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

 

 

 

Oven Stew

In which I am freezing.

It has been so cold!  My house is having trouble keeping up with the temperatures, or at least the room with the thermostat is.  Let me just take a second to complain about flawed logic with thermostat planning.  If you put a thermostat in the room that contains the fireplace, that room will get nice and toasty and your thermostat will say that the temperature of the house is comfortable.  Your body will probably feel otherwise if you take a step outside of the room that is being heated by the fireplace.  Likewise, if your thermostat is in a room with a ton of possibly leaky windows, the temperature of the room registers as colder than it should be.  Then your furnace runs continuously and the rest of the house is warmer than you’d like, even though the thermostat is not showing that.  On a related note, I think I need to reconsider the placement of my thermostat.DSCN3443

These are the sorts of days where hibernation makes sense.  Of course there are a thousand projects I could be doing, but it just seems like a lot of effort to get moving.  It’s the sort of day where I just want dinner to cook itself without a lot of intervention from me.  As I was pouring over recipes, I found a recipe for Oven Stew.  It is the perfect recipe for frigid, lazy days.  DSCN3450I made this recipe while my son had a friend over. His friend saw the onion on my cutting board and said, “Is that an onion?  I like onions.”

“Like raw onions?” I asked.

“Any kind of onion.” He stated.

“Like on something…or….?” I questioned, confused.

“Like anything.  Chopped up in pieces.  Can I have some?”

“Like for a snack?”  I queried, still trying to figure this kid out.

“Yeah, like 50 of them.”

“Um…I’m cutting up cheese and sausage for you guys.”  During this whole thing, I was trying to decide if this kid was for real.  We’ve all heard about those old men that will eat onions like apples after they finish their braunschweiger and Limburger sandwiches, but a kid?!?

He is an awesome kid, even if I was a little surprised by his request.

I ended up not giving them onions as a snack and just put the onion into my oven stew.  When his mom came to pick him up later, she commented on how good the house smelled. “It’s my great-grandma’s recipe.” I replied.  (But then again, it seems like they all are these days.)DSCN3451

This recipe does not say to add water to the pan.  Do it anyway.  It’s not stew without the water.  It also doesn’t call for tossing the beef cubes with flour and browning them before adding them to the pan.  Do that also.  It just makes for deeper flavors in the stew.

Have you ever had oven stew?  It is incredible and easy.  Once you are done putting everything into the pot, you are done.  You can just walk away.  That makes this an ideal recipe for the crockpot if the temperature outside isn’t so cold that you want your oven on all day to try to warm up the house.

We ate ours with homemade bread.  But you do you and eat it with whatever you want.

Oven Stew

Oven Stew

1 1/2 pounds of beef cut into cubes
1 cup chopped celery
1 can of tomatoes
1 TB sugar
6 carrots, cut
2 TB minute tapioca
1 large onion, sliced
4 medium potatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients well in pan or kettle with tight fitting cover.  Bake at 250°.  Do not disturb while baking.

Hot Chicken Salad

In which we have a game night with some very important people.

We had friends over for games the other night. I made great-grandma’s recipe for whiskey slush (recipe to come later).  This led into a conversation about this blog and why I started it.  I commented about making my children try all of the recipes (not whiskey slush) and how sad it is that we don’t continue to make some of the recipes, but some of the recipes, like egg foo yung, should just be left in the past.  “Why doesn’t anyone eat Hot Chicken Salad any more?”  John lamented.  Our friends turned to look at him.  “What is that? I mean, I know all of those words and what they mean, but what is hot chicken salad?”  “Is there macaroni in it?” another friend asked.  “Nope.  It’s all chicken and mayo and celery and onions and peppers all cooked up together with stuff on top.  Well, one recipe is.  I have something like 4 of them and I’ve only made two at this point.”  So in honor of my friends, old and new and a long, complicated story of friendship beginning in 1986, I present to you the first of 4 recipes of hot chicken salad.DSCN2952This hot chicken salad is nostalgic in flavor and presentation.  The potato chips and swiss cheese on top screams “your grandma made this.”  She probably did, depending on the age of your grandma.  This is the sort of food that would’ve been served in elementary school cafeterias while I was growing up.  It probably made its way onto the buffet table at church potlucks in towns all over America.  Diners would put this on their menu as as a daily special.  It’s like the chicken equivalent of a tuna melt.  DSCN2954This is the innocent food of a time we think of as simpler than the times we have now.  In some ways, maybe it was.  When life gets complicated and you want to go back to grandma’s house and just forget that you have to deal with the real world, go grab a rotisserie chicken and make some hot chicken salad.  It isn’t going to help you get that promotion at work.  It won’t do your housekeeping.  It won’t pay a single one of your bills.  But it might remind you of a time when you didn’t need to worry about any of those things, either.  Hot Chicken Salad (2)

Ham Loaf with a Cheese Crust

In which I praise home economists.

Picture this.  You are cleaning up from your Sunday dinner.  Your family has devoured the Skillet Potatoes Au Gratin.  They have eaten all of the Cooked Cranberry Salad.  Their bellies are now full of Mama’s Apple Pecan Pie.  The Bread and Butter Pickles are back in the fridge, but what are you going to do with all that leftover ham?

With everyone already planning for Thanksgiving (and the holiday that comes after that that I don’t want to mention because it’s just too soon), now is a good time to start working on menu planning and leftover planning.  So let’s sharpen up our home economist skills and put those leftovers to work for you.

