Mac n Cheese – the best ever

This is another no recipe thing – but in the tradition of Michael Ruhlman – it is a ratio –
though I am not good at math. There it is. My mom made the best mac n cheese ever. We never had anything out of a Kraft box (ugh — so gross). I do think I picked this up my osmosis (cannot believed I spelled that correctly on the first go – woo hoo!). I really don’t remember paying that much attention to how my mom made it, but I knew how to do this by instinct  – again, in my head it was osmosis.

So this is a total ratio thing, but to me the easiest way to tell someone how to make it is to show them how to make it. It can be a little vague otherwise. This was the subject of one of the early Wednesday Cooking School nights for the Boy. It is one of his favorite things, not surprising, since it also one of my favorite things. It is also vegetarian, which means I had it in the freezer while waiting for him to be born and I remember distinctly that I had some the night I came home from the hospital with him.D&D_1397

I have this lovely ceramic dish from Portugal (I did not go there to get it, but did buy it from a store in Durham, NC) and it is a pretty dish and I bought two because of that. But here is where the ratios come into play. No matter what dish you have, to make mac n cheese for whatever sized dish you have measure out dry pasta* in the dish to about the half way full. Once you cook the pasta, then it will fill the dish — see, a ratio – who knew from math? But I knew that before Ruhlman (still love you guy).

Now here is the next ratio – fat to flour – also knew this before Ruhlman. I always prefer to have more cheese sauce than I need, so for my pan (need to measure and figure out how big that dang this is). I start with 4 Tbs of unsalted butter, which I melt over low heat and then add basically the same amount of all-purpose flour and a bit of salt and pepper. Then cook the flour for a minute or two, stirring the whole time. It  would be a good thing if you had taken your whole milk out prior to starting this and I probably should have said that before now. But as long as you add the milk a little at a time, it will be okay. Some people warm the milk in a sauce pan, but my mom never did, so I don’t either.

Here’s the thing – when you first start adding the milk it will look like a clumpy mess with the butter mixture. You really are making a light roux and then you are going on to make a bechamel sauce sort of. Anyway. Use that whisk to eliminate lumps, but pretty soon you need to switch to a good spatula (Get it Right spatulassee this link, and this one, then there is this one, and .. well you get it.)  because you don’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the sauce pan – that would be a disaster (i.e. start over – no other choice, nope none).

So again, this is where it is where it is so much easier to show than explain, but the ratio, is about the same amount of cups of milk as butter – in this case 3 1/2 to four, but add a bit at a time. Let simmer over low heat and let thicken over time.

Then the cheese comes into play. In my case, always extra sharp cheddar, white or yellow, your choice, but once the bechamel thickens it is time to take it off the heat and add the grated cheese, setting aside a bit to put on the top. Add the cooked pasta (you did that already, right? Dumped the pasta you measured in the pan into a nicely salted pot of boiling water and cooked until al dente) to the sauce and tip into the baking dish, top with a little extra shredded cheese and cover with foil. But in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 – 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

You need to let it cool a bit before diving in, but that is a necessary thing.

So to you from me – My Mom’s not-recipe for the best homemade mac n cheese.

*I typically use penne or rotini, but elbow is good too. Some pasta that will hold the cheesy goodness of the sauce.

Home Cooking can save the World

Home cooking can save the World – I heard someone say this recently,  and I started to think about … what does a statement like that really mean?  Is it true? When I get slightly sappy (not often at all) I think it might be true. But then the better part of me goes, um, no – because I don’t like to be sappy.

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My Mom’s Banana Nut Bread – A Tradition in my family.

But I do believe in home cooking and I do think it can make a difference, and I know that, as dumb as it sounds, I do think home cooking and passing on recipes, makes a difference in kind of the big scheme of things and in the kind of person you will turn out to be, and in the the way you will influence the next generation. Your kids, your nieces or nephews and if you are lucky their spouses too. I hate to say it, but I feel this is a dying art.

I know I would love to teach the Boy more than I have. But we have the Wednesday Cooking School – at least for now, until he gets busier at work, but so far it has been interesting and fun – it kind of makes me stupidly happy. I am glad he is interested in figuring out how I make the things he likes. I also know I should have asked my mom so much more. Thanksgiving reminds me of that every year – cannot get cornbread dressing correct – ugh.

I guess that I thought I would be able to ask my mom things for way longer than I was able to and that should put you all on notice, no really. Ask for those things and write them down better than I did. Although my mom’s recipe for roast beef – “it is seared when the smoke detector goes off” just makes me smile every time I think about it. It is pretty damn funny and it was also correct.

This has made me a fan of asking people I like for their family recipes. You know, old family recipes are important. They would not be around if they were not successful if they did not make people for generations happy. My friend Elaine’s carrot cake is an example. It was her grandmother’s recipe, and it seemed a bit strange to me – no butter? – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten (Sorry Mrs. Fields). Damnation – I want to make one every week – yes, every week, but that would really work against me (in the clothing department).

