Food Drink Love

Moving on from this blog and starting something new.

You can follow me at http://fooddrinklove.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at @fooddrinklove.

Cheers!

 

Experimenting in Mac and Cheese

I am kinda obsessed with Mac & Cheese, okay I’m totally and madly in love with it. It’s my absolute favorite dish and I never tire of it. In fact, it would be my last bite before I die or at least I would hope so. I could eat it every day period.

My obsession with Mac & Cheese started with the “shells and cheese” my Mom used to make for me. We lived overseas part of my life and it was hard to come across good cheese. So Mom and I would stock up on boxes and take them back with us. I’m not talking about the blue box either, it was important that the cheese was already smooth, even if it was imitation cheese. Since then, I order it whenever I see it on the menu, I have tried recipe after recipe with all sorts of combos of cheeses, milks, pasta styles and butter or margarine and finally I found a recipe that has become my go to recipe. Now, I sometimes follow the recipe to its exact ingredients and sometimes, I change up the cheeses or type of milk. I always use butter! It’s constantly good and I have yet to find a combo that has failed me. My Mac & Cheese recipe comes from Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa’s Family Style cookbook.

Ingredients

Cook Time: 35 minutes  Yield: 6 to 8 servings

  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Note: To make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the tomatoes and bread crumbs on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.

For this experiment and in celebration of my friend Jeanine getting her personal training certification (ironic, i know, but it’s one of her favorites too), I used some fancy cheeses! Okay, I didn’t plan ahead and had little time, so I didn’t have time to get tomatoes from the grocery store. Typically I use whatever cheeses are in the fridge and this time Jeanine is one lucky lady! From my fridge, I opted for Gruyere, Cantalet and Gouda from my favorite cheese shop – Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. To keep it somewhat healthy I did use whole wheat fusilli pasta and 1% milk. But don’t worry I still used real butter! For breadcrumbs, it’s good to use fresh or even panko breadcrumbs but I used my breadcrumbs. I keep a bag of breadcrumbs in my freezer that consists of leftover breads, cracker crumbs, ground in a food processor. I draw from that bag whenever a recipe calls for breadcrumbs. It’s a tasty blend and easy!

I have a particular fondness for harder, more mature cheeses. I think it’s gotta do with the fact my parents always took me to dinner parties as a kid and I spent evenings chatting with older folks. I appreciate experience. These cheeses are complex and flavorful, ripe with experience. My kind of people, my kind of cheese! I digress.

I mixed everything as the recipe calls for (or so I thought) but after I blended the pasta and the cheese mixture together; I realized I forgot to add to the flour to the cheese mixture before pouring it into the pasta. So I added the flour a little bit at a time as I stirred the pasta and cheese together simultaneously. You don’t want to add it all at once or it will clump up. Thankfully the cheese was still hot so the flour blended in nicely. For the breadcrumb topping, I melted the butter in the saucepan I used to make the cheese mixture and quickly added the breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs not only soak up the delicious melted butter but any leftover melted cheese. Yum! Of course then spread the breadcrumb mixture across the mac and cheese in the pan. I won’t be baking this until tomorrow so its sitting wrapped in my fridge as I type. It will be enjoyed with a nice glass of red and after a toast to Jeanine’s success as a personal trainer!

A Moroccan Meatless Monday

For us carnivores the idea of going meatless and doing it on the regular basis, like every Monday, can sound lame. Or so I thought. I have been going meatless a lot lately and I have to say that when I do actually eat meat, I appreciate it more, I savor each bite, each juicy meaty morsel. I could never be vegetarian or vegan because I love meat too much but I definitely enjoy the health benefits of eating meat less.

For those who are flirting or have fully embraced going meatless on Mondays, here’s a recipe that I found years ago that I absolutely love! Unfortunately, I don’t know the original author of this recipe. But I do make variations based on the original recipe quite a bit. It’s vegetarian, even vegan and its fantastic! My full-pledged carnivore eating boyfriend requests it regularly, it’s that good. Plus the recipe makes two servings, perfect for a Meatless Monday evening!

