Monday, March 28, 2011

Greens and bacon mac & cheese

I'm really not even going to try to convince you all that this is a healthy mac and cheese. Yes, it has tons of dark leafy greens baked in there...but it's also all bacony and cheesey. My mom bought them at the farmers market here and then forgot to bring them back home with her to Wisconsin. So there they were in my fridge, staring at me--an enormous pile of greens. It was a healthy mix--some chards, some turnip greens, kale, plus some who knows what. After trimming and cutting into chiffonade, it looks slightly more manageable.I then cut about 1/2 pound of bacon into 1" chunks and cooked until browned. And removed to a plate to add back in later. Turn the heat to medium in the big bacony pot, and add in all the greens...Saute them until they soften up. They'll wilt right away,but if you have some heartier greens in there (like the kale) it will take about 3-5 minutes of cooking for them to get soft enough. If you have just chard they'll be done a bit faster since that's a less tough green. Once your greens are cooked, scoop them into a wire colander and kind of press them with a spoon to get them to drain out some liquid. The idea it to get them as dry as possible so you don't add soggy vegetables to your nice creamy mac and cheese. Set the greens aside and rinse out your pot.Melt 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons) over medium-low heat and add in 1/2 minced onion to saute until the onion is soft--about 3-5 minutes. Measure out 3 tablespoons flour...And sprinkle it into your butter-onion mixture.Get a whisk and move it around--it will turn into a paste. You're making a light roux for the thickening base of your cheese sauce.Heat up (but don't boil!) 1 1/2 cups of milk...Turn down the heat to as low as possible and gradually add the milk to your roux, whisking it in a bit at a time. It will get really thick but by the time you add all the milk, it should be not at all pasty. Whisk until smooth and add in salt and pepper.Get 1/2 cup of dry white wine...And whisk it into the sauce. It should be the perfect consistency at this point.Now here's the cheesy part! I had a bunch of of cheese odds-n-ends hanging out in my fridge--orphan cheeses, if you will. This is a great way to use up lots of little bits in one big melty goo. I had some gouda, some Amadeus cheese (I don't know much of anything about it, it's from Austria and tastes yummy and is presumably named after Mozart), and some pepper jack, although I don't think I ended up needing to use that last one. Shred it all up--you need about 1 1/2 cups total.And whisk it in! Shred it up. Whisk it in. Lock it down. And add a couple dashes of hot sauce. While the cheese sauce is cooking, boil about 3/4 pound (so, almost, but not all of 1 package) of macaroni. Drain it, and add in to the finished sauce. After you've incorporated the macaroni, add in your patiently waiting greens...And the even more patiently waiting bacon... And transfer the whole shebang to a baking dish.I topped mine with a handful of bread crumbs and a bit more shredded cheese--optional, but it does add a nice crunch. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes--if you want to you can broil it at the very end for just a few seconds to get a nice crisp top.And yes, it is very very good. Please enjoy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bolognese di due madri

This sauce has two mommies.We spent a recent weekend in the company of our parents and it was a really lovely time. My mom wanted to make a bolognese sauce for dinner with Phil's mom, and who can say no to that? The two of them puttered around the kitchen--Phil's mom taking notes and my mom scooting around doing everything at top speed, as usual. I got stuck prepping ingredients/doing dishes, and tried to grab a few pictures along the way. This sauce uses a combination of 1/2 pound baby back pork ribs and 1 pound ground sirloin. My mom was really pleased with the way the meats turned out together for the sauce--it isn't too heavy but does develop a nice, deep flavor from the bones. Start by seasoning the ribs with salt and pepper...Then brown them in a tablespoon of olive oil, along with a handful of chopped onion (you'll need about 1/2 a chopped onion, in total, by the way--you'll be adding some to the ground beef as it browns as well).She browns the two meats in separate pans. I cut corners here and do it all together--don't be like me. Be like my mom. (But it makes extra dishes.)Over in a big sauce pot, she crumbles in the ground sirloin, and browns it with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and the rest of the chopped onion.We are a short people.When the meats are browned, add about 1/4 cup of red wine to each pan to loosen up all the good fond.And make sure to do the pork ribs too. Here they are, sizzling in the wine she just poured in. They will get loose and a little bit saucy right away.Now you can just pour everything from the rib pan into the big pot along with the rest of the meat and take it from there. Now you add a 28-oz can of tomatoes to the pan--but use whole tomatoes and puree them smooth before adding to the sauce. I just stuck my immersion blender right into the open can and whizzed them smooth. You can also use a regular blender or just squish them up with your hands in a bowl. Any way you do it, just get your whole tomatoes in smooth form, then pour them in.And then add about 1/4 can's worth of water as well.The most important is to taste as you go along. You add just a little salt at a time as you go along.And add in 2 bay leaves.And grind in pepper, as needed. Taste, taste, taste.Here's where things get a little Sicilian. Jocelyn gave me this lovely little container, made of cinnamon bark...Turns out it holds cinnamon sticks perfectly. Makes sense, right? You add 1/2 of one cinnamon stick to the sauce, along with 1 teaspoon sugar. And let simmer all together for one hour.Cover it to keep from over-reducing as it simmers.And taste. Taste, taste, taste.My mom brought her own pasta with her, packed in her carry-on. That's commitment, right there. Any nice big pasta will do fine here though--this isn't a sauce for thin noodles. Boil in plenty of salted water until al dente.Your sauce should be looking and smelling wonderful right about now, with the pork ribs just falling off the bone. Our next-door-neighbors said they could smell it all the way down the block.Allora, รจ finito. Enjoy this fabulous sauce with some fresh grated parmesan at the table.And, lest you think only moms rock the kitchen, here's evidence that my father is no slouch either: he made us some fresh baked bread in time for dinnerHe uses the no-knead dough recipe that I have made here before...but his turns out better, of course.

(many thanks to Emily, for thinking of the idea for this post and reminding me to take pictures of the moms cooking!)