Recipe 14: Pizza Mac Hack

Not sure what things have been like by you, but over here the weather has sort of skipped from kind-of-winter to kind-of-summer – which is a shame, if you ask me, since my favorite seasons are the “in-betweens” of autumn and spring.  Spring has somewhat returned for today, but likely not for long – well, long enough to get a bunch of allergens in the air.  What about Climate Change being a hoax?

Anyway, let’s skip politics and move on to food, shall we?

This is a nice variation on two different quick-and-easy meals: Mac and cheese and pizza.  What’s great about combining the two is that both are so flexible and easy to personalize to your own tastes that the possibilities are practically endless, even for “just” being a mac hack.  The easiest thing to do, I think, is to add a little tomato sauce to your finished box of mac (store-bought or homemade)   – and then use your imagination!  Add a little sliced pepperoni, sausage crumbles, or if you lean towards the vegetarian, some sliced peppers and onions.  Just throw in whatever you like on your pizza!

Well, maybe not whatever… Not sure how anchovies or pineapple would work… But hey, if you try it, let me know how it turns out!

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Recipe 13: Bistro Mac and Cheese

Last night I made another new mac and cheese for dinner.  Just a few days after my previous one.  I normally like to space out my recipes more but when I realized that Recipe 13 would be the quarter-mark for this challenge, I got excited and decided I needed to take care of it as soon as possible.

So before we go on to the recipe, getting 1/4 through this challenge begs the question: How’s it going?  Well, I am fairly sure I haven’t gained any weight – but to be fair, I wasn’t exactly a junior-petite before the challenge started either.  I love trying new recipes, so this forces them into my weekly repertoire – though of course it’s a bummer when they turn out wrong, whether due to my own missteps or just a bad recipe (in my opinion, of course).  I still make a lot of mistakes and I’m not going to hide that or justify it either; I’ve made no secret that I’m a person with faults and not a professional chef, and I’d like to think that makes this blog a little bit more approachable to the Average Joe/Jane, who I’m guessing has more sense than to take on such a wacky endeavor as this.  Which raises another point:

I am so sick of mac and cheese.

Scandalous I know!  But really, think about it: All the best things about mac and cheese become wearisome when you are eating them over and over – the richness, the creaminess, the carb-overload.  Next time you think to yourself or gush to your friends, “I swear, I could eat *insert food item here* every day?”

No.  No, you can’t.  And really, you shouldn’t.

Fret not though, Weekly Mackers!  I am not going to be abandoning this mad task I’ve given myself.  It really is fun to see what tastes wonderful and what falls flat on its face.  And if you folks are so eager to read about mac and cheese recipes (maybe? anyone?), then I am happy to guinea-pig myself out for your culinary education.  See how much I care?  This is all for you.

Bistro Mac and Cheese (from Taste of Home)

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni (I used quinoa elbows)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend; I use Pamela’s)
  • 2-1/2 cups 2% milk (I used skim because that’s what we keep in the house)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (I used a sharp white)
  • 1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened (they make 3 oz packages now!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Directions

Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, melt butter (unless you are doing the crumb-topping indicated below, you can use a normal pot, not a Dutch oven).  Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in milk and seasonings. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.  Reduce heat; add cheeses and stir until melted. Stir in sour cream. Drain macaroni; stir into sauce.

This recipe can also be baked with a crumb topping. Place macaroni in a greased 3-qt. baking dish. Combine 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons melted butter; sprinkle over macaroni. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.  A full recipe, according to the site, serves 8; I made a half-recipe.

I didn't do the crumb-topping. Yes, that's steam!

Verdict: 3.5/5

I hedged for a bit as to whether this should be a 3.5 or a 4.  I really loved the tang of the gorgonzola, which overwhelms the flavor of the mac, and the creaminess from the cream cheese.  Still, with the cream and the decadence it became slightly one note.  It really needed the crumb-topping to break up the taste, and when I warmed up the leftovers for lunch today (hey, I may be sick of mac but a girl’s gotta eat) I made a sort of microwave crumb-topping for my bowl, and it helped break up the monotony so much.  Loverman and I both thought that perhaps some chicken might have been a good option (yes, it’s his go-to suggestion, but in this case I think it’s a fair point), and I wonder if even some shrimp might be a good addition.  I would definitely make this again, and even without the suggested carnivorous additions it’s a great, easy meal to whip together on a weeknight – but make sure you do the crumb-topping.  Though I confess, I don’t really know what is particularly “bistro” about this recipe.

Do you know a recipe that you think would help bust up my mac and cheese funk?  Let me know!  Post on my Facebook wall or e-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com!


