Tag Archives: macaroni and cheese

PORCUPINE MEATBALLS

When I was in my graduate program, I lived with the family of an old school friend. The mother was a good cook of the Betty Crocker/Good Housekeeping school, and there were still young kids living at home. We often had many of the classics – tuna-noodle casserole, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf – but a cheer would go up from the kids when they learned that dinner would include porcupine meatballs. It was even a celebratory dish for birthdays or good report cards.

The meatballs get their name not from being made from porcupine meat but from the rice on their surfaces that supposedly sticks up like the quills on a porcupine’s back. You clearly need the imagination of a child for this creation.

Honestly, I think that the reputation of the dish was overblown, but it really is something to make when you have run out of ideas for what to do with a pound of ground beef.  And that’s exactly what happened. I had a pound of ground beef to use up, and I didn’t feel like the usual hamburgers or pasta with meat sauce.

Then I thought of porcupine meatballs even though I hadn’t had them since my college days. They are easy to make with the single challenging step being the tomato sauce in which the meatballs cook. If you insist, you can make a very elaborate sauce. Alternatively, you can open a can of plain tomato sauce. Those two options run the gamut of hard to ridiculously easy and of tasty to why-bother. Fortunately, there is a middle road. I bought a large jar of Rao’s tomato/basil pasta sauce (straight from the world-famous Manhattan restaurant, according to the label), and that worked perfectly to make this an easy, one-pot meal.

Put a green salad on the side, and you have all your food groups.

RECIPE

Porcupine Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 thick slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/4 teasoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 quart jar commercial pasta sauce
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. In a large mixing bowl, soak the bread, torn into pieces, in the milk. Use a fork to mash the bread into a paste.
  2. Add the ground beef, egg, and tomato paste, and with your hands, mix until completely combined. Stir in the bell pepper, onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mix until completely combined.
  3. Form the mixture into 8 meatballs.
  4. Place the rice in a shallow dish. Roll the meatballs in the rice until they are completely covered.
  5. In a large pot,  brown the meatballs in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta sauce, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Some of the rice will have fallen off the meatballs into the sauce.
  6. Serve while still hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese

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USING THE LYTRO LIGHT FIELD CAMERA – SHRIMP, ARTICHOKE AND MUSHROOM MAC AND CHEESE

My son recently gave me an amazing new camera. It’s called a Lytro light field camera, and it operates on an entirely different principle than regular cameras. Peter is a techie who lives and works in Silicon Valley, so he is always up to date with the latest gadgets. This camera captures light in such a way that you can focus on any part of your image, and change the focus with the touch of a finger. You can also take close-up images from only a few centimeters away from the subject, so he thought that I would find it useful in making images of food. In spite of the instruction manual, using the camera is not intuitive – at least not for someone of my age.  With practice, though, I think I have caught the hang of it. Also, you need a computer with a fairly recent operating system to take advantage of the focusing feature. Unfortunately, when you publish the images you have to convert them to jpegs so that the focusing is lost.  Thus,  you won’t be able to get a full appreciation of how unique the camera is, and how much fun it is to use. Except for the images of the Lytro camera, which I made with my iPhone, the images in this post are made with the Lytro. Let me know what you think of them.

(Roll over image for legend, click to see gallery)

I know. I know. You are not supposed to mix fish and cheese. But I was looking for something to photograph with my new camera and decided to use what I was cooking, macaroni and cheese, as the test . But how can a person put plain old mac and cheese on a food blog? So I added a few twists to make me feel better. One of those twists is the use of Old Bay seasoning which adds just a little bit of pep to shellfish. Be careful, though, or you can over-do it. You can also omit the seasoning if you like. Here it is, then, shrimp, artichoke, and mushroom mac and cheese shot with a Lytro light field camera.

RECIPE

Shrimp, Artichoke and Mushroom Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided + more to butter the baking dish
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups milk
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 ounce Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 ounce mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 quarts of salted water
  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • ½ pound (31/40) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and rinsed
  • 6 medium crimini mushrooms, rinsed and broken into pieces
  • 1 cup marinated, quartered mushroom hearts, drained
  • ¾ cup panko
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
  2. add the flour and stir in the flour cooking for a few minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
  3. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to remove any lumps and to avoid scorching until thickened.
  4. Turn the heat to low and stir in the Cheddar, mozzarella, and Swiss cheeses. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add optional Old Bay seasoning. When the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. In a large pot, bring the salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook at the boil, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is al dente. Drain.
  6. In the large pot, combine the cheese sauce and cooked macaroni.
  7. Stir in the shrimp, mushrooms, and artichokes
  8. Prepare the baking dish  by heavily greasing the inside with butter. Then coat the butter layer with panko crumbs. Pour in the macaroni mixture.
  9. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the remaining panko and brown it lightly, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Remove from the heat
  10. Combine the toasted panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the macaroni mixture.
  11. Bake for 45 minutes in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F. If the top becomes too brown, cover with aluminum foil and continue baking.

(Roll over image for legend, click to see gallery)

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LIGHT WEIGHT FOOD – BOW HUNTING FOR ELK IN THE WILDERNESS

Our son, Peter, is the outdoorsman in our family. He hikes, rock climbs, skis, canoes, and anything else that will get him into the outdoors. When all the rest of us have opted for a motel room, he will choose to sleep outside in a bag on a ground cloth. He was excited, then, when he was selected in a lottery to bow hunt for elk in one of the wilderness regions of the Jémez Mountains in New Mexico. He drove to our house in Santa Fe almost non-stop from his home in Northern California, stopping for a few hours’ sleep in the Mojave Desert.

