Recipe 11: Mac Hack a-la Popeye

Have any of you seen that live action Popeye movie starring Robin Williams as the titular spinach-loving sailor with a speech impediment and Shelley Duvall as his shrill, hapless love interest?  I remember very little of the plot, but I remember finding it perfectly adequate at its purpose: Certainly not the best kid-geared (as I assume it was?) musical comedy of all time, but still entertaining.  But I also think the last time I watched it was in my early adolescence (or what people now so irritatingly call the “tween years”), so maybe if I watched it now I would just think it was hokey.  Still, I’d take a hokey 80s movie versus some of the modern incarnations of the comic book/cartoon series film franchises.  If they made a new Popeye movie today (and let’s face it, it’s inevitably going to happen one of these days), I can see it going one of two ways:

a) All computer animated, Popeye is a wacky fish-out-of-water tale of an old fashioned sailor trying to make it in modern times.  Hilarity attempts to ensure, but never really does.

b) A summer release, Popeye stars *insert hunky action hero here* as a merchant fisherman who’s done well enough but has never earned the respect of his father, Pappy.  He’s now on hard luck just trying to make his way after his ship sank in a freak storm, taking one of his eyes – and the life of his overweight but lovable friend, “Wimpy.”  Now he drifts to various fishing towns getting small jobs here and there until he eventually winds up in Sweet Haven.  He’s always suffered from a debilitating speech impediment, but after the accident, people can barely understand him and assume he’s stupid – except for the ditzy but well-intentioned vegetarian Olive, who gives him a chance.  As he gets to know Olive he finds out that Bluto, an entrepreneur rich from a career in boxing, is looking to change the fishing town into an oil town – much to Sweet Haven’s chagrin, as Bluto’s company is responsible for a huge oil spill elsewhere in the country.   This will also hurt Olive and her adopted child who she calls her Swee’ Pea, as her family owns the fish processor in town (ironic given her vegetarian diet, but they gloss over this).  When “Popeye” (not his real name but a cruel nickname as a result of losing his eye) learns of this, he has a personal score to settle: The only reason he was in the treacherous waters that took his ship and his friend is because that oil spill destroyed the fishing waters in which he formerly worked.  He insults Bluto in public, leading Bluto to impetuously bet Popeye to a boxing match.  Olive helps whip Popeye into shape with her all vegetarian diet with an emphasis on spinach.  Although Popeye wins fair and square in a thrilling fight, Bluto thinks he has the last laugh because the town can’t raise the money to buy the property or the rights to the Sweet Haven pier: Popeye thought he was fighting for the town, but Bluto had no such intent.  At the last minute, Pappy enters with the money – he had a fortune as a huge fish distributor (think StarKist tuna or something of the like).  Bluto is thwarted.  Pappy heard about Popeye standing up to the bad guy and had never been so proud of his son.  Olive and Popeye share a kiss, Popeye is suddenly able to speak clearly, and the credits roll.

Whoa.  I think I should send this idea to Hollywood.  I could be sitting on a goldmine.

Well with all that rambling, let’s get on to the mac hack, shall we?  Like my last mac hack, this one comes courtesy of former co-worker and “work mom” Ann.  Make your box of mac and add some spinach.  This would be easiest with thawed pre-frozen spinach, but I think if your mac is hot enough, add some raw baby spinach and let it wilt.  Adds a little bit of healthiness to an otherwise starch-and-cheese meal.

Any ideas for mac hacks or recipes?  E-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com

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Recipe 10: Macaroni and Cheese Pancakes

As I mentioned in my last post, this week is apparently National Pancake Week.  Who knew?  Well, what better way to celebrate than trying a new pancake recipe?  But since this is Weekly Mac, of course I have to offer something that somehow combines pancakes and macaroni and cheese.

This inspiration wasn’t just some harebrained idea of mine – it was someone else’s harebrained idea, thank you very much.  To be fair, I was curious if there existed a macaroni and cheese recipe that was breakfast appropriate (there is – more than one, actually), and in my browsing I found this recipe.

