Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese

After reliving the lovely memories associated with fresh yeast rolls, I want to share another special family recipe with you: Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese. My love of macaroni and cheese runs deep. After all of the amazing things I’ve eaten, I still feel like I can say it’s my favorite food.

In fact, I can remember many of the macaroni and cheeses I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. Apart from raiding the macaroni on the buffet at Quincy’s, I remember getting double helpings when my family visited K&W, a cafeteria style restaurant. I also fondly remember when I finally endeavored to make the blue box macaroni on my own as a child, and proceeded to eat most of it on my own as well. The delicious soul food macaroni and cheese at Charlotte’s historic restaurant, the Coffee Cup. The gourmet lobster macaroni and cheese at a restaurant in south Charlotte. The decadent, bready macaroni and cheese Mike’s mom makes. Perhaps I should write a poem on the subject: my life in macaroni.

Over the years, one recipe tops the list as my favorite macaroni and cheese. I guess you’d expect it to be a labor intensive recipe with numerous cheeses and a mile-long list of ingredients. But you know what’s funny? Sometimes the simplest things really are the best. This Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese (with optional sausages) takes all of 5 minutes to throw together, bakes for 45 minutes, and is truly outstanding. I’ve had people ask if I put ricotta in it because it’s so creamy, and I’ve had people request that I bring two pans of it to a party instead of just one. You’re going to love this recipe, just like my family has for years.


Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I often serve this as a main course with the optional breakfast sausages on top. You can serve it with big spinach salads. In one particularly fabulous meal, I just made a big pan of this macaroni and a big pan of homemade yeast rolls and Mike and I loaded up on carbs! It also goes wonderfully as a side dish, of course. Here are my serving suggestions in photograph form (can you tell we eat this a lot?):


One serving suggestion: big spinach salads with Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese (and some goodies in the background as a teaser — that post is coming soon!)


Another delicious way to eat Oven Baked Macaroni: with a big bowl of yeast rolls!



Last but not least, another carb indulgence: Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese acting as a side dish to our Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls (another great and easy recipe I’ll have to post soon!)



Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese


Recipe By: unknown
Yields: a large casserole dish; serves about 4.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups dry macaroni
4 cups milk
1 block sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or about 4 cups)
1 package breakfast sausage links or bulk sausage, cooked (optional)
salt and pepper
a sprinkle of fresh chopped chives (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large, rectangular pyrex dish with nonstick cooking spray. Put butter into dish and set it in the oven as it preheats. When butter is melted, take the dish out and add macaroni. Stir until macaroni is coated. Add milk, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir and make sure ingredients are evenly distributed. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes, stirring twice during baking. Place cooked breakfast sausages on top (and sprinkle a little extra cheese if desired) and heat in oven until hot. Sprinkle on fresh chopped chives if desired.


Ready for the oven!


Ready to eat!


As a bonus, will you just LOOK at my adorable cooking buddy’s sleeping position as I type this? I had to capture it with my grainy Photobooth since my camera is nowhere in sight. Isn’t she the cutest?!


Sleepy little Byrd helping Mom post recipes and dreaming of belly rubs!

Overnight Yeast Rolls

When I was little, my family enjoyed packing into the car and driving to Quincy’s Buffet. I don’t even know if Quincy’s exists anymore. Even if it does, it’s probably not the magical wonderland of food my childhood brain made it out to be. At any rate, I so loved making the pilgrimage to it back then. My memories from the all-you-can-eat buffet include ravaging the macaroni and cheese and visiting the soft-serve ice cream dispenser. I’d get a chocolate vanilla swirl cone with lots of random candy, sprinkles, nuts, and goo for good measure. But the most memorable part of Quincy’s — the part we all raved about before and after our visit — were the warm, fluffy yeasts rolls with honey butter smeared all over them.

Those are fond memories, but even Quincy’s yeast rolls were just a pale imitation of the light, soft, and buttery rolls my mother would make from scratch a few times a year. In the middle of the nights following Thanksgiving, I would creep out of my downstairs bedroom and warm up some leftover rolls with butter, turkey, and gravy tucked in each one. It might be easier to head to a restaurant, but you won’t regret spending a bit of time in the kitchen to make these homemade rolls. As a bonus, this same dough can be used to make phenomenal cinnamon rolls, as my mother does each Christmas morning.


Overnight Yeast Rolls

My rolls in the pictures below are a bit darker than normal because, for this batch, I used part wheat flour in an attempt to make these healthier. While they’re good either way, I’ll stick with all-purpose flour all the way next time around. No reason to mess with a good thing!

