Shit just got out of hand! “Italian” Mac-n-Cheese

from Daniel Larkin
to Jamey

I know I had mentioned to you about a week ago that I was planning on making some Southern Mac ‘n Cheese. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) things got a little out of hand, and my simple comfort food spiraled into a whole different genre of dairy-and-pasta. Here’s how it all started.

I’ve made good Mac ‘n Cheese in the past, so good in fact that Jenny and my mother in-law both requested it for their birthday meals. Personally, I like my recipe, but I’ve never been a fan of fact that it’s kind of bullshit in that it’s just pasta, a roux with milk, and Velveeta. It tastes good. Obviously it should, Velveeta is engineered to hit every one of my fat-man sensors, but it’s too processed to warrant any real pride.

Well I recently found a squash “souffle” recipe that caught my eye, and its gooey consistency was perfect for what I wanted. So that’s where this all began. I say “began” because things really did get out of hand; I ran out of things, let time lapse on a few occasions, and ended up generally winging it.

Now before I lay this all out, I want to express my disgust for food companies that think adding a tiny bit of olive oil and a smidgen of shitty parmesan cheese to an already substandard product makes it “Italian” and therefore “gourmet.” Bullshit!  Italian food starts from the beginning concept, and is always about freshness! That’s why I refuse to call this Italian Mac ‘n Cheese.  This was all a happy accident that ended up using a few “Italian” components. But it’s kind of Italian Mac ‘n Cheese.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  •     12 Ounces whole wheat pasta spirals – cooked al dente, cooled
  •     3/4 pint cherry tomatoes – halved
  •     Bunch fresh basil
  •     Extra virgin olive oil
  •     Good shaved parmesan
  •     Handful fresh parsley
  •     2 Eggs — separated

For the sauce:

  •     2 tbs Butter
  •     2 tbs All purpose flour
  •     8 oz. block of good cheddar – shredded
  •     One cup whole cottage cheese.  None of that low fat bullshit.
  •     1-1/2 cups whole milk
  •     1-1/2 tsp salt, pepper to taste
  •     3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  •     Red pepper flakes to taste. (Late thought.  I didn’t try it, but it would certainly work wonders)

Toss your sliced grape tomatoes and chopped garlic in olive oil and roast them in the oven at 400º for 10 to 15 minutes — until they become fragrant.

Now, make the darkest roux you can with the butter and flour.  (Melt the butter over low heat, add the flour, and cook on LOW stirring often, until you get the color of cardboard.  If it smells like burning cardboard, you went too hot and need to start again.)

Add the milk to the roux and stir while you continue to simmer.  This will turn into a velvety rich cream.

Adding the cheese will cause the sauce to cool a bit.  That’s fine, because we want it a bit cool before we add the egg yolks.  After you’ve added the cheese and egg yolks, take the egg whites and whip them until they’re nice and frothy.

The rest is simple.  Just toss everything together in an oven safe dish; pasta, cheese sauce, roasted tomatoes and garlic, parsley and egg whites.  Top it all off with a sparse, but noticeable layer of parmesan and cover it.  Place the covered dish in an oven that has been preheated to 350º and bake for 30 minutes.

NOW!  Like I said, some of my personal timing was off.  Like an idiot, I tried to work out while this was cooking, and I let it go for close to an hour.  While that made for good burnt cheese sides (yumm!) it also dried everything out a bit.  I rolled with the punches and tried to moisten it up with late addition of cold, clean olive oil, which really breathed a breath of freshness that elevated everything to the next level.

So serve, scoop out a good portion, top with some chopped fresh basil and a good drizzle of fresh olive oil.

There you go, dude.  It may sound like a bit much for Mac ‘n Cheese, but it turned out wonderful.  Jenny and her mother both said it was better than the Velveeta version.  And that’s something I can actually be proud of.

from Jamey W. Bennett
to me

YUM! I do not believe one can go too far with mac n cheese. I always tell people when raving about Stone Brewing Company to drop the $18 on their mac n cheese, because it’s worth every penny. Sounds like you have $18-grade mac n cheese!

As far as the roux and burnt cardboard…I think that’s where I went wrong on my mac n cheese back at Easter. I knew immediately what you meant when you said that.

Vegan Tamales!!

