Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cheesy Stress Relief, It’s Gouda Good!!!

Ok, it’s been a while since I posted and the past few months, life has been, well, life! This has led me to one thing, COMFORT FOOD!

When I think about the term comfort food, I think of a few, specific items:

Mac and Cheese with lots of gooey cheesy goodness
Biscuits and Gravy (with heart stopping greasy greasy sausage gravy)
Chicken Fried Steak with Artery Cloggin Buttermilk Gravy

So, with these three things in mind, what are (for me) the requirements of comfort food? Let’s look at the menu again shall we.

Mac N Cheese = Carbs covered in cheesy saucy goodness

Biscuits and Gravy = Carbs covered in greasy fatty gravy goodness

Chicken Fried Steak = Carb coated meat covered in greasy fatty gravy goodness

So, to be a TRUE comfort food, it must be high carbs coated in grease or cheese!!

So, life, and the need for stress relief, has brought me here, to Smoked Gouda Mac N Cheese! If it’s all gooey and cheesy and full of carbs then the mental health benefits far outweigh the “other stuff”.

I got this recipe from an “Eating Light” magazine a few years back, and had to de-lighten it. It only had 2 oz of cheese!!! How do you make a Mac N Cheese with only 2 oz of cheese?” Blasphemy, I say!!! Comfort food should not be bland, should not be light, and should NOT be good for you!!

OK, enough ranting, onto my version of the recipe. (Shane has his own version, that can be found here. You can see some minor but telling differences. His is *healthier*, mine is more *indulgent*. Also, I have increased the garlic and left out the EVIL onions, as I am alergic to onions, so they are obviously EVIL.)

1/2 cup Breadcrumbs
3 TB unsalted butter
4 Garlic cloves, minced
3 TB AP Flour
1 1/2 cup Whole Milk
1/2 cup Half and Half
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp ground White pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
8 oz cup shredded Gouda
4 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (grated)
2 1/2 cups uncooked elbow pasta

First, you need the cheese!! I have not seen pre-shredded smoked gouda, and I think even if I did, I’d still get the big wheel, so I can munch on the end pieces while I shred…)

Alright, most of you have heard me complain how hard it is to get GOOD Parmesan cheese in Yuma. Well, I found this wedge for about $15.00. Ok, ok, its Parmesan Americano, not the best best Parmigiano Reggiano out there, but it was pretty damn good, and for the price, in Yuma, it was like striking gold!! This pic shows it next to a glass of Sangria, just to show you how big it is!

I chose Sangria while cooking, cuz the Rules of Comfort Food do state that “it’s ok to have sweets/deserts first”, and when I started cooking, it was 5pm somewhere!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and drop the pasta into salted boiling water. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package tells you (it will cook more in the oven). Drain the pasta well and set aside.

Next, the cheesy part!

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.

You notice it is in my 2 1/2 quart Corningware? Have a post coming soon dedicated just to this special material. I once heard (or saw) someone say on Bakespace “I don’t have fancy baking stuff, just cheap old Corningware” and realized I have to set the record straight. Old REAL Corningware (not the modern Stoneware crap) is NOT cheap and defiantly NOTHING to be ashamed off…

Oops, I started ranting; see why Corningware will be its own post? I could go on and on and on (and on some more)

Ok, back to your butter, it should be all melty now…

When the foam subsides, add the garlic and sauté approximately 1 minute. Add flour and stir to coat the flour. Continue to stir constantly for 1 to 2 minute until sauce is a light blond.

This sauce, as is, is a Blond Roux. Oooo, we’re getting fancy here…

Slowly add milk, 1/2 and 1/2, salt, mustard powder and white pepper, whisking consistently until blend and smooth.

Bring mix up to a boil and continuously whisk, cooking until the sauce becomes thick.

This is now a Béchamel sauce! Getting even fancier!!!

Slowly add the smoked Gouda, just small clumps at a time, stirring the mix until it’s nice and smooth before adding more. You don’t want lumpy sauce!!!

Now, once all the Gouda is added you now have a Mornay Sauce!! Roux, Béchamel, and Mornay sauces!! I never new Mac-N-Cheese was so fancy schmancy!! And, until reading up on my sauces, I never knew I’d been making all these fancy sauces, just thought I was making a tasty comfort meal.

