Monthly Archives

December 2016

book review, recipe

Making Arrangements + Caramel Cake

Expecting to die from cancer, Lang does her best to make sure her husband survives without her. She leaves notes for important moments and even prepares dessert for his next birthday. When he unexpectedly dies before she does, her life is turned upside down. In Ferris Robinson’s novel Making Arrangements, Lang has to learn how to cope when life doesn’t go exactly as she planned.

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While the story itself is an important reminder to expect the unexpected, I found most of the characters to be quite unlikeable. Even Lang herself was weak and self-defeating for most of the novel, probably due to her son Teddy’s and late husband’s attempts to keep her in the dark and stifle any ounce of gumption she may have once had. It was refreshing when she gave in to her impulses, finally forging new relationships and learning to be self-sufficient.

Baking comes effortlessly to Lang. Skilled at making cakes, it’s important to her to provide her husband with a birthday cake even after she’s gone. She lovingly makes and then freezes his favorite, a caramel cake, so it will be waiting for him.

The theme of this book makes it an appropriate read for the end of the year; likewise, this caramel cake seemed to be a perfect treat to bring along to a holiday party or New Year’s celebration. Ferris Robinson provided me with a copy of her recipe for Decadent Deep South Caramel Cake (along with a copy of the book), so I set to work making what I hoped would turn out to be a decent imitation of Lang’s own masterpiece.

I preheated the oven first, greased and floured the cake pans, and assembled all of my cake ingredients. (I also got out the 2 sticks of butter for the icing so that it would be easier to use when I was ready later.) In a large bowl, I combined the plain white cake mix, whole milk, 3 eggs, vanilla extract and another stick of butter, melted. Once blended, I used an electric mixer on medium for 2 minutes.

I split the cake batter evenly between my two cake pans and set them in the 350-degree oven for 27 minutes.

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After they were finished, I put them on a cooling rack in the pans for 10 minutes and then inverted onto the racks so that they could continue to cool.

While they fully cooled, I worked on the caramel icing. In a non-stick saucepan, I melted 2 sticks of butter and stirred in 1 pound of brown sugar and ¼ teaspoon of salt, until the sugar dissolved. I added in the evaporated milk and stirred until it was fully incorporated. This mixture came up to a boil and I left it boil softly for about 4 minutes. (At one point, my boil got a little out of control, but I just turned down the heat and kept stirring until it became a little less vigorous. Just go with it – caramel can sometimes be a little intimidating but it doesn’t have to be difficult.)

I took the saucepan with the caramel mixture off the heat to allow it to cool. I used this time to sift my powdered sugar and even out the tops of the cooled cakes. I also began boiling some water in a smaller saucepan to use for my double-boiler. After cooling for about 7 minutes, I added the caramel mixture to my bowl of powdered sugar and vanilla, using the electric mixer to thoroughly combine the icing.

My bottom layer of cake on a plate, I spread a thick layer of caramel icing along the top. Once it was well-coated, I placed the second cake on top of it and poured the icing on it, allowing it to spill off the edges and coat the sides. I’m not great at cake-decorating or evenly icing cakes, so given the consistency of the frosting I thought this would be the best way. If you use this method, be careful that the icing doesn’t spill over the sides of the plate (or that you have something in place to catch the overflow). It did provide even coverage, but it made a bit of a mess. Sadly, my presentation wasn’t as great as it could’ve been, but I was hoping the taste would make up for it.

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The good news is, it absolutely did. The cake was delicious, very moist and airy. The caramel icing had great flavor and once set, it provided a nice thick and slightly hard coating on the cake. A decadent cake for sure, one that is worth making for any special occasion.

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Decadent Deep South Caramel Cake

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Print

Provided directly by Ferris Robinson. The recipe and an excerpt of the novel are also available in the free e-cookbook KP Authors Cook Their Books.

Ingredients

    Cake
  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix [Note: A 16.25 ounce package was the largest I was able to find in the store; I used it and had no problems.]
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (not imitation)
  • Lang’s Famous Decadent Caramel Icing

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 (16 oz.) box of light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup evaporated milk (canned)
  • 2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then dust with flour.
  3. Blend cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. When blended, beat on medium speed for about two minutes.
  4. Pour batter into greased cake pans and bake until they are golden brown and spring back when lightly to touch, about 27 to 29 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before inverting onto plate. Make sure they are completely cool before icing.
  5. While the cakes cool, prepare the Decadent Caramel Icing. Heat butter, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan, stirring until the brown sugar dissolves. Add milk and stir until blended. Bring to slow boil for about four minutes, stirring constantly. Let hot mixture cool for several minutes.
  6. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix with electric mixer until lighter in color and caramelized. Ice that cake! Work quickly, while the frosting is still warm because it will set up. If the frosting gets too hard to work with, place it over low heat for a minute, stirring constantly. [I mixed in the sugar and vanilla in a homemade double-boiler (glass bowl over gently boiling saucepan) and this helped to prevent it setting up.]

