Thursday, September 18, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese with Eggs, Milk, Onion

The beauty and ease of this mac-and-cheese is that there is no Bechamel sauce!

Here's one without the tomato. A little sour cream never hurt.

This old-fashioned macaroni and cheese is a "craft" made with a simple custard of milk and eggs. It’s a wonderful side for meatloaf or ham and good on its own with a simple salad and bread. I’ve used many different cheeses and have settled on the combination of soft Fontina (or Fontinella) and aged, sharp Cheddar, white or yellow (don't be afraid to add any cheese leftovers you might have on hand, especially some Mozzarella). But cheese has gotten so expensive that I now use Muenster and Cheddar and I really love the taste that the Muenster brings. Overall, I use about 2.5- just under three cups of cheese.

Use a variety of cheeses, if possible. Here, the tomatoes have been peeled
after being dunked in boiling water for about 20 seconds.

You don't have to top with the tomatoes, but it's a nice touch and it's something my grandmother would have done, especially in the summer months when tomatoes are in season.

It's a shame that so many generations have grown up thinking mac-n-cheese is something poured out of a blue box. Where's the "craft" in "Kraft?"

  • 8 oz. raw elbow macaroni*
  • 8 oz. grated Fontina or Muenster (I use a mixture)
  • 8 oz. grated sharp Cheddar (white or yellow)
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk (one 5-oz. can)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or a few shakes Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons grated onion (red or yellow)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, but I love it) 

  • 3-4 Roma tomatoes, skinned cut into 1/2-inch slices (optional)
  • Fresh bread crumbs* optional
  • Dried, Italian seasoning (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)

Butter or spray a 1.5 quart glass baking dish or an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or a 6 x 10-inch baking dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Using a slotted spoon, drop in the tomatoes one at a time for about 20 seconds. Remove and run under cold water. Remove the skin. When all the tomatoes are skinned, bring water back to a boil and parboil macaroni in salted water. Drain. Allow to cool a bit.

Over a small bowl, scrape a peeled onion over the large holes of a box grater until you have three tablespoons. Stir in evaporated milk. Whisk in the egg, Tabasco or Cayenne, salt, dry mustard and, if using, smoked paprika.

Pour milk/egg mixture over cooled pasta. Mix.

Gently stir in the cheeses until well-combined. Transfer mixture to buttered baking dish.

If using, slice the tomatoes and arrange on top and, if using, sprinkle with some Italian  seasonings. Sprinkle with Parmesan or extra cheese and then sprinkle with a bit more smoked paprika or regular paprika.

Mix together the fresh breadcrumbs with the Parmesan. Add melted butter and mix. Sprinkle over the tomatoes or tomato-less top. (Sometimes I just omit the breadcrumbs when I use the tomatoes and then top with more cheese.)

Here, I omitted the breadcrumbs and just used more cheese. I
also sprinkled the tomatoes with just a bit of Italian seasonings.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until the sides begin to bubble and the breadcrumbs are nice and brown.


 This one has no tomato or breadcrumbs, just a bit of extra cheese on top. I used 8 ounces

To serve, place a generous portion on plate and lightly sprinkle with sea salt or Kosher salt and and a dollop of sour cream on the side or on top.

A Note on Breadcrumbs: I'm not a fan of dried breadcrumbs. To make fresh, just cut the crusts off several pieces of a good hearty bread, tear into pieces and place in a small food processor. Whirl until fresh breadcrumbs form OR just cut the bread into small cubes. Fresh makes all the difference.

Update: I use the pressure cooker to do the pasta .... done in four minutes. Allow to cool.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Don't Stay in the Yard!

By Gary T. Czerwinski

I lasted only a few weeks in little league baseball. We were so little, in fact, we were given the uplifting team name of “Gnats.” How was that for self-esteem? The activity came with a required uniform and a number. I would quickly learn that conformity was the preferred way for the adult world to control children.

There was other “gear” to go with it, too. Shoes, hats, mitts. And then the practices. I didn’t understand the logic. I went to school. Adults told me what to do. I came home. Adults told me what to do. And now here was a “game” that was supposed to be fun and adults were telling me what to do. And when.

I can still remember standing in the outfield and listening to adults in the bleachers yelling, s-c-r-e-a-m-i-n-g, at their kids:


“No, stay!”

“‘Atta boy!”

We were like pet dogs in training.

A few weeks later I attempted to catch a fly ball that instead exploded in my face and gave me an instant bloody nose. I called it quits and hung up my glove for good. I still have the glove. But it holds a prize stone I found in the woods.

My heroes growing up were Native Americans, not sporting figures. I thought people like Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull the bravest, most noble and saddest of souls. In movies I rarely rooted for the cavalry and admired the simple way of life Native Americans lived, blending with Nature and being part of it. Self-sufficient.

I read everything I could about different tribes and emulated them in my play. My bike was my horse and we traveled and scouted for miles. In the summers, because I returned home covered with dirt and grit and cuts and scratches, pockets full of rocks and debris, I was banished to the basement to bathe in the laundry tub. When I turned down the cuffs of my blue jeans, half the planet spilled out.

And so my parents, in their folly, thought joining the Boy Scouts would be perfect since it was a club that did the things I already liked. It started with another uniform and name. This time, I was to be a “Cub.” There were meetings. And then rules and oaths. Things that had to be memorized.

Memorized? This was the 1950s and I attended a catholic school where the most despised book on the face of the planet was called The Baltimore Catechism. Innocent children were forced to memorize it word by word and to recite it back verbatim. Oh, it was cruel and wicked!

I didn’t last very long as a scout and one night my renegade friend Danny and myself disappeared into the darkness, climbed the chain link fence, and high-tailed it home.

There were threats and murmurs of other clubs and activities that might suit me. But for the most part I was left alone and fended quite well on my own tramping and exploring woods and Nature. Reading. Doing creative things independently and creating my own clubs that didn’t have uniforms.

It went well until seventh grade when the sin of not being an altar boy just about caused my excommunication. I had no choice. Again, there was a uniform. And memorization of prayers. In Latin! But you weren’t tested on them. So, kneeling before the altar and next to the priest, I mumbled gibberish except for the part that said “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I always uttered that a bit loudly. If they caught on, I was never confronted.

It wasn’t too bad and one could actually make money from it serving at weddings and funerals. If kids received money instead of grades, we’d be a nation of geniuses.

For mere safety concerns, the childhood I led would be impossible today. Technology makes it possible, even demands, that children stay indoors and close to home. I was fortunate to experience what I call an “organic” childhood mostly free from restraint that allowed for personal discovery. And wonder. It’s a miracle I didn’t break my neck.