Free Range on Food: Mac and cheese, cooking in college, Nigerian food and more

Feb 29, 2012

Free Range on Food: Mac and cheese, cooking in college, Nigerian food and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Good afternoon! It's rainy and chilly here, but we're cheered by all your mac and cheese love. Makes it a good day to try all those recipes and pin up that snazzy graphic, right? The usual suspects (Tim "Immigrant's Table" Carman, Jane Touzalin, who may be calling in from the field, Becky Krystal, maybe Jason "port cocktailmeister" Wilson) plus College & Cook mag editor in chief Audrey Scagnelli are on hand to field all your food-related queries.

We'll award a few cookbooks to a couple of fine chatters; winners will be announced at the end of the hour.  I hear the pots of salted water boiling...let's get started!

No, seriously, because you guys are frickin' awesome. I LOVE mac and cheese and love the idea of playing around with it but have always wanted a generic recipe to use as a base. Your graphic is earning a permanent spot of honor on my fridge. And I love your suggestions - I've been trying to find a good Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe, but everything I've tried so far has been blah at best (OK, it probably didn't help that I was feeling lazy and used canned chicken. I have since learned my lesson). Love you guys!!!

Thanks! That's just where we wanted it to go.

Hi! I'm an expat living in Sweden and we're making mac & cheese for some friends who've never had it before this weekend. I usually make it with broccoli and it will be very different this time since the cheese here is so different. I might add some artichoke hearts too... But I'm wondering what to serve with it? Any suggestions.

Much like my feelings about pizza, I think something carb- and cheese-laden should be paired with a lighter side. Such as a salad. This Edamame and Beet Salad from today's section is beautiful, but if you don't want to double up on the cheese, we have plenty of other options in our database.

Edamame and Beet Salad

Since I bet you'll get a lot of posts like this: My favorite mac 'n' cheese is a Rick Bayless recipe a friend gave me --- it's a basic roux-milk-cheese sauce, with a jar of salsa added just before the cheese goes in. Beyond awesome.

I LOVE mac and cheese and find that my ultimate comforate food however I'm only ever happy with the "blue box blues" because I tend to make it more soupy. I use the same amount of milk just less of the butter. Is there a receipe that I could make from scratch that would have that same effect?

Jane says you could just use our basic recipe and experiment with adding a little bit more milk.

The links to today's Mac & Cheese recipes on the bottom of the Food page do not work correctly. Clicking on the Shrimp & Pesto recipe takes you to the Mushroom & spinach recipe, clicking on Mushroom & spinach takes you to the Indian Mac & Cheese recipe, etc.

All fixed now!

Hi, all -- having friends for dinner on Friday night, and they do not eat: 1) shellfish, 2) dairy. Since it's Lent, we also need to avoid: 3) meat and chicken. Any ideas? So far, all I've got is pasta puttanesca. I'm not a confident fish cooker, but I'm thinking I could add some fish to it? Suggestions? Help.

I love this Jacques Pepin way of cooking fish.  It's simple and elegant. You could make them ahead and reheat over very low heat, maybe with a little broth in a pan. Haddock is called for here, but I've made the recipe with cod and halibut. (And since you're making the puttanesca, skip the soy-shallot sauce.)


Hopefully this will be fixed before the chat starts, but I have been trying to click on today's 'Nourish' column, and when I do it takes me to the main food section page. The link to the mac and cheese article worked, but I cannot access the Nourish column. Please help! Thank you.

Yes, those are all working now. But just for kicks, here's the Nourish recipe for this week, Baked Roasted Squash, Ricotta and Fusilli.

Baked Roasted Squash, Ricotta and Fusilli

I've been making a move toward using less prepared food; I've always cooked but have relied on items like canned beans, canned broth, packaged bread crumbs. I've found that making these things myself leads to better tasting food (not so surprising) but that it's also easy (more surprising). What are some other foods for which it's not too complicated to switch to using homemade versions?

We're give you a gold star (at least) today! Chatters will weigh in, too, I hope.  But I'd say that canning and preserving's a lot of fun and quite rewarding. Thanks to my friendship with Cathy Barrow (a k a MrsWheelbarrow), I've got my own stash of canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and several pie fillings and lemon curd in the basement. Just having them on hand is a small thrill -- yes, I'm just that easily amused. BTW, her pantry is more fabulous than you can imagine. And if you imbibe in spirits, getting into that limoncello and other liqueurs enterprise is a nice thing around holiday gift time.

