Carrot Macaroni And Cheese

Please don't immediately click away thinking how could anyone do that to mac and cheese! This is really a fantastic recipe. I made it a while ago but haven't had a chance to tell you about it until now.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful, but today it's dropped back down a little, so maybe you're craving some comfort food. But if you don't want something too heavy, this dish is your answer.

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from Food & Wine)

3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 navel orange
3 cups whole wheat penne rigate (9 ounces)
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 TBS olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with the zest and juice and 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Discard half the zest. Transfer the carrots and any liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Return the pasta to the pot. Add the reserved water and the carrot puree and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is coated with a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in three-fourths of the cheese and cook, stirring, until very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the pasta to a medium baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Mix panko bread crumbs with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the melted cheese. Place under broiler until crumbs are golden brown. (This happens very quickly so don't stray too far.)

Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

I made some minor changes to the recipe, which I've added in above. One was to use whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta. I usually don't like whole wheat pasta, but I had a box of it lying around, and I figured if I was going to make a "healthy" mac and cheese, it would help. The flavors in this dish are robust, and I hardly noticed that the pasta was made from whole wheat.

I used a zester instead of a vegetable peeler on the orange, and I left half the zest in the dish instead of removing all of it. I just thought I'd want a little more orange taste to it.

I also didn't use any tarragon, which the original recipe called for, and I used black pepper instead of white pepper. If you're concerned about the final appearance of the dish, then the white pepper is nice, but I don't mind having some black specks in there.

Then I was sort of worried the whole dish would be kind of mushy and not have much texture to it, so I mixed some panko bread crumbs with olive oil, sprinkled them on top, and broiled them to give it some crunch.

This is no gooey, creamy mac and cheese, but it is a nice, lighter change, and it still has plenty of that most important ingredient: the cheese!


Smith Island Cakes

Sorry I've been a little MIA this week. I just got back from a wedding (and some white water rafting) near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania.

One of my best friends from high school, who is now an architect, married another architect, and they had their ceremony at Kentuck Knob and their reception at the Barn at Fallingwater.

Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater are houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The houses are both unique and beautiful, and the location was definitely meaningful for the bride and groom.

But this is a food blog so... on to the food!

The bride grew up in Maryland and decided to transport some Smith Island Cakes for the wedding cake. I had visited her in September and tried a few kinds while I was down there (Reese's, pineapple, and mandarin orange), and I was so excited to see the cakes at the wedding.

This wonderful dessert is made of super-thin layers of cake with frosting or filling between each layer. They are absolutely delicious -- so moist and flavorful. If you ever get the chance to try one, I highly recommend doing so!

We had cookies and cream...

...and Reese's.

Maybe one of these days I'll try to make one myself so I don't have to wait for my next visit to Maryland to have one!

Are there any regional foods that you love and that make you look forward to traveling just so you can have them again?


Sauteed Chicken Cutlets With Asparagus, Spring Onions, And Parsley Gremolata

Lately when we're wondering what to have for dinner, if I'm not too tired to get groceries and cook, I'll ask my boyfriend to pick something off a list of spring recipes I want to make. (When I am too tired to cook, we refer to that other list -- all of our usual takeout places.)

On this particular night, we decided to try Bon Appetit's Sautéed Chicken Cutlets with Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Parsley-Tarragon Gremolata. Because I don't care for tarragon, instead of reading that as parsley-hyphen-tarragon, I chose to read it as parsley-minus-tarragon, and I did not add any tarragon to my gremolata. I also had to make a minor substitution: Whole Foods' shallot selection was looking pretty shabby, so I grabbed a cipollini onion instead.

I thought I would love this recipe, but it was just okay. This surprised me because I really, really love asparagus. When I was a kid, I would pick up one stalk at a time and chomp on it from fibrous end to tender tip, slurping butter as I went. I likened the stalks to little trees. I was the only child in my family who liked asparagus, and I'm pretty sure I'm one of few kids who actually wanted to eat things like asparagus, brussels sprouts, turnips, and mushrooms.

I've never really been a picky eater; however, I used to be picky about how I ate. I would eat all of one thing on my plate before moving onto the next. And I would eat from least favorite food to favorite food. So if I had a plate of mashed potatoes, chicken, and corn, I would eat all of the potatoes, then all of the chicken, then all of the corn. My parents used to tell me if would all mix in my stomach anyways. But I would respond that that sort of thing just didn't happen in my stomach. My stomach had compartments.

