Monthly Archives: April 2010

Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

Pulled Pork mac and cheese

Macaroni and cheese is an essential element of comfort cooking. For many people, like myself, Kraft Mac and Cheese was a building block of our diets, not only growing up, but into early adult hood when budgets were tight and Kraft was cheap. Kraft Mac and Cheese is velvety smooth, cheesy, delicious, filling, and these days, mostly crap.

Even in the fancier organic mac and cheese boxes there is very little, if any, real cheese included. Even when there is, the ingredients have been processed to such a high degree that they barely resemble food at all. As much as I like the Kraft Mac and Cheese, still, I’m convinced that the packaging actually has more nutritional value than the contents.

Even if it did have real cheese, it doesn’t come with pulled pork, and mine does. Making mac and cheese from scratch is easy, takes very little time, and delivers a far superior product. When it’s done you can be relatively certain that it contains real food and no monosodium poisonate.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz of pasta cooked al dente
  • 4 oz to 16 oz pulled pork
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 oz to ∞ of cheese
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350f. Drop your pasta in boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. I like to use elbow macaroni or shells, but really any small pasta with lots of nooks will work well. Don’t be afraid to experiment. When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it into a proper sized baking dish. I’m using a half steam pan.

Cooked pasta into the pan

In a sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, but don’t let it brown You can really use any pan or skillet, but because we’re making a sauce here, I prefer a proper sauce pan, one with gently sloping sides that allows the whisk to get in, and made of a heavy slow and even conductor. I’m using a La Creuset cast iron sauce pan here.

Melt the butter
When the butter is melted, dump in the flour and commence to whisking. Whisk away! Continue to whisk constantly for at least 2 minutes. Hooray! You just made a roux. Keep an eye on the temperature and the roux, if it starts to darken, turn down the heat a little. Keep whisking, don’t stop. Cooking the roux for 2 minutes cooks out the flour taste. This is important if you don’t want your mac and cheese to taste like glue. If you like the way glue tastes, I guess you don’t have to bother.

Whisk in the flour
Pour in the cream, and keep whisking. As you whisk, the sauce will start to thicken. Depending on how warm the cream was relative to the roux, and how fast you poured it in, the sauce will either set up quickly or a little more slowly. If you attempted to use fat free milk, it will take longer and be terrible. Don’t do that. Some people will say you should add in the cream slowly, or heat it up first. Since we’re pumping this full of cheese and baking it later, this isn’t really that important.

Pour in the cream and keep whisking
Hey, you just made a Bechamel sauce! You’re a fancy French chef now. Go tell all your friends, but wait until we’re done here first. You don’t want to burn the sauce, and ruin all your new French Chef cred. The Bechamel, or sauce blanche, is one of the French mother sauces and is the basis for a number of super delicious sauces such as Mornay and Soubise sauce. You may have also noticed that it’s basically just gravy. I just saved you three weeks of culinary school.

When the sauce is done to your desired consistency, coating the back of a spoon is a common test, lower the heat and pop in the cheese. Add the cheese in a bit at a time, other wise it will be hard to stir in smoothly and it may break or clump. Since you stuck a spoon in it,  you might as well taste it. Resist the urge to eat it all. Add salt or pepper as you see fit.

Keep whisking until thickened

A word about cheese. Use a cheese that is a good melter. I like smoked gouda. Hard cheeses can be used, but will often yield a grainy texture after baking. I like to add a little manchego because I like the flavor. Cheddar is the typical American addition, and works, but it has a tendency to break more often in my opinion and why use cheddar when you can use something as tasty as smoked gouda? It’s really a matter of taste though, as is the amount. The more cheese you put in, the cheesier your mac and cheese will be. 4 ounces is about the minimum and 8 ounces is a good place to stop before going crazy.

Pour in the cheese sauce.
When the cheese is all melted in to the sauce, pour it over the pasta and mix it up good. Toss in the pulled pork and mix to combine. Wait, you don’t have pulled pork? I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. Well, we’ll cover that some other time. For now, reasonable pulled pork can be had at the grocery. I’m so embarrassed right now.

Pulled pork
Pat the mixture down evenly and, oh wait. Listen, the baking part. It’s not really necessary. You can eat it just like that. Go ahead, I won’t stop you. Baking does make it kinda tastier though. Still with me? Okay, pat the mixture down evenly and sprinkle the Panko bread crumbs in a layer over the top. I like to spritz it with a little olive oil too, just to make the crumbs crisper. Panko isn’t necessary if you don’t have any. Any bread crumbs will do, they just aren’t as tasty. Hell, you can replace the bread crumbs altogether with crumbled bacon.

Cover in Panko
Pop the pan in the oven for 30 minutes and sit on your hands. You have to sit on your hands because your kitchen will start to smell like miracles and fairytales and you’ll want to pull the mac and cheese out before it’s done.

Just look at that cheesy goodnesss!
Serve immediately. Serves up to eight, or as few as one.

