Thursday, September 18, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese with Eggs, Milk, Onion

This recipe is currently undergoing some changes. Please re-visit.

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?"

  • 1 cup small, raw elbow macaroni (about 4 oz.)
  • 8 oz. American or Velveeta Chesse
  • 4 oz. grated sharp Cheddar
  • Grated Parmesan, about 4 oz. and more for topping
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature, divided
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 can evaporated milk 
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or whipped cottage cheese or a combination
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 4-6 drops Tabasco 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • A few sprinkles garlic powder
  • Several grates of fresh nutmeg, less is more
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 good teaspoon regular black pepper (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons grated onion (red or yellow) or 1.5 - 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, but I love it) 
  • 6 drops Worcestershire sauce or to taste (less is more)
  • Bacon Fat

  • 3-4 Roma tomatoes, skinned cut into 1/2-inch slices (optional)
  • Bread crumbs. I prefer fresh but Panko works, too.
  • Dried, Italian seasoning, a few shakes
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 tablespoons melted butter or use olive oil, just enough to moisten crumbs

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  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. Add butter. Stir. 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 to four tablespoons or, if using, add dried onion flakes.  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

Uniforms and growing up!

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 is that for self-esteem?

The ball-and-bat activity required a uniform and a number. I would quickly learn that conformity was the preferred method for the adult world to control children ... into adulthood.

There was other “gear” to go with it, too. Shoes, hats, mitts. All were programmed to make the participant feel he was "original." Part of a "team."

And then their were "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 there was homework renamed "practices." I wanted none of it. Just let me ride my bike. Tramp the woods. Have some real fun.

And that is where the adult world lost me. I was not having "fun." At least, not on my own "turf" ... never mind so-called "bases" I had to run to appease "them."

I did not feel free. I felt constricted. 

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. It hurt! 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 of souls I utterly respected. In movies I rarely rooted for the cavalry but admired the simple way of life Native Americans lived, blending with Nature Self-sufficient. In play, I did my utmost to emulate that culture and life style.

I read everything I could about different tribes. My Schwinn 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 make-believe folly, thought the Boy Scouts would be perfect since it was a club that did the things I already liked. Silly grown ups! My father was a boy scout. He sat me down and told me how wonderful it was. All the great things they did outdoors that I already liked. It certainly sounded promising . . . Until it regressed into another uniform. And pejorative name. This time, I was christened “Cub.” There were meetings. And then followed the rules and oaths. How to tie your scarf. And then the dreaded scourge of childhood: Memorization. I was given a book!

Mind you, This was the 1950s and I attended a catholic school where the most despised book on the face of the planet and beyond was called The Baltimore Catechism. Innocent children were forced to memorize it word by word, week after week, and to recite it back verbatim lined up like prisoners to our jailers called nuns with male names. Oh, it was cruel and wicked!

Needless to say, I did not last very long as a scout. One night, my renegade friend Danny (who was wonderfully condemned to hell in my school because he smoked) and myself disappeared into the darkness. We climbed the chain link fence and high-tailed it home. My father, understandably, was disappointed. Me ... not so much so. I had regained my freedom and territory in the woods.

I'm not sure what happened to Danny. But I don't think his father cared . . . 

There were threats and murmurs of other clubs and activities that might suit me. Thankfully, for the most part, I was left alone and fended quite well on my own tramping and exploring woods and Nature. Reading. Creating independent projects and creating my own clubs that didn’t have uniforms. Or memorization.

It progressed well until we moved to a new town and a new school. I was in the seventh grade and my biggest sin was to about to be revealed. I was not an altar boy! It just about caused my excommunication. Pilgrims, I implore you. I had no choice! Again, there was the ubiquitous uniform. The memorization of prayers. In Latin! But, you weren’t tested. So, kneeling before the altar and next to the priest, I simply mumbled gibberish except for the part that said “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I knew that part and so I always uttered that a bit loudly. If they caught on, I was never confronted.

It wasn’t too bad a "club." One, at least, gained access to parts of a church no one could see. 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.

As soon as I graduated eight grade, I also graduated being an altar boy. I was done.

For mere safety concerns, the childhood I led would be impossible today. Technology and politics 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 personal discovery. Even injury. And wonder. It’s a miracle I didn’t break my neck. It's a miracle I survived on my own without a uniform. Instead of a childhood memorized, my childhood was, instead, blessed with memory of personal discovery and joy devoid of the threat of a big person's upper hand.