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!