May 22, 2013 Comments Off on guinness mac
“You know what I don’t understand?” O said over dinner tonight. “I don’t understand how the Bearenstain Bears could have named their son ‘Brother.'”
“I know,” said C, “what a stupid name.”
“No,” O shot back, “I mean, they didn’t know they were going to have Sister yet. So why didn’t they just name him ‘Son?'”
I had a confession to make. “I hated those books. It’s the same freaking story in all of them–something new happens, the father bear screws it up, and everything gets solved by the mother bear and the kids. I found them personally offensive.”
“That’s funny,” said C. “The reason we loved them was that it was the same story every time–something new happens, the father bear screws it up, and everything gets solved by the mother bear and the kids. We found them pretty accurate.”
“No dessert for you.”
Actually, he’ll get dessert. His ITBS test scores came back today, and as usual, I want to make sure he uses his enormous mind powers for the forces of good, not evil.
That up there is definitely a force of good. Guinness Mac, from (believe it or not), this month’s Cooking Light. Not their lightest recipe, but one of their best in recent memory. I had my first Guinness in college, and it was a revelation. After years (sorry, Mom) of drinking cheap swill, my photography class went out and our instructor ordered us a round. I had never tasted anything like it, and I was hooked. My beer-drinking days have largely been replaced by a lower-carb glass of red wine per night (OK, usually two), but Guinness has 125 calories per can and only 10g of carbs–less on both counts than an equal amount of Budweiser. So if beer is on the menu, this is a win/win situation.
The children have, to the best of my knowledge, still not had their first Guinness. So this seemed like a bit of culinary education for them. The recipe calls for turkey sausage, fried up with some onion, and then floured and doused with a cup of the black, foamy awesomesauce. 4 ounces of cheese, throw in the pasta, and bake at 450° for ten minutes. Did I use Graziano Brothers instead of turkey sausage? I did.
And, not surprisingly with all that good stuff in it, the result was pretty tasty. “Kind of beery,” said C, “but good.” He says we can add it to the pantheon.
So, let’s see…a 16 oz. bottle of Guinness, minus an 8 oz. cup for the mac, leaves 8 more ounces for Dad. Oh, and what do you know…I accidentally bought two bottles, just in case one dropped out of the shopping bag….
February 25, 2012 Comments Off on sweet potato chili mac
Sort of a delicious disaster last night. We had tickets to go see the ISU production of To Kill a Mockingbird. O had a sleepover, so it was just me, C, and L (alphabet soup!). So I figured I’d throw together something that C liked for his dinner, we’d see the play, and then L and I could make something more exotic.
I’d been saving this one for him all week. Cooking Light had a Mark Bittman recipe for sweet potato chili mac’n’cheese that I figured would be awesome. The kid likes chili. He likes mac. He likes sweet potatoes. What could go wrong?
Well, something. He took one bite and looked at me with a forlorn stare. “Is it alright?” I asked. His mouth said yes but his face said grilled cheese, please. His verdict? There were a lot of sweet potatoes. He’s a purist. He likes his mac’n’cheese unencumbered by vegetables. Even ones that he likes. It was, in L’s words, a bit unfocused. Like a lot of Bittman’s more complicated recipes, this one seemed to just pile things on top of one another. Sweet potato and chipotle? Fine. Pasta? OK, that’s a bit starch heavy, but whatevs. Cheddar cheese? Broiled chorizo on top? OK, OK, enough already! It’s not that it was bad, just a lot of different things going on and not really working together. I could see where C was un-enthused. He got a toasted brie sandwich.
The play was fun, though L and I thought their Scout was a little dim. Really, that character is the smartest kid in English literature, she ought to be played that way! But the best part of the evening was a little thrown-together charcuterie for dinner. Manchego and tete des moines (really!) cheese, organic soprasetta and local prosciutto, some figs, some pistachios, some toasted leftover bread, and you’ve got a nifty dinner for two. Delish, even if I have a whole casserole of sweet potato mac and cheese to get through…on my own.
September 12, 2011 Comments Off on cauliflower mac
I bought Mark Bittman’s Food Matters cookbook while the kids were at their Mom’s last week, and really like it. Lots of really light but tasty stuff for all courses, and plenty of variety–some of it is vegetarian, but it also has plenty of chicken and pork recipes in it.
