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.)

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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.

Smoked Salmon is Delicious

First, make a delicious cure: 1/3c of flakey salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar, the finely grated zest of a lemon, lime and an orange (optionally, half a grapefruit as well) and a bit of white pepper are combined together. The zest has enough moisture to sorta damped the sugar and salt. Next, take a piece of salmon fillet, and press the cure mixture on to the non-skin side. Gaps are okay (: Don’t panic if there are gaps.

Wrap the salmon in a sheet of tinfoil, then put it in a dish in the fridge (You want the dish because a bunch of liquid will be pulled from the salmon, and while foil usually does an admirable job of containing the liquid; it’s better to avoid having it dribble through your fridge if it doesn’t (: ). Leave the salmon for 2-3 hours.

Once it has finished curing, remove the cure mixture. I usually put it under cold running water d: Pat it down with paper towels so that it’s dry. It sure looks delectable at this point.

Almost finally: Preparations for smoking – Get a disposable foil roasting pan, and put a layer of wood-pixie-dust in the bottom (I got a bag of manuka-pixie-dust from the supermarket a while back..) It doesn’t need to be super-deep. Put the salmon on to a wire rack (like a *cough*uncoated cake cooling rack*cough*); then put the rack on the roasting pan (I have a rack which is longer than the roasting pan so that it’s nicely supported, about 4cm above the woodchips). Then build a tent to loosely cover the salmon from more tin foil (Another foil roasting pan, upside-down would probably work pretty well too).

Finally: Smoking – put the roasting pan on the barbecue for 15 minutes.

“The Thing with Tofu”

We had a thing with tofu for dinner tonight! It involved…
1 package of firm tofu, 1 capsicum, 1 red onion, 6 button mushrooms, a small handful of sugar snap peas, most of a bunch of silverbeet, and teriyaki sauce (Equal parts mirin, soy sauce and brown sugar).

The tofu was sliced, wrapped in paper towels, and squished for about 40 minutes. Then diced and marinated in the teriyaki sauce until the rest of the veges were prepped.
The capsicum, onion and mushrooms were sliced thinly; and the sugar snap peas and the silverbeet were chopped a little more chunky.
I heated a wide pan with a coating of peanut oil; and browned off the tofu. Next, the capsicum and onion were added until mostly done. At this point, the remaining teriyaki sauce was added to the pan. Next, add the mushrooms and sugar snap peas; and when those are almost done, add the silverbeet and continue cooking until just wilted.

And that’s it (:

Green Thai Fish Curry

But first, what we had for dinner!

It was just a simple ol’ green Thai fish curry with rice. It was made as follows (serves 2): Put three handfuls of rice into a medium pot. Cover by a finger-joint depth of hot tap water. Put on the stove on high.
Take a wide frypan, and add about a teaspoon of peanut oil. Put on medium-high heat. Once it has warmed up; add a heaped teaspoon of green curry paste. Stir it around to distribute.
Chop up two smallish fillets of fish (Terakihi in our case) into biggish chunks, and add to the curry paste. Once the fish has browned off a little, add a small can of coconut cream; and simmer gently until the rice finishes cooking, adding additional water if required. Pile rice into bowls, and top off with curry.

Mmm. Yummy and delicious!

Chili Con Carne

Cyrus and myself have been eating our way through a pot of chili con carne. We used the Alton Brown pressure cooker chili recipe, sorta, as a general guide.

There were two principle differences: We didn’t make it in a pressure cooker; and we didn’t use chipotle peppers or adobo sauce (there are rumors that I may have forgotten to include tomato paste as well, except I don’t think it ended up being a principle difference).

Instead of the pressure cooker; we cooked the chili in my spanky le creuset casserole pot in a 170C oven for about 4 hours.

Instead of chipotles and adobo sauce, which we would have included if we had been able to find any, anwhere; we had two chilli peppers diced finely.

It’s definately something that we’re going to make again in future (: