Tag Archives: Cheese

Mexican…Erm…Welsh Rarebit

When it comes to cheese, I guess I tend to lean toward the white side of things more so than the yellow or orange, so that means that mozzarella, feta, goat, and provolone are what I reach for first when I'm standing in front of the deli case wondering what I should throw in the cart.  And it doesn't stop there, because machego, iberico, St. Andre, brie, and camembert are also favorites.

This doesn't mean I don't care for "orange" cheese, however, and I do have to think of the resident hunkster who absolutely loves extra sharp cheddar.  Loves.  It.  Finds it in the deli drawer, looks at me and asks, "Are you saving this for anything?" and then takes a slice here and a nibble there — especially when he comes home from work and dinner isn't quite ready.

Me?  I only like it melted.  Melted in grilled cheese sandwiches, or on burgers.  Oozing between layers of pasta or in enchiladas.  Or Welsh Rabbit.

Welsh what?  Wait — cheese with rabbit?  Hmmm…

No, no rabbit.  Welsh Rarebit — or in this case, Mexican Rarebit.

Evidently, both names are correct — rarebit or rabbit — and if you're one whose interests lean toward the history of food, then there's much to read about his particular dish.  To me, it's yet another dish that is relatively quick, comforting, and fairly inexpensive — yet packed with incredible flavor.

Make a salad, pour a beer — but save one for the dish, and you're ready for another Friday night meal in.  Don't forget your napkin.Rarebit or Rabbit?

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Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Tomatoes

It's been just about as cold as it ever gets here, hovering around 50 or so, and although the sun is bright, I'm freezing, so that means dinnertime is all about comfort food.

Comfort food warms me just thinking about it.  It comes in large pots or big casseroles, isn't always as complicated as it may first seem if I'm trying a new recipe, and is challenging to keep from helping myself to just one small serving.  What's best about comfort food is that time in the fridge over night improves the flavor.  And since I'm the one who gets to enjoy it for lunch, that matters quite a bit.

While my sister's family was here for the holidays, I made several dishes I'd say fit this bill — which provides yet another characteristic of comfort foods:  They can feed a big group, and if you're not sure whether everyone will be able to sit down to dinner at the same time, they're nearly always something that can be made ahead, and heated up.

I'm sure we all have our favorites, but one of mine is Macaroni and Cheese.  It probably tops my list.  In the last few months, I've sampled a variety of recipes, not so much trying to find the one we like best, but more to see just what each recipe can do with an old classic.

This version is similar to Ina Garten's, but I've included some thick bacon and parsley, and cut back on the cheese.  Not quite a Bacon, Lettuce, & Tomato Mac-a-Cheese, but the idea was there. 

Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Tomatoes

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Bread: Bacon and 3-Cheese Mother Loaf

 


I’m wondering if this post begins where it just ended — with a grilled cheese sandwich that if I wasn’t so full of right now, would have me back in the kitchen putting together another.  In thinking about it though, I’m not sure if it was the apple smoked cheddar and sopressata, or the bread.

The bread is something all by itself.

The mother loaf to be sure.

It all began when…

Just kidding, but here’s the quick version.  Remember those cute little muffins I baked in tiny terra cotta pots not too long ago?  No?  You can refresh your memory here… Well I’ve been keeping an eye on my cheese drawer so that I could give the bread recipe I first saw those cute little pots in because I’ve wanted to try it for so long.

My cheese drawer just happened to have quite the stash of Grafton Cheddar Reserve (my husband loves sharp cheddar), Cypress Grove Midnight Moon (this is the most amazing goat cheese to nibble on with wine…), and Parrano (which I often use instead of Parmesan).  There was also some of that lovely Goat’s Brie, but I decided right at the end that I’d save that for nibbles since the flavor is so mild.

I could have stopped there, but the recipe did mention that deli cuts of meat are good to add.  Except the few pieces I was able to scrounge up looked a bit dodgy, so why not bacon?

Little did I know…

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Home Alone with Baked Ricotta, Olives, & California Rose

It’s been a while since my husband and I have been home alone.  My mother stayed with us for six weeks after returning from her supposed to be permanent move to Virginia, and while we were on vacation, two of my sons traveled with us.  But my mother has found a place to live of her own, my older son is back at his place, and our teenager is visiting a cousin.  That means we have the entire house to ourselves.

