Tag Archive | "macaroni and cheese"

The Dish: Oro Mac N Three Cheese

Oro Mac N Three Cheese

On a recent trip to Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., chef Chris Cook knew the right words to get me to throw away my low-carb lifestyle for the evening. He had me at the name Mac N Three Cheese.

As  if I needed further enticement, the menu went on to mention that the cheeses in question were an intriguing combination of goat cheese, queso blanco and smoked cheddar.

When the plate arrived, the tender elbows were swimming in a dense, cheesy sauce that showcased the creaminess and tang of both the goat cheese and the queso blanco, while a distinct but not overwhelming smoky touch came from the cheddar. Then he tossed in a touch of truffle oil for an earthy sensuousness.

Buttery breadcrumbs provided a pleasant contrast in texture, but the real crowning glory of the dish was the addition of pulled brisket. From the name, I was expecting the beef to be shredded, but the fork-tender meat was sliced. It was also supple and simply seasoned so that it complemented the other rich flavors.

Oro Mac N Three Cheese is served as a starter (for $11; brisket is $2 extra), but it could easily be a main course.

Oro at the Emily Morgan Hotel
705 E. Houston St.
(210) 225-5100

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Griffin to Go: A Tale of Two Pasta Dishes

Macaroni and five cheeses

TORRE ALFINA, Italy — Monday’s adventure into the Italian countryside brought several challenges and more than a few triumphs. It was also a day of boys against the girls.

An overcast day in Torre Alfina.

The women went off to do some shopping, while the three of us guys were left with the job of picking up the groceries. I had volunteered to cook dinner, with the understanding that the menu would be largely left up to whatever we found.

What we found in the nearby town of Acquapendente were two supermarkets, each with plenty to explore. In the first, we loaded up on fresh fruits and vegetables, including a red pepper about the size of a football, celery, several types of lettuce, local apples, onions and deep red tomatoes (likely from a greenhouse, since it isn’t the season for tomatoes yet, but the color was tempting).

We next hit the deli where the woman working behind the counter probably never knew what hit her. We stocked up on fresh mozzarella, burrata, Grana Padano, something creamy looking called Gorgonzola mascarpone and a couple of other cheeses, both hard and soft that I don’t even remember the names of. We also bought plenty of salami, mortadella and other cuts to go with breakfast, lunch or whenever we feel like raiding the refrigerator.

Lasagna with porcini

Capers, anchovies, olives, giardinara — you name it, it went into the basket.

All but the meat. We had wanted some seafood, and it just wasn’t at the market.

Fresh seafood wasn’t at the next market, either, and we remembered that we weren’t that close to the coast, so the likelihood of finding great trout, clams or shrimp wasn’t going to happen. So, we opted for two chickens with the most golden skin you can image. At least three of in the group, myself included, are suckers for roast chicken with skin that is loaded with flavor, so that was an easy choice for a main course. We also managed to pick up fresh strawberries and some 85-percent dark chocolate to go with cheese for dessert.

We got our purchases home, loaded up the fridge and headed out for a little lunch and a chance to check out the market in our own town. We stopped at the market first, where we found the freshest looking zucchini we had seen all day, but not the shallots we had hoped all day for.

The rain that had teased us all morning was beginning to get a little heavier. We made it to town, but nothing  really was open, so we ended up at the hotel next to the house we’re renting.

Veal with a "rustico" sauce

Nuovo Castello was empty when we entered, and though the door was unlocked, we thought it wasn’t open. It turns out that lunch for the locals is a little after 1:30 p.m., and we were there just a little ahead of time. The waiter didn’t speak English, but he was able to get across several important pieces of information: The olive oil on the table was pressed by the hotel restaurant, and the pasta was all made by hand in the kitchen.

While he waited for us to decide, the waiter brought over a bottle of the house red, which he opened with a beer  bottle opener. It was fruity and enjoyable, especially with the food.

The oil wasn’t grassy or peppery, as so many extra-virgin olive oils can be, but it was fresh, bright and rich, infused with the sunlight that the day was missing.