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

So I finally did it.  I took the plunge and made tamales yesterday.  And not to brag, but they kinda ruled.

The plan was to make vegan tamales using this recipe from CheekyKitchen.com.  But you know me, I’m not one to stick to a recipe very long, so I took what I needed and promptly veered off course.  The biggest question for me was how to make the dough.  The article in CheekyKitchen.com was great for that, and I still recommend reading it as a good primer.  Or hell, use the whole thing instead of what I’m about to write.  This is really just an addendum to that article.

I ended up making the majority of the tamales vegan, but I ran out of veggie filling before I did dough and husks, so I just dressed up some left over chicken and finished up with those.  (Chopped chicken, chili, cumin, salsa, and the chipotle sauce you mailed me a while back.)

The Cheeky Kitchen article uses a lentil base for the filling, but I didn’t have any lentils on hand.  I also couldn’t find a can of straight green chilies at Food City (aka, Food Shitty).  This is where I where I went on my own with the recipe.

Here’s what I used for the vegan filling.

  • One can black eyed peas — (insert generic, but accurate Fergie insult here)
  • Two carrots cubed small
  • One zucchini cubed small
  • Half large onion
  • Handful of frozen corn
  • Lots O’ Garlic
  • 10-ounce can of Rotel tomatoes and chilies
  • One small can of Rotel Original tomato sauce
  • 1 TBS chili powder
  • 1/2 TBS cumin
  • A stem of fresh oregano, minced
  • Salt and white pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the rest of the fresh/frozen veggies.  Sauté for another few minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Viola, vegan tamale filling.  It tasted spicier in the bowl than it did in the tamale.

I made the dough pretty much exactly like the Cheeky Kitchen recipe, but I subbed Imagine brand No Chicken Stock for the faux-beef bouillon cubes and water.  I loved the use of coconut oil for the saturated fat.  It gave such a light, fresh flavor that you just don’t get with shortening or lard.  I used organic unrefined oil.

Here’s her recipe, verbatim.

For the Tamale Dough:

  • 4 cups masa
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3 vegan “beef” bouillon cubes dissolved into 3 cups of water
  • 1 (16 ounce) package dried corn husks

Now, I only used a 6 oz package of husks, and I still had WAY too many.  But I have the feeling that I may have rolled mine funny.  Either way, I wouldn’t go overboard and buy more than a 6 oz package of husks.

Again, to her instructions.
“Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of warm water while preparing to cook the tamales.
“In a large bowl, mix the masa, baking soda, and salt together. Add the coconut oil. Stir well. Add the bouillon flavored water to the mix. Add more water, if needed, to make the masa a soft, spongy dough.”

Filling and tying the tamales was frustrating at first, but it’s an easily acquired skill.  Just remember, you’re not making the giant sized tamales that the masters produce, you’re making smaller, more manageable tamales.

Basically, what you want to do is grab a big husk from the water and spread a good coating of masa across the center part of the leaf, making sure to leave room at the top and bottom to fold and tie the husk down.  Leave some room at the edges, too, so you have space to cover the whole tamale with husk when you roll it.

Spoon some of the mixture into the center of the dough, and roll it up side-to-side.  Pay careful attention to completely cover the filling with the dough when rolling.  This may involve peeling the husk back as you go, kind of like rolling a cigarette in a dollar bill.  Once the dough is closed, and the husk is wrapped, fold the top and bottom edges over and tie them back with peeled strips from another husk.  (Her instructions seemed vague about this, and her pictures made it seem like she only used one tie.  I couldn’t figure that out, so I opted instead to tie the top and bottoms separately.)

She suggests baking the tamales at 400º in the oven on a rack set over water.  This will bake and steam them.  I did it a little differently.  I actually steamed them on the stovetop; in a colander set at the top of a stock pot.

Once all of your tamales are rolled and tied, stand them up in the colander – I had to lay a few flat across to fill it, but they all cooked fine.  Place the colander inside a stock pot filled with a few inches of water and seal tightly with tin-foil.  Once the steam is at a full boil, give it about 30-40 minutes and check them.  The tamales may seem mushy right out of the steam, but they’ll firm up as they cool.

