Tag Archives: cheese

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off, 2011

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-offAs with most epic battles, it all started with two guys kicking dirt on each other. Somehow I got stuck in the middle, and innocent (okay, not so innocent) bystander.

I posted a link to a macaroni and cheese recipe to a friend on Google+ (the geeky version of Facebook). There was a bit of debate regarding the need for bacon, and amazement that Paula Deen’s recipe didn’t include mayonnaise (everything else she makes does). The Man got involved, being a back seat driver to my online conversation, and offering the opinion that his version was the best ever, end of story. That was the equivalent of a woman asking her friend to hold her purse and her earrings. The gloves were off.

Seeking further advice on the topic, I switched to Facebook and invited my foodie friends to weigh in on mac & cheese. I was surprised that everyone seemed to have the opinion that their mac & cheese was better than anyone else’s, and IT WAS ON!

Apparently there are very strong feelings about a dish that is basically noodles and cheese and a few other things. Screw politics and religion. Bring up mac & cheese among foodies and you’re going to have an argument on your hands. I suppose it’s because this is one of the most popular comfort foods in the US.

There are variations of macaroni and cheese around the world, including Switzerland (Älplermagronen, which includes potatoes), and the Caribbean (called macaroni pie). Even the French have a version, although they tend towards a traditional mornay sauce rather than our wacky cracky American cheesiness. And as always, the Italians take credit for inventing the whole concept.

Even among our friends, there was a vocal disagreement about what ‘real’ mac & cheese was. What shape pasta? What types of cheese? How many extra ingredients could go in before it was no longer mac & cheese? So many people were in on the pasta scuffle, we had to formalize the date and time, and fortunately friends at Loosey’s arranged for us to use the bar for neutral ground. The date was set for October 9th. A month of trash-talking, spying, comparing cheeses, and testing recipes gave way to the No-Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off.

Seventeen versions of macaroni and cheese arrived to fight it out. There were a few ‘classic’ styles, but the rest were an amazing variety of flavors and ingredients, proving it’s not just cheese and noodles. Once the judges had waded through them all and gone into a back room to deliberate (and possibly throw up from that much mac & cheese), they arrived at winners for the veggie category and the carnivore category. And the best-in-show overall crown went to a version that incorporated lobster bisque into the cheesiness.

Of course the feeding frenzy after the judges were done was just as much fun. Competitors and bystanders devoured the entries, sharing foodie notes, drinking beer, and slowly clogging their arteries in a convivial atmosphere. Eventually everyone had to sit down or go home for a nap. That’s a lot of carbs and dairy.

The casserole dishes were barely being scraped clean when conversation turned to the next cook-off. The what? Yep, the general populace wanted another food fight. Sometime around the holidays. So stay tuned to see what the next competition is about. I’m thinking pie. I like pie.

Many thanks to Loosey’s for becoming our Mac & Cheese Thunderdome. :-)

[Girl21]


Stuffed Mushrooms, Easy Appetizer

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms

There’s that classic movie moment where a guy is shooting a gun and runs out of bullets. He looks at the gun as it goes ‘click’, and then proceeds to throw it at the guys rushing him. And we all know that is a stupid move. That is me with these stuffed mushrooms.

When The Man gets home from work late and he’s starving, I try to have something for him to snack on if dinner isn’t completely ready. I can hear his stomach rumble as he casually saunters into the kitchen under the guise of seeing what’s for dinner, his eye on the tortilla chips. I usually pull the mushrooms out of the oven and wave them at him with the same unrealistic hope as the guy that throws his gun when he runs out of ammo. It’s more nutritious than chips, and it keeps him busy trying to eat something delicious but super hot.

The fun thing about these mushrooms is that you can get creative and change the stuffing depending on what you have on hand. And you can make as many or as few as you need. And they are super easy to prepare.

I use baby bella mushrooms (immature portobello), but you could get away with any of the small capped mushrooms that have a thicker flesh and cup shape. Clean them and gently remove the stem. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish, and sprinkle that with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, and black pepper. Carefully set the mushrooms top down in the oil so they are nestled together, then salt and pepper them again. I like to put a few drops of lemon juice into each cap, a sprinkle of more Italian seasonings, then a small chunk or sliver of fresh garlic.