But it was nothing against the lasagna with porcini mushrooms that I ordered. The dish wasn’t pretty. It looked like  a kind of odd slice of omelet with a gravy on it, and it seemed sadly deflated. Yet the pasta sheets, so rich in egg flavor, were rolled out almost paper thin, and there was a mushroom filling in between each of the many layers, with the flavors complementing each other in a way that made it like nothing I had ever tasted before. Honestly, it was the best pasta I have ever had — and I’m looking forward to the chance of repeating the experience.

Steve (right) and I just before putting the chickens in the oven.

Cecil’s tagliatelle with wild boar and Steve’s gnocchi with porcini both showed the chef’s deft hand with pasta, though neither seemed quite at the level of the lasagna.

We followed that with a trio of equally wonderful veal dishes, one in a lemon sauce, one in wine sauce and the third in what was described as “rustico” on the menu, which I now translate as being something that isn’t pretty to look at but tastes great. I had the rustico, and again it came with mushrooms, but this time in a sauce that covered the thin veal cutlets completely.

I needed a nap after that and before I could tackle dinner. First, it was time to devise the menu.

The first course would be a Caprese salad with the tomatoes, mozzarella, burrata and basil we bought with some olive oil and balsamico. Toasted rosemary bread with some leftover seasoned oil would be served alongside it.

Then would follow the roast chickens, stuffed with lemon, rosemary and sage. I stuffed butter and sage leaves under the skin and rubbed the outside with a little olive oil. Zucchini sautéed in olive oil and lemon juice with a little Grana Padano grated on top would be the vegetable. And macaroni and cheese would finish out the meal. (I know pasta comes first in Italy, but working out that kind of service isn’t entirely practical, especially when you don’t know the oven you’re working with.)

I started by toasting breadcrumbs in butter and garlic, before taking that nap.

When I got up, we all sort of tended to details without getting in each other’s way. Steve made up the Caprese salad, while I got the stock pot ready for the pasta. Then came time to make the béchamel sauce. Steve whisked the butter and flour to a light tan color, before I added milk and heavy cream, while Cecil grated the hard cheeses. I added the soft cheeses and they slowly melted into a thick sauce.

The roses loved the rain.

When the pasta was ready, I filled  the bowl with half of the shells, then sprinkled on half of the grated cheese. Then we repeated the pasta, sauce and cheese before putting the dish in the oven. When it was almost ready, we removed the dish from the oven, topped it with the breadcrumbs and set it back in for the last few minutes.

It wasn’t on the level of the lasagna, but it was rewarding, thanks in large part to the help, physically and culinarily speaking from my friends. That’s what having fun in the kitchen is about. Yes, it’s great when you can make pasta as perfectly as our next door neighbor. It’s also something when you take two chickens as perfect as can be and roast them simply to achieve all of the natural flavor you can get. But it’s also great when you can get people working together to make something delicious.

Sure, too many cooks can  spoil the broth, but working together can also result in something you’ll be able savor for a long time to come.

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‘Easy, Delicious’ and Tempting

Real Simple magazine’s “Easy, Delicious Meals” (Real Simple, $27.95) is a cookbook that’s guaranteed to draw you in, if only by its photographs.

There’s the red, white and blue of the Berry Shortcakes with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream that make it a patriotic dream. The image of Easy Ice Cream Cake made with ice cream sandwiches, whipped cream and chopped chocolate chips practically had me drooling. Toasted coconut is showered all over the Apricot-Coconut Cake, a combination that makes me want to head for the kitchen.

And that’s just the dessert section.

The recipes throughout are, in fact, simple, whether you’re whipping up an appetizer of Rosemary Pecans or making a Simple Roast Chicken with onion and new potatoes. A spinach salad gets a boost from pan-fried salami. Spaghetti is dressed up in bacon and eggs. Sausages are paired with warm tomatoes and hash browns to create a meal that’s hearty, rustic and winning. Macaroni and cheese blends Gruyère and Cheddar with a kick of cayenne pepper. All come together in a matter of minutes, so dinner will get on the table in practically no time.

