Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mac 'N Cheese

My assignment for the Monson Christmas Eve Dinner this year was Mac ‘N Cheese – popular with the kids and vegetarians in the family - and a favorite of mine that I had never before made from scratch. I didn’t have a recipe with me, I certainly wasn’t going to use Kraft, and I wasn’t excited about searching the internet on the small screen of my iPhone, so I turned to the ever-reliable “Bunny” in Seattle. Bunny’s always good for suggesting a recipe or two or even three when you need one. For macaroni and cheese, Bunny offered a recipe out of a cookbook from which he has enjoyed other recipes, although he had never made this particular recipe.

The deciding factor between Bunny’s recommended recipe and the one Brian found in the “Food and Wine” magazine at mom’s house is the “one pot” ease of Bunny’s – the pasta cooks in the same pot. (What my mom is doing with a “Food and Wine” magazine is an entirely separate subject.) Here’s what you’ll need:

A large, non stick skillet (I doubled the recipe, so I used a large non-stick stock pot)
3½ cups water, plus extra as needed
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed!)
12 ounces (about 3 cups) elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Ground black pepper

Bring 3½ cups water, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, the macaroni, and ½ teaspoon salt to a simmer in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. Cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until the macaroni is tender and the liquid has thickened, 9 to 12 minutes.

Whisk the remaining ½ cup evaporated milk, the cornstarch, mustard, and hot sauce together in a small bowl, then stir into the skillet.

Continue to simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. (Okay – here I realize that I have misled you – you will need to dirty a second bowl. And a word of caution – DON’T mix the cornstarch ingredients until you’re ready to stir it into the pasta – otherwise it will thicken up on you!)
Remove the pan/pot from the heat, then stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack, one handful at a time, adding water as needed to adjust the consistency of the sauce.

Stir in the butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

A couple of “off the recipe” notes from Gourmet Gibbs. I didn’t want the pasta to be too “al dente” so I tested it after the suggested time, and continued to cook it for a few to several more minutes. That turned out to be unnecessary, as it continued to cook during the “off heat” process. Also, I prepared the dish prior to the “plate and serve” stage, so I transferred the macaroni and cheese to an oven safe bowl, covered with foil, and put in the warming oven until the whole family was seated at the table and it was time to eat.

Serving suggestion: with Ham, Sweet Potatoes, Polenta Cakes with Sauted Herbed Mushrooms. YUMMY!

Everyone loved the flavor of the Mac N’ Cheese, especially the kids; if you are preparing this for a strictly “adult” crowd, I might get a little more adventurous with the selection of cheeses to use.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tree Trimmin' Clam Dip

Tis the season to Trim the Tree! And if you're going to invite your friend over to do the job (like we do), you'd better have something for them to nibble on, in addition to the cocktails they expect. We have a tradition in our house - invite friends over to hang the ornaments, give them some munchies to accompany their cocktails, and then order PIZZA after the tree is trimmed.

This year was no exception. In addition to the annual "Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts" - see post from a LONG time ago - I decided to serve a simple Clam Dip with Pita and Potato Chips. I thought of this because at a recent UTAH football tailgate party, Megan brought her mom's yummy clam dip - and it was delicious. Sonja's Clam Dip is "oh-so-simple" -

2 cans of minced clams, drained (reserve liquid)

2 bars of Philidelphia Cream Cheese, softened

Mix together, and stir in just enough clam juice to get desired consistency.

Way too simple for Gourmet Gibbs, so I tried to complicate it by adding more,and swapping out a bit:

8 ounce (1 package) cream cheese - softened
1 cup sour cream
2 (6 1/2 ounce) cans clams - one chopped, one diced, drained, juice reserved
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 can (small) diced jalapeno peppers
splash hot sauce/tabasco
splash lemon juice
3 tablespoons clam juice.

Mix cream cheese with sour cream, until smooth with no chunks. I used a whisk, but when I do this again, I might consider an electric or battery powered mixer - my arms were POOPED.

Add in Worcestershire sauce, claim juice, tabasco, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and continue mixing.

Add clams, mix, and if necessary or desired, add a bit more clam juice. Remember - the dip will solidify a bit as it cools in the fridge.

I made half without chilies, and stirred in the diced jalapenos into the second half. The jalapeno version was preferred heavily over the original version.

