Thursday, September 29, 2011

Penne and Cheese (because it's not macaroni)

I posted twice in one day!  Strange, yes, but since I had to pass along a recipe, and had changes to it, I thought I would go ahead and just write it out all together.  This is based on Kurt Dammlier's "World's Best" Macaroni and Cheese.

Hey, guys!  So, last night I made a wonderful mac and cheese - it really might rival my favorites.  And since only one of the three kinds of cheese is a new-addition to my shopping list, it was very economical as well. 

I didn't take pictures at the time, but do have a pic of the original recipe that I modified, so you can get a quick glimpse of the brilliance that is this show-stopping food.

picture courtesy of Martha

Good, huh?  YUP!  It'll be slightly different-looking than that, but you get the idea.

First: Make the Cheese Sauce.
Cheese sauce is like making gravy (as in biscuits and...), which makes me think I am going to fail at it.  Mostly because I have a track record of really good gravy, but only 1/2 cup of it, or a rational amount of sausage-flavored milk to go with the biscuits.  I'm working on this... we all have hangups in this world.  And I must say, even I could not mess this up.  Just pay attention and believe it's science.

melt 4 tbs butter in a heavy-bottomed pan.  I used a 12" pan and although 11" might work, any smaller than that and it would be cheesemageddon.  All over your kitchen.  when the butter is melted, add 1/3 cup flour and wisk it around to create tasty little morsels - and keep generally wisking while this cooks - for 2 minutes.  Trust me.  The full two minutes.

Then slowly add milk. I happen to drink 1%, so that's what I used... and, trust me, I was plenty happy.  So no need to run out and buy whole milk for this one.  Keep wisking for the most part and let it cook/wisk/thicken for another 10 minutes.  The whole ten.  You'd be amazed what happens between 9:30 and 10:00 - it ceases to become slightly-thick milk and turns into something more.  Now take it off the heat and put in 3 cups grated cheddar cheese (I love Sargento for cheese dishes, and since it's going to be highlighted, pay the extra ten cents and enjoy), as well as 1 cup cheddar jack (although I used "Mexican Blend" which also has two other cheeses, and i was happy happy happy).  Also add 1/2 tsp garlic salt and 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder OR smoked paprika powder.

Now, assuming you want to go forward with this whole "pasta" thing and not just serve that sauce over veggies, eggs or your finger, let's move to the pasta:
In the mean-time, cook a box of penne pasta for about 2 minutes less than the manufacture's instructions (for me, that meant 9 minutes).  Drain and rinse to stop cooking process.

Put mostly-cooked pasta in a large bowl and add cheese sauce.  Stir to coat.

Add your delicious goo to a greased 9x13 pan that has been sprayed (or buttered if you're feeling decadent).  Now top with a light sprinkle of the chili powder or smoked paprika all over everything, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup grated gruyere.  mmmm... the melty goodness of gruyere.  And now, just to add a little bit of crunch to the dish (I find it changes up the texture nicely), mix 3/4 of a cup of bread crumbs (ideally I'd use panko for the great texture, but today I just had italian style from progresso) with about 1 1/2 tbs melted butter, and spread over the top.

Pop in the oven for 20 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes, and serve to a grateful world.

Penne and Cheese

Cheese Sauce
4tbs butter
1/3 c flour
3 c milk
3 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup grated cheddar jack (or mexican blend) cheese
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder or smoked paprika

Melt butter, and add flour.  Wisk together and cook for 2 minutes (wisking occasionally) over medium heat.
Slowly add 3 cups of milk (keep wisking) and cook for 10 minutes.  Sauce should thicken, but not boil.
Take off heat and add the rest of the ingredients.

Penne and Cheese
1 lb penne pasta
1/2 c grated cheddar cheese
1/2 c grated gruyere cheese
1 tsp chipotle chili powder or smoked paprika
3/4 cup bread crumbs (wouldn't panko be nice?)
1 1/2 tsp butter

Cook pasta for 2 minutes less than "al dente."  Drain and rinse.
Combine cooked pasta and cheese sauce in a large bowl.
Transfer to 9x13 sprayed baking dish
Melt butter and add bread crumbs.  Stir to combine.
Top with remainder of ingredients and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Wait 5 minutes and serve.

