Thursday, December 24, 2009

return of the mac

If you've been reading this blog for a little while, you'll know that Matty and I have made mac and cheese the day after Christmas our little holiday tradition. This means that throughout the year, we test recipes to find the best one. What a rough, rough life we lead.

Two major changes this year: a) we were asked to make mac and cheese for Christmas Eve dinner with his entire extended family, and b) Matty didn't want to follow a recipe.

Well, if you know me at all, that practically made me break out in hives, but I managed to keep it together, and we are proud to present our two creations:

White Mac and Cheese
1 lb. pasta
4 T. butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. half and half
1 lb. mozzarella, shredded
8 oz. sharp white Cheddar, shredded
4 oz. mascarpone cheese
salt and pepper
12 oz. bacon, diced
fresh bread crumbs from 3 slices of Italian brad
4 oz. asiago vecchio, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Slowly whisk in flour until it disappears into the butter. (Feel free to ignore this step because I suck at making a roux. I'm sure you can do it better).

Add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking all the while. Add mozzarella, white Cheddar and mascarpone and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add pasta to saucepan and toss to coat. Pour into 13x9 casserole dish.

Cook bacon in frying pan until extra crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle bread crumbs and asiago over pasta. Top with bacon and bake in a 350-degree oven until topping is golden.

Habanero Mac and Cheese
1 lb. pasta
4 T. butter
1 c. half and half
1 lb. Velveeta, cubed
8 oz. hot habanero cheese
salt and pepper
5 oz. bag of seasoned croutons, processed to crumbs
4 oz. Cheddar Jack cheese, shredded

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking all the while. Add Velveeta and habanero cheese and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add pasta to saucepan and toss to coat. Pour into 13x9 casserole dish.

Sprinkle croutons and Cheddar Jack over pasta, and bake in a 350-degree oven until topping is golden.

And as much as my foodie self hates to admit it, mac and cheese with Velveeta is truly the way. It's that perfect creamy texture that no roux can ever duplicate. The habanero cheese we found at the local grocery store had a surprising amount of kick to it (much more serious than pepperjack), and really put it right over the top.

That's not to say that the roux-based white mac and cheese was a slouch. It was really tasty as well. But honestly, when mac and cheese is just that - pasta and dairy - I think it has to be yellow cheese. It's stronger and stands alone better. I think next time I make the white mac, I'd like to play around with adding diced roasted tomatoes, maybe some kale, or at least some other veggie to make it a little more interesting.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

heard them stirring

I love risotto. It makes you seem fancy when in truth, you just happen to be patient enough to stir a pot of rice for 25 minutes. This Black Olive Risotto was the perfect example.

This recipe couldn't be easier. I mean, it was so easy that I didn't even need my laptop in the kitchen with me to follow along. I subbed in vegetable broth in honor of a vegetarian dinner guest, and added twice the amount of olives the recipe called for. I didn't add any salt - the oil-cured olives provided all the seasoning necessary.

I loved the addition of mascarpone for the extra creaminess. I mean, I'm not sure it was entirely necessary, but hey - it's the holidays, and a little extra never hurt anyone. If I make this post-New Year's resolutions, I may leave it out, but until then, I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

let's put it all together

We're leaving for New York today! So excited for 9 days of vacation, although I'm sure I'll be tethered to my various mobile devices. Thrilled for the change in scenery; still in the air about the 70-degree temperature swing.

In order to get there, we bribed my sister and her fiance with breakfast in exchange for a ride to LAX. It was also an opportunity to clean out a couple produce items before the trip.

Eggs Baked in Refrigerator Sauce
1/2 medium eggplant (about 1 1/2 cups), diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes (about 8 small)
2 red bell peppers
olive oil for brushing
1 portobello cap, diced
1 T. truffle oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. basil leaves, chopped
8 eggs
8 slices of bread

Preheat the broiler.

Put diced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit while you brush the tomatoes and bell peppers with olive oil and roast under the broiler. After 5 minutes, check to see if the tomato skins have softened and wrinkled slightly. If they are, remove and replace with eggplant and portobello. Otherwise, continue until they are.

Continue roasting until the bell pepper skin has blackened. By then, the eggplant and mushroom should be done as well. Let veggies cool, then peel tomatoes and bell peppers and coarsely chop.

Heat truffle oil in a large saucepan and add garlic. After 1 minute, add all veggies and simmer over low heat until thickened to your liking. Adjust seasonings as desired. Stir in 2 T. basil leaves.

About 5 minutes before serving, crack 8 eggs directly into the sauce. Cover saucepan and let simmer. Meanwhile, toast bread and keep warm in a low oven. When yolks are set to your liking, spoon an egg and accompanying sauce over each slice of bread. Garnish with remaining basil.