The author says it’s perfect hangover food given its density and combination of two classic American comfort foods.  Well, I certainly wouldn’t know anything about that (*cough*), but the theory behind it is a fair one.  Sure, combining two good foods can result in some scary results – but it can also result in mind-blowingly amazing hybrids that come to more than the sum of their parts.  There was no way to discover which this would be without trying it.

Macaroni and Cheese Pancakes (from Hey, That Tastes Good!)

  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 t Kosher salt
  • 3/4 c boiling water
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 T oil
  • 1/2 flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 1/4 t xanthan gum (if you use normal flour, you probably don’t need this; it’s good for gluten-free flours)
  • 1 c cooked macaroni (I used leftovers from my last recipe)
  • 1/2 c shredded cheese (I used colby jack since we had a lot)

Directions

Combine cornmeal, honey and salt in a bowl. Pour over the water, stir, and cover. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add the baking powder, milk, oil, flour mix, and xanthan gum and stir to combine. Heat up your griddle or cast iron pan with a tiny bit of oil, until when you drop a drop of water onto the pan it sizzles. Spoon batter onto hot pan, and when one side is done (bubbles have risen to the surface and popped, cake moves easily when pushed with a spatula), sprinkle some macaroni evenly over the uncooked side, then top with cheese. Carefully flip over, press down with the back of the spatula and let cook a few minutes until crispy on the bottom. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Not much to look at

Verdict: 1/5

This was not a harmless hybrid like a mule or a labradoodle.  This was an epicurean abomination.

This was indeed rather heavy from the cornmeal alone.  The macaroni and cheese were barely noticeable additions – and I used more cheese than called for.  I thought mine was too salty, which is funny since there really isn’t much salt in there at all.  It was dry and unpleasant.  The website recommended adding barbecue sauce, and while I initially thought that sounded batty, it actually tasted better that way – though still not at all to my taste.  Loverman added both barbecue sauce and hot sauce and thought it was thoroughly “OK.”  I couldn’t even finish mine and ended up eating a bowl of cereal for dinner.  Classy, I know, but we can’t win ’em all.  Here’s to a better recipe next time around.


Recipe 9: Penne with Goat Cheese and Basil

Apparently, if the Internet is to be believed (it’s always accurate, right?), this week is not only February Break (here in the US to celebrate Presidents Day), but also National Pancake Week.  If you are following me on Facebook, you may know that I have somehow stumbled upon a recipe to fit not only this blog’s purpose, but also this week-long celebration of pancakes.

This is not that recipe.

Why the tease?  Well, the recipe that combines mac, cheese, and pancakes requires leftover, already cooked macaroni – and why would I boil some macaroni without trying a recipe to go along with the rest of it?

I believe I ended up at the site for this recipe via the Facebook group for Food, Inc.  Interestingly, I have watched this and several other food/health-related documentaries, as well as read some similar books; although I have found my eyes opened (and sometimes my stomach turned) by some of the information therein, I still find myself falling back on many of my old, bad food habits.  Like eating lots of cheese.  I guess you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, huh?

Penne with Goat Cheese and Basil (from TakePart’s Meatless Monday)

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. penne pasta (mine was quinoa… and elbows… gotta make do, sometimes)
  • 2 cups basil leaves (although I normally find converting to dry herbs acceptable, you really need fresh here)
  • 4 oz. goat cheese (mine was from Lively Run)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (this is for lubrication, not really for flavor, so subbing vegetable or other oils would likely be fine.  Yes, I said “lubrication.”  *inner twelve-year old snicker*)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste (I recommend liberality here)

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Arrange basil leaves in a stack, roll like a cigar and proceed to cut crosswise.  This technique is called  chiffonade (they look like little basil ribbons!).  Toss pasta with olive oil and goat cheese and let cool for a few minutes. Add basil, salt, and pepper, and then serve.

That's it. Really.

Verdict: 3/5

Seriously, this couldn’t be much easier to make.  Even if you don’t have the ingredients regularly in your pantry – I know I don’t often buy goat cheese unless I really want it – they are pretty easy to obtain at your standard supermarket.  I am also lucky in that I still have fresh basil growing on my kitchen windowsill, so one less thing for me to buy.  Everything comes together in no time flat.  I made a half-recipe and still had some leftovers.

