herds of dairy cattle here on the Island.
While I have made and tested this recipe with other cheeses and have found the results to be very good, no question. However, if you have ever had it made with COWS Creamery Extra Old Cheddar Cheese, and their Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar Cheese, I suspect you will agree with me that these two cheeses take Macaroni and Cheese to a higher level.
I serve Macaroni and Cheese (which freezes well, by the way) with a green salad and homemade biscuits, fresh from the oven and slathered with good PEI churned butter. (This is not a sponsored post, by the way, and I don’t work for, or have shares in, COWS Creamery, nor have I been paid for this post. I just simply really like their products.)
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My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese
By Barbara99 Published: March 28, 2012
Ready In:55 mins
A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheddar Cheese
In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid chicken bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. (I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce.)
Cook macaroni, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and starts to thicken.
Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended
Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings.
Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with a green salad and fresh homemade biscuits.
I recently paid a visit to Cows Creamery at its factory location on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, where I was met by my two tour guides, Yvonne and Andrea. As I soon learned, Cows is a whole lot more than its renowned premium quality ice cream.
With humble beginnings back in 1983, Cows has evolved into a large diversified operation that produces, along with its iconic ice cream, three varieties of cheddar cheese as well as its newest dairy product, creamery butter. You’ll also find this company producing several food items such as chocolate-covered potato chips plus a line of novelty items (including its whimsical cow-inspired clothing line). For the purposes of this field trip, however, my focus was on the dairy side of Cows’ operations.
Cows Ice Cream
Cows began producing and selling one variety of ice cream (vanilla) on the Cavendish Boardwalk in 1983. It wasn’t long before customers soon started associating Cows with premium-quality ice cream. A short while later, Cows opened their first ice cream shop in downtown Charlottetown and you can still find it there on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets, just across from the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Over the years, Cows added and operated, on a seasonal basis, several more outlets – Peakes Wharf in Charlottetown, Gateway Village at the foot of the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, and on “The Confederation” ferry that runs, May-October, between PEI and NS. Of course, their new creamery near Charlottetown also sells ice cream year-round in the retain outlet. Cows has also added several off-Island locations that include Historic Properties in Halifax, NS; Whistler, BC; Banff, AB; and Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.
Today, Cows produces some 32 flavours (yes, 32!) of high-end premium ice cream with catchy names like my favourite, “Wowie Cowie”. All the ice cream is made in their PEI creamery using milk produced on PEI dairy farms and as many locally-produced ingredients (e.g., berries) as possible.
The ice cream is then shipped to their various retail outlets in PEI and across the country.
On the day of my late afternoon March visit, the ice cream operation was not in production mode. However, their retail outlet was selling the delectable ice cream! Cows ice cream is served in their tasty signature waffle cones that are hand-made in each store. One bite and you know this is no ordinary ice cream cone. It is so good that it could almost be described as a specialized dessert crisp cookie in and of itself! The silky smooth ice cream holds its shape in the cone and does not melt too quickly like other brands made with less premium quality ingredients.
Single scoop (waffle cone included) is competitively priced at $3.75 + tax (at time of writing in March 2012) with other high-end ice creams.
The best way I can describe Cows ice cream is that it’s an experience unto itself, right down to the tip of the cone! For me, Cows ice cream is the benchmark against which all other ice creams get rated and I’ve found no other commercial brand to date that tops it. Just a word of caution, though, their ice cream is downright addictive!
Cows Creamery expanded its production line in 2006 when it started making cheddar cheese. Today, their cheese line includes three varieties: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (the strongest and most robust of the three); Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, and Cows Creamery Applewood Smoked 2 Year Old Cheddar.
Just as with their ice cream, Cows makes their cheese using milk that comes from small rural local dairy farms around PEI. Not only does this mean they are using fresh, quality ingredients but they are also supporting local dairy producers. The cheeses are made using the English method and, in fact, my tour guides told me their recipe has its roots in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. The cheeses are all-natural products made from unpasteurized milk with no color added. So, if your vision is of a bright orange cheese, you won’t find that at Cows. What you will find, though, is a natural-colored cheese with full-bodied authentic cheese flavour.
