My New Favorite Mac & Cheese

>> Monday, August 31, 2009

My first brush with homemade (as opposed to Kraft blue box) macaroni and cheese was in college.  My house's kitchen staff made the most delicious macaroni and cheese - so good, in fact, that I would especially request it when my favorite chef was working (the perks of going to a small, private school, I guess).  Later, when I transferred to a different school, I brought my love of macaroni and cheese with me, and eventually developed my own recipe.  My recipe sufficed, but the cheese sauce was always a bit off.  It wasn't until I started watching Food Network obsessively until I realized what was missing from my recipe: flour (in the form of a roux).

Ever since I discovered that the roux is the base of first the bechamel, then the Mornay sauce, I've been obsessed with perfecting my macaroni and cheese recipe.  Well, with last night's version, I think I've come pretty close to my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe!

For the Mornay Sauce
2 Tbsps unsalted butter
2 Tbsps all-purpose flour
About 1.5 cups of light cream, half and half, or milk
About 3-4 oz. of sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

For the Crumb Topping
1 Tbsp, melted
About 3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs
About 1 Tbsp chopped chives
About 1/2 to 1 tsp of kosher salt

Additional Ingredients
About 8 - 10 oz of small shell pasta
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
1/2 vine-ripe tomato, sliced thinly
1/8 - 1/4 tsp chili powder

Oven at 400 F degrees.

1.  Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat.  Salt water.  Add shells, and cook for about 5 minutes (even if package calls for more time).  Drain pasta and return to pot.

2.  Saute diced onion in 1 Tbsp of butter over medium high heat.  Cook until edges begin to brown.  Transfer cooked onions to pot with pasta in it.

3.  In same saute pan, melt 2 Tbsps butter.  Whisk in flour to make a roux.  Whisk in cream or milk, and whisk lightly until slightly thickened.  Mixture should be thick and creamy.  If it is too thick, add more cream or milk.  Whisk in cheese, and whisk until cheese sauce becomes thick and creamy.

4.  Pour cheese sauce over pasta and onions.  Stir to coat.  Sprinkle 1/8 - 1/4 tsp of chili powder over the mixture, and stir again to combine.  Set aside.

5.  To make the crumb topping, melt butter in small bowl, and add panko bread crumbs, chives, and salt.  Stir mixture, and make sure it is thoroughly combined.

6.  Butter a 9" pie dish, and pour in the pasta mixture.  Place thinly sliced tomatoes on top, in a single layer.  Sprinkle crumb topping over the tomatoes.

7.  Bake at 400 F degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes.


"Guest" blogger

>> Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Snail and I just nipped out for some ice cream (we resisted as long as we could), and we always pick up a kiddie size ice cream for Claudius.  Watching the little beast chow down on his ice cream made me think about how great he has it, and what his blog might look like.  (And okay, he does have his own blog, but it's not the kind where he "writes" his own posts.  It's just a place to post pictures of him.)

Had a great day today (like EVERY day)!  Got to sleep in wicked late and snuggle with my FAVORITE human!  Girlfriend next door woke me up with her nagging barking, sigh.  Mama let me bark all I wanted, all day long!  Got to fight my nemesis, the Hose (it lost, natch).  Ate a ton of food - Cesar wet food, cheese, beef, and ICE CREAM!  Took a few naps in the sun, boy, I love napping!  Spent some quality time with my Boyfriend, and am just being a general pest to my humans now, but I am so cute that they cannot get mad at me!  Life is awesome!!


That was close!

>> Monday, August 24, 2009

This picture is from NASA's Earth Observatory and shows how close we came to Hurricane Bill.  After we finally got the boat started on Saturday, and we were chatting about our close call, our friend made a great observation: Well, I'm just glad we didn't end up as "Three Lost at Sea in Hurricane".  Indeed.


What an adventure

>> Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friday morning we headed to the Cape for what ended up being a pretty big adventure. I wasn't able to go diving because I lost my fin almost as soon as I got in the water, but Mr. Snail and our friend were able to go, while I waited on the boat.

