Saturday, March 2, 2013

Macaroni and Cheese: Yesterday, Today, and Forever

Whenever I prepare macaroni and cheese that doesn't take 15 minutes to make and arrives on my plate in a fantastic orange hue unavailable in nature, it is typically my great-grandmother's recipe. I have explored a variety of macaroni and cheese recipes, all of them good, but none like Valley Tinsely's.

She passed away in 1985, but I remember her--the smell of her apartment, her dishes, her soft spoken manner (her daughter, my grandmother, must have taken after another family member). She was German and Irish and what a blessing it is to remember loved ones through such an enjoyable means as sustenance. It's a human experience we all share: we enjoy those who have gone on before us through our senses and our tangible memories.

It's hard to compare any other macaroni and cheese to the original and most ideal macaroni and cheese. So I won't.

When I started this recipe, I asked Erik what we should have in addition to the dish. I think of macaroni and cheese as a side--don't you? He's already enjoyed the Gruyere cheese of our onion soup experience so, upon learning that particular cheese was involved this recipe as well, he decided that we would call it a casserole and roll it out without accoutrements.

I have a few kudos and criticisms for Double Cheese Macaroni and Greens:

1. My favorite pasta is rigatoni. I had no idea what mezze rigatoni was because you can't find it in the poor or rich person's grocery store. It's super fancy. SUPER fancy.

2. Gruyere cheese is totally awesome. It's got this smokey, meaty, hearty flavor and the texture is medium soft. Everyone loves cheddar. It's a given.

3. It's healthy (kind of) because it has Swiss chard, which is high in vitamins A, K, and C.

4. As a negative, I really don't like the cooked milk aspect of this recipe, making a sauce. There's just something about it that's a little "homemade from a jar" to me, concerning the taste.

 5. I bought the Swiss chard organic. This is the issue with organic:

A dead spider fell out and it was full of dirt. On the flip side, it also was not full of deadly, cancer-causing chemicals, so a minor glitch is what we'll call it.

We enjoyed this dish with a Williamsburg Riesling, which is safe with most pasta dishes, although a good bet for a cream sauce is usually a Chardonnay.

It's not Grandma Tinsley's, but it's an introduction something of my own to pass on one day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Condiments, Fast Food Signs, and the Search for Geery

The following statement has nothing to do with anything: I never thought I would get so much use out of condiments before my Woman's Day (although often sporadic depending on health and/or cash flow) adventure. In the refrigerator at the moment we have 4 types of mustard and 5 types of vinegar.

Now, Dijon and Champagne have something in common: they both make good names for the children of ridiculous Hollywood actors and they are fares that are distinguished by a region, specifically, France.

There are distinctions in the vinegars as well. Please don't ask me to explain them all because I don't want to, but I know you should only use white vinegar to clean and cider vinegar is used the most for slow cooked pulled pork and slaw. You'll have to research the rest on your own.

I will also share that it is near impossible to find select condiments unless you go to your rich-part-of-town's grocery store and buy them, because white trash like myself will hear "hoison sauce" and believe the next best thing--since this crap is not in our own grocery store--is ordering Japanese take-out and stealing a few extra containers of Yum Yum. On the list of other things you will not find: red pepper jelly, pequintas, wasabi paste.

Today's journey led us to afore mentioned rich-people-grocery-store twenty five minutes away from home so that we could stock up on a week's worth of condiments, vegetables, and cheeses that no one has ever heard of and sure as hell don't know how to pronounce. I found myself whispering a question to Erik in the profound, Kroger-desert expanse of rich folk cheese: where does a yocal like myself begin their search for Geery? Yes,Geery--sort of like Gary and eery all meshed together into one purely arbitrary cheese entity. Erik, eager to avoid being seen with someone wearing sweats and no makeup--obviously out of place in rich-people Kroger and ignorant concerning the pronunciation of Swiss cheeses--wandered off to stare at the 50 year old, spiky haired guy who had lost his way on his journey to Los Angeles to secure a touch up on his botox. 