We helped him pack food for his expedition, and in a few hours he was off for what turned out to be a five-day adventure. He went to the San Pedro Park Wilderness with much of the trip over dirt roads. When he got to the trail head, he loaded up his back pack and went for a two-mile hike to his campsite. There were no other hunters, and he had planned the hike so that it would not be too far back to the car in case he bagged an elk and needed to pack out the meat. He wound up hiking another two miles to find a good hunting spot.

Map of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness

Map of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness

Hiking can be a strenuous activity, especially with a 50-60 pound pack. It’s fairly easy to use up 400 calories an hour, and even possible to use up 1000 calories an hour, never mind the fluid loss. Thus, it is very important to stay well hydrated and to have a good supply of food. Even if you had pure calorie sources – carbohydrate, protein, and fat – at 4, 4, and 9 calories per gram, respectively, you would need at least a pound of food a day to stay in balance. Of course, these days you can buy elaborate dehydrated meals at the outdoor sporting goods store, but they are very expensive and they also take away some of the fun of planning and packing for a wilderness trip.

Using dehydrated or low-weight foods available at the grocery store, we worked up a menu for the expedition. All you need is a good backpacking camp stove and a reliable source of water. Remember to cut instructions off the sides of boxes and drop them in the zippered plastic bag with the food. Put individual dry ingredients in zippered sandwich bags and drop them in the bag of the main dish.

Also pack a small squeeze bottle filled with cooking oil and another small container of butter or margarine. Bring small salt and pepper shakers.

Gorp, more commonly known as trail mix, is a hiking standby. These days you can buy any number of varieties with a wide range of different nuts, dried fruits, and candies. Some of them are extremely expensive and – in my view – not very good It’s just as easy to make your own, and that way you can include ingredients that you like.

Soup made from a packet of dehydrated soup is good while waiting for the main dish to cook.

Macaroni and cheese, especially the boxed kind, is an old-time kids’ favorite. It is nothing but dried ingredients. Add a little dry milk powder and some Spam lights, and you have a dish that can be cooked in just a few minutes. At the end of a hard day of hiking it will please everyone, kids and grownups alike.

Tuna casserole is another standby. With the new packaging of tuna in  foil pouches, this becomes even more light weight. Instant or fast-cooking pasta makes this an easy effort even with just a backpacking stove.

Salmon and rice casserole becomes another possibility with the advent of dry packaging of salmon just like tuna. A can of salmon would weigh over a pound, while the “dry” pack weighs 2.5 ounces

Dried fruit – banana chips and apricots make good desserts, along with chocolate bars.

Energy bars weigh only about 2 ounces each and pack an impressive 250 calories, about 1/3 of it from fat

RECIPES

Gorp

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces sunflower seeds, roasted (880 calories)
  • 16 ounces dry roasted peanuts (2560 calories)
  •  7 ounces “runts” or other candy-coated chocolate candy (715 calories)
  • 6 ounces walnut pieces (1100 calories)
  • 6 ounces whole almonds (935 calories
  • 9 ounces dried cranberries (780 calories)
  • 8 ounces raisins (775 calories)

Method

  1. If the sunflower seeds are raw, roast them by spreading them out in a jelly roll pan and placing them in the middle of an oven preheated to 300° F (177° C). Bake for 15 minutes, turning them frequently. Remove from the oven and cool before adding to the remaining ingredients.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well.
  3. Place in zippered plastic bags. This makes enough gorp for 4 or 5 bags, one for each day of the trip.

Macaroni and Cheese with Spam Lights

Ingredients

  • 1 box commercial macaroni dinner, including cheese packet
  • 1½ tablespoons powdered milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pouch Spam lights

Method

  1. Place all of the dry ingredients in separate packages in a larger plastic bag
  2. In a camper’s cooking pot, bring 2 cups of water to the boil. Add the dry macaroni and cook until tender.
  3. Pour off all but about ¼ cup of water. Stir in the contents of the cheese packet and the powdered milk. Add butter.
  4. Drain and stir in the pieces of Spam lights. Cut them up a bit if you wish.
  5. Mix well and serve immediately. Serves one or two hungry hikers.

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces quick-cooking pasta
  • 1 2 ounce packet dehydrated mushroom soup
  • 3 tablespoons dehydrated mashed potatoes
  • 1 2.6 ounce pouch tuna
  • 2 cups water

Method

  1. Place all of the dry ingredients in separate packages in a larger plastic bag.
  2. In a camper’s cooking pot over a camp stove, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the pasta and mushroom soup. Cook until tender.
  3. Stir in the dehydrated mashed potatoes and the tuna, drained.
  4. Eat. Should serve one or two .

Salmon and Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup instant rice
  • 1 envelope dehydrated vegetable soup
  • 1 2.5 ounce pouch salmon
  • 2 cups water

Method

  1. Place all the dry ingredients in separate packages in a large plastic bag.
  2. In a camper’s cooking pot over a camp stove, bring water to a boil. Add the instant rice and dehydrated soup and stir until cooked and the water is absorbed.
  3. Drain the salmon and stir into the mixture.
  4. Eat. Should serve one or two.

For breakfast, be sure to bring tea or instant coffee and packets of instant oatmeal. For lunch, if you want to pack the extra weight, dry Italian salami,  Parmesan or other hard cheese, small cans of Vienna sausages  or Kipper Snacks, along with hard tack or crackers are perfect. Just remember you will have to pack out the cans, and Kipper Snacks can be smelly. Remember, too, if there are bears in the area, the smells will be a magnet. Be sure to secure your food appropriately.

The hunter and some of his elk meat

The hunter and some of his elk meat

The end of this story is that Peter hiked in two miles, set up camp, and then hiked another 2 miles in stocking feet (!!!) to the spot where he got his elk with one arrow at a range of 45 yards. Then he spent a whole day cutting up and packing out the meat in three separate 4 mile (8 mile round trip) hikes to his car. He had a long sleep when he got back to our house.

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