Serve with your favorite Pita and Potato Chips,

and be sure to set out napkins so your guests don't get dip on the ornaments to go on the tree. Oh, and don't forget to order the PIZZA!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Asparagus with Miso and Almonds, AKA "Not your Mother's Green Bean Casserole"

The following is NOT just a recipe - it's an ADVENTURE!

For Thanksgiving dinner at Brian's sister Terry's house, I was given my annual assignments - Stuffing and Green Bean Casserole. (Both of these have been covered in prior Gourmet Gibbs Blog posts.) This year I wanted to do something novelle with the Green Beans, and Brian found a recipe in "Bon Appetite" that sounded fun - "Green Beans with Miso and Almonds." It kept the standard Green Bean ingredient, but gave it an Asian flare, and I thought - why not try it!

One of the ingredients called for is Miso Paste. I had not heard of this, but the recipe suggested it could be found in natural food stores, Japanese markets, and some better supermarkets. I actually found some at Rock 'n Roll Ralphs in Hollywood, but found a better selection at Whole Foods.

I saved most of my shopping for Thanksgiving morning in Oceanside. I found all the ingredients I needed for Stuffing and for the new Bean dish - all except ONE - GREEN BEANS. Here's a reenactment of my experience at the produce department. I walk up each aisle, and can find no Green Beans. I look in the fresh packaged section for ready to nuke bags of Green Beans, and there are NONE. So I approach the produce lady:

Me: "Where are the fresh Green Beans?" Produce Lady: "We are all out."

Me: "All OUT?" Produce Lady: "Yes, there's a shortage of Green Beans here."

Me: "Would Albertson's have any?" Produce Lady: "I doubt it but you can use the phone up front to call them."

I used my iPhone and called the Albertons - they were completely out, too. So I went back to the produce lady:

Me: "Do you have any of the packaged fresh Green Beans?" Produce Lady: "No. The beans we got in didn't look that great, but they went fast, so I opened the packaged fresh beans and put those out, and those went fast as well."

Me: "Hmph." Produce Lady: "Are you just going to make the standard Green Bean Casserole? You could use frozen."

Me: "Actually, this is the year that I was NOT going to do the Green Bean Casserole."

I explained my recipe, and my hesitation to use frozen Green Beans (they just seem to have both a texture and a flavor that screams: FROZEN!)

Produce Lady: "Sounds interesting. Have you considered Asparagus?" Me: "What a brilliant idea! I love you! Happy Thanksgiving!"

And that's how the traditional Green Bean Casserole became "Not Your Mother's Green Bean Casserole" and is, in fact, not a casserole at all, and doesn't include Green Beans at all! It did earn raves from the dinner crowd, so here's what you need:

2 1/2 lbs. fresh Asparagus
1/4 cup white Miso paste (fermented soybean paste)
3 Tbsp. thinly sliced Scallions, dark green part only, divided (I used a tad more!)

2 Tbsp. unseasoned Rice Vinegar

2 Tbsp. Japanese prepared Hot Mustard (NOT Wasabi), or alternatively
1 Tbsp. English Mustard Powder mixed with 1 Tbsp. water

2 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Sugar

1/4 cup sliced Almonds, toasted

Wash the Asparagus and either snap or snip the woody ends off (many people claim that if you gently bend the Asparagus spear, it will snap off naturally at the point of yummy Aspargus spear vs. woody tip - but I find this usually results in half the spear being discarded, and I'm just not that picky, so I use a knife and trim off the bottom 3/4 to 1 inch - more on particularly thick spears). You may elect to shave off some of the bottom leaves from the spears.

Wash and steam the Asparagus. I used a handy microwave veggie cooker that Max offered. I cooked the Asparagus in 3 batches - 1 1/2 minutes on high, rolled the Asparagus around, and then another 1 1/2 minutes. If you don't have a microwave veggie cooker, just wrap your Asparagus in plastic wrap with a few sprinkles of water, and zap for probably 2 minutes. You want the Asparagus to be tender, but NOT MUSHY! After you take the Asparagus out of the microwave, run it under cold water, or better yet, drop it into an ice bath - to stop the continued cooking that will occur if you don't. Dry the Asparagus spears on a cloth towel.

Slice the spears in approximate even pieces - either 3 or 4 cuts, depending on the size you want your Asparagus pieces to be. Put the pieces in your serving dish.

In a separate bowl, prepare the Miso paste-based dressing:

Whisk Miso, 2 Tbsp. Scallions, vinegar, mustard, oil and sugar. I also added a Tbsp. of Black Sesame Seeds, for "pop!

