Wednesday, June 20, 2012

of Map Coasters for Amy

No food today but  I did take pictures during yet another art project, and by pictures I really just mean finished shots. I will try to add some process shots during my next coaster adventure. This one is actually pretty easy to do (easier than I thought) and it is a great way to personalize any sort of gift. Amy is one of my illustrious roommates and is a great sport whenever I'm on some sort of cooking mission or another. She also participates in several of my food adventures and is always up for trying new things.Amy was recently accepted to medical school and is heading for the hills (desert) of Arizona to start out her magical medical tour. Another roommate and I wanted to do something special for her to remember her time in DC and I stumbled upon this decoupage map tutorial. That of course gave me the idea to make Amy something a little bit more personalized.

Despite relocating to the East Coast for a bit, Amy is still very much a California girl at heart. Her eclectic room accessories range from a cool wall hanging she found in China to an old birdcage/lantern type thing. All around her room there are trinkets from her world travels and splashes of a very particular color: pink. Her room is generally harmonious, feminine and pretty/chic. It definitely brings a bit of California sunshine to our dreary East Coast winters. We put some thought into the kinds of colors she would like. I decided to do muted brights (with plenty of pink and several splashes of purple) and added them to a great little map I found online and edited of our neighborhood. The results turned out even better than I expected.

Today's Cast of Characters:

Keeping it simple again today with just a few necessities. Printouts of whatever you want measured to the size of your tiles; a wet Paper Towel; Tiles, picked up for mega cheap at Home Depot; Felt or Cork for the bottom; Modge Podge; Acrylic or Urethane Sealer ; an Xacto Knife; cheap Hair Spray; and a foam brush or two. Seriously this is all you need to make something pretty! Sharon and I were pretty enthusiastic.

What to Do:

This project has very few steps and that is one of the things I love most about it. Choose whatever you want to decoupage to your tile. For this step I whipped a little something up in Photoshop. If you fee comfortable doing that go right ahead, but if not you can search online for all kinds of images or use some of your own, like photos or old wrapping paper. If you want to get the handwritten effect I used, you could use a permanent marker on what you choose with similar results.

Once I finished editing my Photoshop project, I sized each section to the size of the coasters they would be going on. The result equaled a perfectly cut off map that still matched up. I then used an Xacto knife to cut the paper out around the tile. It is perfectly acceptable if the edges do not match up exactly because you can use sand paper after the Modge Podge dries to level them off.

To seal the ink, I sprayed each sheet with the cheap hairspray lightly before I cut and waited for it to dry completely. I am not sure why this works, I just know that it does. I found this little tip out on the internet and it has changed the way I feel about decoupage.

Apply a thin layer of Modge Podge to the coaster and gently but firmly place your paper on the tile. Be sure to smooth any bubbles or ripples because you want a sleek even look for your final project.

After letting the paper adhere to the tile, apply a very thin layer of Modge Podge for your first go round. Allow it to dry for 15 minutes and add another thin layer. After the second layer dries for 15 minutes, decide if you need a final coat. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. It really all depends on how much you put on during the first two coats.

I allowed my coasters to dry for about an hour and a half before I applied 2 coats of polyurethane sealer but only because I was working on the Modge Podge a little late in the day. As long as you allow the coasters to dry completely you are able to use the polyurethane spray. I use polyurethane instead of acrylic for several reasons but the main one is that I cannot stand the way acrylic smells until it is aired out. I also think that polyurethane leads to a more waterproof finish and since I am frequently doing projects that deal with wood, having the polyurethane around is much more versatile.

After you let the polyurethane dry according to package directions and apply a few little felt or cork pieces to the backs to protect your tables, you are free to package your creations up. I just used some kitchen twine to make them easy to pack for Amy's cross country move. We sure will miss her at our house but I know everyone is pumped that she's following her dream. Best of luck Amy!

Friday, June 8, 2012

of Smoked Gouda and Sharp Cheddar Mac and Cheese

There's probably something you should know about me, I am in love with cheese. Seriously, everything from Gruyère to Mascarpone to Muenster to Manchego and I have tried and love basically everything minus American Blue Cheese. Add that to my love of all things pasta and you have this monster waiting at the gates tempting me with it's bad boy image. I didn't grow up with homemade Mac and Cheese because my mom is allergic to aged cheese. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered the taste of real, homemade, from scratch Macaroni and Cheese. The stuff from the box is still my ultimate comfort food but I make this for a luxurious and totally deserved treat.

I first came across the recipe I adapted into this recipe when I was cruisin' Pioneer Woman's site for a delicious down home Mac and Cheese Recipe. I'm sure her version is as amazing as all her other food, and the pictures are just gorgeous!  I later combined her recipe with my late grandmother's to very interesting results. However, I tend to treat recipes strictly as guidelines or jumping off points to flex my culinary muscles. I've tried all kinds of variations on both of the original recipes with all kinds of additions, cheeses, subtractions, and substitutions. I finally found the one on a hot summer's day just recently. 

I have always been a huge fan of anything smoked (get your minds out of the gutter people). Cheese of course is no exception to this rule. The savory, smokey flavor of the Gouda would be delicious as a creamy sauce on its own if not for somewhat overly smokey flavor when one tries vast quantities. Luckily, a good sharp or extra sharp cheddar holds its own against the big flavors emitted by the smoked Gouda. The balance between these two contenders creates a culinary experience that hits all of the taste notes on the way down. It's creamy, rich, and completely delightful any time of year. You could bring this as a side dish to a summer BBQ, serve it up with broccoli for a quick veggie meal, or eat it from a soup mug on a blustery fall day. 

