When “Best” is Subjective (A Mac and Cheese comparison)

In which I travel north.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am in Canada for work and objected to my family thinking they could get away with eating nothing but boxed macaroni and cheese and pizza for the time I am gone.  I don’t object to macaroni and cheese.  But there are better things out there than Kraft Dinner (did you catch the Canadian reference?)  I mean, if I had a million dollars, I would still eat Kraft dinner (Hey, it’s a Barenaked Ladies reference and I’m in Canada. Isn’t it ironic?  (whoa, sub-shout out to Alanis)).  So while I am dining on poutine and sipping my Tim Horton’s (Sorry (with a long O sound) for all of you that aren’t), you can try out these mac and cheese recipes to see if “Best” is really better than that which is not labeled “best”.

In the macaroni and cheese world (and in the subsection of the world that is my household) there are a lot of opinions about what makes good macaroni and cheese.  Some people prefer a baked macaroni and cheese and some people prefer a stovetop one.  The creaminess of processed cheese is a crowd pleaser among certain people, while others tend toward a more sophisticated palate.  There are macaroni and cheese restaurants opening up across America because people can’t get enough of this classic comfort food (especially these days…).

I tried out two of my vintage recipes for macaroni and cheese.  One is called simply “Macaroni and Cheese” and the other is “Best Macaroni and Cheese”.

I made the Best Macaroni and Cheese first.  It’s a custard based (meaning the recipe calls for an egg and milk mixture) macaroni and cheese.  It calls for baking in a waterbath.  There is no crunchy topping. I did not add the MSG in the recipe because not only does no one need that kind of headache, I don’t keep any in the house (can you even buy it any more?)  I also doubled the recipe because we had guests for dinner.  One of our young friends thoroughly enjoyed the dish until he found out there were eggs in it.  He doesn’t like eggs.  I thought it was ok. Not the best recipe I’ve ever had, but not the worst.  I think it might’ve been better if I’d used a smaller pan to cook it in.  It allows the custard and cheese to melt together better.  This dish also didn’t call for any butter.  Butter makes things better. Best Macaroni and CheeseBy contrast, the simpler named, simpler prepared Macaroni and Cheese was an overall more satisfying dish.  While also custard based, it did not require a water bath to cook.  There were few ingredients, but the addition of bread crumbs created a more interesting dish. Macaroni and Cheese

My older son didn’t prefer any of these dishes because he doesn’t like baked macaroni and cheese.  He’s wrong.  The girl just wanted bacon and croutons on hers.  (I don’t know…this is the same kid that had the ideas about Shrimp and Olive pie).  The middle one ate plenty of each and would eat either again.  But the lesson to be learned here is that best isn’t always better (even when it comes to words).

Obvious ways to change this up are changing the type of cheese used, put in additives like bacon or broccoli.  Create fun and crunchy toppings out of cornflakes, bread crumbs, potato chips, or whatever.

And before anyone asks, yes, that’s Grandma’s dish that the macaroni and cheese is in.  I love it.  Every time I use it for food, it makes me happy.

 

 

Sausage Bean Casserole

In which I am prepared…and not so much.

I am a planner.  Some people (not mentioning any names here, but I’m calling you out…) say that I’m a control freak. I prefer the term “prepared”.  I just find that things seems to flow better if I know what to expect.  There is comfort in it. Side view of S&B casseroleBy the time this post publishes, I will be on a work trip to Canada.  My husband and kids will be home by themselves.  Because I’m me, I want to have some things prepared for them to eat before I leave.  It’s just easier for everyone if they don’t have to think about it.  Plus it makes it less likely that they will default to pizza every night that they aren’t eating boxed macaroni and cheese.  My husband is a getting to be a much better cook because he’s had to take over a lot of the initial meal prep with our work schedules, but when the cat’s away, the mice will play.   (Which is a really gross cliche to put on a food blog.)Extreme Close Up S&B CasseroleAnd speaking of making sure my family is taken care of, I decided to take my blog writing on the road today and worked from a coffee shop this morning.  The boys are with their dad and we brought the girl with us because she’s been wanting to get back there and play in their super cool kid area.  The coffee shop is known as the town’s living room.  We chose a table near the kids’ area, got her a muffin and a chocolate milk that she won’t eat or drink until much later because she already had 3 breakfasts and really just wanted to play.  There were a couple of women sitting at table near us.  One of them was slightly younger than the other, but if someone had said that they both had grandchildren, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Except, I kind of feel like neither of them had ever had kids since they started loudly talking about how terrible we are for bringing our child to a coffee shop and not spending time with her.  One of them looked like an old church lady.  She would lean forward and whisper something to her companion who would comment outloud about how neglectful we are.  It makes me crazy.  I feel the need to justify myself and my choices.  But it doesn’t matter.  They wouldn’t get it.  And now they are talking about child psychology. I just can’t even.