New Achievement: Sitting Unassisted.

Logan leveled up recently and spent all his character points to learn a new skill. He selected Unassisted Sitting over Crawling. I’m told that this is something of an accomplishment for a child of only 6 months, but I cautioned him that if he didn’t balance out his skill set he’d encounter problems at later levels when certain skill trees were left unexplored. This is really some pretty basic strategy, even for a level 2 character.

The benefits of Unassisted Sitting are many
While Logan will stand, assisted, for considerable periods of time, he lacks the balance necessary to do so unassisted. Which is probably for the best. I’ve been given the understanding (from my lovely engineer wife who’s read every infant reference manual she can get her hand on) that walking prior to crawling can lead to some developmental problems.

Sitting up
As you can see here, he can be posed in the crawl position for brief periods of time, but only very briefly. Instead of crawling, either forward or backward, his most common reaction is to pull his legs and arms up in an airplane maneuver. I’ve tried to explain to him that this is actually harder than crawling, but frankly, he’s at that age where he just wont accept the advice of his elders.

Simulated crawling
For the time being I’ll just have to settle for the Unassisted Sitting development. In this brief period between achieving one skill and the other, it’s possible to sit him down with some toys and he’ll entertain himself for upwards of 90 seconds. This provides his mother and I with crucial Two Handed Time to complete such difficult tasks as; brushing your teeth, opening jars, typing, and putting on shoes.

Nap time!

In other developmental news, we started the long road to the crib. While Logan still shares the bed with us, he does so swaddled up and armed with a pacifier. instead of resting against Mommy’s chest all night and waking her at his leisure for a snack, he now wakes about two times a night. The feedings are more focused and goal oriented. Longer feedings means longer periods of sleep. Although he mostly defeats the swaddling, he still sleeps soundly for several hours and has been providing Mommy with up to four hours of sleep some nights.

So Sleepy
Mommy treasures this, and makes her appreciation best known by not viciously chewing my tender bits whenever I talk. This is, in my opinion, a much improved situation.

So that’s why they called it a mess hall?

Solid food has been something of an adventure. More times than not, as much seems to get on Logan, his immediate surroundings, and us, as gets in his belly. At our most recent pediatrician visit, he weighed in at 14lbs 2oz. This is still very small, and puts him in the lower range of normal, but the doctor says that despite his stature, he’s still healthy. Regardless, of this fact, Cameron is concerned about a variety of potential reasons for his low weight, and among those is that he simply isn’t getting enough nutrition from breast milk.

Pleased with success
I don’t that that’s the case, but this is about the time when it makes the most sense to start weaning him onto real people food. Starting in July Cameron will be going back to work for some amount of time, and the logistics of maintaining a breast milk only diet will become too complicated and stressful to manage.

Who loves pureed squash?
So we’ve upped the puree food dosage to two pucks at a sitting instead of one. This is about 4 teaspoons, give or take. Even doubling up on the dosage, we still have several weeks of food left from our original batches, so we’re still eating avocado, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. I’m still startled at how easy it was to do, how cheap it was, and how much it yielded. I’m not sure why anyone buys babyhood.

Suboptimal feeding position

We had been eating sitting in the Bumpo chair but that caused some complications. The soft Bumpo allowed Logan to pivot around an awful lot and he’s easily distracted. He’d lean off to the side and try to pluck at the floor. Or, since his feeder had to sit on the floor with him, with legs splayed out on either side for maximum comfort, he’d pluck at our legs. This would leave small undocumented smears of pureed food in unusual and hard to find places about the legs and ankles. Fortunately, we’ve since procured a high chair and the ease and comfort of this task has improved dramatically, although it has not alleviated substantially the novelty of discovering dried squash in unusual locations.

Easter

My cousin Lindsay turned 21 the same week my mother turned, I don’t know, she’s been telling me she’s 29 for more than 20 years. This all collided with Easter weekend, so all the Stoltz’s came to town and we had a big Happy Birthday To Ladies And Easter And Lets See Baby weekend.
The Stoltz's
The Stoltz’s are all nice people and we don’t get to see them terribly often, so it was pleasant to have them around. We had a nice dinner out at Nobu, sans baby, one night during the week and everyone came over to our house for a big production meal on Saturday.

Erin, Lindsay and Logan
We’ve gone to some trouble to socialize Logan as much as we can. Letting other people hold him and play with him in an effort to prevent the kind of separation anxiety so many children suffer from. For the most part this has been successful, although as he’s gotten older and more socially aware it gets more difficult. In the first three months I’m not sure he was really aware there were more than two people in the world. There was Mommy With Breasts, and Not Mommy. Not Mommy was everyone else in the world, including me. Now that he’s starting to catch on that Not Mommy is actually many different people, he’s starting to get a little picky about who he hangs out with.

Cousin Erin

He’s still good with other people, but I think sometimes he finds it disconcerting to be receive such high affection from people who’ve never given him breast milk. I suspect this is why he doesn’t appear as thrilled to see the Stoltzs as they are to see him.

