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Archive for April, 2010

I wish I could give you all free cheese. I am a sucker for it myself. Free samples at the grocery store tempt me every time. So, when I spotted the Tillamook Loaf VW Bus, I nestled right up to the cheese bar. The girl manning the bar told me she had grown up on a dairy farm and all the milk from her family’s cows went to making Tillamook cheese.

Cheese got me thinking about macaroni, of course. Now, macaroni and cheese doesn’t ordinarily strike me as a spring-time dish. Fall and winter seem it’s natural habitat. I think spring is supposed to be a happy time but it sometimes makes me a bit anxious. It gets me thinking about graduations and endings and hopes for the future. Taking-stock-of-my-life kind of thoughts swirl inside my head. And that gets me craving something familiar, reliable, and homey. Nothing less than a great macaroni and cheese.

So, when my Saveur magazine arrived in the mailbox I was glad they gave me four macaroni and cheese recipes to try. I chose the one billed as the creamiest – the Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese. I streamlined it into a Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese: the recipe called for 1 oz of blue cheese but I don’t much care for blue cheese in this dish. You can add it back in if you like.  Also, bay leaf and fresh thyme were supposed to be added to the roux but I don’t find herbiness a good addition to a creamy mac and cheese. I think it was a rather horrible version of turkey tetrazzini that I made that was way too herby – and now I can’t go there.

There are so many delicious macaroni and cheese recipes out there but many of them call for expensive cheeses. There is a time and place for these extravagances but they aren’t necessarily what you are going to want to make all the time. So, I pared down the recipe to fit my taste and present it here. It is just one version. I’m sure we will offer others in the future.

I apologize for introducing the notorious, maligned, fake-of-the-fakest, the Princess of Processed, Velveeta cheese into the mix. There is a reason it is still around. Velveeta is velvety. Velveeta means velvety.

Serve this mac and cheese accompanied by a salad with a zingy vinaigrette to cut the richness. Or alongside roast pork, cornbread, asparagus, blood orange salad, wine, cappuccinos and root beer floats like we did last Saturday night. But, if you do, don’t expect to dance the Four Cygnets from Swan Lake after. More like your best impression of a family of hibernating bears.

Creamy Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from Saveur magazine April 2010)

Ingredients:

8 oz elbow macaroni (or whatever tubular or twisty pasta you like, eg. fusilli)

3 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, minced

1/4 cup flour

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups milk

6-8 oz Velveeta cheese, cut into small cubes

10 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

10 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded

salt and pepper

This is what to do:

1. Throw pasta into salted, boiling water and cook until half-done. 3- 4 minutes. Drain. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in same pot. Add shallots and cook until very soft.

3. Add flour and cayenne. Stir 1 minute.

4. Add milk, whisking frequently until sauce coats the back of a spoon (when you run your finger on the back of a wooden spoon, it doesn’t fill in your finger’s trail immediately).

5. Add velveeta, cheddar and half the gruyere. Stir until smooth and creamy.

6. Add pasta back to pot with cheese and stir. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Slide pasta into a baking dish. Sprinkle with the rest of the gruyere (and breadcrumbs if you want). Cook in a 350 degree oven until bubbly and the top is just how you like it.

8. Let it rest a few minutes before serving.

Two tips:

You can top the pasta with breadcrumbs or panko if you go for that sort of thing.

Shred the cheddar and gruyere in a food processor to save you time. Then, wipe the bowl out. Put coarsely chopped shallot in the same food processor bowl and process till minced. This will save you lots of time and clean-up. Unless you need the arm workout and want to spend 20 minutes hand-grating cheese.

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On the GoGo

You have not heard much from me because I’ve been trying to fit second tier jet-setting in with doing five days worth of work in only three. The fun part is—I’ve been traveling a bit which, like cooking is something I find myself prioritizing into my life. This usually means that I sneak in long weekenders whenever possible. In fact, I started writing this in the air while considering the parallels between cooking and traveling. These are my musings:

1. Life fills up and the time (if not money) goes fast. You have to make travel happen. So, get it on the calendar (or in the budget). Once it’s there it becomes real and all the other activities fill in around it. You will not regret it. Do the same with dinner; plan on it because getting together with friends or family enriches us more than striking a few more things from our never-ending to-do lists.

2. Keep it simple except for special occasions. Doing something simple well is usually more spectacular than doing something grand. Think about it, when we plan that “trip of a lifetime” or a super involved menu there are a lot of expectations and with the bar set too high one of two things can easily happen; (a) We accept mediocrity because we have so much invested or (b) We are disappointed. Not good. Keeping it simple with travel can mean only visiting one city/neighborhood/street or not meeting up with everyone you may know in a particular place but only meeting up with the most intimate of friends. The simpler the ingredient list the more you will taste the flavor.

