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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

(True) Mac n' Cheese, a Dumpling, and Angel Slices

Leaves are changing, in fact, most have fallen. While it's been very warm during the days, getting up to 65 degrees, evenings and early mornings are still quite cold. Thanksgiving break is coming. I'm gearing up to do the turkey next week, (ack!) but I've made time to do a few things here and there.

The first pursuit was a traditional macaroni and cheese for my nephew and his mom. According to wikipedia, according to Alton Brown, Thomas Jefferson invented macaroni and cheese when he was unable to acquire an Italian pasta-making machine. He developed a machine to make the macaroni and baked it in a casserole with York cheddar. So, true mac and cheese is supposed to be baked like a casserole, rather than finished on the stovetop. My mother makes an amazing stovetop mac and cheese, and it's completely different from this recipe. I couldn't live without either. I also need the mac and cheese from Z'marik's, the local noodle bar. With all these versions so different and so delicious, why choose?

My version is a true mac and cheese

Essentially, it begins with a roux, then a bechamel, then a mornay mixed with 1 lb. pasta, covered with breadcrumbs and sliced tomatoes, and baked.

Easy, right?

Ok, let's start at the beginning; with the roux. A roux is a mixture of flour and butter that have been cooked together. The measurement of a roux is its color. The lighter 'white' roux is cooked for a very short period of time. It is able to thicken very well, but doesn't provide much flavor. A darker 'blond' or 'chocolate' roux which has been cooked longer will contribute a nutty flavor, but less thickening power.

MAC AND CHEESE

melt
6 tbsp. butter

whisk in
1/2 c. flour

cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly. Now that you've got your roux, let's move on to the mother sauce; bechamel.

A bechamel is one of the five famed French 'mother sauces'. According to my food-lovers dictionary, a 19th century French chef, Antonin Careme, created the five sauces considered to be 'mother sauces', so named because there are infinite variations based on each basic sauce.
The big five-


Espagnole
A brown sauce based on stock.


(http://www.dkimages.com/)

veloute
A white sauce based on stock.


(http://www.recipetips.com)

allemande
a veloute with eggs, cream, and lemon juice. (Since this is a modified version of the veloute, I'm not sure why it's considered a mother sauce...)


(http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/)

emulsifications like hollandaise and mayonaise



http://www.bbcgoodfood.com

And finally, the bechamel

This sauce is formed by adding milk to a roux.

Here, we'll add

1 quart milk

while whisking. cook another 2 minutes over low heat to thicken.

Action shot-



A little fresh nutmeg really adds to a b├ęchamel, so add

1 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg


Now we'll make a mornay; a sauce composed of a b├ęchamel and cheese, traditionally swiss and parmesian.

Off the heat, add to the bechamel

6 cups shredded cheese

(I used sharp cheddar, aged white cheddar, and a little pecarino romano. I went cheap because I was feeding a 3 year old. It'd be fantastic to use gruyere or something else really good.)




once all the cheese melts, stir in 1 lb. pasta that you've cooked and drained. Be sure that the water you cook it in is very well salted. It's your only chance to really season the pasta. As for noodles, I love cavatappi, the curly q's, but plain old maracroni works fine.




Spread this all out into a baking dish


I cover my mac and cheese casserole with breadcrumbs. I usually use wheat panko. Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs which are very light and crunchy. You can use whatever you have on hand. To make your own breadcrumbs, cube old bread, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any spices you like. Bake until brown, around 15 minutes. Once cooled, blend in the food processor until well crushed.

In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Stir in 1 1/2 c. bread crumbs


Ina Garten makes her mac and cheese extra special by adding sliced tomatoes, something that I think truly elevates this dish. Baked tomato slices are divine, and really complement this rich dish.
Use a beefsteak tomato, or anything good from farmer's market.

Because I'm a good sister and wife, I've only done this to half of my mac and cheese, so everyone is happy.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minute until the edges are bubbly and the top is golden brown.





Moving on to the next dish.

Another in a series of undocumented projects, I present my potstickers.

This is a recipe that we make all the time. It stretches a little meat a long way, and it's tasty. A lone potsticker survived long enough to be documented, along with the homemade sweet and sour sauce.