Moroccan Chickpea and Couscous Stuffed Peppers

2 Large Red Bell Peppers
2 tsp Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Ground Turmeric
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 1/3 cup drained canned Chickpeas
3/4 cup Vegetable Broth
1/3 cup uncooked Couscous
3/4 cup Currants
2 Tbsp Hot Mango Chutney

Cut Bell Peppers in half lenghwise, discard seeds.
Arrange halves in 9 in pie plate and cover with plastic.
Microwave the halves for 5 minutes and drain liquid.
Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute Garlic for 2 minutes.
Add Cumin, Turmeric and Cinnamon for 30 seconds.
Stir in Chickpeas and broth, bring to a boil.
Stir in couscous and then remove from heat.
Cover and let stand for 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
Bake in over for 15 minutes at 350F.

Once out of the oven, spread each pepper with the Hot Mango Chutney. I usually add more than 1/2 Tbsp per pepper, because I love the stuff.

I have changed this recipe up by using different grains like quinoa, golden raisins instead of currants (though currants are my fave) and by adding more protein with nuts – I’ve added pecans, walnuts and pistachios.

Enjoy!

Mastering the Art of Paella

My friend Anu made this amazing Paella that my boyfriend still talks about to this day. Not only is he a wonderful cook but a humorous writer and a talented photographer, so I asked him to write about his experience with Paella….

“Even before Arati (that’s his lovely wife) and I went to Spain in April 2010, I had been a serious fan of Spanish food, wine, and lifestyle (call me a Spanophile). Last year I learned that every November since 2003 the Paella Lovers United (PLU) group in Austin had been holding a paella cookoff and competition. So going to Spain, one of my goals was to taste the real deal, deconstruct it and bring back some of the authentic ingredients.

From what I’ve read online and learnt in Spain, the very original paella was actually a land (turf) meat dish with rabbit and snails – basically stuff farmers could find easily in the countryside. Then other meats like chicken and duck were introduced. Later on seafood started being substituted by the Valencians and today most people think of paella as a seafood dish.

After coming back with somewhat smuggled paprika and saffron from Barcelona, I put together a team of cooking fans from my work to compete in the PLU competition. Our name? La Bomba –  a combination of the name for the Spanish rice used for paella (Bomba) and one of the  finest LDP movies ever (La Bamba). Our friend who is a brilliant designer and a screen printing enthusiast, Mari, came up with a t-shirt logo that would sum up our recipe strategy – we are going old school, baby!

La Bomba team logo designed by Mari DiGiovanni.

Our recipe strategy is to go traditional style with land meats – specifically, rabbit, duck, Spanish chorizo and pork (pork belly). Since I’ve been back from Spain, we have practiced numerous times. The first time we cooked it, we went seafood style on a small 14” pan and using risotto rice (almost blasphemous, but we were desperate) – it turned out very delicious.

First attempt: seafood paella on a gas grill – delicious! (Photo: Anu Saha)

The times after that, it has been on a giant 22” pan on an open wood fire with meats instead of seafood.

The main things you have to focus on are the following:

-  Rice:  Gotta use bomba rice – no substitutions.  The ratio is always 3 cups stock to 1 cup rice.

-  Meats:  I pick up what I can at the farmer’s market (Kocurek Family has awesome pork belly).  Rest I get at Central Market.  I never said this was going to be cheap.

-  Sofrito:  It’s a mixture of grated tomatoes, grated onions, garlic and olive oil cooked down to almost a paste and is the main flavor base for your paella.

-  Soccorat:  The hardest thing to perfect.  This is the slightly burnt but deliciously crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pan – highly prized bites.

-  Paprika:  Use only nice smoked Spanish paprika.  It will cost you a pretty penny, but totally worth it.  I got mine from the Central Market bulk foods division.

-  Pan:  It’s not too expensive to get a 22” (~$55) or 13” pan (~$19) from Sur La Table or latienda.com.

-  Heat:  Outdoor grill/firepit with wood or wood charcoal.  I use a mix.  While a gas grill or charcoal brickets may seem like a convenient shortcut, avoid the temptation.

Speaking of ‘convenient shortcuts’, there are enough Rachel Rays and Sandra Lees on TV to show you how to trivialize, butcher and drive into extinction hundreds of years of culture and tradition by taking yumm-o shortcuts – I ain’t doing it. My mama cooks the real deal, and I will do all I can to keep those amazing recipes alive. I can understand using canned stock instead of making your own – but there’s a line. [Stepping off my soapbox now].

Now for more of the actual cooking. This recipe is for a 22-inch pan. I’ve learned to cook like my mom, so pardon the lack of precise (or any) measurements.

