Thursday, June 20, 2013

Truly the Best and Easiest Mac n Cheese Recipe on the Planet. It's A Little Crazy!

                                                    The Best and Easiest Baked Mac N Cheese

OK. As I have said before there is almost nothing I love more than a great Mac N Cheese. I mean I am a little obsessed. I admit it. And there are as many Mac N Cheese recipes out there as there are wannabe rock stars and movie stars in New York and Hollywood combined. I have been all over the country and I can tell you that there are a lot of recipes and good ones at that out there. But replicating that really good restaurant chef quality experience at home, that's the trick. It's a lot of work right?

Now everyone has their own version of Mac N Cheese which they remember, make or buy. I think everyone conjours up different visions of what Mac n Cheese looks like for them and how they envision the best Mac n Cheese. Regardless of your preference it all comes down four principles of Mac n Cheese I believe. Those four principles are creamy, crusty, tangy, cheesy. In probably conjours up an image like this...

I mean doesn't that look good? My viewpoint is I want Mac and I don't want to have to wait for it. But what to do if you don't have time and you don't want to use the "Box"?

My family was never a big Mac n Cheese family. I learned to love it from going to my relatives. My Aunt Lucille made what I thought was the best Mac n Cheese is the world. She would make it for big family gatherings at her house. It was a classic old school southern baked version with plenty of cheese a creamy sauce and lots of eggs. My Aunt Martha made one I believe and also my Aunt Doris. But my Mother and Grandmother were never big on it. When we had it I think it mostly came out of a box and was just a snack for lunch or something. In retrospect that was odd given they made a lot of noodle dishes but that was really never one of them.

However, I think my real love for Mac n Cheese began in college. The Dining hall at James Madison University or D-Hall as we referred to it put out some really incredible food. One of the dishes that made it's way often into the steam table on the buffet was a Mac N Cheese like none I had ever had. So creamy and yet so substantial I fell in love with it. And I indulged in it as often as they would have it on the menu board. Usually served on Fridays when they also served fried fish it was a staple of my roommate's and mine freshman year.

Since then moving back to Charleston, one would see Mac N Cheese everywhere. I mean it's the South, we consider it a vegetable! However, it was not until I moved to New York City that the dish became somewhat of a culinary show piece in the dining scene. Comfort food became a "thing" here in New York in the late 1990's. It was a genre of food that while plebeian in it's truest form, somehow captured the culinary imagination of New Yorkers. You know it created that  feeling of "Oh look I'm eating a little bit of the small town homey goodness and look, this country style simplicity has come to the big city and makes me feel better! Yay!".  In other words it was a fad. Well fads come and go but the restaurant Mac N Cheese NYC love affair has endured.

Now I love restaurant style Mac n Cheese. One of the hall marks of  a restaurant style Mac n Cheese is that it is almost always freshly made. No gloppy luke warm squares cut out of a chaffing dish and stood up like wall paper paste on your plate.

So as I have looked for a home version I have always thought it must be one that can be served right away and fresh. I mean if you are gong to serve Mac n Cheese make it the meal and serve it with a salad and be done. I mean...Yum!

The other thing about a home version I think is that it should be easy. So many have you make a white sauce. fold in cheese, boil pasta on and on and on.  Now I have a version on the blog for stove top Mac N Cheese. It uses one pot and is very easy. But it is not the Mac n Cheese of my dreams, all crusted with cheese hot from the oven browned and bubbling. It's awesome, but I wanted more.

So this is how I came up with this recipe. One day I was looking around for a recipe for zucchini casserole and came across my cousin's squash casserole recipe that used cottage cheese and milk and eggs to basically make a custard.

Then I remembered a recipe I had read in the New York Times that had talked about using Cottage Cheese as a binder in Mac N Cheese. In the article they also talked about not having to boil the pasta. Well that made sense given I know now that you don't have to boil Lasagna Noodles. They cook right in the sauce. So this became interesting.

 The one pot Mac n Cheese used milk to cook the pasta in and make it creamy. What if you did that in the oven. Well I tried it and it worked. I mean it really worked.