Please pardon my ignorance, but what are some of specialties that distinguish Nigerian food from foods from other African nations? When I hear Nigerian food, I have this fear someone is going to ask me to give the money upfront to help move the food out of Nigeria. Please enlighten me on Nigerian food.

That question is difficult to answer. Most people I talked to said that Nigerian food and Ghanaian food are quite similar, but I rarely trust that answer. Sometimes I think it's just a cop-out for when people don't want to take the time to explain the difference.  I know that some of the dishes are the same, but cooks in each country take different approaches. Like with egusi, I was told that the Nigerian version is soupier than the Ghanaian version.

I gave up carbs for lent (no particular health reasons, just a personal challenge) but on a day like today with the weather and the amazing mac and cheese recipes featured, I have a strong pasta craving. Is there a general food out there that I can substitute to satisfy these cravings? I've mostly been eating a lot of chicken so far and it's getting boring.

Yikes. Really, no carbs at all? Not even the vegetables that have very low carb counts like spaghetti squash and pureed cauliflower and celeriac (celery root)?

I had leftover soup for breakfast. It was good and filling and warming. My question: Why isn't soup a breakfast food? Especially with slow cookers, we could set tomatoes and such (or whatever) to cook overnight. Maybe we can start a new trend today!

Ah, the comforting nature of soup.  Turns out miso soup is a Japanese breakfast staple -- maybe you're onto something! A simple egg drop soup with a bit of bacon sounds like a new take on a classic to me.

You missed my favortie west African place - Chez Aunty Libe in Brightwood.

Yes, another person pointed out Chez Aunty Libe to me as well. No slight was intended! A reader named Doug Herbert also sent me a note saying that his favorite West African restaurant is in Woodbridge, Aburi Gardens. Obviously, there are more places for me to visit!

House-guests coming from Senegal. Would today's recipe be "a taste of home" for them? Ought I ask them to bring any spices or other ingredients for my pantry -- or yours?

My understanding would be no. Senegalese food apparently is more French influenced and less oily.

I discovered years ago that the secret to the creamiest mac and cheese is to use fontina as one of your cheeses. You may need to add some salt, as it's not as flavorful as a cheddar, but it melts like no other.

I overbought blanched, slivered almonds and need to find something to do with 1.5 lbs of them. Ideas anyone? Some kind of cookie would be best since they're easy to share.

I think these Almond Macaroons will do the trick.

Almond Macaroons

I'd process the heck out of all of them and make my own almond flour.  It's qutie expensive to buy. Check out our database for recipes! Freeze it. BTW, your almonds have been stored how, and for how long?

Is it possible to substitute onions for chives? Onions, I have. Chives require a walk in the rain. Or scallions? Scallions, I usually have although not today. And they are all related ...

Scallions or very finely chopped spring onions could work, but they each have more onion-y presence and less of that lovely chive grassiness. (My, how food writer-y I sound today.) Give it a try and report back -- this is an easy-going Dinner in Minutes recipe.

Hi free rangers! Where is the best place to store onions and garlic? I used to store them in the fridge but was told that is a no-no. So now I have them on the top shelf of a cabinet. But the onions sprouted long green shoots, and the garlic seems to be sprouting as well. I can't leave them out on the counter due to space, so I put them in the cabinet instead of a shelf because my kitchen gets a lot of sun. What should I do? Thanks!

You're on the right track keeping them out of the sun, but maybe they got a little too warm still? Our friends over at The Kitchn had a post on these cute vegetable sacks that might work. They also suggest putting your garlic in a bamboo steamer, if you have one.

I was thrilled to see your big feature on mac & cheese today. Love the graphic! I was intrigued by the suggestion at the bottom about using woodsy herbs like rosemary. Could you talk more about that? I didn't see that used in any of the recipes and I'm interested in what combinations (cheeses, vegetables, meat) could effectively show off such herbs. Thanks again for a truly great piece.

Jane says some foods have a known affinity for particular herbs such as tomato and basil, squash and rosemary, chicken and thyme, crab and Old Bay, etc. Just go by what herbs you know taste good with which ingredients.

