Thursday, June 3, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

I tend to ignore some of the conventions of dining. Like the ones about when certain foods can be eaten in the day. My personal philosophy is if I can eat it for dinner than I can certainly eat the leftovers for breakfast. I don't discriminate. Seafood, shortribs, fried chicken, Chinese food, and pizza have all been eaten for breakfast. Similarly, living in an air conditioned house, I have been known to make food that was seasonally inappropriate. Like today when I made macaroni and cheese and Deb's amazing coffee cake. If you haven't made this coffee cake yet, do yourself a favor and make it before it gets to hot out. Although, did I mention it was 80 degrees today? 

In my defense, I only heated up my whole house to help one of my best friends, Jenna. Her college roommate's dad passed away earlier this week. Not knowing what else to do, as they have grown apart in recently, Jenna wanted to make food for the family. One small problem though: She doesn't really cook and may be the pickiest eater I have ever met. 

No one wants to eat healthy when they're sad, assuming they want to eat at all. If someone is grieving, it is time to make comfort foods (preferably with lots of cheese), and I have yet to meet someone who thinks a salad is comforting.

This is the best macaroni and cheese I have eaten in a long time. And in the spirit of my salsa, this recipe is from my boyfriend's mom. I was surprised she was willing to part with it. Especially to me. Clearly, she is more generous with her "signature" recipes than I am.

There aren't any picture because I can't find my charger, and I couldn't cut into macaroni and cheese I was giving to someone else. The next time I make it (which will be post bathing suit season) I will take pictures. In the meantime, if you make it and *happen* to take a picture I could use that would be delightful. That's besides the point. My point is that with a ratio of 2+ pounds of cheese to 1 pound of pasta, this is going to be good, if not at all diet friendly.

Macaroni and Cheese
The only change I made is I use black pepper instead of white because I do not like white pepper. If you want to use white, use 1/3 teaspoon. Oh, and I used penne instead of rigatoni because its what I had available.
1 pound rigatoni (I used penne)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
1/2 cup parmesan
1/4 cup romano
2 teaspoons Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 lb sharp cheddar (grated)
1 lb mozzarella (grated)
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Melt the butter over medium heat and add flour. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the floury taste is gone. Do not let it brown. Slowly add 3 cups of milk. Increase heat to medium high, and stir until smooth and thickened. About 5 minutes. Add the parmesan and romano cheese, as well as the Tabasco, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and chili powder. Remove from heat.

Cook the rigatoni 4 minutes and drain. Add the pasta to the bechamel sauce.

Layer 1/2 of the pasta mixture in a 9x13 inch pan. Top with half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining pasta and cheese. Before baking, pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk over the top of the dish. Bake for 45 minutes. If it begins to brown to quickly, cover with foil.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Favorite Salsa

I went to Atlanta when I was 14. It was the first time I had been to a major city where toilet seat covers weren't provided. It was also the first time I was in a major city that, quite frankly, was dirty (maybe it's changed since then). It was in Atlanta that I created my first theory of food (of which I now have many). My theory was: the cleaner the bathroom, the better the food. It proved to be true, and has held true since.

 I'm upgrading it to a Law of Dining.

 (Yes, some of my peppers were a little on the old side)

 The best meal we had was at Horseradish Grill (the cleanest bathrooms, and a nonsmoking restaurant in a city that permitted smoking. Yay!)

 The worst was a restaurant we went to after the CNN and Coca Cola factory tours. I have no idea what it was called, but I remember being terrified of the food, and I held my business until we got back to the hotel.

The next food theory I devised is in a similar vain. Always judge a Mexican restaurant by its salsa.

One of my very favorite Mexican restaurant has the standard tri-color chips (not the best), but the salsa is amazing. The food rivals is easily as good as what I ate when I went to Frontera.

Growing up in Southern California, I have eaten a lot of salsa. My favorite is not from a restaurant though. It is a recipe that I stole acquired from my friend Corey. I have a lot to thank Corey for: she made working for Disney fun, is the co-creator of the Pirates of the Caribbean drinking game, she makes this salsa, oh and she introduced me to my boyfriend. God bless this girl.

According to Corey, the recipe for this salsa is "the only good thing [she] ever got from her ex-boyfriend." That is enough of an endorsement for me. (The recipe is technically his mom's.)

The salsa is garlicky, and has a depth not found in most salsas (definitely found not in pico de gallo which I don't particularly care for). Sure, there are a few more steps than you might be used to, but it is worth it. And easy. I promise.

(Blurry and my battery died right after this picture)

My Favorite Salsa or "The only good thing Corey ever got from her ex-boyfriend" Salsa 
My salsa always ends green because I love cilantro and tend to go a little crazy with it. The recipe below calls for less than what I used. I also don't seed the peppers because I want the salsa to have some heat. If you're scared of it being too hot, seed some or all them. 

1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion (doesn't matter what variety. I usually use red or a sweet onion)
3 jalapenos
2 dried chilis de arbol
2 Santa Fe Grande chilis (also known as a guero chili)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice the top off the head of garlic so the cloves are exposed. Pour the olive oil over the garlic and seal in a foil pouch. Roast for 45 minutes, or until garlic is soft and sweet. When cool enough to handle, remove the garlic from the papery stuff.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over high heat (or under the broiler) blacken all of the chilis as well as the onion. Allow to cool, then remove the stems (and seeds if you want to).

