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Archive for April, 2012

I adore macaroni and cheese.

I adore the Kraft stuff, preferably left to cool and coagulate awhile before I eat it.  It’s even better the next day when it’s reheated (or even cold).

I adore the more gourmet versions you find in fancy restaurants.  I adore pretty much every recipe Rachael Ray has concocted.  I adore the little balls of the stuff that get breaded and deep fried.  I adore it on Ian’s pizza, especially after a night of heavy drinking.  Hold the ranch 😉

And, I adore the Velveeta Shells & Cheese we gobbled so much of in college.  Once, when I asked a friend what he was making for dinner he told me shells and cheese.  I went on about how I loved the stuff, used to eat it all the time, it’s such a guilty pleasure…blah blah blah.  Then he goes “ya, I make mine with ricotta.”  Being the cook that I am, I was a little embarrassed I had misunderstood him and made myself out to be that girl who can’t cook anything that doesn’t come pre-assembled in a box and an aluminum pouch 🙂

I returned from my first trip home to Wisconsin last week and walked right into a crazy week at work.  Every time I thought I’d have a chance to get some groceries, my schedule changed.  So we finally made our list and went this afternoon.  We were still staring at almost 2 pounds of Velveeta that Ali had bought for that cream of cauliflower soup.  And since I was feeling a little lazy, I suggested we just make some mac n’ cheese.  Which quickly had Chris and Ali suggesting we add bacon and crab meat to it to mimic a dish they had had for their anniversary dinner at Maggiano’s.  I was down.

The recipe on the side of the box goes as follows:

  • 2 cups of elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 12 oz. Velveeta, cubed
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper

We grabbed a 6 oz. can of lump crab meat at TJ’s.  We actually had bacon out thawing when we left for the store, but we stumbled across another “manager’s special” in the bacon section: that Oscar Mayer stuff that is pre-cooked and microwavable.  Chris had to walk away in disgust, but for 99 cents, how could we pass up the convenience?!  I’d highly recommend using this for this recipe, but you will likely find regular bacon for far cheaper than the regular price of about 5 bucks per 8 ounces!

Just like with any easy mac n’ cheese, once the noodles are cooked you add the cheese and milk and heat until melted.  I used 1/2 cup of [2%] milk, just because I felt like it.  I warmed up the bacon and crumbled it in, and then added the drained crab.  I just seasoned with pepper to taste.  Then, we threw it in my stainless steel casserole pan (I sprayed it first), threw on a handful of [real] shredded sharp cheddar, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

Easy!  Quick!  Delicious!

Okay, not exactly what I needed after trying to hop back on the diet train this weekend.  But, I think the deep fried cheese curds and pickles we’re attempting as our snacks for the Game of Thrones viewing tonight will do a little more damage.  And that package of Oreos I just couldn’t resist….

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It’s been beautiful in California this week: sunny and warm, perfect weather for drying laundry out on the patio like we did yesterday.  It’s just over 70 degrees today, so not exactly soup weather, nevertheless I have been craving this for weeks and decided to waste no more time.  This is one of my favorite of Grandma’s recipes from my childhood, and I can’t say I’ve had it since before she passed away over a decade ago, high time I tried making a pot for myself.

Cream Sou

Assembling the ingredients for Grandma's cream soup

  • Boil together until tender: 1 small diced onion, 2 carrots diced fine, 1 medium head broccoli or cauliflower (flowerettes & tender stems).  Use only enough water to cover the veggies.
  • Add: 6 cups milk, 2 Tbsp Butter, and 1-4 oz Velveeta cheese
  • Thicken with flour and milk mixture.
  • Mushrooms optional
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Obviously, I chose cauliflower and looked for my best guess at what a “medium” head would be.  In case you’re wondering it rang up at 2.3 lbs.   We’ve only got medium-largish onions in the pantry so I just chopped up half of one.  I was also curious how much water would be the right amount so I measured out how much I used, turned out it was just shy of 8 cups.

