Discoveries in the Field of Macaroni and Cheese

My first discovery, in the field of Macaroni and Cheese, was that my pantry has a distinct lack of macaroni. Or, indeed, any of the short-tube pasta family. This leads to my second discovery: Orecchiette makes perfectly serviceable macaroni and cheese. Although the name seems a little misleading, alas Orecchiette and Cheese just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

"Macaroni" Cheese + Pickles

My third Macaroni and Cheese discovery is an important one: when faced with a pile of richness, such as comes with Macaroni and Cheese, possibly the very finest accompaniment is pickled red onions. I imagine that it is the case there are many other perfectly wonderful pickles that would also offer the tangy flavour contrast that pickled red onions offer, although it is important to bear in mind just how beautiful and bright they are in contrast to the shades of white in Macaroni and Cheese.

The fourth, is another insight into the making of Macaroni and Cheese: making a roux from duck fat instead of butter is a splendid idea, and works really well. The fifth – if you’re going to add something delicious and porky to it, then it’s going to be even more delicious if you brown it at the start, and allow it to cook in the white sauce.

The sixth discovery I made, is that I really should keep better track of the quantities of ingredients as I cook. The trouble with making this kind of thing by eye, is that next time your eye might lie. So here is a vague sort of a guide.

For making enough for one hungry person, or two people who don’t eat enormously…

  • In a large saucepan, start boiling water for the pasta.
  • Meanwhile, finely dice one shallot, and roughly chop anything delicious and porky you were thinking about adding (You do not, of course, have to add anything porky, and you could, indeed, add anything your heart desired. Mushroomy things seem like they would be delicious.)
  • In a smaller pot, on medium heat, combine the shallots and porky-things with about a tablespoon of duck fat (or butter), and gently cook until it all smells delicious. Around about now, the water for the pasta is probably boiling, so go right ahead and add three’ish handfuls of pasta. You’ll get about the right amount. I trust you. It’ll get a little larger when you cook it, so imagine what your casserole dish would look like mostly filled with cooked pasta, and add about the right amount for that to happen (:
  • Add some flour to the smaller pot. Within my recollection, I think I added about a teaspoon and a half; but really I shook the bag at it (carefully) until it looked right (which is not useful at all to anyone who doesn’t know what I mean. And if you already knew, you’d be making up your own Macaroni and Cheese as you went along). If you don’t add enough, you’ll end up with a sauce which is a little too liquidy. If you add too much, however, you’ll end up with something gluey. Be sure to whisk the flour in until there are no lumps. Otherwise doom..
  • Once the flour has had a chance to cook, add a cup or so of milk to the pot, and embark on another round of whisking to ensure there are no lumps. Because lumps are not delicious.
  • Keep on whisking while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking. It’ll thicken up after a while.
  • Then, realise you haven’t done anything about cheese. Grab a wedge of blue cheese from yonder fridge. Chop it up roughly into chunks (about 1cm/half inch bits), and stir into the sauce. At this point, if the pasta hasn’t quite finished, you can turn the element off and allow the sauce to continue to be warmed by residual heat.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain, then combine with the sauce. The sides of my saucepan are higher than my casserole dish, so I dump pasta on the sauce, stir to coat, and then transfer to a casserole dish. On top, I added finely grated pecorino, since that’s what lives in my fridge. I hear breadcrumbs are popular (panko, in particular), but breadcrumbs are not something that lives in my pantry, so no breadcrumbs for me.
  • Casserole goes into the oven (About 180°C) until it smells delicious and has browned on top. I’m not sure how long it was, I was hungry and in a trance, waiting for my delicious food. It was probably about 15 minutes. However, the kind of time dilation that takes place while you are waiting for pizza to be delivered was taking place, so there’s no way to be sure.
  • Once done, let it sit for five minutes before attempting to eat. That gives a chance for the sauce and such to make friends and be more delicious. And if you did try and eat it, you’d go “Ow, my mouth. My burning mouth”. So it’s for the best, really. You’ll thank me.

Then the eating! Don’t forget to add pickles (: They really are a very nice flavour and texture contrast to the carby-cheesy delight that is… Macaroni and Cheese.

