The best mac and cheese

ATK Mac and CheeseSo there’s a fairly lengthy story about this best mac and cheese. It involves a pressure cooker, PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen and a radio interview.

As some of you know, I am currently obsessed with pressure cooking. Things that take hours on a conventional stove or oven, take minutes in a pressure cooker. I have a stove-top Fagor 8-quart pressure cooker (yes, the first one I bought was electric and it turned out to be a piece of crap). And in reading the instructions, it explicitly said not to cook macaroni or other pasta in the cooker because it can clog up the pressure release valve. King Daddy had very thoughtfully bought me America Test Kitchen’s Pressure Cooker Perfection and in it was what looked to be a promising recipe for macaroni and cheese.

But wait! If you are not familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, it is a group of obsessively accurate cooks who like to test everything multiple ways to determine the absolute best recipe. If you screw up a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen you are truly a moron.  And right there in the cookbook, they recommend the Fagor pressure cooker I have and they have multiple recipes for pasta.  Somebody’s wrong here and I had to find out who.

So I call the America’s Test Kitchen podcast hotline and leave a message. I am figuring that no one will call me back. But a few days later, I did get a call back from a lovely woman named Debby wanting to know if I’d like to ask my question on the podcast with Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster.

Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster

Here they are on their PBS show.  Chris, if I may call him that and I will, is the founder of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, America’s Test Kitchen and other related empires. Bridget is the culinary expert. I have watched their shows and listened to the podcast for years so I am star struck in a food nerd sort of way.

I am instructed to be by the phone from 6:30 – 9 a.m. on the appointed day to receive a phone call from them. On the appointed day, I wake up at 5 a.m. in anticipation. I settle myself in my garage office, with the door open because it is nice outside, and drink five cups of coffee and smoke 15 cigarettes until 6:30 rolls around. I am certain I will be their first call since my question is obviously so vital.

The clock strikes 6:30 and the phone does not ring. I check it to make sure it’s got enough battery power. I check “recent calls” in case they called early while I ran up to go to the bathroom. Nothing. Seven o’clock…7:30…8 a.m. No call. I have now played 875 rounds of Spider Solitaire.

Finally, at 8:15 the phone rings! It’s another nice lady asking if I would like to talk to Chris and Bridget. Are you kidding?

They are lovely. To make this long story short, Chris believes the Fagor people are just too cautious in their instruction manual. America’s Test Kitchen tested this mac and cheese recipe and it works just fine. It was probably the creamiest mac and cheese I’ve ever had and the pasta turned out perfectly cooked.

I believe ATK would frown on me giving you the recipe because they’d rather have you buy the book. But if you don’t have a pressure cooker (silly you), I can report that you can make it with 8 ounces of cooked macaroni, 1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, 1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese and 1 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese. It’s the evaporated milk that sends this to the moon and back.

 

 

 

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Red wine marinade

Shish Kabob

I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

I put at least a couple of cups of Malbec or merlot in my spaghetti sauce. As I’m sipping on a wee glass, of course. A little splash of white wine with butter and capers makes a lovely sauce for chicken cutlets. Quality control must be maintained at all times. Never put wine in food that you wouldn’t also drink. So I do. Now that Noah is home he’s helping in the kitchen. That’s cut into my wine supply quite a bit. We both like to cook with wine. It must be inherited.

Making marinades with wine is one of its highest and best uses. If you’ve bought any bottled marinades, take a look at the ingredients. You might as well make your own. Any words you can’t pronounce on the label? If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be eating it. Bottled marinades also have a lot of sodium and some of them contain high fructose corn syrup.

But I digress. I got a 1950s itch for shish kabob the other night and broke out some filet pieces left over from breaking down a whole tenderloin. Yes, I am just that good. I butcher my own whole tenderloin. I used this red wine marinade that just deepens the beefy flavor of the meat. I believe a had a couple of sips of the red wine without all the other ingredients just to make sure it hadn’t turned to vinegar. Actually, I cannot fib. There’s never enough left over wine in my house to turn to vinegar.

Use this marinade on any cut of beef or lamb. Have a glass or two of Pinot Noir while you make it. I cook with wine.

 

Red wine marinade
Prep time: 
Total time: 

 

Ingredients
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup canola oil

Instructions
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Use immediately for steak or lamb chops. May store in the refrigerator for a several weeks.