I can't even imagine eating that way now. When I finished this recipe and had everything on my plate, I cut a piece of chicken and scooped up some of the asparagus and spring onion mixture with it. That's definitely the way to go to get all of the flavors. The chicken supplies that nutty, lightly sauteed flavor, the asparagus and onions are reminiscent of spring, and the gremolata adds bright, citrusy notes.

(I found these great oranges at Whole Foods. You'll see from the pictures that the flesh is more pink and rosy than "orangey." I grabbed one because I needed some zest for the gremolata and the skin looked really nice. I wish I had grabbed some more because they were really quite tasty too. They began with a "c" but I can't remember what they were called!) (Update: They're Cara Cara oranges!)

Sautéed Chicken Cutlets with Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Parsley-Tarragon Gremolata (Bon Appetit, April 2009)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon (scant) saffron threads (I used powder instead because I had it on hand)
12 chicken cutlets (1/4 to 1/2 inch thick; about 2 pounds)
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons (or more) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 pound spring onions or green onions (dark green parts discarded); white parts cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (scant 2 cups)
1 1/2 pounds slender asparagus, tops cut into 3-inch pieces, stems cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream (here I went with crème fraîche)

Mix first 5 ingredients in small bowl; cover gremolata and set aside.

Heat heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add saffron and stir until slightly darker, about 30 seconds. Transfer to another small bowl; cool and crumble saffron. DO AHEAD Gremolata and saffron can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Sprinkle chicken lightly with coarse salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. (I recommend turning the heat up slightly if you want your chicken nicely browned.) Working in batches and adding more oil as needed, cook chicken until lightly browned and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Arrange chicken on platter; tent with foil.

Add 1 tablespoon oil and butter to same skillet. Add white and green parts of onions and sauté until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.

Add asparagus.

Sprinkle saffron over vegetables. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper and sauté 1 minute. Add broth, reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender and broth reduces and thickens to glaze, about 5 minutes. Stir in crème fraîche and gremolata. (I reserved some gremolata to sprinkle on top.) Season with salt and pepper.

Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to platter, arranging around chicken. Drizzle sauce over chicken and serve.

The dish was good and "springy" -- very green, light -- but all in all, a little lackluster. If I made it again, I might just do the chicken and gremolata and then steam some asparagus on the side. I think it's just the asparagus mixture I wasn't too fond of, and it took quite some time and effort to prepare too. I really liked the fresh taste of the gremolata, as did my boyfriend. It perks up the plain-old, sauteed chicken cutlets.

Do you like asparagus? What's your favorite way to prepare it?


Grilled Steak And Peppers Vinaigrette

So I finally started tackling a list of "spring-ish" recipes I made for myself. And I'm so glad I began with this recipe! It's absolutely delicious... and not nearly as time-consuming or labor-intensive as it may appear. (Pretty much grilling steak and peppers while leeks simmer and then whisking up some dressing.)

I halved the recipe, which made just the perfect amount for two (below is the 4-serving version, but you can halve it if you just want dinner for two too). I didn't even bother to make a side; we just had a little fresh bread.

Grilled Steak and Peppers Vinaigrette (Gourmet, March 2009)

1 large bunch leeks (2 to 3 pounds; white and pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
2 pounds sirloin flap steaks (my butcher didn't have these and gave me sirloin tip steaks instead)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoon olive oil, divided
4 Cubanelle peppers (Italian green frying peppers)
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Equipment: a large (2-burner) grill pan (I used a round, one-burner grill pan)

Halve leeks lengthwise and cut enough crosswise into 1-inch pieces to measure 8 cups, then wash.

Simmer leeks, butter, broth, bay leaf, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and boil until liquid has reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Discard bay leaf and thyme.

Meanwhile, heat grill pan over medium-high heat until hot.

Brush steaks with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill steaks, turning once, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and let rest 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve and seed peppers and toss with remaining 2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Grill, turning once, until crisp-tender and lightly charred, 6 to 10 minutes total. Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add extra-virgin olive oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Add peppers.

Serve steaks over leeks with their juices, drizzle with meat juices from plate, and top with peppers and vinaigrette.

A few notes: While this dish was very good, it was a teensy bit too salty. And after reviewing the recipe, I can see why. Salt the leeks, salt the steaks, salt the peppers, salt the vinaigrette... I say put a little less salt in the leeks and skip salting the peppers before grilling them. That should leave you with just the right amount of saltiness. (Make sure to salt the meat though -- it tastes much better and stays juicier that way.)

