Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese (and 100th post!)

We hadn't had macaroni and cheese in a looooong time. So when we needed an easy, weeknight meal for a Monday night with a friend coming over this seemed like the logical choice. A little internet research brought me to my favorite Food Network star, Alton Brown. His baked mac and cheese recipe caught my eye because of the use of panko bread crumbs on top and the inclusion of seasoning you don't find in other recipes (mustard and paprika). Here's the recipe with a few of my modifications from the original:


1/2 - 3/4 of a 1 pound box of elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente. OK, the recipe said 1/2 lb. which seemed a little skimpy to me. So I went 3/4 which was probably too much. Start with 1/2 and adjust up in the future.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and mustard and stir constantly for a few minutes until well mixed and free of any lumps. Stir in the onions, milk (wow, seems like a lot of milk!), bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for around 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Season liberally with black pepper (red pepper flakes might do well here in the future). Find and discard the bay leaf.

"Temper in the egg" said the recipe. What does that mean?!?
Did I do that? No, I just added a mixed egg ala egg drop soup. Later I learned more about what I should have done. Oh, well, next time.

Anyways, temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese (don't skimp on the cheese either). Add the drained macaroni into the mix and stir. Pour into a casserole dish (I didn't do this but in retrospect I can see why this step is important - more crispy topping!). Top with remaining cheese.

Melt butter in a pan (I just reused the pasta pan) and toss in bread crumbs. Stir to mix the butter and bread crumbs. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes uncovered until the top is slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

The reviews were that the panko bread and crispy cheese topping was the best part. Overall, a tasty recipe with lots of room for upgrades and experiments. More seasoning and spice would help, too. Be generous with the black pepper and maybe experiment with cayenne or red pepper flakes. More mustard? More onion, frozen peas, broccoli are all possibilities.

So this turns out to be my 100th posting on this blog. It started out as a chronicle of our remodeling project but I kept it alive as I explored cooking and gardening in our home. I hope you are enjoying it, too!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Herbed Butter

This week's box had a tempting recipe for cilantro butter that I hope to try one day. Unfortunately, I waited too long before attempting this. When I went to make it the cilantro was a wilted lump in the refrigerator. But the idea of herbed butter idea intrigued me.

I had a good amount of leftover thyme from a potato-leek soup recipe I made over the holidays. I also had plenty of dried parsley from the backyard in the spice drawer. So I ended up adapting the recipe just with different herbs.

I took the final product and sliced it into single servings and stuck them in a bag in the freezer.

Here's what I did:

  • 1/2 of an 8 oz. package of unsalted butter (I used Kerrygold's Irish butter)
  • fresh thyme leaves - about 1 cup
  • dried parsley leaves - about 1/2 cup
  • black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced

  • Let butter sit at room temperature to soften
  • Pick thyme leaves
  • Add thyme leaves, parsley, minced garlic, salt, and pepper to a food processor and pulse into a coarse meal
  • Add above ingredients to a kitchen mixer; add butter and mix until well blended
  • Use a spatula to scoop ingredients into a parchment paper
  • Roll up the parchment paper and massage into a cylinder (like a giant tootsie roll)
  • Let chill overnight to harden
  • Slice into single servings and transfer to the freezer

Sunday, January 3, 2010


It's been a busy holiday with friends and relatives coming by. But the crowning event of the holiday was our January 1 dinner at Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg. Although we had heard plenty of rave reviews we had never actually had dinner there. Michael Bauer's 2006 review does a great job capturing the food, service, and atmosphere.

We opted for the five course meal with the addition of a cheese course and we went for the wine pairings (although we did page through the 1,100 bottle wine menu). The food was fantastic and the service was extremely professional. The staff was down to earth and open to questions and conversation.

Upon sitting down, we were told that "we will notify the kitchen that you have arrived." That little touch set a great tone that continued throughout the meal. We were asked about any food "allergies or aversions that we should let the kitchen know about." It was clear that they were willing to do whatever it took to make it a great experience.

There is both a regular and a vegetarian menu and you are allowed to bounce back and forth as you desire. Each dish arrives at the same time with each server carrying one dish. The other servers quietly disappear and one remains to describe the dishes.

Since truffles were in season they also were an additional option that could be added to the meal. The truffles were brought to your table and shaved in front of you. Worth every penny!

At the end of the meal you are presented with a personalized menu along with another dessert in a box to enjoy at a later time.

Here's a brief overview:

Canapes and Amuse Bouche

Course 1:
Him: Silken Tofu with a tasting of Miso
Her: Tuna Loin with Cauliflower and Dashi Gelee

Course 2:
Him: Pumpkin Tagliarini with Truffled Pecorino and Steamed Bantam Yolk with Shaved White Truffles
Her: Roasted Lobster with Daikon and Mandarins, Tamarind Ponzu

Course 3:
Both: Poached Sea Trout with Crab and Uni, Carrot-Ginger Sauce

Course 4:
Him: Lamb Roulade with "Cannelloni" and Parsnip Puree with Shaved Black Truffles
Her: Black Truffle Pot Pie

Cheese Course

Course 5:
Both: Apple Crisp, Mulled Cider, and Creme Fraiche Gelato