I’ve committed a grievous offense against the Italian cooking gods. Perhaps it was eating home-made tomato sauce and meatballs with pasta while watching the Superbowl. Or perhaps it was not paying 100% attention while removing said sauce from the refrigerator today. Whatever offense I committed, I can ask only that I somehow manage not to commit it again. Because the penalty was far greater than giving 5 yards to the other team or making poor use of a time-out.

I dropped the plastic container with the leftover sauce and it shattered, causing the majority of its contents to splatter on the floor and in the refrigerator. I was in shock. I think if I hadn’t been so surprised by it I would have cried.

In The Callahan Chronicals, Spider Robinson explains an Irish belief that spilling or otherwise wasting alcohol is a mortal sin. When you die every drop of which you’re guilty is gathered in a container of some kind and you’re suspended upside down in it. “And if you die, to hell with ya!” It wouldn’t surprise me if Italians have a similar belief regarding tomato sauce (or gravy, the term preferred by some). If they do, my soul is in mortal peril. I spilled enough today that another mishap could cost me an eternity of eating macaroni and cheese that tastes like cauliflower.

So, it seems most wise to make some attempt at appeasing the Italian cooking gods, just to be on the safe side. Perhaps it is time I repent of my recent pasta-avoiding ways and eat more of it, preferably with garlic. Perhaps I must attempt my mom’s sauce recipe by myself (and blog about it, of course). Perhaps I must resist the temptation of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches and re-dedicate my efforts to advancing the culinary arts.

I pray that the Italian cooking gods will guide me in this quest. (Suggestions from readers are also more than welcome.)

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Love Your Ingredients List

What better way to start out a cooking blog than with a recipe that didn’t work out so well? I love macaroni and cheese, especially the way my grandmother used to make it. The top would become brown and crispy; that was the best part. You just don’t get that with other macaroni and cheese (especially not the pre-packaged, microwavable stuff). I could really use a good macaroni and cheese recipe.

I recently acquired a copy of The Food Matters Cookbook. It has several delicious recipes, mainly centered around vegetables with starches and proteins as supporting characters. And lo, it includes a recipe for macaroni and cheese that uses cauliflower to make the sauce nice and creamy. I thought it would be fantastic – macaroni and cheese, and its primary ingredient is a vegetable … so it has to be healthy, right?

I really should have known better. First of all, I don’t like cauliflower. I’ll eat it, it’s relatively inoffensive, but I don’t like it. It’s not something I usually choose to eat. As I mentioned, the primary ingredient in this recipe is cauliflower. A whole head of it, the size of a bowling ball! And, to make matters worse, the recipe doesn’t call for a single clove of garlic. I should have seen the red flags, but no. The appeal of healthy macaroni and cheese was just too strong!

In the recipe’s defense, it does call for Dijon mustard and nutmeg, neither of which I used. I don’t like the former, and I didn’t have the latter in stock. They might have helped, but I’m pretty sure that, without garlic, the recipe was doomed!

Long story short, we boiled the cauliflower until it was very tender, then pureed it with chicken broth, a blend of cheddar cheeses, and some salt and pepper. I was dismayed to discover that this mixture tasted like cauliflower, not cheese. Adding more cheese only meant that there was less of the delicious cheddar to put to other purposes. But, cooking can be like watching a train wreck. It’s painful to watch, but just too hard to pull oneself away.

The saving grace, once the mixture was poured over half a pound of not-fully-cooked macaroni and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, was that the recipe recommends a topping of breadcrumbs. My accomplice and I agreed to use seasoned breadcrumbs. (They were Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, so they must have included at least a small amount of garlic.) We sprinkled on a very generous layer, put the macaroni and cheese in the oven to bake, and prayed.

Our prayers were not heard. Or, if they were heard, they were laughed at and ignored. The only reason this monstrosity was edible at all was because of the bread crumbs! (see? garlic.) Usually very enthusiastic eaters, we each consumed only enough to quiet our rumbling stomachs. The leftovers sat in the fridge for longer than I’m willing to admit. I finally disposed of them a couple of days ago in order to rescue the baking dish and free up some space in the fridge. It was so painful to see so much pasta go to waste!

So, whatever you do, always check the ingredients list before deciding to follow a recipe. If you don’t like the ingredients, you probably won’t like the finished product, no matter how tempting the idea of is.

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