Wednesday, July 28, 2010

simple things

It's all about the simple things of late; simply spending time with my hubby and enjoying almost every minute. Going to my first rodeo - ha! now I can say that it's not my first rodeo and literally mean it. Enjoying a beer on warm summer nights outside on the front porch. Trying to sort out where we'll be living in the coming months, and whether or not we'll be staying in Colorado Springs. Having a BBQ party, cooking far too much food as usual, and enjoying leftover Chinese cabbage salad, Mom's award-winning baked beans, Klark's brats and burgers...though by the 7th day we really excited that all leftovers were GONE! It's also about realizing that we're not on deployment pay anymore and actually have to plan our purchases and our nights out. We've been looking in our fridge, freezer and cupboards a lot and saying - "Ok, what can we make with what we've got?" and more specifically, because it's been so hot "What can we grill?" Lots of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. 

However, on a recent late night run to the store for bread, the artichokes looked splendid -- huge but splendid. One of my favorite treats in the world (Doritos, yes, but not what I was going to say) is a steamed artichoke. I love them with drawn butter and with a little bit of mayo. Have always loved them, though they are simple — it's the simple things that can be the best. So we dined on absolutely delish steamed artichokes last night, and my taste buds are still happy!

I keep finding great recipes for new ways to enjoy artichokes -- including stuffing them and grilling, but the fact of the matter is I know what I like. I can still be adventurous and try new things, but lately I've noticed that once I have a favorite way to prepare food or a favorite meal at restaurants, it's hard to persuade me to cook it a different way or order a new meal. One day I may try and love grilled stuffed artichokes, but unless I'm getting the steamed variety on a regular basis, that day is probably not soon. Just like I may one day order something other than Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Chang's Spicy Chicken from PF Changs, but right now, that's my favorite -- and when I get a Chang's craving - not much else will do!

Monday, July 12, 2010

catching up & white cheddar mac

So it's been a while. I know. Well over a month, six weeks in fact. I've been busy spending time with my hubby, grilling out, driving to Montana and back to visit family and taking "short cuts" that added hours to an already long (think 10-12 hours) drive.

Having Klark home has been everything I expected and planned for and more; we've had little spats over things I didn't expect, but I've gotten used to him being around even faster than I thought. When he went home to WI for four days I missed him ridiculously. A year is fine and can be taken in stride, but four little days and I nearly went crazy without him. Go figure.

As planned, have had lots of "man" meals—steak and potatoes. But have also had a surprising amount of salads, though not enough. I can never get enough salad, especially Caesar salad, or salad with garden-fresh tomatoes and mushrooms. Aggghh... I'm salivating. Too good. Still haven't made it to the Farmer's Market in Old Colorado City this summer, but I can't wait to load up on fresh local goodies. That said, our latest favorite meal is another from Rachael Ray - White Cheddar Mac & Cheese.

Sidebar on Mac & Cheese
If I haven't mentioned my lifelong love affair with Mac & Cheese, I probably should do so now. Whether it was Kraft or Annie's, I loved it, especially the stuff that came with a gooey sauce—a little slice of heaven, I think. Though I always knew that milk originally came from cows (not from the grocery store in bottles), I used to think that mac & cheese was only acceptable if it came in a box. Imagine my horror at age seven, when my grandfather (also a lifelong mac & cheese fan) promised to make me macaroni & cheese, but then proceeded to get out multiple pans and turn on the oven... and nothing he could say or do made me believe that it was going to be any good. However, and here's the shocker I'm sure you saw coming, I loved it.

Fast forward 19 years and countless m&c boxes. Age 26, and newly moved to Colorado Springs. My husband and I go to some friends' apartment for dinner—his new best buddy from work and girlfriend—and what do my eyes see but homemade mac and cheese. Dee-lish-us! After much "you have to give me this recipe" dialog, Heather shared with me and I promptly lost it. I tried making mac one day, a new recipe with tomato sauce (let's combine everything I love!), but halfway through realized I had no milk and no butter... it was a flop, needless to say.

18 months later, shortly into my blogging phase I discovered Betty Crocker's recipe. Good, but really onion-y. Back to pasta with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Also good. Then I was in Costco with a friend and they were giving out samples of Irish white cheddar, and I knew I had to find a White Cheddar Mac recipe—and Rachael Ray's version is a real winner. Tonight will mark the fourth time I've made it and the third since Klark has been home (he likes it too)—though tonight we'll be adding a cup of crumbled bacon to the mix. I love bacon.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, 1 turn of the pan in a slow stream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or 2 percent milk
  • 3 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, a couple pinches
  • Salt (I only use 3 twists of our salt mill)
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked 8 minutes or to al dente, with a little bite to it (I love using wheels too—they add fun and they hold the cheese sauce well)

Heat a medium, deep skillet over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts into the oil, add flour and combine. Gently cook, whisking flour and butter together, until smooth and flour has had a chance to cook, about 3 minutes. Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk. Gently bring milk to a bubble while stirring frequently. Allow the milk to thicken a bit, then stir in 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese a handful at a time. Season sauce with nutmeg and cayenne. Taste and add a little salt, if you like. Add cooked pasta to sauce and coat completely by turning over and over in the cheese sauce. Transfer to a baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Place baking dish under a hot broiler and brown the cheddar cheese on top.


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