Archive for March, 2011

It's just a box of grain...

The back of the Annie’s mac n’ cheese box makes the absurd suggestion that butter is optional in the preparation of that heady blend of orange powder, milk, and pasta in shapes I can never really make out (some are bunnies, I know).Tonight I discovered that there is a way forward without butter…and it is better! Or at the very least compelling, and different. The secret is fancy, spicy marinara sauce and full-fat sour cream. And some arugula if, like me, you think it makes everything more nutritious and delicious and so keep it on hand for day to day heathen uses.

Note: if you don’t love thick sauce and too much of it, you will not like this. I think it’s like a tangier, creamier vodka sauce (not to malign the original which I adore). Also,  prepared this way, the mac n’ cheese is so rich you won’t be tempted to eat the whole box, an absence I’d never experienced previously: where for art thou gluttonous impulses?

Heathen Mac n’ Cheese

  • 1 box Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese (get the sharp cheddar version)
  • 4 TBSP regular sour cream
  • 1 cup pasta sauce (I prefer a spicy arrabbiata)
  • 6 oz. arugula

Cook the pasta for 9 mins., adding the arugula in to wilt for one minute before draining. Return the mixture to the pot.

In the bowl you’ll use to eat the mac n’ cheese (to prevent extra dish-washing), combine cheese powder with sour cream and pasta sauce and stir until smooth. Pour sauce over pasta, stir, and serve.

Note #2: A real, delicious mac n’ cheese, served in a skillet or baked, glistening with fontina, gruyere, and Parmesan (best trio for this, hands down), is unbelievably good. This just isn’t that. Do we indict the lowly Mexican pizza for not being authentic? No! Taco Bell is Taco Bell. Mexican food is Mexican food.

Note #3 (also known as Final Note): The leftovers have cooled and look kind of nasty (but are sure to be the perfect modified lumberjack breakfast!). Hence no photo, sorry.


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The Mecca of Meltiness, Shangri-La of Savory!

Slowly, inexorably, by tray-of-broccoli-rabe-ravioli increments, I whittled down my Murray’s Cheese Shop gift certificate to just a nubbin of credit. Knowing my visit to Murray’s earlier this week was to be the card’s swan song, I got naught but special, new (to me) cheeses, with the small exception of the purchase of a crystalline slice of nutty, salty Piave Vecchio that looked so geologically elegant as I unwrapped it this morning that my mind tore into opposing impulses to sit down and eat the whole wedge in one sitting and to shellac it for ornamental display).

What isn't better after a bath in beer?

The most interesting new cheese I brought home is called Baladin and is crafted in a small…wait, why don’t I just give it to you straight from the cheese label (Murray’s copywriters are masters of taking the humble straw of background information and weaving it into the gold of consumer lust):


The Piemonte produces some of Italy’s finest wine, but it is also home to the small Le Baladin brewery, situated in the center of the small town of Piazzo. It’s arguably Italy’s finest small brewery, producing a handful of flavorful Belgian-inspired beers. Luckily someone had the bright idea to take a locally produced raw cow’s milk cheese made with thistle rennet and wash it in Le Baladin’s beer. The cheese takes on quite a bit of the beer’s open malty-hoppiness, which in turn brings out pleasantly nutty and earthy flavors in the cheese. A delight when combined with beer, some crumbly biscuits, and a little fruit.

Reading this in the store, the question immediately brought to mind that made me want to try the cheese was: thistle rennet? As far as I know, the vast majority of cheese is made using animal rennet, enzymes found in the stomachs of ruminant mammals (enzymes that exist, as I just learned, in order to help creatures digest mother’s milk when they’re babies), so the idea that those enzymes could be found in or made from such a divergent source as spiky weeds seemed surprising. I did some eager if not wildly in-depth investigating:

Rennet is the catalyst for turning milk to cheese and causes milk proteins to clump together, or curdle, separating curds from whey. The heads of both nettles and thistles (and fig leaves, and some types of ivy) contain an enzyme similar to one of the key enzymes that comprises animal rennet, chymosin. I wasn’t able to get a sense of why only two types of life – and two so different, thistle and calf stomach? – would contain an enzyme or suite thereof suitable for cheesemaking.

One interesting tidbit about the difference between the two kinds of curdlers (actually, four: there’s a kind of genetically modified bacteria and microbial rennet, too, that are also used as vegetarian rennet) is that thistle rennet works least well for the production of cow’s milk cheese, better used with goat or sheep’s milk. Be that as it may as a general finding, this Baladin is delicious.

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