Ahhh…

After my husband gets home from work, we’ve decided to either walk or swim some laps on alternate days.  Sounds more interesting than it actually is when you consider that the laps last about 10 minutes before tongues are lolling from our mouths in exhaustion.  Good thing there’s no one around to witness our inability to stick it out for a solid 30 minutes.  But to our credit, last night, we did work for 20 minutes, then feeling sorry for my husband, I decided we were done and walked the short distance to our house, dripping like drowned rats.  Dinner afterward is something light.  Well, lighter than normal, which means there are only two items on the plate instead of three.

Keeping with the “home alone” mood of things, I decided that an appetizer of sorts and something refreshing to sip on a pleasant summer evening after a dip helps make life seem a bit more glamorous.  Well, except for the part where we flopped on the couch and watched Harry Wilson’s War on a pay channel while we enjoyed our food.

But the food was excellent, and it just so happens that our light repast qualifies us for Blog Party #36:  Blogger’s Choice hosted by Stephanie, the Happy Sorceress of Dispensing Happiness, who is celebrating the third anniversary of Blog Party.  Three years is quite the accomplishment in the bloggosphere, if you ask me, so congrats, Stephanie!

Baked Ricotta with Herbed Olives and California Rose is my choice for a special get together when excellent flavor and little prep is required.  You can make it ahead, too, which means it’s even better.  To make it more than an appetizer that two can share, add a salad, and you’ll be satisfied.

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Macaroni & Cheese: The Ultimate Comfort Food

I grew up eating basic food:  no frills, no hidden ingredients, all good taste and comfort.  My mom’s macaroni & cheese was the best.  None of the recipes she made are written anywhere, but I remember them all.  Her macaroni & cheese, or "mac-a-cheese" as we’ve come to call it, was always made of elbow macaroni pieces — the large ones.  She’d make a skillet full of white sauce, grate cheddar cheese, layer all three and then pour some milk over it all for good measure.  Once in a while, she’d throw in some canned tomatoes, too, and I loved their tart flavor with the cheese.

Curious person that I am, occasionally, a mac-a-cheese recipe will catch my eye, and I’ll give it a try, just to consider that there may be another recipe out there that isn’t just about more steps or ingredients.  And it’s your lucky day, because I have found two that are pretty good, even if there are more steps, more ingredients, and heck-of-a-lot more calories.  Like we need those, right?

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I found the first recipe in a magazine last year.  You’re thinking, what a shocker, right?  It accompanied an advertisement for Tillamook cheese (which is mysteriously absent in my photo above), which is being run again this year.  "Penne Rigate Macaroni and Cheese baked with Truffle Essence" is what I would call the elegant version of mac-a-cheese.  No question about it.  Pricey, too.  But I had to try it out and see what that smoked cheddar and black truffle oil did to a classic comfort dish.  Evidently, most black truffle contains no black truffle.  Instead, a synthetic flavoring agent is used to give it a flavor thought to be similar to the real thing.  I did make sure I had the real thing.  My bottle’s ingredients read:  "extra virgin olive oil, black truffle (tuber melanosporum), natural flavoring."  No artificial anything.  Of course, it set me back $18 for 1.86 oz., too.

More recently, I came across "Mac & Cheese for Grown-ups" in fresh magazine which is affiliated with The Best of fine Cooking magazine.  This recipe caught my eye because it contains four types of cheese, one of which is blue cheese, and I immediately wondered if there could be too much of a good thing.  I don’t know how blue cheese can’t overpower every other flavor in this dish.  My husband loves Four Cheese Pasta, and Four Cheese Pizza, but this was something all together different.  Not exactly conducive to low fat eating, either.  I guess both recipes at least meet the qualifications of mac-a-cheese and comfort food, though.

Penne Rigate Macaroni and Cheese baked with Truffle Essence

Ingredients
3 T kosher salt
8 oz. penne rigate pasta, dry
1 T black truffle oil
2 T shallots, minced
3 oz. applewood smoked bacon, minced
1 T garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
2 T all purpose flour
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
1 T minced basil
1/4 tsp. minced thyme
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
3 c. white extra sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 c. pecan quarters
1 c. smoked medium cheddar, shredded

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bring 1-gallon water to rapid boil with kosher salt in an 8-qt. pot.  Add pasta to water and stir.  Boil for 5-6 minutes total.  Pasta should be slightly undercooked.  Drain off all water through a colander, sit one minute and toss in a bowl with the black truffle oil.  Reserve.