Turns out our local grocery store only carries Velveeta in 2 lb bricks, which when you only need 1-4 oz can seem a little excessive.  Lucky for us  it keeps in the fridge for a while so we can use it in shells & cheese or a dip later and those 28-31 extra ounces won’t go to waste.

The only hiccup I had was getting the soup to thicken, I was using skim milk since that’s what we keep in the house, but as Danielle brought up Grandma was almost certainly using something with more fat in it.  Even with a 1/2 cup or more of flour my soup is a little thinner than that of my memories, next time this gets made we will make a special purchase of whole milk.

When I first brought up the recipe with Chris he was full of suggestions for things to add, but I’m hesitant to mess with my Grandma’s recipe, especially one so beloved to me.  I compromised with him by adding the optional can of mushrooms and frying up some bacon crumbles on the side for him to garnish with.

All in all, I’d say this was pretty successful.  The soup, albeit a bit thin, tastes exactly how I remember it.  I’m looking forward to heating it up for lunches all week long.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

The delicious end product.

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Lemon and I go way back.

Not only is lemon meringue pie my favorite pie, it’s also one of my all-time favorite desserts.  Not just any lemon meringue, however.  My grandma’s (duh).  Hers was the best for two reasons: the crust and the meringue.  Any idiot can make lemon curd, which is the filling for the pie.  Well…maybe that’s not true.  Making sure you cook it to the proper thickness can be tricky.  I dealt with a few slightly runny pies before I learned my lesson.  But not everyone makes a good pie crust.  (Perhaps that should read “not everyone makes a pie crust.”  If you are going to go through the fuss of making a pie like this, you had best be making a homemade crust to put it in.  The end.)  The meringue is awesome because instead of just egg whites and sugar, it uses marshmallow creme.  So it’s all fluffy and sticky-sweet once it’s baked.  *sigh*

The various lemon-flavored versions of Girl Scout cookies have also been popular with me.  This spring we stopped and bought some cookies at a table some girls were running at Ralph’s.  One of the troop moms and I were having a discussion about how the names of the cookies are different out here than they are in Wisconsin.  Then I realized there weren’t any of the lemon sandwich cookies I liked.  In true L.A. fashion, said mom got a bit snarky and goes “turns out you were the only person who liked those.”  Okay then.  I’m sure that’s false, but whatever…moving on.

In Italy last year, Hol and I drank limoncello (and lemon creme) amongst the ruins of Pompeii.  Alright, technically we were in the gift shop adjacent to the actual ruins.  And technically, there was a terrible thunderstorm going on, so there was no desire on either of our parts to dawdle around muddy, two-thousand year-old streets sipping booze.  But it sounds quite nice to say “we drank limoncello amongst the ruins.”  The stuff is damn potent, but damn good.  I bought a bottle home for the family to try and my Dad was, surprisingly, an instant convert.

Oh hello beautiful, huge lemons!

Now that I’ve spent thirty minutes writing about how much I love lemon-flavored items (Barcardi Limon being one exception.  Freshmen year of college permanently turned my stomach against any fruit flavored rum or vodka, a fact I unfortunately neglected to remember a few weeks ago during an afternoon where I downed a bit too much pineapple vodka 😉 ), I might as well explain where I’m going with this…dessert for Easter lunch tomorrow.

Since there are only three of us, we’re keeping things pretty simple: some ham, German potato salad, and green beans.  The year of being perpetually on-call for holidays continues this weekend, and I decided that if I had to be stuck close to home on the first nice weekend in a month, I should make a putzy dessert to go with our rather easy meal.  To me, that means check out Brown Eyed Baker for a cupcake recipe.  (I had been itching to make the Irish Car Bomb ones again, but I was on call and sick on St. Pat’s, so their revival waits for another day.)  I thought of lemon immediately…it’s spring, it’s sunny…”let’s have something light and fresh.”

So I settled on these little babies.  As she proclaims, they actually are quite easy.  I had Ali help by zesting the lemons and then juicing them so I could use as much fresh lemon juice as possible (we got 2/3 of a cup out of three lemons, a little shy of the necessary 3/4 cup).  But otherwise, I managed to make the cupcakes, lemon curd and frosting all while doing the dishes and boiling the potatoes for the potato salad.  There’s nothing terribly exotic in the execution of this recipe.