Lizs Baked Brie

This weekend I baked all sorts of delightful goods, and thought to myself at the time "I am on a cooking roll, I will just photograph the next thing." Cinnamon rolls (two batches, because the first failed), chicken enchiladas and my favorite seasonal cake later... I still hadn't taken any pictures. WHY? Because I thought "there is more I am going to bake."  Well now I am baked out.

So I decided to bring to my Tuesday-party the easiest appetizer the world has ever thought of: baked brie. After all, it is wonderful cheese, plus fruit, plus yum equals... umm... yum? (math isn't my strong suit). 

If I could describe my cooking experience yesterday, I would quote one of my favorite redheads Anne Shirley and say "it's such a Jonah day." (that's just the kind of thing people don't say anymore, which makes me sad.)

Even shopping for the baked brie turned out to be a Jonah adventure... first the cheese-monger decided not to have the rounds of brie (although I have seen them on several occasions), and just the slices - fine, I'll muscle through. But, to top it off, neither of two stores had red (or even green) pepper jelly. (I know for a fact Harmon's, Super Target and Kroger all have them, however I live in a field surrounded by a Wal-Mart on both sides, and an Army base, which can be hit and miss.) Sufficient to say, it was a cooking adventure.  And it just goes to prove that my grandmother's saying "in a pinch" is useful.

(side-note, reading her recipes are fantastic.  "soak raisins in apple juice overnight.  in a pinch, microwave for 15-20 seconds."  she always gives you an alternate.)

Speaking of my grandmother, her daughter - My Fabulous Aunt Liz gave me this recipe. She is the source of many wonderful things in this life.  And, apparently, the person who made brie more readily available to me.  Just one of the many things I have to thank her for.  That and my love of boots, and wariness of liquid eyeliner (because it is a SKILL and not to be taken lightly).

What can you say about baked brie? It's easy. It's versatile. And it is delish. Perfect to bring to a formal coffee event with the military, or to bring out before your next casual dinner party.

Step the first, at least 3-4 hours before you want to make your brie, take the pre-made puff pastry out of the freezer. You will not see a lot of pre-made things on this blog, but puff pastry is one of them. Why? Because it's ridiculously time consuming to make (not like easy things like tortillas or pie dough). And, to add insult to injury, it doesn't taste any better than the kind you purchase in your local freezer section. So do yourself (and myself) a favor and give into this one. You'll be so happy you skipped that step.  Plus, Alton Brown told me not to bother with making my own.  So I don't.  Because Alton rarely lies to me (minus our disagreements with proofing yeast).

Now that you're ready to put this together, get out your cheese. mmm.... cheese. Brie is just so creamy and delicious, I could eat it all day. But then I wouldn't be able to fit into my pants, so sharing is preferred (not that I haven't eaten an entire wheel by myself at a Super Bowl party... whatever).

I prefer to cut the rind off of my brie. I know it's eatable, but I have a thing with textures, so it must go in my book.  If you have no texture issue, feel free to skip this step.

Now unfold and roll out your puff pastry (note, this is puff pastry, not phyllo dough. Although I have accidentally used the latter, I promise this tastes like 8 times better). Roll it out slightly. obviously, this depends on how much cheese you plan on putting in there. Today I had such a small square of cheese that I ended up over-rolling, and trimmed some off.

Add some jelly to the pastry right over where your cheese is going to go. As I said before, the preferred jelly is a red pepper jelly, and is generally quite easy to find (if you don't live in the middle of nowhere). However, I have also tried this with green pepper jelly, and with ginger marmalade. All of them are good options. Today I tried a new jam: Red Currant. It was lovely, and I may be making this switch again. This is especially good if someone you know is 100% heat-resistant for their food. The pepper jelly has a subtle after-punch, and this has a great not-to-sweet flavor I am happy I tried.

Now add the cheese (if you're like me and have to fib on your cheese shape, just create a square out of your triangles... see, looks like I did learn something in math class after all).

And, just for good measure, add some more jelly. Just because you're fancy like that. And because it is good.

Now, seal it up. Make sure there isn't a hole the cheese can creep out of anywhere, and put an egg-wash (yup, just brush an egg on top) over the top. If you feel so inclined, decorate the delicious little package with pecans. I've also decorated with craisins for a poka-dot look.

I generally twist opposite corners to make a little "package" shape, but a basic square works.  So long as it's sealed, you'll be happy.  And happiness is what cheese is all about.

