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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Someone's in the kitchen...

Dinah ain't here, man... Another mess of Whatever Stew is in the crock pot for tonight and tomorrow, but I'm already wondering whether to make pizza this weekend or... Mac n Cheese Here's a recipe I've had sitting around for a while. I have, as always, modified it to suit me. (My mom and siblings stopped asking if I recall how to make old family favs—"comfort food"—cos all of them are different in my kitchen... and different nearly every time I make them. *heh*. They eat 'em and ask for the "recipe" but never ask for the originals) In fact, I don't think I ever made it according to the recipe I was handed originally. Close but no cigar. And, yeh, lots of times I have made mac n cheese that's not... up to this standard, just because I was pressed for time. but this is what I prefer. This is a general guideline. PLEASE change any element to suit your taste as you go along. Between 1/2 and a whole package of bacon (1/2 to 1 pound?) uncooked OR 6 oz (or more!) cooked, dry bacon bits (2/3 to one cup) 1/4 cup butter, margarine or even olive oil. But ONLY olive oil, extra virgin. The tasty stuff. 1 1/2 cup bread crumbs--Make 'em or buy 'em. Whatever is easiest.* 1 lb uncooked elbow macaroni (Hey, the packagges are conveniently labeled, so "pound" is easy to measure, here.) 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion 1 1/2 lb of your fav easily-melted cheese. Swiss cheese, jack cheese, cheddar. Hey! That's a nice mixture! Just no mozarella. Not for macaroni n cheese, please. I like a tad of Parmesan or Romano tossed in as an extra kicker. If you're not using bacon bits that you've either pre-made or bought, save yourself some draining time and broil the bacon. Cook it until it's fairly crisp. Most of the grease will roll right off into the broiling pan. Save the grease (covered jar in fridge) for use in other recipes. Drain and dry with paper towels Trim ALL the fat off (the dogs will thank you for the treat), then crumble the bacon. Best "crumble"? If it's not too crisp, chop it with your chef's knife. Otherwise, pace it between paper towels and use your rolling pin to crumble it. If you're using butter, melt in in a small pan over low heat. When melted, add the bread crumbs and sauté until the bread crumbs are browned. No, don't just let them sit there in a hot pan. You DO know how to sauté, don't you? If you use oilve oil, heat the pan first, then add the oil, then the bread cruumbs, of course. Boil the macaroni in salted water for, oh, 7-10 minutes. A little olive oil added to the pot will help prevent the macaroni from sticking together. Sometimes, I'll add a crushed clove of garlic or some fresh parsley or some other herb, depending on what I have on hand and whether I feel like adding a lil kick. Most of such addenda will pour off, but a bit of flavor will linger. And the added aromas while it's cooking are nice in the kitchen. :-) While the macaroni is cooking, grate the cheese and chop the onions. (Time-savers: buy pre-grated cheese. Always chop whole onions at once and save the leftovers in a plastic bag for use THE NEXT DAY. If left in the bag in the fridge for just a day, the chopped onions will "sweeten" and in just a day won't spoil.) When the macaroni is done, drain and rinse it (lightly!) in a colander. Layer the ingredients into a glass baking dish of whatever size and shape you have to hold 'em. Macaroni/cheese/bacon bits/onion. Does an herb pop into your mind at this point? Sprinkle a little in and see how it goes. Top with the bread crumbs and bake at about 350-375 F (oven temps vary) for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Now, this part's the hard part, cos folks just want to dig in and have at it NOW. Remove it from the oven and let it sit a couple of minutes before serving. Serve with (and this is important! *s*) fresh or frozen (cooked, of course) peas. I'll not be having any of your green beans with this dish, thank you very much. And nothing weird for veggies, either. Just fresh or frozen green peas, juuuust cooked--just steamed, even. That POP of bright green against the cheesy/bacon-y macaroni looks good on a plate, and they're the perfect flavor complement. What? You need something else to complete this meal? Go away, cos you're not gonna get it at my house. OK, OK, if you insist, add some tomato succotash**. Another splash of color and taste. But try it with just grean peas first. You can feed an average family with this. Leftovers are even better than freshly made, believe it or not. Pack some for lunch and nuke it. Your co-workers will envy you. * From Ochef (http://www.ochef.com/1015.htm ) here's an easy way to make your own bread crumbs: "To make unseasoned bread crumbs, take very stale bread and grind it into crumbs in a food processor or crush it in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. If your bread is not completely dry, slice it and put it in the oven at 250°F (120°C) until dry. You can also grate dried bread on a grater, which produces flaky crumbs." **Tomato succotash: a simple dish of corn, peas, Lima beans and stewed tomatoes. In any darned ratio you like.
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