Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Stuff of Legends: Edisto Mac

Well, local legends, at least. Local legends among the 40 or so people who have tasted it. Just trust me, my macaroni and cheese will make you want to slap your grandmother. And she'll thank you.

I finally perfected the stuff two years ago while vacationing at Edisto Beach with friends, which is why I've taken to calling it Edisto Mac. And feel special, dear reader(s), for I have not shared the full recipe with anyone but my Pug until now. Not even my husband is allowed in the circle of cheese trust. In fact, we got in an argument this time because he wanted to help and I didn't want him to because then he might steal my secrets and I'm just going to throw down my whisk and cry if you don't stop trying to steal my recipes.... but you don't need all that. You just need the recipe. OK. Deep breath. The magician unveils the prestige....

NOTE: This is not some speedy, whip it up in 30 minutes thing. It's slow. And that's why it's good. If you're looking for a quick dinner, see the next post - "Quicky Chicky Casserole". That is not a joke, by the way.

Edisto Mac   8-10 servings

Here's the ingredient roundup:
1 16-ounce package elbow macaroni
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon each good Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (I prefer Texas Pete)
12 ounces freshly grated sharp cheddar
     Plus 4 more ounces grated sharp cheddar for the top
1 8-ounce container sour cream (I prefer daisy brand)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

And here's what you do with them:
Preheat the oven to 375
Cook 1 16-ounce package of elbow macaroni in plenty of boiling, salted water for about 8 minutes. it should be pretty al dente at this point. It will be perfect by the time you're all done. Drain it in a colander set in the sink and leave it there while you cook the sauce.

Look at that lighting...pretty, pretty pasta.
My theory on leaving it there is twofold- a) it will continue to absorb water and "cook" more; b) all that excess water will be GONE by the time you add the pasta to the sauce, thereby not watering down the sauce and giving you a curdy mess.

Wipe the pasta pot dry, place it over medium-high heat, and toss in 5 Tablespoons of butter. Not, I repeat NOT margarine. Margarine is one molecule away from being plastic and I do not use it. EVER! When the butter is melted, whisk in 5 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Whisk constantly and quickly. You are creating a roux- you want it a nice blond color and nice and smooth. Then slowly add this, still whisking constantly:

Nectar of the gods, from happy cows
4 cups of milk. Yes, it must be whole milk. I suppose it doesn't have to be organic, but I promise you it tastes different, so use it if you can. Here's a picture of the roux, by the way...

Yes the spoon is blurry. It's an action shot.
Keep whisking friends, until the sauce is barely simmering and thickened. Id' say thicker than heavy cream. It should coat the back of a spoon. At this point you will add the secret ingredients. They are secret because if you tell people that's what you put in there they will look at you like you're insane. Trust me, OK?

The mac and cheese secret flavor trifecta
Yep, 1 teaspoon each of the Dijon mustard and Worcestershire, and 1/2 teaspoon of the Texas Pete. You cant taste them so much in the finished product, but they add a certain something and enhance the cheesiness factor. It's what makes mine different. And use these brands if you can. Consistency is key in copycatting recreating a dish.

Now you can take the pot off the heat and whisk in the 12 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese till it's completely melted. I ALWAYS use an 8 ounce block of Kraft Wisconsin sharp, and half an 8 ounce block of extra sharp. This time I used Cabot brand extra sharp white cheddar, and will do that from now on. It was SO GOOD... (The other half of the block gets sprinkled on top, BTW.) After the cheese is mixed in, stir in the sour cream.

Once all is well blended taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. You must taste, otherwise you will not know what it needs, right? So many people don't taste what they're cooking while they are cooking it...big mistake. Fold in the well drained pasta and taste again.

Now, I always make my mac in cheese in my Le Cruset dutch oven, which can go straight from stove to oven so this is where I would sprinkle the top with the remaining 4 ounces of shredded cheese and toss the whole thing in there, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes. If you are not blessed enough to own something you can take from stove-top to oven, pour it into a lightly buttered, deep casserole dish. Make sure it's a nice deep dish, because that's what will make the difference between a dry mac and a creamy mac. Then of course top with cheese and bake. On this occasion, I was taking it to a BBQ where I wanted to keep it warm. SO....
It ended up in the ceramic insert from my crock-pot, which is of course oven safe. I baked it as usual, then when we got to our friend's house I just plugged it in, put the lid on and set it to warm (I do this on holidays too. It will hold in the crock-pot surprisingly well).

Sadly I don't have a picture of the finished product, but trust that it was golden and bubbly and delicious.

I hope you appreciate and enjoy this recipe. As I hit the publish button, know that my hands are shaking from sharing the full recipe with the whole world. Or at least my Mom and my friend Kristi, whom I know will read it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pantry Raid: Cantina Chicken and Black Bean-Rice Pilaf

A couple weeks ago, near the end of the groceries, my husband called and this exchange took place:

Him: "What's for dinner?"
Me: (frantically opening freezer) "Um mm....Chicken!"
Him: "Well what are you doing to it?"
Me: (rifling through fridge and pantry) " Oh, you know...marinate...spicy...with a um mm...rice dish...."
Him: "Sounds great, babe.)

This is the upside of being a cooking nerd. I spend much of my downtime reading cookbooks. Yes, reading them - for fun. And I always have interesting ingredients and leftover stragglers around. I can work with what I've got (within reason). And now I've gotten into the habit of writing down and photographing some of my more successful concoctions. Here's the result of that phone conversation.