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Season with salt to taste (keep in mind how salty your chips are.) Serve with chips and a margarita and enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Almost Burnt Sugar Ice Cream

I've been holding out. I made this ice cream over a week ago. I also haven't posted in over a week. That is because I haven't been home to eat. I have been at various graduation parties or at work. Now, at 2 in the morning, I can't sleep so I'm eating the ice cream straight from the container. Cause dairy totally makes you sleepy... yeah that's why I'm eating it.

Anyways, the following is (for me at least) a super sentimental (it's the right time of the year) and rather long post that you may feel free to skip as it doesn't really talk about food. Food description starts in the 2nd to last paragraph. Also? There *should* be pictures by 12 hours from now.

My Aunt Fran was one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She was caring, dedicated, hard working, and extremely loving. At 20, she married her high school sweet heart, much to her parent's chagrin. They were convinced it couldn't last because they were too you. My grandparents were wrong though, because my aunt and uncle were married for 30 years.

As Director of Athletics at a local community college, she single-handedly revitalized their athletics program. Her standard uniform anywhere was: shorts, polo shirt, hair in a ponytail, and a visor. Convenient if she wanted to hit a bucket of balls after work.

When I decided I wanted to play volleyball in 5th grade, she stopped by my house after work to make sure I had the correct form. She would know since she had both played and coached at the collegiate level. She was also the person I called when I needed help again in 8th grade, and in 10th grade when I switched to water polo.

Despite her athletic exterior, for holidays and gatherings, she was Martha Stewart. Perfectly set tables and flower arrangements were signatures of her parties. So was chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. There were bowls of M&M's scattered throughout the house, and her fudge was ledgen-wait for it-dary.

I would like to think that there is a lot of aunt Fran in me. My love of sports, chocolate, and oddly enough my handwriting are reminiscent of her. (My mom used to order strawberry ice cream instead of chocolate at Baskin Robins. Sacrilege. Everyone knows you order the Peanut Butter and Chocolate).

My freshmen year of high school she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having several surgeries, and extensive chemo and radiation, doctors thought they had caught it all. Even when she was too sick to work, she did. The next year, when she probably would have been more comfortable sitting at home, she came and sat on cold metal bleachers to watch me play in my first water polo tournament.

My junior year of high school, the cancer came back. This time in her liver and spine. It was inoperable and it was only a matter of time and comfort. Within 2 months, it was apparent that the time was coming. I visited her almost everyday for the last two weeks. When she wasn't eating, I would bake chocolate cookies, hoping that the smell would make her happy. On one of her last trips downstairs, she saw me thumbing through a cookbook her best friend had given her. The book was an autographed copy of Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow. It had never been used, and she gave it to me. It is the second most important cookbook I own, the first being a copy of The Joy of Cooking that she inscribed and gave to me for Christmas.

Since she passed away in 2005, I have never had an problem using the Joy of Cooking, but Pure Chocolate remained uncooked from. What if the recipes don't work? What if it's too hard? It sat on my shelf. Flipping through it one day, I noticed a completely chocolate free recipe. It wasn't the recipe my aunt would have chosen, but it made it easier for me to test the waters (so to speak).

I really liked this ice cream. I did have a slight issue with the directions, but it was minor. The recipe results in a thick, creamy ice cream that is not the saccharine sweet of most caramel ice creams. There is bitterness and depth. A sprinkle of sea salt over the top of a scoop really make the flavors sing.

 (Dots on the right are the correct color, dots on the left are too light)

I can't wait to make more recipes from the book, and while I may never eat fudge again, her legacy lives on, and I am so very proud to be a small part of it.

Almost Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
From Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
2 cups (1 pint) whole milk
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
8 large egg yolks

In a heavy sauce pan, combine the first 3 ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a simmer. Remove the vanilla beans. Discard (or do what I did and make vanilla sugar). Reduce heat to low.

Place sugar in a small pan (light colored if you have it). Turn heat to medium, and do not stir. Wait until the sugar on the sides and bottom begins to melt. Once you can see melted sugar, very gently begin to stir. (If the sugar clumps, lower heat and do not stir. It will melt again. I promise.) Now here is where it gets a little challenging. You are playing chicken with the sugar. The closer it gets to burning the more flavor it has, but if it burns, you have to start over. Having a white plate nearby to do test drops on makes it easier to judge, especially if you are using a dark bottomed pan. You're sugar will smoke. You want it too. You also want it to be the color of a dark penny which requires a lot of smoke. See David for a more comprehensive tutorial.

Slowly pour the caramel into the cream mixture, stirring until completely smooth. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups of the cream mixture, stirring constantly. Pour egg mix back into the cream mixture.

Return the cream to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and run through a sieve into a bowl. (Nothing worse than scrambled eggs in your ice cream).

Cover the custard with plastic wrap touching the top so it doesn't get that gross skin, and chill for 8 hours, or over night. Freeze in an ice cream maker according the the manufacturer's directions.

On a completely irrelevent note, I'm still an Amazon Affiliate. I have no idea if I'm supposed to tell you that, but I don't want to get in trouble for not mentioning it. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thai Slaw

While I was driving home from work today, I was craving coleslaw (yet again). I would make coleslaw everyday if I didn't think it would result in a mutiny. Set to make coleslaw, I mentally debated what kind of coleslaw to make. Nothing was shouting "Make me!" until I drove past the Thai restaurant at the bottom of my street. Cue light bulb.

My dad is tired of going out for Thai food with me and my mom. Not because we won't let him choose what to order (on the contrary, he usually has free rain), or because we won't let him order food as spicy as he would like. It's because we insist nay demand that we order the Green Papaya Salad every single time we go. I've seen it on the menu of every Thai restaurant I have been in. And for good reason. It's delicious. Crunchy, crisp, refreshing, and light. I could make a meal on it alone.