Hiding

Easter brought a lot of gifts, some from us, and some from Grandma and Grandpa, and some from the Stoltzs. The gifts were all wonderful, and he enjoys them. Babies are like cats in some regard though, you can buy them the best gift in the world and what they’ll really want to play with is the box it came in.

So much Easter Loot!
Logan determined that of all the gifts he received, the card was the tastiest one.

All those nice gifts, and the tastiest part is the card.
Some of the gifts came in a basket. The basket was really an upside down hat with handles attached to it. The hat did not fit me. It was too small.

The  basket was a hat.

The hat did not fit Logan either. It was too large.

The hat was too big for Logan
Some of the gifts were hidden, and Logan needed help finding them.

Logan
Sometimes I even talk like I’m narrating a children’s book.

Grandma’s magic trick

Like all new parents, we spent a lot of time and attention outfitting a nursery. We had to have the right furniture, and it had to be in just the right location. Despite the fact that babies have been adequately raised for thousands, if not millions, of years without such pleasantries as a diaper genie, it’s inconceivable in this modern world to do so. I continue to assert that the only thing a child needs to lead a healthy life is some clothes, a stick and a rock. Not everyone shares my opinion however, including my wife.

As responsible white collar American parents, we devoutly performed our consumer duty and purchased changing tables, baby monitors, mobiles of various types and a crib.

The baby changing table is a god send. Don’t get me wrong, I still think you could use the hood of  your car, a large flat rock, or a particularly stable cow to change diapers, but I’ll admit that the changing table is an improvement.

The crib, however, has been next to useless.

Logan would not sleep in either it, or the bassinet. As soon as you put him down, he’d start crying. If he fell asleep, and then you put him down, he’d wake up and then start crying. He just wouldn’t put up with the separation from his mother. Attempting to wait out his crying and force him to sleep in the bassinet lasted approximately 3 minutes on the first attempt. Since then, he’s been sleeping in the bed with us.

DO NOT FEAR THE PLUSH

Which isn’t all bad. Since he’s being breast fed, rolling over to pop a boob in his hungry and eager maw is far preferable to his mother than if she had to get up and walk around. Which is nice, but didn’t solve the problem of needing 100% huggy time for any sleeping activity. Putting Logan down for a nap was like anchoring a boat. In this example, his mother and I where the boat. Anchored. Unable to really do anything else.

Nap time!

So, when my mother casually mentioned that she had put the baby in his crib for a nap, I was understandably surprised and not a little bit skeptical. It was something of a mystery. I didn’t think my mother would leave the baby locked in a closet buried under pillows to muffle the crying, but I had established that he would not sleep in the crib as a physical law of nature.

Sure enough though, there he was. Sleeping. In the crib. By himself. I did what any responsible parent would do.

Some people just don't have the stamina for NCAA finals.

I cackled gleefully and ran out of the house. I did not go to the strip club.

When I interrogated my mother about the sequence of events that led to Logan sleeping by himself in the crib, I expected a long tale of fantastical and intricate plot. Perhaps it was the result of an out of control laboratory experiment to study the hibernation principles exhibited by the meerkat? Maybe Scientoligsts had popped in to remove all his engrams? It was possible, although admittedly far fetched, that polar bears had adopted Logan as their king, spirited him away for a rousing adventure rescuing chicken tacos from being enslaved by postal workers in the Ukraine, and he had become so sleepy on his journey that he just had to lay down for a nap upon his return.

“Oh it was easy,” my mom claimed. “Just give him his pacifier, wrap him up in a blankie and rock him without making eye contact.”

That was it. That was her entire explanation.

I was dubious.

He controls the vertical and the horizontal. Thankfully, he does not send us away. Yet.

But I was also desperate, and I had no polar bears or Ukrainian postal tyranny. I was ready to try anything.

I wrapped the boy up snuggly in a light blanket, just like we did when was newborn. I gave him his binky, which he accepted gleefully. I sat in the rocker and carefully avoided eye contact by looking at the clock on the table.

90 seconds later his pacifier popped out of his mouth as he fell asleep. As I gently laid him in the crib, his eyes fluttered briefly and I froze like a deer caught trying to sneak into the house late at night without waking his wife up after stepping on a squeaky step on the stairs. I stopped moving is what I did. Almost immediately his eyes closed again and I tiptoed out of the room. Whereupon I did what any responsible parent would do. I played Call of Duty for an hour.

When next I saw my mother I demanded, “What other gypsy grandma tricks are you hiding from me!”

Since then I’ve used this trick frequently with a 100% success rate. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes, sometimes it only takes a few minutes. The median appears to be about 5-8 minutes, but it works every time. The key is two fold. You have to swaddled the infant so that the arms are secure and you must avoid eye contact.

First Superbowl party

With any luck this boy will be sleeping in his own bed all night long. Hopefully by the time he’s in high school.