Steak, macaroni and cheese, and avocado pudding

Macaroni and cheese is, without a doubt, by a long shot, my favorite food. If I wasn’t a responsible adult, I’d eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. I might even marry it, yes.

I like macaroni and cheese more than I like most people.

So when I invited a friend over at the last minute, just an hour before she was set to arrive for dinner, I had to think fast. I pulled a recipe for the mac and cheese I’d really been craving the past few weeks from the Better Homes and Gardens gluten-free magazine special edition, and ran with it. The only thing I changed was the Beau Monde seasoning. I had no idea what the hell that was, so I googled it and threw in the tiniest little pinches of cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, celery seed, white pepper, black pepper, and ground up a little corner of a bay leaf to add. It turned out just fine with what I had. Over the top, I grated some smoked gruyere, and would incorporate that straight into the sauce next time. I added all of the cheese to the sauce slowly, to give it a chance to melt rather than clump up.

(Recipes in photo form below.)

The avocado pudding only happened because I stumbled on the recipe as I searched for the macaroni and cheese recipe in the same magazine, and noticed that I happened to have all of the ingredients. Chocolate pudding made from avocados? No way! I had to try it. I love avocados, but this was one use I hadn’t imagined. Of course, I used avocado milk in both recipes instead of cattle milk.

I briefly tried mashing the pudding with a fork to save myself the trouble of washing the blender later, but couldn’t get the avocado to blend and smooth out like “real” pudding that way. Trust me: just use the stupid blender. It wasn’t hard to wash a few days later.

Results? The pudding was so mousse-like, and so decadent and rich that I couldn’t eat more than a few spoonfuls without feeling the sugar rush over me and the urge to stop eating such a lovely, fatty desert. The substance that the avocado provided was so wonderful, I can’t even imagine what non-veggie item might take its place in an alternate recipe. It even kept for two days in the fridge without getting that stupid “skin” over the top of it, as some boxed recipes may do.

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What I learned from this meal was that sometimes, just following the damn recipe is enough. Sometimes other peoples’ ideas were great to start out with, and messing with them is totally unnecessary. I’d make both of these things again just as they were, but I think tweaking the macaroni and cheese recipe over the coming year will be fun and challenging for me.

Taco stuffed tomato brunch

Feeding another person is such a uniquely intimate act. It’s an extension of my own creativity, my resources and ability to collect and share food on a primal level, and an act of deeply caring for another person by satiating one of our strongest, deepest needs. Feeding others is selfless, as some also feel when they feed the homeless or wait a million years for a toddler to finish her Cheerios. By preparing food for others, I’m sort of asking people to accept a delicate piece of myself. The rejection many people feel when someone doesn’t like the food created for them is, in a way, an extension of feeling like the self has been rejected. Fortunately…my friend liked my food and said nice things! I cook for those I care about, to show them that I care about them.

My pal asked me out to eat on her lunch break. It was my first test of whether I could shoot down a restaurant offer, and we did find a good time to eat in my own kitchen instead. Unfortunately…I had no idea what to make, and my groceries were dwindling already. A quick browse through Instagram on my drive to the grocery store just one hour before my pal was expected over led me to a Whole30Recipes version of taco stuffed tomatoes. I grabbed most of what I needed, and we did have a really great lunch before she had to dart back to work.

My version of their recipe, below. I often modify recipes because of the small number of portions I need, or because I’m cooking only for myself and don’t need or want to use fancy ingredients.

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Stuff you need:

  • 1lb grassfed beef or meat of choice (venison or bison sound awesome, too)
  • 3 carrots, shredded and raw
  • 1/3 white onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced thin
  • 1/2 poblano (I should have used the whole pepper!), deseeded and diced thin
  • A bundle of fresh cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-6 large tomatoes
  • 1 avocado, mashed with a tiny bit of lime juice
  • 12 cooked, cold shrimp
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt, black pepper
  • Cayenne
  • Cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater taco seasoning of choice (I bet fajita seasoning would work, too)

Preheat oven to 400F. Cook beef on stovetop until it’s about half browned. Put in minced garlic, onion, some cilantro, jalapeno, poblano, about 25% of the taco seasoning packet, and about half of the tomato guts from coring and let the meat finish browning.

Core the tomatoes and scrape the inside guts out, being careful not to puncture the bottom or sides. Use a slotted spoon to fill tomatoes with taco mixture and place in a glass bottom dish. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Toss shrimp in cayenne, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.

Pull tomatoes out of oven, top with raw carrots, mashed avocado, cilantro, and shrimp. I served vanilla yogurt with blueberries and agave drizzle on top.*

(Yes, I know yogurt isn’t Whole30 or Paleo compliant and that the post is tagged with those keywords, but I don’t claim to adhere entirely to a Paleo diet — only that that particular lifestyle is excellent for my vanity, excludes the grains I cannot digest, and aligns more fully with my values about what quality of food I prefer to ingest.)