04 January 2012

The 2012 Menu

I've set a bunch of food goals for myself this year. One is to make macarons! One is to put a dent in the manuscript for my family cookbook (which is proving to take a million years longer than originally planned). And one is to develop a menu for my home, a collection of dishes that are easy to make, that use fairly simple ingredients, and taste really really delicious.

I often find myself throwing together random leftover ingredients (mmm tofu and beans and . . . canned tomatoes and whatever else!) just in order to fuel my way through another weekday night; the results are often edible and just FINE, but. Why not put in a little more effort, memorize a few really good recipes and keep their ingredients on hand to increase overall deliciousness in my life?

I spent a good chunk of last month caramelizing onions for multiple French Onion Soups and Alsatian Onion Tarts; I believe both of these will be making it onto the menu. Another will be this vegetarian curry, and this dish also just made the cut:

Macaroni & Cheese.

Based on a recipe from my cooking class, this starts with:

• butter (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
• 2 Tbsp chopped onion
• 1/2 rib celery, chopped
• 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
• 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

Sweat the above ingredients. If you don't have them all, you can substitute other veggies. (This time, I used onion, zucchini and jalapeño pepper.) Oh and start boiling some macaroni. (1 cup? 1 1/2 cups? Somewhere around there.)

Add the seasoning!
• salt
• pepper
• smoked paprika
• cayenne pepper

And then: make the roux.
• 2 Tbsp flour

Make sure the flour is completely mixed in and that the flour flavours get cooked out of it before proceeding with the liquid. Which is:

• 1/4 cup of some kind of alcohol
• 1 1/4 cups milk

Note: the alcohol can be any kind of beer, red or white wine, or vermouth. I used vermouth, since I just keep a bottle of it in the fridge for cooking. (If you have vermouth it keeps better in the fridge; the alcohol content isn't high enough to let it sit around on the counter for months and months)

Note #2: I like to add just a bit of the alcohol at first and mix well as I add more and more, to watch the roux gradually develop. It's because I recently read an essay about sauce in Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking and it got me really excited about the sauce process. Sauce! Also, let the alcohol cook off a bit before tempering in the milk.

(P.S. Another new year's food resolution: to start paying double the price for creamy organic Avalon Dairy milk, and never look back.)

Also add this:
• pinch of thyme

So, let it simmer a bit, and then temper in the CHEEEEEEEESSSSEEEEE! Cheese.
• 3/4 cups shredded cheese

This can be a mix of any number of flavourful cheeses, depending on how rich you are at the moment. I just used 2 different brands of extra old cheddar this time.

So, once you're happy with the consistency of the sauce and its seasoning (you likely needed to add more salt at some point), pour the macaroni, which by now has been cooked and drained, into a casserole dish, pour in the cheese sauce, mix it around, and sprinkle overtop with panko crumbs and more shredded cheese.

You can now turn on the light in the oven and watch with glee as the panko crust broils to a golden brown.

Food time! Pair with a glass of the beer or wine you used to make it. You should probably eat a salad along with it too. But you probably won't. Wine is made of fruit. And remember those veggies you put in at the beginning. Everything is FINE.

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