After they surfaced, the boat started taking on a ton of water, with the back of the boat pretty much completely full of water. After we cleared all the water out, the engine wouldn't start! It was looking pretty grim - our options were to try to call someone to come and tow us in, or try to flag down some of the nonexistent boats that weren't cruising by.

In the end, we were able to get the engine started, and we headed back to the shore, only to run into the tide going out, and getting semi-stuck in too shallow water, and having to push the boat back out so we could go to a different harbor. The good thing was that we were able to get a good workout in between the pumping, bailing, paddling, and pushing.

Our friend and Mr. Snail pushing the boat
Clouds in the distance, with terns circling
(this looks best at full size)

On Saturday morning, we got up and had some breakfast at our friend's house, and returned our gear. It had rained pretty heavily during breakfast, so we weren't going to go to the beach, but it ended up clearing up, so we headed to the beach and ended up staying for about 5 hours. My friend introduced me to Hawaiian Tropic oil, which I'd never used before (I figured that because it's my first (and probably only) time at the beach all summer, just this once would be okay).
All in all, it was a really fun weekend. It was great to see our friend (hadn't seen him in a couple of years), and we always enjoy the Cape!

Delicious breakfast, including fresh peaches

View from our friend's kitchen (you can see all the way to the ocean)

My favorite beach in the whole world


I'm off!

>> Thursday, August 20, 2009

I have been waiting for today for awhile because now I am officially on vacation! I'm so excited to have some real time off.

Tomorrow we're leaving bright and early, dropping off Mr. Claudius at daycare, and heading down to the Cape to go SCUBA diving with one of my oldest (as in, known the longest) friends. I'm so excited - I love SCUBA diving. It's like a totally different world, and you get to see some really incredible things.

We have been lucky to dive some really cool dive sites - a whole bunch of wrecks (Spiegel Grove, Chester Polling, Jane Sea, Antilla, a couple airplanes, among others), a bunch of reefs, and have even dived with harbor seals. We have seen all kinds of cool animals - harbor seals, giant groupers, enormous manta rays, small sting rays, nurse sharks, sea turtles, and all kinds of cool fish.

After diving tomorrow, we'll probably relax a bit (diving is surprisingly tiresome; I'm always exhausted afterwards), and then Mr. Snail is heading home, and I'm staying at my friend's house, because he and I are going to the beach on Saturday! I'm super excited, and I hope the weather cooperates. We're going my favorite beach ever - there are sandbars all over the place, and the water is fairly shallow, so you can go pretty far out. It's especially nice at low tide.

So I'll be back at some point over the weekend. Enjoy yours!

The wreck of the YS-11, an Air Aruba plane that was purposely sunk (Aruba)
Our dive guide on the deck of the Jane Sea (Aruba)

The view of our boat from below (Key Largo, FL)
A huge starfish and a tiny starfish, at 80 feet (Gloucester, MA)


Our Weekend

>> Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's really sad when, on Sunday night, you struggle to remember what you did on Friday night. Very sad, indeed. After consulting with Mr. Snail, I finally remembered that we went to Bar Louie for some dinner and drinks. We sat on the roof deck, which was nice, but Bar Louie overall is a little loud, and our waitress was kind of surly.

On Saturday, we went to my little cousin's birthday party, which was a ton of fun. We don't see my cousins a whole lot, but they are a lot of fun.

Then today, I had previously half signed up to run a 5-mile race with a co-worker. I hadn't registered as of this morning, and came so close to just staying home, but in the end, I went. It was pretty fun, but very hot. My goals were simple: finish, don't come in last, and try to finish around the 1 hour mark. I don't really consider myself a runner, and I had to push myself quite a bit sometimes, but in the end I met all of my goals, so I'm extremely happy!

I'm super excited for this upcoming week, mostly because Mr. Snail and I are going SCUBA diving with a friend of mine from college, and I finally get to go to the beach! I have been waiting all summer for this, so I hope the weather is nice.


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