Mix sauce with cooked pasta

And mix in 2 oz of the Parmigiano Reggiano and mix until all the cheese is incorporated and melty.

Spoon mixture into a baking dish

This is my FAVORITE baking dish. It is a Vitroceramic dish by Princess House. What is Vitroceramic?? It’s the name of Pyroceramic dishes made by Corningware for Princess House!! That means this is a real (and rare) piece of old Corningware!!! Princess House still occasionally sells this material, but all they have is what was left over when Corning was Corning and when they made Pyroceram.

Ok, off on a tangent again! Damn, need to get that Corningware post done soon…

Next sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano and then with breadcrumbs.

I normally use Panko for EVERYTHING, but this day I was out (oh, the horror, the horror!). So here I used (gasp) canned breadcrumbs and it actually came out so good. Panko is great for most applications, but for cheesy comfort food like Mac-N-Cheese, there is just something to be said for larger breadcrumbs that can plump and fill with even more cheesy goodness!!

Now, you can bake this at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

“But mac and cheese isn’t a dinner, it’s a side dish, isn’t it?” you say! Well, not in my book!! But, if that is really your opinion, or the opinion of your friends, then sit back, drink a nice glass of Sangria, and relax while…

…your roommate makes the main course!

By the time she’s done with yummy pork chops, your mac-n-cheese should be done.

Plate up; add a little healthy green stuff

And enjoy!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Maria's Ocean

Ok, when I started on this blogging journey, I said it would be about art, wine and food. So far, I have had recipes (food), and while making the food, drank plenty of wine. Alas, the art has not yet made it into the picture. So here is a little shameless promotion of my artwork!!

My roommate loves blue (as you can tell from the wall behind the painting). As she has really helped me out, and she loves abstract art (my forte), I decided to do a painting for her.

Now, I always find it hard to talk about my art, so this will be a small blog, but I will add a few close ups, Mr. DeMille.

As always, I chose to add a lot of texture with rich, deep brush strokes.

This was a fun painting to do as I always love working with new material and this was my first time to use opalescent (sparkly) paint. You really need to see it to really appreciate it.

The painting is 11 inches by 14 inches in a simple bronzed wood frame. I hope you enjoy looking at it and will post more of my art at a later date.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Enchilada Casserole, or Mexican Lasagna (the recipe that started it all...)

Enchilada Casserole, or Mexican Lasagna

The recipe that started it all!

For many years I had happily fooled my friends into thinking that I could not cook. This kept me from being asked to make EVERY meal for my culinary challenged friends, to whom the secrets of top ramen were a quite unsolvable mystery. For the few who knew how to cook (you all know who I’m talking about here), well pity was taken on me by those souls, and my kitchen was always full of wonderful delectable from their test kitchens.

I don’t really know where the rumor started that I couldn’t cook, but I never said I couldn’t cook, I just didn’t correct them when they showed up on my door with something tasty saying “since you can’t cook, I made you this…”. I mean, would you turn down free food?

Well, one day, I was craving good old fashioned enchilada’s, like mom used to make. Being allergic to onion, I was wary of traveling to the local Mexican restaurant, and the roommate was supposed to be out of town, so I was safe. I made up a big old heaping dish and just as I was sitting down to eat, in comes the roommate, with a few mutual friends. My secret was out!! Not only that, but after one bite, well the whole town knew I made enchilada’s, which quickly became a very much requested item at any function I went to.

Of course, I blame Shane for all of this. If he had shown up with some delectable morsel to feed me, I never would of risked cooking when people were still up and about! So one night of craving weakness, and I’ve been cooking for friends ever since, not that I mind. I am usually rewarded with something, be it a glamorous desert, or just a nice glass of wine. This forced servitude had sparked a joy for cooking, a simple pleasure of seeing the look when someone really likes my dish, so I have gone from thinking of cooking as a chore, to seeing it as a meditative private time, whose end result is to be shared amongst friends.