And about those leeks -- they are delicious, but they aren't entirely necessary, so if you want to make a quick version of this dish, skip that part. Just grill your steaks and peppers and toss them with the vinaigrette.

But don't skip the vinaigrette -- it's really, really tasty and pulls the whole dish together.


Chocolate Fudge Torte For Passover

My boyfriend invited me to his parents' house for Passover this year. I rarely show up anywhere empty-handed and I'd never celebrated Passover before, so I immediately began researching dessert recipes. When my boyfriend found out I wanted to make a dessert, he tried to discourage me, saying that Passover desserts just aren't good (meaning given the choice between a Passover dessert and a non-Passover dessert, he'd pick a non-Passover one). I'm not one to give up easily when it comes to making great-tasting food -- especially dessert -- so this sounded like a challenge to me.

I asked friends for their favorites, and I checked the many food sites and blogs I always turn to for inspiration. I finally decided to tackle Bon Appetit's chocolate fudge torte. It's a three-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. How could I go wrong? Besides that my frosting had a fear of thickening, this cake turned out wonderfully. It was moist and even a bit gooey -- in a good way, of course.

Chocolate Fudge Torte (from Bon Appetit, April 1996)

10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I went with semisweet, as the flavor usually goes over better with kids.)3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted pareve margarine, diced
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
1/2 cup liquid nondairy creamer
Pinch of coarse salt

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons matzo cake meal
2 tablespoons potato starch
5 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup liquid nondairy creamer

For Frosting:
Combine all ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth and just begins to bubble, about 8 minutes. Refrigerate until just thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. (I refrigerated the frosting for about 2 hours, and it only thickened slightly. Then I put it in the freezer for another couple of hours. It still didn't get as thick as I think it should have. It came out more glaze-like than frosting-like, but it tasted good.)

Meanwhile, prepare cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 15 1/2x10 1/2x1-inch baking sheet with foil, leaving overhang. Grease foil. Sift 1/2 cup sugar, cocoa powder, cake meal and potato starch into medium bowl.

Combine egg whites and salt in large bowl. Using handheld electric mixer, beat whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar; beat until stiff but not dry. Using same beaters, beat yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in another large bowl until thick, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in oil, then nondairy creamer. Add dry ingredients; beat just until blended. Fold whites into yolk mixture in 3 additions.

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out dry and cake feels firm to touch, about 20 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack. Freeze cake just until firm, about 30 minutes.

Using foil as aid, lift cake onto work surface. Cut cake crosswise into 3 rectangles, each about 5x10 inches. Slide large spatula under 1 cake rectangle; transfer to platter. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with second layer. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with third layer. Spread very thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake to coat thinly and anchor crumbs. Refrigerate 15 minutes to set thin coat of frosting. Spread remaining frosting decoratively over cake. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover loosely with foil; keep refrigerated.)

(Bon Appetit recommends decorating the top of the cake with chocolate shavings and mint leaves. I simply chopped some walnuts and tossed them on top for decoration.) Cut crosswise into slices and serve.

One of the usual problems that occurs when making a cake is that you're not able to taste the finished product before serving it to others. Well with the shape of this cake, it's easy to just trim the layers a little short and make a mini-cake for two. Perfect for night-before taste testing.

I cut a small rectangle from the end of each layer before I frosted the cake. No one can even tell any cake is missing once you coat the cut end with frosting.

Despite being disappointed with the frosting, I was pleased with this cake, and so was everyone who tried it!


Book Review: Under the Table

"Chefs love food. They love eating it, they love thinking about it. They love food in the way that regular people love their pets, or their spouses. Food is that constant companion that never disappoints. Food never starts an argument. Food never flirts with your best friend. Food never has an accident on your new rug. There are a lot of reasons to love food...." - Katherine Darling

I recently received a copy of Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School from Atria Books (Thank you, Esther!). In it, author Katherine Darling writes about her experience at the French Culinary Institute in NYC.

Darling divides the book into parts based on the four levels of culinary school. Each section is replete with anecdotes, lessons learned, and recipes.

From the moment I opened this book, I was hooked. The author sounded just like me! She's around my age, has a job in publishing, and constantly thinks and talks about food.

Unlike me, she decides to leave the safety of her desk job and go to culinary school.

Darling quickly learns that culinary school is not all fun or easy -- there are the daunting chef instructors to deal with and strange foods to prepare -- and this makes many of her experiences very humbling.

