Sunday, September 20, 2009

Birthdays, Booze & Beans

Today is my daughter's birthday. October 28 is my husband's birthday. So, my husband and I have decided that the time between the celebrations is an ideal time to go on the wagon. Fall is one of the best times of year to do a cleanse of any sort. (That is, according to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of life, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.) It makes sense to me too; it's the time between the outdoor barbecue & beer scene, and the holidays. School has started, and it is a good time to re-commit to a regular schedule, a health & fitness routine and to clean out your closets, both literally and figuratively. So, we're giving up drinking for a few weeks, and I am going to avoid red meat, as well. I'm still maxed-out on meat after my trip to Spain last month, so that shouldn't be too hard. I'll miss my wine with dinner, and four weeks of football without beer may prove challenging, but challenges are good for us, right?

We celebrated Stella's birthday last night. It was just a small party this year. Our rule is that every two years, she can have the all-out bash, skating or bowling or what-have-you. So, this year, she had just a few of her closest friends for dinner and requested homemade macaroni and cheese. A few of my thoughts on this king of comfort foods - Nobody should ever make macaroni and cheese from a box. Period. When in need of quick and simple, pasta with butter and parmigiano and salt is the ticket. It's quick, easy, cheap and way tastier than the boxed stuff. For the birthday, though, we made the real deal. I have a confession to make. For the better part of my adult life, I have been trying to recreate the mac and cheese that was made in the dining hall at college. I kid you not. It was creamy and stringy at the same time, piping hot, topped with crunchy buttery breadcrumbs. And, for lunch on Fridays, after closing the bars on Thursday night, it was heaven. I've pretty much got it down. I made the basic cheddar version for the kids, and jazzed it up a bit for the adults, with additions of goat cheese, parm, bacon & scallions. The kids paired theirs with apple juice or milk. We drank the new Harp lager.

I've been wanting to add more beans to our lives. They are a healthy, high-fiber, vegetarian protein. Inexpensive too. But, to be honest, they have never thrilled me. A few months ago, my friend and fellow blogger, the Wife of a Tea Drinker, turned me on to the Rancho Gordo blog. Rancho Gordo, based in Napa Valley, sells heirloom beans and other speciality food items indigenous to North America. I've been reading the blog, and finally placed an order last week. I ordered three types of beans: Yellow Indian Woman, Scarlet Runner and Christmas Lima. I also got Rancho Gordo owner, Steve Sando's cookbook, Heirloom Beans. My first effort is in the crock pot right now. I'm making succotash with Christmas Lima Beans. I will keep you updated on my adventures with heirloom beans.

Billings Hall Mac & Cheese
4 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
2 c milk
8 oz cheddar cheese
1 lb macaroni
3/4 c breadcrumbs
Optional: any other kind of cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions, sauteed mushrooms, peas - whatever you think will go well with mac and cheese.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Make a roux by melting 3 Tbs of the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, stirring and cooking until it begins to dry.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk over med-low heat until the milk begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in most of the cheese.
When the cheese is melted, pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix well. Mix in the rest of the cheddar and any optional ingredients. Pour into greased cassarole dish.
Melt the last Tablespoon of butter and mix in the breadcrumbs. Pour the breadcrumbs over the pasta, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to get bubbly. Uncover and cook for another ten minutes, until the top is starting to get brown and crispy.
As with all of my recipes, measures are approximate and you are encouraged to improvise. This recipe will yield about four servings.
Serve with a salad and beer or a crisp white wine.

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