Anyway, back to this casserole.  The recipe specifically says to make it in two pans.  This is so that you can throw one of them in the freezer for another time.  Which is perfect if you are trying to take care of your family long distance because you have to do things…like work.    This is also one of those recipes that is easy to change up based on whatever your food preferences are. Doing low-carb?  Use quinoa instead of rice.  Hate kidney beans?  Use something else.  Don’t feel like going Italian?  Use Chorizo or breakfast sausage or chicken sausages of whatever sort, use vegan whatever…I don’t know. (I’m still shaking my head about those ladies.)Close up S&B casserole

A note: when baking this, keep it covered.  If you don’t keep it covered, the rice won’t cook.  Someone at my house learned this the hard way when he was cooking the second one or something else similar.  (Aren’t you glad I don’t name names, sweetie?)  Seriously, though.  DO NOT try to cook it uncovered unless you like crunchy burnt rice (and no one does).Sausage Bean Casserole

 

 

 

Where the Boys Are

In which I go places I didn’t original intend to go

Oh, Connie Francis.  Don’t you just love Connie Francis?

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The song, the movie…In the age of #metoo and #timesup it seems important to explore the past to explain not only how we got here, but the emotional consequences of it.  I wasn’t really intending to go here with this post. I’m not going to spend time exploring it further, just offering up pieces of evidence that this has been a long time coming.

 

Zippy Beet Salad

In which you can watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

It’s time to break out the recipes that make you go hmmmm….

 

One of the things that helped foster my dislike for Jell-o (other than old church ladies who put mayonnaise on it instead of Cool-Whip) was the meat gelatin I ate while visiting a friend in Poland for Easter.  It was layers of vegetables and meat and hardboiled eggs ensconced in gelatin.  There was some sort of sauce to put on top.  I’m sure it’s fancy gourmet food.  At another time in my life, in another place, it might’ve been amazing.  At that point in time, however, it was just not my thing.  DSCN3154When we read literature about Russia and Poland, we think of foods like cabbage rolls and borscht.  (See what I did there?  Linked the two thoughts) Cold weather vegetables that store well.  Which makes this whole recipe make a lot more sense.  So put on your fur coat, study up on a little Boris and Natasha and get ready for this recipe.

I did not pickle any beets this year.  (Or really any other year, although I think I have a recipe for pickled beets that I should make.)  We resorted to buying a jar of pickled beets at the grocery store.  The girl was being extra helpful and tried to unload the grocery cart.  Despite warning her, she dropped a full jar of pickled beets on the unyielding tile floor of the grocery store.  Nothing like the smell of vinegar and embarrassment. DSCN3178

As you get to the point of finely slicing cabbage, just grate it in the food processor like the onion.  I can never slice cabbage thinly enough for my own taste.  I even have some decent knives (that might need to be sharpened), but I still can’t get it to the point I like it.  Maybe I just find thick cabbage or something?  If you don’t do this, you will end up with the mess that I got.  DSCN3172

Zippy Beet Salad could actually be good.  I mean, yeah, it’s weird, there is no getting around that.  But the thing that threw it off most was the cabbage.  It was long and stringy and there was a lot of it.  More than there should be for the small amount of gelatinized beet juice.

You will notice from the pictures that I tried to mold this salad.  My darling Mother-in-Law sent me her favorite Jell-o mold.  It didn’t work so well for me on this recipe.  I ‘d try it again with one of those creamy salads with things like crushed pineapple and marshmallows.  But you can see the star on the top.  DSCN3153

If you don’t like beets, this will probably not be the dish that will change your mind about it.  If you do…try it.  It’s not the worst thing you’ll put in your mouth.

Zippy Beet Salad

 

Mystery Cookies

In which Nancy Drew appears.

When I was very young (probably between 4 and 6) my mom walked in on me reading two Nancy Drew books at the same time. I would read one page of one book and then one page of the other book and then turn both pages at the same time.  I have a vague memory of this.  I explained to her that the stories were too formulaic and boring and therefore needed to be spiced up.  (Not quite in those words, but that was the thought.)Mystery CookiesFrom a very early age, I loved a good mystery.  More often than not, the books I have checked out in Overdrive are mysteries.  The really good ones have twists that you never see coming.  The silly ones are fairly obvious from early on and I spend most of the book waiting for the characters to catch up to where I already am.There was one book I read a few years back where the main character knew who the killer was by asking for them for an answer to a cryptic crossword.  I was confounded at the time, but have since learned to do cryptics.  Not nearly as well as my friend that takes existing crossword puzzles and then writes his own clues to the answers.  Also, not nearly as well, as our other friend who just has the sort of brain that overthinks everything (Yes, mom, even worse than I do.)  I do best when I have someone else with whom I can discuss the possibilities.  Mystery CookiesI am usually pretty good at sussing out secrets.  Not always to my benefit.  Occasionally, though, there are things that I just never see coming.  Like when my half-brother became my half-sister.  Never saw that coming.