Remember, even the layered “easy” approach to enchilada’s is a labor of love and an investment of time. Don’t rush yourself, get your ingredients ready and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. I prefer to cook these while alone, with no one to interrupt, no one to interfere with the truly Zen like state enchilada making can bring. Like the


5 lbs boneless chicken breast
5-10 cloves of garlic
3 28 oz cans red enchilada sauce, mild or medium (we will be adding more spice to the sauce, so it can get HOT. I usually mix 2 cans medium and 1 can mild, something I forgot to do in this batch, and will be paying for later)
3 heaping tablespoons New Mexico Chili Powder
3 level tablespoons California Chili Powder
3 level tablespoons Hot Chili Powder
5 4.25 oz cans diced black olives
12 corn tortillas
8 oz shredded Cheddar Cheese
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
8 oz shredded Queso Quesadilla Cheese
8 oz shredded Asadero Cheese
(You can get the big, 32 oz bag of “Fiesta” or “Mexican 4 Cheese” pre-shredded cheese mixes, or shred all the above cheeses fresh and mix yourself).
Cooking Oil (a lot of it, these are not “diet enchilada’s” after all. You can use your favorite cooking oil for blanching the tortillas, just keep I mind that they will take on some flavor of the oil)

Refried Garlic Black Beans

4 cans whole cooked black beans
8 cloves garlic

Avocado to garnish the plate (this takes some of the burn out of your mouth to, if they get too hot)

THE PREP WORK (you can do the steps in any order, just as long as you get everything prepped before assembly, otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad, like I have on many occasions!)

The Chicken

Cut the chicken breast to approximately ½ inch squares. The chicken was still just a little frozen and I rushed it into the grill with a great result, the moistest chicken I have ever had, and no ill effects.

Fill the grill pan with ½ an inch of cooking oil and start to heat on low heat.

Mince the garlic (5 large cloves or 10 small cloves) and divide into portions equal to how many “batches” you will grill your chicken in. My grill pan can’t hold 5 pounds of chicken, so I normally cook it in 3 batches.

Add one portion of garlic to the oil and brown, stirring constantly with a spatula so it doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic and browned garlic are NOT EQUAL!

Add the chicken and cover for about 5 minutes, uncovering to stir regularly.

As I said, my chicken was still a little a frozen, and the pan quickly filled with water.

With the lid on the grill pan, the chicken came out so moist! I stirred regularly to make sure the chicken browned evenly, so it didn’t have that “boiled” look. Even my roommate commented how good the chicken came out!!

This was only 1 of 3 batches, I don’t skimp on my chicken!!

The Sauce

Be very very careful when dealing with enchilada sauce, it will stain everything. Porcelain, counter tops, clothing, and skin!! I have gone around with red fingertips many times because the sauce just won’t come out, especially before its been cooked. Hair stylists could use this stuff for a really spicy and unique color!!

To each can of enchilada sauce, add 1 heaping tablespoon of New Mexico Chili Powder, 1 level tablespoon California Chili Powder and 1 level tablespoon Hot Chili Powder.

Stir very well. When you think you’re done stirring, stir some more. You don’t want any clumps or gritty particles, as this will give your sauce a “gritty” or “dirty” taste. Run the spoon around the bottom of the can, as this is where the clumps like to hide. I brought this spoon out of the bottom of the can, from the edges, after many minutes of stirring.

Make sure you don’t have any clumps!! And in case I haven’t said it enough, no clumps!!!

The Tortillas

Fill a fry pan with 1 to 1 1/2 inch oil and bring up to high temperature. Make sure to stay within the threshold for the oil you decided to use, we don’t want burnt oil. If it is smoking heavily, then you got it too hot and its time to start again!

Blanch the corn tortillas in the oil, one at a time, for 10 seconds on each side. Blanching will slightly cook the tortillas so they don’t have an “uncooked” taste, along with opening them up to absorb more and more of the sauce during baking.

Place the blanched tortillas aside, with a clean paper towel between each tortilla to absorb any excess oil. It may use up a lot of paper towels, but trust me, you will be happy you did. If you don’t, the tortillas can actually stick to one another, and then you have a bigger mess when you get to the assembly portion.

WARNING!! Blanching tortillas in hot oil is dangerous and HOT work! ALWAYS have something cold and refreshing to sip on to avoid overheating.

