Hoity-toity Mac and Cheese

This is a mac and cheese I last made while on a ski vacation a while back. While my friends were on the slopes, I stayed in our cabin and cooked up some mac and cheese and tomato soup, with tons of kitchen equipment that I put in a hiking pack and carried through the woods and into our place. (ok.. it wasn't really Rocky Balboa training in the Soviet Union to fight Ivan Drago kind of labor, but I did have to carry my cast iron pan, my immersion blender, and all my food supplies through the woods in thigh deep snow) Sadly, Kay's Cabins near South Lake Tahoe in Kirkwood, California closed shop.

Anyway, California is cold and cloudy right now, and that is enough context for comfort food, especially with the discomfiting smell of Northern California forest wildfires wafting into my house.

Mac and Cheese

1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch squares
1/2 pound penne pasta
1 1/2 cup half and half
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 pound cambazola (or other mild blue cheese), cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup bacon, diced (optional for the non-veggie)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a pan, sauté the celery and the bell pepper in butter until just soft. Season with salt and pepper. Also, now is the time to fry up the bacon if you're using it.

Boil the pasta until al dente. While it is getting ready to boil, combine whipping cream, half and half and cheese until cheese is melted in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally. While the cheese is melting, beat the egg yolks in a separate, heat resistant bowl and set aside. After the cheese fully melts, stir in the celery seed and season with paprika, salt and pepper. Pour half of this mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. And then return the egg yolk and cheese sauce mixture back in with the rest of the mixture.

After draining the pasta, mix the cheese sauce and the veggies (and bacon) in the same pan as the pasta. Transfer all of this into a baking pan. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the top of the dish is beginning to brown.

I like to drizzle a little truffle oil over the whole thing when it's done. And I suspect shaved truffle will do nicely, but I'll only do that if somebody is nice enough to give me some truffle. Someone? Anyone?

It's a hoity-toity mac and cheese and I'm not apologetic about this all.

National Burger Month Day 21: Hoisin Beef and Broccoli Burger

I wanted to try doing the rice buns again so I figured another Asian-inspired burger was in the works. We've done Japanese and Korean inspired burgers before. This time we tried Chinese. Sort of. The rice buns were done onigiri yaki style-- I figured that after our sticky experience the last time we used rice, we had better toast the rice this time. I'll give detailed ingredients this time, but will only describe the onigiri yaki process. The rest should be quick and easy.

Stuff for burger:
1/2 lb ground chuck
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper

Stuff for marinade:
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp dry sherry (Chinese rice wine preferred)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp canola oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 tsp ginger, grated

Stuff for broccoli:
1 head of broccoli, florets sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp corn starch
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1 tbsp sherry
Some oil for stir frying

Stuff for onigiri yaki:
2 cups short grain rice, steamed
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sake
some canola oil

Salt and pepper the ground chuck. Mix into the meat the scallions. This should make about two burgers. In a bowl, mix the marinade ingredients. Marinate the burgers for about 1 hour. While the burgers are marinating, you can prepare your onigiri yaki.

Mix the soy and the sake. Form patties out of the rice. Brush one side lightly with oil and lay it on a preheated heavy skillet (medium temperature). While the oiled side browns, brush some oil on the exposed side of the rice. Then brush some of the soy sauce mixture on top of the rice buns. Once the bottom turns slightly golden, flip the rice buns. Brush some more soy sauce on the now golden top of the rice buns. The bottom should now caramelize. When this happens, flip the burger one more time and wait for that side to caramelize too. And once that side turns brown, you have an onigiri yaki.

As the stir frying takes less than a minute, you can actually start grilling the burgers on medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side. While that goes on, you can stir fry the broccoli. But first, mix the corn starch, sherry and soy sauce. My stir fry tips: The pan should already be very hot-- a lot of Chinese stir frying is really fast. It's all about the high temperature cooking for like a minute. Just toss the broccoli, stir stir stir (with the sauce too), then you're done.

The burgers were pretty good. If I were to do this again, I'd marinate these suckas for a little longer. The onigiri yaki buns were delicious by themselves and I was tempted to just eat them without the burgers. They went well with the broc and burger. Unlike bread though, the rice was pretty damn heavy. The perfectly cooked rice buns hold together fine. But if you dry them out too much (perhaps a result of too hot a pan), they crumble very easily. Good burger. A variation could perhaps be made with black bean sauce instead of hoisin.

National Burger Month Day 16: Salmon Burger with Hollandaise

I almost had a panic attack tonight due to some unforeseen circumstances that could've kept me from having my burger for the day. Some people know of my current state of gimpiness, hobbling around on crutches. What a bummer too--yesterday was Bike-to-Work Day in most of the SF Bay Area and I wasn't able to bike-to-work because of my gimpiness. Well, today, before I had a chance to do my shopping, my car broke down, leaving me with the scary prospect of not being able to celebrate National Burger Month because of my present immobility. Luckily for me, housemate Andrea decided to bike to the market to get us tonight's ingredients.

So we made salmon burgers. Andrea actually bought salmon steaks, which were fine. Except removing the bones took a little bit of work and I spent the evening with salmon smelling fingertips. So while I was busy pulling pinbones out, Andrea was making the hollandaise sauce. Mmm hollandaise sauce.

The burgers:
1/2 pound of salmon, preferably fillets, cut into cubes
1/4 cup scallions, chopped finely
1 egg
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parsley, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste

hollandaise sauce (sorry no recipe-- Andrea is super secretive about this, but I'm sure you can find hollandaise using that wonderful foodie search tool you can find in the sidebar on the right)

Stuff the salmon into a food processor and pulse a couple of times until you have a pink mass, but not a mushy pink mass. You need to see smaller chunks of salmon but not salmon puree. Then mix all the rest of the ingredients in there. Form into patties. Grill the salmon burgers for about 2-3 minutes per side or until brown on each side. We topped with bits of chives.

