Tag Archives: cooking

Blue Ribbon Macaroni and Cheese

28 Feb

 

Did you think Lollipop Tuesdays had died?

They haven’t.  If you’re confused about why Lollipop Tuesdays aren’t every Tuesday anymore (or for that matter, why I don’t post every day), or you don’t even know what a Lollipop Tuesday is, you should probably check out the handy dandy “What’s Lollipop Tuesday?” header at the top of this page.  Now relax and strap in.  Because this week I entered a recipe contest.

As a homegrown mountain gal from Central Pennsyltucky, I felt like even though I’d never entered a cooking contest before, I could at least avoid embarrassing myself.  After all, when you’re raised in the roots cooking is just one part of a three-part formula for the perfect wife that some crazy hermit made up decades ago and is still being widely circulated in small towns with forks in roads: cooking, cleaning, baby-raisin’.  Hunting is optional.  I only ever really took to the cooking.

It also just so happened that the recipe contest was for Macaroni and Cheese, which was convenient since I just had my own Jackie Blog hunt for the Best Macaroni and Cheese in the Universe in December.  So I threw together my favorite parts of my favorite recipes and came up with a Jackie Blog concoction of cheesy awesomey goodness.

I wasn’t really sure what the rules were.  I went online and registered but I didn’t really get anything saying it was received and no one ever sent me criteria.  I didn’t even know what the prizes were.  I just knew that I had to cook up a vat of smokin’ hot mac and smack and take it to the venue by 1pm.  So I designated Dave my Transportation Manager, who threw me and my casserole in the car at 12:40pm and dropped us off while he parked.  With only 5 minutes until the entry deadline, I willed the elevator down with my mind, scurried into the judging room and plopped my casserole down: Entry #11.   It was precisely 1:00pm.

We then proceeded to wait ten full minutes for any late arrivals.    My tale of down-to-the-wire shenanigans weren’t quite as epic as I’d hoped.

Finally, it was time to begin.  We met the judges: 2 owners of 2 prominent food businesses in the city and 1 genuine lover of pasta smothered in cheese.  We also heard the judging criteria: appearance, taste, and-I-have-no-idea-what-else-because-I-was-stuck-on-appearance.

Appearance.

How could I have watched Iron Chef so many times and not have anticipated this as a determining factor?  I should have had a custom-built shelf above my dish that had three beautifully-prepared plates with perfect Macaroni and Cheese portions specifically for the judges.  They should have had firecrackers shooting out of them and have some sort of beautiful font displaying the name of my creation.

But I didn’t.  In fact, I didn’t even remember to bring a serving spoon.   And as my eyes stretched down the rows of the competitors, I saw beautiful thermal Pampered Chef totes, shiny and new casserole dishes that had fancy lids, and classic foil holders with wired burners beneath them.

I had my mother’s hand-me-down casserole dish that she let me borrow once when I was in college and I never returned.

At first I was nervous.  I didn’t consider appearance at all.  And what were the judges supposed to do without a serving spoon: paw it out of the cheesy vat with their bare mits?  Yes.  I decided yes they would.  In fact, I decided that casseroles should only be served in secondhand stolen dishes and reminded myself that I was there to write a blog post, not to impress judges.

Still, I was nervous.  I know this because when the first judge approached my dish and began to fish out a taste of the pasta with her pathetic plastic spoon, I winced as she lost the battle to the broiled parmesan and bread crumb finish, which was settled happily on the top of my concoction.  I grabbed Dave’s arm and clenched it hard as a huge piece of parmesan hung on her spoon and she had to contort her tongue to lap it into her hungry mouth.  I analyzed every nod, every dart of the eyes, every stroke of the pencil on paper.

I had lost.  I surely had  lost.

Dave laughed as my sanity slowly unraveled before him and tried to distract me with Bejeweled on his iPad.  I was sure to pause the game each time a judge approached my dish.   When the judges were finished testing, the audience was allowed to serve themselves buffet style.  I watched to see who took bites of mine and was disappointed when I saw much of my dish remained by the time I reached it.  I returned to my seat and saw a flyer that had been placed in my absence: it was an advertisement for a catering company.

…I was competing against catering companies?

I had talked myself into a deep, dark loss when one fellow jumped up and B-lined to my dish to get himself a hefty helping of seconds.  I was so happy I almost squealed like a freshly born piglet.  I had my victory: someone wanted seconds.  I told myself perhaps I would jest for third place.  That’s when the judges returned and announced there was a tie for first and second and they needed to retaste the top dishes to determine the tie-breaker.   The host of the event promptly walked over and grabbed my mother’s hand-me-down dish.

