An Unexpected Wrench in the Gears

That title is a bit redundant, isn’t it?  I mean, most people don’t expect a wrench to get in the gears, do they?  Otherwise, they would take steps to avoid the wrench getting in there in the first place.

Anyway, what is this wrench and why are we spending so much time talking about it in the first place?  Well, if you’ve been over to my non-mac blog at all, you know I’m currently in the bout of another unplanned, unwilling Unemployment, this one related to chronic health problems.  To make a long story short, continued working with doctors and attempting various treatments have not led to any relief thus far.  At last my primary doctor, whom I’ve been seeing for many years and completely trust, thought we might be able to solve things with an elementary solution, one often overlooked in favor of pharmaceutical and other interventions: a major overhaul in diet.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m not the healthiest eater.  But I’m guessing y’all pretty well guessed that by now.  I am not as bad as some – I can, in fact, identify vegetables, where food comes from, and I consider myself to have fairly adventurous tastebuds.  But I am a sucker for cheese and/or carbs.  Still, I had spent the better part of a year in pain, not being able to live my life properly – and even when I wasn’t in pain, I was having to deal with the side effects of the medication meant to prevent the pain.  If I had to sacrifice a chicken over an alter to Ba’al in order to get back to normal, I would have done it.  New diet?  Bring it on.

My doctor recommended I read a book called The Anti-Inflammation Diet, and stick to it, since the issues I am dealing with largely relate to pain.  The theory is by cutting out foods that contribute to inflammation, you will reduce or eliminate pain.  You cut them all out for four weeks, then slowly, one by one, you can choose to reintroduce them back in to your diet to test if there were only certain foods that were triggering your inflammation/pain.

So why am I yammering on and on about all this to you folks?  You may have guessed it already.  Those of you who read my section on gluten-free pastas also know that when I first went gluten-free, I also had to go dairy-free for six months… Well, those dark days are back again, my friends.  Even once I hit the stage where I can reintroduce stuff back into my diet, my doctor has recommended no gluten, no dairy (a sparing amount of organic butter is OK), no white/artificial sugars – at the bare minimum (there are many more items the diet cuts out in the first four weeks, i.e., but if nothing else I need to keep those three categories out).

I have been doing this for a little over a week now.  There has been some adjustment, of course, as there must be with a major overhaul to what one  Something had to give, and  shoves in one’s face.  There probably still will be.  I don’t miss the cheese as much as I expected too, perhaps because I have gone without it once before and know I can do it again, instead missing other forbidden items that I must wait to reintroduce and see if I can put them back into my diet or not.  But like it or not, I will do it.  And find a way to like it.  Because I am sick of being sick.  It’s so trite, but it’s true!  Something had to give, and if this is what it is, well then, that’s what it is.  Only time will tell, really.

Where does that leave the future of this blog?  I really don’t know.  Oddly enough, I had found a few vegan recipes for mac and “cheese” which I had intended to do anyway, but more as little oddities here and there.  I do understand that because of a lower lactose content, I may be able to have the occasional non-cow cheese, which is a decent compromise as far as I am concerned: I love goat cheese, and I’m a fan of various sheep’s milk cheeses.  I suppose it just means that updates will be even more sporadic than they have already become, and when they do arrive, you should expect the cheese featured will be from a goat, sheep, or not really a cheese at all.

In the meantime, if you are desperate for my company, as I’m sure you all are, you can follow my non-mac blog, Domestic Dalliances, either here or on Facebook.  I intend to pick up the pace on posting there, but we’ll see how that goes.  You can also follow my little diva-dog, who I’ve mentioned on the blog a few times, on Facebook.  Yeah, I’m one of those people.

Keep macking on!

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A New Blog!