Cake can be stored covered in plastic wrap or aluminum foil at room temperature for up to 1 week, or it can be frozen, wrapped in saran and foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw the cake overnight before serving.

The icing recipe made significantly more icing than I needed. If you wanted to make an additional cake layer, so that it has 3 instead of 2, you would still likely have enough without altering the above icing recipe.

I hope everyone has a safe New Year’s celebration! Looking forward to seeing you all again in 2017!

* This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

book review, recipe

The Thornbirds + Shepherd’s Pie

My parents watched The Thornbirds miniseries in 1983. My name is Megan, the same as the main character – it also happened to be the 10th most popular name in 1985, just before I was born. Not a coincidence. Thankfully, they watched the show and didn’t read the book, in which her name is spelled Meghann. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this book, my namesake, for years. I finally did.

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For anyone who has seen the miniseries, The Thornbirds book (written by Colleen McCullough six years prior in 1977) is pretty similar. It tells the story of the Cleary family as they move to Drogheda, a sheep station in Australia, and live there through the years. Meghann, usually called Meggie, is the only daughter in a family of 8 brothers.

Already a regular Drogheda visitor when the family first arrives, the local priest Ralph befriends them but takes a special interest in Meggie. Her mother pays her little notice, preferring her sons, so he makes it a point to see that she doesn’t lack for attention and is given the opportunity for a good education and taught to ride a horse. As Meggie grows older, their familiarity breeds stronger feelings.

In a cruel turn of events, Ralph must make a choice that is really no choice at all for the devout priest. The family’s future is forever changed, but Drogheda remains a part of all of their lives no matter what. To honor their massive homestead, I decided to make shepherd’s pie. I found a recipe from Alton Brown and went to work.  

First, I chopped my onion and carrots, taking care to make them roughly equal in size. Then, I peeled and cut up my potatoes, putting them into a saucepan of water as I did so. I put them on stove, covered to bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and began on the meat filling. I cooked the onions and carrots for about 4 minutes, added the garlic, and then added the lamb. I seasoned with salt and pepper. Once that was cooked through, I added all of the remaining ingredients – tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, thyme and chicken broth.

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While the sauce thickened, I mashed the potatoes with the half and half, butter, salt and pepper. I separated an egg and stirred in the yolk.  Then, I added the peas and corn (both frozen) to the filling. It went into a glass baking dish and I did my best to smooth the mashed potatoes over the top.

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It baked for about a half hour and smelled delicious the entire time. It was torture waiting for it to cool before we could enjoy it.

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Shepherd’s Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

From: Alton Brown, Food Network

Ingredients

    For the potatoes:
  • 1½ pounds russet potatoes
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • For the meat filling:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ pounds ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen English peas

Directions

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well combined.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
  4. Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

book review, recipe

The House of the Spirits + Beef Empanadas

Almost all books can open your eyes to new experiences – whether it be new cultures, new points of view, or just something you didn’t know before. The same book can have different meaning from person to person, and it can have a different meaning from reading to reading. I don’t love everything I read, but I do appreciate the opportunity I have to come away with a new knowledge of the world, be it big or small.

The House of the Spirits, a selection for one of my book clubs, was one such book. By Isabel Allende, and originally written in Spanish, it is the story of strong Chilean women, spanning three generations. I don’t have a strong opinion about it either way, but in the end, I’m glad I read it.

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It was not the easiest book for me to get into, and if I hadn’t been on vacation with a limited selection of reading material, I might have put it down and called it a day. As captivating as these three women were, the common thread throughout all of their narratives was Esteban, a really rather unlikeable character, who outlived all of them.

With elements of magical realism, like many Latin American stories, we follow Clara the Clairvoyant, her daughter Blanca and her granddaughter Alba as they live in Esteban’s orbit. For all of the beautiful writing and the expansive time covered, it feels as though the story slags on, with so little happening in any given chapter. Until the end, when Alba – the joy of Esteban’s life and who feels like the most important character – takes revolutionary steps that not only change her family forever but her country too.

It is in this part of the book, while stuck in the house during a curfew, that the maids decide to make empanadas as a way of entertaining themselves. I have always loved empanadas and thought making them on a very snowy day in Detroit would be a great way to entertain myself too!

I found a recipe from The New York Times for beef empanadas and went to work. In an attempt to save time, I used refrigerated dough, as suggested by a different recipe. Looking back, I wish I’d made the dough included in the original recipe (I’ll include it below). If you do decide to use refrigerated dough, you will probably need 2 packages, or 4 total pie crusts.

Since my dough was already made, I started with the filling. I used ground beef and ground chorizo, because I already had them on hand – I think they work just as well. I chopped the onion and set the beef to cooking on the stovetop.

