Oof: Red Hawk Macaroni with Prosciutto and Raspberry Jam

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

-Utter deliciousness in a bowl.-

During the writing of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, Stephanie and I had to deal with a small little problem. The food.

We were eating gourmet pasta and cheeses nearly every single day for a year. Testing mac and cheese, after mac and cheese, after mac and cheese. Both of our cholesterol levels didn't just shoot through the roof, they went further than any probe ever sent into deep space by NASA. It was utterly brutal.

The weight gain was equally trying. My whole life I maintained a slim build my brother once lovingly called, "Heroin chic." I was practically a collection of organs bound by skin and held up by bones.

Eating mac and cheese practically every single night for a year drastically changed that. Since then my metabolism has sputtered more than my Dad's old Jaguar and I can no longer eat and drink to my struggling little heart's content. The weight gain was intense, to say the least. About twenty pounds for me, and Steph saw a significant gain to her tiny frame as well.

Steph and I did our best to fight this off by eating a lot of salads and trying to put away more fruit than a Farmers' Market. Still, it was a losing battle when your intake is so staggeringly high.

Since the book came out I've been doing my best to exercise when I can and eat far more fruits and veggies. It seems to have worked. My jeans aren't so tight anymore so, you know, progress.

Heck, this last Halloween I saw friends I hadn't seen in over a year since the book come up to me with a, "Wow, you lost a lot of weight!" I wasn't sure whether to slap a bitch or take the compliment because it wasn't until that I didn't realize just how big I had gotten. Looking back at pictures it's a bit daunting. Given, I was probably at an unhealthy underweight before, but when you've been that way your whole life and quick gain is shocking. Still, at book release I was sporting a extra chin that complimented by original chin strikingly well.

This isn't to say I no longer eat mac and cheese. Far from it. We eat it probably once a month or so. After all, it's delicious and moderation is key. The only reason you should ever eat mac and cheese every night is if you're writing a cookbook on a deadline.

So now things have taken a turn in a rather very different direction. I've taken on a job working for About.com on a brand new channel: Fruits and Vegetables. This produce-focused channel is a place where I'll be writing about the mythology, history, science, and fascinating varieties of produce out there - from tubers to pommel, nuts to herbs! Of course, there will also be plenty of engaging and easy to make recipes that you won't find anywhere else.

The channel will post ten times a month with two pieces of produce being the focus each month. For November I decided to start with some of my favorite fall fruits: cranberries and persimmons. We looked at the history of cranberries in Thanksgiving and how they were harvested, to how persimmons can be used to predict the weather. Naturally, some of my favorite fall recipes went up: persimmon oat scones and cranberry applesauce.

-And you will notice that pictures there are not via Instagram for you food porn geeks.-

I do hope you'll make the Fruits and Vegetables channel one of your go-to food sites. Vanilla Garlic will still be posting so no worries there. You'll still find essays and certainly more baked goods here in the future.

And for good faith, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes from Melt. I hope you enjoy it (preferably with a salad).

Giving In: Gruyère and Emmentaler Macaroni and Cheese Casserole with Ham and Cubed Sourdough

Saturday, November 8, 2014

-This utterly sexy photo by Matt Armendariz.-

So I'm giving in this year.

Admittedly, it's not something I usually do, let alone admit to. I'm what many call stubborn, though I prefer stalwart. But after complaints, begging, pleading, and even a bit of polite asking I'll bend for once.

This year I'll make stuffing for Thanksgiving.

Now, admittedly, this probably sounds odd. Can one have a Thanksgiving without stuffing?

Yes. Yes you can.

Usually, I make blue cheese biscuits, cheddar crackers, homemade olive bread, or some epic macaroni and cheese where the cheese sauce bubbles over the sides and the house smells like warm feelings and comfort.

Last year, I crafted a wild rice stuffing studded with feta, roasted chanterelles, toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, and the finest mince of scallion.

What did my guests say? "Oh, it's good. Delicious, in fact. I just miss real stuffing."

One even had the gall to ask if I wanted him to run out and grab a box of *shudder* Stouffer's. After beating him unconscious and leaving his corpse on the street I went back to my apparently simple rice stuffing and spooned in onto the unappreciative plates of my so-called loved ones.