You can read her directions in the link above.  I made two tiny alterations, both with the frosting.  I knew I’d never use the last 2 ounces of my brick of cream cheese if I only used 4 ounces in the frosting.  So I threw all 6 that were left in.  Then I figured there needed to be a little extra liquid, so I just kind of poured the limoncello on without measuring.  I’ve been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares lately, so I could hear Gordon Ramsay exclaiming “too many cooks in the kitchen” as I just kept pouring, all the while wanting to gleefully yell out “too much booze in my cupcakes!!”  Anyways, I highly recommend using more than a tablespoon in your version.  How the hell are you going to taste one tablespoon?!  Okay, I guess I made another alteration, this time in the directions on how to hollow out the hole for your lemon curd filling.  I just used a sharp paring knife and cut a nickel-sized circle about 1/2″ deep out of the center of each cupcake.  So much easier than either method she describes.  I tried the icing tip thing last time, and rather than core out any cake, I felt that it just sort of smushed it down into the bottom.  Which was fine, but not exactly the point.  Oh, and check out this nifty trick to make your own buttermilk instead of buying a bunch you won’t use.  My mom has always done this when she makes homemade pancakes!

Just waiting for their frosting...

We haven’t tried the assembled product yet, but I’ve tasted [a lot] of each individual part.  The lemon curd is much tarter than my lemon pie filling, but it turns out it balances the faint sweetness of the cupcake perfectly.  The frosting is fabulous.  The end.  As all of hers always are!  I also have a feeling if you’re feeling a little lazy, leaving out the filling and just making limoncello cupcakes and frosting would be a perfectly delicious alternative!

Happy Easter all!

el fin

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Hooray pancakes!  As you all know, I don’t really enjoy traditional breakfast foods, with one glaring exception being pancakes.  Most of my family leans towards French toast.  Well, and then there’s Dad, who thinks anything besides bacon, eggs and toast is sacrilegious…especially after noon.  If my Mom suggests breakfast for dinner you can practically see him exploding inside haha.

I love regular pancakes.  Chocolate chip.  Blueberry.  Everything.  I’ve taken to adding vanilla and cinnamon to my batter thanks to Chris.  My mom makes a mean homemade pancake thanks to Betty Crocker, but I’ve settled on using mix because then my pancakes tend to come out fluffier.  At least they do if I make sure my batter isn’t super runny.

My “pancake problem” used to be that I couldn’t actually make them.  I flipped too early and made big messes.  Now that I’ve got the mixing and making down to an art, my problem is that I never make just the right number.  I find that when a box of mix tells me X amount of ingredients will make Y amount of pancakes, I usually end up with about half that number.  So I tend to always mix up enough stuff for the next higher quantity…and end up with a few too many pancakes.

Now, I love leftovers.  With certain things (here’s looking at you, mac n’ cheese) I love them even more than the fresh version.  Pancakes do not fall into this category.  They tend to just be limp and rubbery when you try to nuke the leftover ones that have sat in the fridge for a day.

The solution?  Something I picked up from my friend Bob in college.  He told me that he would freeze extras and then pull them out in the mornings and toast them to heat them back up.  This memory came back to me the last time I made pancakes, so I threw about 8 of them in some Tupperware and on into the freezer.  This Saturday Ali and I pulled them out and toasted them up.  Yum!  🙂  Instead of rubbery, they still tasted nice and fluffy with a hint of toastiness.  We actually plan on purposely making a bunch of pancakes next time so we can freeze several breakfasts worth.

A weird post, I know…but we both thought it was a fun tip to share with all of you readers out there!

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It was bound to happen.

A Rachael Ray recipe I was not impressed by.