Overnight Yeast Rolls


Recipe By: Clyta Lundsford
Yields: Makes a big, rectangular pan and a half

Ingredients:

2 packages yeast
2 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

Soften yeast in water. Add sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 4 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Let sit 1 minute, then add rest of flour and mix well. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, pinch off dough and form into rolls and cover with a towel. Let rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size) in a warm place, such as on top of the preheating oven. Then bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Let the tops get a little browner than you think they should to ensure the rolls aren’t doughy in the middle. Brush the tops butter when the rolls are done to soften. Can use 5 cups white flour and 3 cups wheat flour for a slightly healthier, slightly less delicious version.


Dough rising in the refrigerator.


Rolls rising on top of the oven.

Recipe Index and Posh Pilfer

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this brief announcement: I added a recipe index to the site for easier navigation. I always have different motives when visiting a food blog. Sometimes I just want to peruse the updates and see what’s new, but sometimes I’m looking for a specific recipe. The index will hopefully make Willow Bird Baking more useful for folks who want to find a recipe quickly.

Also, while this isn’t cooking related (at first, I typed “cookie related,” so you can see where my mind is), it is craft and style related, and I’m sure many of you are interested in that as well. My mom has opened her new shop on Etsy: Posh Pilfer. She has hand-sewn and hand-crafted, quality offerings for kids, babies, pets, and family. My personal favorite is the dog kerchief that threads onto your dog’s collar to stay in place. Byrd loves hers, as you can tell; she even got to model for some of the shop’s photos. Please hop on over to Posh Pilfer and take a look!


Byrd lounging in her Posh Pilfer kerchief


Cheddar Chive and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting

This is one of those recipes that you should go make right now! It’s that delectable. It all started so innocently . . .

Well, not really! It all started with my love of cupfakery and my desire to create a delicious savory cupcake. I knew I wanted to use a creamy avocado frosting, and I just had to think of some complementary ingredients. It struck me that a cheddar bacon biscuit (one step up from a simple cheddar biscuit, and we all know that those are already delicious) would be perfect. And, hey, how about throwing in some chives? Some caramelized onions? Oh, yeah!


Cheddar Chive Bacon Cupcakes with Avocado Frosting


The base recipe here is for cheddar biscuits similar to those you find at Jim N’ Nicks, a barbecue chain. The recipe produces a savory muffin with some sweetness to it. If you don’t like jam on your biscuits or sugar in your cornbread, you might not be too fond of this base recipe. Feel free to cut down on the sugar or try a different cheddar biscuit base (Red Lobster’s recipe is delicious, but I’m not sure how it’ll work in the muffin pan) to mix your bacon, chives, and onions into.

The avocado is the perfect cool-down topping for the bold flavors of the biscuit. And really, apart from the delicious taste, I get a strange joy just from prepping an avocado.

the flesh of an avocado with no deep,
dense core (a knife
snapped into the orb,
which bleeds an orange pulp. the twist,
a clean break).
the flush from gentle lime to olive
to brown in reminiscence —

taking on the appearance of what you’ve lost,
like shrugging on a blue shirt . . .

The process of extracting the soft flesh from an avocado is peaceful and satisfying. If this is the first time you’ve worked with an avocado, here’s a nice tutorial. When you’re picking them up from the grocery, pick the darker fruits that are a little soft. These are ripe and ready to be mashed. And if you’re not an avocado fan, please do make the cupfakes without them; they’re delicious with or without their “frosting.”

Enjoy the delicious bacon smell in your kitchen after making these cupfakes, and don’t forget to save your bacon grease for flavoring other dishes later on. Mike and I enjoyed eating the cupfakes with dinner, just as you would eat regular dinner rolls or biscuits. Only these are tastier!



Cheddar Chive and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting


Recipe By:

-Jim N’ Nicks (cheddar biscuits, tweaked)
-Me, with various internet inspiration (avocado frosting)

Yields: 15-17 cupfakes

Cupfake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 – 1 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
5 strips bacon, cooked and chopped, divided
1/2 sweet onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh chives, chopped finely
2 tablespoons olive oil

Avocado Frosting Ingredients:
4 ripe avocados
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cupfakes: Cook bacon on stovetop or in oven. I bake on a foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and drain on paper towels. Crumble 4 strips into small bits, leaving one strip whole for garnish.

In the meantime, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until caramelized, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, cheese, milk, egg, butter, baking powder, vanilla, chives, caramelized onion, and bacon bits. Pour into a greased (or paper-lined) muffin pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes in pan, and then transfer to a cooling rack. Frost only when completely cool.

Avocado Frosting: Mash avocado flesh well in bowl with the back of a spoon or fork. I processed mine in a food processor to ensure extra smoothness. Add in lemon juice and cream cheese, and mix until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. Frost cupcakes with a big star tip (I use 1M). Garnish with pieces of bacon.