A while ago I asked folks if they’d be interested in my non-mac musings.  Well, despite the underwhelming response, I made one anyway!  Interested in the confessions of a reluctant housewife, of how a woman who considers herself to be liberated to channel her inner Suzie Homemaker while still managing to shun all vestiges of June Cleaver?  Check out Domestic Dalliances!  It’s still very much a baby and therefore doesn’t have a whole lot of stuff to read or click around on, but if you’re interested, add it to your blogs you follow!


Recipe 36: Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage

OK.  So clearly full-time employment and weekly blogging on a very specific theme do not agree with me.  I’m not proud of that.  Seriously, I read these blogs written by people who work and parent and still manage to make fabulous food (not to mention keep a space on the counter clean enough to photograph the product of their labors), and I turn absolutely chartreuse with envy.  I have been cooking, but not as much mac as a person who runs a mac and cheese blog “should” (quotations used because really, should anyone try to make as much mac as I’ve been aspiring to?).  Instead I’ve been experimenting with game meats, savory jellies, and finding creative uses for the overabundance of certain herbs from the garden before the evening frosts have killed them all.

Speaking of herb-gardening, this particular mac features sage as a key player.  At Loverman and my old apartment we had a sage plant that somehow managed to survive the terrible neglect we forced it to endure.  In fact, it seemed to have more lives than a cat.  It would wilt and brown, but then when we remembered its existence (along with the existence of our other potted herbs) and tended it, it would bounce back like Mario with an extra Life.  That sage gave many leaves to this recipe, which I made multiple times in that apartment, and it was not forgotten.  Could you use dried sage instead?  Sure – heck, I have plenty of times.  But it’s not going to have quite the same earthy, green notes as when you use fresh.

Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage (unknown source; I wrote the recipe on an index card)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta, any small shape (I usually use spirals or elbows, but really any small shape would work fine)
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1/4c bread crumbs
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage leaves (if you use dry, use a 1:3 ratio dry:fresh)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1c mascarpone cheese
  • 1c Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.  To a medium-hot skillet, heat oil and add breadcrumbs, sage, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.  Sautee 3 – 4 minutes.  It smells amazing!  In a large bowl stir mascarpone and Parmesan cheese.  Add to pasta and toss.  Top with bread crumb mixture and serve.  It is seriously that easy.

Verdict: 4.5/5

As you can see, there is no photo.  The real reason is because I misplaced my camera when I made it (oops), but an equally believable reason would have been that it was so delicious, it got all glommed down in no-time-flat.  It is so easy to make there is no excuse not to try it.  The mascarpone is creamy and a little sweet without being too sweet, paired with the saltiness of the Parmesan and the earthiness of the sage makes this perfection in my mind.  The sage makes me think of autumn or even winter, but really there is no bad time to eat this mac.  It’s surprisingly light and just so good.

 

Since we are entering the home stretch, I am thinking of doing a blog where I can type about my non-mac cooking endeavors, as well as other attempts at domesticity.  It will likely be sporadic (as this one has become!), but a gal can’t live on mac alone.


Recipe 33: Bacon Mac-N-Cheese

Hey, Weekly Mackers… It’s me, Lex.  You remember me.  Come on, don’t be like that.  You know I still love you, right?  Right?!

Seriously though, I apologize for my extended absence.  I wish I could give you some awesome excuse as to why I’ve been away so long, like that I was finding myself in an ashram in India or backpacking across Europe or training with kung fu monks on a mountain top, but the reality is much more mundane: I’ve been distracted by my return to the workplace.  Oh, it’s not like I’m working any crazy overtime or anything (yet – I’ve been told I may want to anticipate this), just trying to fit some of these recipes in to my days off when I might not feel like sweating over a stove in a small, hot kitchen – since I’m very unlikely to fit them in during the time before I leave for work.

So what does this mean for the challenge?  Good question.  I don’t have an answer.  A friend recently asked me if I would make it to 52, and I honestly don’t know.  I know I’ll try and that I have more than enough options to choose from, but whether or not I’ll succeed still remains to be seen.  But please keep faith in me, Weekly Mackers.

And now, on to the mac.

