Craving Mac n Cheese

The other day I made my favorite Mac n Cheese. I’ve been craving it for a while but it’s been too warm to cook this type of food so when the days started cooling off I knew exactly what it was time for; creamy Mac n Cheese with crispy edges and crusty top.

It was a Saturday and the Farmers’ Market that I usually go to is on Sunday morning. That means I was out of just about everything fresh. So, that night I feasted on my Mac n Cheese accompanied by only a simple salad of baby greens, shredded carrots and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Tasty enough but as I sat down to eat I thought, “you know what would be great with this Mac n Cheese, grilled Brussels sprouts”.  Next morning as I shopped the Farmers’ Market the first thing I picked up was some Brussels sprouts and some Crimii mushrooms. I also picked up a nice butternut squash, some onions and a couple of Black Arkansas apples (more on these later)

Sunday night I grilled the Brussels sprouts, Chrimini, onion and garlic and feasted on left over Mac n Cheese with a side of the roasted veggies. Oh my was it good. Definitely a great accompaniment to the Mac n Cheese. You can find more ways to fix Brussels sprouts on my January 22, 2010 post, \”How I Learned To Love Brussels Sprouts\”. You might even consider one of these versions as a side for Thanksgiving.

Here’s the recipe for the Mac n Cheese. It’s from James Beard’s American Cookery and has been my favorite since my son was a little boy. Which, as I consider it, was a long time ago.

Macaroni and Cheese I

½ lb macaroni (I use brown rice pasta)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Dash Tabasco

1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I use a sharp Tillamook)

Boil the macaroni in salted water till just tender. Drain well. Prepare a white sauce — melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, blend with the flour, and cook several minutes over medium heat. Heat the milk to the boiling point, stir into the flour-butter mixture, and continue stirring until it thickens. Add the seasonings and simmer 4 to 5 minutes.

Butter a 2 or 2 ½ quart baking dish or casserole. In it arrange alternate layers of macaroni, sauce, and cheese, ending with cheese.  Option: Cover the top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve at once.

Annie’s Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

If you have been reading my posts you know that the Ichiban Japanese eggplant I planted in a pot on my patio has been the best producing eggplant I have ever had. It has supplied a neighbor friend and myself with more than enough eggplant. We have made all kinds of dishes with it. A couple of weeks ago I made up a vegetable lasagna that doesn’t use any noodles, just grilled veggies, cheese and some very delicious Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce. This week I decided to grill the extra veggies that have been ripening faster than I can eat them and store them in the refrigerator with the idea that when I had enough variety I would make another vegetable lasagna.

Today was the day that version-two of the lasagna took shape. It is cool and windy outside with the sun popping in and out from behind the clouds. If we were having a normal August it would be hot outside by now and I certainly wouldn’t consider turning on the oven. Not even the small convection oven I used today. But it’s not hot and so the lasagna creation began. I gathered the grilled eggplant, Butterstick zucchini, and red peppers from the refrigerator. Next I sliced a beautiful red onion I had just bought at the Farmers’ Market and sautéed it in a little olive oil until it was beautifully browned and tender. A trip out to the patio yielded fresh basil leaves.

Lasagna is a process of layers; a layer of marinara (which I strained the excess liquid out of since there are no noodles to absorb the liquid), then the eggplant topped with whole basil leaves and mozzarella cheese, another layer of marinara, zucchini, basil leaves, peppers, onions and cheese. I finished it off with the last bit of marinara, mozzarella and some shredded Parmesan. I baked the lasagna at 350° for about 30 minutes, or until the top was browned. I let it sit for about 10 minutes before I cut it into serving size pieces.

This is one of those great recipes that you can modify to fit the ingredients you have. If I had had some ricotta I would have added a layer. Pine nuts might add some nice texture. I might even be tempted to try a pepper that has a little heat in it. I do love the red bells for their sweetness but it might be nice to  add just a little kick to the mix. I also think I’ll add a little fresh parsley next time since I have some in my garden. And, since the eggplant has started a whole new round of flowering and producing, I’m sure there will be a next time.

If you give my grilled vegetable lasagna a try let me know how it turned out for you or how you modified the ingredients to fit your likes and vegetable abundance. There’s more on grilling vegetables here. I’m always looking for new ways to cook vegetables and would love to share your ideas with my readers.

Abundance

Ichiban eggplant

Abundance, when defined in an ecologic way, refers to the relative representation of a species in a particular ecosystem. That’s what’s going on in the ecosystem that is my backyard. My Japanese eggplant is producing like crazy, which is good and bad at the same time. How much eggplant can one person eat? The other veggie that is producing heavily is a Butterstick zucchini. This abundance is one of the reasons I sometimes wish I didn’t’ have my own plants and could just buy what I really want at the Farmers’ Market. But then there’s that other part of me that just loves being able to pick something and then take it straight to the kitchen. This year that is the side that won out so, I’m dealing with my abundance by eating a lot of eggplant and zucchini and sharing with my friends for as long as they will accept. Abundance has brought about need, the need to find interesting ways to fix both zucchini and eggplant.

About three years ago I found this recipe in Bon Appetite and have been using it every summer since. But, while the recipe is only focused on eggplant preparation I want to recommend that you also try it on summer squash. For this version I used the Japanese eggplant and the Butterstick zucchini in almost equal amounts slicing them to ½-inch thickness then placing them in a zip-lock with the marinade and refrigerating it for the afternoon, if you can, for 1-hour minimum. Bring the package room temperature before you grill. I usually take it out about an hour before grilling time. Grill until they are browned nicely on one side then turn. As in the original these are good right off the grill or served at room temperature.

Enjoy your weekend and don’t forget that shopping your local Farmers’ Market is the best way to buy the freshest fruits and vegetables possible. The only way to get fresher is to grow your own. Another bonus of shopping the Farmers’ Market is you can  sample before you buy and you can’t do that at your local market.

Sesame eggplant & zucchini

Sesame Eggplant with Green Onions

Bon Appetite, Jun 2007

½ cup olive oil

4 large green onions coarsely chopped

2 T soy sauce

2 t Asian sesame oil

2 t sesame seeds

2 eggplants (about 2 ½ lbs cut crosswise into ½-inch thick slices

Puree olive oil, chopped green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil in blender. Transfer mixture to small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds; season mixture with pepper. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Generously brush 1 side each eggplant slice with green onion mixture. Cook until tender and charred in spots, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Serves 6