Dry-rubbed Baby Back Ribs go together in 10 minutes and take only 45 minutes to cook. Pork with Sautéed Granny Smith Apples takes 20 minutes prep time and only 30 to cook. The longest one of the recipes took was the hour that the pie crust needed to rest before rolling out.

Rosemary Pecans

If you’re avoiding carbs, this may not be the book for you. There’s an entire pasta section, followed by a vegetarian entrée section in which most of the dishes are made with rice, potatoes, gnocchi, bread, bread and more bread. Then the side dishes include Parsleyed Corn, New Potato and Watercress Salad, Cheddar and Scallion Grits, and Roasted Parsnips and Carrots with Sage. Then there are those desserts again.

In the end, Real Simple’s recipe editors Lygeia Grace and Kate Merker have put together a collection that lives up to the magazine’s theme. These dishes are simple to put together, yet the flavors are excellent and should have your family asking for seconds.

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Give Your Macaroni and Cheese a Makeover

MacaroniDan Lewis of the Plaza Club developed this version of macaroni and cheese while working at Ironstone Vineyards. You can make it in individual dishes or in a family-style casserole dish. This variation combines three cheeses and a few herbs in a way that makes “this every day dish really stand out,” he says in the “Discover Ironstone Vineyards” cookbook. “Any type of pasta can be used, so here is your opportunity to use that guitar-shaped pasta that seemed like a good idea when you bought it three years ago!”

Ironstone Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups whipping cream, divided use
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup finely diced pancetta or applewood-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 cup crumbled blue cheese or roquefort
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
8 ounces pasta, cooked
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
8 oregano sprigs

Whisk 1/4 cup of the cream with the cornstarch and set aside. Sauté the pancetta in the butter over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, shallot and oregano and cook for 1 minute. Add the blue cheese, goat cheese and the remaining whipping cream and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir for 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta and chives.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pasta in 8 individual baking dishes. Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, Romano cheese, salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake for 20 minutes, or until browned. (This can also be made family-style by putting it in one large casserole dish and baking for 30 to 40 minutes.) Top each serving with an oregano sprig and serve immediately.

Wine suggestion: Light and fruit or semisweet white wine

Makes 8 servings.

From “Discover Ironstone Vineyards” by Dan Lewis

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Real Ale, Real Fine Food Pairings


Brasserie Pavil, 1818 N. Loop 1604 W., is showing diners that beer is a natural with food, and the rewards can be just as exciting as matching wine with food.

BeerDinner2The restaurant is now offering its first beer tasting menu, with Blanco’s finest, Real Ale Brewing Company, filling the starring role.

A plate with house-made smoked salmon and beef carpaccio are paired with the Fireman’s No. 4 Blonde Ale, followed by the Rio Blanco Pale Ale, a brew with a marked citrus flavor, which gives it enough zing to cut through the richness of chef Scot Cohen’s decadent macaroni and cheese with duck confit and dried cranberries.

It’s followed by littleneck clams steamed in white wine and the spicy, hoppy Full Moon Rye Pale Ale. Braised lamb in a fiery harissa sauce with white beans and roasted pumpkin is just right for fall weather and the dark, roasted flavors of the Brewhouse Brown Ale.

The meal closes out with banana crepes and the matching toffee notes of the Sisyphus Barleywine Ale, an 11-percent alcohol beer with plenty of hops to balance the sweetness.


Brad Farbstein of Real Ale

The restaurant launched the meal deal recently with a dinner that featured brewery president Brad Farbstein.

Except more beer menus in Brasserie Pavil’s future. “Brasserie,” after all, is French for “brewery,” so the two are a natural.

For more on Real Ale, click here. For more on Brasserie Pavil, click here.

The cost of the dinner is $45 a person and is available nightly through the end of the month. Call (210) 479-5000.



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