Gourmet Mac & Cheese

mac and cheese

I believe that this recipe originally came from a Gourmet magazine, which I adapted to simplify. It is rich and very delicious.

1 lb tube shaped pasta such as rigatoni or penne rigate (Campanelle is also very nice)
2 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp Dijon mustard (ideally whole grain)
1 lb aged cheddar cheese grated on large holes of a box grater
ground pepper
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs (make by putting stale or fresh bread, crust removed, through a food processor)

1. preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 7 minutes — you do not want the pasta to be fully cooked. Drain, then rinse under cold running water in a collander.

2. melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat (I like to use a cast iron pan so I only have one pot to wash). Add onions, garlic, thyme, and rosemary (if used) and cook until onions are soft, 8-10 minutes. If you do not have fresh herbs, use a pinch of dried thyme. Add wine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove and discard the sprigs of herbs (if you used dried herbs, just leave in the mix). Whisk in flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk then mustard. Reduce heat to keep the sauce at a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and stir in most of the cheese, leaving about 1/2 to 1 cup of cheese for the top. Stir in the cheese a handful at a time, stirring until completely melted after each addition. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. fold pasta into sauce and stir until well coated. If your pan is not oven-proof, transfer everything to a baking dish. Scatter the remaining cheese on top, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake until crust is golden, about 25 minutes.

Mac and Cheese
I prefer making this in a wide cast iron frying pan, but it also works with a narrower, deeper pot such as the above.

Kale and White Bean Soup

This is a recipe I adapted from one of the food magazines (I think Gourmet). When I could not find kale, I have used the coarse leaves of dark green cabbage. Rachel Ray has a really fast version of this kind of hearty soup where she uses a loaf of Italian bread to thicken it up. Yum.

1 lb. dried great northern, cannelli or navy beans
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
2 quarts water
1/2 cup vermouth or white wine
1 3×2 inch parmigiano-reggiano rind
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp freshly chopped rosemary
1 lb smoked sausage (ideally kielbasa) sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 carrots, halved and cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1 lb. kale (lacinato), with stems and center ribs discarded and coarsely chopped

» Soak beans overnight.
» Bring beans to boil and remove from heat to sit for 1 hour
» Cook onions and garlic in olive oil at the bottom of your soup pot, then add beans, chicken broth, 1 quart water, wine/vermouth, carrots, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary. Simmer uncovered for approx. 50 minutes.
» Brown sausage in pan and drain.
» Stir in kale, sausage, and 1 quart water. Simmer until kale is tender, approx. 10-15 minutes.
» Season to taste
» Like many soups, this recipe is even better if you make it a day or two in advance and refrigerate. Reheat and serve.

Cilantro & Ginger Pork

cilantro and ginger baked pork

I winged this one evening in London many years ago and it was a hit. It’s a great, easy way to whip together a tasty pork dish when you don’t have access to a grill (my preferred method of cooking ribs and chops). The medium cooking temperature will help keep the pork moist, but you want to try to not let it overcook. I prefer to make this with pork chops, but the pictures were actually taken from a meal where I used country-style pork ribs.

4 Thickly cut pork chops, on or off the bone
1 bunch cilantro (coriander)
1 or 2 tbsp fresh ginger
2 bunches of spring onions (green onions)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers (or serrano if no jalapeno)
olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a baking dish large enough to hold all the pork chops, coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Create a bed of the following: chop up half of the spring onions deep into the green part; mince the ginger and use half; halve, seed and chop up the hot peppers and use half; finely chop the cilantro and use half.

cilantro and ginger baked pork

Next, wash and dry the pork chops and score both sides with a sharp knife in a criss-cross fashion, which helps the marinade penetrate. Lay the chops on top of the base and add some salt and pepper.

Distribute the remaining spring onions, ginger, cilantro, and hot peppers over the top of the pork chops.

Pour cup white wine vinegar over the pork. Optional: you can also pour over 1/4 cup of white wine or vermouth.

cilantro and ginger baked pork

Ideally, you have time to let this marinate for a while but it is not absolutely necessary. If you want to marinate for a long period, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

Place in the oven and cook at 350 F. Cook until the chops feel firm, which usually takes about 40 minutes to an hour depending on the thickness of the meat. If you are unsure about how firm the pork should feel, you can cut into one to see how well done the middle is, and remember that when you remove the pork it will continue cooking in its own juices for a few minutes.