3. Bring only what you need, it will go further than you expect. I know someone who travels only with “outfits” and I see that as the same as shopping for exactly planned meals. Keep your packing light, preferably with a color theme so that you can mix and match your clothes. Do the same at the market, buy what interests you and then support that with other complimentary things i.e. potatoes+chives, strawberry+rhubarb, avocado+lime. Looking in your fridge or suitcase will be much easier to navigate when it’s not overflowing.

4. I will be frank about this one: airports are not fun. Some can be downright de-humanizing, so take whatever joys you can in the experience (true also for car/train/bus). For me that means remembering I can be whoever I want to be in the airport. Sometimes I am sporty chic, or dressy or flowing in a comfortable get-up but no matter what I see myself as the person that I want to be that day. Viewing myself as a character makes the whole thing a lot more fun. No matter which look I’m donning my characters all have similar traits: she talks little, is very efficient, complains little and is prepared but not overly so. My character remains calm. Before you call the headshrinker, hear me out on this one: Feeding oneself (or a family of selves) is not always fun. It can be stressful and sometimes feel a bit oppressive. However, looking at the bigger picture seems to make the effort worth pursuing. In life I believe in eating real food, the kind most often prepared at home. You may have your own mantra, just like you may have your own travel character, the basic idea is to keep in mind your greater awareness and implement it.

5. Enjoy the entire journey. For travel: Put on music while you pack, allow plenty of time, put on your headphones while walking at the airport (the first time I listened to Seam play Aloha Spirit while walking through the airport changed my perception permanently). By all means, think about food before you go (these photos are an example of what can happen if you don’t), I rarely have time to prepare something portable so stop by Zinc Café for a sandwich beautifully wrapped in white paper. The same idea, but applied to cooking: Put on music or a podcast before you even get your hands dirty, don’t fuss about time to the point that you don’t enjoy the process, have good tools (even if you only have three knives make sure they are always kept sharp). You get the idea—do whatever you can to enjoy the process.

6. Take it easy, relax and enjoy.

Now go somewhere and see someone you love (even if they are only in the kitchen).

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This is about the eighth week in a row I’ve received parsnips in my CSA box. I usually roast them and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. This week I wanted to stretch them into something delicious that would keep in the fridge to pull out this week when we needed something.

Inspiration: I just finished reading Jam Today by Tod Davies – a book Erin lent me and we both love. Check it out. She makes the case for cooking without recipes and relaxing into the process. Really enjoying it. So that’s what I tried to do.

This is what I did:

I started by sauteing a slurp of olive oil and some red pepper flakes in a small soup pot (That is how I pretty much start any soup, sauce, vegetable saute. It’s my home-base. My G-chord). Added half an onion that I had stashed in the fridge, sliced, and two cloves of garlic, whole. Salt and pepper.

When it smelled fragrant and the onion was soft, I added about 8 chopped parnips (mine were small) and 2 large carrots, also chopped. I had an apple sitting on the cutting board so I added a handful of cut-up green apple. A few dashes of turmeric and one small dash of ground ginger. More salt and pepper.

When that looked browned and delicious, about 8 minutes, I got the urge to deglaze. This is my favorite technique. It makes me feel powerful and magical. What better than….dry sherry. This is my favorite thing! So a glug of sherry went into the pot. As that sizzled, I stirred, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. How is it possible that one can cook in a pot and clean it at the same time? It can only be magic!

After the sherry mostly evaporated, I added enough water to cover the vegetables. I was too lazy to get out the measuring cup so I just added a few full glasses worth. Some pieces of cooked sweet potato from last night’s dinner got added to the pot. Waste not! I couldn’t let well enough alone, so I added a 1 bay leaf and 1 clove and brought the whole thing to a boil. (The sweet potato made me think of Christmas which makes me think of cloves so I think that is how I came up with that one.)

I reduced the liquid to a simmer and checked my email, browsed the internet, watched some basketball, and finally did the computer work I needed to get done. By then, the vegetables were tender. Maybe it was 40 minutes – maybe it was 1 hour. I removed the bay leaf and clove. More salt and pepper.

Then, I employed my second favorite trick – the immersion blender. Whirred to the consistency that I like.

Then we ate it. The soup is sweet and exotically spicy. I think if you had a cold it would be especially soothing. Serve hot or chilled with a sprinkle of any fresh herb (I had dill on hand). Maybe you’d like yogurt or creme fraiche or croutons on yours. This is a Sunday soup that is perfect. Nourishing, satisfying, spicy and sweet, and very low-maintenance. If you want, serve with a salad and some good bread and no one will complain that they didn’t get a great Sunday night supper.