I freaked.

I freaked so hard that I had little tiny tears in my eyes.  I tried to hold back the excitement from my body but I only bottled it up and shot it out of my eyes like laser beams at poor supportive Dave, who feared me a serial killer and tried to coax the crazy out of my pupils.  It was me versus the Pampered Chef Super Awesome Casserole Tote.  I was so thrilled to have third place locked up.

After what felt like hours of the judges lobbing around more cheesy goodness in their mouths, a winner had finally been determined.

It was me.

I was so surprised to be announced first place that I let out a sort of strange yip in front of everyone and tried to tone it down for a casual walk up to the front to claim my winnings: a gift card and a certificate, deeming my recipe officially award-winning.  The judges looked pleased with the cheesiness I bestowed upon them and the audience all got in line to finish up what was left of casserole #11.

I waited for everyone to get their fill, truly amazed that I had just shown up for a Lollipop Tuesday and taken the top prize from a room full of hopefuls.  I felt like an imposter.  If only they knew it was all for a post.

On the way out of the venue, I called my mom to thank her for raising me right and Dave got a hot dog at the stand outside.  The fella inside asked who won and I said I did.   He asked me what the story was behind it and I explained Lollipop Tuesdays to him and that I run a blog but it’s nowhere close to a food blog.  He seemed pleasantly surprised and for indulging me and acting like he would tune in to read, I tipped him a dollar on the hot dog.

Sometimes you have to pay for publicity.

That night I sat around basking in the phrase “Award Winning”.   I referred to myself as an award-winning cook and my macaroni and cheese as a first-place dish.  And just then I remembered telling my coworkers I was entering a recipe contest that weekend and being laughed at by someone.  They made a joke about Kraft mac and cheese and said I was too young to cook well. I told her she didn’t know the power of being raised in the sticks.

And just then, I took out  my phone to send a proper foot-in-mouth-inducing text.

“Boo yah.”

Signed, First Place Chef. 

Before you ask, here’s the recipe.  Thanks to thesinglecell, who provided most of the recipe for thejackieblog recipe contest:
 
1/2 lb pasta of your choice, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
5 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded
3 oz. Raclette, cubed
1/4c. Parmesan, grated (plus some for sprinkling)
1 3/4c. heavy cream
3/4c. milk
Paprika for sprinkling
Cinnamon for sprinkling
1 cup white bread crumbs cut into 1/2 in. squares
 
Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×9″ pan (preferably a hand-me-down) with cooking spray. Pour al dente, drained pasta into 9×9″ pan. Melt 1tbs butter and pour over bread crumbs.  Set aside.  Blend flour, mustard and salt together in a small bowl. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 1tbs butter. Add flour, salt and mustard and stir until blended. Add milk and cream, stirring or whisking until dry ingredients are dissolved and liquid is hot, but not boiling. Add Raclette, stirring/whisking occasionally until cheese melts. Repeat for cheddar and Parmesan, stirring/whisking often so the cheese doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.  Sprinkle in cinnamon.
 
Pour cheese sauce over pasta; add bread crumbs and sprinkle with Parmesan and paprika and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Then broil until top is golden.
 
Eat with bare hands.
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The Art of Mixology

15 Nov

Hey, it’s Tuesday.  It’s everyone’s favorite day of the week here on The Jackie Blog.  Because instead of droning on an on about my cats or my preference of bathroom sink water over kitchen sink water or my discontent with adult life, I talk about something new I’ve tried.

If you don’t know the drill, check out the link at the top of this page called “What’s Lollipop Tuesday?”

I’d like to think I have a constant influx of newbies here that need to be told what Lollipop Tuesdays are.  Let me dwell in my self-constructed reality.

Moving on. This past Sunday, I took the plunge and invested in an alcohol mixing class.  Yeah.  Mixing alcohol.  They have classes for that.  It’s called ‘mixology’. Isn’t that wild?

I had structured my entire day around this 3-hour long course, set at one of the hippest bars in the city.  Because I’m incredibly anal and tightly wound, I called the morning of to ensure that the details I had taken down for the day were all still correct.  I tried to talk myself out double checking everything, but sometimes the crazy really takes over and there’s no stopping me.  And hey, wouldn’t you know the location was changed and the time was pushed back by  half an hour and no one bothered to contact me to let me know?

Things like that do nothing to cease the crazy.

