A Proper Mac and Cheese

So, following the awful recipe that was the “Cauliflower Mac and Cheese”, we endeavored to find a recipe that would redeem Mac and Cheese once and for all. The Garlic X3 cookbook offered such a contender (Giatura made it once before, but this was my first chance to try it). So, without further ado, the recipe:

Macaroni and Cheese with Tomato Topping:

Serves 8

  • 1 lb pipette (originally called for elbow macaroni)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (Colonna Italian Style)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, 1/2 tbsp dry (recipe called for 3 tbsp fresh) minced
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup frozen, chopped onions (called for 1 medium onion)
  • 6 plump garlic cloves, pressed (called for 3)
  • 1 fresh red chile, seeded and minced
  • 3 tbsp bleached flour (calls for unbleached)
  • 3 cups 2%, lactose free milk, HEATED (calls for whole milk)
  • 3 cups mild cheddar cheese (called for sharp)
  • 1/2 cup low fat sour cream (calls for whole cup – DO NOT USE NO-FAT)
  • Kosher salt (a dash)
  • Ground pepper (a dash)
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme/1 tsp dried (we used dried)
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, cut in 1/4 inch slices

Giatura (Gia) started by liberally greasing the casserole dish with unsalted butter, while I began unwrapping and pressing the garlic.

a garlic press atop the pressed garlicThis is an awesome garlic press. The pressing surface is huge, so more of the garlic gets pressed each time. The silver tab on the far right enables the pressing surface to swing out for easy cleanup. Yay GoodCook garlic press!!! ❤ Gia

She preheated the oven to 375°, and put the water on for the pasta. The pasta should be cooked to al dente, or to two minutes before the time listed on the box. Next, Gia combined the breadcrumbs and Parm, while I cut what little fresh parsley we had. Thankfully we had enough to mix in the 2 tbsp necessary for the breadcrumb/parm mixture.

mixture of cheese and breadcrumbs in a bowl with spoonsThe breadcrumb, Parmesan, and parsley mixture.

Gia melted 2 of the 6 tbsp of butter (medium heat), and added the garlic, followed by the onions (she defrosted, drained, and dried them first). That got covered, and allowed to cook for 3 minutes on a low heat. She separated the solid pieces from the liquid – the solids were set aside, and the liquid was poured into the breadcrumbs.

Next she melted the remaining butter (same heat), while adding the flour. I whisked that in, and it was then that we discovered the milk was supposed to be hot… and needed to quickly heat it up in another pan. It didn’t ruin anything in the end, so no damage done. The mixture was supposed to boil for a moment (happened), then thicken after having the heat turned down. This never quite happened, so we eventually added the cheddar, sour cream (which was interesting to scrape out of the container), salt and pepper, followed by the onions/garlic from before. The recipe called for MORE salt to then be added with the pasta, and we promptly ignored that. This got liberally stirred together.

macaroni in cheese sauce, gooey cheese stuck to spoonYummy Gooey Goodness

The mixture just fit in the casserole dish, with enough room to add the breadcrumb mixture on top. It then went into the oven for 35 minutes, was allowed to cool for maybe 2, and then promptly enjoyed. Gia says: Om nom nom nom!

the final productFinally done! Om nom nom!

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The Stir Fry

This past weekend my close friend and best man came up to hang out. As is usually the case when he comes around, my kitchen gets invaded, and I get bumped down to sous-chef.

Thankfully, he’s a good cook, and we work well in the kitchen together, so the takeover is not a big deal.  One of the other usual things that happens is that a stir fry is one of the meals that gets cooked.

Our typical stir fry uses a store-bought teriyaki sauce. This weekend’s was different though.

Ingredients:

About 2lbs of Beef, cut into small strips (we used mostly a stir fry mix that was already the right general size, and only needed to be cut up a little).