Pot stickers

In a large skllet, brown

1 lb. ground meat

(best with pork, but we usually use low-fat hamburger)

1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded

Once nearly cooked through, pour in

2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce

Cook until these evaporate. Cool to room temperature.
Once cool, wrap

1 tsp. filling (NO MORE!)
in a wonton wrapper. fold along the diagonal into a triangle, then fold the lower two corners of the triangle together, making a little boat shape. (How you fold isn't really important so long as there is a definite bottom to the dumpling.)

In a dutch oven, heat

1 tsp. oil

On a back burner, warm, but do not boil,

2 c. stock (any kind will do.)

In the dutch oven, place 5-7 dumplings; only as many as fit with room between.

Brown the bottoms of the dumplings until brown, approximately 1-2 minutes.

Once brown, pour into the dutch oven

1/3 c. warm stock

Cover mostly with the lid, but leave some room for steam to exit.

Cook until the skins are cooked trough, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Serve with soy sauce and homemade sweet and sour sauce, recipe follows.

Mix together in a small pan on medium heat-

1 c. rice wine vinegar

1/3 c. sugar

1 tbsp. ketchup

1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp. salt


Bring to a boil. Cook until to desired consistency. If you have trouble with it thickening, use cornstarch.

YUM.

Finally, I had to bake something for a potluck with my students. They meet once a week with native speakers of English who want to be teachers. I thought food would be a great way to share our history and culture. It was a resounding success, where we sampled shrimp crackers, spicy gelatin, green tea, veggie pizza, empanadas, brownies, and orange drink, among other things. We had so much fun.
Since Thanksgiving break was approaching and most of my students won't be able to experience the typical spread of the day, I brought some pecan bars that are a more portable version of pecan pie.
Whenever I need to bake, I start with Joy of Cooking. That's where I got this recipe for Angel Slices.
Here's the paragraph from Joy-

"Many a copy of the joy has been sold on the strength of this recipe. One fan says her family is sure these are the cakes St. Peter gives little children at the Gates of Heaven, to get them over the first pangs of homesickness. Her family has dubbed them Angel Cookies."

They were a fantastic hit among my students as well as the American students. I'll make them at the bake-off this year for sure.

Cream

1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. sugar

Once light, beat in

1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Sift together

1 1/4 c. a.p. flour
1/8 tsp. salt

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mix. Pat the dough into a 9 X 12 in. pan.
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or so until it's softly browned and the edges start to cook, like this-



For the filling, mix

2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. chopped pecans
2 tbsp. a.p. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Here's the mix-


To get the absolute best flavor from a dessert like this, you must use really good flavoring agents. That means good real vanilla, and fresh nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree. I love lithographs, so here's one from wikipedia-



You might recognize the brainy-looking seed middle left. My local coop sells these in bulk, so I buy them one at a time. Here's one in my kitchen.



The inside is just as interesting-



These will keep in your pantry much longer than ground nutmeg, so I always have one around.

I had always heard that people ate large quantities of nutmeg recreationally, but I never knew why. Thanks to wikipedia, now I do. I love the part about the 'sense of impending doom/death', one of my favorite symptoms.\

"A test was carried out on the substance that showed that, when ingested in large amounts, nutmeg takes on a similar chemical make-up to MDMA (ecstasy). However, use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. A user will not experience a peak until approximately six hours after ingestion, and effects can linger for up to three days afterwards.
A risk in any large-quantity (over 25 g, ~5 teaspoons) ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of 'nutmeg poisoning', an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending doom/ death, and agitation. Some cases have resulted in hospitalization."

At any rate, I grind the seed with a micro-plane grater and it's extremely fragrant. Pour this mix over the crust.



Bake for approximately 25 minutes at 350 until golden.

Once cooled, cover with sifted powdered sugar.

The Joy recipe calls for lemon juice+powdered sugar. I tried plain powdered sugar and decided it was much better.
And for the record, powdered sugar=confectioners sugar. It seems that they call it confectioners sugar in eastern parts of the U.S.

That's all I got folks! There's so much to come I can't even think about it. Thanksgiving went great, you'll hear about it soon!
Peace!
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