Recipe 12: Pork Belly Mac and Cheese

Hello, Weekly Mackers.  Have you missed me?  I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted.  I don’t want to fall behind on this challenge!  I hope I have not left y’all like this in my absence:

Anyway, have y’all been following me on Facebook?  If so, you know that I have been super-excited about making this recipe.  It involves pork belly, which, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a giant slab of bacon before it gets sliced into strips.  I clarify this because one of my friends, who was going to be present at the get-together at which this mac was to be served, asked his wife, “So… what is pork belly?  Is it, like, pork guts or something?  Am I going to like this?”  She assured him he would.

This was another recipe from Food in My Beard – the third I have made.  I blame the author, Dan, for offering so many tempting variations on mac and cheese.  I am going to have to take a forced haitus from it – not because it is bad (unless by “bad” you mean “so bad that it’s AWESOME”), but just to add some new sources.  Oh don’t worry; I shall return in due time.

The website says this recipe “Feeds probably about 5 fatties or up to 8 normal adults.”  I love that description – partly because I know I have at times marveled over recommended serving sizes (“How is that one serving?!  Are they feeding an anorexic five-year old?!”).  At our get-together, there were eight food-loving adults, seven of which partook of the mac (one does not eat red meat), and a toddler who also had some.  There was only one small helping left at the end of the night.  If most of us had not loaded up on appetizers (and OK, salad too), I am thinking it all would have been gone.

Pork Belly Mac and Cheese (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • Mesa BBQ sauce (recipe here.  I used a Memphis-style BBQ sauce from the store instead; it’s 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 lb pasta, elbow macaroni is good (I used rice elbows)
  • ½ lb gruyere
  • ½ lb mozzarella
  • 1 ½ lb cheddar.
  • Breadcrumbs (gluten-free for me)
  • Parmesan (I confess, I used “parmesan” from a green shaky-tube, as I did not have fresh)
  • 1 head cauliflower (I used a frozen bag from our CSA; it seemed like about a head)
  • 1 ½ lbs pork belly
  • Red onion
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 3 cups milk (I used skim)

Directions

Place the sauce in a deep pot.
Sear the pork belly on all sides in a very hot pan.
Add pork to pot with sauce and simmer on low partially covered for about an hour and a half. Add water if pork is not fully covered.
Grate and combine all cheeses
Bring water to a boil, cook pasta 3 minutes less then box says
Heat and whisk 3 tablespoons of butter and flour on medium low until combined and lump free. About 5 minutes.
Add 3 cups of milk, simmer for 5 minutes
Add most of the cheese. Stir till somewhat smooth
Remove pork belly from braising liquid
Dice and remove unwanted parts (if there are any), return to sauce with cauliflower and a small amount of diced red onion.
Drain pasta and put in baking dish
Add pork belly, cauliflower, and red onion with its coating of sauce
Add cheese mixture
Fold and mix
Grate some parmesan on the top, add the rest of the cheese, if it fits (all of the cheese didn’t fit for us) and some breadcrumbs
Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, if the top doesn’t look delicious, broil it for 2 minutes.  (I didn’t need to broil)
The hardest part – let sit for 5 or 10 minutes before scooping!

Here it is cooling.

Verdict: 3/5

You may have noticed I’ve tagged this recipe as being due for a do-over.  It didn’t come out bad by any stretch, but I don’t think I achieved the best possible results in my preparation.  I think that’s due to mistakes I made rather than a fault of the recipe itself.

Like I mentioned, I used a store-bought BBQ sauce.  It had a good flavor (not sure as epic as Dan from Food in My Beard says the Mesa sauce is), but I needed to use water to fully cover my pork belly.  However, it ended up being more water than sauce.  I think if I had cut the pork belly differently, it may have turned out better, but as it was the sauce was so, so watery.  There was only the barest hint of a BBQ flavor, and that really bummed me out.  That would have added such a smoky, slightly tangy element that was missing.

Not only that, but because the meat was cooked in mostly water, the texture was… Odd.  I also could have cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces to make them a bit more manageable.

Y’all know by now I’m not a professional chef, right?  ‘Cause it’s kind of obvious.

All that having been said, some people had seconds.  One person even had thirds and tried to call dibs on the one helping of leftovers remaining.  Even the toddler ate it after insisting on making a napkin-dress for her sippy-cup.  Despite having used shaky-cheese (I’ve been trying to stick with cheese in their natural formats), I loved the topping and could eat it on most macs.

So all in all it was good – but I know it could have been better.  I’ll have to give it another shot in the future.