real life test kitchen: alton brown’s mac & cheese


Hailing from a family where my father, brother and yes, even my very own twin sister are lactose intolerant, cheese has long been a forbidden fruit of sorts. As the Chosen One, the golden child of digestion, dairy products became my birthright, with cheese chief among them, and mac-n-cheese the crowning achievement. I love it, I make it and I try it everywhere I go (which is easy in a city with a restaurant dedicated to the stuff). All genetic vendettas aside, mac-n-cheese is a comfort food many of us can get behind time and again. Here at Shelterrific we’ve tried adding cauliflower, we’ve consulted Rachael Ray and we’ve even considered the architecture of the mac-n-cheese bite. Now I present for your consideration Alton Brown’s recipe. His baked version is so quick, so easy, and the panko breadcrumb topping so crunchy that it deserves to hold court with the other contenders on our growing list. Find the full recipe and more from Brown at The Food Network. Click for Alton Brown’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese! (more…)

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retro party platter: flaming cabbage

I’m pretty sure the best thing about the re-issue of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook isn’t the actual recipes but the insane circa-1950 entertaining tidbits sprinkled throughout. Just the names of the appetizers on page 50 are enough to kill my inner 12-year-old (“Wedgies,” “Green Balls,” “Burning Bush” — on one page, seriously), but the best has to be “Flaming Cabbage.” It sounds like an unfortunate gastrointestinal condition, but is actually, well, that thing you see above. I made it for a friend’s birthday party because his wife had brought a similarly atomic platter to our house last year (theirs was fruit-based). Read on to see what the heck this is, straight from the 1950 Betty:

An exciting, spectacular feature at a cokctail party in Mr. and Mrs. Phil Hindley’s charming home, Oakland, California. Clean a large cabbage. Curl outer leaves back from top. Cut out center; hollow it out about 6″ deep. Place a sterno lamp in the cavity (lamp hidden, but flame should come almost to top of cabbage). Place cabbage on serving plate. Surround with a frill of parsley. Thrust wooden picks through cocktail sausages, and stick into the cabbage. Stick an olive onto end of each (to protect fingers from flame). Guests broil their own sausages.”

Yes, you read that right: guests broil their own sausages! I made do with what we had on hand, so no frill of parsley for me. We put Lit’l Smokies on skewers and skipped the olives. I can say that this thing made for a spectacular entrance (if a harrowing car ride), and guests did indeed broil their own sausages. — Mary T.

P.S. That rad platter you see above is actually a vintage Lazy Susan that two very fabulous friends purchased for me on eBay!

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party starters: conversation coasters from tabletopics and the new museum

convo coaster

For years, the folks at TableTopics have been cooking up conversation with their question cubes, but I’ve only recently discovered their PartyTopics line of fun cocktail accessories. Between the place cards, coasters and napkins (which also come in a wine version, for the gathering of the Sommelier Society) they have enough inspired questions to keep any group gabbing for hours. That is, with the possible exception of your monthly amateur psychoanalyst brain trust. For that sort of meeting of the minds, these Rorschach inkblot coasters, $18 for 10 at The New Museum Store, may be just what the therapist ordered. –- Sarah C.

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real life test kitchen: 10 minute capellini romanesco


Last summer, Mary wrote about romanesco (or broccoli romanesco), and it got everyone buzzing. Well, it’s in season again ! Hooray! Time to bust out the anchovies (yes, anchovies) and get the pasta water boiling! This dish is something I make year-round that I call “peasant pasta”, with the basic framework always the same (garlic + bacon + anchovy + chile flake + lemon): I just change up the veggies seasonally. In fall, I’ll throw in quartered brussels sprouts. In winter, ribbons of dark green kale. But my favorite version, that comes in summer — when it’s romanesco season. It’s cruciferous sweetness and firm texture lend a satisfying bite when mingled with the delicate capellini. The sauce is impossibly simple, and comes together in as long as it takes to get a pot of water boiling. And it has anchovies. And anchovies make everything taste like magic. Trust me on this. If you’re scared, use just one fillet. But if you’re like me, you’ll toss in the whole can. — Megan B. Click for Capellini Romanesco! (more…)

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my awesome espresso machine: rancilio silvia


My espresso obsession began back in high school, when I convinced my dad to buy mom a Krups espresso machine/drip coffee combo for Christmas instead of a boring drip machine. I loved making my coffees in the morning, steaming the milk, grinding the beans, the smell of that freshly pulled shot… it’s the ritual that gets me out of bed every morning to this day. Eventually, I received some barista training and realized that my steam boiler espresso would never be good enough again — you just can’t get crema from those boiler-style machines. After blowing through a couple of “disposable” machines, we decided to upgrade to one that would last us a lifetime: the Rancilio Silvia. Miss Silvia (as the label reads) is a serious rig: 9 bars of pressure pumpin’ out some serious brew! What sets this Italian gal apart from most other home espresso machines is that she’s got a brass boiler rather than a cheap aluminum one, and the pressure and temperature systems are fully modifiable (as many hardcore coffee geeks like to do). Oh — and for a machine this major (and dare I say GORGEOUS), it’s fairly priced, $649 here, which is where I bought mine. Of course you still need to buy a good burr grinder, a good tamp, and a knock box which adds another couple hundred to the tab… But I figure the machine has paid for itself in “espresso savings”: $3/day for a latte from a coffee shop would add up to the price of a machine and all the accessories in less than a year! — Megan B.

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