And what I do with a new cookbook these days to see if it’s any good at all is check out the inevitable mac’n’cheese recipe. No way, I thought, does this book have one, but there it is. Creamy Cauliflower Mac. Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? The principle is that you boil all of the bitterness out of a head of cauliflower first, then puree it to a really creamy texture. You season that puree with a ton of nutmeg, olive oil, and chicken stock, and throw in half a cup of cheese. The result is surprisingly like a bechamel sauce in texture and taste, but of course it leaves out the butter and flour.
This cooked up pretty well. The kids knew something was up, but I waited until they were a few bites in to spill the beans. It didn’t go over all that well, but they ate it and even confessed that it wasn’t bad. Not as good as the pimiento mac (what could be?) and not as good as their Mom’s Elvis Mac, which she made for them this week. About which they voiced some strong opinions. “Dad,” C said with a patronizing look, “easy and delicious is good, too, you know.”
Oof. Not exactly a winning endorsement of the nine-month mac’n’cheese experiment. Which, I guess, probably kind of ends here. The last thing I want to do is to make cooking into a race, especially about who can make the most indulgent baked pasta dish. That race probably has no bottom, and, heartbreaking though it is to get blown out of the water by a recipe that contributed visibly to Elvis’ waistline, I think I’ll quietly fold my tent. Nicely played, ma’am. The mac’n’cheese territory is yours. We’ll move along. Maybe to quinoa.
June 30, 2011 Comments Off on cacio e pepe
Simple to the point of being almost ridiculous, this is another recipe from the Bon Appetit Italy issue from a couple of months ago. Cheese and pepper. That’s almost it (except, of course, for a criminal amount of butter).
The article used this dish to make the point that pasta water is a key ingredient in a lot of sauces–it has enough starch in it that it actually absorbs moisture from the sauce and helps bind it to the pasta–in this case, spaghetti, which has a huge amount of surface area per volume.
I made this a couple of times and it got mixed reviews–too peppery for some tastes. But I liked the combination of fire and smooth cheesiness–the pepper gets cut by Gran Padano and Pecorino, and I actually thought it could use more heat. So I upped the pepper tonight, and it was pretty amazing. Loud, fiery, but also velvety smooth, sort of like mac’n’cheese but with some spice and without the creamy sauce. The kids opted for regular tomato sauce, and I put that together the same way with a splash of pasta water and some tossing.
March 24, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac’n’cheese recipe, conclusion, and mini-cheesecakes
Well, you sort of knew that our last dinner before K came back would be mac’n’cheese, right? C wanted to try a new recipe, but with a couple of alumni bringing actual, real peppadew peppers to us this week, we agreed that the Bon Appetit recipe was definitely worth one more shot. Kris and James, this one’s for you–thanks for the peppers!
They worked a treat! This recipe relies on a puree of peppers and cheese, and while it’s been great–very light, almost more of a pepper sauce than a cheese sauce–it definitely needed a boost. Peppadews may be my new favorite thing in the culinary universe–they’re miniature red peppers, brined in a spicy sweet liquid. “It’s like a party in your mouth,” I told C. “I don’t want my jaw to get grotesquely swollen,” he said, recognizing and accurately quoting the Simpson’s reference. Right on, kid.
Anyway, I also bumped up the pasta. Elbows? No way. This sauce really calls for shapes with some scoopage to them. The local natural foods place had durum semolina chiocciole. This was a new one on me, but they looked perfect, like elbows on steroids. Giant, tuba-shaped openings that were perfect for picking up–and holding on to–the pepper sauce. It all worked well. The kids both thought this was a definite one to show off for Mom, and C said this was the best mac’n’cheese recipe of the whole three-month experiment. He did ask if we could have Kraft next week, and I said K could make him whatever he wanted, but I had made my last box of the stuff.
“But it’s good, too,” he said.
“Yeah, but have you ever looked at the ingredients? It’s all chemistry–nothing in it is good for you. Everything in this is good for you.” I sounded like my father.
“But Kraft TASTES GOOD,” he said.
“But it is NOT AS FUN TO MAKE,” I retorted, and this stopped him in his tracks.
“Good point,” he said. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll nom the blue box stuff just as enthusiastically, but I feel like we’ve forged some new paths with him.
OK, but what about something that’s 1) fun to make, 2) tastes good (actually quite extraordinary), and 3) is really, really bad for you? That’s a different story, of course. After a couple of reasonably good tries at pavlova, C asked if we had any more strawberries. No, I told him, I thought we’d basically eaten central Iowa out of its March supply. Too bad, he said, because he’d really liked them. Hm. In addition to the pavlova, this month’s Bon Appetit did have a pretty complicated recipe for little cheesecakes with strawberries on top. Should we try those?
“Cheesecake?” he said. He’s never had one.