As anyone who has had even the slightest cognizance of culinary trends on TV and the Internet well knows, bacon has found its way into just about any food item imaginable – and maybe even some most sane people wouldn’t imagine.  I, for one, am fine with this trend.  I don’t have bacon often because it’s just so very decadent I try to keep it as a treat (says the chick running a mac and cheese blog), but when I have it, I’m darn well going to enjoy it.  I think the combination of bacon with mac and cheese makes perfect sense – both are rich and decadent, slightly salty, and I think the bacon pairs well with cheese.  So come with me, dear friends: Put away those calorie counters and hide that bathroom scale in the corner.  Today is the day for celebrating fat and salt and carbs.  Tomorrow we diet.

Bacon Mac-N-Cheese (from $35 a Week)

Ingredients

• 1 lb. elbow macaroni or other pasta of your choice – I used corn elbows
• 5 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, about 1 lb. – I used a pound of yellow cheddar
• 4 cups whole milk – I used skim because that’s what I had.  Whole might have been better, but skim works all right
• 6 slices bacon
• 3 T flour (I used Pamela’s)
• 4 small or 2 large cloves garlic, smashed (I used two large)
• A few thyme sprigs (mine were from the garden)
• 2 1/2 cups good-quality bread crumbs (I used gluten-free bread crumbs and panko, as I ran out of bread crumbs and was too lazy to get some of my gluten-free bread and blend it up)
• A T or so of olive oil
• Salt & pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss the bread crumbs in the olive oil with a little salt and pepper and bake until well-browned and crunchy, stirring a couple of times to prevent burning. 10 minutes? I admit I wasn’t paying attention to how long this took. Just start it while you’re prepping the other ingredients. – I did this differently, as will be indicated below

When the bread crumbs are done, remove them, set aside, and increase oven heat to 400 F. Grease a 13×9 Pyrex dish.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just a minute or two shy of al dente. Drain, rinse well under cold water, and set aside.

Put the smashed garlic and thyme in a medium saucepan.

Add the milk, plus salt and pepper to taste, and heat to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and keep covered while you prep everything else.  Try not to let it boil over.  Mine was on low apparently too long and started to boil over slightly.  The bottom of the pot looked icky, but things tasted fine.

Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in another medium saucepan until crisp and all the fat has rendered. Remove, chop, and set aside.  If you will be too tempted by the bacon, cook an extra strip or two for yourself.  I happily was strong enough to resist.   Increase heat to medium. If your bacon didn’t release 3 tablespoons’ worth of fat, add some reserved bacon fat (keep a can in your fridge!) or, less desirably, butter (I had some bacon fat leftover from making some with breakfast – hey, if you’re going to be gluttonous, make a day of it, I guess – and I used that.  I may have used a little too much) Add the flour to the hot bacon fat and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until light golden brown. Put a strainer over the saucepan and strain the hot milk into the roux. Continue to cook, stirring often, until thickened slightly. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon to where you can draw a line through it. Stir in the grated cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Be aware that with the bacon grease, the cheese sauce will be a very unappetizing color.  Fear not.  Breathe deep the vapors of bacon and trust in its goodness.

Add the cheese sauce to the drained pasta and stir to incorporate. Fold in the chopped bacon. Spread into the prepared Pyrex dish and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes

Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

I totally did the breadcrumbs differently: As mentioned above, I’d made bacon with breakfast this morning, and the pan still had a bit of grease in it (I left it unwashed since I knew I’d need to cook bacon later… Don’t judge me).  I added some more of the leftover bacon fat from the morning and used that instead of olive oil in hopes of having even more bacon flavor because what is better than bacon except more bacon?  I just toasted the bread crumbs/panko on the stove top.  It probably didn’t get as browned as it could have, but I don’t think it detracted from anything.  Also, it wasn’t until typing up this blog post that I realize that I cooked this wrong: I mixed the cheese/bacon with the pasta, added the bread crumbs, and baked for 20 minutes.  Everything was cooked through and the top was browned, so I think everything went OK despite this variation.

