Monday, January 20, 2014

Classic Mac & Cheese

This is more than comfort food - it's nap food.  It is indeed, as its nickname implies, so rich and filling that more often than not it puts me and my husband into a food coma after we lick the last bits of delicious velvety cheese sauce from our forks.

Since it's a very basic recipe, its success depends on the quality of ingredients you choose to use. I make this when I have knobs of pretty great cheeses hanging around in the fridge that need a nice vehicle to take them out entirely... a good slab of intense Quebec cheddar, a piece of sharp Gruyere, a salty wedge of Parm, some creamy Fontina, say. Just try to not make it with pre-shredded, bagged stuff. And don't make plans the night you eat it, just in case you happen to fall into unintended slumber.

Classic Mac & Cheese
Makes 5-7 servings

*1/2 lb shells
*3 tablespoons butter
*3 tablespoons flour
*2 cups milk, warmed
*About 3 cups grated cheeses + 1/4 cup grated Parm-Reg
*Couple generous dashes of Tabasco
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
*1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a baking dish, or as I did for this recipe, two small cast iron pans. Boil the pasta no further than al dente and drain. Meanwhile, in another pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and foamed, gradually add in the flour, whisking all the while. Cook the roux for a few minutes, and then gradually pour in the milk, whisking to stamp out all the lumps. Cook the sauce until it comes to a low boil, then cook a few minutes more, stirring all the while. Remove the pot from heat and toss in the cheeses, Tabasco, and pinches of S&P. Once the cheese has melted, add the pasta and stir to combine well. Pour the pasta in an even layer in your baking vessel, then combine the thyme and bread crumbs with some S&P and extra grated Parm-Reg and sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly on top. Bake for 15-17 minutes, flicking on the broiler for the last 2 if you like a nicely crisped top.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mixed Nut & Dried Cherry Chocolate Bark

Chocolate bark is infinitely versatile, infinitely delicious. This is probably my favorite rendition of chocolate bark, because there's just so much of everything on it! If you can temper the chocolate correctly it makes for a great gift too, especially as it can be stored longer than your usual homemade baked goods. Even if you don't get the chocolate to temper perfectly, it still delights: I've given it out to many people who are happy to store it in the fridge. At some point I should probably get a candy thermometer to take the guesswork out of melting the chocolate to just the right point. In the meantime, I'll eat my fridge-cold chocolate bark and love it all the same!

Mixed Nut and Dried Cherry Chocolate Bark
Makes 4ish servings?

*1 bag (10 oz) high quality dark chocolate semi-sweet morsels
*1 small pinch ground allspice
*1/4 teaspoon sea salt
*1/2 cup hulled pistachios, lightly toasted and chopped
*1/4 cup almonds, lightly toasted and chopped
*1 tablespoon pepitas, lightly toasted and chopped
*1 tablespoon coffee beans, roughly chopped
*1/2 cup dried cherries, some chopped & some left whole

Melt the morsels in a heatproof bowl for 30 seconds at a time in the microwave, stirring after each round. When the chocolate is almost entirely melted, stir to melt the rest of the morsels and add the spice and salt. Combine the cherries, nuts, pepitas and coffee beans, remove about a third of the mix and chop it a little finer, then throw that into the chocolate, stirring to combine. Spread the mixture with a spatula onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet until it's evenly about a quarter-inch thick. Rain down the remaining nuts, seeds, coffee beans and cherries until there's a nice layer over the chocolate. I usually take another small pinch of sea salt and scatter some crystals over the chocolate at this point too. Pop the baking sheet in the fridge to chill the bark for a couple hours. Break into shards when hardened. Do store in the fridge if tempering chocolate ain't really your finest skill.