I used a nice Sauvignon Blanc, but a Pinot Grigio or even a Retzina would do! This is for your safety and to preserve your Zen moment! Nothing looses that Zen feeling like getting overheated!

The Cheese

If you didn’t buy the bagged pre mixed cheese, you can mix the cheese now.

Open the olives and drain any excess fluid. Fluff with a fork for easy sprinkling.

Alright, do we have everything??

Chicken, check.
Tortillas, check.
Cheese, check,
Olives, check.
Safety Wine, check, check and check!!!


Most of the hard work is done, and all the messy parts with hot oil and the risks of grease fires are long past, so feel free to really start finishing off that wine now. After all, you don’t want an open bottle lying around when your guests show up, and they will expect a fresh, new bottle.

**Disclaimer, to much wine could result in permanent enchilada sauce stains on your counters, floors, cupboards, ceiling, face, hands and hair. The author is in no way responsible for any added red freckles you may come up with during the making of this recipe, especially when wine is consumed in the cooking process. **

Take your 13 by 9 inch baking dish and lightly coat the bottom with enchilada sauce.

Cover bottom of pan with first 6 tortillas. They should only slightly overlap. Place a full tablespoon of sauce in the center of each tortilla.

Using the bottom of the spoon, spread the sauce to evenly coat the tortillas.

Add 1/2 of grilled chicken, spreading out evenly along the pan.
Sprinkle 1/3 of black olives over chicken.
Add enchilada sauce to cover chicken layer.

Add 1/3 of cheese.
Pouring back and forth over cheese, add enchilada sauce until it covers the top of the chicken layer.

You can see at the edge of the pan when you’ve added enough.


Getting close to done, go ahead and turn on the oven now and pre-heat to 350 degrees.

Repeat the process for layer two, coating the bottom of the tortillas with sauce this time.

After you have finished layer 2, you will have 1/3 of the cheese and olives left. Mound the leftover cheese on top.

Add the remaining olives, and going back and forth in the center of the cheese, add remaining enchilada sauce until the pan is almost full (rather discard a little sauce than risk spilling the whole thing onto yourself, remember, before baking, this sauce stains skin!!).

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the enchilada casserole is baking, you can make the garlic refried black beans! These are really, really yummy!! They were one of those “I’ll just throw this together and not care what it tastes like” kind of things that I ended up surprising myself with. I dug into them that first time and was in refried heaven!! So simple and oh so yummy!!

I use 2 cloves of garlic per can of black beans for this recipe.

Open and drain most of the liquid from the black beans, reserving the liquid.

Add minced garlic to top of beans.

Mash the beans with a potato masher until they are all completely mashed. If they look a little dry, ass some of the reserved liquid to bring them back to life.

Just like any refried beans, heat over medium heat until warm, stirring regularly to keep the bottom from burning and to thoroughly mix in the garlic.

When the beans start to bubble they are done. If they start looking dried up, add some more of the reserved liquid to bring them back, and re-heat.

The enchiladas should be done soon!!

Serve with a spatula, in portions equal to how you would serve lasagna. When you scoop out the portions you will notice a lot of excess, watery enchilada sauce.

Don’t worry too much about this, it will soak into the leftovers in the fridge and dry up on its own. This is one of those things that gets spicier and spicier the longer it sits in the fridge. If you think its hot now, wait till you go for leftovers in 3 days!!!

Serve with refried garlic black beans and avocado.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gnocchi Impossible

Gnocchi Impossible (or “The Never Ending Gnocchi Story…”)

Sometimes in your life something happens, something that hits you so hard, it changes you, makes you consider doing something you would never otherwise do. Well, this weekend, the Great Gnocchi Quest has driven me to the unthinkable. My search to make the perfect Gnocchi was so frightful, so mind wrecking, that it has driven me to blogging!
So welcome friends, to the deep dark recess’s of my mind. Here you will find blogs about food, wine and art. Perhaps, if you read deep enough, you might even discover some secrets of how my mind works. If you do, I ask you, keep them to yourself. My mind is a dark scary subject, and there are some things about it I would rather not know.