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While the beef browned, I peeled and diced my potatoes. Once the beef was nearly cooked through, I added the onion and the chorizo to the pan, allowing them to cook for about 10 minutes. Then I added the potatoes, garlic and spices, seasoning with salt and pepper.

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After a few more minutes, I added the tomato paste, paprika, cayenne pepper (about an ⅛ teaspoon) and a cup of water. It began simmering and I let it all cook together for another 10 minutes.

While that cooked, I also chopped my scallions and made two hard-boiled eggs. Once the filling was finished, I put it in a bowl to cool and added the sliced scallions.

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I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and started making the dough rounds. Unrolling the dough was surprisingly difficult, but it did add this bright spot to my cooking.

I got about 15 total rounds out of my two sheets of dough, only enough to use half the filling. (The rest of the meat and potato mixture made a great addition to breakfast burritos as well as a quick dinner of tacos.) On each round, I added about 1 tablespoon of the meat filling, a sprinkle of chopped hard-boiled eggs, and a sprinkle of finely chopped green olives. Using more filling made them difficult to close.

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I brushed them with some melted butter and put them in the oven on a parchment lined baking sheet for 15 minutes. They didn’t come out quite as golden as they might have if I’d made my own dough, but they still tasted delicious.

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Beef Empanadas

  • Servings: makes 30-36
  • Print


From: The New York Times Cooking Section

Ingredients

    Dough Ingredients

  • 4 oz lard or butter, plus more for brushing tops
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 750 grams all-purpose flour, about 6 cups, more as needed
  • Filling Ingredients

  • 1 pound beef chuck, in 1/8-inch dice (or very coarsely ground)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lard or olive oil, or a combination, for sautéing
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 ounces diced chorizo (or ground)
  • ½ pound potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped marjoram or 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon pimentón dulce or paprika
  • Large pinch cayenne
  • Beef or chicken broth, as necessary, or use water
  • ½ cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • ¼ cup chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

Directions

  1. Make the dough: Put 2 cups boiling water, 4 ounces lard and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large mixing bowl. Stir to melt lard and dissolve salt. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Gradually stir in flour with a wooden spoon until dough comes together. Knead for a minute or two on a floured board, until firm and smooth. Add more flour if sticky. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Make the filling: Season chopped beef generously with salt and pepper and set aside for 10 minutes. Melt 3 tablespoons lard in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and fry until nicely browned, stirring throughout to keep pieces separate, about 5 minutes.
  4. Turn heat down to medium and add onion and chorizo. Keep turning mixture with a spatula, as if cooking hash, until onion is softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, garlic, thyme and marjoram and stir well to incorporate. (Add a little more fat to pan if mixture seems dry.) Season again with salt and pepper and let mixture fry for 2 more minutes. Stir in tomato paste, pimentón and cayenne, then a cup of broth or water. Turn heat to simmer, stirring well to incorporate any caramelized bits.
  5. Cook for about 10 more minutes, until both meat and potatoes are tender and the sauce just coats them — juicy but not saucy is what you want. Taste and adjust seasoning for full flavor (intensity will diminish upon cooling). Stir in scallions and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  6. Divide chilled dough into 1-ounce pieces and form into 2-inch diameter balls. Roll each piece into a 4 1/2-inch circle. Lay circles on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.
  7. Moisten outer edge of each round with water. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each round, adding a little chopped green olive and some hard-cooked egg to each. Wrap dough around filling to form empanada, pressing edges together. Fold edge back and finish by pinching little pleats or crimping with a fork.
  8. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place empanadas on parchment-lined or oiled baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush tops lightly with lard or butter and bake on top shelf of oven until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

of interest

KP Authors Cook Their Books

I’m excited to announce that one of my blog recipes is featured in a new e-cookbook! Even better news – it’s free! This cookbook is a compilation of recipes chosen/created by authors to go along with their latest books from Kindle Press. Jim Nelson, author of one of my favorite books this year – Bridge Daughter, kindly asked if he could use my recipe for Zucchini Pancakes for his entry. And look, it’s right there:

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If you have a Kindle, check out the link here to download the latest version of KP Authors Cook Their Books.

of interest, recipe

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life + Mac and Cheese in a Jalapeno-Chipotle Cream Sauce

I have been wanting to talk about Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life since I watched the long-awaited last four words two weeks ago. Even though I started it a little late because of my trip, I still finished it before most of my friends. [SPOILER ALERT: Scroll down to the recipe if you’d like to avoid potential spoilers for any/all of the four new episodes.]

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Photo Credit: E-Online

I have to admit, like many, I was a little disappointed in the Netflix revival. It was certainly enjoyable to see the familiar faces around Stars Hollow and revisit the beloved characters. There were peaks where they seemed to really have their rhythm back (gotta love those fast talkers) and poignant moments that captured the essence of the show, but for me, those were few and far between.