You may have missed it because it was online, but our recipe for Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese uses rosemary to steep the milk for flavor.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Hey guys, so a stomach bug seems to be going around my area lately, and my poor husband's digestive system has been, uh, not feeling so well for several days now. I looked into foods he should avoid, which seems to basically be fat and dairy products, so now I'm trying to think of meals I can make him for dinner that will help him feel better. I made him shredded chicken breast with rice cooked in chicken stock the other day, which was actually pretty good considering how simple it was. But now I'm stuck. He doesn't like bananas or applesauce, both of which I've read are good. He'll eat rice, but what else can I do with it other than the chicken breast?

Ah, the bug -- could be some of that norovirus that's going around.  If it's been longer than a few days, it might be something more dire....anyway, you were on the right track with rice; you could try Happy Tummy Congee. But I'm a believer in the power of chicken noodle soup.  This one has a little bit of tomato sauce in it, which you could leave out, depending on your husband's bounce-back speed.  Or you could look up soup recipes with ginger on Nina Simonds' site.


On the sweeter side, I grew up as the daughter of nurse who always pushed flat ginger ale for such times; in fact, she'd sometimes freeze it just long enough to give it a granita texture. You could try peeled baked apples with a little ginger juice or crystallized ginger instead of the suggested preserves at their centers might be a welcome change for him.

Chatters, what do you like to eat when you're down for the count?

You didn't include my favorite cheese for Mac and Cheese - Italian Fontina. It's fantastic with a simple bechamel and my secret way of preparing winter squash. I usually like something acidic, like pickled vegetables (giardiniera, for example) with my mine, though I sometimes have sauteed greens with a good amount of lemon.

Actually, fontina was in the graphic under types of cheeses to use. Your combination sounds great, though.

How do you connect to the college & cook online magazine? A google search comes up with nothing?

Sorry for your Google troubles - searching "college and cook" should do the trick. Or check us out at Happy reading!

I recently had the Tap Room (Reston Town Center) Lobster mac and cheese and LOVED every bite of it. I've tried to find a comparable recipe online but with no luck. Any suggestions?

Try calling the restaurant and asking for the recipe. They might surprise you and give it up! If not, maybe they can hint at what kinds of cheeses and other add-ins are in there, which you can play around with using our graphic as guidance.

My favorite is Capital Grille's. It's so buttery and creamy, with lots of lobster and has the perfect panko topping. I tried making it at home a few times, but have failed to get close! Any tips or recipes to try?

See my answer to the person also looking for a lobster mac and cheese recipe!

Great story on mac and cheese today, but (as it's one of my favorites out there) I feel the need to point out that DC already has a mac & cheese restaurant - it's just on wheels. The CapMac food truck serves several kinds of mac & cheese, and it's a happy, happy day when it shows up in my neck of the DC woods.

We did mention it, but that version didn't make it onto the web at first -- it's being updated now!


I assume you're not like Tracy Jordan in last week's episode of "30 Rock" with $50,000 to spend at Benihana, so... make anything you want. Maybe try something you've never cooked before or always wanted to. Then, if it's a flop, it will be like it never happened, right?

Frogs' legs? Something made with a splosh of Frog's Leap wines, per Dave McIntyre's recommendations today? Or really, anything that's sauteed (technically, the food "jumps" in the pan).

The perfect day to make mac and cheese with squash - plus, I have everything I need to make it and don't have to go out into the rain. But I am always challenged by peeling and seeding a butternut squash (I can do it, but it's not a pretty sight). What's your method?

I peel it with a vegetable peeler. Then cut the squash in half through the equator and then one more time vertically and seed and chop from there.

Some people also cut the squash in half and roast it so you can just scoop out the flesh. But don't overdo it, because it might just turn to mush in the mac and cheese.

Thanks so much for the article on food from West Africa. I had a dear friend who was born in Benin and lived in Togo before coming to the States who was a fabulous cook. She and her husband even had a small restaurant in Silver Spring some time ago. She made two dishes that I loved but never wrote down the recipes for--a very lemony chicken dish and a fish dish cooked with the bones of the fish and spinach. Now that she has passed away, I can't ask for the recipes. Do either of them ring a bell?