So, this year, I'll make stuffing. I plan to use sourdough, cherries, sage, hazelnuts (or, perhaps, pecans), and plenty of turkey sausage. That should shut them right up.

However, if you're looking for something hearty for Turkey Day but don't want to do stuffing, might I recommend the following?

This is another popular recipe from my cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. If sitting by a warm fire in Europe has a flavor I imagine this to be it. It'll put meat on your bones, no doubt, but think of it as protection from the cold or perhaps a return on investment when you ate nothing but salad last summer.

It uses ham, but feel free to omit it and use roasted cauliflower instead.

Another option is leftover turkey because fuck yes leftover turkey mac and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's that time of year again and I felt that now was a great time to re-post one of my favorite recipes from Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese. Pumpkins are everywhere now and the cold weather is seeping in.

My advice? Make mac and cheese studded baked in a pumpkin. This recipe is insanely easy and sure to impress during the cold holiday seasons ahead of us.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni 

1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
4 ounces elbow macaroni
5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 scallions, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup heavy cream

Fontina is a creamy, woodsy, Alpine-style cheese . There are m any varieties of Fontina, from Swiss to Italian, with some fine specimens even coming out of Wisconsin. Each has its own unique profile, so be sure to taste them all and pick the one that you like best. Regardless of which you choose, you will get a nice semihard texture and subtle mushroomy flavor. It just so happens that Fontina pairs beautifully with the sugary flavors of a good baking pumpkin.

This recipe, baked inside the pumpkin—a trick inspired by Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, both famous for their stuffed-pumpkin recipes (among other things)—simply knocked our socks off with flavor and a stylish yet homey presentation. Although best with Fontina and a touch of Gruyère, another Alpine favorite, this recipe is flexible and can use whatever cheeses, meats, onions, or extra pasta you have on hand. Feel free to experiment. We particularly like Valley Ford’s Estero Gold or its Highway 1 Fontina, as well as Roth Käse’s MezzaLuna Fontina. If you want to try something radical, a creamy blue cheese like Buttermilk Blue or Cambozola will do nicely too.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.

3. Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.

4. In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.

5. Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4 

Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne

Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts

Wanting and Getting and What's In Between

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wanting is easy.

We want all the time.

It drives us to reach farther and work harder. Wanting brings out our best qualities, rough and sharp to the touch, and makes us polish them until their brightness blinds us. Wanting also brings out our worst. Jealousy and rage clawing at our guts, grey matter, and speech leaving us empty and often alone. Wanting allows us to endure - to face challenges and accomplish feats we never knew we could overcome. Wanting also breaks us down. We cry, we wonder why we aren't worthy and why our friends and co-workers and the bitches we hate are so damn lucky to get what they want. Wanting makes us forget that they probably suffered through want too, and we both empathize and forget this in waves of fluid coherence that change like the tide. Wanting makes us wonder how those other motherfuckers that came before us somehow wanted more. Wanting makes us freak out when yet another obstacle gets in the way. Wanting gives us the hammer needed to obliterate that obstacle, or at least make a hole to crawl through assuming we don't just walk around it. Wanting makes us move. Wanting makes us hopeful for the future and irritable at the present.

It's the getting.

Getting is hard.

Let's take an example...

My writing partner, Stephanie, is picking up and moving to France for a month for charcuterie classes, and then moving to Chicago for pastry school for six months.

Because this will make her happy and help lead her to her ideal career.

This is a perfect example of wanting so hard that she achieved the getting.

And please, read into that previous sentence. The getting required work, and dedication, and worrying, and freaking out, and long conversations over the phone, and second guessing, and making plans for a year from now before making plans for next month let alone next week.

Getting also required leaps of faith that paid off.

It demanded perseverance.

It needed hope that things will work out.

It insisted on a sound game plan that was well thought out mixed with a tinge of fuckitall.

And you know what? She got what she wanted. She's off to cleave up sides of bacon on a rural farm outside Paris before learning to make sugar sculptures and wedding cakes.

Getting is hard.

So now, I need to go back to my wanting so I can strive for my getting. 

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