I  couldn't blame him. I didn't want wealthy, affluent people to know that I was looking for Geery and that I couldn't ask for help because I didn't know what to call him. Flashes of my best friend at age twenty-two asking for "quasadellas" at Applebees flooded my memory. We finally found mercurial Geery lurking amongst the goat cheese. He cost $7 and 10 minutes of my life I'll never recover.

We later discovered that Geery's true identity is Gruyere (pronounced "grew-yare"). He smells like smoked meat and tastes like the stuff of Hickory Farm baskets from Christmas long ago. I asked for Hickory Farm gift packs as a child. God, I was a weird kid. And my love of cheese knew no age limits.

I also wasn't paying attention and bought organic onions which I believe cost me around $9 for 3. At least they were already peeled. Oh, how we suffer and learn.

So I get home and make this soup. This lovely, winter combo is essentially French onion soup (you don't put the bread on top with the cheese, which I am assuming is the reason it's not called French) and roast beef sandwiches.

Here is my feedback about the soup: please make sure the wine you use is dry. I suggest Leo Grande 06 or 07 Chardonnay, locally, maybe a dry Riesling otherwise. Cooking this soup smells similar to the gravy I make at Thanksgiving and it's yummy, but this recipe makes a lot so you really need a big pot to cook the onions or you need to cut down on the amount of onions and increase the amount of broth. I like broth anyway, but that's me.

Roast beef sandwiches evoke memories of the big, crazy-shaped sign that reads "Arby's." I was ten years old before I realized it was a hat. I was too busy eating Hickory Farms cheese.

The sauce that goes on this sandwich is simple, cheap, and versatile as I could also easily call it a dip or dressing. It's been included in other recipes and we've enjoyed it quite a bit. I used to hate horseradish but I'm over it now. You get older and you start liking more things or start liking less things. This usually relates to people a high percentage of the time but also applies to food.

I tried a search for what goes well with roast beef sandwiches in the adult beverage field. If you choose a wine, given the horseradish topping, I'd recommend Malbec. For this dinner I grabbed a Roanoke Railroad Track 1 Amber Lager than does pair well with medium spicy foods.

It also pairs nicely with a giant cowboy hat if you're known to wear costumes with your meals. I would suggest "Midnight Cowboy" for theme night.

Please stay tuned for a homemade version of the film in which Hot Dog Mustard plays Joe Buck as he teams up in an unlikely friendship with Rice Wine vinegar as "Ratso Rice-o."

If oranges can have mouths on YouTube and score millions of hits, I can sure as hell give my condiments one brief moment of fame.


"When you lie down, you will not be afraid; your sleep will be sweet." --Proverbs 3:24

With the exception of rare bouts of insomnia that coinside with my depressive disorder, I have never had trouble sleeping; waking up in the morning--now that's a different story. I know people who can't sleep well due to medical issues, new babies, the demands of a career or other life circumstances. I am blessed to enjoy peaceful sleep and often amaaaaazing (it's an inside joke) dreams that include intricate space ships, colorful places and people who introduce themselves in the living room of my inner eye lids, and supernatural insights into...I can't remember in the morning.

What I cannot tolerate on a week to week basis is the horror of leaving the apartment.

My doctor believes that I've developed a mild form of agorophobia that is often related to the fear-like feelings associated with grief and post traumatic stress disorder. In one of those not-so-coindicental incidents in 2011, I read Paul Deen's autobiography, which was sitting around my Grandmother's house. I truly enjoyed how each chapter culminated in a chapter-related recipe--obviously I enjoying culinary delights. What I also deeply appreciated was her candor concerning her early experience with grief with the double loss of both parents and the following battle with agorophobia.

Next month is National Counseling month. I am working through a number of issues involving my anxiety, fear, and other physical issues caused my grief. My encouragement to everyone this month is to care for your own body and mental health and refuse the notion that these types of issues are something you can just "get over" with enough prayer or moral fortitude. Mental and emotional health are closely related to the body and spirit. We are holistic beings. Seek help, accept support. Accept yourself.

In the mean time, if you have trouble sleeping, I've heard magnesium really helps a lot.