Optional: turn on the broiler for a few minutes at the very end to brown the top.

Pork & White wine vinegar

In London, we lived across the street from Lidgate, a marvelous butcher, and I started cooking pork for the first time. I believe the keys to good pork are timing and marinade. One recipe I saw brined pork chops in pickling spices. I simplified into this concoction.

4 Thickly cut pork chops, off the bone
2 tsp country seed mustard
2 tsp Olive oil
1/2 lemon
2 tsp White wine vinegar
very large handful parsley leaves, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
coarsely ground salt and pepper

» Wash and dry the pork chops, lightly score both sides, and place on a baking tray. Smear both sides of pork with mustard, olive oil, vinegar, parsely, onion, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. You can also add a splash of vermouth or white wine to this.
» Squeeze lemon juice over the pork and flip chops until both sides are reasonably covered with the marinade. Spread the parsely and onion on and around the chops. Let sit for 1-2 hours out of refrigerator, or overnight in the fridge.
» Preheat oven to 425 degrees (or broiler) and slide tray in. Depending on how thick your chops are, they should only need a few minutes to cook on each side. Cut into one to check for color — if the chops are still pink inside, they need just a few minutes more. Try not to overcook.

Note: I have also cooked this for longer under a lower heat like 350 F. The timing can be tricky to get right, but it can leave the pork nice and juicy if you don’t let it overcook.

Spicy Thai Beef Salad (Yum Nuea)

I think I snagged this, or something resembling this, out of a magazine but it was too long ago to remember where.

London broil or skirt steak
fresh minced Ginger
1 Bunch of spring onions, minced including green part
1 small Red Onion
3-4 medium tomatoes
3 serrano peppers
Bunch of cilantro
1 large or 2 medium cucumbers
1/4 cup Fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbsp Dark soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
3 leaves of red leaf or romano lettuce

» Score the beef and let sit in a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and hot peppers. Broil it until medium to well-done.
» In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes (cut into wedges), cucumber (de-skinned, halved and sliced finely), red onion (halved and very finely sliced), lettuce (washed, dried and torn into small pieces), and a hefty bunch of cilantro (loosely chopped).
» In a small mixing bowl, create the dressing by combining: fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, 2-4 tbsp fresh minced ginger, serrano peppers (halved, seeded and finely chopped), sesame oil, and for a bit more kick, I sometimes add in a touch of Rice Wine Vinegar.
» Finely slice the beef (and halve the larger pieces), add to salad and mix in dressing. Let the salad sit for a bit so that the beef marinates further in the dressing.

Stuffed Peppers

This is an adaptation from a Joy of Cooking recipe.

2 or 3 sweet peppers (red, orange or yellow)
block of parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts
saffron rice (you can buy or make yourself)
1 bunch spring onions
Bunch of cilantro
1/2 to 1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
1 small serrano pepper

» Halve and seed the peppers, leaving the stem, and steam them for 10 minutes. Put aside.
» Make the saffron rice and add to the rice: pine nuts, minced serrano pepper (halved and seeded), 4 chopped spring onions (only the white part), 1/3 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, and 1/2 cup of water (or chicken broth). Mix in a few pinches of salt and pepper.
» Lightly coat baking dish with olive oil. Stuff pepper halves with rice mixture and top with parmesan cheese shavings. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees (F)

Mom’s Meatloaf

This is an old family favorite, and I have yet to find a restaurant meatloaf that is better. As usual, I picked up this recipe watching Mom in the kitchen and so amounts are not exact, especially with the seasonings.

2 pounds ground beef
2-3 stalks celery, diced
6-8 white mushrooms, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 egg
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1-2 tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste with a little water added)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
breadcrumbs (optional)

» (Optional) Saute the onions until translucent, then add mushrooms, celery and herbs and cook for a few minutes. This step can be skipped if you like your veggies a little crunchier.
» Combine everything in a large mixing bowl except for the bacon. If you first sauted your vegetables, let that cool a bit before putting in the bowl and adding the egg. Mix up the ingredients with your hands until everything is evenly distributed.
» Take out a large baking dish and shape the meatloaf.
» Lay strips of bacon on top of the meatloaf (you can trim extra fat or cut them to the proper length). I typically lay them across the width, and lay the bacon so that each piece is touching the next.
» Preheat oven and cook at 425 degrees (F) for about 10-15 minutes, then turn down to 350 degrees. Test the meatloaf for firmness to see if cooking is finished, but it usually takes about an hour.

