Thursday, April 26, 2012
This is bad. This is so very bad in the best way possible and would you believe that I made this recipe as healthy as I feasibly could? Okay, it could have been healthier, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that good healthy food should be real good and real healthy and bad naughty food should be treated like the bad, naughty shameful deliciousness that it is. I do not believe in low fat mayonnaise, fake coffee “creamer” or fat free ice cream. I believe the creamy foods should be eaten as God and Julia Child intended us to eat them: full fat, full fun.
I had been dying to make a baked mac and cheese, but had no good excuse to do that to myself. My Aunt Linda was recovering from shoulder surgery and I wanted to bring her some food to help out. I asked if she had any requests and she said “mac and cheese.” Well, who am I to deny a woman in recovery that which she needs. I was simply doing my job as a doting niece you see?
I thought I’d add a little “healthy” punch to what is otherwise a true gut buster of a dish by pureeing a whole head of cauliflower into the dish. The resulting volume made for a textured, fully flavored delicious sauce that made me feel almost like this dish was not THAT bad for me. No? Not buying it? Well, whatever it takes me to sleep through the night I guess. This stuff is ridiculous. Make some before it gets too warm out to justify baked pasta or make some to trick your children into eating a vegetable. Everyone knows that the cornerstones of healthy family relationships are fart jokes, sarcasm and trickery anyways.
CREAMY CAULIFLOWER MAC and CHEESE
One head cauliflower
1 box pasta (penne, rigatoni or elbows are great, but the best is cavatappi)
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. flour
1 cup whole milk
2 heaping spoonfuls dry mustard
1 ½ cups shredded Gouda
½ cup grated parmesan
Scant ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
Trim leaves and stem from cauliflower and cut into equal sized florets. Set a large pot of water to boil for pasta. Once water is boiling, add cauliflower and cook for 20 minutes, until very tender. About 10 minutes into this cooking process, begin to make your sauce.
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Sprinkle flour in and whisk constantly, cooking for about 5 minutes. This is what’s traditionally known as a roux and the three most important things to know about a roux are these: it’s equal parts butter and flour; it must be cooked to lose all the raw flour flavor but third, and perhaps most importantly, it mustn’t be burnt. Do not abandon your roux to go shred cheese or anything foolish like that. Whisk consistently and keep the heat at medium low. After five minutes, its color will have darkened a bit and it will have thickened into a tan colored paste. At this point, pour in your milk, add the dry mustard and continue to stir as it thickens to an off-white colored gravy. When you lift your whisk out of the pot it should be thick and coat the wires, this takes about another 5 minutes, if that.
Reduce the heat to low and check the tenderness of your cauliflower. If it’s ready, use a slotted spoon to pluck the florets out of the boiling water and stir into your sauce. Add to the pasta water your dry pasta and cook for about 5 minutes, until it is still quite firm but the outer edges are white and cooked (it will cook the rest of the way when you bake the dish). While the pasta cooks, use an immersion blender* to puree the cauliflower into the sauce. Once the chunkiness is all smoothed out, dump in your shredded Gouda, reserving a half handful or so for the top of your dish; stir together thoroughly to melt the cheese into the sauce. Taste and add a good amount of salt, seasoned salt and black pepper. Taste and adjust with more salt if necessary. You don’t want to kill it, but it is CRUCIAL to not under salt mac and cheese.
*if you don’t have an immersion blender, please go buy one. Or, remove the cauliflower from the pot and puree in a food processor or blender. But seriously, go by an immersion blender, those things are the tits.
Drain the pasta and stir into your thick, creamy, ridiculous sauce. Remove the pot from heat and spritz a baking dish with a little olive oil, or rub with butter. Pour the mac and cheese in and top with a little more shredded Gouda, the parmesan and breadcrumbs. Holy Mary mother of god this stuff is crazy good. Just thinking about it I’m getting a little flush.
At this point, the dish can be covered and refrigerated until you are ready to bake it. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are toasty brown. Lock yourself in your bedroom with the dish, I mean, um, share with your family and serve with something slightly more pious, like a mixed green salad or some steamed green veggies.
Friday, April 20, 2012
I try my best to keep it fresh on here and not recycle recipes from Porkys past. And this particular pesto is totally the first cousin of one I made about two years ago; however, it’s so stinking good that we need to talk about it again. I made a batch of this last week for a quick pasta dinner and then proceeded to drop it into salad dressing and smear on egg sandwhiches until the lot of it was gone.
It’s my new favorite right now for a lot of reasons, the least of which is that it costs a fraction of what regular pesto costs to make and the most of which is that it’s so dang tasty. Last night I made it again to spread on grilled foccacia with a grilled vegetable salad and a bottle of rose. Pink wine and green food: spring has sprung!
Standard pesto uses basil and pine nuts, here I used just a few leaves of basil to add to the flavor and three cups of peppery, pungent arugula. I thought that I had walnuts in the freezer, which I was planning on subbing out for the pine nuts, because you need to take a mortgage out to buy a thing of pine nuts and I’ve got a lot more pressing things to spend my duckets on right now. When I realized I didn’t have walnut, or any nuts for that matter besides peanuts, I grabbed some hulled sunflower seeds. They were a perfect addition to this budget pesto, adding just a little fat and texture without offering any sort of overpowering
ARUGULA PESTO 2.0
2-3 cups arugula
Handful basil leaves
¼ cup roasted sunflower seeds
¼- ½ cup grated parmesan
1 clove garlic
Juice from ½ a lemon
¼ cup- ½ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients up to olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse together to combine well. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil until it looks pesto-like. Stop, taste.
