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Elvis Macaroni and Cheese

20 Feb

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I know what you’re thinking: Elvis ate things other than his legendary fried peanut butter and banana sandwich? And my response to you is: Of course he did. Man cannot subsist on fried sandwiches alone. He must also eat fried chicken. And chicken pot pie. And scrapple. And mac and cheese. And then he must procure himself some Tums and a trainer, because, my landy, after living off of a diet like that you’re either going to lapse into a permanent state of narcoleptic splendor or force yourself to hit the gym. Or, at least, I would. Elvis probably just grabbed another bottle of root beer, tucked his napkin further into his collar, then reached for a fourth slice of ham.

It may seem odd that I am taking this time to highlight the eating habits of Elvis Presley, but I do have a very good excuse for my interest. It is this book, purchased long, long ago on the basis of its title alone:

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That’s a pan-fried bratwurst on the cover, by the way. It is covered with wine-sautéed sauerkraut and bell peppers, then sprinkled with just a dusting of caraway seeds. To Elvis’ right is a rib roast, and to his left is fried chicken. I would imagine that behind Elvis, where no one can see, is a defibrillator, but that’s just speculation on my part. He might have a stash of sweet potato pie back there, for all I know.

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Inside this book, as you can probably imagine, are dozens of recipes based on Elvis’ favorite foods. There are a handful of vegetable recipes in there, quite a bit of meat and potatoes-type dishes, and a solid sampling of dessert finds. Tucked in between a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and a recipe for collard greens cooked with ham, butter, and sugar sits this recipe for macaroni and cheese.

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I first made this macaroni and cheese over a decade ago, when looking for something Southern-ish to take to a potluck. Back then, I made it pretty much as the recipe read, going straight Elvis-style in an effort to stick to the potluck’s Southern theme. In the years since, I have altered the recipe quite a bit, adding flavors here and there, cutting out additional butter, and dreaming up a crisp, crumbly topping for the dish that would provide a bit more textural interest. Though my version does not really resemble the original recipe any longer, I’d like to think that the inspiration is still hovering somewhere in there.

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Being as though this is still macaroni and cheese, we greet this dish about once a year, usually right around Christmas, when we tend to live our lives at the height of indulgence. I may have taken some of the Elvis out of this dish when I toned down its Southern sins (and I swapped in sharp cheddar cheese for Elvis’ stated favorite of American cheese, because no), but it’s still a far cry from being healthy or reasonable. That said, I make this with 1% milk, and you can, if you choose, use whole grain pasta if you really want to attempt to make this dish a bit more virtuous. Don’t go overboard on your healthifying efforts, though. Like I said, it is still macaroni and cheese.

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Last Year: Dal with Coconut Milk and Butter Cake with Blood Orange Curd

Elvis Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Inspired by Are You Hungry Tonight? Elvis’ Favorite Recipes, by Brenda Arlene Butler

1 pound macaroni or cavatappi

2 tablespoons flour

¼ cup finely diced onion

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups milk

2 or 3 slices of dark, whole grain or rye bread, slightly stale or lightly toasted and cooled

1 large clove of garlic

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a large casserole dish or lasagna pan.

Boil pasta in well-salted water until just tender. You still want the pasta to retain a toothsome bite.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the bread slices and garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the two ingredients together until the garlic is pulverized and the bread is finely chopped into breadcrumbs, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot in which it was boiled. Sprinkle over the flour and diced onion, and add the Dijon mustard. Stir to thoroughly combine everything. Add 3 cups of the shredded cheese, and stir to combine.

Pour the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cup of shredded cheese on top. Pour the milk over the pasta. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are dark golden brown.

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Lime Pecan Bars

12 Jul

Does anyone here have a single favorite cookbook? This is something I think about often. Most likely because, when asked the question myself, I tend to freeze up and stammer about categories of cookbooks, eras of cookbooks, and whether or not “favorite” can mean the same thing as “most utilized,” etc. It’s not that I have commitment issues with my cookbooks, it’s just that, when the word favorite is used, I never really know how to distill all the elements of a great cookbook into one choice. Maybe there’s an algorithm somewhere that can help me figure this one out. Something like number of recipes I’ve made more than once from a certain cookbook, divided by number of changes I’ve had to make in each recipe to make it work, plus number of food splatter stains adorning each page, multiplied by number of times I have had actual dreams about certain foods in each cookbook. Surely someone can figure this one out for me.

I’ll go ahead and submit a cookbook for mathematical consideration: Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. This cookbook contains several recipes I’ve visited more than once, nearly all of which I have tinkered with in order to really make them noteworthy, and is patterned with numerous stains and splatters. I have yet to have any actual dreams about the desserts in this book, but, worry not, there is still time.

