Recipe 68: Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes

There are a few recipes that I say are “due for a do-over,” which usually means I’m pretty sure I did something wrong to make the dish less than perfect. However there was one mac I made that inspired an entirely new one. I wish I could take credit for it, but it was Loverman who came up with it. When I made the lobster mac and cheese, he came up with several changes to the recipe that he thought would make it even better. I’m finally getting around to trying those changes. So here we are, another Weekly Mac original!

Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes
Ingredients
8 oz. cheddar(I used sharp yellow)
8 oz gruyere
2 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
1/4 onion, diced
3 tablespoons flour (or gluten free substitute)
3 tablespoons truffle oil
1 lb pasta (I used corn elbows)
8oz lump crab meat (my container said it was best for crab cakes)
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup chopped basil
about 6oz chopped sundried tomatoes (mine came with “Italian basil seasoning” already on them)
1/4 c breadcrumbs
Blue cheese to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Cook pasta according to package directions while you make the sauce.

Take about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in it. 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. when the milk is almost boiling, slowly add the cheese in handfuls and make sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next. When all the cheese is in, add the truffle oil, herbs, and sundried tomatoes. Mix the pasta with the sauce and crab. Throw mixture into a 9″x13″ dish. Top with breadcrumbs and as many crumbles of blue cheese as you see fit (I used the better part of a 4oz container).

Put dish in oven and cook for 20 minutes. I didn’t want to do too much longer because I didn’t want to overcook the crab. Wait about 5 – 10 minutes for it to cool before serving.

Verdict: 2/5 – I gotta tell you, this was a real let down for both of us. The crab was too fishy. The sundried tomatoes, pre seasoned, were too loud, drowning out all flavors but the fishy crab. The best part was the blue cheese, and that was just the topping.

Do you have any recipes you think I should try? Let me know!

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Recipe 54 – Lox Mac and Cheese

Every now and then, I get curious about unusual ingredients. Sure, some of this can be curiosity about fancy-pants ingredients that I can never afford, like beluga caviar and shaved truffles, but more often it’s a curiosity about pretty humble ingredients. Like… What do Vienna sausages taste like? Do they taste like hot dogs, or maybe another humble ingredient, SPAM? Bologna? How are they different from cocktail wieners? Why don’t they look like other sausages?

Every now and then I decide to satisfy my curiosity and buy one of these ingredients to check it out. I still haven’t been brave enough to try out Vienna sausages, but I did happen to see this at my local grocery store:

IMG_7474

And I decided that I must try it.

Back before my gluten-free days, I was introduced to lox on bagels, and I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it. Since this product is just smoked salmon, who’s to say it wouldn’t make a good substitute for a higher quality lox? It might not be the finest specimen, but cheese can cover a multitude of culinary sins, my friends.

Online there are a few recipes for a lox mac and cheese. I didn’t particularly like the look of any of them. So I did my best to cobble together another Weekly Mac Original!

Lox Mac and Cheese – a Weekly Mac original!

Ingredients
8 oz pasta – I used corn rigatoni, but elbows would work just as well
1 cup milk – I used skim, use what you have
8 oz cream cheese, cut into pieces (this is one package)
1 tin smoked salmon – my tin said it was 3.8 oz, so use something around that size
1/4 c breadcrumbs – mine were gluten-free, but if you can have gluten I’d encourage you to use rye or even onion bread for this, but just plain ol’ breadcrumbs will do fine too
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Cook pasta according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, pour milk into a small pot and warm to medium. Add cream cheese in pieces and heat slooooowly over a lower medium heat, stirring constantly to get rid of gloppiness. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you are fancy and making your own breadcrumbs, do that now. When pasta is finished, toss into cheese sauce. Open tin of salmon, be taken aback by the smell, and drain of any liquid (mine was packed in oil). Break apart salmon and stir into pasta mixture. Pour pasta into 8×8 dish and top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, cool, and serve.

Verdict: 2/5
Confucius say beware of tinned fish.

It was way too smokey for both my and my husband’s tastes. The cream cheese sauce was too bland, needing something salty. The breading really didn’t offer much. Really the whole thing was a misstep.


