Pickled Jalapeños (Small Batch)

Oh no, I forgot to get jalapeños during my weekly trek to the toilet paper store, er, I mean grocery store.

The good thing is that I have some fresh jalapeños and vinegar and sugar.  Pickled jalapeños only take a few minutes to make and they can be just as good as store bought.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs white vinegar

3 Tbs water

1/2 tsp sugar

1 garlic clove, smashed

2 fresh jalapeños, sliced

Pinch of salt

Directions:

Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a small microwave safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave until the mixture begins to boil.  Carefully remove the bowl and add the garlic, jalapeño and pinch of salt.  Wait 10 to 15 minutes and enjoy some tangy peppers!

Sopapillas (with Apple Syrup)

Special occasions call for special meals.  When I make a special Mexican dish, I like to make homemade flour tortillas.  When I make homemade tortillas, I sometimes make sopapillas, because sopapillas are made from the same tortilla dough.

Sopapillas are Mexican pastries that are quickly fried in hot oil and served warm, with honey. 

Once in a while wires get switched and everything gets thrown into reverse. 

Several days ago, I made an apple crumble and I challenged myself to use 100% of the apples during the process.  One of the results was an unexpectedly delicious apple syrup.  The aroma, taste and color of the syrup was reminiscent of floral honey.  I couldn’t wait to try the syrup in a recipe where honey is normally used.

It didn’t take long to find a way to highlight the apple syrup.  That’s when my usual thought process switched into reverse. 

Sopapillas are made from tortilla dough and, since I was going to need to make tortilla dough, why not make make some homemade tortillas?  And, since I was going to have homemade tortillas on hand, why not make some Mexican food?

If you want to see my recipes for apple syrup and homemade tortillas click on these links:

Apple Syrup

Homemade Tortillas

Ingredients:

1 lb. prepared flour tortilla dough

2 cups cooking oil

¼ cup powdered sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon powder

½ cup apple syrup (or honey)

Directions for making sopapillas:

Add oil to a large, deep skillet.  Set heat to medium.

Mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball and place it on a floured work surface.

Using your hand, press down on the dough to form a disc. 

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a larger, thinner disc.  I suggest rolling it out to ¼” thick, or thinner.  I like to roll out the dough very thin. 

Using a pastry cutter, slice the disc into quarters.   

Carefully transfer the cut pieces of dough to the hot skillet, one at a time.  Avoid crowding the pan.  I usually make 3 sopapillas at a time. 

With a large cooking spoon, ladle hot oil over the sopapillas while the fry in the oil.  The sopapillas should begin to puff up quickly.  After about 30 seconds, turn the sopapillas over and cook for another 30 seconds. 

Carefully remove the sopapillas to a paper towel lined plate. 

Transfer the sopapillas to a serving platter and dust them lightly with powdered sugar.

Serve warm with copious amounts of apple syrup!

Drizzle the syrup over the sopapillas or tear off the corners of the sopapillas and drizzle some syrup directly into the sopapilla.  It’s okay, I won’t tell.

Apple Crumble

I bought a large bag of Gala apples about two weeks ago and promptly put them in the crisper drawer in my refrigerator.   Every time I open the refrigerator I see them and I am reminded that I need to do something with them. 

Today seems like the perfect day to use them.  Even though they have been kept cool and they still feel crisp, they won’t last forever.  On top of that, I want something to do at home, so that I am not tempted to join the frenzied mob who are in panic mode as they rush to the store to empty the shelves of toilet paper and sanitizer. 

Toilet paper, really?!  If I was preparing for an emergency quarantine, toilet paper might make my it on my list of “100 things I need” but it would be pretty far down on the list.  People are weird.  I should know…I’m people, too. 

I don’t want to make light of the situation surrounding the virus that has recently been declared a pandemic event.  It’s serious business.  People want to stay healthy and invisible threats, like viruses, play on our fears. 

So, with that in mind, I want something to keep me occupied in the safe, confines of my home.  I also want to stretch my resources to their fullest potential, which means that I don’t want to waste anything.  If I wind up being confined to my home for a while, I want to be prepared and I want to be frugal.

Today is the day I will use those apples and I will use every part of them.  I will save the peels to make apple chips and I will save the cores to make apple syrup.  I will use the stems…ok, I won’t be using the stems but I definitely could.  I could glue the stems together to make little stick-figure people and animals.   Maybe next time.

