Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Comforts of Fall

Today was a Macaroni and Cheese kind of day. Not just the blustery weather, with a few snowflakes floating in the wind, and the grey, overcast skies, but the kind of day where you just *CRAVE* comfort food. And a warm hoodie to snuggle in. I paired this rich, creamy Mac 'n Cheese with Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, because they're deliciously in season, and tossed in some mushrooms, because I had them in the fridge. Voila. Dinner.

I started out with a block of Medium Sharp Cheddar, a block of Swiss, and a Block Grater. Yep, I shred my own cheese, because that's how I roll. Like a Rockstar! Start working! (That'll give your water time to start boiling, anyway!)


Once there are piles of freshly shredded cheese on my countertop, and the rest of the ingredients are assembled, I get kickin'. The pasta should be par-boiled and drained, and the Cheese Sauce making shall commence. Melt the butter in the saucepan, whisk it with the flour to make a light roux, and don't forget add spices at this point to allow the heat to help them release their full flavors. Whisk in the warm milk and stir until the sauce has thickened to coat the back of a spoon. At this point, turn the heat to low and incorporate all the cheeses, one handful at a time. When you've got that creamy, rich sauce, you're in heaven. Just stir in the par-boiled pasta, and get that whole deal in a buttered casserole dish (Or individual ramekins.) For the last 10 minutes of baking, I uncover the dish, just to get a lil of that deeeelish "Pasta Crust" going, too. Adding to that crunch for this recipe is the Parmesan-Panko Crust, just barely broiled to a toasty, crispy goodness.

Mac N Cheese
Mac N Cheese Au Gratin

The accompanying Fall Veggies couldn't be simpler.

Remove the outer leaves of the brussels sprouts and halve them. Cut the mushrooms in to similarly-sized pieces. Toss in a bowl with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Kosher Salt. Arrange the sprouts on a cookie sheet cut-side down, with the mushrooms throughout. Roast at 375 for 10-15 minutes (Just until the Sprouts begin to brown... that roasted, charcoal-y flavor is heaven.) That's it!

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms with 4-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese


8 Ounces of Pasta (Shells, Elbow, Rotini, Whatever.)
3 Tablespoons of Butter
2.5 Tablespoons of Flour
Cayenne (Optional)
Grated Nutmeg
3 Cups Warm Milk (No less than 2% for this.)
2 Cups Shredded Cheddar
1.5 Cups Shredded Swiss
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 Cup Velveeta. yes, Velveeta. Trust Me.

For Pamresan-Panko Crust:
3 Tablespoons Butter
Panko Breadcrumbs
Grated Parmesan.

(Melt Butter and Toast Panko, Sprinkle over the top of the Macaroni and Cheese with Parmesan Cheese, then Broil until Browned.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao, or Shanghai Soup Dumplings, are one of the many delectable little dumplings traditionally served steaming in a bamboo basket ("xiaolong" translates literally as "Small Steaming Basket") They are native of Eastern China (Shanghai.) In English, Xiao Long Bao usually refers to pork dumplings with soup inside the skin. They are eaten with Rice Vinegar and strips of fresh, raw ginger. They can be found at may Dim Sum houses for Yum Cha (Tea Drinking with Dim Sum) as well as at many Asian Noodle Houses. They can also be purchased in the freezer section of many Asian Markets, and steamed to sweet and savory perfection at home, on top of Napa Cabbage leaves.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The McRib Experience (AkA the McSponge)

Well, there has been quite a bit of hype about the return of the McRib. Or, as I call it, the Re-Return of the McHype, since this has got to be the best advertising scheme ever in existence. It's got some sort of magnetic, nostalgic, extra-terrestrial draw that keeps addicts jonesing for it and salivating over its return every year.

I myself had never tried one. I mean, it's McPork. How could it be good? But let's face it, it's been around since 1981, and a "recurring" holiday item since 1985. That's nearly 30 years of history, people. So this year... I don't know if the hype was more intense than usual or if I was just thrilled to see a commercial that WASN'T an angry Political Ad... but I decided that this year, 2010, was the year for ME to taste a McRib. I wanted to see what the Big Deal was. I mean, people literally devote fan clubs to this thing. I personally know people who sneak out of their homes AFTER DINNER to eat one... or two... for "Dessert." So, I've gotta try this thing, right?

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it. I didn't suffer from some delusion that I would take one bite and stalk, Zombie-like, to every McDonald's that I passed until the McRib's "Limited Time" was up.

And I was correct.

The McRib.

A "Formed Pork Patty" roughly in the shape of a (smallish) Pork Rib. But no bones. So, basically, it's mechanically separated pork, formed into a "Riblet" shape. Ok. I can see how people would like that. People love Chicken McNuggets. I myself have never had one of those either, but I understand that most people don't have issues with the "Chopped Formed Meat" phenomenon.
The BBQ Sauce. It's a dark, sweet sauce. It's not awful, it's not fabulous.
Pickles and Onions. Typical McD's pickles here but the onions are not the mini-chopped ones I'm used to here. They're "sliced"... sort of. They're largeish chunks of onion. And they're paired with BBQ sauce and Pickles. That's a classic combination. It works.
The Bun. The bun impressed me. I expected something dry, hard, and flavorless. This one was actually soft, yeasty, and fresh-ish. Am I clamoring to the store to try and buy its equal? No. But it was better than expected.

So, then. Back to the "Pork Patty." The essence of the McRib? It was more like a McSponge. Seriously. It rather closely resembled that sponge you remember from your Junior High School cafeteria tables. (Again, I realize that a lot of people don't mind the "Chopped Formed" food phenom, but... for me... Uck.)

The Wrap Up: While the flavor combination of Oink, BBQ Sauce, Pickles and Onions is classic and good... it's still McDonald's. I won't be rushing back for another one (I barely finished my half of this one) nor will I be eagerly anticipating its next "Limited Time" arrival. But, hey, for those of you who love this thing, Yeehaw. It's back.

(For a Limited Time.)