Thank you for the note. I'm hardly an expert on West African food after researching and writing one story. The fish dish sounds likea classic stew with fish bones and bitterleaf/spinach for flavoring. My suggestion would be to go over to Fran Osseo-Asare's terrific blog, Betumi, and see if you can find a similar dish or dishes. Or just write her a message on her blog. She'll be able to help you, I'm sure.

I make enough Mac & Cheese from scratch to feed 200 people at camp each year (we're all volunteer cooks). Secret ingredient, Lawry's Seasoned Salt instead of table salt.

Ha! That was my mom's go-to seasoning.

Maybe this is more for Tom, but I have a restaurant business question. Why don't restaurants offer smaller portioned versions of their regular meals at dinner instead of just at lunch? The portions are so big at dinner that my husband and I often end up sharing or ordering just appetizers for dinner, which actually ends up in a smaller check because (1) I would pay more for my own smaller meal that what half of a of a larger one costs and (2) if we order our own big dinners don't order appetizers or cocktails because we know what dinner will look like. Is it really a bad business decision to have smaller meals available at lunch but not dinner? I just don't get it. Thanks.

I don't have a good answer for you, but obviously the small plates craze continues unabated. There are many, many restaurants that understand that diners prefer more and smaller plates. So just haven't absorbed the message, I guess. I know that I prefer smaller portions myself.

This is for Jason if he is around. I love cocktails, and I'm working at getting better at making my own at home, including adding my own creativity. I find though, that the classic gin martini still eludes me. I like the idea of the martini, but then when I make it, I'm disappointed. And I really like gin in lots of other things (a simple G&T is often all I crave, but I do other things with gin too). I'm willing to give it another shot though. So, what makes a good martini good?

I think the most important thing about a martini is that there is no one perfect way to make a martini. And people spend years trying to find their perfect ratio. For me, it happens to be: 4:1, Plymouth gin to Noilly Prat vermouth, plus a dash of orange and a lemon peel twist. (Note: I always take care of my vermouth by storing in the fridge and replacing once a month).

Now, for you my martini may taste terrible. You may like a more juniper forward gin like Beefeaters or Tanqueray. You may like 5:1 or 2:1. You like sweet vermouth and no dash of bitters. You may like an olive. That's the great thing about a martini, like a poetic structure, small differences mean a lot.

However, if you find that after all this poetic lyricism, you still hate martinis, you may like a variation that involves an interesting liqueur instead of vermouth. For instance, the Acacia (with Benedictine and kirsch, pictured below) or the Alaska (with Chatreuse and orange bitters) or even the Appetizer cocktail that calls for Dubonnet. And those are just the "A's". Good luck!

I am sorry to say that after reading the article on West African cuisine I have no desire to try any of it. However, there was a couple that lived next door to me and they cooked a fish once and the aroma was so overwhelming and unpleasant that I thought something was deceased. However, even having said that I surely would like just a taste of whatever it was just out of curiosity. I wonder even now what the name of that fish was and someone I know said they believed it was something called stock fish.

Stock fish is just another name for dried fish. West Africans use dried and smoke fish a lot in their cooking. It can have a pungent aroma.

Your dismissive attitude toward the cuisine is typical. Many Americans thought the same way about sushi/Mexican food/regional Italian in previous generations.

I went to Cuba De Ayer and had fried yucca for the first time and loved it. Where can I find yucca to buy and do you have any tips on cooking it. I know next to nothing about this food.

I see fresh yucca consistently at the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy at Potomac Yard, and I suspect you can find it at Latin markets. Looks like some D.C. area Harris Teeter stores carry it as well. Generally, you can treat it like potato, in terms of boiling and frying (like thick-cut steak fries). I know it's fibrous. Chatters, chime in!

Love the article on Nigerian/West African food. I just got back from two weeks in Cameroon, and had some amazing meals from street vendors and a few restaurants: grilled whole fish (head and tail still on), grilled beef (sliced into bite-size pieces and served with toothpicks and a spicy dip on the side), fried plaintains, and fufu (manioc wrapped in banana leaves and steamed). I am still amazed at how every street in every city, town, and village is wall-to-wall vendors, selling everything that you and I would go to a store to buy: fresh vegetables, raw meat, cooked food, bottled drinks, clothing, shoes, furniture, etc.

