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Sources for the recipes in our house come from a myriad of resources. Cookbooks were the go-to for me for many years, and I still collect them. Even now, I find new favorites in the old publications. At the moment, I have more cookbooks than shelves, which is partially due to cooking as a hobby, and partially due to having a family of avid readers and collectors.


My grandmother was not the greatest cook when I knew in her later years (the best thing I can say about her cooking was that she was an excellent businesswoman). However, she had a fondness for trying new things. When we cleared her house for sale, we found about a dozen recipes cut out from newspapers and magazines, taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinets. Her cookbook shelves held, besides the many cookbooks she owned, were some of the “magnetic” page photo albums with many more recipes.


Even from the beginning of my cooking years, I would still play around with formulas. Mama still remembers my years of Dill Overload, when I was first introduced to the herb, and tried it in every savory dish I made. Still, I will go back to the original recipes to see if I need to go another direction. Part of the reason I do that is because memory sometimes fails us, especially as we get older and do more stupid things to our brain cells. So sometimes a recipe can change from year to year, unless we go back to the original source.


After the years of clipping, we now have multiple cooking shows (on multiple channels) each with their own websites. There are also a lot of cooking blogs where we share our recipes. Each author and chef has their own style and taste, and each recipe is expressed in a different manner. It doesn’t need to be regional to have these changes, either! Just with three cooks in our house, there’s seven different ways to make a simple dish of pasta!


Let’s look at the evolution of one dish. Starting out with a nationally known recipe, Wayne's Bee Macaroni and Cheese. Go on and read it at the website we originally found it on, we’ll wait. Why? Because that’s what we do, we give credit where credit is due. If you just put “waynes beef macaroni and cheese” in your browser’s search field, you will see why I put the link here, because there are quite a few uses of it out there.


Now, on it’s own, it’s a good recipe; moderately simple, filling, and it freezes well if you are making it ahead. More on the freezing method later. I did notice that when I made it exactly as directed, I had a heck of a lot of dishes to wash afterward, and the spices are not very assertive. It is a comfort dish, one that is very mild.


Himself saw the show the recipe was on, and decided he wanted that for supper. After the first few times he checked the website, he started going on his own spinal memory for the preparations.


box of pasta

1 medium chopped green bell pepper

1 medium chopped yellow onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 can tomato sauce

1 10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilis

2 tablespoons chili powder

salt and pepper

a bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese



  • Heat the oven to 350°F.


  • Cook the macaroni according to package directions; drain and set aside.


  • Brown the ground beef, then drain the fat.


  • Add the peppers, onion, and garlic, and saute until soft.


  • Add the tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste, and the chili powder and cilantro.


  • Combine the macaroni and the beef mixture.


  • Spread this mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.


  • Top with the cheese and cover with foil.


  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.



Right off the bat, you notice he dropped the crushed tomatoes, dried basil, ground cumin, and dried oregano, then doubled the garlic, adding chili powder. There’s also half the amount of ground beef in the recipe. This blend is a more assertive chili mac, and one of his favorite meals to make.


He still had a kitchen full of dirty dishes when he was done, though.


Then again, I also changed the recipe when I made it. Keep in mind I enjoy spicy foods, so there’s more here than either of the others.


12 oz box small penne (whole wheat or “hidden vegetable” preferred)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium chopped green bell pepper

1 medium chopped yellow onion

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained

1 10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilis, drained

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon dried cilantro

4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese



  • Heat the oven to 350°F.


  • Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.


  • Heat the oil in the pasta pot, add the peppers, onion, and salt, and saute until soft.


  • Add the garlic and ground beef; saute until browned.


  • Add the spices, then the tomatoes.


  • Turn off the heat, and add the pasta to the pot, stirring gently.


  • Spread this mixture into ONE 9 by 13-inch baking dish or TWO 9 inch square pans.


  • Top with the cheese and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.



This is one of my make-ahead casseroles, because it does freeze well. However, if you are going to freeze it, do not bake it before freezing, as it has a tendency to dry out if baked twice. Thawing it out in the refrigerator first helps as well.


If you want to break this into two meals, it fits into two 9 inch square pans. This is a handy size, breaking it into two four-serving batches. It also means it fits into more spaces in the refrigerator or freezer.


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