My Shepherd’s Pie

This is my version of Shepherd’s Pie, inspired by a recipe in the Dean & Deluca cookbook. I almost always cook this with ground beef, and the amounts below can be totally altered depending on your whim. I prefer to make this in a flat cast-iron skillet with decently-high sides that can be placed directly into the oven, but of course you can create this in non-oven-ready pots and combine everything in a baking dish.

Mashed Potatoes (the top layer)
6 to 8 medium red or gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup milk (or to your desired level of fluffiness)
2 tbsp butter
parsely, finely chopped (optional)

» Boil potatoes (can cut them into smaller pieces to speed cooking) in salted water in a large pot
» Drain potatoes and mash. Add 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper (parsley optional here). Add milk (may need more or less than 1/2 cup depending on amount of potatoes) to the point where potatoes are moist but not yet liquidy.

Base of Shepherd’s Pie
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground lamb
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp flour
1 medium yellow or white onion, minced
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup beef stock (can be skipped)
3-4 bacon rashers (in U.S., canadian bacon; can use regular bacon too)
salt and pepper
1 tsp tomato paste

» Cook bacon thoroughly in a touch of olive oil in a large cast iron frying pan (or whatever pan you have). Remove from pan and drain most of the bacon grease.
» In same pan, brown the ground beef over moderate heat and season as you cook with 1/2 tsp salt, rosemary, and worcestershire sauce. Once browned, sprinkle with flour, stirring the flour in and let cook for another 4 minutes. Remove meat and drain excess grease from pan.
» Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
» Saute onion and carrot in frying pan and cook until onion is translucent. Increase heat slightly and add wine and stock, deglazing bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook for another 5 minutes until liquid is reduced by half. (Optional: add a tsp of tomato paste for a richer flavor)
» While this is cooking, chop up bacon into small bits
» Add meat and bacon back into pan and cook together for a few minutes, until the liquid turns into a nice thick sauce (if it gets very dry, add a little more stock or wine)

Combine and bake:
» If you are using a cast iron pan, your meat and vegetables are already in the pan as the bottom layer. Otherwise, move the mixture to a baking disk. Cover with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the top (easier with a fork, which also lets you make fun patterns) and bake in the oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes until heated thoroughly. I will often turn the heat way up at the very end to brown the top just a bit.

Grandma House’s Egg Nog

This is another recipe my Mom picked up from our Maryland Grandmother. Every time I make it, I seem to reduce the amount of liquor and still wind up with a potent creation. The original recipe had a lot more “sauce” than this version.

1 quart light cream
1 quart deluxe eggnog mix or heavy cream
12 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 1/2 cup super-fine sugar
1 pint whipping cream
dark rum

» Beat egg yolks and sugar until yolks are very pale
» Add booze in the following proportions to taste: 2 parts bourbon to 1 part brandy and 1 part dark rum (my original note says 1/2 quart bourbon, 1/4 quart brandy, 1/4 quart rum but you might start with less and add to taste). Beat mixture as you add liquor.
» Add light cream then eggnog mix (or heavy cream).
» Beat whipping cream until thick and add to mixture
» Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in two thirds of the egg white
» Before serving whip up rest of egg whites and add
» grate nutmeg on top and serve.

Grandma’s Oyster Stew

This is a traditional Christmas dinner appetizer for our family, and it is really more of a soup than a stew. As with most recipes, all the amounts below can be changed to fit the taste you are looking for.

2-4 tb butter
1-2 cups diced onion or leek
1/2 – 1 cup chopped celery
3 pints oysters and their liquid
2 cups milk or half-and-half
1 cup cream
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
1/8 tsp white pepper
worcestershire sauce
thinly sliced mushrooms (optional, but we love the addition)

» Saute onion/leek, celery and mushrooms (if used) in butter in large soup pan.
» Add liquid and oysters and cook on low heat until the oysters float. Flavor with salt (to taste), pepper, and a few drops of worcestshire sauce. Add chopped parsely just before serving.