Pour the dressing over the Aspargus, then toss to coat.

Garnish with Toasted Almonds and the remaining Scallions. I served the dish at room temperature, and the Turkey Feast Host was thrilled that I didn't have any need for space in the oven, which was already over-filled with other delicious sides that DID need reheating.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greg's Beef Barley Stew

We've just returned from a weekend in Salt Lake, cheering on the UTAH UTES to their first Pac-12 conference football victory - FINALLY.

It was Blackout Game - where everyone was encouraged to wear all black - and even though I thought it was kind of a silly concept, I have to admit that the stadium crowd looked awesome.

Prior to the game Megan offered to set up a tailgate party at her primo parking space, which was fabulous.

And after the game we took the party back to Greg and Megan's house, where Greg treated us to a fabulous Beef Barley Stew that he had cooked while we all watched the game in the cold and he enjoyed it on KJAZZ TV. Greg's stew is incredibly delicious, and perhaps if there are a few requests for it in the "comment" section, I can talk him into sharing it soon!

Another recipe-focused Gourmet Gibbs will be posted within days... really!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Goat Cheese Pizza

We haven't done Pizza in quite some time, so even though the Pizza process is the same as prior posts, this week is a reminder that homemade (well, nearly homemade) pizza is way yummier than frozen.

It's not really home made since I always start my pizza with a bag of Trader Joe's Pizza Dough - or you can pick up a roll of pizza dough from your favorite pizzeria, or you could always make your own from scratch - just don't as ME how to do that!

Sprinkle some cornmeal on your pizza stone, plop out the dough, and let it rest - the Trader Joe's bag says 30 minutes, but I have found that if you let it rest for up to 8 hours, it rolls out thinner and is less likely to pull back into itself (there are some out there who heat the pizza stone in the oven, prepare the pizza dough and toppings on one of the flat boards, and then slide the prepared pie onto the heated stone - BUT those people aren't me).

I kept my toppings simple - sliced mushrooms, sliced red onion, and mozzerella and goat cheeses.

When you're ready to cook the pizza - preheat your oven to 500 degrees; then roll out the pizza as thin as you can get it on your pizza stone. Spread a thin layer of olive oil over the dough, then sprinkle with sliced fresh garlic.

Cook the dough for 8 - 10 minutes - until the dough is just starting to turn a golden brown. Remove from the oven - pop down any big bubbles that may have popped up, and then layer on the toppings.

Spread a thin layer of mozzerlla over the pizza, then evenly distribute the sliced mushrooms and onions, and finally, top with dollops of goat cheese.

Return to the oven and continue to cook for another 6 - 8 minutes - until the cheese is bubbly and just starting to turn golden brown. Remove and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing....

and then ENJOY.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Farfalle Casserole

We're getting back into Fall, and that means more casseroles, soups, chilis and comfort food (not that it's wrong to cook those in the middle of Summer!) This first post for October is Chicken Broccoli Faralle Casserole, and the first rule of casserole is: Look in your fridge to see what you have left over that should be eaten, but you don't want to eat it exactly as it was initially prepared. Add to that your patry staples, and you've got yourself a meal.

I found leftover rotisserie chicken, extra broccoli and cauliflower - and I had a package of Farfalle (bowtie) noodles, cream of mushroom soup, canned mushrooms and, of course, cheese.

Prepare the package of Farfalle noodles according to the package directions. While the noodles are cooking...

Chop into bite-sized pieces approximately one cup each of broccoli, cauliflower and chicken.

Drain the noodles into a strainer and set aside, then, using the same pot, toss together the broccoli, cauliflower, chicken, mushrooms - including liquid - condensed soup, salt and pepper to taste, and about 1 cup of grated cheese.

(By the way, I'm ALL about using as few pots as possible, and if you can use one for multiple uses and just wash it once - go for it!)

Put the mix in a size-appropriate oven-safe casserole dish, sprinkle with the top with a bit more cheese, cover, and cook in a PRE-HEATED oven (375 degrees) for approximately 50 - 55 minutes. Remove the cover, and cook another 10 minutes or so until the top is bubbly brown and delicious looking.

Remove from the oven, uncover, and let rest about 10 minutes before plating...

Then enjoy - and the beauty of a casserole - it's an entire meal in one bowl, accompanied by your beverage/cocktail of choice.

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