Combine shallots, bacon, garlic, and olive oil in  4-qt. pot and cook slowly for 10 minutes using low heat.  Add the flour, raise heat to medium and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Temper in the heavy cream and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes on low.  Add in the herbs and seasonings.  Stir in 3 c. of White Cheddar until smooth.  Add in the truffle scented pasta and stir until evenly combined.  Divide into individual shallow baking dishes (welsh rarebits) and top with the pecans and the shredded medium cheddar.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until bubbly and slightly browned on top.

Serves 4.

Before…
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And after…
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Notes:  I made this dish sometime early last spring.  Clearly, I was still in my "yellow stage" with my little camera.  Good thing we learn a bit as we proceed, isn’t it?  Moving right along, I used a convection setting, and used yellow sharp cheddar instead of white.  Also, the medium cheddar was apple smoked.  I figured the bacon was, so why not?  And I also omitted the bread crumbs.  I’m not much of a fan of bread crumbs on the top of baked food for some reason.  It never really seems to add very much, and if the addition is about adding color, cheese dishes always brown nicely, so I don’t see the point.  This recipe was not bad.  The truffle oil was highly noticeable, and I would have wondered what the flavor was had I not known.  I haven’t eaten truffles often enough to be able to adequately describe their flavor.  Even now, it reminds me more of garlic, and I think that must be one of the "natural" flavorings in my bottle of oil.  I wonder if I made the recipe again with garlic oil instead of truffle oil what the difference would be.  The smoked cheddar flavor also stands out in this recipe, but the flavors work well together.  I did not use the pecans called for, although after eating it, know that I would have liked them in this dish.  People enjoyed this dish, but there were no raves.

Luxurious Four-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese

Ingredients
kosher salt
3 c. whole milk
4 T unsalted butter
1 med onion, finely diced (about 1 c.)
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce; more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
5 oz. Gruyere, coarsely grated (about 1-3/4 c. lightly packed)
1/2 lb. blue cheese (such as Maytag Blue), crumbled
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
1 T finely grated lemon zest
11 oz. Monterey Jack, cut into 1/2-in. dice (2 c.)
1/2 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 T fresh thyme leaves
2-1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated (scant 1 c.)
3/4 c. fresh bread crumbs

Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over med-low heat to just below a simmer.  Remove from the heat and cover to keep hot.  Melt the butter in a med saucepan over med-low heat.  Add the onion and bay leaf.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Gradually whisk in the hot milk, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, whisking frequently, until thickened and smooth.  Season with 1 tsp. salt, the nutmeg, the Tabasco, and pepper to taste.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.  Stir in the Gruyere and blue cheese.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water to al dente, following the package directions.  Drain well and return to the pot.  Toss the lemon zest and half of the Monterey Jack into the pasta while it’s still hot; add the cheese sauce and quickly toss to combine.  Stir in the parsley and thyme and transfer half of the pasta to a large (3-qt.) shallow casserole or lasagna pan.  Sprinkle with the remaining Monterey Jack and half of the Parmigiano; top with the remaining pasta.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano and the breadcrumbs.  Bake until bubbling and golden, 50 to 60 minutes.  Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.

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Notes: This obviously was an incredibly rich dish.  I began to have difficulty when it came to adding the last cheese — the Jack at 11 oz.  Although I estimated that amount in cubes and was prepared to put it in the dish, I ended up only adding half the amount.  The blue cheese stood out the most.  I wasn’t surprised.  And although good, I ended up confirming overkill on the cheese in this recipe.  The parmesan wasn’t the least bit noticed.  The recipe is huge and would server more than eight in my opinion.  It is so rich, a smaller serving was perfect — a lot of flavor goes a long way.  Serve it with a good salad and you’ll be fine.

Conclusion?  The biggest difference between these two versions of mac-a-cheese is the whole cheese sauce component.  In the second recipe, it’s quite the undertaking and I began to wonder if it would all fit in the pan!  It’s fun to try a spin on a dish that is an old family favorite, but it just isn’t my mom’s mac-a-cheese.  These dishes are both worth trying, and each is good enough to consider as something a bit more fancy than usual.  But cut back on the size of the second recipe.  It goes a very long way.  Your arteries will thank you.