Let me just say that they look as awesome as they taste.  And it makes your house smell wonderful!  We made a ton of tamales, enough to freeze and snack on later.
I definitely recommend giving this a try, dude.  Especially considering how much you like the Mexican cuisine.  It’s damn near authentic!

Kristin’s Spiced Pancakes

from Daniel Larkin
to Kristin Larkin

Did you have that whole-wheat pancake recipe you made when I visited a while back?  I tried to make some the other day with a 1-1-1 mix of whole-wheat flour, buckwheat flour and brown rice flour; and they kinda sucked.

If you could send me the recipe, I’d love to post it on TwoDudesFood.  I know a blog with a dozen followers isn’t any real incentive, but it would be fun to have a guest cook!

from Kristin Larkin
to Daniel Larkin

Ok so I found it! These pancakes are very tasty, and even my kids love them. Your grains can be switched around a bit, as long as your total going in equals one cup. For instance, I sometimes cut the oats or the cornflour in half and add 1/8 cup of freshly ground flax seed. See what you have around and use it to your advantage!

  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons whole plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons water

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, and wet in another. Pour the wet into the dry and mix until it’s just moistened. Heat a skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking oil or butter (I like butter, almost always :). Pour about 1/3 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet.

Cook until bubbles begin to form in the center, then flip and cook until browned on the other side. Top with fruit, syrup, honey or whatever floats your boat!

Russian Marinated Mushrooms

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin

Dude,

One of the cool things about being a convert to Orthodox Christianity in America, is that Orthodoxy here is less than 100 years old, and so you get a little taste of old world traditions as handed down by grandma. It’s definitely upped the ante for my appreciation of all things Greek, Arab, Ukrainian, and Russian. Since being in a Russian Orthodox parish the last two years, I’ve been introduced to a lot of Russian and Ukrainian traditions and foods. The latest? Russian marinated mushrooms.

At Pascha (Easter) this year, we were at someone’s house, and I just could not stay out of these tasty mushrooms. They were so deliciously tangy—and I lurvz me some vinegar—that I was having to strategically plot my routes past the hors d’oeuvres table so I didn’t look like a mushroom hog. When I started blabbing about it to my friend Peter, he yelled, “Hey Mom! Show Jamey the mushroom jar, he really likes them.” Turns out, there is a Russian grocery store in Northeast Philly. I’ll get there one day and buy a jar, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I made my own.

I pulled up tons of recipes online, but settled on three. My goal was to adapt these recipes according to: 1) my whim and instinct; 2) 8 oz. of mushrooms in a pint sized Mason jar. What follows is just an approximation of what I did. I didn’t write down the exact quantities, and I did a little improvising. And what’s funny, even though I have a favorite, I love them all.

To make all three batches, you need:

  • Three 8 oz. packages of button mushrooms (or some other small mushroom – slice the bigger ones) – RINSE WELL
  • 3 pint-sized Mason jars
  • Optional: Whole garlic cloves and slices of onions to throw in each jar for extra marinated treats

We’ll start with my favorite:

  • 1/4 cup White vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2-ish large minced cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

In a pan, I put all the above ingredients (without mushrooms) and brought to a boil. Boiled for 3 minutes. I threw in one package of mushrooms and brought it back to a boil, then cooked for one more minute. Put it all in a jar, and topped off with a splash of red wine vinegar and white vinegar. Set aside. That easy. (And of course, if you’ve ever pickled before, “topping off” does not mean to the top of the jar—leave a little space.) [Ditch the sugar for a Paleo version.]

My second favorite:

  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • Dried dill
  • 4 cloves minced garlic (or so)
  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • 5-10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

I sprinkled a package of mushrooms with the lemon juice and let them marinate for 15-20 minutes. Then I put them in a saucepan and covered with water (they float, so “covering” is a bit hyperbolic). Brought to a boil, then simmered for about 10 minutes. Added a little bit of salt during this time. Then, I strained the mushrooms and “mushroom water,” reserving some of the water. I put  the bay leaves and peppercorns in a jar, then added the mushrooms a couple of scoops at a time. Between each scoop, I added a shake of dill and some minced garlic. Once all the mushrooms and garlic were in the jar, I added a splash of the mushroom water, the olive oil, and topped off with white vinegar.