If you have the pre-crumbled blue cheese, you can put a few good size chunks of soft cheese into each cap, or any kind of softer cheese would work nicely. Then on top of each little cup, lay a slice of melty cheese just to generally cover the top. Sharp cheddar is a standard, but if I have a gouda, I like that best. A little more garlic powder and pepper on top of the cheese, and maybe a dusting of parmigiana or pecorino. Pop that into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the caps look a bit wrinkled from the moisture baking off. Let them cool before tossing them at the hungry people rushing you for dinner.

Mushrooms are a good source of protein, as well as a few other vitamins and minerals. And then when you add good stuff like garlic, you’re practically a health-food nut when you eat these. (Keep telling yourself that!) Plus these are fast and easy but look great as an appetizer or finger food.

Instead of lemon juice and garlic, try a base of tomato sauce (great if you’re already making pasta for dinner), pesto, or even a touch of ginger and thinly sliced apple (omitting the Italian seasonings and garlic for more pepper and lemon juice). I’ve put in thinly sliced fresh spinach, olives, fresh basil, caramelized onions, or even a few drops of hot sauce or mustard depending on the flavors of the main dinner menu. And of course you can play with the cheese options. Because cheese is always welcome.

They do store and re-heat well but are best served fresh out of the oven to a hungry audience. Have a peak in the package when you’re buying them so you don’t get the huge ones that will cause some poor sod to look like a trout while trying to eat the whole thing though.

[Girl21]


Chèvre, a.k.a. Goat Cheese

Chevre, aka Goat Cheese

Leave it to the Welsh. Their version of goat cheese is called Pantysgawn. (Say it out loud if you have to.)

Chèvre is goat milk cheese. Many cultures have their own version of goats cheese because, let’s face it, humans and goats go back a long time. Because of the many different ways of turning the milk to cheese, there are many variations in consistency and flavor. Thus you have the above Welsh version of the cheese. Another cousin which is quite popular is feta, a Greek combination of goat and sheep milk made into a dense block.

Goat milk is much more popular worldwide than cows milk because it’s more accessible and keeps longer without refrigeration. It’s also closer to human milk than cow milk is, so easier to digest for children, the ill, and the elderly. And those of you with lactose intolerance make note of this because you’ll be much better off if you fall off the wagon with goat or sheep (milk products, I mean).

If the accent over the e didn’t give it away, chèvre is the French version of fresh goat cheese. It’s soft and bright white like cream cheese, but dry like a very smooth ricotta. Except for the mild furry, barnyard flavor that is the cornerstone of any goat cheese flavor curve, chèvre is quite mild. It is rich without being buttery, and has a fresh, grassy flavor profile that makes it ideal for including with other delicious foods rather than on its own. It is a pacifist in the cheese family. It just wants everyone to get along.

A favorite way to elevate chèvre is to mix it with seasonings and spread it on some lovely rosemary bread from Uppercrust. It’s handy that you can get just the right size slab of chèvre at Uppercrust (in fact you can get it pre-seasoned, but we prefer our version because it has so much flavor). It’s best to make this a few hours before you intend to use it so it can marinate and release the flavors. Take a lush slab of the chèvre (about 8 oz. give or take), and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of a general Italian seasonings. And the key is at least four cloves of fresh garlic, pressed. Simply stir to combine well and refrigerate for a few hours.

Instead of just slathering it on bread with the finesse of a fifteen-year-old learning how to use cologne, try slicing the rosemary bread pretty thin and toasting it in the oven for a few minutes before spreading the chèvre on the warm bread. Try adding some marinated asparagus or very thinly sliced gouda.

You can also slice chèvre and bake it on the bread, with a sprinkling of oil and seasonings. It can be tricky since goat cheese doesn’t melt much, but it does get toasty and dry. Try it fresh and plain on a spinach walnut salad, or even with pears and apples. It compliments foods with mild but persistent flavors without overwhelming them.

It’s a lot of fun to experiment with chèvre as an alternative to cows milk cheeses. French chèvre is somewhat easy to find and is available under many names because there are many regionally protected varieties. Besides feta from Greek tradition, you could find goat cheese from several other origins such as Norway, China, and Australia… and of course the Welsh always have Pantysgawn.

[Girl21]