-  4 lb tomatoes, grated – keep all the juices

-  2 medium white onions, grated – keep all the juices

-  8 cloves of garlic, minced

-  1 (2- to 2 1/2-lb) rabbit, cut into bite-size pieces

-  1 good sized duck leg cut into bite-size pieces and skin scored

-  ½ lb of pork belly, cut into bite-size portions

-  2 links of Spanish chorizo (no preservative ingredients), sliced into disks

-  1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

-  Spanish extra virgin olive oil, enough to cook with

-  Spanish smoked paprika

-  Salt

-  Black pepper

-  1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips

-  1 lb long beans

-  1 jar/can of Spanish red peppers

-  5 cups of bomba rice

-  15 cups of low sodium chicken  broth

-  Lemons, for garnish and topping

Cover all the meats with some paprika, salt, pepper and olive oil and let sit in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Get the fire going and start heating the pan on the grill. Start browning the duck with the skin side down and then turn them over. You are just looking for a good crisp skin and not trying to cook all the way. Barely crisp the pork belly because it’s most likely already a cooked or smoked meat. Similarly brown the rabbit pieces and chorizo. At this point, you should see a lot of rendered pork and duck fat. If you throw any of this delicious tasting God’s gift to mankind away, I *will* unceremoniously unfriend you on Facebook. Now is a good time to sautee any garnishing vegetables, like long beans, strips of red bell pepper, etc. Remove the meats and sautéed vegetables off to a side dish.

Now for the sofrito. In the fat in the pan, add just a bit of olive oil (please don’t call it “E-V-O-O”). Then add the grated onions (including the juices) first and keep them moving all around the pan. You want the onion to start reducing and slightly caramelizing – this should take about 8 minutes. Now add the garlic and grated tomatoes (again, with the juices), salt and some paprika. Mix it up well and keep it moving all around the pan, trying to reduce the liquid down. You can also add about half a jar of the Spanish red peppers now. In 15-20 minutes, it should start becoming a dark reddish brown paste with no liquid present. This is your sofrito – the flavor base for your paella.

Sofrito in its last stage. (Photo: Anu Saha)

In the meantime, in a small bowl, crush the saffron with the back of a spoon and dissolve it in a bit of the broth you have heating in the stock pot.

Next add the rice and mix it up well to coat all the grains with the sofrito. Mix in the meats back in at this point to also to get coated well with the sofrito. Then slowly pour in all the broth (which you should keep heated in a stock pot on the stove – never add cold stock to a hot pan of rice). Also pour in the saffron infused broth at this point. Channel your inner mason and carefully spread out the rice and meats evenly all over the pan. You won’t be able to see anything under all that broth, but have faith in your zen as you go all Japanese sand garden on this beast.

The whole thing should start coming to a slow simmer at this point. Let it sit and don’t touch it or disturb it! You want the rice to have an al dente feel to it – soft outside with a slightly firm bite to it. It should not be creamy like a risotto but not too dry. So try to keep some extra stock around to add if the rice doesn’t cook through.

After all the liquid disappears (around 15-20 minutes) give it some more time and start checking around the center and the edges for the soccorat. I like to put my nose just above different parts of the paella to try to smell that slightly burnt caramelized aroma of the soccorat.

Once you have confirmed some decent soccorat-ization, top with the beans, peppers, etc and take it off the heat. Dig in! I like to add a bit of sea salt and squeeze a bit of lemon after I serve myself some paella on my plate. And of course, get a glass of some good Spanish red wine.

Done! Have fun w/ the garnishes. (Photo: Anu Saha)

Our Spanish Wine (Photo: Anu Saha)

If you can serve this with a side of grilled and charred green onions and asparagus accompanied by a home-made romesco sauce, someone will ask you to marry them.”

(Photo: Mari DiGiovanni)

Want to try delicious paella cooked by 30 different teams, including Anu’s team La Bomba? Head on over to Paella Lovers United and buy a ticket for the November 6th, 2010 cook-off.

ALC Steaks, the round-up

This week is not only Restaurant Week in Austin, but GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up week. It’s a statewide dine-out week to support and celebrate Texas farmers, ranchers, food artisans, winemakers and brewers. Not only do you get to support these folks and their hard-work but by participating you also support your local area food banks. Do I even need to mention that you’re also supporting sustainability? It’s a trifecta of deliciousness!

To kick-off this tasty week, I visited Austin Land & Cattle, not to be confused with Texas Land & Cattle. If you want a good steak in Austin, that’s the place to go!