Still, I felt there was something lacking.  I’ve talked before about my love of both basil and goat cheese in Recipe 2, and with the similar ingredients, I was nervous the flavor profile would be so alike this would have been a wasted recipe opportunity.  However, in that recipe there was also garlic, Parmesan cheese, half and half, and a breaded topping – not to mention it called for pesto rather than plain ol’ basil, all of which lent it a complex flavor.  While the tang of the goat cheese is just as pleasant as ever and the green flavor of the basil is almost reminiscent of spring, it wasn’t really enough to truly elevate the recipe to that “Oh man, that was awesome” level.  It even felt under-cheesed, so to speak, and when I warmed up the leftovers in the microwave, I added a few more goat cheese crumbles.  Despite the similar ingredients, it was very much different from my first goat cheese mac – but that one, in my opinion, is the better of the two.

Now that I have the chore of making some macaroni and turning it into a new recipe out of the way (trying new food – ohnoes!), now I can get down to the business of trying to produce the mac-and-cheese/pancake hybrid I’ve mentioned.

Edit to Add: When I warmed up the remaining leftovers, I added extra goat cheese and a little bit of pecorino; this added some extra complexity of flavor.


Recipe 8: Lobster Mac and Cheese

V-Day, for many people, means over-priced flowers, over-priced chocolates, and over-priced dinners in over-crowded restaurants.  As with many other things, the hubz and I do things a little bit differently: We have a nice dinner in – fancier than usual, but without the trouble of crowds – and enjoy things nice and low-key.  This weekend he treated me to one of our go-to romantic meals, a hearty surf and turf, so I decided that tonight I would treat him.  And with this challenge in the back of mind, I figured there must be a romantic mac and cheese out there.

Does that sound silly?  It might – but you did not know about Food in My Beard‘s lobster mac and cheese.

You may remember how much I raved over the Philly Mac and Cheesesteak from Food in My Beard.  As such, I expected nothing but enjoyment from this recipe.  I was not disappointed.  Loverman and I often rely on shellfish as a special-meal (well, crab or lobster – shrimp is, well, shrimp), and while Loverman tends towards crab, I like both sea-bugs pretty equally.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had lobster  and Loverman had picked up some crab for our weekend surf-and-turf – so lobster it was.

Poor choice on my part in terms of cost-efficiency: Buying lobster on V-Day.  One of my local grocery stores does sell pre-cooked lobster meat and saves you the convenience of removing the shells and all that, and of course there was plenty of it – but oh man, did it hurt the wallet.  But it was delicious, and one can’t put a price on good food.  Or romance.

Another somewhat unorthodox ingredient included in this recipe?  White truffle oil.  I managed to pick some up for a good price a while ago (I love non-traditional spices, oils, and vinegars – such simple ways to make otherwise normal ingredients pop!), but never actually used it yet.  Oh man, why have I been waiting?

Remembering how much my last Food in My Beard mac made, I only made a half-recipe.  There is still a respectable about of mac.

Lobster Mac and Cheese (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • 10 oz. cheddar(I used sharp white)
  • 8 oz gruyere
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic diced
    3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons truffle oil (to taste)
  • 1 lb pasta (I used quinoa elbows)
  • lobster – I used 1 large fresh lobster and 2 frozen lobster meat containers (I, on the other hand, used two small containers of pre-cooked, shelled claws.  I would have gotten tails too, but I didn’t pay attention)
  • Tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • about 15 cherry tomatoes quartered
  • homemade bread crumbs (I used a store bought gluten-free kind)
  • lots of butter