Some of these recipes are like that.  Where I just have no idea what it is that I’m supposed to expect.  Like “Japanese” Chicken or Deviled Hot Dogs.  Then there are others that give me an idea, but don’t give me a lot of details.  Unbaked Cookies is a good example, as are most of the cake recipes.  I spend a lot of time assessing what I know about cooking and applying that logic.  That’s part of the appeal about doing this blog for me.  Solving the mystery of these recipes, taking some pictures, trying them out so people know what to expect.  It’s so easy these days to search for a recipe online.  Most of them have explicit how-tos and pictures.  It wasn’t always quite so easy.  Mystery CookiesThis recipe was an easy one.  It just didn’t have a title.  Or instructions.  It’s probably a good thing that the thing I like to read best after mysteries is cookbooks.  Yep.  Just read them like novels.  It’s a great way to see how ingredients are supposed to go together and which foods pair well with other foods.  It gives you an idea of the culture and values of populations.   Shows you how much time people have to cook or bake.  It’s an anthropological study (read: mystery).  DSCN2619

Another note about these cookies, I don’t like creamy peanut butter.  I know, I know, it might call one to question all sorts of things about me, but I said it.  Peanut butter without nuts is just like paste.  Texture needs to happen for me.  It needs some crunch.  It needs to be more than just glue that sticks to the roof of your mouth.  You may point out that this recipe calls for cornflake crumbs and that should provide the texture I say I need, but that’s crisp, not crunch.  Incidentally, these cookies are delicious.

Mystery Cookies

Mystery Cookies

I cup margarine (2 sticks) creamed with 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar.  When while creamed, add one egg and 1 tsp vanilla.  Add 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 1/3 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt.  After everything is mixed together, gently mix in 1 cup of cornflake crumbs.  Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350°.  Yield is 4 dozen.

 

Breakfast Pie

In which I remind you about the most important meal of the day.

Time to get crazy.   I’m doing a special bonus recipe off my normal Tuesday and Thursday posting schedule.  Woo hoo!  Apple Breakfast Pie

In all honesty, this is because I made something similar for breakfast this morning and was trying to to remember where I got the idea. (clears throat…of course it was great-grandma).  I don’t know why I don’t do stuff like this more often.  It’s so freaking easy.  It doesn’t require a lot of time or attention or anything else.  Bisquik Breakfast Pie

Get out your big yellow box of Bisquik, chop some apples and go to town.  This one is adaptable.  For breakfast this morning, I topped the biscuits with raw beaten egg, ham, goat cheddar, and some Italian herbs.  It makes a lovely breakfast.  Cinnamon Apple Breakfast Pie (2)

This thing is so easy, you could probably even make it with your first cup of coffee before you get ready to start your Monday.  Breakfast Pie

Cranberry Fluff

In which I get advice from a coworker.

Isn’t there something so nice about the word “Fluff”?  It’s soft and comforting and towels out of the dryer.  When someone tells you that a “fluff” is on the menu, you know what to expect.  Something soft, puffy, creamy, and cloyingly sweet, perhaps with marshmallows and definitely with whipped cream or Cool Whip.  At nearly any deli counter in America, you can pick up a plastic tub filled with pistachio pineapple fluff.  (Sometimes the salads are called “Ambrosia” instead of “fluff”, but we all know what they mean.)DSCN3235I found this recipe when I was looking for recipes to bring to our friends’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.  I scoured 11 different recipes looking for the perfect dish to bring along with my Cherry Meringue, Pumpkin, and Apple pies.  I asked a number of coworkers for their favorite thing to eat at Thanksgiving and one of them mentioned “Cranberry Fluff”.  I had never heard of it.  When I called my grandma to ask about it, she fondly remembered it as one of her favorites.  How could I not make it after that? DSCN3236As an aside, that was such a good conversation with my grandma.  I love talking to her about her food memories and bonding with her that way.  We chatted for a decent amount of time about the blog.  I hope she knows that she’s really the inspiration for it.

 

I had a few minor modifications.  My apple was sweeter than I was expecting it to be.  The grocery store didn’t have green grapes that day, so I used red ones.  I didn’t read through all the instructions and didn’t let the cranberries, marshmallows, and sugar sit overnight.  I let them sit on the counter for a couple of hours instead.  The purpose of this is really just to soften everything and ensure that there are no big chunks of marshmallow.DSCN3239

 

So the verdict…holy buckets.  This was easily the best fluff salad that I’ve had.  It’s not as sweet and mushy as a lot of fluff salads.  The fruit and nuts add texture.  One of the kids thought the “pink fluff” was better than the “green fluff”.  It was good enough that I didn’t mind eating the leftovers (which were gone before I had to go back to work.)  It made a nice change from super tart cranberries.  It was sort of like a Waldorf salad, but not mayonnaise-y.  DSCN3238All in all, this dish is a keeper.  Get yourself some Wisconsin cranberries and make this one.  I think it’s a better dish than the Cooked Cranberry Salad.  (And in case you didn’t read about it before, the teacup is Wedgwood that I found at the thrift shop for less than $1.  I love the color, I love the pattern, it coordinates with my dining room and the rest of my blue and white dishes.)

Cranberry Fluff