Arugula, Heirloom Tomatoes and Mozzarella

For starters, I sampled Arugula, Heirloom Tomatoes and Mozzarella with a White Balsamic Reduction. The mozzarella came from the Dallas Cheese Company and the rest from Frank Davis Farms in Fredericksburg, TX and McFall Creek Farms in Blanco, TX. I could have done without the arugula, but I’m not really an arugula kinda gal. The cheese was well made – great consistency and flavor and the heirlooms were lovely in the balsamic reduction. Just enough sea salt.

T-Bone Steak with Roasted Cream Corn & Sweet Potato Sticks

For the main course, I ordered the Grass Fed 1 LB T-Bone Steak with Roasted Cream Corn and Sweet Potato Sticks. The steak came from the Bastrop Cattle Company in Bastrop, TX and the corn and sweet potatoes came from Smith Farms in Elgin, TX. The steak was a little tough but that’s probably because for a t-bone I should have ordered it medium rare instead of medium. The cream corn was luscious and creamy. The sweet potato fries were lightly battered sticks of tastiness. They were nice and crispy yet soft inside. Definitely worth every calorie.

Crispy Spinach

Speaking of crispy, I sampled the Crispy Spinach that came with the Chile Rubbed Grilled Gulf Grouper. Flash frying makes the spinach become paper thin and slightly crunchy. Very interesting.

Cheesecake with Grilled Peaches

The sweet finish was ALC Homemade Cheesecake with Grilled Peaches. The cheesecake was made with organic milk from Organic Valley Farms in San Antonio, TX and the peaches were from Pedernales Valley Farms in Fredericksburg, TX (of course). The cheesecake was incredible and rich and the peaches add just a little tartness.

Throughout my meal, I enjoyed a 2009 Sangiovese from Flat Creek Estate in Marble Falls, TX. Get ready; this Friday also kicks off my favorite month of the year – Texas Wine Month!

To learn more about the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, running statewide Sept 27th – Oct 1st, visit their site.  #GOTEXAN

Austin Land & Cattle – 1205 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703 

512-472-1813 – @alcsteaks

An Urban Review

I had the pleasure of tasting Urban’s upcoming menu (launching Oct 1st) by Chef Mizael Saucedo (formerly of Bess Bistro and Fonda San Miguel).  After eating a raw lunch, I was dying for some warm “comfort” food.

Tasting Menu

Being new to the food blogging community, this was my first official tasting. Excitement isn’t a word to describe what I felt, more like elated. Reviewing the “menu”, I was overwhelmed with choices and then I quickly realized I didn’t have to pick, I was going to taste it all!

Sweet Corn Bisque w/ Roast Corn Pico de Gallo

They couldn’t have picked a better way to start but with the Sweet Corn Bisque and Roast Corn Pico de Gallo.  The pico was fresh and presented delightfully. The bisque was rich and creamy. It would be perfect for a cold day. Well, actually perfect for any day. I was sad to see it end.

Grilled Crab Cake & Texas Quail

The next course was the Texas Quail on green tomato chow chow with grits and Guajillo honey and the Grilled Crab Cake with avocado, micro cilantro and dynamite sauce. The grits were excellent. I found myself scrapping the plate to gather every last grit. The honey was beautiful. I had to look up Guajillo and found it to be a type of pepper used in Mexican cuisine. It added just a little bite to the honey. Nice. The crab cake was more like a deconstructed crab cake. It was fresh and flavorful. The dynamite sauce and avocado complimented the cake well. The cake was quickly devoured.

Texas Spinach Salad & Steak Salad

The salad course was wonderful. It consisted of all the elements I could stand behind in a salad. The Texas Spinach Salad had a warm bacon vinaigrette and sunny side up egg. I could eat salad every day if it had this bacon vinaigrette on it. The other salad was the Steak Salad on butter lettuce with candied pecans and achiote vinaigrette. The steak was tender. I would take each bite, slather the vinaigrette all over and wrap the lettuce around it. Delicious.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Next came out the Butternut Squash Risotto with wild mushrooms, sage and wilted chard. It was a nice reminder that fall was around the corner.

Seared Tuna

The Seared Tuna with fingerling potatoes and truffle vinaigrette. It had purple fingerling potatoes! What a pretty plate! Admittedly my first bite was one of the fingerling. I never had one before. Hardy.

Berkshire Prime Rib of Pork

After the tuna, I sampled the Berkshire Prime Rib of Pork with sautéed apples, pearl onions and caramelized soy. Have you had caramelized soy? It was amazing. A perfect sauce with the pork and apples. Yum!

