Tuesday, September 27

Favorite Homemade Mac & Cheese

I started going to Camp Strawderman the summer I was nine years old.  What started out as something that can only be described as "get her out of her comfort zone" quickly turned into a love affair with the Blue Ridge mountains. 

Do you see Clark hanging out in the back of the car trying to blend in and hope he can spend 2 weeks at Camp too?

There were no flushing toilets, we used outhouses that were fraught with spiders and bugs and the occasional horse if someone was pulling a prank.  We swam in a creek and rode horses.  There were no TVs or phones and there was just enough electricity to play the boombox in our cabin during the morning and power our lights until taps at 9:30.  Once every two weeks we had to get up early and make our own breakfast which they cleverly called "pioneering". 

Why yes, we are hanging out on the steps that led to the outhouse that was parked in the middle of the horse fields!

I was a camper at Strawderman for nine years (yes, you read that right, I went to camp long after it wasn't "cool" anymore).  Those summers were some of the best and most influential of my life.  Seriously, you spend a month using an outhouse and swimming in a creek and you suddenly become a little less diva.  Which I'm sure pleased my parents, particularly during those lovely teenager years. 

Every summer I got to pick the meal we ate on my last night at home and the meal we ate on my first night back.  A tradition that continued when I started going to college and when my brother started going to golf camp (an unbelievably different summer camp experience from the one I had... including maids, non-alcoholic daiquiris by the pool and a dinner so formal each night he had to wear a jacket). 

For years I requested Mexican Casserole, a recipe I'll share sometime in the next few months.  It's a family favorite and was actually what I made for Roy the first time I ever cooked him dinner.  But if I wasn't requesting Mexican Casserole, I was requesting this... creamy homemade mac 'n' cheese with a crumbly cracker topping.


For as long as I can remember, this dish has been synonymous with "home".  It got requested before camp, after college, upon my return from a study abroad trip to Southeast Asia, for birthdays and holidays... calling it a family favorite doesn't feel like enough.

It's deliciously rich and creamy with the unusual but subtle addition of mushrooms.  The cheese keeps it gooey and the crumbled crackers on top get mixed with butter to make sure you're tasting a little piece of heaven.  This is the kind of mac 'n' cheese that rouses you from sleep at 2am for a few forkfuls straight out of the fridge.  I've even flown home from the holidays with tupperware containers of leftovers in my carry on bag. 

Careful if you try it before Thanksgiving, it will make a compelling case to be added to your Turkey Day menu!  Especially since it can be made the day ahead :)




Favorite Homemade Mac & Cheese

1 - 8oz package of elbow macaroni (or half a 1 LB box of macaroni)
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 cup light mayo
2 cups (8oz) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 - 4oz can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 sleeve of round buttery crackers, crushed (I use Ritz low sodium)
3 Tbs. butter

Boil a pot of water, cook the macaroni until al dente and drain.

Combine in macaroni, soup and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon into a lightly greased 2 qt. casserole.

Combine the crushed crackers and melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Bake at 300 for 30 minutes or till browning on top. Makes 6 - 8 servings.

Monday, September 19

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

The arrival of football season means the arrival of lots of things.  Cooler weather, pumpkin spice everything, cute new fall clothes, tailgates... 

It also means the arrival of comfort food season!  The cozy, simple kind of food that pairs perfectly with the game and a good beer.

To toast the start of the new football season, I tried this recipe which combines two of my favorite things - pizza and wings.  It was only my second time grilling pizza but I really like the outcome.  The crust gets toasty and firm which makes it perfect for a pizza like this one, which is loaded with toppings.  [Side note: below are alternate instructions for making this pizza in an oven, in case grilling isn't an option for you]


Because I made this on a Friday night and I was in full-on lazy mode, I used a rotisserie chicken.  Next time, I'll probably go to the trouble of baking some chicken breasts to keep it a bit healthier.  I would also add a bit more celery because I love the crunch.  And I'd toss in a few banana peppers because I love them and I think all the flavors would work well together.


The pizza was delicious.  Just the right amount of buffalo wing spiciness to go with the creaminess of the blue cheese.  This would be great for dinner, especially as a precursor to some Monday Night Football!  But it would also be just as delicious cut into small pieces and served as an appetizer.



