Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mac n Cheese Confessional

Every once in a while, Renée and I cook without measuring or weighing or writing things down.  And we love it.  We glance at each other as we toss in a handfull of that, stick our fingers in and add another shake or two, and giggle.  Are we going to try to guess after the fact just how much my two pinches plus her three make in teaspoons?  Can we count by how many times the kids asked is it ready yet how long we baked that for?  Or is this just going to be the total freedom of no reporting, a kind of secret meal?  And if it turns out to taste really totally amazing, we get to either lament our lacadasicality or appreciate the ephemeral quality of culinary perfection.  But really, what we do on our own, off the computers and in the kitchen, is to re-approximate accidental wonders, and find again exactly what was so perfect not because we get the amounts and times exact, but because we capture again the combination of good sense, good luck, and good taste that make all freestyle cooking work.  It can only be passed on as suggestions.

Suggestions for Mac n Cheese

Renée bought the spaghetti squash to make spaghetti squash and meatballs, but then found it unappealing.  She passed it on to me.  I thought it would be great, but my son did not.  It sat on my counter for a few more weeks.  We were going to make mac n cheese.   If it works in spaghetti and meatballs, why not in mac n cheese?  Cut, seeded, and roasted for about an hour, it blended in easily and added a wonderful rich nutty quality.  Here's what it was blended into:
boiled pasta and a roux (melted butter, flour, and milk) with every kind of leftover grated cheese we had (gouda, cheddar, pepper jack, blue, brie, meunster, and a few others whose labels were missing) mixed in till it was the consistency of fondue, plus a few dashes of Tapatío (Mexican hot pepper sauce).  Then we layered the pasta mixture in a pan with two more layers of grated cheese: pasta mix, grated smoked gouda, pasta mix, grated aged cheddar.  And we baked it for about a half hour.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Raspberry Rhubarb Pie

A first real spring weekend with sun enough to wear t-shirts, go into the yard, and root around! The garlic has sprouted in surprisingly neat little rows, the chives are long enough to cut, the herbs are coming back to life, and the weeds are really quite happy. OK, the rhubarb is just a cluster of little red nubs, but when I look at it the back of my tongue gets warm and the tip curls up just like when I put them fresh cooked in my mouth. And we really have a few bags of raspberries left from last fall’s freezing frenzy. Raspberry and rhubarb have that same perfect blend of tart and sweet that do strawberry and rhubarb, then add the slightly deeper red look and taste of raspberries, and, mmmmmm. We meant to save the raspberry juice and make raspberry whipped cream for the top, but we forgot. It’s in the back of the fridge for raspberry rhubarb royale later in the week!

Raspberry rhubarb pie

3 c. frozen raspberries. 15-20 min till well melted. Strain and save juice,
Mix with:
1 cup sugar
4 big stalks rhubarb chopped into 1/4 inch pieces.
Pour into a pie crust (recipe follows).

Cover with full or lattice top.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

This is by far the flakiest, most tender crust ever.  It's basically the Joy of Cooking recipe, with the special technique that (serendipity?) both our moms used:

For a top and bottom crust:
2 cups flour
2 sticks cold butter
1/3 cup ice water

Put the flour in a large bowl.  Slice the butter as thinly as you can and drop it into the flour.  Using two butter knives, slice crosswise so the flat sides of the knives rub against each other, until the butter is cut into about 1/8" pieces.  Then very quickly, pull up small amounts of the mixture between flat palms that you rub against each other.  DO this 5-10 times.  The butter should NOT be all perfectly mixed in.  Pour the ice water into the middle of the bowl and again very quickly use the tips of your fingers to just barely mix it all the way through.  Flour a thin dish rag.  Put half of the dough into the center.  Pull the edged of the rag up to form a tight ball of dough.  Flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand.  Open the rag, lightly fout the top of the dough, and roll to just a little larger than the size of your pan.  Lift the dough using the rag and flop it over the pan.  Pull the rag off.  Repeat for top crust, or after rolled cut into strips and weave a lattice, starting with one strip in each direction and slowly building out both directions at once.  Let the strips hang over the edge.  Once the lattice is totally built, roll the edges of the bottom crust over the edges of the strips.