November 22, 2012

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese

It's Thanksgiving!  Only my favorite day of the year; mostly because the entire day is about food.  I think that's why it's most everyone's favorite day.  For about the 7th year in a row I'm headed to my sister's to celebrate with our family and my brother-in-law's side of the family.  My typical role is sous chef/dish washer but sometimes I bring a little somthin' to add.

A few years back I attempted a crock-pot macaroni and cheese and it kinda flopped.  In my mind I was thinking "the kids will love this!", but it turned into a mushy, flavorless, starchy heap covered in fake cheese.  I'm pretty sure the kids didn't even like it.

This year I'm going macaroni and cheese at it again, but of the more grown-up variety.  You know, melt the butter and add flour and milk and spices and let it simmer until the flavors come together.  And then add cup after cup after cup of shredded cheese.  Real cheese.  Grown-up cheese from the specialty cheese area at my grocery store. $21 worth of cheese, to be exact. You know it has to be good.
I did a quick search for recipes and chose one that was featured in the Los Angeles Times.  It calls for 5 cups of mild cheddar and 3 cups of Swiss gruyere.  I went with Hennings mild cheddar, Grand Reserve gruyere and a white medium cheddar.  I'm assuming you could use any combination in this recipe, depending on your flavor preferences.  As a side note, I used just over a pound of the cheddar and a half pound of the gruyere to get to the required 7 cups of shredded cheese.  I over-estimated how many blocks of cheese it would take and ended up with about a half pound of cheddar that I did not shred; surely it will go to good use in another recipe.

Before you get started, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and cook 1lb. of large shell pasta or large elbow macaroni in salted water.

You will need:

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1tps. melted butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups milk (I used whole, but you can probably substitute another variety)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
4 cups mild cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded Swiss gruyere cheese (I used a different type of gruyere but it worked)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1.) Toast the panko bread crumbs in a teaspoon of melted butter in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally as to avoid burning.
2.) Melt butter over medium heat and stir in flour until smooth and bubbling slightly.  Remove mixture from heat and add the milk, spices and bay leaf and return to heat until it comes to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.) Remove the bay leaf and stir in the gruyere and 3 cups of the cheddar until everything is melted and incorporated into the milk mixture. Add the pasta to the pot containing the cheese sauce until coated.  Then pour into a buttered 9X13 baking dish.  The baking dish needs to be relatively deep.
4.) Top macaroni and cheese with remaining cup of cheddar cheese and bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, uncover and bake for 10 additional minutes.  Broil for 5 minutes before serving. 

Before going into the oven...

After baking...
I did a taste test to make sure it wasn't poisonous and the finished product is rich and creamy and very full-flavored. Is it the best macaroni and cheese I've every had?  Well, I think it's still too early to tell but it will be a nice addition to our Thanksgiving meal.  I have so much to be thankful for today, beyond what I can even imagine.  I hope your day is filled with all the people and things that inspire you to give the most thanks!

November 18, 2012

Findlay Market Fun

A while back, I attended a blogger meet-up at Market Wines at Findlay Market.  The market's resource development director, Karen Kahle, invited local bloggers to engage in conversation about what is going on in Cincinnati as far as food is concerned.

I was happy to participate in this event, although I would say I continue my blog as a creative outlet and way to indulge my crazy need to snap pictures of food, I learned a lot of great information and met some very friendly people who have worked for years to promote not only Cincinnati's food scene, but Cincinnati in general.

I've been visiting the market on a regular basis and I thought I'd share some pics of what I've enjoyed...
Fresh juice/smoothies from Hunter Greengrass have become a part of my Saturday afternoon routine.  I tried the "like licking the blade of a lawnmower" wheat grass and it's delightful. Of course, the first time I went for juice, I had to go and instagram the pretty thing!

On an early visit over the summer, before I was familiar with the lay of the land all the market had to offer, I stumbled upon Skirtz and Johnston.  It was like I was the first person to eat there, ever.  Admittedly, this place isn't a huge secret and it was bustling with customers for lunch.  Good thing it's not a secret because my soup and sandwich combo was amazing; I love the bright, open decor as well.  I can't remember exactly what this sandwich was but the best way to explain it is as a super-classy Arby's beef and cheddar; right down to the onion bun.  It paired nicely with the bowl of vegetable soup.

I came across a heck of a steal on cherries one Saturday afternoon-- 3lbs. for $5!  And they were delicious, every last one of them.
Pork bahn mi from Pho Lang Thang, or anything from Pho Lang Thang will make your heart sing.  And we should all be eating things that make our heart sing at least once a day.  This trip included my first taste of Vietnamese coffee, mmmm.  The Hudy Amber Lager tall boy was the icing on the cake, gotta love byob.
I also tried the spring rolls on a recent visit and they were so amazingly fresh!  Packed full of vermicelli, mint, shrimp and cilantro.  The peanut butter hoison dipping sauce really completes this dish. 
Amazing wine and craft beer selection at Market Wines.  The wine tastings on Saturday and Sunday afternoon get fairly busy but for $5 it's a great way to try before you buy; I have some new favorites thanks to the tastings.

This is a breakfast scramble from Mama Lo Hizo.  They were down to the bottom of the scrambled egg barrel so they gave me the rest plus pinto beans, their delicious white queso, tomatoes, a couple kinds of salsa including a super-spicy-give-you-heartburn-but-who-cares-cause-it's-worth-it green salsa that is out of this world. 

This is just a little snipit of some my adventures at the market the past few months.  I'm looking forward to many more.  Once I find something I like (pork banh mi, for example), it's hard for me to want to go anywhere else, so the challenge is to try something new each time I go.  I'll be sure and share it with you here!