Category Archives: cheese

mac n’ cheese, please

Macaroni and cheese is a little like chocolate — often it’s ordinary, sometimes it’s sublime, but either way it’s tasty. I will admit that I have been guilty of coming home, tired and hungry, after a long day at work and opening a box of shells and powdered cheese. With enough black pepper, I find this a totally comforting, one bowl dinner. But it always makes me feel sad, because with just a little more energy and not much more time, I could have eaten something wonderful.

Mac n' Cheese

Anne, of course, is a big fan of macaroni and cheese (the woman subsists, essentially, on complex carbohydrates and cheese). So having a recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese that I can put together on a week night with stuff we almost always have on hand is essential to my marriage. I like to bake this version in a low gratin dish because you get a larger surface area for covering with breadcrumbs that get all toasty and crusty when fused with cheese in the oven. The interior, though, is creamy with a significant bite from the cheese. If you enlist a partner to grate the cheese while you boil the pasta and whisk the sauce, you can have the whole thing assembled and in the oven in 25 minutes.

Macaroni & Cheese

½ lb elbows or penne
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the dish
2 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder (I know, I know – so sue me…)
pinch of nutmeg
10 oz. shredded cheese (I use 6 – 8 oz. sharp cheddar and gruyere for the rest)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 350º and butter a 2 quart gratin dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, in a 2 quart saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until foaming subsides. Dump in flour, all at once, and whisk vigorously until the flour is incorporated but the mixture is still pale gold. Slowly whisk in milk and simmer, stirring frequently, over medium low heat until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes.*

Cream SauceOnce the sauce is thickened, add salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper) and remaining spices, whisking until thoroughly combined. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the 2/3 of the grated cheese by handfuls, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Taste the sauce at this point to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Pour sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine.

Pour half the pasta and cheese sauce mixture into the prepared gratin dish. Sprinkle on half the remaining grated cheese. Add the rest of the pasta mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese. In a small bowl, melt remaining tablespoon of butter and mix with bread crumbs. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs on top of macaroni and cheese and bake about 30 minutes until hot and bubbling. If your bread crumbs aren’t brown enough for your liking, put the dish under the broiler for 2 – 3 minutes.

Mac n' Cheese on Plate

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 — 8 as a side dish.

* If you want to speed up the sauce, you can warm the milk in the microwave (or on the stove) before adding it to the roux.

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reinforcements

Our friend Ellis has graciously agreed to have dinner with us once a week to help out with mission eat-down-the-freezer (sub-specialty: meat). Ellis is 7. I’ve known him for over five years and in that time we’ve eaten a lot of meals together. Most of those meals are festive, however, with a prescribed menu. So last night, I quizzed our dinner guest about his likes and dislikes.

Here is some of what I learned: He hates potatoes (who doesn’t like potatoes?). The only time he eats cooked carrots is when they appear in the school lunch. (This shocks me; the chaos of an elementary school cafeteria seems easy cover for ditching your vegetables.) Bacon was once the only breakfast meat he ate, but he recently had sausage at a friend’s house and was quickly won over. Also, Ellis absolutely loves fettucine alfredo, but claims it is rarely served to him. (Remember the days before you had your own kitchen and could reach the stove? Those were hard times, man.)

Stuffed Peppers

Last night we had stuffed peppers and a Caesar salad, which I described as salad with ranch dressing and cheese because Ellis claims he only eats salad with ranch dressing. (He ate the salad. Some day I will tell him the truth — maybe for his bar mitzvah.) I made the peppers because the filling contains three things I know Ellis likes: ground beef, sausage and mozzarella cheese. And, let’s be honest, because I’ve got a problem with freezer capacity, exacerbated since Anne decided to horde half of her birthday turnovers for a rainy day.

It was love at first sight for me and Ellis. After we met, he told his mom he liked my hair. I am unreasonably vain about my hair. To paraphrase Vicki (the crazy, drunk one) from The Real Housewives of Orange County, I pay a lot of money to be blond, not yellow. Ellis is a blond too. We understand each other. He gave the peppers three-quarters of a thumbs-up. I take his honesty as a sign of the strength of our bond.

Stuffed Pepper on PlateI think they’re yummy. The red peppers get all sweet and roasted in the hot oven, and the interior — full of cheese, parsley and tomatoes — is savory, bright and satisfying. And did I mention that there is sausage inside? Plus, you keep them in your freezer, folks, and then just cook up as many as you want whenever you want. So smaht, as they say around here.

Stuffed Peppers
From Cook’s Country (the red-headed step-child of Cook’s Illustrated)

Peppers and Stuffing
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 oz. 85% lean ground beef
4 oz. Italian sausage, casings removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked, long-grain rice
1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 medium red bell peppers

Cut the peppers in half through the stem end, but leave the stem intact. Remove seeds and core and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onion until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add the beef and sausage, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, until meat begins to brown, 6 – 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Place mixture in colander and drain for 1 minute.

In a large bowl, combine meat mixture, rice, tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Refrigerate until well chilled, about half an hour.

Filling Ingredients

Spoon filling evenly into pepper halves. Wrap each pepper in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of tin foil. Place in zip lock bags and freeze up to two months.