Serves 4 heartily, or 8 with additional breakfast accoutrements.

The only disappointment was that in an effort to be prompt and have breakfast ready when they were supposed to get here, I cracked the eggs into the sauce right at 9:30a, and then ended up having to let it sit until 10:15a. By then the yolks had solidified, and while it was still delicious, I would much rather have had a runny yolk. It truly does take about 5 minutes to cook once in the sauce, so do take that into consideration in your own timing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

what makes you different makes you beautiful

I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but Chrysta Wilson's cookbook, "Kiss My Bundt: Recipes from the Award-Winning Bakery" is now available! As you'll recall, I tested a few bundts for her this summer:

Vegan Chocolate Bundt Cake
Mexican Cornbread Bundt
Fresh Ginger Cake with Citrus Buttercream
Bourbon Pound Cake with Bourbon Glaze

And I got nothing but fabulous comments for all of these, so get your click on and purchase!

But what does that have to do with the gorgeous lasagna above, you ask? Well, I recently volunteered to test recipes for another cookbook from Life of Reiley - Amy Reiley and Juan-Carlos Cruz' Love Diet, due out in June. As soon as I saw Black Truffle Lovers' Lasagna on the list, I wasted no time in letting Amy know that I definitely wanted to try it this weekend.

The occasion: "Christmas Dinner" with my parents before Matty and I head out of town to visit his family for the week. The result: a clean casserole pan. It was so lovely and light, and oh-so-easy to scarf down. Even though there is nothing that replaces a good old meat-and-tomato lasagna, I also kind of loved that this one had more veggies than cheese. I would also be lying if I said I could choose tomato sauce over anything involving both truffle oil and truffle salt. I mean, the only thing I would change about this would be to make twice as much next time. :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

call that a comeback

I used to be a gift-giving ninja. (I also used to be a gift-wrapping ninja, but for the purposes of this story, we thankfully don't have to go there now).

I mean, I used to be good. Not only did I find the right things, I'd also usually be done by Thanksgiving. Alas, save one manic day of online shopping Thanksgiving weekend (which only yielded 5 gifts), I have done a whole lot of nothing. I haven't even had time to bake any gifts, my fallback plan for the last two years. Look out for New Year's cookies - Christmas cookies ain't happening.

However, I've had Real Food Daily's cookbook for a couple of years now, and every six months or so (for his birthday or Christmas), I've wanted to make their seitan for my co-worker Bradford. Today, it finally happened.

Bradford and I are always lobbying to order lunch from Real Food Daily. And when we win, we always get the same thing - the Basic 3 for me (seitan, greens and soba noodles), and the Basic 4 for him (seitan, beans, greens, house salad).

Surprisingly enough, this seitan came out exactly like the restaurant version. I've always had this conspiracy theory that restaurant cookbooks tweak the printed recipes just a touch so that you can't quite replicate your favorite dish and end up giving up and going to the restaurant instead, but this was just as I remember. The flavor was the same, the texture was the same - I was quite pleased with myself. And it was all so easy! Sure you have to be awake for 2 hours so you don't burn the house down (which is pretty hard to do when you have a stomachful of sushi and are snuggled up on the couch watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" at 10:30p), but other than that, it's just a matter of measuring and stirring.

We'll what Bradford thinks, but I think the Ninja's making a comeback.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

keep it simple

Busy, busy day today (including baking 200 cookies for tonight's MMC post-concert reception), so breakfast was simple. Just a few Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins (except I subbed cinnamon because I'm learning that I actually don't like nutmeg) to supplement yesterday's leftover Eggs Florentine Casserole. I love being able to have breakfast dessert. I mean, why shouldn't breakfast also be a multi-course event? :)

When I tasted the batter, I wasn't sure I had stumbled upon a winner. It tasted a little bland, to be honest. However, all skepticism was shoved aside when I took my first bite of the buttered, sugared delight. The muffins were so fluffy (maybe from mixing everything by hand instead of via mixer. That or the 2 1/2 t. baking powder) and felt super warm and cuddly. Could also have been the story Molly attached to the recipe, but I'll take whatever it is.

Man, I am really racking up those breakfast tailgate possiblities!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

this early morning

Today was literally the first relaxing day I've had all month. And by relaxing, I mean I was up at 7:30a (after staying up until 3a chatting and drinking) to make breakfast and start on cookies for my friend Owen's holiday party and tomorrow's Metropolitan Master Chorale post-concert reception. You see, I really am a morning person, but only when the morning involves my kitchen and not my gym.

Breakfast was an Eggs Florentine Casserole. A college friend of Matty's is staying with us, and all 3 of us are on different schedules this morning, so I decided to go with something that could easily be reheated and served whenever we wanted.