Apple Filling Ingredients:

2 lb apples

1 Tbs white flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs lemon juice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Topping

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 cup butter, melted

¼ tsp salt

Directions:

Set oven to 350°

Peel apples and cut into ½” pieces.

Place apple pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle with the flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Mix briefly with a spatula.  Add the lemon juice and toss. Spread the apple mixture across the bottom of a 2 quart baking dish.

Add all of the topping ingredients, except the melted butter, to a bowl.  Mix with a spatula. 

Add the melted butter and mix until all of the dry ingredients have absorbed the butter. Spread the mixture over the apples.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  This allows the apple filling to congeal. 

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a glass of cold milk.

Apple Peel Chips

Ingredients:

Apple peels from 7 or 8 apples

1 tsp lemon juice

2 Tbs sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cardamom

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Toss to coat the apple peels.

Spread the apple peels on a parchment paper lined baking tray.

Bake at 300° for about 15 minutes.  Turn the peels over and continue backing for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow the peels to cool.

Apple Syrup

The syrup produced by this recipe is very close to the color, consistency and flavor of honey.  I will definitely use it as a substitution for honey in some future recipes.

Ingredients:

Apple cores from 7 to 8 apples

½ lemon, juice and peel

1 small star anise (or 1/8 tsp anise seed)

White sugar (amount needed is described in the directions)

Directions:

Add apple cores, lemon juice and lemon peel to a small saucepan.  Cover with water and simmer at low heat for 1 hour. 

Strain the solids and reserve the liquid.  Return the liquid to the saucepan and turn heat to medium.  Reduce by one half.

Carefully pour the hot liquid into a heat resistant measuring cup.  Take note of how much liquid you have.   You will be adding twice that amount of sugar to the pan.  Return the liquid to the saucepan and add then add the sugar.  I wound up with 3/4 cups of liquid so I added 1 1/2 cups of sugar.

Simmer for about 5 minutes at medium heat while whisking.  When the liquid begins to bubble and froth forms, turn the heat off and remove from the pan from the heat.  Test the syrup with a spoon.  If the syrup clings to the back of the spoon, the syrup is done.  If the syrup seems too runny, return it to the heat for another minute or two.  Be careful not to overheat, unless you want to make hard candy!

Remove syrup and allow to completely cool before placing it in a storage container.  The syrup will continue to thicken as it cools.  The syrup should last for a few weeks in a refrigerator. 

Chi-Fri (chī – frī)

There’s really only one thing a good Texas boy can do after committing a sin, like adding beans to chili.  Seek redemption!  This is a Texas classic:  chicken fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes, turnip greens and Texas toast.  As you might recall, I used Shiner Bock beer in that chili and although this recipe doesn’t call for beer, Shiner Bock is the common thread that ties these two posts together.

Any decent diner or restaurant in Texas will serve up a good chicken fried steak.  One such restaurant, in Shiner, Texas, was noteworthy.  My family and I had just finished taking a guided tour through the Spoetzl brewery, where they make Shiner Bock, and we stopped off at local restaurant for lunch.  Any time we go back to Texas to visit we look for good smoked beef brisket and chicken fried steak.  As it happened, the restaurant served chicken fried steak.  My wife opted for what the menu referred to as the “ladies portion”.  It was half the cost of the “regular” chicken fried steak.  The server came out with a 14 inch oval platter with mashed potatoes and green beans and a monstrous portion of chicken fried steak that was so large that it hung over the sides of the platter.  We all had a good laugh.  I asked the waitress what the regular chicken fried steak looked like and she pointed to one that was being made for someone else.  It was twice the size of the ladies portion.  Insane!  But that’s Texas for you.  We all shared the chicken fried steak, since the portion was large enough to feed a small army.  It was superb…one of the best I’ve ever had. 

Chicken Fried Steak

I have to say, the chi-fri I made this time around was really good.  The cubed steak was tender and the breading had a good crunch and it clung to steak like a champion!  I’ve included some photos, along with some recipes, but I have to admit that I stopped snapping pictures along the way.  Sometimes it’s best to cherish the simple, beautiful moments in life.