Thank you for the note and for your remembrances. The grilled beef dish, I believe, is called suya, and it's like a kabob. They serve it at Bukom Cafe in Adams Morgan. It's garnished with chopped peanuts, and it's absolutely delicious.

How critical are the bread crumb/butter toppings to the success of the macaroni receipes? Are they something that could get cut in the name of calorie conservation? I know trying to cut calories out of mac 'n cheese is a little like trying to cut calories from a cake, but if it could help make this into a once-every-few-months food into a once-a-year food, that would be great.

Jane says the topping is nice but not mandatory. If you bake it without the topping, the cheese will get a little crusty. But you could cut way back and just do once slice of bread and one tablespoon of butter and be sparse with it. You could stretch it a little by adding some parsley to the topping so that it too gets crunchy.

My question aimed at Audrey of C&C, but for everyone as well. I'm a fellow sophomore at George Washington University and would consider myself a "foodie" after spending last summer in NYC sampling the amazingly diverse array of cuisines, but making the same quality food myself is something that I haven't fallen into quite as easily. I have no doubt that practice makes perfect, but what tips would you have for people looking to up their cooking abilities? What was your experience like when you started off, and what is your go-to recipe when you don't have two hours to put together dinner but nonetheless want to impress?

Restaurant quality is a challenge -- honestly, I think practice makes perfect. When I have friends over for dinner parties, I'm frank with them -- some dishes  are going to taste great, but some may need work (and maybe an extra sprinkle of salt!). I think mastering a few go-to dishes is a great place to start. For example, I know a great chicken parm recipe like the back of my hand. I need about five ingredients and I'm good to go. Pasta dishes are quick and versatile, and can be dressed up easily with some fresh herbs or seasonal veggies.

I've left comments here a few times wondering when West African food was going to get some love from Americans, so I was absolutely thrilled to see Tim's article today! It seems like food culture has traveled all over the world in search of the next trendy ethnic cuisine, but always bypasses West Africa. The article raised great points about the reluctance to embrace it, but I'm hoping someone will be able to adapt the food to the modern American palate while bringing the familiar tastes of my childhood (raised by Nigerian parents) to the national forefront. Kudos again Tim!

Thank you! I totally agree with you. I'm hoping a younger generation of West African immigrants will embrace the Western culinary school tradition and develop a cuisine that melds West African flavors to modern cooking techniques.

Do you think they have gotten larger like everything else? I find they tend to crease in my cupcake/muffins tins so the finished products have a bit bent look to them.

I know what you mean. Might have to do with the interior slant of the wells of your cupcake/muffin pan. 

Not sure what the barriers would be but on Fort George Meade we could use some food trucks especially in the area of DOD Consolidated Adjudication Facility. Many folks only get 30 minutes for lunch. A good q and Mexican truck would make big bucks.

I couldn't agree more. One (partial) solution, I think, to the standoff between restaurants and food trucks is for the latter to look for new markets, away from the traditional downtown squares and parks, where restaurants have already established themselves. I'm not saying food trucks don't have a right to be on those squares. But I believe there are potentially untapped markets for the more enterprising truck owner.

I had no idea port was out! I love it. I will have to try some of the cocktails suggested-- they sound fab, especially when it gets to be spring (though tomorrow's supposed to be 66!) My question is on other wine cocktails! Since you can make cocktails out of port, can you use other red wines as well? I love red wine but sometimes it's too heavy for me in the summer. Do you have any recommendations?

Yes, there are lots of interesting red wine cocktails. I've a written a few columns in the past on wine cocktails here and here. One of my favorites is a variation of the Dark n' Stormy, called the Stormy Weather, shown below (it was originally created for Yellowtail, but please use any big New World red). Also, sangria is a perennial fave, and this Tuscan Sangria is a cool variation. Of course, one other Spanish classic is the Calimocho, with Coke and red wine. It's actually the perfect afternoon use of red wine that's left over from the night before.

I need to help out with a party and need to make 2 hot appetizers. I'm an experienced cook but anything I make is usually involved. I'm short on time and thinking of going to Trader Joe's to pick up some hors d'oeuvres. Anything I can make that is easy and quick or uses some store bought sauces or other ingredients? thank you.