I didn’t hate the final season or the final episode; in fact, I liked it quite a lot, and the series finale can make me tear up to this day. It was definitely a shame that it couldn’t be written and directed by the wonderful Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Dan, but I have to say, after hearing those last four words, I am beyond glad that Rory didn’t find out she was pregnant at the age of 22, just as she graduated Yale to conquer the world (which obviously she didn’t…).

In the context of these 4 episodes and the “circle of life” and all that, fine, I buy it and I’m okay with it. That doesn’t mean I wanted that future for Rory (and definitely not at 22). I don’t even think that she wanted it for herself. While it did not lack for nostalgia, the revival lost a lot of its small town feel and its charm, but what it really seemed to lose the feel of its most important characters – the Gilmore girls.

As Lorelai didn’t get the kids’ food she was expecting when a pregnant Sookie made mac ‘n cheese for their first foray into catering, I don’t think we exactly got what we were hoping for with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Still, it was good in its way. So, the recipe that seemed most fitting for this post (and the one Deanna and I were most excited to try) was the Macaroni & Cheese in a Jalapeno-Chipotle Cream Sauce.

First, we began preheating the oven to 350 degrees and put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

I deseeded and coarsely chopped the jalapenos, cut the ends off of the garlic cloves, and cut 2 chipotle peppers into a few large pieces. I cooked the jalapeno peppers and the garlic with some olive oil in a large skillet until softened and then added the chipotle peppers. Fair warning: don’t forget to ventilate. If you can open a window or turn on an exhaust fan, it would be a good idea to do that before cooking the peppers. Deanna’s little apartment was so full of intense pepper fumes that we had a little trouble breathing for a while.

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Once the water was boiling, we salted it like the sea and added the noodles to cook. We chose cavatappi, but feel free to use whichever noodles you prefer – the original recipe called for farfalle.

We tossed the whole mixture into the food processor to make a smooth sauce. My food processor is pretty big, so I’m not sure if that’s why we had trouble getting them to come together, but if you have the same problem, I suggest adding some milk to the mixture a little bit at a time until it becomes smoother.

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We tossed the finished noodles in the pepper sauce so that they were evenly coated and began working on the cream sauce.

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We used 6 tablespoons each of melted butter and flour to create a roux. Then, we added 4 cups of whole milk and stirred until it thickened. At that point, in went the cheese and 2 teaspoons of salt, which we stirred until it was melted and combined.

Next, we poured the whole pot of deliciousness over the pepper-coated noodles and stirred until it was all covered.

We put the foil-covered dish in the oven and let it bake for 20 minutes, then removed the foil and let it bake for another 10 minutes. It was hard to not dive right in immediately, but even after waiting 15 minutes, it burned my mouth. Look at the ooey-gooey-ness. Yum!

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That’s a wrap on Gilmore Week! Thanks for sticking with me, and if you enjoyed the recipes, I suggest you pick up a copy of the cookbook, pop in some of your favorite episodes and whip up something delicious to eat while you watch.

Macaroni & Cheese in a Jalapeno-Chipotle Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • Butter, for preparing pan
  • 1 lb cavatappi pasta [original recipe recommends farfalle]
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 3 large jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 2 TBS chipotle peppers, coarsely chopped [I used 2 of the canned peppers in adobo]
  • 6 TBS butter
  • 6 TBS flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large pot, two-thirds full of water, bring it to boil over high heat. Salt generously. Add pasta and stir. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until pasta is al dente on the edges but still uncooked in the middle. [Use directions on box as a guide, especially if using a different kind of pasta. The cavatappi took about 9 minutes.] Strain and pour into a buttered 9×13 baking pan.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil, jalapenos and garlic in medium pan over high medium-high heat. [It definitely helps to ventilate your kitchen! Turn on an exhaust fan if you have one.] Stir frequently to ensure peppers are evenly coated with oil.
  4. Once the peppers are lightly browned on the edges and the garlic turns golden brown, add chipotle peppers. Cook for 30 seconds, then remove from heat.
  5. Add entire pepper mixture to blender or food processor. Use the stir or chop setting until mixture turns into a smooth sauce without lumps. [If you have trouble achieving a smooth texture, add milk about 1 TBS at a time and pulse until the sauce becomes smoother.]
  6. Once the pasta is ready, pour the pepper sauce on top, stirring gently until evenly distributed.
  7. To make the cream sauce, use a medium saucepan to melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir until a grainy, yellowish paste is created.
  8. Add milk to the roux and stir constantly for several minutes until the sauce noticeably begins to thicken. Add cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt.
  9. Pour the cream sauce onto the pasta-peppers mixture and stir gently until it is evenly distributed.
  10. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  11. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serve.

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