NOTE on storage: Store cupcakes in airtight container in fridge when frosted. Place avocado pits in container along with cupcakes to discourage browning (but don’t fret if the frosting browns — it’s just oxidized, and still quite edible and yummy). You may even want to half the recipe if you’re just making these for your family, since they almost certainly won’t maintain they’re beautiful green overnight. For taking them to coworkers or friends, I would make the cupcakes ahead of time and frost immediately before the event.


Here are some photos of the process:


Bacon in the oven.



Caramelized onions, bacon, and chives.



Fresh from the oven.



Some very green frosting!



All frosted!



Enjoy!

Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls

Bakerella always has something beautiful, creative, or adorable up on her blog. I was hunting around in April for something to make Mike for his birthday. I knew Bakerella would have a fantastic idea, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, these are my absolute favorite baking achievement to date. Have I piqued your interest? Okay, okay! See this perfect little parcel? Want to see what’s inside?





Peekaboo! Chocolate chickie cake balls!

These little chickies are actually delicious chocolate cake and frosting rolled into a perfectly sized morsel, coated with chocolate, and decorated. Now the chocolate cake I used to make these isn’t just any old cake. It’s my favorite cake ever, and has been since I was a little girl. The ingredients come together to form something more spectacular than the sum of their parts. The cake is supremely moist, gooey, chocolatey, and fantastic. The really wondrous part is that it’s quite easy — so easy that I made it myself as a child. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of creating the chicks, definitely do try the cake and frosting.

But oh, the chicks are fun! Mike loved them, and a friend said she didn’t know whether to eat them or photograph them! I warn you that with the chocolate cake and coating, they are quite rich, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, consider using a white cake. Also, if you want the same cute effect with less trouble, these cake balls work just fine with box cake mixes and store bought frosting. Enjoy!




Yikes! (All kinds of fun can be had with edible markers)

Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls


Recipe By:

Bakerella (cake balls)
-Linda Houts (cake and frosting)

Yields: about 50 cake balls

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
dash salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup wesson oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6-8 tablespoons sweet milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 lb. confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Extra items needed to make cake balls:
Yellow Candy Melts
Black Edible Ink Pen
Paramount Crystals / Shortening (to thin candy melts if needed)
Rainbow Candy Coated Chips
Pastel Wild Flower Sprinkles

Directions:

Make the cake: Mix first 4 ingredients together and set aside. Mix next 4 ingredients in pan and bring to boil, then pour over first mixture. Stir well, then add remaining ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees in a greased sheet cake pan, for 15-25 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). NOTE: If you’re not planning to make the cake balls, but just want a frosted sheet cake, make the frosting immediately and pour over warm cake.

Make the frosting: Mix butter, cocoa, sweet milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat add confectioner’s sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Spread over warm cake OR, to use for cake balls, see below.

Make the cake balls:
1. After cake is cooked still slightly warm, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with 2-2.5 cups of warm frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper, but I like to hand roll them.)
4. Chill for several hours / overnight.
5. Melt chocolate (or candy coating) in microwave per directions on package.
6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm.


Little soldiers, ready to be dipped!



Dipping in progress!

Decorate the chickies:
1. Once the round yellow candy covered cake pops are dry, use a toothpick to dip into the melted candy coating. Dab a little dot of the coating where you want the beak to go. Then, just take one of the orange rainbow chips and attach it to the pop. It works like glue.
2. For the feet and wings, use the same technique to glue on the other sprinkle shapes.
3. Use the edible ink pen to draw the eyes.


Waiting for eyes.



We can see!

NOTES: I refrigerated my cake balls a bit too long before dipping, I think. I made them one morning and refrigerated them until the next. They cracked and seeped a bit when dipped, indicating that EITHER they were too cold OR this cake/frosting combo has too much butter, perhaps? I’ve had better luck making the cake balls at night, refrigerating, and dipping the next morning.

I used Wilton’s yellow candy coating and didn’t love it. I had to thin it with shortening several times. Next time I’m going to use Candyquik (I really liked it last time) and buy some oil-based food coloring to tint it (note that you cannot use water or water-based food coloring, because it will cause the candy coating to seize!)

I had to double-dip my chickies for full coverage. I held each cake ball on a bamboo skewer and dipped/spooned the candy coating over it. To prevent the cake ball from having a huge “foot” from puddling coating, you have to let the excess drip off for quite awhile before wiggling it off the skewer onto the wax paper. Happy Dipping!

By the way, these are one of the many baked goods that I think taste LOADS better after being refrigerated in an airtight container! They were delicious the day we made them, but something about sticking them in the fridge made them extra wonderful!


All together now, with some star-shaped birthday candles!

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