Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Thinking Outside the Box

Growing up Catholic in a pretty much entirely post-Vatican II world meant as a family we only did the "non-meat Friday" thing during Lent.  I'm fairly certain it wasn't the Church's intent for this to be a period of "treat" (in fact I think I read once that it was supposed to have exactly the opposite effect) but that's exactly how it worked out for me.  When I was younger, my mom worked and so frequently came home at the end of the week to a teenager, two small girls (one of which was yours truly) and husband - all wanting dinner.  Challenging enough during the rest of the year, trying to remember to do something meatless during Lent clearly taxed mom's cooking creativity beyond the max.  Didn't matter to me that we alternated between pancakes (for dinner!  What kid doesn't like having sugary syrup for dinner????) and, ... wait for it ... (because it remained one of my most wicked indulgences well into adulthood) ... Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Yeah, that orangey goodness from the blue box.  I loved it!  It was truly my favorite part of the Lenten season.  Pancakes were good but couldn't hold a candle to that deliciousness of creamy, orange sauce and (usually overdone) elbow noodles of Kraft M and C.  (In later years due to some unforeseen "downsizing" of our incomes I was forced to learn how to make M and C from scratch as at that time it was far cheaper to buy Velveeta than the boxed version and my love affair with the box was pretty much doomed.)

Wanting to expand my repertoire of recipes (not only soup ones), I went to the definitive source for everything M and C - my daughter Jenny.  She quickly fired off a half-dozen wonderful sounding recipes but the one that most intrigued me (and maybe because cremini mushrooms had just arrived in my vegetable box), was this:

from Michelle at the Brown Eyed Baker

This turned out to be the most incredible M and C I've ever had!  The hubby LOVED it.  I only made a couple of changes to her recipe - some from necessity (no chives on hand), some from choice (not really a huge tarragon fan).  I did happen to have shallots in my bin and I would seriously recommend using them versus onions.   If onions is all you got, it's all you got, but since you'll probably have to run to the store to get some gruyere (it absolutely must be gruyere!!!) anyway you might as well pick up a shallot and give it a try.  I did use whole milk (because I had it on hand but I'm sure it would be nearly as delicious but obviously not as decadent with 2%) I opted for the "non-white Cheddar cheese" (aka the stuff I had on hand which I find I love better than the white version).  Note: resist the urge to bump up the cheese.  I agree it's tempting because how could more cheese be anything but more delicious?  But if you use gruyere you'll get plenty of flavor from the 6 oz. (and save some $$ - that stuff ain't the cheapest cheese from the block) and using any more cheddar (regardless of color) will result in a grainier texture initially and a greasier product when you reheat leftovers.  Instead of plain bread crumbs, I turned to my bread crumb of choice - panko (which gives a much nicer golden crust finish to the end product.  You should definitely find some panko in your store - often on the Asian/International Food aisle - and give them a try.  They make the absolute best crunchy topping on whatever you make!).
As I was adding the white wine vinegar I kept checking and rechecking the recipe - didn't she really mean just white wine?  I was dubious but I went ahead and added it as instructed and it gave just a hint of tang to the dish.  My only "disappointment" with the "ta da" moment was that I just used plain old elbow mac.  Next time I make it (and believe me there will be a next time!) I'm going to use a fancier short-cut pasta that will make the presentation as special as the taste.
~later, tw

No comments:

Post a Comment