My only complaint about this cookbook lies with element number two of the equation. Most of the recipes in this book sound absolutely delicious, but lack the sort of punch they need to really make them shine. The problem, of course, could be entirely mine, considering the fact that this cookbook was obviously not made to please my personal palette alone, but I still find myself adding and subtracting from each recipe whenever I endeavor to make something from the book. These lime pecan bars, in particular, have been a sticking point for me. The recipe printed in the book, though passable, has never been what I might consider to be a solid, go-to recipe. I’ve worked my way with it over the years, but no matter what I did, the final texture of the bars always seemed a little off—a tad too gummy for my tastes, and never as tart as I think a citrus bar should be.

However, I am proud to say that, after a few years of off-and-on experimentation, I think I have finally cracked the code of this treat. I upped the lime juice quotient by almost 30%, changed the ratio of eggs to flour, reduced the sugar percentage accordingly, pinched in some sea salt, and tinkered with the baking time. It only took me a half dozen batches or so over the course of a few years (two batches in this week alone), but I think I have done it. A creamy custard baked atop a crisp and slightly nutty base, it is a dessert both pleasingly tart and satisfyingly sweet, without falling too much in the category of either. It is very nearly perfect, and I can say with certainly that this recipe, at least, is now one I can call a favorite.

Last Year: Nectarine and Raspberry Galette in a Cornmeal Crust, and Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Chèvre Galette . What can I say? I like a nice galette.

Lime Pecan Bars Recipe

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Base:

½ cup pecans

¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

pinch of fine grain sea salt

Topping:

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

¾ cup sugar

1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon very finely grated or chopped lime zest

pinch of fine grain sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of an 8” by 8” square baking pan.

In the bowl of a food processor, or by hand, finely chop the pecans. Add the sugar, flour, melted butter, and sea salt, and process or blend with a fork to form a crumbly mixture. Press the crust into the buttered pan, coaxing the crust about ¼ of an inch up the sides and pressing it into place. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until it is golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. Whisk in the flour, lime juice, lime zest, and salt. As soon as the crust is done baking, remove it from the oven, pour in the lime mixture, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the center is no longer wobbly and the top of the bars are only slightly firm to the touch (a finger touched in the center of the bars should leave only a slight indentation.

Remove the bars from the oven and cool at room temperature for 1 hour.

Bars can be cut into 12 medium-sized rectangles, or 16 smaller squares.

From the Depths of the Cookbook Shelves

12 Oct

The Sarah Daft Home is an assisted living facility for the elderly in Utah.  The Sarah Daft Home Cookbook is quite possibly the most enjoyably dated and delightfully unappealing cookbook I’ve ever had the pleasure of perusing.  As someone who is endlessly fascinated by the used-to-be-relevant content of old cookbooks (warning: that link right there will take you directly to a tutorial on how to cook and eat a porcupine), the Sarah Daft Home Cookbook has provided me with an almost embarrassing amount of amusement.

The book starts things off right with a few advertisement for local businesses.  This particular ad has the unfortunate effect of seeming as though it was written in the voice of Norman Bates:

The recipes in the book read like they were written by two ladies sitting around and talking to one another about what they like to cook.  Take, for example, this recipe for something called penny muffins:

Okay, so then you set them aside to rise and then…?  Did Mrs. E. J. Raddatz have to excuse herself to go answer a knock at the door?  WHERE IS THE REST OF THE RECIPE?  I mixed my batter at noon, just like you told me to, but then what?

Mrs. Charles Wilkes seems to suffer a similar predilection for intrigue when it comes to her recipe for delta gamma muffins:

That’s it.  There is nothing else written about those muffins.  At least the woman above her, Mrs. H. N. Mayo has the decency to at least suggest mixing and then cooking the ingredients, albeit somewhat mysterously in an oven that is described as being nothing other than “slow.”

Some recipes seem to be so popular, more than one lady chose to submit her favored recipe, as in the case of these competing recipes for the attractively named shrimp wiggle:

This recipe for Japanese salad seems to be an effort in composing a dish made entirely of items one would never, ever encounter while in Japan, but might possibly encounter if forced to create a dish while blindfolded and harvesting ingredients from a cartoon cat’s shopping cart:

Many of the recipes in my copy of the book have been marked by the previous owner.  Some notations seem to be indications of a successful effort (lots of underlining and a small, modest check mark), while others speak volumes with the simplicity of their verdict:

Pork cake and burnt leather cake?  Inexplicably, both get a yes.

Bread crumb pudding?  No.

Brain timbale?  Let me see what I will need to make this.  Oh, yes, now I see: brains.

I like how this page starts off with a recipe that seems like it could be a real thing, but then the rest of the page just seems to give up as it goes along, eventually descending into gibberish:

If you are looking for a copy of this cookbook to claim as your own, I am sorry to inform you that it is long out of print. My copy was gifted to me by a friend (on account of the fact that the author of the cookbook shares the exact same name as me, down to the same middle initial), but I did find one copy available on Etsy.

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