So here is the recipe based partly on the New York Times article and partly on my cousins squash casserole recipe and partly on my one pot Mac n Cheese recipe. It is so close to perfect I don't know what else to say. And it's easy!

So give it a try and enjoy, Ya'll

Forrest's Best Ever Easy Mac N Cheese

1 cup full fat Cottage Cheese
2 cups whole milk
6 oz of marscapone cheese
1 teaspoons Coleman's Dry Mustard Powder
1 teaspoons Garlic Powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne pepper or Hungarian Hot Paprika
1 lb and 3 oz freshly grated Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 pound of Elbow Pasta noodles dry
2 tablespoons butter


In a blender mix the first 7 ingredients till smooth
In a large bowl mix 3/4 of the Cheddar cheese
along with the milk mixture add in the Parmesan cheese and dry noodles
mix well
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Pour contents of mixing bowl into a medium ( 9x9) baking dish (or divide among several small crocks)
or medium iron skillet
Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins
Uncover, top with remaining cheese and dot with the butter and bake another thirty minutes till bubbling! 
Let sit for a few minutes and then enjoy Ya'll! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tricks of the Trade for Entertaining Groups: Oven "Smoked" BBQ Pork Butt for Easy Summer Entertaining

People are always asking me when I host a group of thirty people or so for a party in NYC, "how can you cook all this food?" or "It must have taken you hours to do all this!!" The truth is a well done dinner party for more than 4 takes some planning but is actually not all that hard when you keep several rules of thumb in mind.

The first rule for easy summer entertaining is keep it simple. Over the years I have cooked for a lot of groups. And I have to say that unless they are paying you to make lots of different foods, simple is better. Let me tell you why. First is the "This is overwhelming and driving me crazy rule". That is the more you have to make to make  the crazier you will make yourself. No better lesson than the one I learned from Stuart and Mine's first underground dinner for On the Plate. Indeed, we planned a 5 course meal, cooked too much food even with all of our collective chefing experience drove ourselves nuts. All because we perceived that value was based on volume and not on quality. In show business you learn always leave them wanting more. In cooking while you want to satisfy, you don't want people overwhelmed. So fix a meal just like you would for 4 people but amp up the volume. A protein and 2 sides. Maybe bread and that's it.

The second rule actually drives the first. It is the "No one is going to appreciate all the crazy it took you to make the dinner cause they are only here to eat and have fun... but mostly have fun!" How many times does someone throw a dinner party and get stressed out over the food prep and presentation and serving. Just relax. The rule of a good party is gathering good people providing good food and or drinks and letting them ENJOY themselves and your company. People want to eat but mostly they want to relax and have a good time. And most importantly if you are stressed you are not going to have a good time. And remember at the end of the's all about you having a good time too.

The "Why" is the third rule "People like to eat but, they especially like to eat good food done well and not necessarily the Smorgasbord of the Universe that they never expected you to cook." I remember a party I threw years ago when I made so many different items. It was not expected and it was not appreciated. Well, that's not totally true. It was appreciated but not as much as I thought it should have been given the effort I put into it! But that was the problem. I did not follow rules one and two and then got into trouble. And then got upset. Really all my fault!
Delicious is where it is at. Pick three things and prepare them in appropriate volume. Make sure they are delicious and your job is done. Room temperature foods or foods that are easily prepared in advance and are put out warm to be shared are your friends, and they help you to follow rule numbers one and two.

The last rule is "Make a list". Being organized is the other factor that can make entertaining easier. No one knew this better than my Mother. She is the most list savvy person I know. Even her lists have lists. But boy is she on top of her life! Always has been. This was never more true than when she entertained. Years ago my father's job required that they throw parties. I can remember helping. Now these were not summer casual BBQ's but full on 1970's style house work parties. You know shrimp cocktail to Steak Diane with all the trimmings all done on a buffet table and served up with a full bar. My brother an I would help my Grandmother and Mother all day and sometime days before shopping, prepping, peeling, cleaning, and organizing. It was fun but the most fun was getting to stay up for the parties! But it all started with those lists of to do's and they made everything easier.

