Baked (or not baked) Macaroni and Cheese: In the Woods

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This comfort meal is adapted from our own traditional recipe. It had to be downsized so as not to allow for leftovers (shocking, I know).

Start by boiling up a pot of salted water for your pasta. I figure 2 cups uncooked macaroni will do just fine.  Cook that according to the package directions and then drain.

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Continue by frying up some bacon or breakfast ham, a couple slices (the Pie has outlawed bacon in the house so ham will have to do).  Crumble or slice the cooked meat and set it aside. Chop up a large tomato as well and put that aside for now. These both went into the freezer for me. I also made sure to bring my trusty Tabasco:

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Assemble your sauce: in a saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter.

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Then mix in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour. Slowly drizzle in 1 cup milk and stir until it starts to thicken.

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Then add in 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese, and stir until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with Tabasco sauce and salt and pepper.

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Tip your sauce, meat, and tomato into the pasta and stir to coat.

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If it hadn’t been raining, we would have then shoved the whole thing into our Outback Oven and baked it for about 20 minutes until it was all crusty and bubbly. As it was raining and we were cold and damp, we just ate it in its squishy state and it was amazing.

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Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

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Ando made this for Thidz’ birthday last week and it went down so well that he suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is, adapted to his standards.  While the whole thing takes a little while to prepare, it’s all easy stuff that you can do in stages.  I ended up having most of it ready in the morning and then just chucked it together at the end and baked it.  But we’ll work from the bottom up on this layered casserole.  Also, the recipe says it serves 8, but really it serves 4 because you are going to want seconds.

BOTTOM:

Preheat your oven to 425°F and spray a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray.  My pan was a little wider, but that’s fine.

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In a teeny bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and some salt and ground black pepper to taste.

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Peel 2 medium sweet potatoes.  I only had large ones, so I opted to just do one, but I could have used both and it would have been fine.

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Use a mandoline to shave off super thin slices.

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Chuck those pieces in a bowl, drizzle with a few tablespoons vegetable oil, and add in your spice mix.  Toss with your hands until the oil and spices evenly coat all the potato pieces.

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Layer the sweet potato slices evenly in the bottom of the pan.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are softened and starting to brown.  Ando wanted to bake them longer to make them more crisp, so I tried that, but I found that once you piled the rest of the ingredients on top they went soft again anyway, so don’t worry too much about that.  The Pie hoped for a thicker layer of sweet potatoes (because I only used the one potato and my pan was wider), so next time I would go for two.

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MIDDLE:

Grab yourself some pork tenderloin.  I had a boneless pork loin rib here that was on stupid sale so I used that.

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You’ll need 2lbs pork, cut into 2″ chunks.  If I did this again, I would cut the chunks larger, just so your pulled pork strings end up being decently long.

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Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add in the meat.  It goes gray almost immediately, which is kind of gross.  Reduce to a simmer and leave that on the go for about an hour.

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Drain the pork and use 2 forks to shred it into little pieces.

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Then you’re going to need some barbecue sauce.  Ando expressed concern that the sauce tended to overpower the more delicate flavours of the macaroni and cheese on top, so we picked out a milder apple butter sauce and it worked out fantastically.  The sweetness of the apple really worked well with the pork.

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So you pour 14oz barbecue sauce all over your pork and mix it in.

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Then you add in 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and stir that in as well, then set the whole thing aside.

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TOP:

Bring another saucepan of water to a boil and add a pinch or two of salt.  When it’s boiling, add in 8oz elbow pasta (MACARONI) and cook according to your package instructions.  When it’s ready, drain the water, saving about 1/4 cup of it.  Add the water back to the pasta in the pot.

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Add to the pasta 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (I think the sharper the better), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere (we used Jarlsberg), and 1/4 cup creme fraiche (which is next to impossible to find in Newfoundland, so we used sour cream instead).  Because Ando suggested boosting the flavour of the mac, I added a few crumbles of blue cheese (Rochefort) as well.

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Stir that up until it’s all melted, then add a few drops of hot sauce (we used Tabasco) to taste.

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Season it with salt and pepper and set it aside.

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CRUST:

Melt 1/4 cup butter and stir it up with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.

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ASSEMBLY:

Smooth the pulled pork over the sweet potatoes.

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Dollop the macaroni on top of that and flatten it down a bit.

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Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of that to completely cover the macaroni.

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Bake for 15 minutes, until the casserole is hot through and the bread crumbs are browned.

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DISASSEMBLY:

Ideally you should be able to pop open the springform pan and cut this puppy like a cake.  My pork ended up being supremely saucy and thus too slithery to be architecturally sound in terms of casserole structure.  Meaning I tried to pop off the frame and then the whole thing went sideways — literally and figuratively.  So we just scooped it out with spoons, hence the lack of presentation.  Didn’t matter.  Ate it anyway.  And it was awesome.  Thanks Ando!

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Fancy Cheese ‘n’ Do

Happy Discovery Day Holiday, Newfoundlanders!