Although I’d be pretty content eating the same thing over and over (okay, I am pretty content doing that…I think I’ve had a banana and cereal for breakfast for 2 weeks straight), Chris is absolutely against it.  I’m starting to miss living with Hol…when spaghetti, stir fry or chicken and noodles were perfectly acceptable any night of the week.  Ha!  Anyways, he’s always complaining that he needs more variety (and always seemingly craving some fancy sandwich or another).  So when I made out my grocery list this week, I purposely sought out some new recipes for us.  I’ve been eyeing this one up in my Big Orange Book for awhile, so it seemed like a no-brainer: we all love wings, we all love sloppy joes, so a recipe that combines them?  Yes, please.

It’s been well-documented in this blog that I adore spice.  Today, I stopped and got a huge bag of fresh fruit from a street vendor outside of K-Mart (it’s an L.A. thing?!).  Oranges, pineapple, various melons, coconut…even cucumber 🙂  Anyways, the real point of the story is that I had the nice man slicing things up sprinkle on some chili seasoning.  I call it chili seasoning because it’s not just chili powder…it usually has some lime and whatnot included.  It’s huge out here, because of the huge Hispanic population.  (One day at work I was munching on my chili spiced mango and my coworker goes “you’ve been here three months and you’re already turning into a Mexican?!”)  I can’t remember the exact brand today, but Tajin is a popular one.  Alison tried some pineapple and almost died haha.  I was happy as could be, even though my cheeks definitely got a little flushed with the heat 🙂  So…spice.  I like it.  I expect it out of Rach.  Especially when the recipe’s name includes the word “hot.”

So imagine my surprise when I took the first bite and was overwhelmed not with heat, but with the tang of blue cheese.  Now, I also adore blue cheese.  I found it delightful on my cruise last year that the salad bar always had a huge spread of it out.  BUT…with buffalo wings, blue cheese is there as a cooling agent.  A sidekick.  It shouldn’t be the only flavor I taste (well, besides a little charcoal flavor on the buns thanks to the fact that I cannot use a broiler without losing interest, walking away, and returning to a smoking mess).  Unfortunately, today it was…

Let’s start with the recipe:

Brown 2 pounds of ground chicken in a skillet.  I used ground turkey simply because I’ve never enjoyed the ground chicken I’ve used before, and this is easy to find at TJ’s.

Add: 2 grated carrots (my microplane worked wonders here), 4 stalks of celery (chopped), one finely diced onion, and 2 garlic cloves (pressed).  Cook for an additional 7-8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl combine: 2 TBSP red wine vinegar, 2 TBSP brown sugar, 1 TBSP Worcestershire, 1/4 to 1/3 cup hot sauce, 1 cup tomato sauce and 1 cup chicken broth.

Pour over the meat and simmer for a few minutes.  Serve on toasted buns with blue cheese sprinkles on top.  (Actually, RR says to also serve with dill pickles sliced up on top.  Umm…eww?)

Now let’s talk about things for a bit…

I only used 1.5 pounds of turkey because that’s one package, and frankly, I thought it would be plenty of protein for three people.  This became problematic because I didn’t cut down on the sauce ingredients, so things were a little…wet.  However, now that I’ve tasted things, there’s an easy fix: don’t include the chicken broth.  Any of it.  It probably just watered down the flavors and added salt.  Boo to both.

I was a little hesitant while mixing this sauce up, so it shouldn’t surprise me that I didn’t like it.  I’ve never been a big fan of Worcestershire.  Tonight, I think it was fine, since there wasn’t much in there.  The brown sugar is something I’d leave out next time.  I just want spice.  Not sweet n’ spicy.  The vinegar is fabulous and I might add a little extra next time.  I only used 1/4 cup of hot sauce, surprisingly, I know.  I’d definitely up the ante to 1/3 or even 1/2 next time.

Of course, if you are my mom, baby sister, or any other number of babies in my acquaintance, perhaps you would love these things as-is 😉

One last thing…I bought nice buns at the bakery and toasted them under the broiler.  And as I was eating, I just wanted a nice, soft white bun haha.  So, if you’re having a lazy day, just skip that step.  Unnecessary 🙂

 

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