Directions

Prepare the lobster. As I said, some of mine was pre cooked frozen. I thawed it as I steamed the fresh lobster, then mixed it all together (I didn’t have to worry about that). Chop the herbs all together and quarter the cherry tomatoes. shred up the cheese. Take about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in it. After 5 or so, add the garlic. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter and as it is melting, add the flour. Whisk it in and keep it moving, scraping the bottom. Get out all the lumps so it is a smooth mixture. Cook constantly stirring for 2 minutes. Add the milk. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and whisk everything to keep it smooth. when the milk is almost boiling, slowly add the cheese in handfuls and make sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next. Turn the heat down a little at this point. When all the cheese is in, add the truffle oil. I used a lot because I like it a lot, but 3 tablespoons should be good (the cheese sauce smelled so good at this point!). Drop the pasta and cook it a bit less than it says to, but not much (I cooked the pasta while making the sauce to save time). I also food processed some bread at this point to make my breadcrumbs, and mixed them with melted butter (I melted about a Tablespoon at a time and eyeballed the bread crumbs). Mix the pasta with the sauce, lobster, tomatoes, and herbs, and get it into a 400 degree oven. We don’t want to overcook the lobster, and the pasta and sauce was already hot going into the pan, but we DO want to get everything set together and allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. After only 8 or so minutes, broil the mac and cheese until the top is browned.  (I actually didn’t broil it after cooking it – oops) Wait the longest 10 minutes of your life before eating.

I wish I could allow you to smell through your screen.

Verdict: 4/5

Like I said, I forgot to broil, and I think that probably would have added to the awesomeness of this recipe.  Since tomatoes are out of season and I don’t have a greenhouse or anything, the ones I got were probably shipped in from across the country and were not the greatest, but that’s a minor complaint.  Also, I never thought I would say this – but there might have actually been too much lobster.  Insane, right?  Every bite had chunks of lobster meat almost to the point of being overwhelming.  Almost.  The lobster meat was succulent, not overcooked thankfully, but I actually think this would have been good even without the addition of the lobster.  The herbs – I used dried – added a lovely green element to the flavor, and again, I cannot praise that white truffle oil enough.  It was savory but light – the whole dish, actually, was surprisingly light.  Obviously it’s not diet food – it’s still mac and cheese, after all – but it didn’t have that weightiness in the belly that you sometimes get with mac and cheese.  As I mentioned before, I made a half recipe, but we still have leftovers even after we both took two helpings – though not as many as we did for the Philly mac and cheesesteak.

Loverman liked the recipe too, but was not as enthused as me.  Actually, a fan of crab, he had this suggestion:

“Here’s a thought,” he mused as he ate, “Use snow crab instead of lobster… maybe instead of the cherry tomatoes, use sundried tomatoes… and add blue cheese crumbles on top.  I wonder how that would be.”

Hm… So do I, Loverman.  So do I.


Recipe 7: Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

Confession time, people: I have totally been holding out on you.  The truth is I have a recipe I’ve been making for a little while now that is one of my faves.  In fact, it’s the standard by which my husband has been using for all new mac and cheese recipes I’ve been making.  I don’t know that I go quite that far, but it is definitely top of the list for me – so far, at least.

As you can tell by the title, this recipe is inspired by buffalo chicken wings.  My reason for holding out on you this far is it seemed to me this would be a perfect recipe to share at a Superbowl shindig.  My friends and I are definitely not sports people (Loverman’s favorite sport is Warhammer 40K and mine is equally fictional) – but we enjoy the commercials almost as much as we enjoy any excuse to get together and eat delicious food.

Finding this recipe was sort of a fluke for me.  Some time ago I was tempted to buy a Food Network Magazine because I was intrigued by its promise of 50 different egg recipes (it was near Easter, and I love me some deviled eggs) – and the issue I got just happened to also have five mac and cheese recipes.  This one stood out from the others: a Buffalo chicken wing mac and cheese!  I love me some wings – though I generally prefer flavors other than Buffalo since I tend to be a wuss about spiciness.  Loverman, however, declares that he worships at the temple of spicy, and since moving in together I don’t think there has been a time we haven’t had a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot in the apartment.

This actually led to one of the most amusing and most practical Xmas presents he ever received: Two years ago my sister was pregnant and due around the holiday season.  Even if she delivered on her due date, she knew she would be wrapped up in newborn care to do much for the holidays, so not only did she take care of her holiday shopping way early, but she let us know ahead of time that she was going “low-key” on gifts.  Loverman’s gift?  A gallon of Red Hot.  Nonplussed, he stated it was the most unusual gift he’d received – but at the same time, something he knew he would definitely use.

This plus a mostly-full bottle is still left.