Ingredients:

2 lbs cubed beef steaks (1/4” thick):

This can be 4 steaks at ½ lb each or 8 steaks at ¼ lb each

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

1 Tbs Tabasco sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups cooking oil

For the gravy:

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Set up a 3-stage dredging station:  steak, flour and buttermilk.

Place the cubed steaks on a plate.

For the dry dredge, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pepper, and salt.  Place the mixture in a large, shallow bowl.

For the wet dip, add buttermilk, egg, Tabasco sauce, and garlic to a large shallow bowl.  Stir to mix.

Dredge each steak in the flour and pat the steaks, to make sure they are completely covered.  Shake off excess flour and dip the steaks in the buttermilk mixture and transfer back to the flour for another coating.  Shake off excess flour.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to medium/hot (325°).  Gently lay the steaks in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.  Do not crowd the skillet.  Place the finished steaks on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  

Once all of the steaks are done, drain the oil from the skillet, reserving 1/4 cup of the oil and some of the crunchy bits.

Gravy

Return the skillet to stove at medium/low heat and add the reserved oil. Whisk the ¼ cup flour into the oil.  Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to break the solids and mix into the gravy.  Stir in the milk and raise the heat to medium.  Whisk the gravy while it simmers and thickens.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Season the gravy with a little salt and pepper.   Pour the finished gravy into a serving bowl and yes, you may lick the spoon!

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are simply the leafy green tops and stems of turnips.  They are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.  Giving them a quick sauté will remove much of their bitterness.  Once cooked, they are similar to cooked spinach in texture and taste.  Many people add salt to greens but it’s really not necessary since they are high in sodium.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs olive oil

½ cup onion, julienne cut

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chicken stock (I used ½ cup ham stock and ½ cup water)

1 Tbs sugar

½ tsp Cajun seasoning

2 slices of thin cut bacon

1 bunch of turnip greens

Directions:

Soak the turnip greens in lots of cold water.  Swish the greens around to remove any sand or dirt.  Rinse the greens and set aside.

Fry the bacon just long enough to produce a little bacon fat.  Don’t overcook the bacon.  Remove the bacon and set aside to cool.  Leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Add the olive oil, onions and garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat, in a large skillet.  Sauté until the onions are soft.

Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the skillet

Add the chicken stock, sugar and Cajun seasoning.  Stir for minute to dissolve the sugar.

Rough-chop the greens and add them to the hot skillet.

Stir and cook for a minute or two.  The greens will wilt quickly.   Turn the greens out to a serving bowl.

Serve with hot pepper sauce (green Tabasco peppers in vinegar)

Texas Toast

Texas toast means thick, sliced white bread.  Yes, white bread; none of that healthy whole-grain stuff!  If you want the real Texas chicken fried steak experience you have to do it right!  If you’re particularly health-conscious, eat a bunch of salads and fruit during the week after your Chi Fri and you’ll be OK.

Ingredients:

10 slices of thick-cut white bread

1/2 cup butter, melted

Garlic salt, about 2 Tbs

Directions:

Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Butter melts very quickly in a microwave so be careful! 

Lay the slices of bread on a work surface, such as a cutting board.

Liberally brush the melted butter on both sides of the bread.  Sprinkle garlic salt on one side of each slice.

Grill the bread in a hot skillet.  After about one minute, rotate the bread in the skillet to brown the bread evenly.  Turn the bread over and grill the other side.  Remove and serve warm.

Burritos de Carne Asada con Papas Pequeñas

Steak Burritos with Little Potatoes

I’m on a Tex-Mex kick again…who would have guessed!

Technically, this wasn’t carne asada because I didn’t grill the meat.  I seared the meat in a cast iron skillet at high heat, which is close enough for me.  Secondly, carne asada usually is prepared with a dry rub on the meat.  I marinated the beef in guajillo and ancho chile sauce for a few hours.  It might be more correct to say that I made bistec en salsa guajillo.  “Pero, “Carne asada” suena más emocionante!”  Which is to say, Carne asada sounds more exciting!

The potatoes used in this recipe came from my favorite grocery store, ALDI.  The  24 ounce bag contains a variety of bite sized potatoes, ranging from white, yellow, red, brown and purple.  They bake quickly in the oven and they come out of the oven crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Ingredients for the carne asada:

1 ¼ lbs top round beef steak (thinly sliced)

16 oz enchilada sauce (guajillo and ancho chiles this time, but canned is perfectly fine!)