Because I had plans for the two 13x9x2 pans that I own, I decided to keep everything in my 12" cast iron pan. I started by browning some chicken sausage, replaced the sausage with potatoes once it was cooked, added a pat of butter since the potatoes seemed to be sticking, and then returned the sausage (now sliced) to the potato crust. I poured the egg mixture over top and stuck everything into the oven. Now, don't be alarmed that there are 18 eggs called for in this recipe. The casserole serves so many, that you're averaging just over an egg per serving.

I ended up having to add about 10 minutes to the oven time before my casserole was set - that may have just been due to the difference in pan size. After those 10 minutes, everything was absolutely perfect. What more could you ask for - eggs, potatoes, cheese, veggies, all in one neat, extremely portable slice. Bring on those noon kick-offs next season - I've got a breakfast tailgate winner.

While we ate, I baked the shortbread base for Ginger Shortbread Bar Cookies. This recipe was so fool-proof, I wanted to keep the secret to myself and not share how easy these were to make.

You hardly even have to think to make the base. And then, when you've got about 5 minutes left on your timer, you melt the butter, whisk the other topping ingredients together, and pour it over the just-finished cookie. I did have a minor heart attack when I dumped all of the powdered sugar at once into the violently bubbling butter and the mixture seized up immediately, but some patient whisking got it back to normal. And since the "fudge" mixture is so thin, it took no time at all to set up, and I was quickly to slice (and sample) the cookies and set them aside for Owen's party.

After a brief shopping break, it was back to cookie-time.'

French Chocolate Macarons. A couple years ago, I remember being in Pazzo Gelato, when a big group of guys came in to browse the gelato selection. "What's that?" one of them asked, pointing to the selection of macarons. One of his friends replied, "Oh, you know. A candy burger."Maybe you had to have been there, but I nearly died laughing. And henceforth, we never called them anything else.

Armed with two trayfuls of pumpkin fudge that refused to set last week, I decided to make candy burgers with a pumpkin pie filling.

Well, they tasted fine, but I didn't really make macarons as much as I made a bunch of meringues stuck together with failed fudge. It was still tasty, but I don't think I'm patient enough to try it again and get them to look right.

There were a few other failed experiments this afternoon, but this post has gotten long enough, and well, I really want to tell you about dinner: Korean-Style Steaks with Spicy Cilantro Sauce!

Kept it simple and served it with plain Israeli couscous and roasted broccoli and cauliflower to not compete with the flavor of the sauce. Dear heavens. That sauce needs to be bottled - the only change I made was to use a squirt of Sriracha instead of the fresh chilies so I could better control the heat factor. Between that and the marinade (I substituted dry vermouth for the sherry since our bar was out), dinner was an absolute triumph. I'm partial to steak, but I can imagine this also being brilliant on chicken, fish and even tofu and meat substitutes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

if we make it through december, we'll be just fine

In struggling to come up with a cute little story to tie my life in with this Bacon + Cheddar Macaroni + Cheese, I realized that all I really want to say is how delicious this is and how quickly you should rush to your kitchen to make this. Had I not wanted to roast the Brussels sprouts in the bacon fat that rendered from cooking the bacon crumbles, this dish would have been on the table in 15 minutes.

While I'm sure my arteries didn't appreciate it, the rest of my tired self was pretty happy that all it took to make this sauce was 3 cups of cream and 2 cups of cheese. No matter how hard I try, I can't make a roux that doesn't taste grainy to me, so I was thrilled that all the thickening powers of this sauce lay outside of using flour.

It's just as good with a topping of bread crumbs and Parmesan and popped under the broiler until crispy and golden-brown as it is straight out of the pan, delightfully saucy. And it is an absolute joy to be mindless about the cooking experience and still have a great meal. To spend time catching up on alone time over a dinner that takes longer to eat than it does to cook. Especially on the sole off-day between the barrage of work, holiday parties, holiday performances and just general end-of-year tying up of loose ends. December doesn't give us much of a chance to come up for air, but we'll take tonight's dinner.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the way it used to be

In the same way that Matty is impatiently waiting for me to take this photo before we could start eating, I waited for dinner to be over so that I could rush over to the computer and tell the whole world about it. Wait - that seems wrong. I enjoyed every single minute of this dinner - overstuffing to the point of exhaustion, not quitting until we had cleaned our plates. But as soon as the table was cleared, I had to run over and give my report.

It all started when I found this recipe for Korean Roasted Fish. It triggered memories of having fancy family dinners at Favori in Santa Ana. It was there that I had my first taste of chateaubriand, and definitely the first time I had ever had roasted whole catfish. My parents will occasionally order a roasted fish from a local restaurant for dinners at home now, but back then, we had to wait for Favori if we wanted any. Man, I lived for those trips.