I must admit I have never been a fan of old cheese, preferring instead the much more subtle flavours offered by mild and, on occasion, medium cheeses. I was somewhat reluctant to try Cows cheese for the reason that other “old” cheese varieties I have tried in the past always tasted stale to me and had what I can only describe as a distasteful flavour. However, lesson learned – never be afraid to try new things and discover how accepting your palette might be to new and different tastes. Cows’ cheeses are indeed good. So good, in fact, the cheeses have already won several prestigious awards in Canada and the US. Manufactured at their Charlottetown Creamery, the 20-pound cheese wheels are shipped to distributors all over North America. Look, or ask for, Cows cheeses in local specialty cheese shops, farm markets, or grocery deli counters in your area. On PEI, Cows’ pre-packaged cheese can be found at local supermarkets, at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown and, of course, in the retail outlet of the Cows Creamery near Charlottetown, PEI.
I asked my tour guides what the primary intended uses of these cheeses would be since they only manufacture old cheese varieties – i.e., are they meant for snacking cheeses, cooking, etc. They suggested that the cheeses can simply be eaten on their own or used in salads, soups, casseroles, on burgers, or in grilled cheese sandwiches so these are very versatile products.
As per my usual practice when I visit a local producer, I like to take their product and use it in a recipe. I decided I’d put Cows cheeses to the real test and make “Mac ‘n Cheese” (recipe follows at end of this blog). The reason I chose Mac ‘n Cheese is because the pasta (a rather tasteless food item on its own) would not compete in taste with the cheese. This would allow the cheese to “star” without being masked by other strong flavours and I would find out if I liked Cows old cheddar. What I did was use 1 cup each of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. Well! Let’s just say, I can probably never be satisfied with Mac ‘n Cheese made with any other cheese in the future! The result was a rich, full-bodied cheese-flavoured Mac ‘n Cheese experience. As mentioned above, Cows cheeses are naturally colored which means they are a very pale neutral (yellowish) color so, if you are accustomed to seeing a rich orange-colored macaroni dish, this will not give you that. However, I think you’ll find the robust, true cheese flavour will more than make up for any lack of deep color.
In the summer of 2011, Cows introduced their newest product — butter sold in ½-pound packages and available unsalted or sea-salted. Just as with their ice cream and cheese products, their butter is of premium quality with 84% butter fat versus 80% found in regular butters. I have tried the sea-salted and it is one fine butter…particularly spread on fresh buttermilk biscuits straight out of the oven!
Cows Creamery Butter can be purchased on PEI at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown as well as at the Co-op on Walker Avenue. Off-Island, it can be found at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, NS, as well as in various stores in Ontario and in the Vancouver, BC, area.
In 1985, Cows introduced a whimsical line of clothing for their staff to wear. They soon discovered that customers wanted to buy the staff clothing! As a result, Cows began selling T-shirts and sweatshirts that bore images based on puns related to cows or farming. This line has expanded to include a whole line of souvenir items and clothing.
Cows’ logo and images are very unique and recognizable. In fact, a few years ago, I was strolling down a very crowded street in Freeport, ME, when I came upon a couple sporting Cows T-shirts – you can identify these T-shirts in a crowd anywhere!
Visitors arriving on PEI by air can expect to find, as they step into the terminal at the Charlottetown Airport, a large statue of a black and white shiny cow advertising “Cows” products. Particularly during peak tourism season, it is not uncommon to find people posing for photographs with the cow as the backdrop. This is probably the most photographed cow on PEI (or anywhere, for that matter)!
Cows opened their new creamery facility just outside Charlottetown in 2009. They offer tours that start with a video in their theatre room, followed by a stop by the T-shirt printing shop where you can watch the Cows images being transferred on to clothing. Your next stop on the tour will take you by the infamous ice cream making room where you can watch this delectable treat being made. From there, you’ll see the large wheels of cheese undergoing the aging process. The last stop on the tour would, no doubt, be a huge hit – the tasting room where you’ll sample the ice cream made on the premises. Tour prices (as of March 2012) are: Adults $6.00; Children $4.00; and Children Under 2 years of age are admitted free. The tours run May 15 – October 15 and are available off-season by appointment only.
PEI has no shortage of good quality locally-produced food products available. The great thing about Cows Creamery products (apart from their obvious high quality) is that they are produced right here on Prince Edward Island. As a home kitchen chef and food blogger, I have a lot of time and respect for companies, such as Cows, that use local products in their manufacturing and, in turn, support local producers. As anyone who knows me well will attest, I like to use the freshest ingredients possible and premium-quality products in my cooking and baking. It doesn’t get any fresher than buying from local producers and manufacturers.
My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese
By Barbara99 Published: March 21, 2012
Ready In:55 mins
A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheese
In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended.
Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings. Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with a fresh green salad and homemade biscuits.
So, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 has come and gone. A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all. We are all a wee bit Irish on March 17th, aren’t we – either Irish by heritage or Irish at heart!
My St. Patrick’s Day Menu this year consisted of Prince Edward Island Blue Mussels steamed in Guinness, herbs, and vegetables and served with Cows Creamery Sea-Salted butter, melted; Spirited Irish Stew served with Irish Soda Bread; Irish Cream Cheesecake; and Irish Coffee as an after-dinner drink in front of a cozy fireplace.
PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness
PEI cultivates great mussels. Local supermarkets sell them bulk by the pound which is good because I am the only one in the household that likes them. The key to steaming mussels is to use very little liquid and steam them just until their shells open. If you use too much liquid, it will dilute the flavour of the mussels and they will have a very bland taste. I have steamed these shellfish in water, beer, and in wine in the past. However, the Guinness I used yesterday, along with the vegetables and herbs, made the mussels a very rich and delightful treat. The mussels were infused with the Guinness and herbs but not so much that the seafood taste of these tasty morsels was lost.
So, for one serving, this is what I used:
2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped
½ tsp garlic purée
½ tsp. dried dillweed
1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter
Melt butter in saucepan and sauté ingredients 2-3 minutes, then add:
1 cup Guinness
Bring to a boil
Add 9-10 oz. PEI mussels (about 15).
Cover pot. Reduce heat to medium. Steam approximately 3-5 minutes or until shells are open. Using slotted spoon, remove mussels from liquid and transfer to plate, discarding any unopened shells. Serve with melted butter.
According to legend, traditional Irish Stew was made with cheap cuts of mutton or lamb and basic root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Years ago, these would have been ingredients that were, no doubt, simply what would have been available in Ireland where sheep were raised for their wool and for food and, before the potato famine, potatoes were a primary Irish crop.
Over the years, Irish Stew recipes have changed according to the locale and what was available in the cook’s local area. For example, beef is often used in North America today instead of lamb in Irish Stew and other ingredients are added to make a more flavourful, hearty stew as opposed to a broth-like dish. Purists might argue that these changes result in a new stew recipe altogether and is something entirely different than the original Irish Stew. Regardless what it is called, I like my version of a Spirited Irish Stew. It has a nice rich, robust flavour and a splendid reddish-brown color that comes from the addition of tomato paste. Using Guinness and red wine helps to tenderize the meat and also adds to the flavour of the stew. I don’t add huge amounts of either as the intent is not to “drown” the natural flavours of the beef and veggies but rather to blend and enhance flavours. The nice thing about Irish Stew (once you have all the veggies cut up) is that it is an all-encompassing meal with all the vegetables in one dish (no worries about getting different pots of vegetables all cooked at the same time and a real bonus of only having one pot to wash). It really needs nothing more than a slice of warm Irish Soda Bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and perhaps some homemade mustard pickles on the side.
I like to slow-cook this stew in the oven at 325ºF for a couple of hours as opposed to cooking it on the cooktop. I find oven-cooking allows the flavours to slowly blend and the stew to become nice and thick. Recipe follows at end of this blog posting.
Irish Soda Bread
Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread in which baking soda, and often baking powder, are used as the leavening agents as opposed to yeast. My research revealed that ingredients for a basic Irish Soda Bread would include flour (often both all-purpose and whole wheat), baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, and molasses. More elaborate breads might include raisins, currants, or nuts. I also learned that it was not uncommon for the soda bread to be cooked on a griddle although I am not sure how the bread would have gotten baked all the way through without first getting burned on the bottom!
Soda bread dough is not kneaded like yeast breads and, in fact, it is recommended that the dough not be handled any more than is necessary for the dough to stick together. In this respect, it is somewhat like tea biscuit dough except that it is a heavier, denser texture.
Some recipes suggest that Irish Soda Bread should be baked in a pan or casserole dish for a softer crust or, for a more crispy hide, baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet which is how I baked mine.
The Irish Soda Bread recipe I used comes from Tea Time Magazine. I found the bread was a good accompaniment for the Irish Stew but it is a dense, heavy bread and one that is probably best eaten fresh, warm from the oven, and on the day it is made.
Irish Cream Cheesecake
I figured if I was going Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well go all out and make a cheesecake that had Irish Cream Liquor in it. I have often relied on recipes from Company’s Coming Cookbooks because I find them quite reliable, not containing ingredients I either wouldn’t have in my pantry or be able to readily source locally, and the directions are presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format. That’s why I turned to Company’s Coming for the recipe for the Irish Cream Cheesecake. I didn’t want a large cheesecake so I halved the recipe and used a 7” springform pan.
I could not have been more pleased with the result. The cheesecake had a lovely smooth texture, not over-powered by the Irish Cream Liquor but yet with a pleasing taste. I served it simply with a dob of whipped cream, a drizzle of rich chocolate syrup, and a chocolate. A superb and fitting finish to my St. Patrick’s Day meal!
My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew
By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012
Yield: (5-7 Servings)
Cook:2 hrs 0 min
Ready In:2 hrs 30 mins
A rich hearty stew with beef, a variety of vegetables, and flavoured with Guinness and red wine
Chop stew meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces
Brown meat in 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
Place vegetables and meat in roaster.
In large bowl, combine sugar, herbs, garlic, tomato paste, beef consommé, Worcestershire Sauce, red wine, Guinness, and water. Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over vegetables in roaster. With large spoon, stir mixture to combine. Add bayleaf.
Cover roaster and place in pre-heated 325F oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until vegetables are fork-tender when tested.
Serve with Irish Soda Bread, rolls, or French Bread.
Growing up, pickled cabbage was often on the menu in winter at our house. Some might know this dish by its more sophisticated name of “sauerkraut.”
Making pickled cabbage was always a labour intensive (and messy) exercise. The cabbages had to be chopped into chunks, cores removed, then placed, layer by layer, with coarse salt into a large earthenware crock. Each layer would be tamped down with a stick that had a block on one end that was fitted with blades. This did two things. First, it chopped the cabbage up into bite-sized pieces and, second, it drew the water out of the cabbage which, when combined with the salt, made a pickling brine. As soon as juice from the salt and cabbage appeared, in went more cabbage and salt. This process continued until the crock was full. Then, a large plate was placed on the top of the cabbage and pressed down with a heavy weight (like a large brick or two). This squeezed the cabbage mixture and forced the water in the cabbage to be drawn out so the brine would form and then the fermentation process would start. The crock would be placed behind the wood stove in my grandmother’s kitchen. The heat would facilitate the fermentation process that would last several days. The “brew” would be checked every day to see if small bubbles appeared around the top of the crock which would signify that the mixture was “working” (fermenting).
After the fermentation period was completed, the cabbage would be frozen. To cook the cabbage, a piece of pork (with bone in) would be put in a large pot of water and a hefty amount of the pickled cabbage added. My grandmother would simmer this on her wood stove for probably a couple of hours or more because cabbage takes a long time to cook. The tantalizing smell of the pickled cabbage cooking would permeate throughout the house and whet the appetite on a cold, frosty winter day!
Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different commercial varieties of sauerkraut but none of them ever compared to the pure homemade variety of pickled cabbage I grew up with. I took the notion this winter to make a batch of my own pickled cabbage but that met with little enthusiasm around me. One day at my local supermarket, I happened to notice a brand of pickled cabbage (cum “sauerkraut”) that I had never seen before. Since I didn’t get much (read “any”) encouragement to make my own, I decided to try a package of Lewis Mountain Sauerkraut that was made in New Brunswick. I knew as soon as it started to cook that it smelled just like what I used to remember our homemade pickled cabbage smelling like!
It was tradition in my family to serve blue potatoes boiled in their jackets to accompany the pickled cabbage. I don’t know why blue potatoes but that was what “went with pickled cabbage” at home. I couldn’t find any “blues” so I served boiled red potatoes. I was so pleased with the Lewis Mountain pickled cabbage (they call it “sauerkraut”). It tasted just like what I grew up with. It’s an all natural product – no additives, no preservatives and I believe that’s what gives it its true, authentic flavour.
I know some serve sauerkraut with sausages and in a myriad of other ways. However, in my books, it is never better than when simply boiled as a vegetable flavoured with pork and served with boiled potatoes dressed with butter and seasoned with pepper. The cabbage does lose its color when pickled and then again when boiled so don’t look for it to have that ‘spring green’ color of fresh cabbage. However, the wonderful naturally pickled taste makes up for the loss of color. My guess is that, if you didn’t grow up with this as menu item, it is probably something that would require an acquired taste.
It’s hard to make an attractive plate with pickled cabbage served only with boiled potatoes. However, my goal was not to create a designer repas with this dish but rather to enjoy a traditional, plain, wholesome Maritime winter meal.
I’m thrilled to have found a Maritime producer that makes pickled cabbage that tastes just as I remember it as it gave me my pickled cabbage “fix” that I was craving this winter without me having to do all the work to make it!
(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!