Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The zen of Mac and Cheese

As you know, Theresa and I each entered the Tillamook Mac and Cheese contest with two recipes. To do this, we studies the past contest winners to get at the essense of Mac and Cheese for a base. Then we each added our own flourish.

Mac and cheese can be divided into four parts:

1) the mac
2) the sauce
3) the cheese
4) the flourish

The Mac
This is the boring part. Buy macaroni, prepare according to package directions.

The sauce
This is a fairly straight forward part of the recipe. You make a basic white sauce with 2 T each of butter and flour along with 1 cup of milk. Melt the butter, mix in the flour until the lumps are gone, then add the milk. Simmer until thick.

You can vary this with the type of milk. Also, you can add spices, but that really falls under flourish.

The cheese
Once you've made the sauce, add in the cheese you desire. Some cheeses melt better than others. You can really be creative in the types and amounts of cheese you add. Cheddar is my favorite. Gruyere never hurt anyone. Mix your cheese into the sauce slowly melting it until you have a delicious cheese sauce.

The flourish
This is your shot. Go for the gold. Everything from apples to lobster, herbs to ham; mix and match 'til your heart's content.

Check out this recipe to see if you can identify the four steps.

Mac and Cheese Mania

We decided to show our ambition last weekend. We entered the Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese recipe contest. This contest features a grand price of $5000 AND 25 lbs of cheese. (I hope they pay the cheese on the installment plan.)

Theresa and I got together this weekend and had a little Mac and Cheese throwdown. We each prepared two, two serving portion of a potential Mac and Cheese entry to the Tillamook contest. We had to follow all of the rules of the contest and present them to our panel of judges. (My poor family of guinea pigs.)

The list of contenders:

Team Theresa
Denver Omelette Mac and Cheese
Green Apples Mac and Cheese

Team Jason
Ham and Cheese Mac and Cheese
Cajun Shrimp Mac and Cheese

The tastes of my family varied so there was no consensus winner. We tweaked all of our recipes and submitted our entries Sunday night.

Photos and commentary to come.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crying Over Sanitized Milk

Each July, I'm reminded of the carefree feeling I experienced in youth: the sheer delight of summer. My sister and I would spend one part of our summer vacation tormenting each other, and the other part feeding calves on my grandfather's dairy farm. There were countless trips to the barn to fill precious gallons with the silky white, luxurious milk.

At the time, I didn't celebrate the beauty of milk for the rich taste of a cool glassful, much less as an ingredient in some of my favorite foods. Instead of relishing raw, non-homogenized milk directly from the cow, I chose skim milk from the grocery store.

And then came my interest in making cheese. I live over 1,500 miles from the one place I know I might be able to exchange fresh-from-the cow, non-pasteurized, enzymatically wonderful milk for a six-pack of Coors Light. Unfortunately, that's what you need to make really yummy cheese. Most people probably don't care that in the US, it is illegal (in nearly every state) to sell milk that has not been pasteurized, but for ambitious foodies, it's appalling!

There are a few solutions...but you'll need to open your wallet:

Solutions 1: Bring Back the Bacteria Incorporate a live bacteria solution that allows you to create the reactions necessary. Cost $4 for 3.5 ounces of BioK + cost of milk Available at natural food stores.

Solution 2: Join a Farm Co-op One of the benefits is typically a gallon of "raw" milk. Costs approximately $8 per gallon + annual "maintenance" fee Solution 3: Pet Food I've heard raw milk can be purchased for pets. You might try this site for local information.

Do you have another solution to share? Where's all ears!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I had some friends over this weekend for a midsummer Paella. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to write my first post for Ambitious Foodie.

Since it varies a lot with my mood, I’m going to post a flexible recipe for paella:

2 C of Arborio rice (short grain)
3 C of water +/-
3 C of stock
Saffron to taste (you don’t need much)
Veggies and beans
Meats (Chicken and Meatballs are my standards)
Olive oil

Cook the meats you have selected and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, then add the raw rice. Stir the rice constantly until it becomes opaque.
Add the stock and vegetables, and cook uncovered adding water as necessary.
Before adding the last cup of water add the meat back in.
It is finished when 1) the rice is no longer crunchy, and 2) a little bit of the rice is getting browned to the bottom of the pan.

What were the variations?

For vegetables I included sliced red and yellow peppers, green beans, and Lima beans. I never get to fancy here.

For meats, I like to have a theme of some sort. Once I made a paella with three different types of meat prepared in the style of three Mediterranean styles. This time I went themeless: I made chicken and meat balls. The chicken was a sliced fryer that I marinated in harissa. The meatballs were made from Alton Brown's recipe. We made a double batch of meatballs on accident, intending to have some left over. They were so popular that their were only a few left at the end of the night.

For appetizers, we had empanadas brought by Jennifer, and we prepared a gazpacho using a recipe I found at Culinary Colorado.

For dessert, we had ice cream with dulce de leche.