Add salt, pepper, more lemon juice, a sprinkle more cheese and another drizzle of oil if necessary. Pulse a few more times, taste and season again if necessary. Because this is a true arugula pesto, it will be quite peppery, but the lemon, cheese and oil cut into that pretty nicely.
Uses: the night I made this, I roasted a head of broccoli/cauliflower (a fluorescent green hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower that tastes mostly like cauliflower), a bunch of asparagus and some fresh peas.
I put a pot of pasta water on and cooked up some cavatappi. Toss the pesto with the hot pasta and roasted vegetables for a delicious, easy dinner.
Try this pesto in place of sauce on a pizza, top with mozzarella and prosciutto. Spread a thin layer on an egg and cheddar sandwich or simply put out with antipasto to spread on bread or crackers. If you’re like me, you might eat it with a spoon standing in front of the refrigerator (don’t judge).
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Well yee haw! We are back from a little jaunt last week down to the heart of Texas. Some good friends were tying the knot so we took the opportunity to wish them well and get our fill of Tex-Mex, BBQ, Shiner Bock and hot, sunny weather.
There is a lot of good food in Austin, much of it on wheels. I don't know if this is an actual fact, but I would go ahead and guess that this particular Southern city is the Food Truck Capital of the world. Everywhere you turn there are parking lots filled with trailers dishing out tacos and empanadas, bratwurst and fried chicken donuts. It's intense. And amazing. I would go back just to exclusively eat out of wheeled kitchens, I swear.
The first day out we didn't really have a whole lot of noteworthy chow, but we did go to a cool bar called the Draft House with our friends. What I love about Austin is that every place has great outdoor seating. When you come from a place that is tundra half the year, you tend to get heart palpitations when you see Christmas lights strung over table after table of people wearing tee shirts at night. At night!
Our second day there we soaked up a lot of local flavor. We walked from our hotel down to the South Congress neighborhood, which is a haven of food trucks, vintage stores and a costume shop that may have been the most exciting retail space I've ever been in. We went to a truck called Mighty Cone, which serves all of its tortilla-wrapped snacks in paper cones for ease of eating. Crispy fried shrimp, chicken or avocado (say what?!) with crunchy slaw underneath and a generous drizzle of spicy sauce on top. Chili dusted fries and some ice cold bubbly waters made for a real nice lunch. I followed that meal shortly thereafter with a scoop of Amy's Ice Cream. Peanut Butter Banana. It was delicious. I love vacation eating.
I had some solo time on Thursday so I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find some vintage cowboy boots (great success!) and then on my way back to meet up with Paul I snagged a cupcake at Hey Cupcake! Now, I didn't really need a cupcake right then, but I couldn't resist trying. I snagged a strawberry cream cupcake that seriously changed my life a little bit. The frosting was perfection and the cake was moist and delicious. It's sincerely a very good thing there is not a Hey Cupcake! anywhere near me, because I would have to invest in some larger pants.
Speaking of larger pants, later on that day, we drove 30 miles outside of Austin to Lockhart, Texas- the, ahem, BBQ Capital of Texas. According to the food geeks on the Austin Chowhound stream, the most authentic and best BBQ in Lockhart is Smitty's Market. Since I trust my food nerd brethren, and had confirmation from our friends that live there that Smitty's was bomb, we decided that would be our place.
At Smitty's you walk through their smokers to order your meats. It was moderately intimidating because we didn't want to stick out as tourists by ordering the wrong thing. Turns out, when a 90 year old grampa named Virgil is hacking off the brisket and a friendly young high school girl is working the register, you don't actually have anything to worry about. You just ask what they've got that day (in our case, ribs, brisket and sausage) and you take a half pound of each.
Once they slice off your meats they ask if you want crackers or bread. We went with bread and got like, six slices of plain white bread along side our pile of protein. After the meats were gotten we moved to the store front, where we nabbed a side of beans, potato salad and some drinks. The whole shebang cost about 13 bucks and the BBQ was truly amazing.
We shared the food, which was more than enough, but as we were finishing Paul jokingly said "save room, we'll go to the other place too." Which, you would think by now that he would know enough to not joke around with a former fat kid about seconds on BBQ. I was convinced we NEEDED to. So we headed over to Black's, which was the second most highly recommended joint I came across in my research.
Let this be a warning to y'all. Yes, I just dropped a y'all, I soaked up the local flavor quite a bit I suppose. So LISTEN. Just because there is multiple BBQ restaurants in town and your vacation eating with the best of them, don't get cocky and think you can eat two adult servings of brisket, ribs and sausage. We were completely DESTROYED.
But destroyed in the best possible way. It was a fun binge to take and we certainly get our meat on in a major way. So much so that we couldn't do anything else that night because the idea of putting anything else down our throats, liquid or otherwise. That's some pretty impressive brisket stuffing, wouldn't you say. I hope your proud of me.
But while I'm mentioning liquids, I would be remiss to not mention the Michelada, which I had with brunch the next day at a tasty place called Snackbar. Micheladas are made with bloody mary mix, which you top with beer (usually Pacifico) and are served in a glass with a salt rim. It was super refreshing and felt like a total cowboy beverage. Also, on a related note, at a gas station I saw "Cheladas" which are 16 oz. stunners of Bud mixed with Clamato. That sounds more like a one way trip to Barfsville than the refreshing Michelada I enjoyed with my brunch, but you know, to each his own.
All in all Austin was a cool town with a really vibrant food scene. I kind of wish I ate more, but my jeans are relieved that I didn't. But most of all, we got to see two great friends marry each other in a gorgeous ceremony at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, so eating my weigh in brisket, was just the icing on the cake.