1 Tbs cooking oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 ripe tomato, diced

3 large flour tortillas (burrito sized)

6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Ingredients for the potatoes:

24 oz bite sized whole potatoes

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp chile powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Directions:

Slice the raw steak, thinly. 

Marinate the steak in the chile guajillo sauce for 30 minutes, or longer.

In a large skillet at medium/low heat, add the onion and jalapeño until the onions begin to turn translucent. 

Add the garlic powder, cumin and diced tomato.   Simmer at low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. 

While the sauce simmers, prepare the potatoes.

Wash, rinse and drain the potatoes.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil, garlic powder, chile powder, paprika, cumin, salt and black pepper.

Scatter the potatoes across a parchment paper lined baking tray and bake at 350° for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes can be cut easily with a knife.  Keep warm until serving.

Remove the cooked sauce to a bowl.

Add the marinated beef to the skillet and sauté at very high heat for 2 minutes.  Reserve the marinade.

Remove the beef and keep warm.

Reduce the beef juices by stirring at high heat for a few minutes. 

Add the sauce back to the skillet, with the reduced beef juices.   Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes.

Chop the beef and return the beef to the skillet.

Divide the beef in the skillet evenly, according to the number of burritos that you are preparing.  I am making three burritos.

On a clean work surface, assemble the burritos.  Add the beef and roll the tortillas.

Add the guajillo marinade to the skillet and cook at high heat for a few minutes to thicken the sauce (and to kill any bacteria).

Reduce the heat to low and add the burritos to the skillet.  Roll the burritos in the sauce to cover all sides.

Top with cheese.

Move the skillet from the stove top to the oven and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.  Remove the burritos from the oven and keep warm.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and turn out to a serving dish.

Serve with refried beans and a simple salad.

Salut!

Pear Tart: Good Things Gone Bad… and then Good Again

It all started so innocently.  I just wanted to find a way to use some pears.  “How about a tart,”  I thought. 

A true tart has exposed fruit filling on top.  I actually made a pie, since I used a top crust.  But, I called it a tart anyway because I’m a rebel.

Ingredients for the pie crust:

½ cup lard

¼ cup butter

3 cups flour

¾ tsp salt

¼ cup cold water

Ingredients for the pie filling:

8 Bartlett pears

Juice of ½ lemon

3 Tbs flour

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cardamom

Ingredients for the egg wash:

1 egg, beaten

1 Tbs sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Cut butter into smallish pieces chill in the freezer, along with the lard, for about 20 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together. 

Cut butter and lard into flour.  Continue to use a cutting action until the flour mixture resembles corn meal, in texture.  Cover and return to refrigerator to chill.

Rinse, wash and peel pears.  Quarter the pears by cutting the pears in half, lengthwise and then cutting them in half again.  With a  paring knife, cut a small arc across the ridge of the slice pear to remove the seeds and hard membrane. 

Add the pear pieces to a large mixing bowl.  Add juice of ½ lemon and toss the pears to coat.  Set aside.

Mix together 1 tablespoon flour, ½ tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp cardamom in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the mixture over the pears and give the pears a few tosses.

Remove flour mixture from refrigerator.  Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Gently incorporate the water and continue adding water until the dough begins to hold together.  Divide the dough into two equal parts.  Set one part aside. 

Lay one of the dough halves onto a lightly floured surface.  Form the dough into a ball and press down to flatten into a disc.  Turn the disc over and roll out with a rolling pin.  Start in the middle of the disc and roll toward the edges.  Continue rolling until disc is 10” to 11” wide. 

Center the pie crust on a 9” glass pie pan.  Press the dough down gently to conform to the pan.  Pour the pears into the pie pan.

Roll out the other half of the dough and center it on top of the pears, in the pie pan.  Press the two pie crusts together at the seams to seal them, or use a fork or other tool to seal the edges.

Prepare the egg wash for the pie crust by whisking and egg in a small bowl.  Apply the egg wash with a pastry brush.  Sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon on top.

Place the pie pan on the middle rack of a 400° oven.  Bake for 30 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350°.  Bake for another 20 minutes. 

Rest the pie pan on a cooling rack for an hour before slicing.  The pie filling will thicken as it cools. 