There's an amazingly delicious almond pudding in Mexican cuisine and I was sorry I didn't ask Pati Jinich for the recipe when she chatted here this month. If you can contact her, please tell her it's served at Fonda El Refugio. Thanks.

Like the idea but can I sub chicken thighs for the white meat? Just prefer the taste.

Absolutely. Adjust the cooking time as needed. It's more difficult to get the thighs a consistent, even thickness but don't worry about that. A little crispness on the outside and cooked-through on the inside's what you're after.

I made this once but found it far too sweet and more butternut squash than mac and cheese. Maybe my proportions are off? I love the idea of adding veggies to the mac and cheese but have had very luck. Any advice? Also, can whole grain/wheat pasta be substituted? THANKS!

Could be. Give our recipe a shot. The garlic and rosemary I think keep it more in the savory than sweet category. Did you see the graphic? Veggie tips are in there.

Remember that most veggies need to be cooked and cut up before you add them to the mac and cheese. Maybe that has been your problem?

I', in the middle of planning a trip to Vietnam and one of the food recommendations I've found is to always have Pho for breakfast! So I have added to my list of things to do - find out if it really is a common breakfast there.

That's very true. Pho is a popular breakfast dish. On cold days, I'm fond of pulling into Pho 75 and slurping down a giant bowl for my first meal of the day, too.

Over the last month I've used ground turkey in 2 different recipes (meatballs once, stuffed peppers the second time). The first time, I noticed that my meatballs had picked up a crunch and I couldn't tell what the source was (I had made them before and hadn't noticed this then). The next time, with the ground meat being the only common ingredient, I crunched down on an occasional hard piece as well. Is this common with ground turkey or ground meats in general? Any way to avoid this? Or is it back to the drawing board to figure out the source? Thanks!

Where are you getting your ground turkey? That's not a problem you should be having.

In the chat two weeks ago, Tamar Adler offered a way to keep fresh herbs good for a month. I'm wondering how to keep them longer, the way McCormick and Spice Islands and other companies do for their bottled herbs. Specifically, I have a big bunch of fresh dill and a smaller bunch of fresh thyme. It'd be a great savings to refill my empty spice jars with these, instead of buying dried replacements at $4-$7 for a tiny jar!

Here are some tips you might find useful.

Ginger ale need not be flat. That and tonic (quinine) water and bananas are what we drank and ate in Mexico when we had stomach problems. Rice, too -- even rice pudding. Dry toast. Water crackers. And you can try nuking the bananas to bring out the sweetness, and if hubby doesn't like them, you will. To change around the rice, maybe try one of the mixes with wild rice in it. The microwaveable rice mix is delicious, whether with whole grain or white rice. Also, chamomile tea and, if you can find it and hubby likes it, real licorice might calm his tummy.

There's been some discussion in this forum about making casseroles that call for cream of [whatever] soup, and finding alternatives to the not-so-healthy stuff in the red can (making a roux or other sauce from scratch, for example). I wanted to share that I found a natural, organic brand of condensed soup in the organic aisle at Giant -- it's called Pacific. It's made with creme fraiche, cream, and other natural ingredients. I tried it last night in a tuna casserole (I know, I know, but I'm a sucker for tuna casserole) and it tasted pretty great!

Thanks for the intel!

Hi there. Pi Day (3/14) is quickly approaching and I'm looking for recommendations for which pie to make for my family. We love most fruit but dislike anything meringue. Suggestions? Thanks!

Thanks for reminding us. These Bourbon Apricot and Sweet Potato Handpies are fab, and could inspire you to sub with any fruity filling you like. Kinda love this Date Pecan Pie; why do we only eat nut pies at the holidays? The crust is quite tender. You could do a Cabbage Shepherd's Pie for the main course or make this aromatic Onion Pie With Lavender, Bacon and Blue Cheese.

I'm very fond of the cheesy mac at a certain very popular (deservedly so) oyster bar in Dupont Circle. I asked about the recipe that made it so creamy and fabulous and they said the secret inredient is fontina. I think they also run it under the broiler quickly to give a slight brown on top. Best cheesy mac I've had in this area (and a perfect complement to their incredibly fabulous fried oysters).

Fontina is a great mac-and-cheese component because it's a smooth-melting cheese. You can run any mac and cheese under the broiler if you want an extra-crispy top -- just keep a sharp eye on it. It can get burned before you know it.