So following these simple rules you can tackle the most difficult group entertaining tasks. Remember for outdoor entertaining keep it simple and fresh, keep it less but delicious and make a list to organize and to do ahead everything you can so you can enjoy the party too. Oh and have fun, lets not forget that! Because isn't that why we entertain to start with!

So here's an easy recipe for a crowd. It's done in the oven, it's done before the party starts, it's casual and easy for people to help themselves. It is as all American as can be and will make people think you worked really hard. But it's as easy and 1,2,3. SO Enjoy Ya'll.

Oven "Smoked" Pork Butt BBQ with Sesame Seed Buns, Pickles and BBQ Sauce
serves 30

Take 16 pounds of  pork shoulder bone in

Mix together
1 1/2 cups yellow mustard
1/4 cup garlic powder
3 teaspoons liquid smoke
1/4 cup salt
1/4/ cup pepper
1/4 cup water

Slather all over the pork shoulder and place in the fridge for at least three hours to overnight

Preset oven to 220 degrees

Place shoulder in roasting pan fat pad side up and cover with tin foil

Roast overnight for 12 hours ( easy while you sleep cooking start at 8pm done by 8am with your coffee)

Remove from the oven and cool, reserve drippings

Remove the fat pad. Shred pork and remove bones, skim fat off the drippings and use about 2 cups to moisten the pork

Mix well with the drippings and place in a oven proof pot with a lid

Before serving mix in 1 cup BBQ sauce of choice ( can be store bought) and heat in the oven till warmed through at 300 about 1/2 hour or so.

Serve with more sauce, sliced dill pickles and sesame seed buns.

Boy aren't you impressive!

Enjoy the compliments.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The World Was My Oyster But Then I Used The Wrong Fork! A Decadent Duo: Oven Fried Oysters with Beef Tartar and Toast Soldiers

Oscar Wilde once said " The world was my oyster, but then I used the wrong fork!" Oh that Oscar!

Anyway, being home in South Carolina over the holidays and having had oyster stew again at Christmas I have to say my love for all things oyster was again rekindled. On my way back down to Charleston I stopped in at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, you know the one with all the surly waiters? Anyway, I decided upon my friend Fred Tessler, of the Denver Tessler's, advice that I should try and have an oyster pan roast for lunch on my way out of town. Well, I have to say...that was disappointing! Totally tasteless pot of creamy "something" with a few sadly shriveled oysters in it! In a word, Yuk!

However, I know that the idea of an oyster "pan roast" actually sounds kind of amazing. I mean it sort of conjures up visions of garlic and herbs and lots of butter. But I am not sure milky tasteless broth should be a part of it. But that's my opinion and who the hell am I. But given that things can be roasted in a pan and that oysters could be one of those things what would that look like? Well I think it should mirror that great classic Charlestonian Creamed Oysters. But let's talk about what other preparations might give you that decadent oyster goodness with out the complement of cream.

OK. Well the first thing you have to remember is that Oysters love rich surroundings much like themselves. I mean why do you think they have that shell around them to begin with? It' to protect them from the less succulent things in the world of course! So what if it were oysters roasted slightly breaded in a pan and then topped with some sort of amazing sauce? Or better yet fried with a amazing side!! What's more low country than that!

Now when I was living in Charleston one of my favorite things to eat were the fried oysters at a place called Vickery's. Vickery's was a restaurant downtown which had a sister restaurant in Atlanta. When the fellas that owed Vickery's in Atlanta decided that they wanted to live near the beach they just found a spot and opened up a branch of their business in Charleston. The spot they found was an old Goodyear tire store and the reconstruction architecture and subsequent design for the place won awards all over the southeast. The place was open and airy with lots of floor to ceiling window doors that opened onto a patio. Hard wood floors, comfy booths and a big rectangular bar and bar area with more booths finished the look and the main dining room  boasted a wall washed over with paint and yet through the paint you could see see the large Goodyear Tire logo which had been on the wall when the building was a tire shop. The food was casual yet different for Charleston at the time. We are talking the 90's. Charleston's food movement was just taking off and the variety that exists today was not present then.

