Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oh, yeah... (~sigh~)

A friend talked about making pumpkin mac and cheese for dinner the other night. It sounded wonderful, so I Googled to find the recipe.


The recipe? There are several. I picked this one--and immediately tampered with the ingredients.
  • 3 cups mostaccioli or penne pasta, uncooked; I used elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups 2% reduced fat milk
  • ¾ cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree; I used canned
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack Cheese; I used 4 oz sharp Cheddar
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese; I used 4 oz more of sharp Cheddar
  • ½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (optional); I used this
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
Then I followed the directions.


When I first thought about making this, I realized I needed a pot large enough to cook pasta in. I bought a 6-quart stockpot last week. It's got a perforated insert that makes draining water from your pasta really easy, and it worked just fine.

But I didn't think about needing a sauce pan. To make the sauce, I pulled out my largest sauce pan, which isn't large at all. By the time I added two cups of milk and ¾ cup of pumpkin, there was no way I was getting 2½ cups of cheese in there too. So I put in as much as I could, and carried on with the recipe. Once I got everything in the baking pan, I put the rest of the cheese on top.

No room for more cheese

The oven was predictably unpredictable about temperature, but it's less critical in a dish like this since everything but the cheese actually was cooked before it got combined in the dish to be baked. All I really had to do was leave it in the oven long enough for the top to color up a bit.
It tasted wonderful. But it didn't taste very pumpkin-y. I think my sharp Cheddar cheese may have had a stronger taste and overwhelmed the pumpkin; or perhaps the recipe just needs more pumpkin. I think sometime I'll look up other pumpkin mac and cheese recipes and compare their ingredients to mine to see if it's the cheese or the amount of pumpkin--or both--that muffled the pumpkin taste.

But it looked lovely, and I've got leftovers in the fridge.

And I've added "2 qt sauce pan" to my shopping list.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chili today...

...and hot tamale.


Today's chili is
1 pound of browned ground beef
1 can of red beans
1 can of black beans
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
The onions I had left from this week's meatloaf
And--instead of cans of tomatoes--enough V-8 juice to cover everything in the crock-pot (about half of a 48-ounce bottle).
Cooked in the crockpot on high for 3 hours, low for another hour.

And I made more cornbread muffins. Tonight's chili came on two of the muffins. I've got four more muffins and plenty more chili for leftovers.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Comfort Food

I made meatloaf tonight from my mother's recipe:

Mix 2 slices crumbled bread (see note below)
½ c milk
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
¼ c chopped onion
1 t salt
½ t sage

In a shallow pan, shape into loaf.

I chopped two onions and stored the extra for when I make chili later this week. And I didn't have bread; I don't like to buy it because I rarely use more than a couple of slices before the loaf turns green. I used leftover cornbread I'd made over the weekend.

Mother's meatloaf is good--but nothing spectacular. But what I have always loved is her sauce. I was always disappointed by meatloaf in a restaurant, because it came with a tomato sauce topping or with brown gravy. Mother's sauce is more like a homemade barbeque sauce--sweet and tangy:

6 T brown sugar
½ c ketchup
½ t nutmeg
1 t dry mustard (or 1 T prepared mustard)

Cover the meatloaf with the sauce and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.


* * *

Skillet Cornbread

My mother used to make cornbread in her little cast-iron skillet. Once I got my skillet properly seasoned, I wanted cornbread. I followed the recipe on the instant cornbread, but my temperamental oven betrayed me. Not hot enough, then too hot, then not enough. When the timer dinged, it looked right and was firm on top, but it wasn't cooked all the way through, and it stuck to the skillet. (Scraping it off the skillet left some gouges in the new finish. It'll need to be seasoned again before I use it. I'm not sure skillet cornbread is worth that much effort. I can use the same recipe and make cornbread muffins.) Anyway, it tasted fine, and I wasn't worried about the undercooked part in the middle since I was planning to use some of the cornbread in the meatloaf anyway.

* * *

The other day, a friend mentioned making pumpkin mac and cheese for her family. I thought it sounded good, and I have pumpkin galore around here. All I needed to get was pasta. So I did (and got some extra cheese), got home with the pasta and suddenly realized: I didn't have anything to cook the pasta in. I have microwavable bowls, but there are no instructions on the pasta for microwaving. (It probably could be done--using the timing for, say, boil-in-bag rice--but it might not be very good.) The only cook-on-the-stovetop pots/pans I owned were an 8-inch skillet and a couple of tiny sauce pans you could heat a can of soup in.

I'd had my eye on a stockpot, so I went out Monday and bought one. It's an 6-quart size with a lid/insert to help with draining pasta. I got the brick-red colored pot. It won't match my kitchen stuff, but I'm going to go for a Crayola color scheme: gold stove and hood, cobalt tea kettle, beige crock-pot (with aqua and orange--sort of University of Miami/Miami Dolphin colors)--and now a brick-colored stockpot.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Cooking has progressed. I finally managed to make the orange muffins without screwing them up. Sorry, no pictures. Most of the muffins have been eaten. But I really got them right. The batter was nice and lumpy and light, probably because I blended the liquids longer and didn't stir the livin' daylights out of the wet-plus-dry mixture. (Options: Demerara sugar, butter rather than oil. And a well-scrubbed orange.)

I've broiled two steaks. Butter, garlic powder (or minced garlic), ground black pepper. Nothing fancy, but it's been a long time since I had steak. Medium-rare, at that.

I've microwaved chicken breasts: a little lemon juice in the dish, mayonnaise on top of the breast, then garlic powder and ground black pepper. The mayonnaise keeps the chicken breast from drying out, and it disappears into the chicken with cooking. Seven minutes at #7 power was perfect; no pink left, 165F on the thermometer.

I bought a package of muffin mix. Chocolate chip muffins. Sounds good, but it was disappointing. They're white muffins with chips. My mouth wanted chocolate muffins.

On the other hand, I've made 3-2-1 microwave cake with a Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake as the second flavor. What you get is a chocolate angel food cake. (I think you're destined not to get a regular cake consistency. It'll have to be angel food.) So what I really want to do is combine the chocolate angel food with the chocolate chips in the muffin, because chocolate angel food is surprisingly disappointing, too. Next time I buy ingredients for the microwave cake, I'll remember the angel food consistency and try to plan better.

I've got a package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator, and I'm going to look around for an interesting recipe. I bought this cookbook, which has lots of good basic info including a list of typical pantry items to stock and advice about shopping for vegetables and stuff.

My microwave cookbook is going to be a problem. It was written in the days when "full power" meant 650 watts; my microwave is 1100 watts, so I can't just use the times and power settings from the book. But the book explains what wattage it means at each setting and tells how to calculate what wattage you're getting from your microwave at different settings, so I could set up a conversion table. (So much for the one cookbook I owned that was published in this century.)

And remember this?

Cast-iron skillet

After seasoning, it looks like this:


Of course, recipes I've found for skillet cornbread have been for bigger skillets. I may make one of the cornbread mixes designed for a larger skillet and just bake in two batches--at least, as a trial.

And my oven is requiring some supervision. Sometimes 50 degrees above the recommended temperature is right; sometimes it gets too hot, sometimes not hot enough. This isn't terrible since I'm usually still in the kitchen for a while after I put something in the oven; I go ahead and wash dishes and blender and stuff.