You say that like it's a bad thing. To me, it's the best part. But then, that's the cool thing about making it yourself--making it just the way you like it.

I'm going to go ahead and assume the person giving up carbs is actually referring to bread products and not everything that contains carbohydrates like veggies, etc. If that is the case, I love this recipe from TheKitchn for a cauliflower and sausage casserole that has all the right notes of a big dish of pasta but without the wheat-based ingredients. Enjoy!

is a butternut squash mac that I adapted from 2 peas and their pod. The butternut squash adds a lot of the texture and richness so you can go light on milk and cheese, just use a strong cheese for great flavor. Also a great way to get veggies in when the toddler is being picky.

Another way to sneak veggies in would be to puree butternut squash, or use canned pumpkin puree, and mix it into the cheese sauce when it comes off the heat. Adds great flavor, too.

I can accept low carb veggies! I've been sticking to meats because it's easy but I know that won't last and it would be great to have food to turn to hit the spot that carbs fulfill

Well, then, consider the options I mentioned earlier, plus another from a helpful chatter.

For the person looking for fish recipes, this Cajun Baked Fish recipe is incredibly simple and tasty. I change the spices according to my mood, and usually put sliced onion under the fish fillets. I've used cod, tilapia and other types of fish.

Cajun with puttanesca! Let's start a trend.

If you ever eat cold cereal, you can add the almonds.

Don't expect him to want to eat. Don't get too elaborate to tempt him to eat. Aside from anorexics and a few others with illnesses, adults in the US can survive a few days with minimal food. If you are ill and that illness makes food unappetizing, get enough calories to keep your brain going (a few simple carbs) and leave it at that.

This is an oldie but goodie in your database that I make frequently, often tossing in some broccoli for extra nutritional value. Not totally in line with today's theme of indulgent comfort but a good option for those who find the decadent recipes too rich.

Another option for those keeping an eye in their calories is today's Nourish recipe, Baked Roasted Squash, Ricotta and Fusilli.

Now, how about places to find some east African food that isn't Ethiopian? There used to be a place in Petworth that had good Kenyan food (Safari DC), but it's gone and I miss my Kenyan food! Also, last week we tried to go to Little Ethiopia Restaurant on 9th St for dinner. They've closed and been replaced with a central African place. Have you been there? Any thoughts?

That's a good question and something I'll look into in the future. I visited Safari DC only once, and it was a blast. It was the day of Obama's inauguration, and the place was packed with happy Kenyans. There was practically a shrine next to the bar, created to honor the new president.

I'm not familiar with the central African restaurant you mention. Do you remember the name?

hello! in my csa box yesterday, i received a very cute bunch of baby turnips...they are about the size of radishes. they look delicious, i just have no clue how to use them! i know regular turnips have a pretty pronounced this the same case for the tiny ones? should i thrown them in with other veggies, or cook alone to let their flavor shine through? thanks for your help!

Baby turnips are actually great raw - I've thrown 'em into many a salad.

Also a big fan of turnip mashed potatoes. Just peel and cube them, throw into a pot of boiling water with your potatoes, and mash. I'd suggest a 3:1 potato ratio. Add a dollop of horseradish for a nice kick!


I really like the sound of the apricot ones, but we don't drink alcohol. What can I sub for the bourbon?

Apple cider, or just leave it out. You don't need it for the moisture.

I made a chicken and rice casserole (no cream of anything soup though) this past weekend and it took the rice twice as long to cook as the recipe said, luckily it has chicken thighs in it, so the chicken was fine. I used red rice, and based on the cooking instructions, it should have cooked in the same amount of time. Thing usually cook true to time in my oven, so I'm confused as to what might have happened.

Next time, I'd start with cooked red rice. Sometimes alternative rices just don't operate the same way. I recently tried a chocolate rice pudding with a different rice and ehhh -- insert buzzer sound of No Basket here.