This is when things took an unexpected turn.  I was impressed with how well the crust baked.  I could rotate the pie within the pie plate with just a little effort which meant that the crust did not stick to the pie pan, while it baked.  I decided to invert the pie pan and inspect the bottom pie crust.  I figured that I had already taken pictures of the competed pie so I had nothing to lose.  Once I had the pie resting  upside down on a cutting board, I felt along the surface of the crust.  It didn’t feel as crisp as the top crust, which makes sense, because it wasn’t exposed to air while it baked. 

The oven was still hot and I wanted to give the pie a few more minutes in the oven to crisp the bottom crust.  I inverted the pie again and set it on a metal rack.  As I took the metal rack to the open oven, the pie slid off and crashed onto the open oven door.  It all happened so quickly, yet it seemed like slow motion at the same time.

The pie was a total wreck.  There was no way to hide the massive damage.  It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even find time to curse.  I just stood there and stared, numb and unblinking.  I grabbed a piece of pear that had  broken free from the crust and tasted it and I came up with a plan.

Pear Tart a la Mode

Ingredients:

1 broken pear tart

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tbs hot water

½ gallon, high quality vanilla ice cream

Directions:

Break apart a pear tart and put the chunks in large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Heat 1 cup brown sugar in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan, at medium-low heat.  When the sugar melts, reduce heat to low and stir for one minute.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Carefully add the hot water.  It will sputter and put on a spectacular show.  Return the pan to low heat and stir for another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the sugar has turned reddish brown.  Remove and cool.  The cooled sugar should have a crunchy quality to it.

Put 1 ½ cups of the broken pear tart in a large serving bowl.  Add 1 large scoop of ice cream (about 1cup) to the bowl.  Top the pie and cake with caramelized sugar and sprinkle some raw brown sugar on top, for good measure.

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

I love the smell of smoke drifting through the neighborhood.  I especially like it when it emanates from my own backyard!  There is something about the change from summer to fall that makes me want to cook fowl outdoors.  Chicken, turkey, whatever.  This recipe combines bright citrus tones, savory spices and a gentle, smoky flavor. 

Ingredients:

2 Cornish game hens

Marinade for the hens (see below)

Marinade Ingredients:

3 cups olive oil

3 full heads of garlic, peeled and smashed

3 oranges

3 lemons

3 limes

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup rosemary, chopped

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup coarse black pepper

2 star anise pods

1 Thai cinnamon stick

Directions:

Zest the citrus fruit

Add the juice and zest from the fruit to a bowl.  Add the orange juice and oil to the bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the rosemary, salt, black pepper, anise and cinnamon. 

Add the ground seasonings to the bowl, along with the juice and zest.

finished marinade

Keep the rinds and pulp from the fruit to use as an aromatic.  In a large pot of water, add rinds and pulp.  Set heat to very low and add other aromatics, such as cinnamon sticks, star anise, sage, all spice berries…really, anything that strikes your fancy.

Put on stove, low heat…fill the house with the aroma!

Cut the hens in half, (remove back bones and split the bird in half with a large kitchen knife).

whole hen
Pretty side up!

Marinate the chicken for 12 hours, or overnight.  Turn the chicken occasionally, to allow the marinade to soak in.

Refrigerate overnight

I used oak for the smoking process.  Oak lends a nice smoky flavor without imparting a heavy flavor.  I didn’t bother measuring or monitoring the temperature of the coals or the smoker, or the birds.  I knew that I had used plenty of coals and that the birds would cook evenly, since they were split.  Smoking meat this way is not advised but,  I happened to be in a very confident mood that day and I turned everything over to fate. 

Directions for smoking the birds:

Start a batch of charcoal for a smoker.  Hot charcoals maintain even and steady heat for the smoker and they ignite the wood, used for the smoke.  Once the coals are hot (gray), add some pieces of oak.  Let the oak char for about 20 minutes.  Add some more oak and char for another 15 minutes.  Once the wood has turned into nice coals and the smoke has thinned a little, prepare the grill for smoking.

On a clean grill, add the hens, cut side down, with leg portions pointed toward the center of the grill.  Smoke the birds for 1 ½ hours.  I finished cooking in a 300° oven for 15 minutes, just to make sure that they were cooked all the way through.

Let the hens rest for a few minutes before separating into breasts, legs and wings.