But don't worry, a great deal of the experience sounds incredibly wonderful too, and Darling shares some hilarious and inspiring stories as she makes new friends -- even with some of the rough-around-the-edges chef instructors -- and enemies and works her way up the culinary ranks.

She combines her personal stories with more general information about cooking (while it's not all cohesive throughout, the information is helpful).

This book truly appealed to me because I kept weighing our similarities as I read. This was one time I felt I could really connect with an author. Besides that she went to culinary school, and I did not, I felt that our lives paralleled in a lot of ways.

As I mentioned above, we both work in publishing, we're around the same age, and we share a passion for food. We also both live in cities and have competitive natures -- not too unusual -- but we've also both been run down by bicyclists. Tell me: How many people does that happen to? Luckily, I walked away with only a giant bruise on my thigh; Darling fares slightly worse.

We had the same issue with caramel. I tried to make it once as part of caramel frosting for a birthday cake, and I could not get it to work. I didn't realize until I read about Darling's experience that I simply lacked patience. I didn't expect to learn tips to improve my own cooking while reading this book -- I just thought I would get a glimpse of Darling's life and an in-depth look at culinary school.

The section on making choux pastry made me second guess my own attempts. I thought the first batch I ever made looked perfect, but as I read about Darling and her teammates making and remaking the puffs, I started to think mine couldn't have been quite as perfect as I originally thought. I remembered pulling a wooden spoon through my choux pastry dough to see if it was ready as I read about how they would swipe their fingers through the dough to check its doneness.

Upon graduating from culinary school, Darling takes a less traditional path than her classmates (most of whom find work in restaurant kitchens) -- and does exactly what I would do -- that or catering -- if I had the resources to go to culinary school. I'd tell you what that is, but I don't want to give away too much, so I'll let you find out for yourself. While some might be disappointed by Darling's choice to forgo becoming a restaurant chef, I was delighted -- because she did what I would do.

This book is great for anyone who enjoyed reading Julie and Julia and who wants a realistic, insider's view of what happens at a top culinary school. It's sort of a foodie version of The Devil Wears Prada as well -- instead of Anna Wintour, picture several burly, menacing chef instructors. I'm reminded a little of Jennifer Weiner's books too (e.g., In Her Shoes, Good in Bed). I suppose this book would fall under "foodie chick lit" if I had to categorize it.

Under the Table is on sale starting today, and you can get your copy here.

Now, I'm off to decide which of Darling's fabulous recipes I need to add to my to-make list -- like her pâte brisée so I can make my own tarte aux pommes! And flourless chocolate cake.

Happy reading!

Pertinent Info
Title - Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School
Author - Katherine Darling
ISBN - 978-1-4165-6527-7
On sale - April 14, 2009
Publisher - Atria Books


Israeli Couscous With Spinach And Tomatoes

I'm working on cleaning out my cabinets and freezer. I've got so much food in them, and yet I keep buying more. This is not a good habit.

I decided that, intermingled with cooking all the new things I have in mind, I would try to make some dishes that use up my pantry items. I made the Israeli couscous with shallots (that I posted earlier this week) about a month ago; it just took me this long to post about it.

Last week, I made another Israeli couscous dish.

The couscous remaining from the previous recipe just barely filled a dry measure cup. Still, that was plenty for a few lunches. It's amazing how the couscous seems to multiply when you cook it.

After opening and closing some cabinets and checking the fridge and freezer, I began forming a plan in my head.

Suddenly, next to the scant cup of couscous, I had a package of frozen spinach, a can of diced tomatoes, and a couple of garlic cloves.

I started by draining the can of tomatoes into a pot. I added about a cup of water to the tomato liquid and peeled and smashed the two galic cloves and tossed them in as well.

Once the liquids were boiling, I added the couscous.

While I left the couscous to cook until tender and the liquid to get absorbed, I microwaved the frozen spinach. I suppose I could have just thrown it in the pot with the couscous, but I was afraid it would cool everything down too much and somehow demolish the whole dish. So I played it safe.

With the couscous now tender and chewy, I scooped out the garlic cloves and stirred in the diced tomatoes...

...and the spinach.

Season to taste with some salt and pepper and voila! There's lunch.

If I'd had any parmesan hanging around, I would have sprinkled some on top. Onions and basil would have been nice too. I made a similar recipe a long time ago with fresh baby spinach. I definitely prefer that to the frozen, but it worked, and mission accomplished: It's now cleared out of my freezer.

Now, does anyone have any ideas for what to do with petite crimson lentils? Do tell!