Whoops! I missed the Fontina cheese reference. However, having seen another chatter mention Fontina for it's melting ability and mild flavor, I think that there might be confusion between Italian Fontina (from Val d'Aosta), and Danish Fontina, which I find to be much like a Monterey Jack. Thanks again for the great article!

just wanted to thank you SO much for the indian mac and cheese recipe! my daughter is a paneer fanatic, and this is a great new way to serve it innovative! i know what's for dinner friday night!! :)

I second the rice suggestion! When I had chronic diarrhea on deployment, a friend who had served in the Peace Corps in Africa said that was the go-to remedy. It can also be kept nice and bland if the husband can't face spicy or well-seasoned food yet.

I read that this is truffle "season," although I have no idea where to actually buy truffles beyond truffle oil. Were I able to find one, how would you feel about dressing up mac & cheese with some shaved black truffle?

Actually that is a fairly common mac and cheese add-in among some of the higher-end restaurants that have mac on the menu. If you wanted to add truffles to the mix, then you could also add some truffle oil to the topping mixture for a double hit. 

why does some shrimp taste like iodine?

My understanding is that wild caught shrimp from the sea have a stronger iodine flavor because their diet consists of iodine-rich algae.

Brown shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico are particularly prone to have that taste. It's not a function of freshness.

To the chatter asking about drying fresh herbs to save money: consider buying your dried spices at Indian or Asian markets, rather than grocery stores. MUCH cheaper (I bought a pound of cumin for the price of a 4 oz jar at Wegman's!) and many new, intriguing spices to try.

That's good advice. I would add that you should ask the stores how quickly they turn over their spices, just so you're not buying jars that have been sitting around for a year or longer. They could lose their flavor.

Macs and Cheese!! I love the graphic, the food and article! For the poster who asked about whether topping was necessary, I always just top mine with grated cheese which melts and gets almost crunchy. i also frequently use low or no fat cheese in the sauce without major sacrifice of taste or texture.

It's so flexible, you can do just about whatever you want, as long as you like the final result. Some folks can't live without a nice crumbly topping, some folks can. I would be a little wary of using no-fat cheese -- often it just doesn't melt right -- but if it works for you, then go for it!

This is a recipe i've been making since it first appeared in Gourmet a couple of years ago. Bonus that it serves a crowd. For topping 1/2 stick unsalted butter 2 cups panko (coarse Japanese bread crumbs) or 3 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from 6 slices firm white sandwich bread) 1/4 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (1 1/2 cups) 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano For macaroni and sauce 1 stick unsalted butter 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 5 cups whole milk 1 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 cups) 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 1 pound elbow macaroni Make topping: Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Melt butter, then stir together with panko and topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well. Make sauce: Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes, then whisk in milk. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in cheeses, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Remove from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper. Make Macaroni: Cook macaroni in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain macaroni in a colander. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to 2 buttered 2-quart shallow baking dishes. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

Instant mashed potatoes. Filling, comforting, bland.

I've put Boursin cheese into button mushrooms and broiled them. They're really yummy, but let them cool a little bit before you serve them since the cheese can burn your mouth.

I don't remember the name of the central African place, but it's at 1924 9th St NW, where Little Ethiopia (my favorite Ethiopian place) was.

Ah, yes, I miss Little Ethiopia too. I'll check out the new place, and thanks again.

There is a terrific recipe called A Big Sharing Cookie in Lisa Yockelson's Baking by Flavor that is the best destination for slivered almonds you can imagine.

Of course. We ran that recipe. It is delicious.

Almond Crumble Sharing Cookie

I'm not a shill for Fine Cooking magazine or anything but the latest issue has an awesome section on mix and match mac and cheese with a really good base recipe.

Yes, we were only slightly panicked when we saw them beat us to the punch with that!

Well, we've drained the pasta and stirred our bechamel to a creamy consistency, so you know what that means...we're done for the day. Thanks to Audrey Scagnelli and Jason for pitching in, and, as usual, for all you helpful types who make the chats a real resource.

Today's winners: The chatter who was looking for turnip suggestions gets a copy of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Meals in 30 Minutes or Less" (no value judgment here, honest!) and the chatter who was looking for bland foods to help her husband get back on track, stomach-flu-wise, has earned a copy of "My Cooking Class: Steaming Basics."

Be sure to send your mailing info to and Becky will get those books right out.  Next week: Beer, Beer, Beer Madness! Until then, happy cooking and eating!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, Food aide Becky Krystal and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Audrey Scagnelli of College & Cook magazine.
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