Not-Macaroni and Cheese

(Here’s a funny thing about me and Macaroni and Cheese: For a ridiculously long time I’ve been terrified of making bechamel sauces. To say that I am terrified is to overstate massively, I assure you. It’s less terror and more aware of my incompetence – the times I tried, they turned out horribly. Turns out I was probably adding too much flour all along. Oh well, now I know. For Christmas dinner, I was recruited as chief sous chef. Job number one, the most important job among all jobs I had to do: make four cups of mornay sauce. Oh the horror. As it turns out, it worked out amazingly, and thus, I appear to have inadvertently gained the super power of making bechamel based sauces. Victory for me! I rather suspect that I should make efforts to conquer my other sauce nemesises: mayonnaise and hollandaise.)

Macaroni and Cute

Bunny Macaroni Cheese

In an odd confluence of influences, I ended up with a box of bunny macaroni and cheese. Just the other day, discussions were had about the lack of KraftTM©® Dinner that I have experienced. Anyone who knows me at all knows that rabbity things keep showing up around me. Clearly, when I walked past a box of macaroni and cheese, except bunnies, I was going to buy it.

Push the bunnies tail! Push it!Bunny Approves!Bunny Macaroni Cheese

It really did come in a very cute box (:

Although, I gotta be honest, it tasted about as good as pasta-cheese from a box can aspire to.

Crabapple Jelly

Crabapple Jelly

I think I just finished making a jar of crabapple jelly. I guess I will find out if it worked out tomorrow once it has had time to set up. In the meantime, however, it looks very pretty. And sometimes, in this world, being pretty is enough.

It is, ostensibly, cranberry jelly with rosemary and juniper; although I’m not sure that the resinousness particularly shines through, from what I have tasted so far.

Take your crabapples, cut in half, get rid of the flowery endy bit, and the stalk. Place in a pot. Add enough water to cover by a little bit (although they do float. so I guess enough water so that there’s a little underneath). I had not much more than a single layer in a large pot. Then, forget to add juniper berries and rosemary. If I was doing this again, I would attempt to not forget the juniper berries and rosemary.

Cook the crabapples until they’re soft, then squish them up a bit. My kitchen is woefully under equipped, so I used my wooden spoon. A potato masher, or anything with more of a flat edge than a wooden spoon would work much better, I am sure.

Then, place the mashed up fruit along with all of the water into a jelly straining bag. I bought a jelly straining bad because it seemed important. In retrospect, a piece of cloth in a strainer would have probably worked fine. Leave it to strain for a while, until it stops being drippy.

Once that’s done, put the drippies into a pot, along with the same volume of sugar. If you forgot to add juniper berries and rosemary earlier, add these too. I had about 8 juniper berries, along with a stalk of rosemary.

Heat it up until it starts to boil. When it’s looking like it’s getting close to boiling, start hauling out berries and rosemary; because it gets harder the more everything is moving around (p.s. this is why you should try and remember to add the juniper/rosemary at the start).

Boil it until it reaches the “gel stage”. I’m a little fuzzy on what the “gel stage” really entails. However, I dutifully placed a puddle of the jelly on to a cold plate and placed it back in the freezer. After a minute or so, when you push at the edge of the puddle, it should get wrinkled. I had the requisite wrinkling, but I’m not sure if it was okay that the wrinkles dispersed. Oh well, I guess I’ll find out if it sets / turns into candy / is a liquid, tomorrow.

Once you’re pretty sure you’ve made it to the gel stage, transfer to a jar. I am a preserves cowboy, so I make no attempt at making these sorts of things shelf stable, and leave this kind of thing in the fridge; but I hear there are more steps you should take. This is not the place to find them.

More From The Markets

Figs+Raspberries

In a break from tradition, instead of getting a container of mixed berries; I bought figs and raspberries instead. My gosh. You would not believe how tasty both are. Look at the picture, and multiply that by delicieux.

Lest you think I have turned into a fruit-eating monkey, behold some non-fruit of recent acquisition.

Broccoli+Asparagus

and

Mushroom, mushroom

In other news, tomorrow I am moving from the short-term rental I have been living in to a place with a longer term lease. I found an amazing loft on St-Denis, and I am so very pleased. This will, however, involve acquiring furniture and the other accoutrements of having a life. I have two plates; but still only one place setting of cutlery. Heh.

I Will Miss Summer When It Ends

Celebration

I usually buy one of these when I’m at the markets. At Jean-Talon, at least, there are usually several vendors who sell them (and at least one at Atwater, also. Although the one I got from there cost twice as much. Ouch). Having a selection of all sorts of berries is such a marvelous thing, indeed.