 

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The perfect hot dog

Hot-Dog-1-500x375What makes the perfect hot dog? It involves these things and they are non-negotiable:

  • Hot dogs with casings. There is no snap to a hot dog without a casing and without a snap there is no point.
  • Chili out of a can. Yes. Hot dog chili out of a can. No beans. Vietti Hot Dog Sauce comes to mind. It’s made by a Nashville company. I think it costs $1.29 a can.
  • Plain yellow mustard. No Dijon. No deli mustard. No honey mustard. Plain and yellow.
  • Diced yellow onions. Enough said.
  • A buttered bun. Yes, add butter to the hot dog and chili. Why not? You’re not eating these every day. Please say you’re not eating these  every day.
  • Grilling. No boiling of the hot dogs. Can’t you hear them screaming?

Want the complete story? Head on over to Char-Broil LIVE to get my recipe for The Perfect Hot Dog.

 

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Gluttony and tomato salad

Noah is home from college. He is now a graduate and is about the task of finding full-time employment. He’s working hard at finding a place to work hard, but in the meantime he is setting a bad example. Since his arrival two weeks ago, he has brought into this house:

  • The ingredients for onion dip – Lipton Onion Soup Mix and sour cream (accept no substitutions). This obviously also requires kettle-cooked potato chips.
  • Two boxes of Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Noah enhances this with sour cream and butter. It is, sad to say, delicious.
  • The ingredients for compound butter, which has trace elements of vegetables cleverly hidden away in two sticks of butter. He has generously applied this to several packages of fettuccine and then finished it off with mountains of Parmesan cheese.
  • Three racks of ribs. No, Noah does not know how to smoke ribs. Mommy does. And then Mommy, of course, has to sample them. Over and over. Bad Mommy.

We just got back from my beloved Publix where we picked up the ingredients for homemade pizza. We are going to grill it so we can claim it is healthy, which it would be if we eliminated the cheese. But we’re not going to do that.

So, tomorrow I’m putting a stop to this. We’re going back to sticks and twigs. And, fortunately, a tomato salad with ingredients from the Farmers Market.  Yes, I’m on a tomato kick.

tomato salad

Cherry tomato salad
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Prep time: 
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Serves: 4
 

Ingredients
  • 2 pints mixed cherry tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup shredded basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
  1. Rinse and dry the tomatoes and slice in half.
  2. Whisk the mustard, vinegar and garlic in a small bowl. Slowly drizzling in the olive oil and continue whisking until an emulsion forms.
  3. Add the dressing and basil to the tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Roasted tomatoes – the sign of summer

Roasted tomatoesIf you do not get giddy with excitement around this time of year, you are just not from the South and I don’t know what to do with you. It’s tomato season. After an eight-month drought, those cheery cherry red orbs are back again.

The only tomatoes I eat from about late October to early July are from a can because they’re picked when they’re ripe. I won’t bore you with my rant about supermarket tomatoes. But in a nutshell, they are picked green by what amounts to slave migrant labor and blasted with chemicals to turn them red. It’s the vegetable (actually, tomatoes are a fruit) equivalent of adding sugar to almost every processed food. By the way, did you know Wheat Thins have sugar in them? My favorite cracker and now it’s on the banned list. Thank God Triscuits are still pure.

But I digress. So most Southerners go into tomato overload around this time of year. There’s always the obligatory first tomato sandwich of the year. The always popular caprese salad. And tomatoes just sliced, salt and peppered and served alongside Silver Queen corn and fried okra. The perfect summer vegetable plate. Add the cornbread, please.

But even we – the Peoples of the South – tire of tomatoes after a spell. So it’s then that I start roasting them, which concentrates their sweet flavor and turns them into something entirely different. Chop them up and add them to fresh pasta with butter and herbs. Sprinkle on a little freshly grated Parmesan. Yes. Roasted tomato and onion jam on toast points topped with bacon crumbles. Why thank you, I think I’ll have another. A roasted tomato slice on a burger? Add sauteed mushrooms and there’s so much umami on that bun that it can barely get through the door.

There’s no recipe really for roasted tomatoes. However many you have, just slice them and put them on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little sugar and add salt and pepper. That’s it. A couple hours in the oven and you are good to go. Summer.

Roasted Tomatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

 

Ingredients
  • Vine-ripened tomatoes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions
  1. Slice the tomatoes in thick slices and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet with a rim. Drizzle liberally with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a small amount of sugar. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Bake at 300 degrees for several hours or until tomatoes have shriveled and started to turn brown around the edges. Don’t throw away the olive oil! It’s now infused with tomato flavor and is wonderful as a pasta sauce with a little balsamic vinegar.

 

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American Grilled: The prelude

American Grilled

I am a contestant on American Grilled.