For Serving:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Bamboo Skewering PepperPreheat oven to 450º. Cut as many pieces of foil as peppers you’ll be cooking; the squares of foil should be just large enough to cover the stuffing in the peppers. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray (or brush with oil). Unwrap peppers and cover filling with the foil squares. Using a bamboo skewer, poke several holes in the filling.

Place the peppers, foil side down, on a broiler pan. Brush the backs of the peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until peppers are spotty brown. Remove pan from oven. Flip peppers over and remove foil. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, return to oven and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

party like it’s 1974

My parents were married in 1974 and, like a lot of newlyweds of that era, received a Dansk fondue set as a wedding present.

Fondue Pot

(That’s right; that is an authentic, Dansk Kobenstyle fondue pot. I love you, eBay!)

It came with a booklet full of fondue recipes — cheese, chocolate and meat. The cheese fondue recipe included directions that read like a junior high kissing game — smooch the person to your left if you lose your bread in the bubbling cheese, for example. I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I’m sure these directions were the work of some swinging 70s marketeer. I mean, since when are the Swiss sexy? Also, I can tell you from personal experience, this is not the dish to serve if you are looking to get some action because your lover is likely to eat him or herself sick and be plagued by dairy belly for the rest of the evening.

Fondue with Apple

So don’t make this for Valentine’s Day.

But honestly, what could taste better than melty cheese and wine? According to Anne, nothing.

Cheese Fondue

1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
½ lb Gruyère cheese
½ lb Emmenthaler cheese
pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons kirsch
1 tablespoon cornstarch
salt and white pepper, to taste

Using a box grater, shred both cheeses and place in a bowl with the nutmeg. Rub the cut side of the garlic clove over the inside of the fondue pot and over the bowl of a wooden spoon. Discard garlic clove. Bring wine to a simmer in the pot over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cheeses and nutmeg, a handful at a time, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. The cheese will melt, but it won’t be thoroughly incorporated into the wine.

In a small bowl, mix together the constarch and kirsch to form a slurry. Off heat, add the kirsch mixture to the wine and cheese. Return the pot to the heat, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick and incorporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste.

Fondue AccoutrementsPlace the fondue pot on the stand, over a sterno flame. Serve with cubes of crusty French bread, slices of apple and steamed new potatoes. According to my sources, this amount of cheese serves 4 people. I am a little embarrassed to say that Anne and I eat almost the whole thing, every time.

egg obsession

Last summer, I became somewhat obsessed with the farm eggs I was able to purchase at the Government Center farmers’ market. The eggs were beautiful and fresh with bright orange yolks and thick whites. Everything we made with them tasted better, from basic scrambled eggs to cheese puffs. My whole summer revolved around ensuring continued access to these eggs: getting my name on the weekly pick-up list, asking friends and co-workers to pick up eggs for me when I had a meeting on the day of the market or when I was on vacation. Even when we had plenty of eggs in the fridge, I’d buy another dozen, just to be safe. Then, in November, the farmers’ market ended and, with it, my supply of farm eggs.

Farm Eggs

Going back to grocery store eggs was difficult — the yolks were depressingly pale, the whites a little watery and the flavor lack luster. On my to-do list since the farmers’ market closed for the season was to find a new source of farm eggs that was reasonably close to home. On Friday, I took my first trip to Codman Community Farms in Lincoln, Mass. where they sell farm eggs and humanely raised beef, lamb and pork. The farm store operates on the honor system — take your eggs and leave $2.75 per dozen in the drop box.

The eggs are wonderful, and to celebrate my find, I made a cheese soufflé for dinner Friday night. The thing about soufflé is that it seems daunting, but it’s really not. The only special skill you need is the ability to fold beaten egg whites into the creamy base, and that’s a skill anyone can master with a little practice. The other thing that’s great about soufflé is that it seems like company food, but chances are, you already have all the ingredients you need in your refrigerator. Sure, cheese soufflé is fancy enough to serve company, but I like to make it for dinner on a week night for just Anne and me. With a salad and a glass of wine, it’s a perfect meal and it makes a Wednesday night feel like a special occasion.

Cheese Souffle

Cheese Soufflé
Adapted from The New Basics, Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the dish
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks at room temperature
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese*
2 tablespoon minced chives
4 egg whites at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400º. Butter a 6 cup soufflé dish, sprinkle the buttered dish with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and turn the dish to coat the bottom and sides with the cheese. Set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, whisk in the flour and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, forming a thick paste. Slowly whisk the milk into the roux. Add the salt and pepper and cook the mixture, stirring often, until it comes to a boil and is thick, about 5 minutes. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Working quickly, whisk the egg yolks, one at a time, into the hot milk mixture. Add the shredded Gruyère, remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan and chives. This is the base. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they just hold stiff peaks. Stir a heaping spoonful of the egg whites into the base to lighten it. Carefully fold the remaining egg whites into the base. You don’t want to deflate the whites too much, but do make sure that the whites and the base are completely incorporated into one, cohesive batter.

Pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake about 10 minutes more until the soufflé is puffed and golden. The soufflé will still be a little wet inside, but cooked through. Serve immediately. Serves about 4 as a main dish, and 6 – 8 as a side dish.

Whisking the BaseAdding Whites to BaseFinished BatterSouffle Interior

* If you don’t have Gruyère, cheddar will also work well.