(I had to fork-and-knife it.)

summer bread pudding

June 20, 2011

My own dear dad was beyond thrilled way back in March when I made bread pudding for the first time, so I decided to revisit the dish with a summertime twist this Father’s Day.

For scheduling reasons, I fixed up a brunch spread for the occasion, telling my brother’s family I was preparing a “baked french toast thing” because bread pudding just sounds so blah and bland.  Both my dad and my brother have extraordinary  sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) and since it was their special day, I heightened the sugar factor by using dried bing cherries in place of the raisins and amaretto in place of the whiskey for the sauce.

Served with a fresh cantaloupe and blueberry salad, a pound of bacon, and a pitcher of orange juice, the fathers in my family were delighted with my efforts (almost as much as watching my brother’s three-year-old twins use their forks to spear blueberries one by one by one).

Happy Father’s Day, for the man who introduced the concept of breakfast-for-dinner, I gave him the gift of dessert-for-breakfast!

pastitsio

May 28, 2011

If you grew up with boxed pasta dinners like I did, this meal is like a Hamburger Helper who cleaned up it’s act, got a haircut, put on a tuxedo, and smells gooood.  This takes Dick Whitman and turns him into Don Draper.

Pastitsio is a nutty, creamy, meaty, hearty pasta dish with Mediterranean roots consisting of tubular pasta, seasoned meat, and a béchamel sauce (a flour-based white sauce).  It’s been well over a dozen years since I last enjoyed this meal, so I was thrilled when I stumbled upon it while recently perusing the classic Red and White Cookbook.  Instead of working from the recipe as it goes in the book, my mom filled my hands with a copy of her preferred method – as well as a pound of hamburger.

(This is probably as good a place as any to come out and state for the record that I’ve had a fear of cooking meat.  It’s a little silly – I know! – but there’s something terrifyingly intimidating about those raw wads of meat, especially knowing that if you don’t cook it right the results can be gross and dangerous!!  I have made due living with this fear, because somebody else ALWAYS wants to barbecue or otherwise cook the meat for the entree at a dinner party.  But it’s time to grow up.  And my mom made me do it, by handing me a pound of hamburger and challenging me to make something of it.)

So this one is kind of complicated, but it’s totally worth it for these absurdist Chicago spring nights with sudden temperature drops to just-above freezing.

Pastitsio Ingredients

(Its a bunch, so I’ma break it down by the steps for you.  You’ll have to pay attention when shopping this one out because there is milk, cheese, eggs, and salt used in a couple places.)

Pasta

  • 1-1/2 cup tubular pasta (elbow macaroni works swell, I just wanted to say tubular because I haven’t heard the word in use since cartoon characters of the early 90s)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese  (shredded also works just fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk

Meat

  • 3/4 pound ground beef (for a healthier alternative, use ground turkey instead! Thanks to Jess for the great suggestion!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (again, shredded is also great)

Ready?  Cook the pasta.  Strain.  Put pasta into a medium bowl.

Stir in its buddies, namely the beaten egg, parmesan cheese, and milk.  Stir it up and set to the side.

Scary time for the meat which actually isn’t that scary at all!  Browning beef is about as complicated as scrambling eggs.  (If only someone had told me!)  Anyways, in a skillet, cook the ground beef and onion until the beef is brown and the onions are tender.  Drain excess fat.

In a medium bowl (or the skillet), combine the cooked meat and onions with the tomato sauce, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground pepper.  Stir it up.  Set to the side.

In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Blend in flour and salt. Stir in the milk, stirring until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.  Add beaten egg and parmesan and keep it moving in the pan.  You want the results to be creamy, not stucky.

Keep mixing it up (but don’t expect auto-focus to keep up with you!)

Time to start assembling!  It’s recommended that this meal be made in an 8x8x2″ dish because that will allow for nice, even, thick layers.  I had a rounded 9×12″ dish which can accommodate the volume, but isn’t ideal because the layers get spread out and aren’t as even or thick.  Anyways.  Dish out half of the macaronis into the dish.  (Here is probably 2/3 of the macaroni.)

Spoon all the tasty meat sauce on top of the macaroni layer.

Cover the meat with the second half of the macaronis.

Smooth it over with your béchamel sauce.  Top of with a sprinkle of cinnamon (nutmeg for a bolder touch).

Cook uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Serve it up and share with five other people (or eat it by yourself for dinner six nights in a row, I won’t judge).  You can see here where it’d be better to have that narrow deep casserole dish.  A thick cream layer makes this meal hella tasty, although by no means was this spread out version anything close to terrible.

And there you have it ladies and gents, overcoming silly fears with a hearty meal!

classic reuben

May 23, 2011

Classic Reuben at The Rail.  4709 N Damen, Chicago.