Anyway I showed up pretty livid and fully prepared to give the teacher a piece of my mind.  What right does he have to run a class, charge a fortune, and then fail to communicate changes to that class to the attendees? I booked it two months ago! But just as I was all fired up in a mind-driven hailstorm, I was taken aback by how totally cool the thing was.

The thing.  You know, the whole deal.  The setup.

The new choice of venue had a huge wraparound bar, which was preset with mats, a variety of glasses, and all the cool tools one would need to make a killer cocktail.  There were pretzels, chips, glasses of water, huge televisions to watch when you didn’t feel like listening to where the drink “zombie” originated or about the tiki trend of the 70’s.

So. Cool.

It. was. awesome.

We learned three drinks, which we made ourselves all at the same time.  We did things like light oranges on fire and put twelve different ingredients into one single beverage.  We used fresh fruit, we made our own whipped cream – it was glorious.  The teacher had a great story about being a cocktail chef in Atlanta and so on and so forth.  He had drinks that won awards, and he placed well in competitions. And while I was happy to know I didn’t just throw my money at any ol’ fella with a cooler full of liquor and a black shirt, I didn’t really care about all of that.  What I cared about was that he was the kind of guy would come try your drink and tell you how to adjust it.  He would come over and sneak a little extra rum into your glass if you like a stronger kick.  This guy brewed his own coffee and brought it in canisters to be chilled and used for a super fantastic drink that was some sort of divine espresso manna from heaven. He even gave out his cell number to everyone so that if we’re at a party or the bar or even at home and we misplace the recipes he emails us after the class, we can ask him a question on the fly.

It’s always awesome to watch someone who is wrapped up in their passion, and even more awesome when they share it with you. Even if you have to pay.  In fact, for such experiences I will very happily fork over my hard-earned American dollars.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I’ll be repeating any of those drinks.  They were delicious and lovely, but it’s all I can muster to keep Frosted Flakes and milk  in the house at the same time.  I sincerely doubt I’m going to be able to keep cherries, pineapple, white rum, aged rum, brown sugar, whipped cream, and an armload of other ingredients stocked for when I feel like whipping up a cocktail.

But it’s still totally cool to know I can do it if I want. 

The Pie Plot Thickens

14 Sep

My apartment has been overrun by pie.

For those of you just tuning in, I’m at war with Dave.  A few Tuesdays ago, I made a genuine attempt to craft an apple pie from naught but the loins of the earth and tragically failed.  I ended up with a miserable lump of doughy fruit that promptly got ignored like a red-headed stepchild and thrown in the garbage.

It was a hard day.

I came home the following evening to the warm, enraging smell of an apple pie in the oven.  Dave was one-upping me.  He saw my pie and raised me a better pie.  A tasty one.  Actually, an incredibly delicious one.

It was a brief war, as I had no tolerance for his flippant pie baking and decided that if he wanted to be the head pastry chef, he could go right ahead and be such.  After all, there’s nothing that makes my blood boil quite like rolling out pie dough.  And it’d be nice to ask him to whip up a pie for special occasions, host gifts, and celebrations of all kinds.

Expecting it to be a quickly satiated passion, I left Dave to his own devices – but he was not so swiftly stifled.

First there was an apple peeler.  Then official lard (as opposed to shortening) for the crust.  There’s just an enormous tub of lard sitting in my fridge at all times.  Do you know that today he looked up what the best kind of lard was and concluded it was lard made from kidney fat?!  Absolutely revolting.  And apples by the bundle.  They’re everywhere.  I have nightmares of hallways of Granny Smith apples rolling at me like a tidal wave.  I run and run, but I can’t ever get far enough from their reach.

Dave is making pies so often that he’s moved everything off the kitchen counter and asked if the flour can just stay there over night because “he’s just going to get it out and do the same thing tomorrow”.  

He says cutting apples is meditative.

So I mean, here it is.  This is it.  Dave is clearly my cash cow.   I think it’s time I really buck up and admit this is the moneymaker.  We’ll put a nice zen spin on it since it all centers his chi so fantastically well.  I’ll have a little cartoon of him drawn all goofy and seated in meditation with a little pastry chef hat balancing on his head.  We’ll call them Zen Pies and we’ll make millions.

Or maybe just a few hundred at some Farmers Markets.  

But I imagine my chi will be slightly more centered with an apartment that reeks of pastries and a wallet with a little more wiggle room.

This, boys and girls, is my million dollar thousand dollar idea. ♣

Notice the orchid and fall decorations – both featured in posts of their own. Proof, ladies and gentlemen, that I am a real human being with real posts and a real struggling orchid.

