Thursday, December 15, 2016

My "Growed Up" Mac and Cheese

While many of us enjoy stews, soups and chili to warm us on those cool winter evenings, why not heat things up with my spicy "growed up" mac and cheese?  Loaded with smoked white cheddar, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, andouille sausage, garlic and finely chopped onion, along with some finely diced pickled jalapenos, and the roux was made with Mexican beer, ergo the "growed up" title. 

Let me tell you how I made it. By-the-way, this is not my first mac and cheese recipe.  I have at least two more in prior posts from years back. 

Here is my ingredients list:
1/4 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
2 rounded tablespoons pickled jalapenos, diced
1 cup grated Fontina cheese
1 cup grated smoked white cheddar cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 rounded teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup Mexican beer (I used Tecate)
2 tabs butter
1/2 cup whole milk (I usually use buttermilk)
2 large links Andouille sausage, chopped into chunks
1 pound campanelle pasta (bell-shaped pasta)

1+ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 rounded tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or melted butter

In a large skillet over medium-high heat and with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or whatever oil you wish; grape seed oil is wonderful for this), saute the Andouille until crispy. That crust is flavor, amazing flavor. Add the onion, diced pickled jalapenos and garlic to the saute for three minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside. 

Now, in a high-sided pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, add three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and two tabs butter, a little salt, pepper and crushed or fresh oregano (you can do both; who is going to care?).  You might even want to see about adding the Andouille renderings (I did! and how delicious!) and the flour once the butter has melted.  Vigorously stir the flour to make the roux.  Add the milk and beer and continue to rigorously stir.  When the sauce begins to reduce and thicken, add a good handful of mozzarella cheese and stir until it has melted.  Continue adding handfuls of cheese and stir until it has melted thoroughly.  

Meanwhile, add four to six quarts of water to a large pot and bring it to a roiling boil.  Once the water boils, liberally add salt to the water and add the campanelle pasta.  Stir vigorously to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. It should be done to al dente in about eight minutes. Strain the pasta, keep a half or so cup of pasta water and add the pasta to the cheesy goodness directly. Do not let too much water escape!  Use the reserved pasta water to loosen the cheesy mixture if needed. This will help the cheesy bechamel stick to the grooves and bell of the pasta, which is exactly why I chose it. Now, add the sausage, onion and garlic mixture to the bechamel. Again, work those arm muscles and incorporate that into the mix.  

Once the pasta and the cheese have been thoroughly incorporated, add the mixture to whichever form of baking device you wish to use.  I have made it in a flat baking pan as well as my Aunt's antique glass bowls.  This time, I used the bowl, which I'd sprayed with non-stick spray before baking. 

Top the mac and cheese mixture with a mix of mozzarella and parmesan.  I used a garlic parm. 
Top that with a mixtutre of Panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese, along with a little oregano. I love oregano and with this spicy theme, I think it goes perfectly.  Add a drizzle of evoo and/or melted butter to the bread crumbs and bake at 375-degrees for about twenty minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  To kick it up a knotch (you know, the "Bam!" thing) I added dollops of Harissa, which gave it an amazing garlicky, tangy heated flavor.  

Oven Ready!

Once again, bake at 375-degrees for about twenty minutes. what it should look like when done.....

Serve in bowls with whatever garnishes you love best.  This is hot, spicy and will warm every part of you.  

My gentle viewers, as always, Thank You for your time and consideration.  Now, go cook for someone you love!

In-House Cook 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Welcome to Yet Another Edition of...
What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen!

Welcome, Friends!  In this edition, I will tell you about two dishes I have recently made that were true comfort food winners.  While I do not have a "how to" photo session of this first dish, sumptuous braised chicken thighs, black beans with salsa dish, the plated visuals give you a good idea of what is going on in this warm, savory dish. The second dish features my favorite things, savory Mexican ingredients, bacon and grilled onions on a burger.  What could be better?  Neither needs to take much of your time, but IF you have the time, the lower-and -slower and longer the braise, the better the dish.  It could, however, be simple a 45-minute dish. 

Let's get started!