1 cup uncooked Jasmine rice (makes 3 cups cooked)

About 1/2lb Bell Pepper Strips (frozen)

General Tso’s Sauce and Orange Ginger Sauce (Shoprite’s brand… surprisingly good – and I’m sure at least one of them contains garlic)

Soy Sauce (Reduced Sodium)

Fresh ground black pepper

Butter flavored grilling oil (leftover by an ex-roommate)

Preparation:

(Hours before – we marinated the beef in a mixture of the sauces and black pepper. As usual, the amount of each was a bit random – very much in my nature of “a dash of this” and “a pinch of that”)

I started by getting the rice cooking, since we figured it would take the longest, then started the peppers thawing process. We goofed on the timing a bit, so the rice finished just as the first portion of the meat hit my deep walled frying pan. We also managed to goof on proportions, so much so that we needed to cook the meat and peppers in batches.

Speaking of the peppers, they were simply sauteed in the butter flavored grilling oil. They were cooked until they just lost their crunch. The meat was cooked to well-done.

Once everything had finished, we served each item in its own bowl, letting each person present to choose what they wanted in their meal.

Conclusions:

Normally, I would have used one pan for everything but the rice (and even that might eventually get put into the pan toward the end), and I would have sauteed the peppers in olive oil and some chopped garlic. The butter grill oil gave the peppers a nice richness they normally don’t have, and the meat was perfect. All that remains of the meal is a small serving of the peppers, which will find their way into another dish soon.

The “Mixed Pasta Bowl”

Giatura has listed several of her comfort foods so far, so I figured it’s about time I posted one of mine…

There are times when I frankly don’t feel like cooking. This dish is perfect for those times, since I still have yet to master the art of making only one serving dinner at a time. As a result, I end up making enough to comfortably feed a family of four – which means anywhere from three to four meals worth of food for me.

The ingredient list always has three constants – garlic (usually around two to three cloves), olive oil and some shape of pasta. The shape doesn’t matter that much – it really depends on what I want at that given moment.

The other ingredients vary depending on what I have in the house. Usually, it ends up looking something like this:

  • A meat or two (chicken, beef, occasionally shrimp)
  • At least one frozen veggie (broccoli and green beans are typically what I have around)
  • Various spices – I have a decent assortment in my spice closet, and what I use depends on whether or not I plan on using a sauce or not. If I am, I conform my spices to what will be good with the sauce. Common spices usually include black pepper, sage, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Occasionally, I’ll opt for no sauce, and simply use sage and seasoned salt.
  • Occasionally, some type of cheese (Parmesan, shredded mozzarella, or shredded provolone)

The actual cooking process is easy – after the garlic has been finely chopped, it cooks until just golden in olive oil. The pasta water has been going for awhile by this point (always salt it a little – partly for taste, and I’m convinced it lets the water boil faster). The meat goes in at an appropriate time, timed to finish about when the pasta is nearly done. This means occasionally I need to wait to actually start heating up the oil – but I’ve done this dish enough times to know roughly when to this.

The veggies get tossed in when the meat is mostly cooked – they don’t really need a lot of time, just enough to get to the right consistency. The one vegetable I’ve found that needs to be cooked in a particular way is carrots – boil them first in some water to make sure they’re not too crunchy.

Finally, when the pasta is done (usually to al dente or slightly more cooked – this depends on whether I’m cooking for myself or for Giatura), I drain it and toss it into the pan that everything else has been cooking in. This is when I’ll add a sauce if I’m using one, and the cheese, giving everything a few minutes to really cook together. By the end of those few minutes, the flavors have combined nicely, and the cheese is nice and melted in.

Then, it’s simply a matter of serve and enjoy! I do tend to put away my leftovers as I’m serving my portion into one of my glass bowls, and clean the last few dishes that need to be done (like the pan, pasta pot, etc).

Rainy Day Blues

Today (Wednesday) was definitely a comfort food day. I didn’t have any pastina or chicken broth, so I made a box of rotelle and had a couple servings of it with tomato sauce. Add a little cheese and … yeah, it makes a really good comfort food. Chicken soup, you now have a worthy opponent.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat more fruits and vegetables and be more physically active, but it’s not easy and I’m having trouble objectively evaluating whether I’m accomplishing my goals at all. I need to actually track what I eat – or better yet, plan ahead! The main problem is that I keep grabbing convenient snacks such as a serving of WhoNu “nutrition-rich” cookies or a scoop (or two) of ice cream. Those seem relatively insignificant when taken individually, but they really add up!