My dinner and a cross-section of the mac.

Verdict: 3/5

I myself am rather nonplussed with the rating.  I was expecting to be raving about this recipe, singing its praises in lovingly composed paeans in the streets while joyfully frolicking and distributing bacon like beads at Mardi Gras.  Perhaps I built myself up too much.

This is not to say that this mac is bad – far from it.  I simply think it could be improved.  Between Loverman and I, we came up with two simple improvements that would have sent this over the edge: Less breadcrumbs and more bacon.  I love me some breadcrumbs, but the crust felt a bit overwhelming to me.  Maybe only 1 1/2 cups would suffice?  And while six strips of bacon seems a lot, the recipe makes six servings, which is only one strip of bacon per person.  Maybe your willpower it stronger than mine, but if I am having bacon, I want more than just one strip.  Maybe doubling the bacon called for would make this extra-indulgent, which is really what I, for one, want in a bacon mac and cheese.

Fun fact: Before even tasting a bite, while waiting for it to cool a bit, this recipe inspired me.  Perhaps I was thinking of the dinner Loverman and I had out last night at one of the local restaurants, namely the dish Loverman ordered: Why not a bacon-blue mac and cheese?  Wouldn’t that just be sinfully delicious?  Oh, the wheels are turning, friends!


Recipe 29 – Tuna Casserole Mac Hack

Firstly, you may or may not have noticed, but there is a new link up top as to ways you can help out Weekly Mac if you are so inclined.  This includes pointing me to new recipes, donating items/money, and sharing this page with others.  Anything you are willing and able to do is appreciated, and if I could I’d put a sticker on all your charts for you.

Secondly,  I’m going to start out this mac hack with a little anecdote.  It is (somewhat) related, I swear.

If you are like me, you grew up with Sesame Street.  I seriously loved that show, and it still holds a special place in my heart because I am basically a child in a grown-up body.  I can actually remember a few of the sketches and cartoons from it.  One of the ones that my family and I still sometimes joke about is one where a cat is desperate for his owner to open up his food for him.  We remembered at one point his owner, distracted on the phone, says to her friend, “I never saw tuna casserole look quite like that!”  We kind of use that as a silly thing to say when talking about mundane stuff, don’t ask me why.  Yeah, we are weird.

So I decided since this mac hack was related to tuna casserole, I needed to find the clip online, which I did – and learned we had remembered the line wrong after all this time.  She had never seen stroganoff look quite like that.  Oh, the tricks our memories can play on us!

Anyway, I thought you might get a kick out of that.  And now for the mac hack.

After you make your mac, drain a can of tuna to throw in and add some cream of mushroom soup.  You now have a cheesy tuna casserole.  Important note for fellow gluten-free eaters (gluten-freaters?): Most cream of mushroom soups are not gluten-free!  There are some specialty brands that make gluten-free cream of mushroom soups, but check your labels for sure!  You can also find some recipes online to make a substitute at home.

I have a new recipe all lined up and ready to go within short order.  I start my new job on Monday (hooray!), but hopefully it shouldn’t interfere with posting semi-regularly.  Wish me luck!


Recipe 15: Cajun Mac and Cheese AND Blog Notes

So anyone who is a regular reader of this blog (are there any regulars outside of those Following it?) may have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve updated.  Pardon me, Weekly Mackers.  There has been two reasons for my unwonted delay in updating.  Firstly, I was sick for a while – not deathly ill or anything, but not really up to mucking about in the kitchen.  The second is a bit more complicated.