How I Almost Engulfed My Father in Merciless Hellflames

13 Aug

Last night marked the single, most epic baking disaster of my life.

It is a rare and sad occasion when I set out to produce a batch of wholesome chocolate chip cookies and instead almost produce a body count.  I was a victim of my environment, really.

Having received an early morning phone call that my sister-in-law was having contractions, my family packed up and drove to my brother’s  house for the weekend to wait on the arrival of a soon-to-be-bundle of girly joy and sunshine sparkles.  But the labor was long and slow so instead of waiting it out at the hospital, my parents and I slept over at my brother’s house and anxiously awaited the real action.  

Long and late into the evening, my sister-in-law had not yet been officially admitted and my old folks (being old folks, after all), passed out.  My mother made it a conscious choice and retired in the upstairs bedroom.  My father, however, fought the urge and failed, passing out on the couch to a rerun of “Cow and Chicken”. 

Being designated the main line of communication for my brother’s updates and having a sudden urge to prove a wonderful aunt, I went about baking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  Entirely out of my element, I gathered all the necessary accoutrements and began relishing in my domestic prowess.   Halfway through, I realized I forgot to make sure my brother had baking soda and resorted instead to baking powder, which Google assured me was just as good as its soda-y counterpart so long as I tripled the measurement.

Lies.

As I repeated batch after batch of terribly flat, terribly depressing excuses for cookies, I started to lose hope.  The only solace I found was in my sister-in-law’s well-equipped kitchen, bursting with Pampered Chef delights.  I remembered earlier in the day my mother had found a square, rubber nondescript and wasn’t sure where to put it when we were cleaning.  Assuming it was a pot holder of some sort, I placed it in the appropriate drawer and went about the rest of my business.   And since said rubber nondescript was in the pot holder drawer, my brain later reminded me of it and I used it to house the baking pan as the cookies cooled between batches.  

When I was on my fourth batch of tears and resentment, I made my way over to the oven to pull out the disappointing fruits of my labor.  Before opening the oven, I shot a glance over to the counter to make sure the rubber-nondescript-assumed-potholder was still there, ready for cookie landing.  

It was not.

Knowing there could be no other answer, I jumped to the oven to confirm my fears: the rubber had stuck to the bottom of the baking pan and it was now a melty, smoky mess in the heart of the oven.  With the rubber dripping everywhere, my mother sound asleep upstairs, smoke filling the house quickly, and my father passed out on the couch, I had some quick decisions to make.  Unsure of the best solution, I instantly went to wake my father for his assistance.

But it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure how to wake him in the middle of a smoke-filled room without instilling a sense of panic.  

I stood over him, playing with the phrasing, wrapping my head around the syntax, and measuring which part of the explanation should come first.  What does one say when bringing another out of deep sleep for assistance in a fire?  Figuring there was no good way to do it, I resolved to let him sleep (and perhaps die a firey death) while I went solo.

I yoinked the rack out of the oven and put it in the sink, where the maroon rubber nondescript melted into the basin, serving a grueling death for being mistaken for a worthy potholder only hours before.  With the entire living room smelling like burnt rubber and smoke billowing from the oven, I ran around the house with real potholders in my hand, fanning the smoke away from my father’s head and the smoke alarm simultaneously.

I was a penguin, flapping silently and violently in an attempt to not disturb him.

After five minutes of pure freaking out, I was a sweating, heart-racing mess and thankful to the good Lord in Heaven for sparing me the lifelong burden of murdering my family.  I cleaned the oven, tossed the cursed cookies into the trash, and put my feet up to bask in my narrow victory.

Interrupted by his overwhelming urge to take a leak, my father stirred on the couch and rose slowly.  I calmly confirmed that my sister-in-law had officially been admitted to the hospital and he smiled.  Thinking this was as good a time as ever to drop the bomb of his almost-death, I casually mentioned that I almost burned the house down because I didn’t know what to say if I tried to wake him in the middle of a smoke-filled room.

He sleepily replied: “You say ‘Dad, don’t worry – we’re okay – but the house is burning down and I need your help'” – and chuckled on his way to the bathroom.

Surprisingly lighthearted reply from a man who narrowly avoided engulfment in cookie and rubber hellfire.

The Thing About Baking Cookies Is

27 Apr

File:Raw cookie dough in cookie clumps.jpg

When I die, I’m fairly certain it will be from salmonellosis.  And soon.