The result was a delicious burger. Hollandaise and salmon, of course, go together like ice cream and my tummy (or coffee and my head) and this did not disappoint. The butteriness of the hollandaise went very well with the slightly citrusy, slightly oniony burgers. My cat, Winifred, watched us plaintively from a few feet away. But Winifred, we were thinking of you. Onions and cats do not go together safely, unlike delicious hollandaise and salmon.

National Burger Month Day 11: Bulgogi Burger with Kimchi

Kind of exhausted from Andrea's party, the creative part of my brain wasn't really operating at full-strength. We had tons of food leftover, and yet we still had to come up with something for National Burger Month. I was half-tempted to rehash the previous night's burger, which really wasn't a bad idea. I loved those jamaican jerk burgers. But then two things happened. I remembered that really delicious kalbi that Wink had brought to the party, and Sarah left a comment on my Facebook wall saying that I should make a kimchi burger sometime. And everything came together.

I marinated the burger patties (ground chuck, seasoned with salt and pepper) for about half an hour in a bulgogi marinade, then grilled the burgers. They were served on top of a piece of red leaf lettuce, and topped by a generous heap of the pickle of the gods, kimchi.

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp canola oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 scallions, finely chopped

These burgers were so good! Andrea was skeptical of the kimchi at first but it was perfect on the bulgogi marinated burger. Of course, Koreans have been eating kimchi and bulgogi for ages so there's no reason why this wouldn't have been delicious. Add one more burger to the to-repeat list.

National Burger Month Day 10: Jamaican Jerk Burgers with Orange-Chipotle Mayonnaise

We had a two-weeks-before-going-away-party last night for Andrea and hoped to get lots of grill action in. Of course, burgers were part of the plan--we've sort of cultivated a reputation for burgering in these parts by now so for sure we couldn't disappoint our guests.

Day 10 on my official National Burger Month calendar lists the Jamaican Jerk Burger from Epicurious. While we haven't been good with keeping the calendar, today was special enough a day to dictate a fancy-pants burger. And really, a burger in a jamaican jerk wet rub sounded just too tantalizing to pass over.

Two Jamaican jerk beef patties and a Jamaican jerk chicken patty for John, who remains involved in his anti-beef burger campaign.

The recipe was easy enough to follow. There was a marinade of soy sauce, oil, scallions, thyme, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. If this were a real Jamaican jerk sauce, I would've used scotch bonnet peppers instead of the jalapeños. But after my last experience with habaneros (close cousin to the scotch bonnets) which involved burning fingers and lips for five days, I decided to go the wimpy route.

The other important component of this burger was the mayonnaise. I used store-bought mayo (no time to make homemade mayo this time, what with the party to prepare for), infused with a couple tablespoons of orange juice and a tablespoon or so of chopped chipotle peppers.

The burgers were marinated in the sauce for about 20 minutes before they were grilled. Buns were coated with the chipotle mayo. Finally, the burgers were topped with some greens and a tomato.

The party was fun. There were a bunch of Aikido people, a bunch of Psychology people, and a few no good troublemakers (my friends). There was meat piled on meat, piled on more meat, and a few vegetables on the side for the lone vegetarians who wished to celebrate National Burger Month anyway (well they celebrated Andrea, really). Highlights included grilled elk, barbecued spare ribs, Korean shortribs (kalbi), lots of mystery mixed drinks, and of course the burgers pictured above.

The burgers were highly satisfying. I'm glad I went jalapeño rather than scotch bonnet because the sauce was spicy without killing our taste buds. The mayo was smoky and sweet. Marinating the burgers in that sauce for 20 minutes kept them extremely tasty and tremendously juicy, which means that we now need to go to the store and buy more napkins.

National Burger Month Day 9: Tombo Tuna Burger with Ginger Wasabi Mayonnaise

It was fortuitous that I called Andrea when I did because I was stuck at work, on crutches, with no ride home, and she was about to do the grocery shopping for tonight's installment of National Burger Month with John.

We already knew that fish was coming. About a week and half into burger month, we were already starting to moo at passing cars. Our original idea was an ahi tartare burger (grilled, to give it burger cred). Ahi tartare is a dish that seems to have become a throwaway standard at any San Francisco restaurant that describes itself as hip and fashionable-- 10 years ago. Any chef nowadays can pull an ahi tartare off as well as I can put cornflakes in a bowl in the morning. Ahi tartare, as overexposed as it is on restaurant menus even in backwater places like Santa Cruz, California, or even Edison, New Jersey (culinary capital of Edison, New Jersey), is sometimes just right. Ahi tartare has become comfort food.

So we did some research and decided to do an Asian inspired burger. We are in California after all. The sashimi quality ahi was twice the price of tombo (a.k.a., albacore) and since we were grilling these suckas, we just went for the tombo.

The burgers:
1 pound tuna cut in chunks and thrown into the food processor, then pulsed until burgery
1 tsp scallion chopped
1 tsp ginger ground
2 tsp soy sauce
a little pepper

The wasabi mayonnaise:
2 egg yolks
1/2 lime squeezed
1 tsp mustard (regular brown)
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp wasabi powder
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp sesame oil

To top:
avocado, sliced
black and white sesame seeds

We made two batches. One naked, and another dressed in sesame seeds. I prefer the sesame encrusted version. The burgers were seared on a griddle for about 40-45 seconds per side.

The burgers were delicious. The wasabi mayo was perfect-- not too strong, a little sweet, but still had a kick. Overall, the package was satisfying. Were I to do this again, I would add some more soy sauce and perhaps a little lime juice to the burger as the tuna just sucked up everything I mixed in there.