How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Blue Jean Mac & Cheese

Once again, Pam has proven her prowess at finding recipes that can be made with ingredients on hand in our larder. It helps that we keep the kitchen well supplied with a variety of ingredients and very few prepared foods. It also helps that we have a lot of cook books. But mainly Pam is just very good at this.

Knowing that we had some bacon remaining from earlier dishes. Pam looked for a recipe that would make good use of it. She turned first to Comfortable in the Kitchen by Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef (BJC). I think she might have a television show. The book had been a gift of my mother, and features slightly sophisticated comfort foods, such as the Comfortable Crusty Chicken and ginger salmon we blogged about last December.

On page 80, Pam found Bacon, Tomato and Green Pea Mac 'n' Cheese. The recipe begins with heating the oven to 350F, and then bringing a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. It calls for macaroni or "other short pasta" which in this case meant penne. A couple minutes before the pasta was done, I added 1-1/2 cups of frozen peas. I had never thought of doing so at this early stage, but will certainly do so in future casseroles. When strained, the pasta and peas just rested in the colander while I continued to work with the indispensable cast-iron skillet.

The recipe calls for 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved. At Pam's suggestion, I used a can of diced tomatoes, placing them in a sieve early in the process so that they would be well drained.

There I had been cooking bacon. The BJC called for six slices, chopped into one-inch pieces. I had missed that detail until just now, and failed to chop up the bacon. Fortunately I had gotten it crispy enough that it easily broke into pieces in the mixing bowl. I removed the bacon and then cooked a small, finely-chopped onion until it was translucent and added six tablespoons of flour and one tablespoon of mustard powder (the BJC had suggested only two teaspoons). I then gradually whisked in four cups of milk (not too cold) until a roux was formed, brought it to a gentle simmer and cooked it until thickened.
Photo: Comfortable in the Kitchen
I removed the skillet from heat and then stirred in the grated cheeses. I used a total of about three cups of sharp Vermont cheddar and parmesan, but the BJC calls for 3 cups Gruyere or Swiss, 2 cups cheddar, and one cup parmesan.

Once the cheeses were incorporated into the sauce, everything went into a big mixing bowl for thorough stirring. I then combined panko crumbs (in lieu of the homemade bread crumbs BJC suggests) with thyme and parsley (again substituting dry herbs for the fresh ones called for) as a topping. I put the penne mix in a 9x13 casserole and topped it with the crumb mix. I baked this for about a half hour.

The result: excellent comfort food and plenty of it. It will be a significant part of this afternoon's Saturday linner. The only drawback to this recipe is that it turned what is often a one-dish recipe into an every-dish-we-own recipe. This made me grateful for our dishwasher!

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