Bar Steak

Last of the entrees was the Bar Steak – Strube Ranch flat iron steak with chile arbol chimichurri sauce. I usually like my steak bare but I really enjoyed the chimichurri sauce.  I even used it as a dipping sauce for my salt & pepper fries.

Avocado Tres Leches

The final round was the Avocado Tres Leches with sun-dried creme fraiche. What an interesting concept! I would have never thought to put those together. I recently saw a chef making avocado mousse on a cooking show and wondered how that would taste. So when I saw this on the tasting menu, I was thrilled. It was good. I caught a few hints of the avocado in each bite. I thought the sun-dried creme fraiche was lovely and I could see that translating to other dishes, not just dessert.

Overall, Urban had a tasty selection to choose from and I could see it appealing to a variety of taste buds. I found the staff to be accommodating and eager to receive feedback and answer questions. I am definitely interested in trying the brunch next. Keep you posted.

Urban, An American Grill (in the Westin) – 11301 domain drive, austin, tx 78758

http://www.urbanatthedomain.com – @urbandomain

Healthy Tex-Mex

Lunch Express at Whole Foods has become a monthly ritual for me and my girlfriends. You can’t beat a delicious cooking lesson for $18! This month, we hit up the Healthy Tex-Mex class taught by Chef Dan Marek. The menu included Mango Pico De Gallo, Spanish Rice, Portobello Mushroom and Black Bean Burritos, Sweet Potato and Corn Salad and Coconut Dulce De Leche.

I wasn’t sure what healthy aspect Chef Dan was going to incorporate since I felt the menu sounded pretty healthy. For starters, there was no cheese or dairy in any of the recipes. Everything was plant-based and natural. The corn tortillas only had corn, water and lime (Margarita Tortillas)! He also used an interesting method to replace the oil used to saute the onions. Just add water to the pan until it covers the onions. Cook the onions until the water disappears and the onions start caramelizing. Then add a little more water allowing the caramelized flavor to coat the onions. Yum! This method can be used for other veggies, bell peppers, etc.

Mango Pico De Gallo

The Mango Pico De Gallo was lovely. The mangoes were sweet and juicy but were balanced well with onions and lime juice. You could easily replace the mangoes in the recipe for tomatoes. I may try green tomatoes next time I make the recipe.  I noticed Chef Dan added cayenne pepper, surprising since there is already jalapeno in it. I didn’t taste it, but it was probably ’cause I was too busy enjoying the mangoes.

One Action Packed Plate

Our second course – Portobello Mushroom & Black Bean Burritos (ended up being tacos instead), Guacamole, Sweet Potato & Corn Salad and Spanish Rice. It was all good but I wanted more portobello mushroom and less black beans. The natural corn tortillas were a nice touch.  I definitely noticed the tortillas had more flavor than your typical corn tortilla. The tortillas do fall apart due to the lack of fat but it something I’m willing to overlook. The guacamole was chunky and tangy, just the way I like it. It helps mixing it by hand. I finished off my plate with the sweet potato and corn salad. Never had that combo before, but I dug it. The Spanish rice was more like a risotto but the creaminess hid the fact that the white rice was replaced by brown rice. It was delicious.

Coconut Dulce De Leche

Dessert was my absolutely favorite from the day. At first the presentation wasn’t really appealing but after the first bite I was hooked! I could have easily finished it in 2 secs but I decided to savor each bite. It was worth it me pacing it.

Coconut Dulce De Leche

1 Can of Coconut Milk

3 Tbsps Agave

1 tsp Vanilla

1/2 Tbsp Arrow Root

Combine coconut milk, agave and vanilla in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer, add the arrow root and stir constantly. After 10 minutes, set the heat to very low and continue to cook until caramel color appears and the sauce thickens (about an hour). You will need to continually stir the mixture so it does not stick to the pan. When reduced to a thick paste, put into small bowls (about 2 oz per bowl) and put into the freezer. After 10 minutes in the freezer, place in the refrigerator until cold. When eating, break the top with the side of a spoon and enjoy!

Frankly I can’t imagine a world without greasy, cheesy Tex-Mex but I’m willing to substitute healthy alternatives from time to time! Or maybe when I cook Tex-Mex at home for my lactose intolerant boyfriend!

Next month, I’m thinking about going raw and seeing what Chef Dan can do work Italian cuisine.

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