My Take On My Mother’s Classic Macaroni and Meat

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My step-dad was always home and waiting on me by the time my bus reached the top of our long driveway. From the time I changed into my “work clothes” until dark, we were always busy doing something. Whether it was fixing fence, building barns, dragging brush or chasing cows, not a day went by that there wasn’t something to do on “the place”…and we always worked up an appetite.

My mom worked outside the home, so did my step-dad for that matter, but my mom worked further away and for longer hours. It was sometimes late by the time she got home, so she didn’t really have a lot of time to put together gourmet meals. Actually, we never got gourmet, but what we did get was classic comfort food. I can’t say that she never opened a box of hamburger helper, but if we were lucky, we got her version…from scratch. Well, except for the biscuits; they would have always been whomp biscuits, but I forgive her for that…

I always buy my ground beef in bulk from Costco and freeze it in portions until I’m ready to use it. My mom froze her’s, too, and she’ll be happy to know that as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at taking it out of the freezer earlier in the day–LOOK!, mom, no more frozen ground beef sitting on the counter at 6 PM!

Anyway, everyone’s mom has her own version of macaroni and meat, and my mom’s was pretty good, but I’ve taken her version and made it even better. I add onions, garlic, pancetta and fresh basil, then incorporate  lots of sharp cheddar. (I think my mother actually used Velvetta, but (once again) for that, I’ll forgive her.) 🙂 Actually, you’ll get a creamier version if you use Velvetta, but I’m trying to be all gourmet and everything, so I’m playing my food snob card.

Here is my take on my mother’s classic macaroni and meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta (elbow macaroni is traditional, but I use casarecce)
  • 1 cup pancetta, medium dice
  • 1 onion, medium dice
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon each of cumin and dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.
  4. Render pancetta in skillet over medium heat. Cook until just crispy. Remove from pan and place on paper towel lined plate.
  5. Drain fat from pan, leaving about 1 Tablespoon or so in pan.
  6. Saute onions over low to medium heat in pancetta fat until translucent.
  7. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or two, taking care to not burn the garlic.
  8. Add ground beef and saute until browned.
  9. Add tomatoes, cooked pancetta, salt and pepper to taste, cumin and ground oregano. Cook for an additional minute or five, then add the fresh basil. If the mixtures is too runny, you can always cook it longer, letting the liquid reduce until the mixture is as thick as you want it. If you’re feeling lazy, just drain off some of the liquid…
  10. Stir in about a half cup of the cheddar cheese. This isn’t exact science such as baking. If you like more cheese, then add more cheese. If you’re worried about your arteries, then use less…
  11. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef mixture with the pasta. Spread mixture into prepared baking dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  12. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

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Pecan Pie

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Here’s my recipe for pecan pie. It’s pretty simple and straight-forward. Hope you like it!

Ingredients

  • 1 9″ unbaked pie crust
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
  • enough pecan halves to decorate the top of the pie
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Toast pecans in heated oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully and don’t let them burn. You want them to be just toasted to bring out their full flavor.
  3. Once pecans have toasted, give them a rough chop and set aside to cool.
  4. Fit unbaked pie crust into pie plate and crimp edges. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer to cool. This will help the edges to keep its shape while baking.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, eggs, corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, salt, vanilla and chopped pecans. Mix well.
  6. Take out unbaked pie crust and fill with mixture.
  7. Decorate top with pecan halves.
  8. Bake on lower rack for 45 to 55 minutes, until set.

Tip: I place my baking stone into the oven while it’s preheating. Baking your pie directly on the baking stone will help to ensure that the bottom crust cooks completely, therefore avoiding a soggy bottom crust.

Pâte Brisée: Just Keep Calm and Add Butter

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Pie crust strikes fear into a lot of people, but there’s no need to be scared; it doesn’t have to be hard. It’s actually quite easy, y’all, and just like with anything, perfect practice makes perfect.

Seriously, folks, just like the title says–keep calm and go at it like a superstar. Pie crust, just like a horse, can sense your fear from a mile away, and if you have any experience dealing with a̶ h̶i̶g̶h̶-̶s̶t̶r̶u̶n̶g̶ ̶h̶o̶r̶s̶e̶ pie crust, you know the importance of maintaining nerves of steel in order to keep the upper-hand!

The most important tip for handling pie dough is making sure that your fat and water is ice-cold. That means cutting your already cold fat into small pieces, and then placing it in the freezer for about five minutes. I even place my ice water into the refrigerator while I wait for the fat to chill. When I say fat, I mean butter, shortening, lard…you get the idea.

There are many pie crust recipes, but for this post, I’ll concentrate on pâte brisée. Pâte brisée is the French term for “short pastry.” Instead of the addition of shortening or lard, pâte brisée is made with only butter, creating a rich and flaky crust. I could take the chance on boring you with all the technical aspects of pie crust and the whys of this and they whys of that, but I’ll just get straight to the point.

I use a food processor for this pie dough, but you can also do it by hand. Breaking up your fat by hand tends to produce a flakier pie crust, but requires a little more experience. Some people think that using a food processor produces a mealy dough crust, but if done right, it can produce very similar results.

This recipe makes enough dough for two nine inch pie shells

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups of AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces, then placed into freezer for five to ten minutes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of very cold water
  1. Place flour, salt and sugar into a food processor and pulse a couple of times until ingredients are incorporated.
  2. Add butter to food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles course meal. The key is to not overwork the dough, so pay special attention; it will only take eight to ten seconds.
  3. While the food processor is running, add the cold water through the feeding tube in a single stream. Do not pulse longer than 30 seconds. You want the dough to come slightly together, but not until it forms a ball. You can test the dough by pressing it between  your thumb and forefinger. If it sticks together, you’re good to go. If not, add a little more water and pulse again.
  4. Dump out the dough onto your counter and bring it together into a ball. Divide the ball into two pieces and press each into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least an hour. This relaxes the gluten, therefore making it easier to roll out.
  5. This is where I’ll give you a little hint. When you divide the dough into two portions, make one portion 3/4 and the other 1/4. Rarely does a half of a pie dough recipe give you enough for a single pie crust. This way you’ll have plenty of dough to work with, and who likes a too thin pie crust? The smaller portion can be used to make an individual sized pie.
  6. When your dough has had enough time in the refrigerator, take it out and let it warm up on your rolling surface for five to ten minutes. It will crack if you try to roll it out when it is too cold.
  7. When your dough is ready to roll, start in the center of the disk and roll out toward the edge, rotate a 1/4 of turn and repeat this process until it is the size you want. Make sure you keep the surface under your dough sufficiently floured, or it will end up sticking to the rolling surface. Move with confidence and move quickly. The secret is to keep it floured and constantly moving.
  8. When your pie dough is an inch to an inch and a half larger than your pie plate, fold the pie crust circle in half, then fold that into a quarter. It’s okay if you have uneven edges or a pie dough that’s shaped like Texas. Just use a pizza wheel to cut dough into a circle. Transfer dough to pie plate and carefully unfold.
  9. Shape dough into pie plate by picking up the edges of the dough while fitting it into the pie plate, paying close attention to not stretch the dough.
  10. Fold the edges under underneath, all the way around the rim, then crimp the edges. Voila!
  11. Place pie crust into the refrigerator and let chill for at least an hour. This will help it keep its shape while in the oven.

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So there you have it. Trust me, it’s a lot easier to execute than write about!