“Oh, this will blow your mind,” I said. “Let me make this, and try it, and see what you think.” He was skeptical.
But of course there was no way this wasn’t going to fly. The recipe was a bit of a struggle–all the cheesecake ingredients, but no baking, and gelatin and white chocolate, both of which required the double boiler. The double boiler, to me, has always implied a level of subtlety and skill that I simply don’t have, but I managed to get everything put together in the food processor and successfully blended. The kids wandered in.
“Try this batter,” I told them, handing them the mixing bowl.
“Are there eggs in this?” O asked. Not that it would have mattered, but no, I told her. She tried it and gave me the big-eyed “WHOA” look. It reminded me that cheesecake was one of the first things Mom taught me to make, and it was by far my favorite dessert as a kid.
These have a gingersnap crust for a base, which was a nice change from the traditional graham cracker crust. And the recipe had some pretty fussy instructions for making them in a muffin pan–plastic wrap and spray oil were involved, in ridiculous quantities. But they sort of worked, and the ginger was a nice touch. There’s a coulis, too, and I sliced up some leftover berries on the mandoline (less finger, this time) and sugared them for an hour or so to put on top.
They were enormously popular, as you’d expect. “You know, Dad,” O said, “you haven’t screwed up a single dessert.” There have been some clunkers for main courses–the limp chicken parmesan and the unctuous slab of mac’n’cheese lasagna, for instance–but thinking about it, she was right. We’ve all liked every dessert we’ve made. That says something either about the universal appeal of sugar, eggs, flour, and dairy mixed together in whatever quantity you like, or maybe I’m a closet pastry chef.
Either way, we’re making these for K next week. And the two remaining mini-cheesecakes? There’s only one way to stop myself from eating them for lunch.
Eating them for breakfast.
February 23, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac and cheese recipe–pimiento mac
I was pretty convinced this was not going to work. Last week I plopped the new Bon Appetit on the front seat of the car when I picked C up from school. “Hands Down the Tastiest We’ve Ever Made!” the headline screamed, above a luscious food porn image of mac and cheese with peppers. It might as well have been the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. C was in love.
It was Bon Appetit, which has proven trusty but often challenging. And when C and I looked at the recipe he was skeptical. “How can it be a real mac and cheese,” he wondered, “if it doesn’t have a bechamel sauce?” Exactly, I told him. It sounds like baked pasta, and I was skeptical, too.
Still, baked pasta with some awesome stuff in it. Pappadew peppers, which I’ve never heard of, and which apparently only exist in the south. We threw in a whole jar of pimientos instead. A boiled red pepper. Two cloves of garlic. Tons of cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan. It wasn’t going to be your average mac and cheese, for sure, but none of that sounds bad, does it?
As you can see, the sous chef went right to work. He’s an excellent grater, measurer, and stirrer, and we got all the pieces assembled in good order. Instead of a bechamel, this recipe called for the peppers, pimientos, and cheese to get whipped together in the food processor. “Oh, cool,” C said, “A pepper and garlic smoothie.” Right on, brother. That goes on the pasta (whoops–not enough elbows, so I committed something of a travesty and cracked open an old box of Kraft to get the pasta out of it). Cheese goes on the pasta, some toasted Panko, butter, and parmesan goes on top, and the whole thing goes in the oven for 25 minutes.
Crucial step, according to the magazine: let the thing cool for ten minutes after it comes out of the oven so that it firms up. That saved us from an over-gooey plate, and as you can see the result was a light, very peppery mix–nowhere near the creamy texture of the Cook’s recipe, but really nice. The peppers and the pimientos added some zip, and there was just enough cheese without being a stringy, overdone mess (like the last one…) It was a pretty sophisticated dish for mac and cheese, and I worried for a minute about its reception. But both kids loved it. O covered it in Sriracha, as is her wont, and the boy said it was tied for first place in the cookoff. Tied for first place, ladies and gentleman. We have a winner!
February 17, 2011 Comments Off on STOP PRESS
This month’s Bon Appetit just arrived. The cover? “MAC & CHEESE: HANDS DOWN, THE TASTIEST VERSION WE’VE EVER MADE (+ other remarkably sumptuous baked pastas).”
The boy and I will dissect this and report back. It is not a bechamel base, which will induce skepticism in my sous chef, but it does include Peppadew and bell peppers, garlic, and loads of parmesan, all of which sound pretty freaking good.
Update: I had it waiting on the front seat of the car when I picked C up from school. He looked at it, read the cover, and said “oh, we are totally making this.” Tuesday, I think.