Recipe 22: Maitake Mushroom Mac – a Weekly Mac Original!

Although I have what I’d like to consider a fairly diverse palette, I do recognize that I can get weirdly picky about certain foods.  Take spinach, for example:  Raw is always fine, but sometimes when it’s wilted and half the time when it’s fully cooked it tastes gross to me; and despite many attempts to discover it, I have yet to determine where exactly that line is between Good and Not Good.  For someone who has not had qualms about trying eel, alligator, or escargot, among other unusual things, I can get very specifically persnickety about certain very common foods.

Mushrooms are one of those foods.  For many years the only exposure I had was those mushy slices on pizzas or the slimy jarred specimens.  Nothing about either appealed to me or made me curious to try more.  They were flaccid – there was no other word for it – and tasted foul to me.  I did not understand how people could actually willingly consume these bizarre fungi.

However, there were some tentative forays into the mushroom possibilities.  My mother, another mycophobe, tried a chicken-mushroom soup that she enjoyed, and when making it herself, she cut the little shrooms extra small so as not to offend even her own palette; I liked it too.  A few years later, at the salad bar in college, one day I decided to be bold and add a couple of raw button mushrooms to my leafy spread.  Still a tad spongy, but definitely not the squishy grey blob I’d had before, and with a pleasant mild earthy taste.  The door was opened to further explorations.

Still, as the years passed, I didn’t go running for the shrooms in the produce aisle.  I knew it could be all right, but I was still leery.  Old food prejudices die hard, I suppose – I mean, they are a fungus, after all; that’s hard to get over.  When Loverman and I were dating and he told me about some Polish dish he liked that was mainly button mushrooms, I expressed my uncertainty, but reluctantly permitted him to make it.  My mouth did not reject the mushroom-laden plate, and in fact I really enjoyed it.  But there were still some times when I’d have mushrooms and get grossed out, so it was – and is – still trial and error.

I want to have a diverse palette.  Not even necessarily a sophisticated palette (as a rule my favorite wine choices are ridiculously sweet, for example), but I’d like to be one of those people who enjoys the majority of food choices out there.  Every so often I’ll try a new food or one that I have been cautious of trying again just to see if I will like it.  In the case of mushrooms, I have bought buttons here and there to try in dishes.  I even bought a pack of “mixed mushrooms” which contained shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms – mainly because I had seen a green-friendly product that would allow you to grow your own oyster mushrooms, and I was curious whether or not I would like them.  Turns out, oyster mushrooms were not for me.

The maitake, however, were all right.  I was only recently reminded of this by the most recent issue of Edible Finger Lakes, which featured an interview with Eugenia Bone, who recently wrote a book on mushrooms, and a small one page bit on mushrooms that can be foraged locally.  One of these is maitake, AKA hen-of-the-woods, not to be confused with chicken-of-the-woods, which is apparently a different mushroom.  It has been described as having such a hearty, almost meaty texture that it has reportedly helped some aspiring vegetarians make the switch from meat.  Well, aspiring vegetarian I am not, but I do aspire to expand my culinary horizons – and hey, there is nothing wrong with reducing one’s meat consumption.

There are plenty of places that can help you learn about foraging for mushrooms safely.  This is not one of them – unless you want help going to the local fancy-pants grocery store and picking up a pack, as I did.  I used most of it in a non-mac recipe that was excellent, but I still had a fair amount leftover.  What better use could this leftover chunk have than to become my next mac and cheese creation?

Funny thing: The Internet abounds with recipes for macs and cheese that include mushrooms, but not many that call specifically for maitake mushrooms.  Apparently a restaurant or two makes one, but the recipes are not immediately available – and what is the Internet for if not instant gratification?  No good.  So, in the spirit of culinary courage, I researched some cheese pairings that work well with maitake (I didn’t want to smother the natural umami of the shrooms but rather compliment it), consulted a few other mac recipes, and concocted my own recipe.  So here I stand before you (well, OK, I am sitting on the couch), humbly presenting the very first Weekly Mac Original Recipe.

