Friday, March 27, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Mrs. Cook's Kitchen

Sometimes freebie cookbooks can yield unexpected rewards and such was the case with Mrs. Cook's Kitchen, by former Ottawa Sun food editor Gay Cook.

The extended title of Mrs. Cook's Kitchen is "Basics & Beyond" and her cookbook is just that -- a collection of tried-and-true recipes that you'll keep coming back to. Nothing too pretentious or elaborate, rather straightforward dishes such as Herb Roast Chicken with Pan Juices, Caramelized Baked Tomatoes, and Poached Pear with Roquefort Salad.

Gay Cook also includes recipes for freshly baked bread, from Rosemary Focaccia, to Country Grain, to your standard loaf of White Bread. She also offers advice on wine pairings, and assembles menus for everything from casual dinner parties to brunch, to holiday get-togethers.

The cover of Mrs. Cook's Kitchen is a trilogy of soups and I've made two of them: the Spicy Lentil Soup with Yogourt, and the Fresh Pea Soup with Mint. Loved them both, especially the pea soup. I always thought pea soup was a drab, lifeless greeny-brown colour until I made it myself and saw how vibrant it could be. I used baby peas and once blended it was a bright, spring-like emerald green. Beautiful to behold and delicious -- and a soup that's fresh enough for spring, not simply a winter dish.

But the one recipe I come back to time and time again is Gay's Old Fashioned Macaroni & Cheese. It's a breeze to prepare, and turns out perfectly every time. Not too saucy, just creamy and tangy, with a nice bit of crunch from the bread crumbs on top. I prefer an extra bit of bite so I left my bread crumbs a bit bigger, tearing them from slices of stale whole wheat bread with my hands rather than pulsing them in a food processor. If you like the classic mac & cheese, not that god-awful boxed stuff, I encourage you to give Gay's version a try. I had some tonight with a side of sauteed Swiss chard (see picture) and it was extremely filling!

Old Fashioned Macaroni & Cheese

1.5L water
1 tbsp salt
2 cups macaroni, uncooked
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup Cheddar or Swiss cheese, grated
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 7 x 11 inch shallow casserole.

Bring the water and salt to a boil and stir in the macaroni. Cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain into a colander, shaking it to get all the water out of the macaroni "tunnels."

In a large saucepan, melt the butter on medium-low heat, stir in the onion, cover and cook for 5 minutes, without browning the onion. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Raise heat to medium-high, whisk in the milk until smooth and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper, then the macaroni. Pour the mixture into the casserole. Toss the crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden. The casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day before cooking, but add 10 extra minutes to the cooking time.

Serves 4-6
Preparation: 20 minutes
Baking: 20 minutes

Comfort food at its finest -- I hope you'll try this recipe!



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