Cantina Chicken with Black Bean-Rice Pilaf

How did this baby come to be? First the chicken:

1-2  canned Chipotles in adobo (depending on how spicy you want it)
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 small white onion

combine all this goodness in a food processor or mini chopper or just chop it all up by hand as small as you can. Scrape it all into a large non-reactive bowl and add:

1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon each cumin, salt, pepper
1/2 can of beer (drink the rest while you're cooking. Also, all we had in the house was Busch Light. Use what you have...)

Now, because this was just dinner for 2, I used two bone-in chicken breasts, but this is enough marinade for 4. Anyway, loosen the skin (so the flavor can get under there) and toss them around in the marinade. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. Not a whole lot longer, because the acidity of the marinade will start to "cook" the chicken. Preheat your oven to 400.

spicy goodness...
 Bake the chicken for about 30-40 minutes, till the juices run clear and the skin is delightfully crispy and the house smells awesome. While the chicken bakes, make the rice.

1 small white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Serrano chile, seeded

mince all this up...

heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan and throw in a pinch of ground turmeric for a nice golden color (if you have it). Add the garlic, onion, and chile and sauteed a few minutes to soften. Then add 1 1/2 cups long grain rice and stir it around to coat with the oil. Follow it up with 3 cups of chicken broth (at this point I added about 2 cups of fresh baby spinach, but that's optional). Bring up to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer without stirring for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Then stir in 1 can black beans that have been drained and rinsed (the heat from the rice will warm the beans through). By now your chicken should be done!

All that's left to do is plate it up. I topped mine with some chopped fresh green onion and tomato. If I'd had some avocado I would have added that too, but then I would also bathe in guacamole if I could.

Here's the finished product again- hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
tootin' my own horn- it was so yummy! TOOT TOOT!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

I thought I'd kick this thing off with a confession: I am a culinary hypocrite. Ok well not totally, but you will hear me spout off occasionally about freshness, purity, real food, doing it all yourself, etc. But there's some things in my pantry you should know about. They are my secret weapons, ingredients that I border on being
ashamed of using because some of them go against my food snobbery. But they make food taste so good!

Sometimes it's about convenience, other times it's just about recognizing that somebody over in Alabama or up in Harlem can blend spices better than me. I'm putting all this out there so when you see them pop up in my recipes, well, just don't judge me. At the end of the day, it's all about flavor...

That's right...I use it. A LOT

First up is Lawry's Seasoned Salt. It's truly magical. This goes on pretty much anything fried in my house, as well as on lots of veggies and meats. To be honest I've probably used it on everything but cake at this point. It's a perfectly acceptable way to get a lot of flavor into something without raiding the spice rack.

The second secret ingredient, which I do not have a picture of because we ran out 3 weeks ago, is Original Southern Flavor. It's a garlicky char-broil seasoning from my hubby's home town of Selma, Alabama. We beg his mom to ship it to us roughtly every 2 months because it's not available here. Would you excuse me for a moment?

Psssssst! Evelyn...could you send us two Southern Flavors? My food, and as a result my life, is empty without it. Thanks...

 That stuff is INCREDIBLE on broiled or grilled chicken, mixed into hamburger meat, and on any veggie you want to give good country flavor to.

All hail the Queen

Sylvia has a whole line of herb blends and canned goods, but I'm partial to the original. Perfect for greens and poultry; it's pretty heavy on the thyme. I also like to toss some cut up potatoes in olive oil and Sylvias and roast them in in a nice hot oven. Oh! I add this to my pan gravy when I do cube steaks as well. it dinnertime yet? Bottom line - it really is the perfect soul-food seasoning.

Two more not-pictured staples for home cooking around here, and again I say don't judge me, Kitchen Bouquet and chicken boullion cubes. I said don't judge me... KB makes my brown pan gravy, well, brown. It's also essential in my lazy onion dip, which I will share with you eventually. The boullion cubes I like to add to canned veggies to help get rid of the tinny taste. Of course, god forbid I run out of stock, those little golden cubes come in handy.

Ok....deep breath... because up until a couple weeks ago when I tried the brisket recipe from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond ,  I swore I'd never go near the stuff... (PS it was divine)

I'm so excited the picture is blurry...

Let's be clear, if I'm going to use liquid smoke, it's gonna be the good stuff, from the grand poobah of  Texas BBQ. Mind you, liquid smoke by any name is strong stuff, so don't get all willy nilly when you experiment with it. I mostly use it in beans and meat marinades, but I'll take any excuse to add smoky goodness to something, especially when grilling season is over.

speaking of smoky goodness
Smoked salt is a gift from heaven. I am NOT ashamed of this stuff at all. Note: It's a finishing salt. That means don't toss it in the pot with what you're cooking. You sprinkle it over the finished product. My favorite use for this is on fresh sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. It's also killer on melon. And pretty much anything else.

This is just a short list of some of my favorite not-so-secret-anymore ingredients. Periodically I'll share more favorites with you. I highly reccomend you all add these to your grocery list ASAP. Except maybe the Southern Flavor. I'm not sure my mother in law would appreciate all the calls from strangers.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The first few recipes will be up soon! I'm so excited and I hope you are too, so while you wait for the launch of "Braised, Broiled, and Fried" feel free to leave suggestions and/or requests in the comments section. I really want some feedback and ideas from potential readers!