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.

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Sweet chicken and savory sweet potato

I didn’t feel like cooking one bit after having been at the barn and dealing with the really, really cold weather on Thursday late at night. Baking feels like cooking, except it takes far less time to accomplish a great meal and allows for multitasking. I had a package of on-sale chicken thighs, and stumbled on this recipe for savory sweet potatoes. In my never-ending accidental quest to eat only Latino-inspired food and sweet potatoes one hundred ways, this recipe fit perfectly and I halved it to serve one.

I’m always one to drown my mashed sweet potatoes in butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and agave. It’s like vegetable candy! Using thyme and garlic seemed new and unknown to my sweet potato palate, but turned out well. Except…the oil on my hands smelled awful. I’d never used fresh thyme before — only the ground spice-jar stuff — and hadn’t expected it. I love the oils of rosemary and basil on my fingers that linger long after my meal, but thyme just smelled like animal piss. It nearly ruined the dish for me, and next time I think I’ll substitute rosemary. Rosemary is still quite the savory and fragrant herb, and would be a nice substitute. It took me several hand-washings in grease-cutting dish soap to rid my hands of the thyme oils. Stubborn little suckers.

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The chicken was too easy: I threw it in the oven for 25 minutes, about halfway through cooking the foil-wrapped sweet potato. A couple squirts of my favorite gluten-free barbecue sauce, flip (so it doesn’t stick to the glass dish), and a couple more squirts. While I did this on three of the chicken thighs, on the other half of the pan, I roasted the chicken plain with a light coating of olive oil to be used the next day in making green chile enchiladas. I flipped the chicken halfway through cooking, and voila — easy, juicy, baked chicken. No slaving over a stove required.

While I let the chicken and the sweet potato cool off just a bit, I whipped up a jar of pickled onions to be used over the next few weeks in salads and as a topper to entrees and quick tacos. I used a very basic, ingrained recipe for pickling with no variations:

In an old spaghetti jar (recycling!), mix one cup water, 1 tbsp white sugar, 1.5 tbsp salt, and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Put the lid on and shake a bunch. Cut up an entire red onion, usually done in thin slices, and shove as many of them as you can into the jar. Shake again to get the liquid into the smaller spaces, and leave it in the fridge for at least a half day before using, but no longer than 10-15 days.

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