It’s been a while since I have written. Life has been full lately. My dining out and blogging have come to a complete stop. My 87 year old mother recently moved in with me. She is the one who taught me that cooking was something you did to serve the family. It should be good, hearty, and nutritious. It should always be appetizing on a plate. Her largest influence was Julia Child.
I used to spend hours in the kitchen watching her cook. My father was not much of an adventuresome eater, but that didn’t discourage her. When he wanted liver and onions, she made the two of us fish, usually with a butter sauce. We always had a green salad (usually Ice Berg), a meat, a starch, a vegetable, and usually a dinner roll with butter. It was a well-rounded meal. Usually there was a home-made cookie (or two) for dessert, but never cakes or pies. She was a cookie baker. Large bunt cake tins usually rested at one end of the kitchen counter. Once you entered through the back door, it was easy to graze the tins for a little something, without spoiling your dinner.
I used to see her watch Julia Child on the local PBS station. She would save up her ironing till the show came on. I remember vividly, her trying many of her recipes. Both volumes of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” rest on my bookshelf (just above my head as I write this), which are very tattered, spines broken, and pages well-dirtied from efforts in the kitchen.
When I was 13, my mother declared that I was to start cooking. I would plan, shop, and cook a meal once a month, and she would clean. My first recipe was Julia Child’s “Champagne Chicken”, which, I remember, turned out rather well, to the surprise of both my parents. I embraced my errors and strange creations, knowing that a life of cooking was in my path.
By the time I reached college, I was a fairly accomplished and daring cook, which of course, appealed to boys, who came over for the latest concoction. After I was married, I began to cook even more and with more passion, having dinner parties often.
My passion for food has never been as alive as it is now. Now, I cook dinner for my mother most nights. I plan, shop, and cook. She cleans. Some nights it’s something thrown together, and some nights a yummy creation. During the first few nights after my father passed away, I was making daily ramequins of hot bubbly macaroni and cheese. It became our “other food group” in grief. Now, we are past the grief and moved on to fun. Our dinners are usually punctuated with a great story (or two) from her life, “I remember…”
So, here I will attempt to chronicle our dinners, and hopefully get back to writing about fun dining with my foodie friends. The stories will stay with me as she grows older and the dinners will nourish both our souls. Stay tuned for more. For now, here is my recipe for Macaroni & Cheese (especially good when going through a tough time). It carries a strong French influence from “you know who.”
Preheat oven to 350F.
2 medium-sized ramequins, buttered
1 cup dried elbow pasta, cooked for 8 minutes (I like it a bit softer than traditional al dente)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I like the combo bags of shredded sharp, medium and fontina)
Blue cheese crumbles
3 slices of bacon, chopped finely and cooked till crispy, drained on a paper towel
2 tablespoons panko crumbs
pinch of salt
Cook the pasta as above and drain well. Cook the bacon as above. Set both aside while you make the sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for a couple of minutes. Add the milk and whisk. Allow to come to nearly a boil and turn off the heat (if you have an electric stove). If you have a gas stove, bring flame to low after the milk starts to nearly boil. Allow the sauce to thicken. Once the right consistency is yielded, add the grated cheese and pinch of salt.
Pull off the heat (or turn off the flame). Fold in the cooked pasta and bacon bits till well-incorporated. Fold half into each ramequin. Top with some blue-cheese sprinkles and some panko crumbs. Lay on a sheet pan and set into the preheated oven. Cook until hot and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.
Image courtesy of LilyandVal on www.etsy.com (thanks, girls!)