The Gleeful Gourmand: March 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Traveling and Mac and Cheese

I'm heading to Austin, TX tomorrow for a girl's weekend with my dear friend Kiki, and I'm completely excited about the culinary scene down there. Turns out the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival is going on, but all the events are rather pricey (plus I can't drink, being pregnant and all), so instead we're going to eat at some great restaurants and possibly stalk some celebrity chefs. And maybe see an enormous swarm of bats one night, but that's another story altogether.

My husband has been traveling a lot, and now with me leaving to go on an extended weekend, it got me thinking a lot about Mac and Cheese. Kraft Mac and Cheese to be exact. How did I get from traveling to the blue box? Well, my Dad used to do a fair amount of traveling for his job when I was a kid, and although we lived in a relatively healthy-eating household, when he was gone, that was the time for treats. Instead of the well-balanced meal my Mom usually served us, we might get to go to McDonald's for a Happy Meal, or more to my delight, have chicken nuggets with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

I know. The stuff in the blue box isn't real Mac and Cheese. It may be real pasta, but you have to look pretty hard to find an actual relationship to cheese there. Still, it was downright comforting to shovel that neon-orange stuff into my mouth with reckless abandon then, and I daresay it still is today. It was a treat, one we didn't get often. The same holds true today (though these days I use far less butter, and soy milk because I'm lactose intolerant), and as soon as I take my first bite, I'm instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen table with my Mom and brother. That first tangy mouthful, where you know the tang isn't necessarily from any cheese you'd be able to identify, but rather a glorious chemical concoction that can't be good for you. But who cares?

Judith Jones, in her wonderful memoir "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" relates how a young boy came to visit her home, and to make him feel welcome she asked him what he'd most like to have. Mac and cheese was the answer, so she made him the version she knew growing up: real pasta, with lots of really good Vermont cheese and buttered breadcrumbs. He was excited until he took his first bite, and then proclaimed it wasn't the same - he had been seduced by the blue box. I know just how he feels. I've tried other macaronis, but the chemicals from the blue box have so wired my brain in nostalgia and false goodness that it's just not that great. Well, except for that truffled mac and cheese I had one time at my favorite French restaurant.

My 3-year-old son didn't previously care for the blue box stuff either, which made me feel sad, because I really wanted his brain to be chemically altered into thinking this was good stuff too. But this afternoon was rainy and cold here in Virginia, and I caught sight of the box I have stocked on the shelves. I made it, and darned if he didn't eat a whole bowl! It made me feel warm inside as we slurped our noodles together, knowing that for a once in a while treat, it doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Mid-Morning Confession

It's time for a confession. A kitchen confession, if you will, and one that I am not proud of. Actually, I'm a little bit ashamed and embarrassed.

Two Christmases ago I received "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." And while I've read it several times through, it wasn't until last night that I actually made something from it. Yes, that's two whole years that I have not made one damn thing from the greatest cookbook ever written. And nothing grand, at that - no Boeuf Bourguinon, no Reine de Saba (the queen of all chocolate cakes). Nope. I made green beans.

Wait, scratch that. I didn't just make green beans, I made Haricots Verts a la Maitre d'Hotel, which roughly means I made green beans with butter, lemon juice and parsley. Well, not parsley because I didn't have that on hand. Why green beans? Because I have never been able to get green beans right. They never taste great when I make them. And then I discovered why. 1) I was not salting the water before boiling the beans. 2) I was not blanching them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. 3) I was not then transferring them to a separate frying pan to toss with butter, a pinch more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

I followed all the steps, and while the green beans came out mushy because I forgot I was using beans in a steamer bag, and not fresh green beans (the crop our store gets was affected greatly by the weather in Florida this year), the taste was INCREDIBLE. I didn't follow the measurements exactly - I used less butter, and less salt (and of course, no parsley), but I followed her technique to a T. And I am never going to make green beans the same again, even with all the extra steps. It was a green bean revelation.

So there you are. My mid-morning confession. Hopefully I find some time and energy soon to tackle a more complicated dish. I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Cream Brownies

I apologize for this being so late, but just in case you're still not sure what to make for dessert for tonight's St. Patrick's Day party (or maybe you're celebrating this weekend?), here is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. It may not be traditional, but after bandying about with traditional Irish desserts, this one, Irish only because of the Bailey's in it, was the only one that made me want to devour the entire batch. And possibly even the pan they sit in.

Irish Cream Brownies

1 cup butter
4 1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate
2 1/3 cups sugar, divided
5 large eggs, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and chocolate. Cook over low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a 9x13 baking pan lightly with Pam spray.

In a medium bowl, beat 2 cups sugar and 4 eggs with an electric mixer until fluffy (about 4 minutes). Gradually add flour and salt. Stir in melted chocolate mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1 egg and liqueur.

