Friday, October 28, 2011

Birthdays Give Me Cramps

I had a birthday not too long ago. Do you ever get them? They seem to pop up more frequently than they used to. They are also much less welcome than they ever were.

Well, the most recent birthday was looming large on my horizon as I chatted with a friend about a concert I'd been to oh-so-very-long ago. And far away. Well, after our chat, I went nostalgia-tripping and looked up the band on YouTube. I was flat-out amazed to find actual blurry, grainy, footage from the very show I'd been to way-back-when in my old hometown. Really! I kid you not!

What... you're not impressed? Keep in mind that this was back in prehistoric times, when cameras of any kind were not allowed in shows and the video camera that was smuggled in on this occasion would've been a thousand times larger than today's mini-tech toys. So you can see why finding that footage was such a quantum leap back in time.*

Deja View
So, for the second time in my life, I sat and watched that same concert, but this time on my home computer and in my pajamas... I suddenly felt very very aged.

I was saved from abject depression when I read all the adoring, expletive-laced comments beneath the video from people who are apparently ready to drop on the ground and find their lives complete just to touch the soles of my Doc Martens... were I to reveal myself as one of the über-fortunates who attended that show, that is.

I seriously had no idea I was so (bleep)ing cool.
For now I'll keep that awesomeness to myself. It'll be my super-secret super-power. And the next time the bagger at the market stares blankly past me, I'll smile to myself with that wry "if you only knew who I really was" kind of smile as I hand him/her my reusable shopping bag (I would raise one eyebrow at the same time for effect, but I never was able do that). Then I'll take my bags of groceries and go home... and make some rockin' macaroni & cheese for me and the old man.

The ultimate comfort food. Ever. Hands down. Bar none. 
You know, speaking of comfort food, I don't believe anyone who says that emotional eating is bad. Hogwash. It's only bad in excess. Food nourishes us body and soul. And sometimes my soul needs something gooey and cheesy. Like today for instance. I have been in a major funk lately** (no doubt due in part to the age-thing. I was feeling really cruddy, but making and eating this cheesy deliciousness made me feel good. It really did. And since I don't eat stuff like this every day, I never have to bother with Post-Fattening-Treat-Remorse. And that IS cool.

(Life's Too Short To Eat Low-Fat Anything, Especially This) 
Macaroni & Cheese

the opener:
4 Tblsp butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 shallot, roughly chopped
3 Tblsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 Tblsp white wine vinegar
3 Tblsp vermouth
1 to 2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
15-20 gratings nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp paprika
12 ounces shaped pasta (penne, gemelli, rotelli, etc.)

the headliner:
4 Tblsp butter, melted
1 lb. grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sourdough bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

get it going on:
  • Slice onion, chop shallot, grate cheeses.
  • Start a large pot of water boiling on the stove.
  • Melt 4 Tblsp of butter in a medium pan over medium heat, add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring until the onions are nicely caramelized. Remove onions from pan.
  • In that same saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 Tblsp butter. Add the shallot and a big pinch of salt and cook for about a minute.
  • Add the flour, stir well, and cook for a few minutes, until the mixture smells toasty. Whisk the milk in then stir constantly (so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan) for a few minutes more, until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens up a bit.
  • Stir in a big pinch of salt, the white wine vinegar, vermouth, dry mustard, black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and paprika. Add the caramelized onion and stir until heated through. Now purée the sauce in the pan with a stick blender (no stick blender? Chop the onion before or after caramelizing and whisk it into the sauce). Keep the sauce warm over lowest heat setting and put a lid on it.
  • Water should be boiling now. Add 1 Tblsp salt to water and add pasta. Turn the oven on to 425°F.
what it's all about:
  • While the pasta is cooking and the oven preheating, butter a 8-by-8-inch baking dish.
  • In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs and the Romano with the 4 Tblsp of melted butter and set aside.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente (still a little chewy), then drain it and return it to the pot (off the heat).
  • Sprinkle half of the grated cheddar into the warm sauce and stir until melted. Pour the sauce over the drained pasta and toss to coat evenly. Dump the pasta into the baking dish and top with the remaining grated cheddar.
the heat's on:
  • Spread the Romano/butter/bread crumbs mixture across the top as evenly as possible. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until heated all the way through. 
  • Take the foil off and continue baking until the it looks nicely browned and the cheese is bubbly (around 15 to 20 minutes). Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you are or if you have something green and plant-like to serve with it.
eat, feel good, rock on.

*Sort of a clue about the era.  
**As opposed to a general funk, which should outrank a major, but doesn't.
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