Friday, May 9, 2014

Almost Kinda Sorta Mac-n-Cheese. Maybe.

This is mac-n-cheese, sort of, but just barely.  It’s more like high-end buttered noodles.  It’s creamy and rich without being cheesy.  It’s doable in about 10 minutes. 

You could easily pour the finished macaroni into a baking dish, sprinkle some buttered, herbed crumbs on top, bake it, and call it a gratin de p√Ętes facile, and impress the hell out of your friends at your next smart dinner party.

Whaddaya mean, you don't have smart dinner parties?

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 stick (4 oz, 8 Tbps) butter
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
Black pepper to taste

Cook elbow macaroni in generously salted water until just al dente.   Before draining, reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Put butter and cream cheese, both softened to room temperature (I have a “soften” setting on my microwave, and it comes in handy for this sort of application), in a mixing bowl.  Add cooked, drained pasta to the bowl and mix, melting the butter and cream cheese to coat the macaroni.  Add pasta cooking water as needed to create a creamy sauce. 

Add grated pecorino or romano and black pepper, and mix well. 

Serve immediately.

I'd show you a photo, but I neglected to take one....

Monday, May 5, 2014

Roast pork shoulder tutorial

I got this message from a friend of mine, stationed overseas.  It's been slightly edited for privacy.  

"...There right before [us] was a 13 pound frozen pork shoulder. [We] bought it immediately, remembering that you had cooked one for your blog and it looked wonderful. So now I am writing asking for more cooking advice beyond "open pan, 325, for about four hours." how did you spice it and how did you make the gravy? We'll send you photos of how ours turned out, giving you full credit if its good, and we probably won't say much to anybody if it isn't."

He was referring to my recent post in which I described a whole pork shoulder that I roasted.  

My reply:

That's a big piece of meat! 

First, does it have the skin (rind) on it?  If so, that's the best!  If the skin had been removed it probably has a fat cap, or layer of fat that was just under the skin. 

You'll see in the blog post that I have the roast inverted on my cutting board.  I cut small slits in the meat, and insert pieces of garlic with parsley leaves (or basil, or rosemary, or thyme, or a combination if you have them) in about ten places in the roast.

I then salt and pepper the roast liberally on all sides, situate it skin side UP in the roasting pan, and as you say, open pan, 325°F, for about 4 hours. 

After you have removed the roast from the oven, remove it to a platter, and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the drippings.  (If it's easier, you can pour everything off, and re-measure the reserved fat back into the pan.)  Put the pan on the stove top, and add a couple tablespoons of flour to the fat in the pan, stir it around and start scraping up the brown bits in the pan.  Add a few cups of chicken stock (the canned variety is fine), and continue to scrape up the brown bits.  As it cooks, the gravy will thicken.  If the gravy becomes too thick, add more stock or even water, until you have a gravy of your desired thickness.  Check seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the gravy into a serving bowl, and pass at the table. 

Another option for gravy (fussier, but it works well), is to make your gravy ahead in a separate pot on the stove top, using butter instead of pan drippings, and a homemade stock, made with pork bones and aromatic vegetables.  This is how a lot of people make their Thanksgiving gravy, albeit with turkey stock, instead of waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven.

If the skin was left on the roast, you can peel if off, crack it into pieces, and enjoy it with your meal. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Dulce de leche in a can

I first came across this back in my college days, when my roommate Peter, an American who lived in Brazil, made this according to his Brazilian mother's recipe.

He took small cans of sweetened condensed milk, placed them in a pot, covered them in water, and simmered them over low heat on a hotplate for several hours in our dormitory room.  When opened, the cans contained a caramel-colored cream, dulce de leche.  (As his reference point was Brazilian, I don't recall him using that term, a Spanish phrase, but that's what it was.)

Dulce de leche has become the flavor "It Girl," and can be found everywhere, it seems -- yogurt, ice cream, cookies, cocktails.

I ran out of half-and-half last week, and popped open a can of Borden's Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk for my coffee. Eh, it was ok (cafe con leche!), but I'm not fond of that "cooked" milk flavor that SCM and its cousin, evaporated milk, impart to coffee.

So, I covered up the can, and popped it back into the fridge.

I'm frugal by nature, so rather than throw the stuff away, I decided to try to make some dulce de leche.  The can was already open, so I covered it tightly with some aluminum foil, then set it into my 12-qt pasta pot, with the strainer insert.  Added water to the pot, brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, covered it, and let it steam for about 90 minutes.  When I came back, the water had fully evaporated.  I was a bit surprised by that, considering there were about 4 quarts of water in the pot, and it was on a very low flame.

I removed the foil-covered can with my jar lifter (same one I use for putting up jams), removed the foil, and eureka! there was dulce de leche.  Perfectly done. 

Doing it again, I'd be sure to check on the water level, but no harm, no foul this time around.

Once cooled, it's thick and caramel-y, and great spread between a couple crackers, or on toast.  If I only had some ice cream in the house, I'd try it on that....