creamy macaroni and cheese

Quite a few years ago I published a brutal recipe for mac and cheese, which sustained us for many years. This week I am under doctor's orders to eat nothing but soft food and nothing acid (don't ask). So I decided to fire up a super-soft mac and cheese.

While a one-pound (dry weight) boxful of macaroni is boiling in the pot, make a roux by cooking a few tbsp of flour in a few tbsp of butter until it just starts to change color. Add milk slowly, whisking to keep the roux from forming clumps. Then add about a pound (maybe less) of grated cheese. The milk-to-cheese ratio sets the texture of the dish; use your judgement. And you can use any cheeses you like here; I sometimes even use this recipe to clear the fridge of remainders of cheeses (as I did today). Heat the roux-milk-cheese sauce and add in the macaroni, preferably slightly before the pasta is truly done, with lots of pepper and salt to taste. Either eat it immediately (as I did today), or else top it with more cheese (and maybe breadcrumbs?) and put it in a 400 F (200 C) oven to finish the top.

Interesting fact though: When you bake it, it becomes far less creamy! I think it's probably because the macaroni absorbs some of the milk. So if you want it super-creamy, either don't bake it, or else go with way more milk than you think is sensible.


pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes

It being end of summer and all, and me being over-confident in my no-recipe kitchen skills, I did the following today: I softened up two chopped onions and a bit of red pepper (because it was there) in a stick of butter. I then filled the pot with halved tomatoes (maybe 15 tomatoes) that the 'fuzz brought me from the Union Square Farmer's Market. I didn't peel the tomatoes first because (a) it isn't rocket science, and (b) I know I will be able to fish out the peels later. I added two cloves of garlic (smacked), 1 tbsp of red-wine vinegar, some fresh basil, some sprigs of fresh thyme, and a lot of salt and pepper (and a bit of that Japanese hot spice I have for ramen).

I started this all cooking. The tomatoes immediately released a lot of water and their skins, which I fished out (easily). I then executed the ultimate total-neglect move: I put the pot, uncovered, into a 275 F (135 C) oven and waited, stirring once an hour.

After 3 hours I pulled it out, pulled out the thyme sprigs, mashed the rest (with a potato masher) and then put it on the stovetop to reduce it further. That is, it wasn't thick enough (for my taste). Next time I'll do it at 300, not 275, with the hope that it will come out thicker. But it tastes great!

Recipes on the internet say you should peel and then seed the tomatoes before starting. I'm not sure why.


cauliflower purée

This side dish is for roast chicken or braised short rib or anything else out of the oven: Chop a head of cauliflower and steam it until soft (about 20 minutes). Add it to the blender with a (very) big hunk of butter and lots of salt and pepper. Blend to smooth; if you have trouble, adjust texture with cream, butter or water. Serve by making it a base layer on each plate, with the meat and vegetables on top. Cauliflower has a truffle-like thing going on that makes any meal seem fancier.


braised short rib

I have made this a few times and it never disappoints! It is an assemblage of ideas from different sources.

Burn a few pounds (I have done up to 4) of beef short rib in a bit of butter in a very hot oven-proof pan. Don't skimp on this step; you want them super-dark on the outside. Remove them to a plate. Then cook a couple onions, chopped coarsely, in the pan until the onions are starting to caramelize. Also don't skimp on this step; you want the onions to get sweet. These two steps take 45 minutes, combined, in reality. While you are doing this, pre-heat the oven to 250F.

Add to the pot one can of cheap beer, a few tablespoons of molasses, a fair bit of salt, and maybe two tablespoons of vinegar. You want some sweet and some sour. The 'Chard recommends trying star anise if you want to go more asian. That's worth trying. Garlic is also a good idea. Put the whole thing, covered, in the 250F oven for three hours. Remove the cover for the last hour of that to reduce the liquid a bit. At the end, the meat falls apart on your fork and is a bit sweet.

If you have a day job, do the two covered hours the night before, save it until tomorrow, and do the last uncovered hour the next day. That's what I'm doing tonight, and maybe it's even better this way. Serve with mashed potatoes or cauliflower purée and some greens like bok choy (sautéed with soy sauce, mirin, and sesame oil). And don't forget the braising pan juices; they are half the point of this dish!


tomato sauce for pasta

I got this recipe from Kate Hamerton (who modified it from something in The Times): Put one stick of butter, one large can of whole tomatoes, and one onion,
quartered, into a saucepan with salt to taste. Simmer for one hour, mashing the tomatoes as little or as much as you like. Remove onions at the end. Crazy!



