Monday, May 10, 2010

Irish Macaroni and Cheese

I've been reading a lot about cheese lately, which is an interesting and disgusting but oh-so-delicious topic. Macaroni and cheese, a distinctively American dish, was based on somewhat similar European counterparts but was not made as we know it until the last few centuries. My tried and true recipe relies on sharp cheddar, but when you tread into Irish cheddar territory, it's a whole other ballgame.

I'd been experimenting with my regular recipe -- what pasta shapes work best, what cheese combinations? This one is definitely a winner. A greasy, artery clogging winner guaranteed to be a success at any potluck or family gathering.

1 1/2 cups milk
4 tbsp flour
3 tbsp European style butter
6-8 oz Irish cheddar, cubed
1 lb dry penne rigate
salt to taste
1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar

Preheat the oven to 450 and set a pot of water to boil. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium low until melted, and mix with the flour until even. Add half a cup of the milk and mix until even. Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add the rest of the milk to the sauce mixture and stir until hot; add the cubed cheddar. Stir until melted and add the salt. Set aside to thicken.

Drain the pasta and combine well with the sauce. Put into a baking pan and top with the mild cheddar. Bake for 15 minutes or until the top is bubbly; allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken parm, the Americanized version of eggplant parmigiana, is a recipe I only started making in the last few months. It's my male acquaintance's favorite dish that I make so far -- however, after repeated testing, I've determined that for it to be good versus excellent chicken parm, the quality of ingredients is vital. For that purpose I am being strangely specific with this recipe. It's time and labor intensive but worth the work if you want to impress someone. This recipe serves 3.

3 kosher, organic chicken breasts, thawed (don't use large, mass produced varieties, they don't have near the flavor of naturally raised chicken meat)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
dash of salt
1 cup bread crumbs
3 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, chopped finely

Heat a large skillet over medium. Whisk together the milk, eggs, salt and red pepper flakes. Put the butter and garlic in the pan and using a spatula, whisk together. Dip the cutlets into the egg mixture then toss in the bread crumbs and place into the skillet individually. Once one side is browned, flip and repeat until they're all done. Set them on a small baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining garlic butter, set aside.

1 can fire roasted tomatoes, crushed
1 can regular tomatoes, crushed
1/2 cup basil leaves whole, or 3 tbsp chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
1 lb cooked rigatoni pasta or 1 box dry
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
3 tbsp finely shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the above ingredients except the pasta in a large saucepan over medium low heat and simmer for at least half an hour. In this time, cook and drain the pasta. Put a small amount of mozzarella in the bottom of a baking pan, follow with the pasta, then the sauce and then the rest of the mozzarella. Bake in the middle rack for 30 minutes. Put the chicken breasts on the bottom oven rack and bake along with it. Remove from the oven, transfer the chicken onto the pasta and serve.

Strawberry Morozhenoe (Russian-style Ice Cream)

For the life of me I can't seem to find morozhenoe in my city -- maybe it's the lack of a large Russian population, but what makes it different from regular ice cream is the texture. Unlike American ice cream, which tends to be very dense and heavy, morozhenoe is rich yet lightweight. It's meant to be served slightly soft; the high fat content allows this to happen without the ice cream melting all over. I used vine ripened strawberries for this and it turned out great.

You need:

1 liter heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 pints fresh strawberries
3/4 cup sugar

Put a large metal bowl in the freezer. Quarter the strawberries and heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the strawberries and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the berries are soft and the mixture becomes slightly syrupy. Set aside to cool.

Once the sauce is cooled take the bowl out of the freezer, and pour in the heavy whipping cream. Using an electric mixer begin whipping at medium speed; when the mixture begins to thicken, add the remainder of the sugar and whip at a higher speed. Make sure not to overmix so the cream doesn't separate. Gently fold in the milk and strawberry syrup. In a large bowl freeze for 2 hours, come back and stir, then freeze for 8 more. This is best served within a day or two of making, otherwise the ice crystals stiffen the signature texture.

White Zucchini Parmesan

This is a recipe I made for a group of people during a get together at the house; it's assembled from various odds and ends I had in the kitchen but came together amazingly well. The Torog cheese is a fresh farmers' cheese that can be found in most Russian markets; if you absolutely cannot find it, substitute regular farmer's cheese or ricotta.

Step 1: Parming the Zucchini

2 large zucchini, sliced fairly thin
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp whole milk
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
dash of salt
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
olive oil for frying

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and chili flakes. Put a skillet over medium heat. Dip the zucchini slices in the egg mixture and follow by tossing in bread crumbs, set aside. Once several of these are completed add about 2 tbsp olive oil to the pan and arrange the slices. Once they're browned on the bottom, flip them. Remove onto a paper towel or piece of parchment and repeat until you've used up all the zucchini. You may have leftover egg and bread crumbs; if you want, you can combine these and fry them to make hush puppies.

Step 2: Sauce and Assembly

1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 oz Torog cheese
4 oz Irish cheddar, chopped into cubes
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
salt to taste
2 large cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 450. Heat the butter over medium-low until melted, quickly whisk in the flour. Add half a cup of milk and stir until uniform in texture, then turn the heat up to medium and add the rest of the milk. Once the mixture becomes hot add the Torog and cheddar, stirring until melted and incorporated. Add the salt and garlic and remove from the heat.

Put a few tablespoons of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and arrange the zucchini slices in one layer over it. Top with half of the mozzarella, more sauce and continue to layer the zucchini. Finish with the rest of the mozzarella on top and bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 and serve.