Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lettuce bring back memories

It's hard not to think of lettuce but as a backdrop for salad, a prop for "the goodies" such as tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, etc. And the lettuce that is picked elsewhere and shipped to where we are shouldn't be expected to be much more than that; the most you can ask of it is to be crisp and bright.

A trip to Provence opened my eyes - yes, even my jaded, Californian I-only-eat-mixed-baby-lettuces eyes - to what a difference it makes when the lettuce comes fresh from the garden only minutes before. We were day hiking near Mount Ventoux and our guides led us up a terraced hill to a stone farmhouse past a corral of goats. As we entered the quaint structure, a peaceful farm woman greeted us and bid us to sit at one of four long, sturdy wooden tables in the great room. She then went into the kitchen and returned bearing only three things: a platter of goat cheeses, from hours old, to aged 3 months; a platter of thinly sliced, salty jambon (ham) and a large shallow wooden bowl of romaine leaves, dressed only with olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs and salt. It was one of my best lunches ever.

The part I remembered most was that the lettuce tasted so ALIVE, that it didn't need a splash of balsamic vinegar to perk it up. The advantage to not using vinegar to dress the salad was that the acid in the vinegar would not ruin the tongue for the light wines we had with lunch. (That is also the reason that many French people serve the salad after the main course, to more fully enjoy the wine with the meal.)

So while the weather is reasonably cool, I grow lettuce in my flower boxes (the photo was taken this morning) where the bunnies can't get to it. I've been just clipping the leaf lettuces as needed for salads, and tearing off a few leafs of romaine for sandwiches and tacos. I'll harvest all of it before I take off for California over Memorial Day, and then plant again the week before Labor Day for the fall crop.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lori K's mac'n'cheese

OK, so that wasn't much of a hiatus. I realized after bringing a dish of what I consider the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had to a party last night that I've never published a copy of it on this blog. So here it is. It's based on the recipe from, the one my friend Lisa calls "crack'n'cheese" because no one can pass up seconds. My version is a little easier because, well, I'm lazier than Martha Stewart. It may also have fewer calories, but not by much.

Lori K's Mac'N'Cheese
Serves 12

Olive oil in spray can
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (you have bread ends? Use those. Pulse in food processor until fine)
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, divided
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
5-1/2 cups 1 percent milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use a pinch if making this for very young or old people)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 cups of sharp, melting cheese (extra-sharp cheddar gives the dish a good color)
6 ounces grated Gruyere or Gouda
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked until almost done, drained, cooled and separated

Spray a 9x13 pan with olive oil and set aside.
Put crumbs in a small bowl. Melt butter and put 2 tablespoons in bowl with crumbs. Toss until well coated and set aside to cool. When cool, mix thoroughly with the Parmesan.
Heat the milk in a saucepan.
Put the rest of the melted butter in a large, deep pot that can hold the volume of the milk plus the macaroni. Bring the butter to bubbling over medium heat and add the flour. Cook 1 minute then add the hot milk slowly, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pot from heat.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Add the salt and spices to the milk-flour mixture. Whisk until well-blended, then add 3 cups of the cheddar and the Gruyere or Gouda. Stir well until the cheese melts. Add the macaroni to the sauce and stir well.
Pour the mixture into the oiled pan.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then the breadcrumbs.
Bake until brown on top, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then serve.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello, hiatus

I really hate to admit this, but I've got a serious case of cooking burnout and writer's block. So considering we're taking off for California soon, I'm going to sign off on this blog until at least the first of June. If it looks like the change of scenery is inspiring, I'll start up the blog again while I'm out West; but I may just take a total break and start anew when I return to Charlottesville in July.

BTW, this is my 400th post, and the blog has had almost 11,000 hits since I started it up. It's been a lot of fun, and in some ways, it's been the most satisfying writing I've done, especially when people tell me what has worked for them or not.

If you don't want to keep checking and finding this same depressing post, sign up for the RSS feed, so you'll be alerted when a new post finally comes. Thanks for reading, and keep cooking and enjoying your food!

- Lori K