It all began last Thursday, as I sat and read Shane’s blog posts (Culinary Alchemy) about Gnocchi and the wonders of his Gnocchi board. I saw the pics of fresh made Gnocchi, my stomach grumbled, and it was over. I MUST have home made Gnocchi this weekend. How difficult could it be, anyways?

Anyone accustomed to the desert southwest knows that Yuma is not the place for the culinary advanced. It isn’t for a lack of interest, I know many here who like to cook. Nor is it for a lack of exposure, one need only turn to the culinary bliss at Carla Rene’s, Ciao Bella, or River City Grill to taste culinary masterpieces. No, Yuma’s greatest culinary downfall is the lack of supplies! Both in ingredients and tools, if you want to venture too far away from flash frozen, pre made meals, this is not a place for you. Now, I have ran into this multiple times, in my hunt for Pancetta, Prosciutto, and TRUE Parmigiano Reggiano. The first two are an impossible task guaranteed to set your mind spinning, the last, good cheese, is achievable, but at ridiculously high prices. Now I know Parmigiano Reggiano is no cheap venture where every you are, but here it is almost twice as expensive as it is in the big city.

Well, the hard to find ingredients would not deter me from my Gnocchi, after all, Gnocchi is just potato, egg and flour, right? How hard can that be? Simple tools, simple ingredients, and I’m set for culinary bliss. Friday night! Date set, shopping list made, I was ready.

So Friday comes and I head to the local Super Wally World. They have EVERYTHING right?? I get my potatoes, eggs, bread flour, garlic, butter, mace, and salt. Head to produce for fresh sage and the troubles begin. They ARE OUT OF fresh sage! Ok, deep breath, no big deal. I’ll just swing by Fry’s on the way home, be all set. So now, I push my cart to the kitchen gadgets section. Cheesecloth and a Potato Ricer on my mind. Quick scan and I don’t see anything that looks like what I need. A double check and my pulse begins to rise. I flag down a clerk and first ask about cheesecloth. She informs me she “knows” they have it. Forty Five minutes later, with FOUR Walmart employees in the search, we have turned up NOTHING. No cheesecloth in kitchen gadgets, no cheesecloth in grocery, no cheesecloth in crafts, the cheesecloth has disappeared. I sigh, ok I can get cheesecloth elsewhere, right? Well, that comes in latter down, but for now, I thank the search party, turn to the leader, “Sergeant Kitchen Gadget Stock Boy”. I ask about the one last missing tool, the Potato Ricer. He looks at me dumbfounded, cocking his head slightly as I have apparently turned into a giant spinning purple baboon.

“What in the world is THAT?” he asks.

“Never mind…” I head to checkout, dejected. There will be no Gnocchi tonight. Maybe tomorrow will be a better.

Saturday comes, and me and my roommate have garage sales and thrift stores on our great “to do” list. I find some great beading items, but kitchen gear, not a one. No potato ricer to be seen. Second hand Gnocchi salvation will not be mine!

That evening, wanting a new outfit for the bar, I hit up Ross. Ross has a fun kitchen section, and you never know what you will find. Alas, no potato ricer. Not even and extra large garlic press to substitute. Not even a single strand of cheesecloth. Well, everyone counting? That’s two stores down.

Sunday, and I will not be denied any longer! First I hit Target to no avail, then Marshalls. Well, at Marshalls I SCORE!!!! No, no potato ricer, no cheesecloth, but I do find a BEECH WOOD HACHOIR BOWL AND MEZZALUNA!!!! I have wanted a mezzaluna for a long time, and with a matching hachoir bowl, made just for it!! Did I say SCORE!!?? Ok, this is too nice a set, its got to be out of my price range, and my Gnocchi budget is already blown, I turn the box over and see the price, $6.99. OMG, DOUBLE SCORE. I scan the shelf, nope, not another to be seen, I have gotten the last one, and at a price I can’t believe!!! My garlic sage gnocchi sauce is going to take on a whole new dimension!