Serve with pasta with fresh tomato sauce, garden salad and warm Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Bread with pads of butter.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce:

Summer is gone but I still enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes from the garden.  That’s because I filled a 2 gallon storage bag with ripe tomatoes.  I didn’t wash the tomatoes before freezing them.  Whenever I want a tomato, I open the bag, pull one out, let it thaw at room temperature for about 15 minutes and then I rinse it under tap water.  The skin peels off right away and I’m left with a wonderful, fresh tomato.  For this recipe, I used two tomatoes.

Ingredients:

2 *fresh* tomatoes

1 lb penne rigate

1 anchovy (packed in oil)

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tsp olive oil

2 Tbs butter

½ tsp dried oregano leaves

½ tsp dried basil leaves

½ cup feta cheese

Directions:

Boil water in a large pot.  Add the penne rigate and cook to al dente.  Drain the water but do not rinse.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.

While the pasta cooks…

Chop tomatoes into ½” pieces.  Set aside.

Crush anchovy and garlic together in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, set to medium/low heat, add olive oil.  Add half of the tomatoes, garlic and anchovy. Cook down to a sauce (about 10 minutes). 

Add a cup of pasta water and cook down for another 5 minutes. 

Add the spices and butter.  Simmer for a few minutes and simmer for a few more minutes. 

Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat the pasta.

Turn out to a serving bowl and top with feta cheese.

Jalapeño and Cheddar Cheese Bread

My wife makes this bread and it doesn’t sit on the table very long!  Next time she makes it, I’ll pay better attention and share the recipe along with directions.  It’s always the highlight to any meal it accompanies!

Macaroni and Cheese with Crumbled Bacon

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I see mac and cheese like a good pair of blue jeans.  It goes with everything and any occasion.  Just as you can wear blue jeans with a worn out t-shirt, or a sweatshirt, or a pull-over sweater, or a crisply ironed shirt and tie, so goes mac and cheese. 

Mac and cheese rarely takes top billing, when it comes to planning a dinner but I guarantee that if it’s really good mac and cheese, you won’t have any leftovers.

True to my style, I prepare mac and cheese differently almost every time I make it.  I can’t tell you how many bad versions I’ve made but I can say I have made some good ones.  I have a tendency to let my free spirit roam and I start improvising, even when I have a perfectly good recipe in front of me.  I guess that’s what makes me, me.  If you want to make really good mac and cheese, follow the recipe by Kelsey Nixon, from the Food Network.  https://www.kelseynixon.com/mac-cheese/

Kelsey’s recipe is easy to follow and, as far as I’m concerned, flawless.  The secret is Muenster cheese.  Muenster cheese is perhaps the best melting cheese ever.  And, if you learn nothing else from that recipe, know that homemade mac and cheese starts with a béchamel (white sauce).  A béchamel is simply a roux with warm milk added to it.

I didn’t have Muenster on hand this time so I opted for Colby-Jack.  Both Colby-Jack and cheddar cheese melt well but if over-heated they can break down, and there goes the lovely cheese sauce. 

I should also note that I did not take photos throughout the cooking process.  I was hungry and I was in a hurry.  Such is the life of a working man.

1 Tbs kosher salt

2 cups elbow macaroni

3 strips cooked bacon

¼ cup butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk

1 tsp dry mustard (essential!)

1 Tbs hot sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces Colby-Jack cheese

In a 4 quart pot, boil water and add kosher salt.  Add pasta and cook until soft…just a bit beyond al dente.  Reserve 1/3 cup water from cooked pasta and set aside.  Strain the pasta and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, over medium/low heat add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the flour to make a roux.  Heat for just a minute or two. 

Heat the milk in the microwave, or stove top, to near boiling.  Slowly introduce 3 cups of the milk to the roux.  Turn the heat down (or off) while adding and mixing the milk.  Add the pasta water and dry mustard (and a little black pepper if you like).  Add the hot sauce and stir to combine.  Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a boil.  Once the sauce begins to boil, turn the heat down.

Set the heat to low and slowly add the Colby-Jack and sharp cheddar cheese.  Gently stir with a spatula but do not over stir.  Low heat and minimal stirring helps reduce the possibility of the sauce breaking.  Add the other cup of warm milk and gently stir.  Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta. 

Turn out to an oven proof serving bowl and place in a 350° oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with crumbled bacon

I served this with steamed broccoli, bite-sized fried chicken and crunchy, fried shrimp.