Imma keep it real with you, Internet-people:  Things are not all sunshine and roses in the Maison de Mac.  They aren’t terrible, but there are challenges.  Some of you who know me in real life already know this, but for those who don’t, at the end of April 2011 I was let go from my job (those who know me in real life who didn’t know, don’t feel bad: I haven’t exactly been proclaiming it on Facebook).  It is now the beginning of April 2012 and I’m still out of work – and not for want of trying.  I have years of experience on my field, a Masters degree, and have even applied to jobs for which I more than meet what they are seeking, even branching out of my field – but no luck.  I’m lucky in that not only am I approved for Unemployment, but more importantly the hubz has a job that helps support us while I’m not able to contribute much to the household.  We are even more fortunate in that despite having to trim the budget a great deal, we are not in dire straits: We pay our rent on time, have good food to eat, the utilities are in no risk of being turned off, etc.  But it does make it a bit of a challenge to justify getting a bunch of extra gluten-free pastas, cheeses, and more unusual ingredients that we normally wouldn’t keep in the pantry.

I’ve been able to keep the challenge going pretty strongly up until recently, but the belt has had to be tightened even more.  It might end up being the Achilles Heel of this challenge.  I plan on continuing to try to complete 52 recipes in the 52 weeks of 2012 – I set myself a challenge, however ridiculous, and I want to at least attempt to complete it successfully.  To assist, I plan on adding a page with How to Help Weekly Mac, including a Paypal Donate button and Amazon Associate links (a portion of the cost of the items you would buy through those links would go to me), and also a Weekly Mac Wishlist; the page isn’t up now because I’m troubleshooting some HTML issues.  I feel weird adding these features- I am very aware that there are countless people in my own country, state, county, etc. who experience very real Want for necessities, and here I am just some chick trying out a bunch of recipes (and often messing them up).  This whole paragraph could probably be something of a White Whine (AKA First World Problems), and I’m not proud of that.  I am choosing to put it on a separate page of its own (in the menu up top where you see info About Weekly Mac and Gluten-Free Pastas) because I don’t want to be shoving ads and such in your face.  If you want to give, great – thank you.  If not, I don’t blame you at all – it’s rough out there! – and I hope you at least stick around to enjoy the recipes.

ANYWAY, let’s get to the recipe, shall we?

Cajun Mac and Cheese (from Shine on Yahoo!)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dried tricolor or plain elbow macaroni (12 oz.) – mine were tricolor rice spirals
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 oz.) – I used a sharp white
  • 4 oz. American cheese, cubed – mine was shredded; it melts better that way
  • 3/4 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (for me this was about 3 whole green onions; your mileage may vary)
  • 1 cup chopped green and/or red sweet peppers (I used 2 red sweet peppers; I think it was more than 1 cup)
  • 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard (I messed this up; see below)
  • 2 tsp. bottled hot pepper sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot; as previously written, we have a bunch)
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. In a large saucepan cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Return to saucepan. Stir in cheddar and American cheeses; set aside. (Note: This will be very gummy and hard to stir, but stick with it)
  2. In a medium skillet cook sweet onion and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in green onions and sweet peppers. Cook and stir 1 minute more; stir onion mixture into pasta-cheese mixture. Spoon into prepared baking dish; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk together milk, eggs, flour, mustard, hot pepper sauce, paprika, and salt until smooth; pour evenly over pasta mixture in baking dish. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Uncover; bake 15 to 20 minutes more or until bubbly and heated through. Let stand 5 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

...and looks like this.

Verdict: 3.5/5

I totally messed up in that I used yellow mustard powder rather than yellow mustard (I use the excuse that I was severely underslept – and well, that I make mistakes a lot).  I think there would been a sharper bite to it than it had as I made it.  I accidentally added a bit more hot sauce than required – I was a bit overzealous in pouring it out – and it still wasn’t really spicy at all, making me wonder why it was called a Cajun variation on mac and cheese in the first place.  All that having been said, however, it isn’t a bad recipe.  I really like the sweetness of the peppers and the caramelized onions, and I love how crispy it got on the edges if the pan.  It could use a do-over to make it right, but it isn’t bad by any stretch.  Some Shine readers suggested adding some Cajun seasoning, and it wouldn’t hurt, but it’s good like this too.