- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Empty nesters are stereotyped as people who’ve given up cooking. You’ve probably heard the joke.

Question: “What are you making for dinner?”

Answer: “Reservations.”

But that’s not the case. Several reports, albeit from food companies or associations that have a vested interest in home cooking, say otherwise.

About 80 percent of empty nesters like to experiment with new meals and dishes their children shunned, according to a recent Pillsbury market research survey.

The same survey says about 70 percent of empty nesters enjoy connecting with their partners while cooking together or over meals.

If your days of vegetables mixed in meat are over, you probably share these sentiments. Now’s the time when you can relish your culinary freedom.

Bring on the spices, herbs, chilies and chutneys. Open a bottle of wine, set out a wedge of cheese and linger over dinner preparations with your spouse.

If you still experience an occasional nostalgic twinge, don’t worry. That’s to be expected.

Maybe you’re thinking fondly of hot dogs or perhaps you get misty when you look at the blue box of macaroni and cheese mix in the supermarket. You can revisit those dishes that were so long a part of the menu, but this time around, you can enjoy adult versions. For example, indulge in gourmet sausages with sun-dried tomatoes and herbs instead of the typical scrawny frankfurter.

To replace the package of macaroni and cheese, make a savory pasta dish using Stilton, Fontina and Parmesan cheeses.

Don’t worry if your macaroni and cheese looks different from what you’re used to. You’ll quickly become accustomed to food that isn’t bright orange in color.

Adults-only macaroni and cheese

Salt

1½ cups conchiglie (shell-shaped pasta) or macaroni

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1½ tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ cup half-and-half, heated

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk, heated

2 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about ½ cup)

2 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded (about ½ cup)

Freshly ground pepper

Salt, if desired

3 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Stir in pasta and stir again. Return to a rolling boil and cook until tender, about 13 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in medium pot. Stir in flour to form a smooth mixture. Stir in mustard.

Gradually stir in half-and-half and milk. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes or until milk mixture is slightly thickened.

Gradually stir in Stilton cheese, then Fontina cheese until both are melted and mixture is smooth and thick. Season to taste with pepper. Add salt, if desired. Stir in cooked pasta.

Spoon mixture into 2 well-greased 2-cup baking dishes. Combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over pasta.

Brown in preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

Snow peas and mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

2 cups snow peas

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Pepper, to taste

Heat oil in 12-inch skillet. Add garlic and peas, and saute 3 minutes over medium-high heat, or until glossy and bright green.

Add mushrooms and soy sauce. Cook 3 more minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Season to taste with pepper.

Makes 2 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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