The Quest for a Quality Macaroni Dish

So I’m going to pretend that last night’s culinary escapade didn’t happen (officially. unofficially, you learn more from failure than success) and move straight on. Life is like a river, loyal readers (do we have any of those yet?). It flows ever forth.

The Arlington Public Library had a book sale this weekend. I’m a bit of a book whore, I have to admit (love knowledge), so I went twice. My partner in crime Heather and I were having a discussion earlier in the week about how neither of us really had a quality macaroni and cheese recipe under our belt. We were both raised on the out-the-box variety: me the classic blue box, Heather the classier, more sophisticated deluxe kind. Coincidentally on my first visit to the book sale, I came across Macaroni And Cheese for the low low price of a dollar. Feeling this was fate, I took this book home with me.
Simple Mac and Cheese Ingredients
I’ve not given this book the time it deserves for a proper review, but it definitely looks promising. It starts off with a brief about why macaroni and cheese is awesome (as if you didn’t know this by now) followed by a mini-guide on the different kinds of cheeses and pastas along with how to put it all together. Despite the name, no seasoned cook should expect to find any secrets here but beginners may find this useful. The remainder of the book is broken into five chapters for the varying categories of mac & cheese: Easy and Cheesy, Soups and Salads, Stove-Top Mac and Cheese, Baked Mac and Cheese, Sweets. The photography is excellent and this is not one of those cookbooks leaving you frustrated; wishing there were more photos of the dishes (hate. those. books). You can expect a photograph every two to three recipes.
Cheesy
Eager to try a recipe out but still nursing bruised confidence after last night’s adventure, I opted for the first recipe from the Easy and Cheesy Recipe: Alpine Macaroni and Appenzeller with Crème Fraîche. This was a recipe with a very cheesy texture but not an overly cheesy taste. With only an eight item ingredient list this recipe, was not overly complicated and instead focused on simplicity. Perfect.
Alpine Macaroni and Gruyère with Crème Fraîche
Alpine Macaroni and Gruyère with Crème Fraîche
adapted from Macaroni & Cheese (I cut the recipe in half)

6 ounces elbow macaroni
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, chopped
5-6 ounces Gruyère, shredded/grated (possible alternatives: Appenzeller, Emmenthal, Comtè)
2 ounces crème fraiche (or more if desired)
a grating nutmeg
1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
salt a pepper to taste

Cook the pasta as you cook all pasta: in a rapidly boiling pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve half a cup of the liquid.
Put a bit of the water back into the pot first to prevent burning followed by the pasta, garlic, shallot, cheese, crème fraiche, nutmeg and butter. Toss gently. If too thick or dry, add more water. If the cheese doesn’t melt turn the heat on low briefly and continue to toss.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas, A Real 30 Minute Meal

Hello, hello!

Rachel Ray is supposed to be the cooking icon of the young generation, but I’m still on the fence about many of her recipes. I was given a copy of 2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds as a Christmas present last year and I’ve perused 30 Minute Meals, but sometimes I think that the recipes are a little needlessly complicated. At least, the recipes I’ve tried in 30 Minute Meals have never been completed in just 30 minutes – but I’d love feedback from others!

If someone bought me 2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds as a beginner book, I’d probably run away and never look back! From what I’ve gathered in conversations with friends over the years, I think a lot of people would like to cook and get more comfortable in the kitchen, but they’re intimidated. They don’t know where to start.

Chicken Enchiladas, Poaching Chicken
Don’t be afraid to start small! I like recommending Kraft Foods – they have a lot of very simple and quick recipes. They used to offer a free quarterly recipe book and free calendar, but now I believe they’ve switched to online newsletters only. The tiny recipe books at the grocery store checkout counters are also a great way to get your feet wet.

Chicken Enchiladas, Rolled Tortillas
But Rachel Ray doesn’t have to be scary to beginner cooks! This week I tried Rachel Ray’s Easy Chicken Enchiladas recipe. I actually don’t think I’d ever poached chicken before (as the recipe calls for), and I found that it came out a little rubbery or, to use some rather gross imagery, sweaty tasting. The overall flavor of the enchiladas was good; the cinnamon made it taste almost like a simplified and less spicy mole sauce.

Chicken Enchiladas, With Sauce and Cheese
Ghost Baker’s verdict and simplifying suggestions:

Let’s lock in our flavor and spices while not making this recipe needlessly complicated. If you have time, marinate your chicken with some of the sauce first. Instead of poaching the chicken, give it a juicier texture by grilling it and then shredding. If you like more punch in your cheese (I do!), swap the Monterey Jack for a sharp yellow cheddar. Don’t be afraid to go heavy on the spices if you like it hot!

Chicken Enchiladas, Cooked and ready to serve

Rachel Ray’s Chicken Enchiladas
adapted from Food Network

Ingredients:
8 soft corn tortillas

Filling:
4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 8 ounces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/3 palm full
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt

Sauce:
2 cups tomato sauce
2 teaspoons hot cayenne pepper sauce, several drops
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 pinches
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 1/2 cups Monterey Jack shredded cheese, available on dairy aisle

Directions:

If you can, marinade chicken for at least one hour with some of the sauce.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Wrap corn tortillas in foil and warm in the oven. Grill chicken for 10 minutes or until cooked through (bone white). Remove chicken breasts to a bowl and shred with 2 forks. Add tomato paste, spices and salt and work through the chicken using the forks.

Combine all sauce ingredients and heat through, keeping warm until needed.

Remove tortillas from oven and switch broiler on high.

Pile chicken mixture into warm corn tortillas and roll. Line casserole or baking dish with enchiladas, seam side down. Pour hot tomato sauce over the chicken enchiladas and top with sharp yellow cheddar cheese. Place in enchiladas in oven 6 inches from broiler and broil 5 minutes to melt cheese and set enchiladas. Enjoy!