***Don’t stick to a recipe on this one – it that can and should change depending on what you have on hand. Any root vegetables would work. And any spices you like – but add them along with the vegetables so you get the benefit of heating them to bring out the flavors, rather than adding them in at the end.  Although, of course, that would work too. You don’t need sherry for deglazing, obviously. Wine, white or red, or even dark beer or just a splash of good-tasting vinegar. You certainly don’t need to deglaze the pan at all – it just adds more flavor but it isn’t worth cracking a bottle if it isn’t already open. If you don’t have an immersion blender, add into a regular blender when the soup has cooled a bit  and puree in batches. Don’t pour the whole thing in the blender hot or it will blow the top off the blender and you will be scraping soup off the ceiling and treating burns.

Below is a rough recipe for Root Vegetable Sunday Soup if you didn’t like my prose version:

Saute in soup pot over medium heat:

a few tablespoons olive oil

a few dashes of red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, whole

Add and cook until soft:

1/2 onion, sliced

salt and pepper

Add and cook until browned and a bit tender:

6-8 parsnips, peeled and chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and chopped

1/2 apple, chopped (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried ginger

2 teaspoons turmeric

salt and pepper

Pour into pot and cook until mostly evaporated:

1/2 cup good dry sherry or wine (optional)

Add and simmer until vegetables are tender:

enough water to cover vegetables plus a few more inches

1 clove

1 bay leaf

To finish:

Remove bay leaf and clove and blend soup to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot or cold with fresh herbs to garnish. Make a salad and heat some bread.

Listen to good music and relax. I suggest:

“Sara Smile” from Bird and the Bee’s Hall and Oates tribute album.




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We’ve entered a Double the Recipe original recipe in the Orange County Register Recipe Contest. If you want to vote for us please click *here*. Votes close Friday April 16th!!!

This is one of our favorites and the perfect spring into summer recipe. A quick sizzle on the grill is the main event. Everything else can be made ahead, although you don’t need to. The rice and beans cook quickly and require little attention. The spicy parsley sauce is a snap to make.

Amanda’s husband, Mike (aka Mr. Order Envy), says, “world-class.” No order envy when he is tucking into one of these babies. Erin’s husband muses, “Flank Steak ‘Tacos’ are the culinary equivalent of a tramp steamer: they set sail from Korea, pass though Argentina, dock in Greece and get shore leave in Mexico gloriously ending up on my plate.”

The bottom line is these flank steak “tacos” have provided many happy evenings of sustenance for us. You will make your family and friends very happy. Kids love this dish and adults will be licking the spicy parsley sauce off their elbows with satisfaction.

We started with a milder version of the green sauce but the cries from our husbands of “more garlic! more garlic!” led to the more piquant version we present here. Adjust the garlic to your taste. We suggest some possible accompaniments but the idea is to use whatever you have on hand. Any kind of cheese, salsa, or vegetables would work. The spicy parsley sauce is terrific days later sprinkled on other meats and added to soups or even tuna salad.

Nothing beats Flank Steak “Tacos” and a Pacifico…with a lime.

Enjoy!

Flank Steak “Tacos”

Serves 6

Total Prep/Cooking Time – 30 minutes

Steak:

1    flank steak (about 2 ½ pounds)

Salt and ground black pepper

Rice:

2    cups long-grain rice

4    cups water

2    cloves garlic, smashed

1    teaspoon turmeric

1    teaspoon kosher salt

1    bay leaf

Beans:

Olive oil

2 garlic cloves, diced or put through a garlic press

dash of red pepper flakes

2 cans black beans, undrained

Parsley Sauce:

1    bunch fresh parsley, stems mostly cut off

6    medium garlic cloves, smashed

1    medium jalapeno chili, seeded cut into chunks

½    cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Accompaniments (any and/or all, whatever is on hand):

Tortillas, warmed

Greek yogurt, sour cream or crème freche

Grated cheese

Hot sauce

Grilled bell peppers are delicious with this and an alternative to the flank steak for vegetarians. Just pop them on the grill with the steak.

Directions:

1.     Light gas grill on high heat.

2.     Meanwhile, for rice: put all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed pot, stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook over low heat until the rice has absorbed the water, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let rest until ready to serve.

3.     For beans: While rice is cooking, heat three tablespoons of oil in bottom of saucepan. Add garlic and a few sprinkles of red pepper flakes and sizzle 30 seconds. Add both cans of beans with juice to saucepan and simmer 10-15 minutes. Smash with potato masher till desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.

4.     For parsley sauce: pulse parsley, jalapeno pieces and garlic in food processor until chopped, stir in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

5.     When grill is hot (about 10 minutes) generously sprinkle both sides of steak with salt and pepper.  Grill until well-seared and dark brown on first side, about 6 minutes.  Flip and continue grilling until meat is slightly less done than you desire, 3 or 4 minutes more for medium rare (which is best for flank steak).  Place meat on cutting board to rest for 5 minutes then slice thinly against the grain (seasoning with additional salt and pepper as necessary).