Buffalo Chicken Pizza
from Boboli

1 12" Boboli® Original Pizza Crust (I used whole wheat)
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 c. hot cayenne pepper sauce (NOT hot sauce, but hot wing sauce)
2 c. chicken, cooked and diced
1/2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. crumbled blue cheese
1 tsp. chives 

Preheat the grill for 10 – 15 minutes on medium-high heat.  If you have a gas grill, turn off one of the burners.  If you use charcoal, push charcoal to one side. 

In a medium bowl, combine the butter and hot sauce and mix well.  Add the chicken and celery, toss to coat well. 

Brush a tiny bit of olive oil (or melted butter) on each side of your pizza crust.  Place the crust on the side of the grill with the burner turned off or without the charcoal.  Grill the crust 2 – 4 minutes per side. 

Remove from grill and spread the chicken and celery mixture evenly over the pizza crust.  Sprinkle with blue cheese and return to the grill for 8 – 10 minutes.  Grill until the cheese melts a bit and the crust is golden.  Remove from heat, let cool for 2 minutes, and enjoy!

If you're baking it in the oven...
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the butter and hot sauce and mix well. Add the chicken and celery, toss to coat well.  Spread the chicken and celery mixture evenly over the pizza crust.  Sprinkle with blue cheese and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the crust gets crispy and it's heated through.

Sunday, September 11

Confetti Corn

This dish is as fun and delicious as the name "Confetti Corn" suggests!  It's a super simple recipe that I grabbed from Ina Garten's cookbook Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavors from Simple Ingredients

Pardon the cruddy photos, still waiting to get my nice camera replaced

I've always loved Ina Garten's Food Network show "The Barefoot Contessa" (she's so soothing on tv, I find myself completely mesmerized).  But up until a few years ago you needed a number of gadgets, a plethora of pricey ingredients, 4 hours, and a small kitchen clean up crew to make her recipes.  In recent years, she really has gone back to basics and her recipes are much more approachable.  And as promised, they pack fabulous flavor (here's another delicious recipe from this cookbook: Easy Sole Meuniere).

I made confetti corn to go with Asian Honey Chicken Kebabs and some grilled veggies.  It took about 25 minutes total to prep and cook and was really delicious.  I loved the addition of the red onion and orange bell pepper and the herbs added another layer of flavor that I wasn't expecting.  The corn was sweet but stayed crisp, even after I left it warming on the stove top while we waited for the kebabs to be done.

I ended up with some smaller ears of corn so I beefed this up with almost a cup of frozen corn.  You couldn't tell the difference. 

This got 3 out of 3 stars from the Royfriend.  I suspect I'll be making it a few more times between now and the official start of fall!


Confetti Corn
by Ina Garten, from Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavors from Simple Ingredients

2 T. good olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 small orange bell pepper, 1/2 inch diced
2 T. unsalted butter
Kernels cut from 5 ears of yellow or white corn (4 cups)
1 1/2 t. of kosher salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 T. chopped fresh basil, chives and/or parsley

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan.  Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft.  Stir in the bell pepper and saute for 2 more minutes.

Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt.  Over medium heat, add the corn, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes, until the corn loses its starchiness. 

Season to taste, gently stir in the basil or other green herbs and serve hot.

Monday, September 5

A brief hiatus if you will...

Last Saturday I took an introductory photography class.  I spent 6 hours in a little bitty room learning about all the various features and functions that come along with my fancy camera and how I should be using them to take better photos.  It was a really valuable experience, even if I did buy the camera almost two years ago.  I came home exhausted but excited to put my new skills to work.

And then on Tuesday some turds broke into the house and robbed us.  They made off with my camera, along with a variety of other electronics and my jewelry box.  It sucked, but we were lucky.  They didn't trash the house.  They didn't cause much damage (have you heard of those poor people who have their copper pipes stolen?!?  Imagine repairing all that dry wall).  And most importantly, we were all out of the house, including Foster, the four-legged love of my life. 