I actually tried the trout last Monday, but almost everything about the whole experience was such a disappointment that I didn't even want to blog about it. For one thing, trout is very bony. It was not at all fun to have to pick through each piece just to protect our gums from getting stabbed.

I was determined to get it right. And so, armed with all the time in the world after driving all over hell's half-acre to help my sister find a wedding dress this morning, I picked up a 2-lb. catfish, some daikon, some bottled mam nem, I got to work. While it was appealing that the trout only took 10 minutes to cook, I was willing to put in the hour it was going to take to roast this catfish.

First, the accoutrements:

- Daikon and Carrot Pickles: Made the whole dish. I started this early in the afternoon and let it chill in the refrigerator. If only I had purchased the mandoline I've had my eye on, the pickles wouldn't have come out so, um, rustic - but I was not about to lose fingers in exchange for matchstick pickles.

- Mam Nem: Awesome, stinky sauce. I mixed equal parts of the bottled stuff and crushed pineapple, added a squirt of Sriracha and then added sugar and lime juice until the extreme saltiness was curbed.

Matty really enjoyed the marinade/glaze from the Serious Eats recipe, so I doubled it and used it in conjunction with the instructions from Wandering Chopsticks to update a very treasured childhood memory. I knew I had nailed it when the first whiffs came from the oven. It smelled exactly right. And then that taste explosion at the first bite of a roll - the warm, fragrant fish; the cool, crisp pickles; the salty, sweet dip - wow. Might even make my mom proud. ;)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

for the first time

Tonight was the first concert of the Metropolitan Master Chorale's inaugural season, and I'm still buzzing from how well it went. :) I am so honored to be singing with so many amazing musicians.

As a token of my appreciation, and because I knew our 5p call time meant there would be hungry singers by intermission, I brought this Spiced Sweet-Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing to share. Everyone loved it, and really, what's not to love? Slightly spicy from the ginger, wonderfully moist from the sweet potato and vegetable oil, and just sweet enough to make the very sweet brown sugar icing from being overkill. I couldn't quite whisk out all the powdered sugar lumps in the icing (was too lazy to properly sift), so I hid them by sprinkling the top with some Heath bar bits. Now it looked as good as it tasted!

Friday, December 4, 2009


Our friends Adam and Naimee recently had a baby, and we finally got to meet him tonight. I've been in love with him since Adam posted that photo of him on the blanket I crocheted as a baby shower gift.

Never one to come over empty-handed, I made them some Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna. I baked it in a 9" square pan and portioned out four 2-serving Tupperware containers for them. I figured it would be helpful for them to be able to freeze them and just reheat them one meal at a time when their schedules got too crazy.

Packing up 8 servings meant there was 1 left to leave for Matty to quality-control over lunch. I mean, it's a new recipe, and I wasn't about to just blindly gift food I don't know about.

Luckily, Matty loved it. He saved half the slice for me to nibble on when we got home, and I have to say I agree. The flavors are stellar. In fact, I had tasted the butternut squash mash before layering the lasagna for baking, and I think it may be good enough for the next holiday get-together (so just mashed roasted squash, a little broth and the fried sage butter - yum).

It's not a very heavy lasagna at all. The ricotta filling is delicious and rich when you get a bite of it, but there is so much squash that it balances out fairly well. Matty liked the ratio of squash to cheese, but I felt I could do with maybe even half as much squash next time. I may even need to double the cheese while halving the squash because I'm decadent like that, but I don't mind trying it for a third time if I don't get it right next time.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

while the city sleeps

FYI, guys, here's what I do when I'm not eating:

This is the reason my eating and workout schedule has been completely out of whack this week. Well, it's why my eating schedule has been out of whack. My workout schedule is out of whack because I'm lazy.

Tuesday was sectionals with the amazing (and super-hot) soprano section until midnight. Wednesday was our regularly-scheduled weekly rehearsal. Today was a three-hour tech rehearsal at the venue. And what makes it completely worth eating pasta at midnight two nights in a row? Saturday is the very first concert of the inaugural season of the Metropolitan Master Chorale.

I had high, high hopes for this Pasta, Risotto Style that I bookmarked earlier this week. I think mainly because Bittman's version uses strozzapreti and includes chicken and mushrooms, 3 of 4 things in one of my favorite pasta dishes in Los Angeles (at Amalfi). I took the liberty of adding the fourth (asparagus) in my creation.

While there were lovely attributes to this dish (mainly the creaminess without adding dairy/extra fat), I was underwhelmed. I think I was just annoyed that it felt like it took so long just to get some pasta on the table. Probably had a lot more to do with the fact that I was exhausted and should have just cuddled up to some leftovers and called it a night. Unfortunately, I had already had the thought of this pasta in my head and couldn't shake it. Next time, I'll just go to Amalfi. Kitchen doesn't close until 11p. :)