Ok, off to Kohl’s. They are going out of business here, and everything is on sale. Keep in mind, this is store number FIVE. I search and search and search some more, and finally find an employee. Most have jumped from the sinking ship, knowing their jobs were quickly ending. This guy is not the kitchen gadget guy, but I ask anyways. Yep, he KNOWS what a potato ricer is!! He just sold one yesterday. Ohh joy of joys as he takes me to the display shelf that had them. It’s empty!! Don’t give up, he encourages me as he calls up to the warehouse, to the kitchen gadget stocker, for help. The stock guy searches and searches and searches. Twenty minutes of searching, with my heart frozen in time, the helpful clerk and me breathless with anticipation, pacing like we were waiting on news from a doctor in surgery, and finally, after a LIFETIME we get the bad news. They are out of all potato ricer’s! Not a one to be found, and with the store closing, not a one to be re-ordered.

This leaves me one, last, desperate hope. Blood, Bath and Beyond. I didn’t want to go there, they are always way overpriced, no matter what city you are in, but it must be. I walk in the door, kitchen gadget section ahead, and see it. From the front door I CAN SEE A POTATO RICER!!! I am overcome with joy, almost crying as I run to the BLESSED potato ricer!!

Nearly in tears as I check out, I remember the cheesecloth. I ask the clerk and here we go again. A frantic search of kitchen gadgets and kitchen basics. No cheesecloth! Store SIX and still not enough. Then I am hit with an epiphany! Joanne’s Fabrics is right around the corner. Not only do they have it, but they have A LOT OF IT, at dirt cheap prices. I can buy it pre-packed or by the yard. I grab the smallest pack they have, SIX Yards of food grade cheesecloth for five bucks!!

Know, I forgot to hit up Fry’s for sage, so a quick, exuberant gaunt into the grocery store, grab the sage (which is on sale), and I have enough in change to cover it. EIGHT stores total, THREE days, but THERE WILL BE GNOCCHI!

Ok, I made the gnocchi and sauce prepping at the same time, working together, but I will separate them here. The gnocchi I adapted from Shane’s recipe, which he adapted from Joy’s recipe (another member of BakeSpace). The sauce I completely adapted/changed from Shane’s simple browned butter sauce. No, I can not leave good enough alone, even on my first time. And yes, I have committed what many in San Diego would call “Culinary Blasphemy” by CHANGING one of Shane’s recipes. Shane is often referred to in reverence, and his culinary masterpieces are considered by many to be perfection. Even so, we all have different tastes, different styles, and any good cook takes a recipe and adapts it, makes it there own. Shane would understand. I mean, after all, its not like I changed his PASTA CARBONARA recipe, now THAT would be true blasphemy!!

Gnocchi Recipe:

1 ½ lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
2 ¼ tsp kosher salt
2 Tb unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, and 1 extra egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/8 tsp White Pepper, finely ground
1/8 tsp nutmeg or mace
1 cup + bread flour

Boil potatoes and garlic as if for mashed potatoes.
Rice potatoes and garlic together.
Place riced potatoes in pile on cutting board.

Make a well in center of potatoes.
Add egg, melted butter, salt, pepper, and ½ cup bread flour.
Knead into mass, adding more flour ¼ cup a time, until soft dough is formed.
If dough still EXTREAMLY sticky, add more flour 2 Tb at a time.
Dough should still be a little sticky.
Divide into 8 pieces.
Re-flour board and hands.
Roll rope approx ½ to ¾ inch thick.

Slice rope into ¾ inch long pieces.
Roll on Gnocchi board or fork design.
Freeze on cookie sheets or cook immediately.

Browned butter garlic sage sauce

2 cloves garlic
5 TB butter
5 leaves sage
6 leave clusters Italian parsley

Melt butter over low heat until it starts to brown.
Remove from heat and let sit five minutes.
Butter will continue to brown while it sits.
While butter sits to brown, gather herbs and garlic into your hachoir bowl.

Mince herbs with mezzaluna until fine.

After butter is browned, strain through cheesecloth.
Add minced herbs and simmer over low heat while gnocchi cooks, stirring constantly.
The little pieces of garlic will brown and take on a nutty texture and flavor. Stirring keeps them from burning. Nutty garlic crispies, yum!
After garlic had browned, add Gnocchi, toss with sauce, and pan seer.

Gnocchi heaven, well worth the wait and trauma of the weekend!!