I have personally ingested more raw cookie dough in my 25 years than all the children you know combined.   My mother constantly yelled at me when I was little for getting into it.  In my defense, my mother owned a cake business and it’s ridiculous to let your child help and not expect them to lick every leftover bowl.

It was the fun part.

The awesome thing is that I’m all grown up now and I can have raw cookie dough whenever I want it.  I’ve been known to bake entire batches of brownies, and cookies, – even an entire cake – simply to eat the batter and dough.    Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad when it comes out of the oven, but I really prefer it prior.

The problem seems to be that I’ve slowly changed my method from cleaning the well-scraped bowl to blatantly picking up entire gobs of it at a time.  I made an enormous container of chocolate chip cookies last night and managed to eat 5 baked cookies and close to their equal weight in raw cookie dough.

And it was delicious.

I think the only way to stop myself is to stop baking altogether.  There’s no resisting the powerful call of sugary, raw beauty.  Quite frankly, I suck at resistance.  But I really don’t want to stop because I just love baking so darn much.  Making cookies is one of the most therapeutic activities I can possible conjure.  All the ingredients are simple and delicious, the recipe is easy, you can mix it with your hands, and everyone loves them.  Baking cookies tends to all my major needs.  Just one batch of cookies provides a myriad of benefits:

  • satisfies my craving for chocolate
  • makes me feel like I’m doing something productive
  • gives me something to show Dave I lurve him
  • have a backup gift or host’s gift ready at all times
  • gives me a reason to listen to rock out to music between batches
  • provides a killer arm workout by hand mixing cold sticks of butter
  • improves my sense of time lapse by not setting a timer and trying to “feel” when they are done
  • is a great chance to eat a startling amount of cookie dough

How can I possible resist making them when there are so many positive outcomes?

So if I don’t post tomorrow morning, it’s safe to assume I’ve been hospitalized for symptoms of salmonellosis.  I’ll update as soon as I can convince the nurse I have a successful blog to maintain.  

It might be a while. ♣

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Excuse Me Sir, Do You Have Any Bangers?

11 Jan

Hey guess what? It’s Lollipop Tuesday! In case you missed the first installment of the Lollipop Tuesday series, you can catch up on the deal here.

So today’s new adventure?  Bangers ‘n’ Mash.  That’s right: Bangers ‘n’ Mash – a classy dish for a classy dame.  With pictures!

Last night, trapped indoors by an incredibly inconvenient bacterial infection monster (let’s call him Gary), I resorted to my two brand spankin’ new cookbooks I got for Christmas.  I handed them over to Dave and told him to pick something ridiculous.  For some reason, he kept picking things that had “Big Beef” in the title.  Like I said… he’s a man’s man.

  After repeating the recipe for “Big Beef Balls” with Something-or-Other and giggling, he finally pointed out the winner: Rachael Ray’s recipe for “Fancypants Bangers ‘n’ Mash” from her “365: No Repeats” book (I couldn’t help myself). It just so happens that yesterday at noon, the teaser was released for the short film I directed this summer, Code Monkey.  Given that it features a song called “Fancypants,” I couldn’t help but make the big sausage and potato mess in celebration.  (Check out the teaser here if you just can’t live with the curiosity).

I sent Dave to the store for the necessitites and prepped the kitchen.   In the duration of his absence, he managed to call me 3 separate times with very specific questions regarding my needs.  Turns out “bangers” isn’t really an American term.  Apparently it’s not the kind of thing you can just walk into a grocery store and ask for.  Not even the butcher knew what the hell he was talking about.

I googled it and found that “bangers” is a term for “British bangers” and is just a type of white sausage. 

Mmm... Bubbling Pork Butt

After telling Dave I had no idea and just get something that had pig butt in it, he came home to find that Rachael Ray had made a note in the side comments that any sort of sausage would do.

Let it be known: there are times in this world when reading a book is actually more efficient than googling something.

And so Dave returned with the goods I began my journey into the sloppy world of onions, mashed potatoes, and pig butt.  Delicious.

Gary, the bacterial infection monster, kept me lightheaded the entire time and zapped my sense of taste and smell.  I had to enlist two hungry boys for their expert opinions and actually got some pretty rave reviews.

Final Analysis:  Fancypants Bangers ‘n’ Mash: a stupid name for a recipe that tastes far better than it looks.

 

Thanks to this cool cat taking the time to lay it out on her recipesfromkari blog,  you can check out Rachael Ray’s Bangers ‘n’ Mash here and give it a go yourself.   I recommend playing with the pig butt before cooking it.  It’s mushy and mysterious and will occupy at least three solid minutes of your time.
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