One of my favorite things was the artichoke dip which I have mentioned on my blog. I also loved the fried oyster caesar salad with chopped tomatoes and onions. Vickery's was a local late night hang out and was an open and welcoming place. Amongst the late night crowd many of the city's food and beverage folks would come to unwind after work. You know a place is good when it's the F&B crowds destination.

So as you all know I love rich tasty foods. So when talking about pairing oysters with something I immediately went to that place of "oh a nice bitter greens salad with a sharp dressing would be nice". But then thought ,"wait no you want a dipping sauce that's nice a creamy and cool and sharp with that. So in lieu of putting them with a salad per say or in a cream sauce like the folks with the pan roast did, what if they were paired with another rich food that could complement and yet stand up to their overall decadent nature. In general if you were to fry something its best if you have a picante element or a tangy sauce like tartar or remoulade to complement it. However, it's interesting to note that both those sauces have a rich element to them as well.

It was then when I thought about beef tartare as a complement. I mean it's rich, it's got vinegar and mustard and tang, it's decadent, it's perfect! My love for the tartare of the beef began at another now gone by the wayside Charleston restaurant Marianne's! Known for their late night menu this gem of a place featured old school decor styled with oil paintings and guided mirrors. High ceilings and soft lighting and candle glow played with your eyes and the song stylings of a woman playing the piano and singing and eclelctic mix of Patsy Klein and Gershwin songs made it all somehow perfect. The menu was Franco based but with definite Americano touches. The late night menu featured egg dishes and steak frites as well as a beef tartare I loved.

So that is where the beef tartare with fried oysters came from. My love of decadent duos! So without further adieu I give you my home recipe for this. Mind you beef tartare is served raw so you must take extra care in preparing it. You should ask your butcher to pick the meat for you. Just let them know what you are using it for. And make sure everything is clean and sanitized. I have never had a problem making this at home. Oh and you will notice that this recipe does not include any frying, that's because it's really messy in a small apartment, so I "fry" mine in the oven. Don't worry, they are still really good! Enjoy Ya'll.

The Classic Beef Tartare

3 medium oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional, adjust salt if added), rinsed and mince
2 teaspoons brined capers, drained and slightly chopped
3 teaspoons really sharp Dijon mustard
2 large coddled egg yolks ( boil eggs for exactly 1 min then cool)
10 ounces USDA prime beef tenderloin, cut into small dice, covered, and refrigerated
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or shallots
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat parsley leaves
3 teaspoons really good olive oil
1 teaspoon good quality mayonaise ( I like Dukes)
3 dashes hot sauce of choice
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon crushed chile flakes

Combine the anchovies, capers, and mustard in a metal bowl. Using a fork mash ingredients until evenly combined; mix in egg yolks.

Use a wooden spoon and mix remaining ingredients into mustard mixture until thoroughly combined. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The Best Oven Fried Oysters 
( based on a award winning recipe my roommate from Michigan gave me)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs

2/3 cup grated Romano cheese

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 pint shucked oysters or 2 cans (8 ounceseach) whole oysters, drained

3 to 4 Tablespoons cooking oil

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper and cayenne pepper. 

In another  bowl, whisk eggs. 

In a third bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley and garlic salt

Coat oysters with flour mixture, then dip in eggs, and coat with crumb mixture. Place on a greased  baking sheet

drizzle with oil.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

To serve mound the tartare on 4 to six plates depending on how large a portion you want.

Nestle in the oysters on one side and top with a "salad" of lightly dressed parsley and pickled red onion

(You can pickle red onion easily by slicing thin ringlets and soaking them in a little vinegar and hot water solution for about a half hour.)

Serve toasts soldiers ( long squared off toast points) on the side

Enjoy ya'll!