Of course, I can’t talk about the actual competition. The series starts tonight but my episode doesn’t air until Sept. 3. So mum’s the word lest the Travel Channel pulls up to 5117 with a 54-foot moving van to take away my house.

But I can talk about the unlikely scenario that landed me on this national show to begin with.

As is many times the case, it’s not what you know but who you know and I know Danielle Dimovski. She’s a fellow Char-Broil All Star Blogger and has her own hit show on the Travel Channel – BBQ Crawl. And she sent me a message: “You ought to apply to American Grilled.”

I like grilling. Actually, I love grilling. I do it almost every night. And I love reality shows. I have never missed a single episode of Survivor and I’m not ashamed of that. So a timed competition that involves grilling? How hard could that be?

But I am probably one of 8,000 people applying for this so I do not get my hopes up as I fill out the extensive online questionnaire and hit the “send” button.

Ring.

I am at the CRC warehouse, with the cement plant going full bore across the street, when the phone rings. I can barely hear the male voice on the other end. It’s some dude in New York City wanting to ask me some questions about American Grilled. They are questions that require some bravado on my part, explaining why I’m God’s gift to grilling. I fake it.

“What’s you’re favorite thing to grill?” he asks. I search my memory bank for some outlandishly difficult ingredient.

“Steak.” Really, can’t you come up with anything more impressive?

Perfectly grilled filet mignon topped with herb butter

Perfectly grilled filet mignon topped with herb butter

I grill a really good steak. See? So I embellish and tell him I also make a red wine reduction. That sounds marginally better. The dude hangs up and I figure that is that.

Ring.

It’s a delightful young lady in California a few weeks later. She wants to ask me more questions about American Grilled, including that annoying one about my favorite thing to grill. Steak. I say steak again. What is my issue? Nobody is going to put you on national television because you know how to grill a steak. Why didn’t I say alligator or water buffalo? She hangs up and, once again, I surmise that this will be the end of the road.

Ring.

I am sitting on a bench outside the Little Brothers Shell Station in Brentwood, waiting to get my tire changed. It’s another delightful young lady in New York. “I am happy to tell you that have you have been selected to compete on American Grilled.”  I am stunned. What does this actually mean? I have been told nothing about how this works other than I am expected to show up in Memphis in a few weeks. “Is there anything I need to do to prepare other than be hysterical?” I ask her. “No, that’s about it,” she says. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone you’re doing this.”

Don’t tell anyone I’m doing this?

So I haven’t until now. The producers say I can now tell my friends and family I am going to be on American Grilled. I can now tell you that I competed on my birthday and that it involved torrential rain and the very real possibility of tornadoes. And it involved grilling. Have I told you I grill a pretty good steak?

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Anatomy of a recipe: Why am I up at 4 a.m. thinking about bacon?

Modestly,  I am somewhat famous in various circles around town for my adoration and frequent use of bacon. I have actually researched the health benefits of bacon and found that is is marginally better for you than sausage. I’ll take it. I pretty much make up 85 percent of what I cook and so, last night, I struggled with a new recipe for BLT Bites.

Hang on to your sanity. It is dark out. King Daddy is fast asleep. You’re about to enter my OCD mind. I apologize in advance.

How should I construct these things? I have the phyllo cups and I’ve already made the bacon. How about I roast some tomatoes I got at the farmers market and use them instead of raw tomatoes? That won’t work. There are textural issues. Don’t do it.

How about I put a wee bit of mayo in the bottom and top it with lettuce, a cherry tomato slice and bacon. Alrighty then, done. But that’s just going to be all loose and kind of dry. Not very creative… It’s just for church coffee hour. Nobody is going to judge me.

Maybe I should just rethink this and fill the phyllo cups with pimento cheese and top them with bacon. That will be easy. No, that won’t work. You’re already serving cheese and crackers, plus there’s cheese in the sausage balls. Too much cheese. Can there be too much cheese? Would people judge me for that?

No one will judge you. If you served Ho-Ho’s and Slim Jim’s they wouldn’t judge you. Well, maybe they would. Wouldn’t that be funny – Ho-Ho’s and Slim Jim’s? NO.

Okay, okay. Let’s try again. What if I cut the lettuce into thin ribbons, dice the tomatoes and mix everything with mayonnaise?  I think you might be on to something here. But doctor up the mayo with some lemon zest and minced fresh oregano.

Am I over-thinking this? Do you think? Of course, you’re over-thinking this. That’s the obsessive part of your undiagnosed OCD. Get ready to act on the compulsive part.

