Leveling Up the Mac and Cheese

Believe it or not, I’m still trying to use up the Christmas leftovers, although at this point I’m left with the stuff that keeps well like cold cuts and hard cheeses. Last night I decided to continue using up some of those leftovers by making a batch of Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese.

Now, it may look a bit anemic because I didn’t use a cheddar that was dyed orange, but taste-wise it was anything but! The cheese was one of my personal favourites, Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar. This brand has the added bonus of being relatively local; their original factory was in Lanark County, although they’re now owned by Parmalat. Although this mac and cheese can be made with just about any cheddar or other sharp, hard cheese (and I think I’ve used them all over the years), including cheap store brands, it really shines with something with a bit more flavour. Despite making an entire batch, after last night’s meal there were no survivors leftovers, which is the ultimate compliment to the cook.

As an addendum, I’ve discovered that there is lactose-free milk and lactose-free cheddar, so if you’re like me and are lactose-intolerant, you can still make this dish. Unfortunately, so far as I know Balderson doesn’t make an official lactose-free cheese yet. However, according to Life Hacker, grocery chain Wegman’s says:

An easy way to check for lactose in cheese is to look at the Nutrition Facts under “Sugar”. Since the sugar in cheese is lactose, you can easily see how much lactose the cheese contains. If the sugar is listed as zero, then the cheese contains no more than half a gram of lactose per ounce. Compare to 12 grams of lactose in an 8 ounce glass of milk.

According to the Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar official nutritional information, the sugar content is 0g, so if a lactose-intolerant person is going to treat themselves to cheese, this would be a good choice. So, like me, you could combine lactose-free milk and this delicious sharp cheddar (although you may be a bit paranoid and want to take some Lactaid in advance just in case).

Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

Since the stew the night before took a while to prepare — not so much the cooking, but all of the chopping and cutting — I thought that last night I would make something a bit more simple. I wanted to continue testing out (okay, playing with) my new Instant Pot, so I used it to make a batch of basmati rice. I used the instructions for rice that I found on page 51 of The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). I’ve made basmati rice about a million times on the stove and I’ve got it pretty much down to a science, but I wanted to see how the new cooker would compare. I don’t think it takes any less time once you take into account the preheating and the recommended-for-best-results ten minutes on Keep Warm after cooking, but it is pretty darned easy. Unlike the stove top version, I can more or less just set it and forget it, so I can see why a lot of people like this feature. I think I need to test it with some of the trickier varieties, like wild rice or sticky rice, before I am 100% convinced.

The topping for the rice was another attempt at Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki (video here). While this dish invariably comes out tasting excellent, I’m still working on the technique. I find that rolling the nori and egg are fine, but the cheese makes it tricky and it wants so badly to fall apart. Ah well, practice makes perfect. This time I topped it with Japanese mayo and masago (seasoned capelin caviar), as per the recipe, and I think that this transforms the omelette flavour-wise from a breakfast to a supper dish. Given the family’s rave reviews, this is definitely going to be a regular part of our diet, so I think that I’ll get all the practice I need!

Eggs

I thought that yesterday would be a good time to start trying out Christmas presents, and I used up almost a dozen eggs doing so.

First I had to try out my tamagoyaki pan. I used the fillings from Tasty’s Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki recipe (video here), but I wanted to see how it would taste without the mayonnaise and tobiko toppings. I only ended up using one sheet each of nori and dairy-free havarti cheese because I was having a hard enough time rolling it as it was. I think I made each layer too thick, so I’ll try it with less egg per layer next time. Despite the loose, messy look of the omelet, my husband and children thought it was delicious! I rather liked it as well. As you can see in the picture, the cheese inside was nice and gooey, which I think was a big selling point. I think I’ll have to make it as a proper meal in the near future. I’ll need to practice with a basic, filling-free tamagoyaki for sushi as well.

Next I broke out the Instant Pot, first to read the instruction manual, and then to give it an initial test run as per the instructions. I was a little nervous to use it at first, since it is indeed a pressure cooker, and as I’ve stated before I find them a bit intimidating. It’s that evil sound of steam hissing out of them at velocity, I think, and photos like this one of what happens when a pressure cooker doesn’t vent properly. I found that the Instant Pot is much quieter and less scary than my traditional pressure cooker, which is enormous and I generally only use for canning things anyway.

