Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Art of Compromise

My dear husband is a bit of a mystery to me. If you forced him to pick a favorite food, there is no doubt in my mind that he would say cheese. (I’m betting that spending some formative toddler years in cheese-snob Switzerland has something do with it). Gooey brie, smoky gouda, creamy mozzarella – we’re talking a serious cheese love affair here. And yet, impossibly, he hates, HATES my childhood favorite, macaroni and cheese. How there isn’t a special place in his heart for that blue box is beyond me…though I suppose it has something to do with appreciating real cheese versus mystery powder. Whatever.

In any case, I decided to employ that time-immemorial tool of a happy marriage and compromise: make macaroni and cheese, but fancy-style, sans box and neon orange glow. It may not look or taste like the mac I know and love, but after a bowlful (or two or three) I’ve decided there’s room in my heart for the grown up version, too.

Grown Up Mac and Cheese
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
4 oz. fresh goat cheese
4 oz. gruyere, cut into small chunks
6 oz sharp cheddar, cut into small chunks
1 1b. elbow macaroni or cavatappi
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, bring salted water to boil. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the flour; whisk to incorporate and cook the flour, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, salt, peppers, and nutmeg, and continue to cook, whisking often, until the mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of a spoon. Reduce the heat to low and add in the three cheeses. Stir often to fully melt and incorporate.

While the cheese is melting, add the pasta to the boiling water and par-cook, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and pour into a large casserole dish. Pour the sauce over the pasta, stirring to fully coat each noodle. Add salt and pepper to the panko crumbs to taste and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Place on middle rack of oven and bake til heated through and the top is golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Care for Some Light Reading?

Check out the interview I did recently with Meredith Adams, freelance journalist and writer of brand spanking new blog Platypuss.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Calling all Oyster Lovers

It's ba-ack! On Saturday, April 18, Hank's Oyster Bar will hold its second annual Oyster Fest, this time at both the DC and new Old Town locations. From 11 AM - 3 PM, party goers get to enjoy all they can eat East and West Coast beauties (including Virginia's own Rappahannock) as well as fried and BBQ'd oysters, onion rings and fries, and lots of fancy beer. Guests from local oyster farms and beer brands will also be on hand to discuss tasty oyster-and-beer pairings.

Tickets are $65 per person and are available for presale at both locations, or by calling 202-462-4265. Get yours before they're gone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Remember that cooking class I told you I was taking - the one that focuses on mastering the basics of "serious" cooking? Well, last week's session was All About Eggs. "Eggs?" you say, "but eggs are...just eggs." Well yes, I admit, eggs are pretty darn basic, but that was the whole point - that eggs, in all their humble glory, are one of the main building blocks of many celebrated French dishes. Think satiny creme brulee, light-as-air merengue, decadant hollandaise. And on the other ends of the fancy-shmancy spectrum, eggs all by themselves are the beloved star of many a breakfast/brunch spread. So, since eggs are such a ubiquitous ingredient, I thought rather than giving you just one recipe, I'd share a bunch of tips I gleaned from class that are already paying off big time for me. I hope you find them helpful, too - and if you have any tried-and-true egg tips of your own, please share!

Egg Cooking Tips
  1. A nonstick pan is for cooking two things. Eggs is one of them. (Fish is the other).

  2. Cook sunny side up eggs on medium-low heat for a tender, delicate white.

  3. Cook over easy eggs on medium-high heat for a white sturdy enough for flipping.

  4. Cook omelettes over high heat. Yes, high.

  5. Speaking of omelettes, here's how to make a perfect one: add a little butter to a hot, nonstick saute pan. Pour in lightly beaten eggs (enough to completely cover the bottom of your pan). Immediately scramble your eggs with a fork to help them cook through quickly. When they are halfway set, pat them down with the fork to create an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in shredded cheese and any other filling ingredients. With one hand, hold the pan's handle like a dagger (i.e., at a sharp angle) and with your other hand, use a spatula to slowly roll the omelette out of the pan onto a heated plate. The whole process should take about a minute tops. Ta-da!

  6. When a recipe calls for whipping egg whites, like for a souffle, do it slowly. Think of blowing bubbles with a straw into a glass of milk. If you do it fast, you get big bubbles that disappear quickly. If you do it slow, you get tiny bubbles that stick around for awhile. You want those small bubbles for sustained lift.

  7. Older eggs are best for hard boiling - something about how they have more space between the shell and the goo, making for easier peeling.

  8. When cracking eggs, always do it on a flat surface. Though washed, egg shells are where bacteria can reside, and cracking on the side of a bowl makes it easier for the egg itself to come in contact with the outer shell. (Trust the chef on this one. No one likes salmonella).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Back to the Kitchen

How's that old saying go? "When the going gets tough, the tough order takeout." Something like that.

If you haven't noticed, I haven't been doing much cooking lately. I'm the first to admit that when schedules get hectic with work and family and friends and - bleh - the gym, cooking often slips off my to-do list. But I'm putting a stop to that this week, and reminding myself that cooking isn't just another item to be checked off, but my time to unwind and engage in an activity that I actually enjoy doing. Take last night - risotto, while definitely not difficult, is not just a phone-it-in type of dish. It is, however, some serious gastro-therapy, and just what I needed to remind myself that a little time in the kitchen is always worth the effort.

Risotto with Mushrooms and Prosciutto
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4-4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, hot
1 cup sauteed mushrooms (recipe here)
3 strips prosciutto, chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Add the shallot and sweat until the shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes (do not brown). Add the white wine, stir to deglaze the pan, and let the wine cook off til the pan is nearly dry. Add another tablespoon of butter, melt, and then add the arborio rice. Stir thoroughly to coat each grain with butter. Add a cup of hot stock and stir often until the stock has soaked into the rice, about 5 minutes. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and creamy and you've used about 4-4 1/2 cups of stock (it should take 20-25 minutes).

Fold in the grated cheese, then add the mushrooms, prosciutto and salt and pepper to taste.