Stick it in a 530 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, and share it with your friends when it comes out. Serve with fruit (we had apples, pears and craisins last night) and crackers.

Now sit back and relax, because in less than 5 minutes, you have created a gourmet appetizer. And now everyone will want to come to your parties. Congrats.
I meant to take a picture of this much earlier in the party... but you forget about it for a few minutes, and look what happens. 

Aunt Liz's Baked Brie

1 6 or 8 inch round of Brie (rind-trimming optional)
1 jar of Red Pepper Jelly (or reasonable facimilie)
1 sheet pre-made puff pastry (thawed)
Pecans or Cranberries (optional)

Defrost pastry overnight.
Roll pastry so it's flat and round.
Put a layer of jam, cheese, and a second layer of jam in center of rolled pastry sheet
Encase the cheese completely with pastry.  Seal edges well.
Brush pastry with egg wash.  Decorate as needed.

Bake 350 for 20-25 minutes.  

Serve with crackers, grapes, crackers and pear slices.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lazy Day Duff

My internet has been down. For about a week and a half. I had no idea how reliant I was on it for just about everything. I live thousands of miles away from most of my friends, and all of my family, so I need to email/facebook and generally annoy them. And apparently simple things that I know how to do (how long do you cook a chicken breast?), I second guess myself and think "but maybe 25 minutes won't be long enough and I will get Salmonella and die." Long story short, I'm happy to be back.

This weekend I had one of those weekends. I didn't go to the grocery store, I didn't even clean. I remember being busy but with what, I can not tell you. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I started thinking about what I could make with ingredients hanging around my (severely depleated) house/pantry.

Out of eggs? Have to scrape the bottom of the container to find sugar? You can still make a Lazy Day Duff. I'm convinced it's called "Lazy Day" Duff because even if you didn't do productive things like "grocery shopping" you still deserve some dessert, and can make this with whatever you have in the house. And some amount of canned/frozen fruit you have no current plans with.

Step one, melt butter in the bottom of an 8x8 pan. This can be done by just melting the butter in the microwave and adding it to the pan, or melting the butter right in the pan (as I have done here). I do this because... well... I hate doing dishes.

Step two, add brown sugar. As a note, when my mother would make this she would only put brown sugar (to make caramely goodness) on half of the pan. It was very disconcerting to me since that half would be gone in mere moments, leaving only the non-caramel side to have (for breakfast) the next day. I later learned that my father doesn't like the brown sugar in this dish (which is surprising to me since he likes so many other wonderful things in the world). So feel free to leave that part out if you feel so inclined. I'm not sure why you would... but it does make it healthier for breakfast... Anyway, sprinkle LIBERALLY brown sugar on the bottom. You might use 1/2 a cup for this dish. Do you think you've put enough on? Go ahead, add a little more. You'll thank me later.

Step three: make the batter. Just dump the rest of the ingredients (minus the fruit) into a small bowl, mix with a wisk until combined, and dump ontop of the butter/sugar goodness you've just created. Don't mix. Just level it out a little bit.

Step four: dump fruit over the top. If you're working with "halves" of fruit, cut them up on the way in to "sliver" sized amounts. Make sure most of the liquid from the can is drained... but if there is a small amount of liquid that makes it in, well that's just better for everyone. If you were to spoon the fruit from the can, the amount of moisture that gets caught in the middle is about right.

I made my dessert with canned peaches. (If you (or your mother/grandmother/friendly neighbor) can peaches, this is the moment to bring them out.) However, if you are like me and no longer have access to such wonderful food storage, you can use canned fruit. not pie filling. but canned fruit. (Because I've used pie filling and tried to take some sugar out of the batter, and drain all the goop, and it is still sweet enough to give you a cavity just by smelling it.) But, since you haven't been to the store in a while, if you just have frozen fruit... it's a really great plan B. Totally workable. A much better option than this pie filling idea. Just sharing my mistakes... Good fruit for this is peaches, plums, cherries. Or maybe what you have in the house? (those are things we've used... but I don't doubt what you are making sounds great.)

Just out of the oven.  And what you can't see here is that the layers are bubbling, and it smells like awesome.

Oh, and this recipe is easily doubled if you can't find your 8x8 pan and want to use a standard cake pan.  Or you just want to make enough to share.

