Wednesday, April 28, 2010

American Dinner: Mac n Cheese!!


Ok the title isn’t too American; but I can assure you the end product is as American as warm Apple Pie. Recorded in an English cookbook in the 14th century; Makerouns is a cheese and noodle casserole. Yes good old American Mac and Cheese!

Although the roots of Mac and Cheese can be traced back to Marco Polo and his trip to China; this down home, stick to your bones American comfort food has a strong American past. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson returned to the United States after a trip to Europe while he was the minister to France. Jefferson was a foodie and he brought with him a pasta machine along with many recipes from Italy. What happened next is up for debate but it has been documented in the Library of Congress; one of his guests reported eating “a pie called macaroni,” an early version of what we now call Baked Macaroni and Cheese. It is also said the first serving was by Thomas Jefferson at a White House dinner in 1802 and the first American recipe was published in 1824 by Mary Randolph (Jefferson’s cousin); titled “The Virginia Housewife.” Another American President, Ronald Regan, who absolutely loved Mac and Cheese, had his White House staff prepare the following recipe:

½ pound macaroni, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 egg beaten, 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1 cup of warm milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and pinch of paprika.
Preheat the oven to 350
F, butter a 2-quart casserole dish; add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes; drain in a colander, transfer to a mixing bowl; stir in butter and beaten egg, add 2 ½ cups of the grated cheese. In a small bowl combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce; spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole; pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika; bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch, the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entrĂ©e accompanied by a hot green vegetable and a crisp salad; or as a side dish with hamburgers or meatloaf, two more American staples.

Obviously times changed since Jefferson introduced us to Mac and Cheese. Women began to look for changes outside of the kitchen, and convenient foods were introduced into the market. Mac and Cheese was already a family favorite in American kitchens at the start of the 20th century; Kraft Foods decided the time was right to introduce a dinner in a box, called Kraft Dinner. In 1937 Kraft Macaroni and Cheese made it to the grocery shelves in the USA and Canada; it soon became an instant success. At the start of World War II rationing went into effect; meat, milk and dairy were some of the products rationed. This was also the time when women joined the work force; while their men were serving in the military. After working 12 hours these same women needed something easy to prepare; hence the enormous boost of Kraft Mac and Cheese.

There are numerous names throughout the United States and our American timeline; and of course a wide variety of recipes. In Southeastern Connecticut it was called long ago a macaroni pudding; in Italy the dish was classically made with Parmesan cheese. There is also a variation in Switzerland called Alplermagronen; which means Alpine Herder’s Macaroni. Recently our beloved Mac and Cheese has received a bad rap for obesity. The boxed versions of this homemade favorite actually have fewer calories and fat then the higher quality homemade version. At home there are alternatives by using whole wheat noodles, skim milk, olive oil, etc. Overall I still like Mac and Cheese the way it comes; sticky, gooey, cheesy, yummy goodness.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Modern Cuisine - working with seaweed

So my first day at the Modern Cuisine - Culinary Club was fun and successful.

We worked with a hydrocolloid called Carrageenan; which is derived from Red Seaweed found in the Atlantic Ocean. It's used to thicken different foods and drinks we use everyday. You boil the seaweed to extract the carrageenan; which is ironic because then you boil your liquids with carrageenan to thicken the product.

We created some pretty interesting gels, deserts, drinks, etc...

I worked on two different recipes; one was a pineapple gel which didn't turn out so well...I found out later that I should have put the pineapple juice in a blender. After I had the juice spinning in a vortex then I should have added the iota carrageenan. (two different forms of carrageenan; iota and kappa) Then I could have heated the juice and chilled as specified.

My next recipe was a Chocolate chantilly, foam, was a chocolate mousse/gel desert and then broken in too two other properties. The first was a mixture of water, sugar, heavy cream, melted chocolate, instant coffee and carrageenan. You heat all the ingredients to a minimum of 80 degrees Celsius (or 176 degrees Fahrenheit); then place in molds and chill. This first form is the desert portion...carrageenan causes the finished product to be silky smooth in a gel form. The second form was to but the gel into a blender and make a liquid gel...finally the final form was to place the liquid gel and charge it with nitrogen. You can then create the foam...the finished product is pictured below.

This was a lot of fun and brought me back to my scientific/lab days in middle & high school...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New England Week

This week was New England week...we had New England Clam Chowder, Gingerbread with whipped cream, New England Boiled Dinner (corned beef, cabbage, carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes), Cod Cakes, Clams Casino, Roasted turkey with sweet potato mash, glazed turnips and stuffing...oh and of course blueberry/peach cobbler!


In the two days of New England food and learning the idea behind most of the food; I realized I am not a New England fan. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I am a Dolphins fan and can't stand the Patriots; or I just wasn't thrilled with the mostly bland menu. Don't get me wrong however, the food we created tasted great! But, I look for more flavors to pop in a dish.

Our boiled dinner came out great...all the cuts were done great and chef made the corned beef (because of time constraints). The clam chowder was a hit! Everyone loved it and the taste was perfect. I waited until serving time to add the clams and made sure I used enough clams so every bite had one. As for the condiments; I had Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce on the side to add to the soup if you desired. Our cobbler was awesome; although it could of sat in the oven another 10 minutes to cook the very center. Otherwise the taste was perfect...and the crumb was seasoned well.

On the second day we had a lot to do...
I roasted the turkey (1/2 a bird) with a rub of olive oil, salt, pepper, sage and thyme. We also made clams casino; which consisted of bacon, burnoise red pepper, green pepper, fine diced onion, panko bread crumbs and of course the clam. You saute all the goodies and after steaming the clams and removing from the shell; place back in the shell with a scoop of the breading. Bake the clams in the oven until done. Turnips were glazed the same we learned how to glaze carrots, but we used maple syrup instead of sugar. The stuffing was a little wet because we used panko by accident; but it turned out great!!! The sweet potato mash was very easy to make and Maria added brown sugar to the mash to add sweetness. The cranberry sauce was a boiled reduction on orange, cranberries, sugar and water. Finally the Cod Cakes were a hit, made by Vanessa. Vanessa made the patties of potato and poached cod; then pan fried them. Everyone loved the cakes...

Overall good week and I look forward to the Mid-Atlantic this week...please see the pictures below...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Avocado Tuna Salad

Ok so I tried something out last night for Christina's lunch...

I took one 5 oz can of Bumble Bee Solid Albacore (in water) tuna; mixed it with 1/4 of a Haas avocado, 2 minced dill gherkins; 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp onion powder; pinch of salt; pinch of black pepper; pinch of garlic powder; 1/4 tsp olive oil; 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar; 1 tsp of low fat mayonnaise (NOT miracle BLAH!)...
Mix all ingredients well making it very smooth...

You can add back into half of the avocado shell; top with thin sliced 1/4 of plum tomato; rest of other 1/4 part of avocado and alfalfa sprouts...or put mix in a wrap with tomato, alfalfa and avocado. If you like onion taste add a few thin slices of onion...

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