I did take a tip from BuzzFeed and popped a half dozen eggs into the pot while I was doing the initial test run. With a two minute cook time (plus preheat) and a quick pressure release once the timer was done, the eggs turned out perfectly cooked! So this tip is definitely confirmed. Now, my usual method is directly from the Joy of Cooking: put large eggs in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit covered for 17 minutes. While this has unfailingly yielded perfect hard-boiled eggs, the Instant Pot is definitely faster, even with preheating time. I am pretty darned impressed.

I guess I need to make a proper meal using my Instant Pot soon then, don’t I?

Christmas Breakfast

Yesterday I hosted Christmas breakfast at our house, which is generally a cold meal with a lot of selection. There were a variety of cheeses (including two kinds of Balderson cheddar, a couple that were actually lactose free, and a spreadable goat cheese), smoked salmon, crackers, Nan’s pan rolls, mini banana muffins, Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookies, cold cuts, an assortment of crackers, and Little Shop of Lobsters’ crab and lobster mousses. To drink there was milk or juice, or the more festive apple cider or eggnog.

This meal is generally served buffet-style, everyone munching away while we open gifts in the living room beside the Christmas tree. This meal represents the last of my cooking for about a week, since I’ve gone into overdrive to get everything ready — not just for breakfast, but for my contributions to Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, festive baking, and Christmas parties the week before. This spread isn’t just meant to feed us for the day; the leftovers will become meals in their own right for the week to come, so we can all relax a bit and play with our new toys.

Faster Than Takeout

This weekend we found Candy Cane sleighing down the side of the staircase:

And petting the reindeer in the Little People Christmas train:

This morning we found her taking pictures of the family as they walked down the stairs:

Yesterday was a very busy day filled with Christmas visits, Christmas shopping with a good friend, and knitting (I’m finally on Stocking #3). All that didn’t leave me with much time to cook, but I didn’t want to eat out, so I compromised with some quick fixes from the grocery store.

That’s pork schnitzel from the butcher section; I’ve had schnitzel before, even had it in Germany, but I’ve never had the pre-made pork version from the grocery store. I didn’t have high hopes, but it wasn’t half bad! In an effort to keep in quick and simple, I served it with eggs over easy and a prepackaged spinach salad with clementine wedges, strawberries, cucumber, goat cheese crumbles, and sliced almonds. Overall, it was quicker than ordering takeout, and also both cheaper and healthier!

Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits

I apologize for the delay in today’s post! We have been experiencing technical difficulties with our Internet connection (mostly with our router), so I couldn’t get my entry from the computer to the blog.

This morning we found Candy Cane in the big box of Christmas books that makes an appearance every holiday season. It seems that she really likes to read – not unlike the other members of this family. Today’s choice was “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C Moore.

Tonight for dinner, at my husband’s request, I whipped up some Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits. We’ve been a big fan of these biscuits for years, even if, in my personal opinion, they’re not quite as good as Dad’s Biscuits.

They always taste so good fresh out of the oven (although personally I find they don’t store well). As a bonus, they are really easy to make, and the cooking directions are extremely clear. The cheddar that I used was lactose-free, as usual, which I find doesn’t affect either the taste or consistency.

I served the biscuits with my standard chicken thighs (roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, summer savoury, garlic powder, and salt). As a veggie we had steamed acorn squash that I cooked in the microwave and sprinkled with a little bit of brown sugar. Dinner definitely wasn’t anything fancy, but it was exactly what my family asked for.

Grilled Cheese & Orange Slices

I’ve been so busy prepping for my biggest market event of the season that I haven’t been able to set aside the time to cook anything fancy. But we’ve all still gotta eat!

Dinner last night was grilled cheese on homemade bread (my usual go-to of bread machine herb bread without the herbs) and orange slices. Of course, the ones I made for me were with lactose-free cheese; instead of the usual cheddar I had a rather nice Gouda, which was a nice change.

I’m looking forward to the holiday market season being over so I can spend more time cooking — especially cooking for Christmas!