Thursday, February 19, 2009

Short Order Kitchen (and Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar & Leeks)

I said I would never do it. I said I would never cook multiple meals for the family at dinner time.

In fact, I said, "I cook one meal and we all eat it. If you don't like it, that's fine, there's cottage cheese, pistachios, cheddar, fruit, in the lower cupboards and yourself."

I said it with my "laying down the law" voice. I have one of those.

I didn't want to start this habit where I'm cooking three different meals every night. The only exception to this rule is breakfast, where everyone can get their meal a la carte. One has cereal, one has a banana and croissant, another has a poached egg. Fine. That's all good. Breakfast doesn't count. It's not, like, a real meal around here.

But dinner? No way, Jose. I was adamant. Unmoveable. Fierce in my convictions. Everyone eats one meal or fend for themselves. And for the longest time, it held. The mandate was written in steel. People shuddered and quacked in their boots at the very thought of going up against my iron-clad edict.

Which is funny, because last night, it all fell apart. My edict is as strong as a wet noodle. Even though I made "Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks" from Gourmet, for us and the neighbors, which is like a fancy mac and cheese, and I thought everyone would be right there with me, all happy I cooked the mac and cheese. You know how kids love the mac and cheese. Like robots they are to the stuff. But not my kid apparently - Lucy pushed the plate away and asked for two fried eggs, with chives, no yolks.

The night before I made her the same order at 8 o'clock when, as she was getting into bed for stories, she said she had a "craving". I caved to the craving. I mean, a craving means her little body needs that egg to fortify itself. What kind of a mother would I be to deprive my child of something as silly and easy to make as an egg. So, there I was at 8 o'clock. Cooking. David thinks she is in some kind of massive Lou Ferrigno/Incredible Hulk type growth spurt because she's tossing back 3 or 4 eggs a day.

And just like that, my kitchen went from disciplined temple of food creation to short order diner and I'm the big stocky Greek named Mel with the "I love Mom" tattoo on his arm, frying up multiple orders and calling out, "Two eggs up, ready to go out, Alice".

So, I'm going to gather myself and get back to having an edict and being all mean about it, unless someone is actually growing and then, I will cave like the wuss that I am. Just know, if you come here for dinner, I won't cave for you. I tell you this up front. Like, if turn up your nose at my pot roast and quietly whisper in my ear that you'd rather I whip you up a cherry tomato omelette with carmelized leeks and goat cheese, well, then, I'll have to use my scary voice and pummel you into submission. Just expect it. I won't like it, but unless you're having a growth spurt, I'll show you no mercy.

There's grapes and a nice Manchego just waiting for you in the fridge. Please enjoy.

xxoo YM

And speaking of's the very nice "Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar & Leeks" from Gourmet. As you might remember, I have a terrible hatred for box mac and cheese and this is a nice alternative. All the kids, except Lucy (who never put it to her egg-loving lips) really loved this mac and cheese.

I liked it very much, although don't skimp on the liquid and butter, because it could stand to be a little creamier. Also, I sprinkled bread crumbs over the top for a little crunch. The leeks make it much more complex than regular mac and cheese.

Gourmet's Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar & Leeks


* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
* 5 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 5 large)
* 1/4 cup all purpose flour
* 3 1/2 cups whole milk
* 1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups packed)
* 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
* 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
* 2 large eggs
* 1 pound penne pasta


Lightly butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes (do not brown). Uncover saucepan; add flour. Stir 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to simmer, stirring often. Add cheese, mustard, and pepper sauce. Stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat. Season cheese sauce to taste with salt.

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup cheese sauce. Stir egg mixture into cheese sauce in saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return to pot.

Stir cheese sauce into pasta in pot. Transfer to prepared baking dish. do ahead Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake pasta until cheese sauce is bubbling around edges and some ends of pasta are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Test-kitchen: Unlike classic mac and cheese, which is thickened by a roux (a flour and butter mixture), this one uses eggs to make a rich, gooey custard. But be careful when adding the hot cheese sauce to the eggs; you’ll need to whisk the sauce in slowly so that the eggs don’t curdle.


1 comment:

avra said...

We made a similar mac and cheese this weekend that used two kinds of cheese and chopped pieces of bacon - no leeks. What makes this a great story is that my almost-4-year-old chose the second cheese--a goat's milk gouda with nettles (!)--based on a taste test at the local artisan bread/cheese/kitchen gadget store.

Should I be proud?

(cheese #1 was a medium white cheddar, nothing fancy).