Lazy Day Duff

4 tbs butter (melted)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1 large can of fruit (preferably something canned by your grandmother... it just tastes better)

1. Melt butter and put in the bottom of an 8x8 pan
2. Coat bottom of the pan with brown sugar
3. In a separate bowl wisk to combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk and vanilla
4. Dump mixture into prepared pan
5. Top by dumping fruit over the top
6. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees and test with toothpick for done-ness.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipping cream

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Overnight Fruit Salad

Hey there! I was so happy to hear that people got out and made lemon curd this weekend!

I've felt guilty all week long for not giving you an actual recipe for something you could use it with, and since today I was asked to bring a fruit salad to our FRG (Family Readiness Group) event, I am now giving you a lemon-ish fruit salad, and it is so good. Plus, the best part of this salad is that it's light and tasty so it's good for summer, but also involves fruit available in most parts of the world year-round, so it's been a staple for those winter months, too. Or maybe the best part of this salad is that it's embarassingly easy. And since I'm making mine to take to an Army-Wife event, it kindof fits with my theme.

See, I love the 1950s and 1960s. And I love Jackie Kennedy. And I have a crush on Don Draper (ala Mad Men). And I love the outfits from that entire era. But I do not love Marshmellow Fluff, and am on the fence about Jell-o (which apparently covers about 75% of dishes from best I can tell between those two ingredients). And sometimes when I think about being an Army Wife and doing Army Wife activities (or about giving up a career to support a husband in his, or being called Mrs. by everyone my husband works with), I think about the WWII and Vietnam Army Wife. And I have days where I think "this is what Jackie would do. I just know it." Or, on less awesome days, "I am Betty Draper... minus the (marshmallow) fluff. And, you know, craziness." This salad is kindof an updated Ambrosia salad (minus the coconut, although if you're craving some, throw it on in). And makes me feel like I should be cooking in pearls instead of yoga pants.

But I wear the yoga pants just the same.

First, start by making Lemon Curd again (sorry for all the "curd." I've been told it's an offensive word, but that's just what it's called...). Put it in a bowl to cool, and turn your attention to the fruit.

Drain all the canned fruit well (this stuff gets soupy if left half-hazarly drained),

and cut-up your apples and grapes. I try to go for purple grapes and red apples to add a splash of color, but that stems from having a mother who once got upset because everything she made for supper that night was tan/orange, and she didn't like the way the plate looked... so I'm sure you can understand where I'm coming from here. Anyway, cut them up. Even the grapes. Even if they are small. Because nobody likes a goopy grape rolling around on their plate and getting into their other food or on their lap.

Add all the ingredients (minus bananas and whipping cream) to a large bowl (making sure to mix the lemon curd well... after all, this is going to keep your apples from getting that gross color), and refrigerate. Ideally overnight (this is a great brunch menu item), but if you're like me and wake up in the morning remembering suddenly remembering you need to eat food that day, first thing in the morning will do. Heck, in a pinch I've even let it sit for an hour before, but it just wasn't as tasty.

Just before serving, add a cut-up banana and some whipping cream. I tend to be a whipped cream snob, so I go for the real thing (with a little bit of sugar, and again, too much vanilla). If, however, you promote no such snobbery, this is a FAR better place for Cool Whip than most.

Stir it up, and enjoy the beautiful, tasty and flashback of it all. I'm sure if Betty Draper would have made this, she would have served it at the adults table -- isn't it a wonder that children ate totally different food from the adults? I will now cease my Mad Men ranting, and start thinking of things to keep me away from devouring this before my spouse-meeting. I'm sure it's very NOT-Jackie Kennedy to take a half-eaten bowl of anything to a pot-luck.

Overnight Fruit Salad

1 batch Lemon Curd (see previous post), about 1 1/4 cup
2 cups grapes, sliced
2 apples, cut into small chunks
1 can pinapple tidbits - well drained
1 can mandarin oranges - well drained
1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup Craisins
Whipping Cream
2 bananas, sliced

Add grapes, apples, pineapple, mandarin oranges, marshmallows and craisins to a large bowl. Combine. Add lemon curd and mix again. Refrigerate 5 hours, or overnight.

Add whipping cream and bananas, and be happy to know you've brought this much happiness in such an easy dish.