Anyway, this recipe calls specifically for Frank’s Red Hot, lending it a fiery kick.  I’m sure you could use a different hot sauce or even get away with using a bit less than called for – but even I, with my hesitance to ingest anything to spicy, find this to have just a pleasant burn rather than a raging inferno on the tongue.

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese (from Food Network Magazine)

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish (divided as indicated in recipe)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used quinoa elbows)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped (I actually leave this out because I hate celery.  If you like it, keep it)
  • 3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (I use a whole rotisserie chicken)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup hot sauce (preferably Frank’s) (divided as indicated below)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups) (you should really shred it instead – I have done it both ways, and it works much better shredded)
  • 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup panko (gluten free for me)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or, if you’re like me and love blue cheese, even more)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute. (the hot sauce smell will tickle your nose – but in a good way)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, then add the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses (again, both should be shredded despite what the recipe says; it goes so much quicker this way), then whisk in the sour cream until smooth. (with the hot sauce this has a slightly rosy color)

Spread half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top.

Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko, blue cheese and parsley (I use way more blue cheese). Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Like I said above, this is Loverman’s favorite so far.  Even the ones that I feel have been “wins,” he has responded with “it’s no chicken wing mac.”  Although it is spicy, it is not insanely so.  If you like spice more than I do, you could probably up the hot sauce or even add some hot peppers in with the onions; and even though he enjoys the recipe, Loverman sometimes adds a splash of hot sauce on top.  As for me, I like it as is – minus the celery and with some more blue cheese on top.  The top is perfectly crunchy from the panko, plus the savory-tang of the blue on top helps to mitigate the heat from the hot sauce and pepper jack.

Yesterday I made the recipe all the way up to the baking, then put it in my friends’ oven, where we were having our “Superbowl as an excuse to eat well”-Party.  Here it is fresh out of the oven:

...on their cleaner-than-ours stovetop

Those who partook said they liked it, and by the time we left maybe 2/3 of it had been eaten.  I would say this is a suitable replacement for hot wings for a Big Game sort of event, but don’t limit yourself to that: It’s generally a crowd-pleaser, so serve it for your next big get-together!


Recipe 6: Salsa Mac Hack

Here is the first of a series of what I call “mac hacks.”  What exactly is a mac hack?  It’s adding something to a pre-packaged box of mac and cheese to give it some zing of sorts.  I’ve said before, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the Blue Box (or gluten-free equivalent, in my case) – ignoring the obvious unknown chemical make-up of the usually-orange cheese-product-powder and the questionable nutritional value (but honestly, if you’re that worried about health, you probably shouldn’t be eating mac and cheese – sorry, just keepin’ it real).  I love me my homemade mac and cheese, but sometimes I don’t have the time to shred it all up and mix it all together and (in some cases) baking it – and heck, sometimes I just don’t feel like doing all that.  So while pre-packaged stuff isn’t all that great to have all the time, I think it can be acceptable occasionally – but let’s liven it up a little.  Mac hacks are great because they combine the convenience of instant-food but can personalize to your individual tastes.  Plus it takes such a little idea to change the flavor so dramatically, just a small suggestion that can make a person say “That is so easy, I have no idea why I never thought to do it myself!”

I am not going to be giving ratings to mac hacks.  At their base, they are pretty much the same (Blue Box or equivalent) with minor tweaks, so I don’t think a full review is as necessary.

This mac hack came to me from a former coworker of mine, Ann, who was among a small group of women who had called themselves my “Work Moms.”  Among Ann’s many awesome traits is her involvement with her actual children (not just her “adopted work kids” like me, as it were), which includes preparing some delicious recipes she would at times share with the office on potluck days.  Her offering: Add some salsa to a box of the cheesy stuff.  I would caution to add it in slowly – too much could easily become overly watery.  This is great because many people already keep salsa in the fridge, and it can be made mild or spicy according to one’s tastes.  Plus it adds a little more nutrition by including veggies – though you might want to round things out with a salad on the side or fruit for dessert if you are really worried about getting your daily servings in.

Sunday I will be making something delicious for a Super Bowl party – recipe will be up later that night or possibly the next day.