My drink texting (not drunk texting) with Chris Borden of Seattle got me onto beer cocktails. Here's the state of my research as of right now. I have many variations, and I certainly don't know what is the difference between a chelada and a michelada. And I also love to add some Clamato (tm)!

  • juice of 3/4 to 1 lime
  • many shakes of salt (ie, a large pinch)
  • two shakes of Old Bay (tm) seasoning
  • two dashes of very hot hot sauce
  • three dashes of Worchestershire sauce
  • one can or bottle of ice-cold Modelo (tm) or Pacifico (tm) or Corona (tm) or equivalent.

Mix everything but the beer (so that the salt dissolves) in a pint glass and then pour the beer in slowly. Enjoy! Serves one.


moroccan braised lamb shanks: what they don't tell you

Made "Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks" from marthastewart.com today.  The ingredients in the recipe all made sense but the total typical cooking time was not specified.  Also, it wasn't clear whether to cover the pan or not, but since the recipe mentioned "until the sauce has reduce somewhat", I assumed the pan should be uncovered.  In the end, it was 5 hours at 325 for the mean to be "falling off the bone".  Turn after the first hour and then every 30 minutes or so.  In other words, this a good one to make when you'll be home anyway.

Starts off looking like this with the shanks (no browning!) about half submerged in the braising liquid:

After an hour and half, still not too inspiring:

But after a total of 5 hours:

Great colour, tastes amazing.  Don't bother trying to strain the sauce.  Just tip the pan to pool the sauce at one end and use a spoon to push the fat out of the way.  They serve it with seared baby fennel, a wheat berry salad and minted yoghurt.  Haven't got that tonight so it'll be couscous and blanched green beans tossed with extra virgin olive oil.

This dish would also scale easily to a dozen shanks in a larger roasting pan.  This technique is very similar to one proposed by Alice Waters in The Art of Simple Food for pork shoulder with chiles (the half-submerged lid-off braise).


steamed mussels in white wine

This one is in high rotation Chez Hogg: Burn some chopped onion, carrot, and celery in a few tbsb of butter. Add 8-ish ounces of white wine, bring to a boil. Add 2lb of ice-cold, rinsed mussels. Boil/steam until all the mussels are open and plump (and give them a few more minutes after that); should take less than 15 min.

Partition mussels into shallow bowls, and then finish the soup with (lots of) salt, pepper, parsley, and (optionally) cream. Pour soup over mussels in the shallow bowls. Top with a bit more parsley and finely chopped fresh onion or shallot.

Serves four with french fries or salad or eight as a first course for something. Can be expanded arbitrarily (as we learned on Christmas Eve this year). Also consider adding curry to the soup, or harissa.


savory mini-flan or mini-strata

Just pulled these together and feel I must write this down as it could be a breakthrough addition to school lunch options for my people.  Two of these (which would be good at any temperature) and a nice green salad: baby!
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 slices of stale bread cubed
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 zucchini cut into small dice, blanched in salted water and drained well (about a cup)
  • 1/4 fresh basil chiffonade 
Divide among six buttered popover molds (silicone works great) and bake at 375F for about 40 min or until the internal temperature of the flans is about 170F. Serves 3 adults for a light lunch.

The cup of cooked veg and cooked be replaced with cooked carrots, green beans, broccoli, chopped spinach, etc. and easily doubled.  This is how I would stretch this to feed 6 adults.


what makes a chunky soup a soup?

The team doesn't like their soup to be more chunky stuff than broth.  For me, 1:1 is a good chunk:broth ratio, but I have a feeling they're looking for 1:2 or even 1:3 if the broth is especially good or the chunks don't involve pasta.

When the ratio is wrong, the "soup" is regarded with (at best) thinly veiled disdain as a shallow plateful of damp vegetables.  My goal is to improvise soups that elicit cries of joy and satisfaction; the team appreciates the food I make, but the joy's not always there.  Excelsior!