Much as I am not a professional chef, I am likewise not a professional recipe author or tester.  I hope I’ve made this clear enough for anyone, but please feel free to ask for clarification if I’ve fallen short, either by leaving a comment below or by e-mailing me at weeklymacATyahooDOTcom

Maitake Mushroom Mac (a Weekly Mac original!)

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. pasta of choice – I used corn elbows
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for later
  • Half of a medium-sized yellow onion, diced (any other sweet onion would work well, too)
  • 3.5 oz maitake mushrooms, cleaned off and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces… I’m sure 3 oz. or 4 oz. would be just fine, too; this is just how much my leftovers weighed.
  • 1 Tablespoon flour or gluten-free flour substitute
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (this is approximately what I had leftover from the last recipe)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Pecorino Romano, or just use the same amount of Parmesan or Gruyere
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese (a mild cheddar would probably work too)
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (use the real stuff if you can; it’s so much better than shaky-cheese)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Boil pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, add olive oil to a medium pan and put heat at medium-low to medium.  Add onion and sauté until onion is very soft and translucent, about 5 minutes or so.  Increase heat slightly and add maitake mushrooms to the onions, cooking until most of the moisture has left the mushrooms, maybe 3 – 5 minutes.  If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more oil, but I didn’t need to.  Your mileage may vary.  When this has been cooked, set aside – or if the pasta is cooked and drained by now, add it to the pasta.  Don’t put the pan in the sink yet; you’ll need it later.

Now in a medium pot, melt butter and add flour or flour-substitute, making a roux by stirring the flour into the butter.  Try to keep it white, but I usually mess this up and let it get brown (although not this time – go me!), so unless it’s burned horribly, you’re probably OK.  Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously.  Add the Colby jack, Gruyere, and Pecorino Romano – slowly so it won’t turn into glop – continuously stirring to incorporate the cheese into the milk-mixture.  Taste it, and if it needs salt or pepper, add some.  I tend to just add a dash of each for good measure, but I only added a bit of pepper, as I felt the Pecorino lent it enough saltiness.

Once the cheese is thoroughly incorporated, the sauce is ready: Thoroughly combine the pasta, onion and maitake mixture, and cheese sauce in a 7”x11” dish.  If you’re really worried about it overflowing or you’d prefer a thinner mac, then go ahead and use a 9”x13” – I just prefer my mac thicker, plus with the volume of food I didn’t see need for the larger dish.

In the same pan in which you cooked the onions and mushrooms, add another healthy glug of olive oil (yes, that’s a technical term – approximately another 2 Tablespoons if you’re looking for something more scientific) and turn heat to low.  Add the breadcrumbs, rosemary, and thyme, and stir to incorporate thoroughly; if it is too dry and not coming together well, you didn’t glug enough – add some more olive oil.  When it is incorporated and starting to become fragrant, remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Once cool, mix in Parmesan cheese.  Add the breadcrumbs-Parmesan mix to the top of the pasta-cheese mixture – make sure you spread it evenly!

Put in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the top turns a nice golden brown.  Then wait 5 – 10 minutes for it to cool before glomming it down like the marvelous mac-monster you are

Hen-of-the-woods, a vegetarian ingredient.

Verdict: 3/5

Not to toot my own horn, but toot-toot!

OK, it’s not the best mac I’ve ever tried, but for it being the first time I’ve tried concocting my own recipe, I feel I went pretty darn well.  I think making it again I would leave the mushrooms a bit chunkier, since I think some of that nice, meaty texture got lost.  Loverman felt it needed to be a bit cheesier, so maybe increasing the cheddar or the gruyere would help.  I do also think that – despite what I usually think – the bread crumbs were a bit much.  Maybe just 1/4 cup or so might be enough?  I do like the thyme and rosemary to compliment the savory flavor of the maitake – clearly there, but not overwhelmingly so.

If any of you try this, please let me know!  Even if you don’t like it, let me know anyway (but politeness is appreciated – and suggestions appreciated even more).  I hope this will just be the first in a series of original recipes… And nowhere to go but up from here (hopefully).