Monday, May 21, 2012

Comfort Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Making macaroni and cheese from scratch is very very easy.  You should try it.

First make the sauce, then cook the pasta, drain the pasta, toss together in a large bowl, place in serving bowl, bring to table, eat it all up!  So easy.

White Sauce with Cheese
Melt 1 stick butter in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  When just melted, whisk in one-half cup flour and whisk until completely combined and smooth.  Let cook for two minutes to get the "raw" flour taste to disappear.   Carefully stir in 2 cups milk and whisk until smooth.  When the sauce begins to thicken, which it does fairly quickly, particularly if you pre-warm the milk, add 2 MORE cups milk and stir until thick-ish again.  When the sauce is thickened, add 2-3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese and stir until melted and smooth again.  Take pot off the heat and cover. 

Things I often add to the above:  freshly ground black pepper,  granulated garlic--a little bit, parsley-up to a tablespoon,  leftover homemade French onion dip (you know, the kind you make with 2 cups real sour cream and one packet Lipton's Onion Soup Mix),  even some of the garlic-y, cheese-y salsa from a party you had two nights ago.  It all tastes great.  I also often squirt in some nice honey mustard. That adds a GREAT flavor.

While you are making the above sauce you can start a large pot full of water boiling for the pasta.  Use one pound macaroni, or if you like to live on the edge,  choose something like rotini, or how about some VEGETABLE rotini?  The smaller stuff like orzo is not so great. It all just seems like glop and is rather unappealing though it still tastes plenty good.

When cooking the pasta,  add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the boiling water and cook to the "dente" that you like.  Some of us like it well-cooked, and even mushy, but you might like it "al dente".  Go for it if that is was you like.

When the pasta is cooked to your pleasure, pour it into a colander in your sink to drain then put into a large bowl.  With a rubber scraper, scrape the cheese sauce on top of the pasta and give it a thorough stir to coat all the macaroni/rotini/fusilli/etc with sauce.  You can now serve it immediately in a pretty serving bowl, or you can place it in a casserole dish, sprinkle on some bread crumbs and let it "brown" in the oven.  This is what you would do if you are making this in the morning for supper and need to refrigerate during the day.  When you get home, put it in the oven (on a cookie sheet if the casserole dish you are using is filled to the top because you can have overflow--though if you have cooked your pasta to al dente, the sauce will have been absorbed and you will have a rather drier macaroni and cheese than cooking and eating immediately.

This is pretty good with a big fat vegetable-filled green salad, or with some nice homemade coleslaw.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Artisan Bread

Artisan Bread is the best thing since, well, artisan bread!  It is so yummy--chewy, yet sort of soft, with a great crust.

To make Artisan Bread you need:
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's--after all, they live in the next town south)
1 1/2 Tablespoons dry yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups tepid water

Mix all together in a large bowl (are a covered bucket from the Coop's recycled bucket corner) and stir together with a spoon.  Be SURE to stir in ALL the flour in the bottom of the bowl or you will have icky hard spots in your finished bread.  Just to be sure you have mixed in all the flour into the water, wet your clean hand and arm and give a few good swipes at the dough, picking up any flour that was left and mix it in by hand.  Wash hand and arm immediately.

Cover the bowl/bucket and let sit on the counter at room temperature for two hours.  At the end of two hours, particularly if you are edgy for some great bread,  you can then shape your loaves.  This will make four small round loaves or two larger loaves or one pretty good-sized loaf.

Before shaping, put a piece of parchment paper on a baking pan to receive the loaf.  To shape,  quickly, but gently, form into a ball by rotating the ball a quarter turn or so at a time.  The top/outside should be nice and smooth...but be GENTLE and BE QUICK!  Don't overwork the dough.  Gently put the ball down on your parchment-lined pan and let rise for 30 minutes then turn the oven on to preheat at 450 degrees.  By the time the oven is pre-heated the bread will be ready-but ONLY if you have let the dough rise 30 minutes before you turn on the oven!

When the oven is ready/hot, with a sharp knife slash 3 diagonal lines across the top of the loaf and slide into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.  If you want to be fancy, you can make an egg wash or a cornstarch and water wash, brush the wash onto the dough before slashing then sprinkle on your favorite seeds, like sesame, poppy, or caraway.  Go wild and try something else.  Anyway, after the wash and seeds, give the diagonal slashes and pop the bread in the oven to bake.

When the bread is baked,  let it cool on a rack until completely cool, if you have the self-control.  If no control,  give it at least 5 minutes to cool so you won't totally burn your fingers, then cut off the end slice (by FAR the best part of the bread) and slather it with real butter.  Never, never, NEVER use margarine or fake stuff on this bread.  If you have some butter issues, the get a great olive oil bread dipping sauce, but don't ever ruin the bread by using that garbage-y nasty fake butter-type stuff which was invented during the war.  Never mind what someone tells you about how bad dairy butter is.  The fake stuff is worse.  Just use olive oil if you can't bring yourself to use butter.

Try not to eat the whole loaf yourself.  That IS bad for you...

Greek Salad (fiasco, almost...)

This Greek Salad is so good...even if you forget the feta!


8 cups bite-sized romaine lettuce
1 cup thinly sliced and quartered English cucumber (not being a fan of cucumber, this was the way to go for our salad)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
4 Roma, or other plum, tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup Kalamata olives
8 peperoncini, or more if you want
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Toss all together in a large salad bowl then pour on the dressing, starting with about 1/4 cup then add a little more at a time until you have enough.  It is MUCH better to start with too little!

NOTE:  I think the feta doesn't want to be in this salad!  Even while typing in the recipe above I forgot the feta cheese!!!

Homemade Greek Dressing


3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons fresh grated garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or other vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 ounces feta cheese

NOTE: Have on hand some lite ranch salad dressing in case you discover the garlic bites back a bit too much!  For our salad I cut the Greek dressing 50/50 with the ranch dressing.

In food processor put in everything except the olive oil and pulse until the garlic is very finely chopped.  Drizzle in the olive oil a little at a time while the processor is still running.  The dressing will thicken up somewhat.

Put into a glass jar with a cover...perhaps an empty clean wide-mouthed salsa jar?...and refrigerate for two hours or more.  About 30 minutes before dressing your salad take out of the refrigerator to let the olive oil come back to room temperature.  When the oil is liquid again, give the jar a good shaking then take a small bit of artisan bread, or other bread, and dip into dressing to test for bite.  If too strong, add some of the ranch dressing.  When you are happy with the dressing dress the salad by pouring on about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dressing.  That is all we needed on our salad.  If you like to drown your salad in dressing, feel totally free...just be sure you and your guests like it that way. It is impossible to undress a salad.

Even without the feta cheese in our salad, it was really really good.  That was all I ate for supper and there were many other good things that went with it.