Savory Salsa Braised Chicken Thighs

In this dish, I seasoned chicken whole boneless-skinless chicken thighs with my Mexican spice blend, heavy on Chipotle powder. I seared the seasoned chicken thighs in my Dutch oven in three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until a beautiful crust formed, about three or four minutes per side. I added fresh coarsely chopped onion and garlic and sauteed for three minutes more. I also added 16-ounces of rinsed black beans. I then added two tablespoons of fresh lime juice and two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a bottle of Mexican beer. (I used Tecate) and two large bottles of thick and chunky salsa. (That is just my preference; you add whichever salsa you like, fresh or bottled.  I was pressed for time, as it was late at night, and so used bottled, store bought salsa. I might otherwise have made my own fresh salsa).  I rearranged the chicken thighs and nestled them half way into the salsa, topped with fresh oregano sprigs, and braised the thighs for an hour on low.  I removed the lid and continued the braise (between low and medium), partly covered, to reduce and thicken the salsa, for twenty minutes more. 

At this time, I removed the dutch oven from the heat and allowed it to cool for several minutes, using tongs to gently break up the chicken, which was ready to fall easily fall apart.  I tell you, friends, the aroma during this braise was simply incredible.  I served, simply, in a bowl garnished with cilantro micro-greens.  Warm, savory, hearty, this is a perfect and simple comfort food dish. I hope you try it!

Okay, one more!

Up next, a burger after my own heart!  

I have said it before, and I will say it again, and I most likely will many times in the future, but there is nothing like a good burger to make your day. And nothing makes me happier than warm, savory, aromatic spices and flavors.  I have made many burgers in my time, dozens with Mexican flavors, some with Middle Eastern spices, some with Asian flavors, some with Italian flavors, some with regular old down home American flavors, whatever flavors in which the spirit moves me.  As long as there is good cheese and bacon or seared pork belly in the mix somehow, I am all kinds of good. 

Let's get to this.  It is a simple, but delicious winner!

Mexi-Bacon-Cheesebuger with Grilled Onions

Here is a simple ingredients list:
1 pound of ground sirloin
1 pound of ground chuck
1 large yellow onion sliced into thick ringlets
2 Anaheim green chiles, roasted, skinned and seeded, one diced and set aside
1 rounded tablespoon Chipotle powder, halved
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
pinch salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 rounded teaspoon cumin powder or seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
12 - 16 slices of bacon
Oaxaca cheese, sliced into meltable pieces
extra virgin olive oil
two tabs butter

Blend all of the spices together and season both sides of the bacon and either bake or fry the bacon. Set that goodness aside.  

Add the remaining spices to the two pounds of ground sirloin and chuck, along with the grated garlic and diced Anaheim green chile. Mix well. Form four to six patties, depending on the size of the burgers you wish to make. 

In a large sauce pan or on a large grill plate, add two tablespoons of evoo and two tabs of butter over medium-high heat and the onion.  Grill the onion until translucent and to the start of caramelization, crispy, if possible. This may take 12 - 18 minutes. Set aside to use very soon. 

Grill or fry the burgers to your liking, gently seasoning with salt and pepper, which helps to form a crust, about six minutes per side, for six burgers, 8 minutes for four burgers. 

Toast the buns, in the meantime. Put your burgers together however you wish.  I made a simple salsa, garlic aioli to add to the top and bottom buns.  I like to put bacon atop the burger with melted cheese, the onion atop that, and the green chile above that. Aromatic, flavorful, savory and delicious.  The heat of the spices, the smokey warmth of the cumin and the chipotle, the tang of the roasted chile just makes me feel a truly burger camper. 

I pan roasted some potatoes with a dash of the spices to go along with the burgers.  In fear of pain and sharp objects, I am not a fries guy, so I make my own potatoes.  

I hope you have enjoyed this brief episode of What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen. These comfort food dishes will warm your chilled to the bones, err, bones.  I hope you try them, I hope you enjoy them. The world is a tough place, and if we try things in moderation, keeping our health in mind, comfort food is not such a bad thing on a now-and-then basis.  Our souls need a little comfort on occasion. 
With that, Thank You for your time and readership.  

Now, Go Cook Something Comforty for someone you Love!  

In-House Cook