I’d better get up right away. I’ll have to dice the tomatoes and then drain them on paper towels so the mixture’s not soggy. Then chiffonade the lettuce, but don’t add it to the bacon, tomatoes and mayonnaise until the last minute or it will wilt. Seriously, get up if you want but just STOP!

BLT Bites

They lapped them up at coffee hour. Not a single one left.

“Can I have the recipe?” asked Ellen Kirk. Sigh. It’s in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sauteed Kale and Golden Raisins

Satueed Kale and Golden RaisinsIt’s the end of kale season. Who’s sorry? Not King Daddy.

And, truth be told, I’m not either. Kale season is long. And in January when you visit the farmers market, there are three choices: kale, kale and kale. Still, I’m a little nostalgic just as I am at the end of any growing season. When the last tomatoes come in at the market, I literally cry. So it’s a fond farewell to kale until November. I know King Daddy’s beyond thrilled to take a break.

If you’ve never cooked kale, I have a handy guide to show you how much you can pack in one skillet. You’ll think you have way too much. Here’s a “before” for 10 cups of kale:

Big Kale

I know, right? Way too much kale for that skillet. But not! Here’s the “after”:

Small Kale

Now, on to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and all the other great summer vegetables.

Sauteed Kale and Golden Raisins
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4
 

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and cut into thin ribbons (about 10 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 2-3 dashes sriracha sauce

Instructions
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the kale, salt and pepper and sauté for 10-15 minutes until the kale is completely wilted.
  2. Add the chicken stock, raisins and sriracha sauce and continue to sauté until the chicken stock is almost reduced to nothing, about 10 minutes.

 

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Planked halibut with citrus herb sauce

Halibut 1

Who knew that buying a piece of fish would cost more than a steak? Has anyone else gotten sticker shock at the fish counter?

I looked into this because I can remember a time when most fish were affordable. And there are a few real reasons that unless you can catch your own, you’ll pay top dollar (and this is from The Economist if you’re interested in the whole article). First, more people in China are eating fish and, as we all know, there are a lot of people in China. High oil prices also have something to do with the rising cost of fish. And, sadly, overfishing of wild-caught varieties of fish is also a culprit. If you want to buy fish responsibly, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Happily for me, halibut is on the “good choice” list. But I did weep quietly as I paid almost $20 for two filets. Check out my recipe for planked halibut with citrus herb sauce at Char-Broil LIVE. And if halibut isn’t in your budget, this recipe also works well with tilapia (also a good choice on the Seafood Watch).

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Grilled beets

Sunday mornings at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have taken on a special glow lately. A cornucopia, you might say, of abundant produce grown by parishioner Kirby Horton and his family. Kirby does not have a backyard vegetable garden. He has an actual farm. This is not his primary profession. I suspect it is his version of a midlife revelation. But no matter. We are happy to feed upon whatever is causing him to take up agriculture in an extremely meaningful way.

Of course, Kirby and his family can’t possibly eat everything he grows so he brings bushels of produce to church on Sundays. Attendance at the 8:45 a.m. service has skyrocketed. This week, he and his wife, Bari, had kale (no, still not sick of it), cabbages, spinach, green onions, turnips, leaf lettuce and…beets.

King Daddy hates beets so I never buy them. But here they were. Free. And Bari, in particular, had a look of quiet desperation as she surveyed the overflowing bushels of produce Kirby had hauled out of their car. I’ll take a few beets along with two shopping bags of everything else they had.

“You do not have to eat the beets,” I assured Mark. “I will just eat them myself.”

“Good,” he replied, “because I do not intend to touch them.”

So, our good friends, the Reinhardts, told me about how they grill them. Just brush them with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill them until they’re tender. Then finish them with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. (I’m not going to create a recipe for this – I think you can remember four ingredients all on your own.)

Grilled Beets

I will give you grilling instructions:

  • Preheat the grill to medium high.
  • Add the beets and grill until one side has nice char marks.
  • Flip and close the lid of the grill. Continue grilling for 10-15 minutes or until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork. Check the underside occasionally to make sure they’re not getting too charred. If they are, move them to the warming rack.

I brought the beets in the house and inhaled that spectacular earthy, slightly sweet aroma. Yes! All mine!

King Daddy emerged from the den and observed the dreaded beets. “Maybe I’ll just try one bite, but I won’t like them.”

IMG_4543Yes, that is King Daddy smiling and eating a beet – not just one bite of a beet – this was his second or third bite. “Not my favorite thing,” he noted, while cutting into another slice. I am going to go easy here. It’s hard for the King to admit when he’s been wrong all his life about beets. So I am not, as they say, poking the Band-Aid.

 

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