My third favorite (still very good) is similar to the second:

  • White vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • Dill
  • A few cloves of whole allspice

Boiled the mushrooms 30 minutes. Removed the cooking water, reserving one cup. Added the cup back to the mushrooms and threw in 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil, the garlic, dill, salt (2 tsp?), and the allspice cloves. Cooked five more minutes. Added everything to the jar, and topped with white vinegar.

Did Wells, and Do Betters

My dad taught me to assess things in projects in terms of what I did well, and what I will do better the next time. Basically these are awesome. But here are a few notes for going forward.

The marinades can be reused. I’ve actually done three batches, and in the subsequent two batches, all I had to do was boil the mushrooms for 20 minutes or so, and add them to the jars. They taste good by day 2, and amazing by day 5.

My third batch was done with baby bellas, but the first two batches were button mushrooms. Any mushrooms can be used, and I’ve even seen a recipe online where a guy buys a giant can of Chinese mushrooms to make his. I don’t think the mushroom’s type is that important, but my best flavor was the button mushrooms. They seemed to soak up the flavors of the marinades so much better…and the bellas have such a pronounced flavor that they just weren’t as enjoyable (but still good).

I “canned” these with Mason jars. The mushrooms were actually smaller when the jars came out of the hot bath. I have not decided if this is good or bad. Perhaps it helped to meld the flavors of the marinade, imparting more “mushroom water” to the marinades. I don’t know. What I do know, is at this point putting new (freshly boiled) mushrooms in the old jars is working just fine to meld the flavors.

Olive oil. If you’ve ever made homemade Italian dressing with olive oil and tried to keep it in the fridge, you know this is a dumb idea. Or at least should know. Olive oil congeles at a certain temperature, and whatever that temperature is, it is higher than my refrigerator. The first batch has such little oil that it hasn’t really been an issue, but the third batch has the most oil and getting mushrooms out involves digging through oil clumps. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Solutions: use canola or soybean oil (if you don’t have an aversion to those), or just set the jar on the counter for a little bit before eating.

Well, this email has gotten a little out of hand. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to cover my Sriracha pickles, too!

Cheers,

jamey w. bennett

Whole Food Veggie Tacos FTW!

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett 

I finally did it!  Veggie tacos made with real food!

My main qualm with vegetarian options at home is that they usually involve some sort of processed fake meat.  Not that I’m staunchly opposed to using them (my Skyline Chili knock-off and my chicken-less tacos both rely on faux-meats) but I’ve always wanted another option.  What comes next in this email is an approximation of what I did.  I didn’t do any prior research, I took no notes, and I’m writing this three weeks after the fact.  I tried to mentally tally everything, but you may still have to rely on your ninja skills of adaptation.

In all honesty, I’m not really going not on memory for all of the measurements, but rather guessing at how much I would add if I were to make this again.

Here’s a list of what made up the filling.  It’s kind of like refrigerator soup, in that I just used whatever I had on hand.  But as anyone who’s read about nutrition knows, variety is the best recipe.  The key to making this more taco-meat-esque is to chop all whole foods very small before cooking.  Obviously, you don’t need to chop the beans or corn, but you get the idea.

•    1 can of black beans (rinsed)
•    about a cup of frozen corn kernels
•    about 1/2 cup of carrot (finely chopped)
•    the tips off one head of broccoli (finely chopped)
•    One or two pablano peppers (finely chopped) — add more or different peppers if you like it hotter
•    1/2 onion (finely chopped)
•    3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
•    a handful of walnuts (you guessed it, finely chopped)
•    1 pack of firm tofu (it’ll break into small pieces when added and stirred) — extra firm tofu won’t break up enough and silken tofu will just dissolve
•    (I wanted to add small cubes of sautéed sweet potato, but I forgot.  I still think that would be good!)
•    1 tbs soy sauce
•    8-ish oz Guinness Draught
•    3-ish tbs tomato paste
•    2-ish tbs chili powder
•    1-1/2-ish tbs cumin
•    Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
•    A few sprigs of chopped cilantro
•    Salt and red and black pepper to taste

Sauté garlic and onion for a minute in the oil of your choice.  Mix all other veggies and sauté for about 10 minutes.  Then add the liquid and spices – again, tasting as you go because I didn’t measure shit.  Simmer everything for 30 minutes, and add walnuts and cilantro in the last 5 minutes.

