recipe index

if you look up at the top, you will find a new page where i have listed and linked all the recipes i’ve posted in the past.  it’s fancy!


browned and bubbly

the original title of this recipe is “macaroni and cheese,” but i think my expectations would have fared better if it were named some sort of casserole instead.  my friend and i have a history of dissatisfaction with mac and cheese recipes: the end result is never cheesy enough, the sauce never saucy enough.  so to assuage my food neuroses, let’s just call this ham & tomato casserole.  because as casseroles go, this one’s good.

it is simple: pasta in a creamy white sauce; bits of smoky ham; juicy, sweet chunks of tomato; some bread crumbs thrown on top for crunch.  in fact, as i glanced at the photocopy of the recipe, wandering about the grocery store to pick up the ingredients, i had serious doubts about its simplicity, about whether this dish would pack enough flavor.  no minced onion to sauté?  no garlic?  not even
seasoned bread crumbs to go on top?  apparently i feel safer when a recipe tells me to gild the lily.

but no: this recipe – as it is – is good.  the way chocolate syrup in a glass of milk is good.  the way sleeping in is good.  the way a letter in the mail is good.

i’m trying to think of a way i might adapt the recipe the next time i make it (which will probably be later tonight, since my brother and dad attacked the pan not long after i took it out of the oven – which i will take as a compliment), but i can’t think of anything.  the flavors remind me of the croque madame i had at dusty’s, perhaps the best breakfast sandwich i have ever stuck a fork to.  the ham brings just enough saltiness to the mild cheese sauce; the browned bread crumbs provide a crisp complement to the creaminess; and the tomatoes are just genius in a dish like this – bright both in color and taste, a juicy spot in just the right places.

Ham & Cheese Casserole
Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser, who adapted her grandmother’s recipe
Makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp. butter, plus more for buttering dish
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, plus more for sprinkling (This took me a little less than half a pound.)
3 ½ cups cooked elbow macaroni (I boiled about 8 oz. of fusilli.)
1 cup small cubes roasted country ham (Thick-sliced ham is hard to find around here, so I made do with several slices of black forest ham, cut into small pieces.)
1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice)
¾ cup coarse breadcrumbs (made from stale bread cut into little cubes)
Freshly ground black pepper (Don’t skip this, please; it’s important.)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a casserole dish.
  2. In a saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons butter until foamy.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until it turns golden, then slowly pour in the milk, continuing to whisk.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let it thicken.  Stir in the cheese and removed from the heat.  It should be a loose sauce.
  3. Fold in the macaroni, then ham.  Add tomatoes by squeezing them between your fingers into small pieces.  Taste and fix accordingly.  The mixture should be loose like a thin batter; if it’s glue-y and thick, add a little milk or drained tomato juice.
  4. Pour into the casserole dish.  Spread breadcrumbs over the surface and then sprinkle with about ¼ cup cheese.  Grind pepper over top.  Bake until browned on the top and bubbling, about 25 minutes.

friday –

like spring – always comes again.

“but stop – that thought is too beautiful”

this morning i woke up to the sweet sound of a voicemail on my phone, a cancellation of an appointment i had with a tutee later today.  she’s a great kid from the school where i taught last year… but.  this means my entire day is now free and uninterrupted – the closest thing to a dream come true around these parts.

the birds are chirping outside my window, literally.

so with a cup of earl grey and a breakfast pastry i burned in the toaster but ate anyway, i folded myself back into my marshmallow of a bed and switched on an old episode of this american life.  it’s a radio show i always mean to listen to more often – because whenever i do, a wonderfully bizarre thing happens and listening to someone else’s story becomes an act of introspection.

other times, it just makes me laugh out loud.  act three of the episode i listened to today shone with the art of deadpan at its best.  (the brilliance begins at around 38:20.)

my love for sarcasm aside, i also managed to get a wobbly chin over this:


so my heart must not be totally stone yet.  adding it to the list of things to celebrate this weekend.

brown butter rice krispies treats

i’m still getting used to this house. i hung up a frame of my most cheerful print, swept my childhood desk of years of dust, and – perhaps most crucial of all – unpacked my baking essentials and placed them neatly in a cleared-out corner of the kitchen cupboard. but i miss my old kitchen, humble as it was. with years of use, everything i needed had settled into its best place, and so my sweet tooth always had a quick fix. a few minutes rustling about in the cabinets and pretty soon some form of batter or dough would be making its way into the oven. here, things seem to take a little more effort. so i needed something easy to draw me back into the kitchen this past weekend…

these were easy. too easy. i stood by the stove for a few moments and then suddenly found myself chewing on a gooey, caramel-scented mass of marshmallows and crackly cereal. it tasted just like the ones i ate as a kid (not often enough, i always thought), but with a toasty richness you wouldn’t get with the recipe off the side of the box, much less out of those shiny, bright blue prepackaged blocks they sell at the store. the brown butter is the hero here, and it only asks for a few extra minutes on the stove and a watchful eye so it doesn’t burn. it’s a square deal, i’d say.

be careful, though; these have a tendency to disappear when left unattended. just ask my brother. (hmph.)

Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats
a sexy twist on the original
adapted from smitten kitchen

Makes 12-32 servings, depending on your self-control

6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
10.5-ounce bag mini marshmallows (mini because they melt faster)

  1. Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) a 13x9x2-inch pan.
  2. Mix cereal and salt together in a large bowl.
  3. In a large pot (one that is shiny metal or otherwise light in color), melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Watch the pot constantly, since the butter can burn quickly.
  4. As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off. {When I started noticing brown flecks gathering at the bottom of the pan, I counted five seconds or so and then took the pot off the heat.} Dump in the marshmallows and stir until smooth. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn the flame back on low and keep stirring.
  5. Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal.  Stir until the cereal is well coated. Quickly transfer the mixture into prepared pan, using a greased piece of waxed or parchment paper – or pair of hands – to gently press the mixture in.  Cool.  Cut into squares of appropriate (or desired) size.

staying positive

how is it february already.  why is it monday only.  i need some gummi bears.  this still cracks me up.