6.     Remove bay leaf and garlic from rice, fluff with a fork.

7.     Serve, assembling tacos to your taste.



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An astute friend recently told me that finding a mate is a lot like ordering at a restaurant. It is easy to get your heart set on a certain dish (read person). You peruse the menu (read dating) and, after some time to consider all the options, you know what you want. You are eager to place your order, asserting your finely honed sensibilities and tastes. You obligingly listen to the specials, knowing that nothing could alter your decision. But sometimes there is that one special special that you just can’t resist. Je ne sais quoi, as they say.

A recent Sunday out in NYC I had my order pretty well sorted. Until I heard the litany of specials. Something interesting caught my ear. Something that I normally wouldn’t have put “on my list.” Like taking a chance on love, I ordered the appetizer special: A fried egg over shaved asparagus, fava beans & morels. (You will find this especially shocking when you learn that I generally don’t care for either eggs (!) or mushrooms (!).)

Now, I want you to picture a fried egg. Ok, now look at the picture below. Does it match the image in your head?

Mine either.

Of the myriad ways eggs are prepared, I’d have to say that hard-boiled is my least favorite. But hardboiled, and then, fried? Interesting. New to me.

The combination of flavors was nice, spring-timey, luscious. The fried hard-boiled egg was, well, a hard-boiled egg with a not-that-satisfying crust. Had I found my soul mate? No. One of the all-time great country-western lyrics ran through my head, “It ain’t love, but it ain’t bad.” Definitely worth ordering outside of my comfort zone.

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So, say you were thinking about starting a food blog, like a couple people I know did last year.
You may begin first to discuss at length with the people you dine with. Beware of advice from those that you cook for: their words will likely be self-serving. If the advice giver thinks that by joining the food blogosphere that you will cook more (quantitatively) or better (qualitatively) you are likely to receive bountiful compliments and reinforcements. If the advice giver silently surmises that what time you would then be dedicating to the blog may detract from the energy and focus you spend on their meals, they may encourage you to consider your motives or to develop the concept more before diving in. These conversations will likely get you thinking about what it is that you want to say? Do you have a theme? And (most glaringly) what do you have to contribute to the already saturated realm of everyone-in-the-world-already-has-a-blog?

You will likely begin composing short bits in your head when you’re cooking something, inevitably you may say little things out loud. Before long you will be muttering to yourself and thinking almost completely in third person or in your bog voice. Putting an egg into batter suddenly becomes “stir swiftly the egg into the batter” and you’re thinking about the greater meaning of what you’re putting on the table. You will write notes to yourself on bits of paper and leave them all over your desk at work. Beware: you will have to call your boss when you’re out of the office to go and look for a tidbit of work related data on your desk. When he picks up the paper with the address you need on it he will read to you “27948 3rd Street, dates, arugula, pomegranate seeds” and you will then be very embarrassed.

If having the people you live and work with think that you’ve completely (and finally) lost it has not swayed your focus on the idea of the blog, by all means, please proceed.

The next logical step would be to set up the software, get your domain name, etc. Since this may be a significant source for distraction and procrastination, I would recommend outsourcing the task to, say, your husband. Once everything is in place begins the easy part. Just a little contemplation of your personal identity, the look of the blog and then think really, really far in advance about things that will likely never happen to you. If you run out of information, please do not, I repeat DO NOT google “top food blogs” and click on the link to the Times Online article of the World’s Best Food Blogs because you will not be able to resist clicking on every single one.

This is where things can really go awry. You will find people like Molly Wizenberg who have been sharing their intimate food moments for years before you even knew what a blog was. Then, you’ll run across Matt Armendariz who is so perfect with his stunning site that you will then spend the next three months lamenting the fact that you don’t have the Martha Stewart seal of perfect approval and super graphic design skills and are hosting a food blogging retreat in Mexico and have a partner who is a professional food stylist… or any of that. If you continue down the list looking for low hanging fruit, you will likely only find more perfectionists and big-name foodies on the rest of the list. This will take the full three aforementioned months to recover from. But, if you do. If you still feel that you have something to say and that, most importantly that you would enjoy the process, I’d say go for it.

Take your time and get your confidence up too because next it’s “food styling on the fly”, “self-taught food photography”, “you mean people are actually going to read this?” and “finding the time to self sabotage”.

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My husband and I find ourselves buying this Spanish wine often. A lot of stores carry it and it’s a good value red that retails around $12 – $15. You can probably find it cheaper online. We like it.

Juan Gil. Jumilla, Spain. Grape Varietal: Monastrell

I’d love to hear your recommendations for inexpensive wines that you might consider your “house wine.” Share the love.

Happy Weekend!

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