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thank you, inventor of the cheese.

So, here’s a funny/scary warning to you: after roasting cornish hen, baking mac and cheese and pumpkin pie in your oven, be sure to clean out the bottom of the oven! You may have a conflagration of near-disastrous proportions when you attempt to use said oven to reheat frozen hot wings for the Pacquaio-de la Hoya fight party you’re hosting the next week.

Ahem.

Where was I? Oh yes, recapping our Thanksgiving dinner. It was delightful, and small, and just right for me, Mr. E, and our friend Y who came to toss the salad join the festivities. Visual documentation of the Yum:

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Our menu was: carmelized carrots, mashed potatoes,  three-cheese mac and cheese, macque choux corn, cornish hen, and wild rice-almond-something else-I-forgot stuffing.

Also:

Spinach-walnut-cranberry-goat cheese salad from Trader Joe’s, lovingly tossed by Y

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Cranberry jelly from a can (truly tragic, but necessary)

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And a fantastic cream cheese pumpkin pie (recipe from Cooks.com)

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All delicious, of course, but the piece de la resistance for me was the mac and cheese, a staple for all holidays and any other time I want to pack on the calories. (Did I mention I”m lactose-intolerant, too? Fun times!) I got this recipe from my Man of Honor, N., but I think I’ve modified it for the better- though I’m sure he’d disagree. Meat eaters know cheese better than former vegans, is all I’m gonna say about that.

Here’s the recipe, more or less (I’m terrible at calculating quantities for recipes I do on the fly).

WordsandSteel’s Killer Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2- 2 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 1/2-2 Tbs. Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbs. Flour
  • 1 package medium shells or macaroni
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you’re vegetarian)
  • 2/3-1 cup milk (I use 2% at least, if not whole milk)
  • Herbs de provence, or thyme, rosemary, sage
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • bay leaf
  • Panko or regular bread crumbs
  • 3 blocks of cheese: I always use smoked gouda and gruyere, then throw in a third based on what’s available at the market; preferably something a bit sharp and salty, usually a raw cow’s milk cheese or cheddar-like cheese. Have used Asiago, Deux de Montagnes, Appleby’s Cheshire, and Irish Cheddar before to good effect. Pick something that interests you! As for quantities… each block is around .25lbs or less. So, if the cheese is valued at $18/lb, let’s say, I’ll pick up a block that’s about $4-6. You’ll have leftovers, but you can serve them as a cheese plate too.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F
  2. Boil water and cook pasta until al dente. Drain well and portion into two 8×8 pans/casseroles
  3. Grate three cheeses into bowl and set aside. This is the most time consuming part! Use the largest setting on your grater. I use about 2/3 of the gouda and gruyere blocks, and about 1/2 of the third cheese block, depending on how strong its flavor is. You want to end up with about 2- 2 1/2 cups of grated cheese.
  4. heat large saucepan on medium heat; melt butter into oil. When melted, add flour and stir to make a roux
  5. Pour milk in slowly and warm, do not boil! Add bay leaf. Pour in stock and stir to incorporate. Stir occasionally until the liquids thicken from roux, approximately 5 minutes; do not boil.
  6. Stir in grated cheese blend, until all cheese is melted. At this point, you should have a thick, nearly-smooth mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Add herbs to taste just before you remove from heat.
  7. Remove bay leaf. Pour cheese mixture over macaroni in pans. Combine well. Sprinkle with panko or other bread crumbs if desired.
  8. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 5-10 minutes until panko browns.
  9. Enjoy!

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To A New Year of Good Eating!

Happy New Year, lovelies! I’m hoping you’ve all had a relaxing holiday full of good food, love from family and friends, and some new kitchen toys to play with. I know I have, what with our wedding, Christmas, and blissful New Year’s mini-honeymoon retreat in Palm Springs. There’s still so much I want to share with you, so I want to start the year off right by telling you about our Christmas dinner, E’s and my first as a married couple.

A bit sick after the wedding and just returned from New Orleans, our original plan for making a complicated lamb roast and its requisite side dishes fell by the wayside. Instead, I went back to a familiar, well-loved recipe for beef stew that is easy, beautiful, and just downright delicious. Well worth the wait, too– our late-night Christmas dinner was the best I’ve had in recent memory.

Now, I can’t claim this recipe as wholly my own– it’s heavily based on a Jacques Pepin recipe originally published in the December 2004 issue of Food and Wine. Here is my modified version- may it bring you years of gluttinous enjoyment, as it has me and the mister.

stew

Flatiron Beef Stew with Belgian Pale Ale

Ingredients:
2 tbs. butter (pref. unsalted)
2 tbs. olive oil
2 lbs flatiron steaks, cut into thick strips
1 large onion, thickly chopped
3 tbs flour
2 bottles Belgian pale ale, approx. 22-24 ounces. (recommendations: Leffe, Duvel, or even Mexico’s Bohemia has worked well in the past)
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup chicken stock
7 thyme sprigs
2 bunches petit carrots, cut into threes, tops discarded
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

Directions:
1. Season the meat with sea salt and ground pepper to taste. In large Dutch oven, melt one tbs. of butter in one tbs. of olive oil until sizzling; add half of the meat to the Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Turn meat over, brown the other side, and remove when browned. Repeat with remaining meat, adding more olive oil and butter as needed.

2. Add the onion to Dutch oven and cook until translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the onion, stir well and cook another minute or two. Add beer and bay leaves, stir well. Add chicken stock and thyme, and return beef and any accumulated juices to the pan. Make sure during this time that you scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower heat and simmer the stew, covered. Skim the stew ocassionally. Simmer approximately one hour or until the meat is tender.

3. Add carrots and simmer until nearly tender, approximately ten minutes. Add the peas and simmer an additional five to ten minutes. Check stew for taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve and enjoy!

I usually eat this beef stew paired with the same Belgian beer I’ve just cooked the dish with, but this year E and I popped open a 2000 Bourdeaux we’ve kept since our days in New York. We’d been saving it for an undetermined length of time, waiting for that ‘special moment’… what better than our first Christmas to savor it together?

Our bottle was the 2000 Chateau Larose-Trintaudon, that I picked up in Manhattan for about $11 in 2003. Now the bottle’s appreciated to about $30, so I’m glad I got it early. While not the most amazing Bourdeaux I’ve ever drank in my life, it was a good value for a great vintage year, and didn’t disappoint. The wine was well-balanced, opened up beautifully as it decanted, with a bit of spiced cherry flavors toward the end. A great pairing for an easy winter favorite.
2000-bourdeaux

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along with me so far, and hope you’ll be with me as I blog in 2009!

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