 

Wednesday Cooking School

So tonight The Boy and I made carrot cake. It is one of his favorites.  I have made carrot cake for D&D_1233him many, many, many, years  – big birthday cake for him. When I said The Boy and I made a carrot cake, I really mean just him. I am kind of the director in this movie. Suggesting, demonstrating, etc. To me, you learn by doing, so I let him do the doing.

So I get home from work and he’s here already – good start. As I go up to change (I’m a mess when cooking, so I have to change my clothes), I say to him, start peeling the carrots. Simple enough, right?  A few minutes later he’s still peeling that first carrot … There was almost no carrot left. I said, what are you doing? Do you not know how to peel a carrot?  Apparently not. So I explained how to peel a carrot. And then explained for the cake we would be grating the carrots for the cake. Poor guy, he just didn’t know.

Lesson: don’t assume things in Wednesday Cooking School.

I am not a fan of making cake after work, but this wasn’t too horrible. Only about 2 1/2 hours, but excellent time spent hanging out with The Boy. Yes, that’s the best part.  Indeed.

I’m kind of excited that his next choice is Eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise. I started this stupid idea on New Year’s Day of 2009. What the hell – make a very complicated thing for New Year’s Day – does anyone do that? Apparently I do. And we did it weekend after weekend that year. But since The Boy is coming over after work, it will be for dinner, and in my small brain, that is a good thing.

Carrot Cake

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Carrot Cake

This is a recipe from a friend. It is her grandmother’s recipe. I love grandmom recipes. I have so few from either of my grandmothers that I just love those grandmom recipes from friends. When a recipe goes down through a couple of generations it means something: It works; it is a favorite; it is loved; it is important. That has a certain Siren call to me.

To my way of thinking, that is largely what this site is all about. Leaving behind what is important to me, and hoping that The Boy finds them worth something in the future. That sounds a bit depressing, but I do not mean it in that way.

From my friend Elaine – from her Grandmother. This is a half recipe. It makes a 2 layer cake, but you could double it to make a 4 layer cake which is what the original recipe does.

Cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, plus one large egg yolk
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cup grated carrots
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (local Renfroes) *
1 tsp orange zest

Prepare two 9 inch round pans with baking spray, line with parchment and spray parchment. Preheat ove to 350 degrees.

Sift together over a piece of waxed paper the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the bowl of a stand mixer. In a large measuring cup add canola oil and eggs. Whisk with a fork to combine. Slowly add to dry ingredients while on low. Add carrots, pecans, and orange zest and mix until just combined.

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Carrot Cake – for The Boy to take home.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes, turning half way through. Do the toothpick test. Remove and cool on a wire rack in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn out, remove parchment, and cool completely.

Frosting:
8 ozs cream cheese, softened
4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange juice
8 ozs powdered sugar, sifted**

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and orange juice. Once smooth, sift in powdered sugar (sifting keeps the frosting smooth).

Once cakes are cooled, frost those layers, and the sides if you want. But we did not do it.

Notes: This is the first time I’ve made the recipe and I’ve made just a half recipe because I only have two 9 inch round pans – that’s how it goes. I have been using a recipe from Mrs. Fields (you know, the cookie lady) since about the time The Boy was born and it has been a huge birthday cake for him for donkey’s years. But this was so much better. I think the canola oil (my choice of vegetable oil because it so neutral) made it so unreally moist.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be ugly about the originally recipe that I made, but this was one of those – wow! – moments. I am just going to say that some times, really old recipes are the best. Next time, I will add raisins because they really add something to carrot cake.

This is the L year. Ugh. This will be a theme. Unfortunately.

Wednesday Night Cooking (Baking) School

 

Wednesday Cooking School

Well the Boy has taking an interest in cooking and so we have started some cooking lessons, especially for the things he loves which are mostly things I don’t have recipes for. They are things that you have to make by doing.  Wish I had learned how to make cornbread dressing this way, but I did not. Sigh. D&D_0329

So we started a couple of weeks ago with his perennial favorite. Home-made sloppy joes. It may sound odd, but this is an excellent non-recipe recipe. I love this way to much to admit. And the cole slaw to go with it, which is a bit of riff on cole slaw with Eastern North Carolina pulled pork barbecue.

So I taught him how to make both because it is just a taste-as-you-go kind of thing. Which is why it really is stupidly-wonderful as long as you get the hang of it

So we’ve had another lesson which I need to make again and post here, but it is my mom’s homemade mac n cheese. The Boy has never had anything out of box, only this. Yes, he’s a bit spoiled, but then again, so was I. It is not difficult if you know what you are looking for – it is a bechamel and then you go from there. Should have taken a picture, but – damn, but that means I will have to do it again soon – such a burden. I’m sure the Boy would not mind having some more homemade mac n cheese.

I have to say, I’m having so much fun doing this. The next project is a serious baking deal, but again – one of his favorite things and it is a new version of a recipe I love from a friend – it is her grandmother’s recipe and I am really looking forward to it. Yep – I am that food nerd. Do not care – spending time with the Boy is great.

Cannot wait to see what happens next.