In New Zealand, I am accustomed to a punnet of raspberries or blackberries costing around about NZ$5 (blueberries and strawberries are much more reasonable; and there aren’t a lot of gooseberries about). So it’s completely amazing to be able to get so many delicious berries for so little money – That tray was a whole CA$4.

I’ve probably eaten more raspberries and blackberries in the past two months than I have in, gosh, probably the past eight years; and quite possibly longer.

Unrecipe: Rhubarb and Strawberries

Rhubarb&Strawberries

I had rhubarb in my fridge, and I had strawberries a little past their prime in my fridge; so I made rhubarb and strawberries!

The unrecipe is to chop rhubarb (about 5 stalks, in my case) into bits and put at the bottom of a saucepan and give it a sprinkling with a couple of tablespoons caster sugar (Normal sugar would probably work just as well; but I perceive the colour of rhubarb being nicer when I use caster sugar). Add just a little bit of water – a couple millimeters deep, so that the rhubarb has a chance to let go of it’s juice before burning becomes a problem.

In unrecipe land, I put quartered strawberries on top; and everything worked out fine.

In hindsight land, give the rhubarb a head start (over medium heat) before adding quartered strawberries.

In either case, cook the fruit over a medium heat until it’s pretty and pink; and the rhubarb has softened up.

Yum yum yum.

Vue De Monde, Melbourne

When I was in Melbourne, I managed to get along to Vue De Monde for lunch. It was really great (:

Bread, and also butter First, there was bread and butter..
Preemptive Strike Amuse Bouche! warm Ham consommé with a ball of melon (which, I’ll have you know, explodes in your mouth with a burst of deliciousness in a way which makes it impossible to not smile); topped with a wafer and greenery-puree
Main #1:  Offaly Cubes of terrine / ox tongue / foie gras; served with dinky bread circles, along with a fruity jam and little piles of spices (which you can’t see). This was on absurdly wide plates which caused the wait-people to dance about shuffling everything around on the table so they’d fit (:
Main #2:  Moooo Seared Wagyu on top of a sweetcorn puree, with salady greens. The noodly thing on the right is made of soy, and apparently made in rubber tubing(!)
Science!
Science! It’s what’s for lunch.
Main #3:  Porkstravaganza Pork and Apples. Whee! There’s belly pork, a galette (I think? – kinda a pate of pork with pastry) and the interestingly textured porkstrands; On the apple front, there’s a thing with peel, a lil apple filled with tasty, and the green sauce was a green apple sauce (as opposed to something vegetably). There’s also a glaze type sauce hanging out that was brought to the table in individual test tubes, and poured over the plates by wait-people. Which was, another interesting little dance.
Melopops This was the course betwixt the savoury and sweet – kinda frozen melon in a fruit jelly of some description.
Dessert #1 This was the first dessert Рstrawberry souffl̩, with a frozen-strawberry-thing on top, with a strawberry powder, which was delicious.
Dessert #2 The second dessert was like a tube of cakey-biscuity, filled with molten chocolate ganache. So tasty.
Petit Fours
Last of all, petit fours.

I’d totally go again; although maybe for dinner next time. Although that will probably involve making dinner reservations before booking flights (:

Pumpkin Soup

Soup+Bacon

It’s cold! And I don’t like it.

I made soup, yesterday! It’s marvellous. Tonight, I had it was bacon instead of toast (and added a splash of cream). I highly recommend it. Anywho, a recipe!

I did a pile of chopping, then a pile of cooking. I’m pretty sure the two can overlap; but not entirely.

I had 1 leek, 1 bulb of fennel, and three red onions chopped into slices; 1 red capsicum diced relatively finely; half of a pumpkin chopped into 1-2″ chunks*; about 8 medium-small potatoes, quartered and a half dozen slices of bacon roughly chopped up.

Bacon goes into a pot first, and is cooked until browned; then the capsicum is added and cooked until it softens up; then the leek/fennel/red onions join in. Once those have cooked down (uh, they 2/3 filled the pot when I added them, and when they were down to about 1/3 I continued onwards..); add the pumpkin and potatoes, and add enough water to just cover the potatoes/pumpkin.

Cook it until the potatoes and pumpkin are cooked; then point a stick blender at it until it’s smoooothish.

Yuhm.

*I peeled the first half of the pumpkin with much suffering; and cut the other half into chunks and roasted it in a 200°C oven until the pumpkin was just starting to soften up. It made the skin vastly easier to get off; and probably helped make the soup tastier. Next time, I’d roast all of the pumpkin to avoid the pumpkin peeling.