We live on the elevated first floor of a walk up building which means that people can see into parts of our apartment.  It's not a direct view, like you'd get living on the ground floor, but it's also not like living on a 2nd or 3rd floor.  And this summer I've had a bit of a love affair with the natural light that streams in through the trees around the building so I've had the blinds open a lot more and much more predictably (ie: the blinds on a certain window open only when I'm working from home, etc). 

So... I'm pretty sure they cased the joint and had an idea of what we had and when we were in/out of the house.  The logistics of the building didn't help things either.  There's a locked 6 foot fence around the building but once you're over that our deck is nice and private and it turns out our door wasn't doing us any favors either.  It took the thieves 2 or 3 pops of a crow bar to get in. 

It's been a chaotic week dealing with everything that comes after a burglary - tracking down serial numbers, dealing with the police, talking to my amazing insurance agent every 30 minutes (seriously, I owe that man some donuts!), and then getting the door and locks replaced which surprisingly took two full days.  We have a fantastic neighbor who is a carpenter with a "Mike Holmes" attitude.  He did an incredible job fixing things up and making sure we feel secure again. 

Unfortunately I don't think they'll find the guys who broke in, nor do I expect they will find our stuff.  That's ok though.  I can live without stuff.  I can't live without the dog or Roy.  And in a week where the news was dominated by images of the damage from Hurricane Irene and people whose homes or lives were destroyed... I don't know, it just puts things in perspective. 

So long story short, it may be a few weeks before I'm up and running here again.  After eating PBJ, takeout and frozen waffles on the go while we dealt with the stuff in the house, I can't wait to get back to cooking and a more normal routine.  I'll do my best with my point and shoot in the meantime and will keep working on the site updates I started late last month (see: recipe index, but don't judge me for my still messy-HTML). 

In the meantime, may I suggest a few things I wish I'd known before Tuesday?
  • Don't advertise your stuff.  Especially on the lower levels of your home (or if you live on a lower level).  In hindsight, I should have been more cautious about the blinds I opened and what was visible through them.
  • Don't make it obvious when you're home and when you're gone.  Vary the blinds you open, the lights you leave on.  Don't make it easy for a crook to figure you out.
  • This may seem obvious but keep your doors locked, even when you're home.  We think the thieves heard my upstairs neighbor take his dogs for a walk while they were robbing us and crept upstairs to see if he'd left his door open (which in fact, he had, we all did prior to Tuesday).  We're 95% sure they snuck in and started to check out his place when they saw his wife in a back bedroom and hightailed it out of there.
  • Think about where you store your valuables like jewelry, special family heirlooms and pieces that are cheap but have sentimental meaning. You want to keep them close enough so that you can wear them, but think twice about what is just sitting in your jewelry box or the top drawer of your dresser because that seemed like the logical place to put it. 

Beyond those basic and probably obvious things, here are a handful of other things I'd recommend.  It's the stuff you always have the best intentions of doing but never get to. 
  • Take an hour out of your weekend to go around the house and jot down the descriptions and serial numbers of anything you'd be sad to have stolen.  Take photos or a video of your house as well and save it to the web somewhere so you always have it handy, even if your laptop gets stolen.  Windows Live SkyDrive lets you store videos, photos and documents in the "cloud" privately.  You can also use something like Snapfish or Kodak for the photos.
  • Think about how you keep track of your usernames and passwords for the web.  I keep everything in an Excel spreadsheet that is password protected.  And I email it to myself every 6 months or so.  Don't leave your passwords on post-it notes stuck to your computer or desk.
  • Concerned about the quality of work by your builder or just the security of your doors and windows?  Have a carpenter check them out.  We learned too late that the door jamb had more space than it should have (which made it easier to break in) and it was attached to dry wall (I mean... come on, was the builder serious?!?).
  • Set aside 20 minutes to call your insurance agent and get the details on your homeowners insurance policy.  Find out exactly what would be reimbursed if someone cleaned you out and make sure you're happy with the deductible and reimbursement quality. 
  • And while you're at it, get your expensive jewelry or other one-of-a-kind items on your insurance policy and while you're at it...
So with that, I hope no one else gets to have the pleasure of this experience any time soon and here's hoping I'll be back with some new eats in the very near future!

The Eater