I know, I know.  There are ham sandwiches that can be made, both hot and cold.  Everyone has been yammering for scalloped potatoes.  (Not at my house, but my mom did make some especially for a classmate of mine once in high school.  She is amazing about things like that).  The bone can be used for bean soup or thrown into greens or made into red beans and rice (my kids’ favorite option).  At some point, however, you always end up with these little pieces that no one wants to eat because they are the wrong shape or size, they are too thick or thin.  They languish there in your fridge and cry out to you when you open the door.  You know that you should do something with them, but you aren’t sure of what.   I have (or rather my great-grandma and other brilliant home economists have) a solution for you.  Ham loaf in a cheese crust.DSCN2926Just say those words aloud.  It’s ok to alternately smile and gag.  It’s not something we are used to seeing in our menu rotation.  There are reasons for why this recipe has fallen out of fashion.  My kids would argue that taste was one of those reasons, but I think they were having an exceptionally picky day. Side note:  I mentioned to Nick what I was writing about and he said “Oh, right, that weird stuff.”

When I looked at the title of the recipe, the images of what this recipe would be was something more like a meatloaf with a thick coating of cheese and breadcrumbs surrounding it, so that every slice looked like a drawing of rock layers from elementary school science class.  As I read through the recipe I realized how wrong I had it.  This was going to be a pie.  A pink pie with an orange crust.  A study in contrasting colors and textures.   I’m never sure about the texture of ground ham.DSCN2931When this recipe was originally published, there were not the variety of cheese cracker options that are available today.  I’m not sure if this qualifies as progress.  I stuck with Cheez-Its original flavor.  Getting out the blender or food processor seemed like dishes I didn’t feel like doing so crushed the crackers with a combination of the potato masher and my hands. It makes lovely pictures, but a crumbly crust.

All in all, this was not a bad recipe.  A little on the salty side, but it’s ham and cheese crackers, so you’d expect as much.

Ham Loaf in Cheese Crust

Found on the Back: Roasted Raccoon

In which I most certainly do NOT roast a raccoon.

I have amazing siblings.  They are crazy talented and supportive.  My sister is one of the nicest people I know.  She constantly goes out of her way for other people.  She actively tries to make the world a better place.  My brothers almost have to be spoken about as one unit, but mostly because the world still confuses them.  One of them works in energy efficiency and has published many articles and papers about the subject.  The other works in theater.  He is working on his first movie and is getting his first IMDB credit, or he would be, except somehow his brother is listed on IMDB instead.  The twin curse…

Anyway, my brother suggested at one point that each of my siblings do a guest post for me.  I readily agreed and mentioned that all they had to do was tell me what sort of recipe they wanted and I would hook them up with the goods.  “What do you want?  Entree?  Dessert?  Roasted Raccoon?”  My brother jumped all over the idea of making a roasted raccoon.  He attempted to source one.  His friend actually came through.  Unfortunately, making a movie and being away from an actual kitchen sort of put a damper on this.  Well, that and the “ew” factor.  As he was attempting to source a raccoon, he heard from multiple people about how sick eating raccoon had made them (probably because it wasn’t cleaned properly).

Regardless, I mentioned this recipe as a joke.  I don’t actually expect that anyone will make it.  If anyone does, I think I want to try it, but I’m unlikely to ever actually make this recipe myself.

I’m still waiting for them to actually get to the point of guest posting…(hint, hint).  Roast Raccoon

Chicken New Boston

In which we say “NORM!”

I Googled Chicken Old Boston just to see if there was a reason that this recipe was called Chicken New Boston.  Even searching for Chicken New Boston yielded nothing on the first search page.  So this recipe may be new information for everyone.

So what do we think of when we think of Boston? Some people think of sports (we try not to acknowledge those teams).  Some people have the experience of Matt Damon’s Boston or the Boston of the New Kids on the Block.  There is the Boston of baked bean fame and the Boston of the Tea Party.  Boston clam chowder.  Ivy League Colleges covered in actual ivy.  Then there is the Boston in Cheers.  Let’s talk about that Boston because we’ve been watching that on Netflix sometimes and it helps make my metaphor better.DSCN2715You know how on Cheers there are the people like Norm and Cliff?  They are that gritty side of Boston.  The working class people from working class neighborhoods.  Old Boston, if you will.  If you were to imagine dinner at their houses, you’d imagine a roast that has been simmering all day.  Maybe a nice plate of spaghetti.  Food that is practical more than pretty.  Food that will keep you going in cold weather.

And then there is Diane.  There is no way she would sully her insides with that sort of food.  She’s lofty and above it all.  She represents that other part of Boston.  The part of Boston that embraces new food and new culture.  Chicken New Boston is something that Diane may whip up in her kitchen while wearing a ruffled apron.  DSCN2716I did not wear a ruffled apron while making this dish.  I think I was barefoot…

 

Chicken New Boston is a breaded chicken in a creamy sauce with mushrooms, artichokes and sherry.  Conceptually, it’s delicious.  Realistically, I had a hard time keeping the cornflakes on the chicken.  It might just be a me thing.  The sauce was amazing (even with the cream o’soup). It’s the sort of sauce that you’d want to mop up with bread or eat on top of noodles.  It’s sophisticated enough to make me feel like I should’ve put on my pearls.  Chicken New Boston