Fair warning, this made a ton!

Now I didn’t want to just top the tacos off with lettuce and be done with it.  I wanted to go fancy pants.

So I filled a large mixing bowl with green cabbage sliced thinly and evenly with the mandolin.  Then I threw in a good handful of chopped cilantro, and an half-and-half mix of plain greek yogurt and sour cream —enough to make a slaw-type consistency.  I mixed in some salt and pepper, about 3 tbs of granulated sugar, about 1 tbs red wine vinegar and the juice from 2-1/2 limes.  (I used the other half lime to keep the avocado from browning) Then I tossed it all by hand until it was even and put it in the fridge to settle for about an hour.

The final setup went like this; tortilla, veggie filling, cheese, cilantro slaw, sliced avocado and hot sauce.  And it was phenomenal!  The mix of veggies and tofu was the perfect consistency, and the small crunch of walnuts kept the texture interesting.  The fresh slaw was a perfect compliment, and was way more interesting that lettuce and sour cream could have been by themselves.

These tacos made me realize that vegetarian eating doesn’t have to be about avoiding meat.  When done right, it’s really just a tasty way to eat your vegetables.  The variety of plant-based foods on this plate made for one of the most wholesome meals I’ve had in a long time.  And one of the tastiest.

West African Peanut Soup

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Dude,

I’ve only just discovered African food in the last year or so, and I am a huge fan of what I’ve had. My exposure is still pretty much limited to Ethopian food and Harissa sauce. The nearby Whole Foods carries a couple of kinds of Harissa, and I’m in love with the one from a DC area company, Cava. Soon, I’m going to try my hand at making my own Harissa.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying a bowl of this delicious peanut soup. I got the idea from the Eating Well website, but I made a few modifications that I think made a big difference.

Here it is. I took two sizable sweet potatoes, poked a few holes in them with a fork, and microwaved them for 8-1/2 minutes. While that was happening, I sauteed the equivalent of a small red onion (diced) in my cast iron skillet with oil. As the onions were browning, I threw in two large garlic cloves, diced.

After everything looked and smelled the way I wanted, I added 1-1/2 cups of ketchup and 1-1/2 cups of water. The recipe actually called for tomato juice, but I didn’t have any, and I thought it might be reminiscent of barbecue sauce if I used ketchup. Not very West African, I know, but I think it was actually a good choice.

After a minute or so, I added a handful of jarred sliced jalapenos, 1 teaspoon of ginger powder, and 1 teaspoon of all spice.

While I let all that boil for about 10 minutes, I peeled the sweet potatoes, dicing one to small bite-sized pieces and putting the other in my food processor. I added 1/2 cup of all natural chunky peanut butter to the food processor, and 2 cups of broth. I didn’t have vegetable broth on hand, so I did the next best thing and used a tomato-chicken buillion cube, dissolved in two cups of hot water. Once blended, I put that mixture, and the chunky sweet potato into the skillet. Stirred. Lots of stirring.

Now, this is where things get a little less precise and a little more creative. I thought it was too thick, so I added another cup of water. I didn’t think it was spicy enough, so I added paprika, cayenne, and crushed red pepper to taste, along with a fairly generous amount of fresh ground black pepper.

Once everything tasted about right, I spooned it into a bowl, and garnished with cilantro.

Okay, now I’m going to go eat a second bowl.

Delicioso Adobo Seasoning

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Hey Dude,

It’s no surprise that I add a Mexican twist to most foods I prepare. Since discovering this adobo seasoning, I always keep this on hand. I got the basic idea from a cookbook, but I’m not even sure of the title, and I made a few tweaks myself. I’ve used this for several years. Makes a fantastic spice rub, great in soups, marinades, etc. I’ve put it on beef, chicken, and fish. I’m sure it’s great on other stuff too.

Delicioso Adobo Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp of each: lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, parsley, achiote powder, salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp cumin

Instead of achiote (I don’t even know what that is), I substitue equal parts tumeric & paprika. Another shortcut you might take is picking up lemon pepper that has garlic and onion powder in it. In that case, use three tbsp of it, instead of one tbsp. of each.

Combine in a bottle or small tupperware container, shake it up, and wah-lah! I keep this in my spice rack.

If you try it, let me know what you think.

jamey