In Newfoundland it’s not called “macaroni and cheese”, nor is it even known by the short form of “mac and cheese.”  No, here it’s called “cheese ‘n’ do”.  The ‘cheese’ is pretty self-explanatory, but the ‘do’ comes from what locals refer to as “scooby-do pasta,” which is not formed in the shape of a cartoon dog’s face, believe it or not.  It’s the long macaroni that curls around itself a few times in a helix, otherwise known as cavatappi (“corkscrew”).  I feel like we also called it scooby-do pasta when I was growing up in Nova Scotia, but I need a sibling or parent to back me up on that one.  Feel free to tell me as well that I’m completely wrong.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any cavatappi for this particular recipe (which is odd, this being Newfoundland), so I went with gemelli instead, which is like the double-helix version of scooby-do.

'Do for two.

Mac and cheese is one of the Pie’s favourite meals, and this is one that he has perfected over the years.  We like to experiment with our cheese sauce, adding spices or even other sauces, and we have in the past added sausages and peppers to the mix.  As with most traditional recipes where each of us has preconceived notions of ingredient proportions, my cheese sauce has more cheese in it than he does, and it is a constant fight to get him to add tomatoes.  While I used to think tomatoes were a horrid addition to this casserole, my mother always insisted and now I have seen the light.  The Pie has not yet come around to the idea.  It’s a constant struggle.  Anyway, this is mostly his recipe, though I was allowed to contribute in order to post it.  Now I know all his secrets.

Tonight we took advantage of our overabundance of Ontario cheese, as well as the fresh basil now growing in the kitchen.

Grate up between two and three cups of cheese for this recipe, and what kind you use is up to you (though mozzarella doesn’t work very well, gotta say).  We used a combination of emmentaler, gruyère, and regular old cheddar.  Make sure you have all your additions ready (like if you’re adding meat, it’s cooked and ready to go) before you start melting the cheese.  Once the cheese has melted you have a limited amount of time before it starts to burn so you want to work quickly.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Melt about two tablespoons butter in a saucepan.  Add in two tablespoons flour, and mix well so there are no lumps.

Pour in two cups milk and make it nice and hot, though don’t let it boil or burn.

While that’s going on, cook up a box (450g) of small noodles (like macaroni) according to package instructions.  Drain and return to the pot you cooked it in. 

Whisk  two to three cups grated cheese into your hot milk.  You can retain some of this for sprinkling on top of the casserole but that’s up to you.  Add lots of salt and pepper to the cheesy mix.  We also added several sliced leaves of fresh basil to the sauce at this point.

When the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is thick (careful not to burn it!), empty your sauce into the pot with the noodles and give it a good stir.  Make sure the cheese coats all the noodles and whatever else you put in there.  We like to add a few things to the noodles, so we put in half a can of diced, drained tomatoes.  We also put in some diced cooked bacon.Be thorough in your stirring.Pour out into a sufficiently large casserole dish (9″ x 13″ works well) and smooth out the top.  The noise made when stirring macaroni in a sauce is truly disgusting.  I love it.

You can sprinkle on any leftover cheese at this stage.  Some people like to top their mac with a butter and bread crumb mixture, but we figure we have enough carbs going on, so we just add more fat.  Mmmm.Bake uncovered for 25 minutes, or until the top is crispy and bubbling throughout.  Remove from the oven and let it cool for ten minutes or so before serving.  If you don’t you will sear the inside of your mouth with molten cheese and everything will get all over the place.  The casserole needs to solidify a bit first.Serve it with some vegetables on the side or whatever you want.  I like to add a few drops of Tabasco to mine for added spiciness.This keeps well for leftovers, if your husband doesn’t eat it all immediately.

Home-Made Chicken Noodle Soup

Every time we have whole roasted poultry in the house I make soup afterwards.  Soup is a great thing to have in your freezer for days when you’re feeling lazy, and making soup from leftover chicken or turkey ensures that you can get every scrap of meat from that bird.

I saved the carcass and the wings from the tarragon chicken we had the other night.  If you’re not prepared to make soup right away you can always wrap up the carcass and freeze it for a later date.  Just don’t forget about it, otherwise you’ll be pulling bird bones out of your freezer for months.

Anyway, take your carcass, including wing bones or leftover thighs or whatever, plus all your skin and whatever you used to season the bird (in this case I stuffed it with lemons) and chuck it in a large pot.  Add enough water to just cover the whole thing, and drop in a spoonful or so of powdered chicken stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let that sucker simmer for about an hour or so.

Remove from the heat and strain your broth.  I set a large colander inside a large bowl and pour the whole pot contents into that.

Then I can just lift the colander and all the broth drains out, leaving me with the bits still in the colander.

Return the broth to the pot and let the boiled carcass cool enough to handle.

Here’s where you get to play your favourite carrion bird, and you can go over that carcass and remove every last scrap of meat from every part of it. 

There’s always a lot more meat on the chicken’s back (which is usually the underside if you roast it breast-up) than you think, especially around the ribs.  Get all those little tidbits out and drop them into the broth. 

You can now discard your picked-over carcass, flabby skin, gristle, and whatever else was in the pot that isn’t meat.

Return the pot with the broth and chicken bits to the heat and bring to a boil.  At this point I like to add a bit of oregano.

Then you can pour in the noodle of your choice.  This time I used macaroni.

Boil for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked, then serve.  As I said, this stuff freezes well and it keeps in the fridge for about a week.