Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Culinary Adventures With Cookbooks: The Chew: What’s For Dinner…

In attempt to keep my content fresh and varied in between lulls with my own recipes, interpretations, dining out, outings, and travels I’m on a cookbook binge of sorts; having fun with recipes and giving my reviews.

I first discovered The Chew while we were still living in Columbia. I think it was an episode that the Neely’s were making a guest appearance. I was always curious as to what they were up to since they virtually disappeared from The Food Network channel. After one episode of The Chew, I was hooked. I was very intrigued by Carla Hall. She calls the DMV home, graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, left the corporate world to model, fell in love with French cuisine. Then, she pursued a degree in the culinary arts and somewhere in the mix she developed a business/office lunch catering service. She went on Top chef to compete and is now on The Chew. Who says you can’t reinvent yourself?! We have alot in common, I also graduated college with a Bachelor's in Accounting, I'm originally from the DMV and we both love food!

One of the things that makes this book unique is that there are different voices, collaborators, and cultures involved with the commentary, food experiences and recipes shared. Each has something great to bring to the table. There is also an immense amount of encouragement as well as ease (short cuts, tips and tricks) for those who believe they can’t cook, or simply just do not have the time.

Over the weekend (on Saturday night), we used this book (“The Chew: What’s for Dinner? 100 Recipes For Every Night of the Week) to make Chef. Michael Symon’s “Cheesy Bacon, Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese Casserole”. I was watching “Julie and Julia” again for the umpteenth time. I decided to Google the blog and its author. In the process, I encountered some negative commentary and there was one comment that really bumped out at me; stating that today’s food bloggers hailing themselves as “our” experts can only follow recipes. Wow. I thought that was too large of a stereotype and an over generalization. We widely and vary by our experiences, repertoire, subject matters, styles, and genres. Besides, we all have to start from somewhere. I’ve been cooking for over 20 years (okay, showing my age now lol). I say embrace recipes! I didn’t really take off with cooking until years 7-8 as far as experimenting and making recipes my own; which by age 21 included what every woman should have in her cooking repertoire by their twenties a "Man Trap” lol jks, it doesn’t matter if it’s all you got or just a  dessert, as long as you have it ;-) With all of that said, as you become more seasoned as a cook you will be able to manipulate flavors and tastes to your heart and palate’s desire, yet still make something very delicious though different from the original source of inspiration!

What am I really saying in sharing that, well that we tweaked this recipe! (Lol) We didn’t have conchigliliette or penne so we used elbows. Although, if I were to make this again, I would use capitavi for sure, because of the grooves the cheese sauce adheres to the pasta better. It was my first time using gruyere cheese (once again another cheese that you will have to search for in the deli section of your grocery store). It’s pale, a white cheese, appeared to be of the aged variety. It has little moisture and a pungent odor. However, once cooked into cheese sauce it can be equally creamy and the odor wanes; the taste also construes the same. It was also my first time trying/ using mascarpone. It’s very creamy and rich, though almost flavorless. It’s like a combo of ricotta and cream cheese, though it doesn’t have the grittiness of ricotta. It is very creamy, fluffy, and makes a great cheese sauce. Mascarpone is a #HealthyOption that can be used in place of butter on toast and cream cheese on bagels. Cooking tip: If it is your first time working with an ingredient taste it first! The key to successfully tweaking a recipe is tasting your ingredients. Sure, it sounds good together but does it taste good together? Now there is the spice rub!

The cheese sauce that M. Symon makes for this recipe was not as thick as the one I make for my mac n’ cheese. It was slightly thinner and less fluffy once set. It was more like the title suggests, a casserole sauce. Likewise, I added Digiorno’s 3 Cheese blend with shredded asiago, parmesan, and Romano cheeses) to help thicken the sauce to my liking. We used smoked paprika instead of chipotle pepper, although I did use a very scant dusting of cayenne pepper. I was out of chipotle pepper and figured that together with the smoked paprika it would mimic the flavor somewhat. The smoked paprika along with the bacon gave the smokiness that the recipe called for without the high heat. We don’t use or consume butternut squash much, we’re more of an acorn squash, yellow squash, and zucchini family. But I have to say the butternut squash took the heartiness of the casserole to a whole new level. I was a little confused by puree vs chopping the butternut squash. The methodology mentions it vaguely but on the ingredient list size it was only listed as chopped and no measurement for pureed squash listed. So we left it chopped.

Overall, this recipe is 5* and as M. Symon says, a good way to sneak veggies to your kids. This recipe also includes the growing increasingly popular these days…green machine superstar…kale! Papa Smurf said “It’s so filling, it’s like a meal in and of itself. It’s so filling!” Although we served it as a side with our BBQ ribs. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser especially for macaroni and cheese lovers. We plan on using this recipe for Thanksgiving and think it would be a perfect fit for the occasion.

(Recipe and info from The Chew: What’s for Dinner? 100 Recipes for Every Day of the Week)

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