Pour half of chocolate mixture into prepared pan. Spread cream cheese mixture over chocolate mixture. Spread remaining chocolate mixture over cream cheese layer. Bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting. Enjoy!

* A word about posting comments - some of you posted some comments about a week or two weeks ago - and for some strange reason they went straight to spam moderation. Even stranger is that Blogger did not alert me until today. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all your comments, and I apologize if it seemed that somehow I was blocking them!

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Vegan's Pantry

The next installment in my series on Pantries comes from my friend Sharon Rashbaum, a certified Holistic Health Counselor who helps people get their lives and diets on a healthier track, and also runs the website You Can Be Healthy Just Eat Right. Sharon is vegan, and a great cook! I was fascinated to look at what's on her shelves, and I hope you'll be too!

When Jenna asked me to guest blog here I was so honored and excited. I don’t have your average run-of-the-mill pantry because I am vegan. I went vegan for health reasons back in 2009 and since doing it I am off all my many medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis, acid reflux, and migraines. I feel wonderful! So wonderful, in fact, that I went back to school to become a health counselor and now I help others to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with what a vegan is, the definition is as follows:

Veganism is the practice of eliminating the use by human beings of animal products. This includes all meat, dairy and egg products. You probably think, well then what in the world do you eat…salad??? Well yes I do enjoy salad but that’s not even close to all.

And even though I have no animal products in the pantry, it is VERY full. Here’s a basic list:

• Beans lots of beans –always organic- generally canned it just some faster and easier to cook with than dried.

• Grains – I use lots of grains including: Quinoa (pronounced Ken-Wah), Buckwheat, Basmati Rice (although I recently started keeping it in the fridge – because it said to on the label), Brown Rice, Millet, and my favorite Red Rice

• Noodles: Asian soba noodles, Brown Rice pasta

• Sauces and marinades include: Thai Peanut sauce, Asian BBQ sauce, Pasta sauce, Vegetable Broth, Coconut milk (I try to get light versions)

• Agave nectar

• Raw honey

• A couple cans of ready made soup for a meal in a flash

• And I think I have almost every spice known to man

• Baking Needs: Instead of all-purpose flour I use: Whole Flour, Brown Rice Flour, Sorghum Flour

• Instead of eggs I use Ground Flaxseeds mixed with hot water or Ener-G-Egg Replacer

• Vegan Chocolate Chips (which are really creamy and yummy!)

I think you have the idea. I’ll be honest - I could live off what’s in my pantry but my freezer and refrigerator are a lot more interesting LOL

If you have any questions about Vegan and healthy eating or what I do. Check out my website:

You Can Be Healthy Just Eat Right

I wish everyone good eating!

Sharon Rashbaum

Monday, March 7, 2011

Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler!

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday" - a time when the party rages before crashing dramatically (at least in New Orleans) into the long, somber, penitent days of Lent. In the Episcopalian Church (as well as Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic), we call it Shrove Tuesday, and usually get the party on with a pancake supper. Isn't that quaint? I used to think so. And then about five years ago my brother and sister-in-law moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Being the awesome people they are, they immersed themselves in the Cajun and Creole culture down there and experienced it all, blessedly passing along all the culinary delights they discovered. Having now experienced what Mardi Gras can really be like (complete with Boudin and King's Cake), a pancake supper is not going to cut it. In fact, so dedicated are we to the Cajun and Creole culinary experience during this time of the year, we are actually celebrating twice. Well, that, and because due to scheduling conflicts we can't actually get our party on tomorrow, but rather next Saturday.

So this weekend Buck made his famous Shrimp Etouffée, which we ate with Jasmine rice and a sourdough baguette to sop up all the delicious sauce. And thanks to a screwup at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge, my mom wound up with an extra King's Cake, which she generously shared with us yesterday. Etouffée takes a long time to make, and takes some good prep work, but is not difficult to make. I promise once you taste it, you will be shouting "Laissez le bon temps rouler!" (let the good times roll!) from the rooftops. Next Saturday my sister-in-law is making Gumbo Ya-Ya, and I cannot wait. Saturday can't come fast enough!

Shrimp Etouffée
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
8 ounces clam juice
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (can also use frozen shrimp)
Hot cooked rice

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter; stir in flour and cook until bubbly. Stir in green onions, chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and basil. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, stirring often for approximately 20 to 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Increase heat to high and add tomato sauce, wine, clam juice, water, worcestershire sauce, white pepper, and Tabasco; stirring, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes or until thickened and reduced to 4 1/2 cups. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley and shrimp. Simmer approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp are cooked. Remove from heat and serve over hot cooked rice.