Having apples in the house helps a lot. I love apples. I keep trying to convince myself they’re the most delicious things ever, because if they’re not THE most delicious they’re definitely near the top of the list. Maybe I should try making apples with garlic. Then, I’d almost definitely eat them more regularly. I’m not sure if I’ve had an apple yet today -probably not. I’ll have one as a midnight snack.

I did try having some vegetables, at least one whole serving and possibly two! First I heated up some olive oil on a high flame. Then I chopped up a clove of garlic and tossed it in the frying pan. The garlic turned brown almost instantly and some of the pieces turned black. Oops! Flame too high!!! I lowered it but the pan was still too hot when I tossed in some frozen green beans, so I got a nice little miniature fireworks display. Thank goodness I have good reflexes! I jumped out of range, just in time, and carefully lowered the flame some more. In went the frozen bell pepper slices, and then I was able to stir everything around for even heating and whatever garlic flavor might have been left. I added some orange ginger sauce, which provided a nice flavor. Simple. Yum. I hope the veggies maintained their nutritional value …

Lately I’ve also been really into eggs. They’re a very convenient source of protein. I have mixed feelings about the yolk, though. Nearly all the nutrients that make eggs healthy are in the yolk – but so is most of the fat (eggnutritioncenter.org). Unfortunately eggs are also quite high in cholesterol (not too bad if they’re your only/main source, but something to watch out for). Today I decided to have the white without the yolk. In the future I might have one whole egg. If I decide to have a second egg I’ll remove its yolk.

Removing an egg yolk is surprisingly easy. The video below starts off a bit slow but is a good example of the method. It’s a useful skill to develop for baking as well as being a picky eater.

 

Well, thanks for checking in. Hopefully tomorrow (Thursday) will be a bit less gross and I can work on the whole physical activity thing.

The Quest for the Ultimate Comfort Food

I haven’t been feeling well for the past week or so – most likely a cold or something – and the way I know it’s something serious and not seasonal allergies is because my eating habits have changed. I’m drinking hot tea like water, I’m drinking more juice and water than usual, I’m often only eating at all because I know I need to, and I’m craving chicken broth. Usually, chicken broth might add a nice flavor to a dish, but my general attitude is “take it or leave it.” Instead, it’s been a staple of my diet for the past few days.

So begins the quest for the ultimate comfort food. I’ve experimented with pastina, by which I mean a mix of different tiny pastas that come in a variety of shapes. I like to cook half a cup of it in 2 cups of chicken broth, which I’ll season according to my current mood. The pastina soaks up all the broth and tastes amazing. It’s one of the few foods I’ll continue eating until it’s gone, regardless of how little it takes for me to actually stop feeling hungry.

But when I’m sick I want chicken soup. It’s about the only time I really want chicken soup. The chicken itself is good because my rational brain knows I need protein, but mostly I want the broth. In liquid form, thanks.

So, today I decided to try working things out a bit differently. I prepared the pastina in salted water instead, cooking it until it was about al dente, then turned off the heat and let it sit so it could soak up the remaining water. Then I heated 2 cups of chicken broth (College Inn Light & Fat Free) over a very low flame. I added some fresh herbs my aunt grows in her backyard and was kind enough to share with me: oregano, lemon-thyme, and lavender. I also added some salt, ground ginger, and of course garlic powder. (better suited to seasoning a broth, I think)

I put 2 oz chicken breast in the broth, and once that had turned white, I added cut green beans and the pastina (complete with the cooking water it hadn’t yet absorbed). Some time cooking over a slightly higher flame, a sprinkling of (dried) Italian seasoning, and several stirs later, I had a rather promising soup.

chicken soup with pastina and green beans

The flavors are subtle but pleasant, and there’s a bit of a kick to it that sneaks up on one. (most likely from the ginger) The soup clears out the sinuses and satisfies hunger quite nicely. I think, if a vegetable is needed at all, it should be in smaller pieces and cooked so it’s no longer crunchy. Measures should be taken to keep the chicken from drying out. But overall, I’d say this soup is a pretty good contender.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

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