Today's Cast of Characters:

One of my favorite things about macaroni and cheese is the simplicity of its ingredients. Keeping with that theme the ingredients are pretty standard today. A bit of dried macaroni, an egg some butter, and some all purpose flour provide the bones of the dish. Add in some fat free half and half (all the creaminess, none of the guilt! Side note pretend the heavy whipping cream in the picture is actually the fat free half and half...the containers looked exactly the same) and some dry mustard and a basic béchamel sauce is achieved. Today I used three kinds of cheese, about one third a pound of smoked Gouda, farmhouse new york cheddar probably about half a pound, and about a quarter pound of aged cloth bound sharp cheddar. The result was fantabulous. Salt, Cajun Seasoning, and Ground Black Pepper finished off the dish, and what a dish it was.

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You'll thank me later when you don't have to wait to enjoy your ooey gooey mac and cheese until the oven preheats.

First, cook your macaroni until very firm.  I did mine for about 3 minutes and then I drained the pot and rinsed the macaroni with cool water to stop the cooking process and wash off extra starch.

Next grate up your cheeses. Its ok if you have more than pound of cheese like I did because you can just use the extra as a topping for extra cheesy goodness.

Here's where it gets just a little challenging. In a large pot, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Let the mix cook for about 4 or 5 minutes until it starts to brown but not burn. I often wait a bit longer than necessary but it just gives the end result a nuttier taste.
Once the roux you just made is cooked and has browned to a consistency you feel comfortable with, pour in your half and half. I add the mustard to the half and half so that it is easier to manage.
Add a bit of the half and half whisking until smooth after each addition. Cook until very thick which basically means the mixture coats the back of a spoon. After this happens, you can reduce the heat to low.

In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork until its pretty frothy. Take 1/4 cup of the béchamel and pour it slowly into the egg, whisking the entire time. This process is important because its tempering your egg. Without this step you'd have fancy scrambled cheese eggs and macaroni, which while it may taste good, won't be the custardy smooth consistency we're going for.
After the mix is smooth, pour the egg mixture into the béchamel sauce. Whisk in your egg mix until the entire pot is smooth and uniform in color.
Now comes my favorite part! Add in your grated cheese, eyeballing a pound if you have extra. Its ok if you add a little more or less to the pot but try to be semi accurate at least. Stir until the cheese is melted and the mix returns to its creamy consistency. You don't want to sacrifice its creamy texture at this stage in the game so make sure all cheese is actually melted.
Add in your salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning. Stir and do a quick taste test. It is very important that you do not under salt at this stage, so the sauce should taste a bit saltier than you like it usually. If necessary add more salt, pepper, or Cajun seasoning so the desired taste is achieved.
Stir in the reserved macaroni. If you notice it sticking together run it quickly under cold water again to loosen up the starchiness. Mix until the macaroni is evenly coated. Today I used about a quarter cup less than whatever 4 cups of dried macaroni equals when you cook it. I like my macaroni and cheese to be extra saucy. What is nice about this is that if you prefer a cakier pastaier mac and cheese you can always add more macaroni at this stage!
Pour the mix into a sprayed or buttered 9x13 baking dish. Even the mix out, top with the remaining cheese, and stick it in the nicely preheated oven. Bake the macaroni and cheese for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese on top has melted and the edges are getting a bit brown and bubbly. I couldn't wait that long to eat it today so I cooked it for 18 minutes when the cheese was melted and the mix was bubbly but not brown. I thought it was amazing. I've also just straight up broiled the mac and cheese after cooking it for about 10 minutes and it turned out great too so feel free to experiment with cooking times and techniques, just try to resist grabbing some with a fork before its cooled a little.
Serve it up however you desire it and enjoy! 

Like this recipe? Check out the rest of my blog you may find something you like. I'm more than Mac&Cheese I swear!


4 cups Dried Macaroni
1 Egg Beaten
4 Tablespoons Butter
¼ cups All-purpose Flour
2-½ cups Fat-Free Half and Half
2 teaspoons Dry Mustard, More If Desired
⅓ pound Smoked Gouda

½ pound Cheddar Cheese (any Kind You Want)
¼ pound Aged Clothbound Sharp Cheddar
½ teaspoons Salt, More To Taste
½ teaspoons Cajun Seasoning, More To Taste
½ teaspoons Ground Black Pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Cook macaroni until very firm, about three minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water.
3. Grate up a pound of your choice of cheese, reserve. 
4. -In a large pot, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook mixture for five minutes, whisking constantly. Don’t let it burn.
5. Pour in half and half with mustard added a bit at a time and whisk until smooth each time. Once all cream has been incorporated cook until very thick. Reduce heat to low.
6. In a small bowl, beat egg.Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. 
7. Pour egg mixture into sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth and uniform in color.
8. Add in cheese and stir until melted, then add salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning. Taste sauce and add more seasoning if desired. Mix should taste salty, add more salt if needed. 
9.Add back in drained, cooked macaroni and stir to combine.
10. Pour mix into a greased baking dish, top with extra cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top. Serve and enjoy!