Mac and Cheese, Clarkston Union Style

Mac & Cheese

We had some friends over on the 4th of July yesterday, and I barbecued some marinated pork tenderloin. But I’ve been  wanting to try something special for a side dish. There’s a restaurant called the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, Michigan that serves fantastic barbeque. there’s often several hour waits for a table there– even at 5 pm on a weekday. This place rocks. Along with your main choice of pulled pork, ribs or beef brisket you get two sides– and one of the side options is their legendary mac & cheese.

An episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network had Kid Rock taking host Guy Fieri to one of his favorite restaurants, the Clarkston Union, which has the same owners as the Union Woodshop just down the street. That’s where the Clarkston Union mac and cheese was created, and Kid Rock’s favorite, most mackinest mac and cheese, was the featured item in this episode.

I’m planning to have a barbeque later this summer where I want to reproduce the Union Woodshop menu as much as possible–with pulled pork, ribs, and a few sides like collard greens, slow-cooked smoky beans… and the mac and cheese. So our friends who came over were guinea pigs for my first mac and cheese trial effort– and they weren’t disappointed.

I searched online to see if anyone had tried to reproduce the Clarkston Union recipe, and my recipe is a combo of the few I found. I leaned most heavily on this guy’s recipe, so I give him props: Triple D in the ‘D’ Most Macked Mac & Cheese! I changed a few things– I added finely chopped bacon, and I used a little different mix of cheeses than the recipes I found online and in the video of the Kid Rock episode of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. The bacon was just my effort to really knock my mac and cheese out of the park. The reason I used a couple different cheeses was mostly due to availability, but in future mac and cheese experiments I’d like to try out more different types of cheese. One last note– I was a little surprised to see the nutmeg in the recipe list. It seemed like an odd ingredient for mac and cheese. But it really makes a difference– it’s the secret ingredient that really makes it special (other than the massive quantities of cheese and heavy cream). So don’t leave the nutmeg out if you find it to be an odd ingredient like I did at first. It works!

Of course, this doesn’t have to be a side dish- it could easily stand out on its own as a main dish. And our kids, who are 7 and 10 and believe that the stuff that comes out of the box with the neon orange powder is the pinnacle of great mac and cheese making, actually really liked this. That was the best endorsement of all. Not a heart-healthy dish by any means, but once in a while, hey, ya gotta live a little.

Ingredients:

1 lb. Box Penne Rigate pasta
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Cups 2% Milk
½ Tsp. Nutmeg
½ Tsp. Salt
½ Tsp. Pepper
4 Tbsp. Butter
4 Tbsp. Flour
3-4 Cloves Garlic, crushed in a garlic press
1 Small to Medium Onion, diced very fine
6 Slices Cooked Bacon, cut into small pieces
2 Cups Shredded Parmesan Cheese
10-12 Slices Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (or Pinconning, that’s what the restaurant uses)
2 cups Shredded Yellow Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Panko (Japanese-Style) Bread Crumbs

 

Special Utensils:

  • Garlic Press
  • Baking Dish

 

Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry they are and how much they dig the mac and cheese

Boil the penne pasta until al dente– make sure not to overcook, since it’s going to bake more in the oven. Drain and set aside to cool. I mixed the pasta up with a little olive oil so it wouldn’t stick together.

Onions Bacon Butter

Getting started with the onions, bacon, garlic and butter

Add the chopped onions, crushed garlic, bacon and butter to a pan and cook on medium heat until the onions are turning translucent. TIP: if you don’t like to do a lot of chopping, you could run the onions, garlic and bacon in a food processor to get them diced up nice and small. Just don’t go too overboard and puree everything.

roux

Getting there…

Now add the flour a little at a time while constantly stirring, to make a roux. Who woulda thought that good old-fashioned down-home mac and cheese has origins in fine French Cuisine? Keep stirring until the roux is the color of peanut butter.

Milk, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper warming up in its own pan

Milk, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper warming up in its own pan

While the roux is cooking, add two cups milk and one cup of the cream to a separate pot with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and heat on low to medium heat, stirring regularly, until warm.

Adding the cheese...

Adding the cheese…

When the roux is ready, add the warm milk/cream mixture to the pan and mix thoroughly. Stir until the mixture just starts to simmer and thickens up. Add the two cups of shredded parmesan a little at a time. I was a little low on parm, so I made two cups worth with 2/3 parm and 1/3 shredded sharp cheddar.

Let the roux/milk/cream/cheese mix cool. Since this mix and the pasta need to cool down, this is good to make ahead of time so it’s quicker to put together and throw in the oven just before dinner.

Next, mix the roux/milk/cream/cheese mix with the pasta. The milk/cheese mix will be very thick at this point after cooling, so the best way to mix with the pasta is with your hands. Add some of the remaining cup of heavy cream to help thin the milk/cheese mix a little and help get everything mixed together.

Almost ready for the oven...just have to add the panko crumbs

Almost ready for the oven…just have to add the panko crumbs

Now add the first half of the pasta/cheese mix in a baking dish. I used a porcelain dish that was approximately 8″ x 10″ x 3″ deep, and the amount of this recipe just happened to fit perfectly. After the first layer is in, add the slices of extra-sharp cheddar on top (the Clarkston Union video showed the chef using slices of Pinconning, so you can use that if you can find it). Then layer the rest of the pasta/cheese mix on top, cover with shredded yellow cheddar (once again, the restaurant used shredded white cheddar here), and finally a layer of panko crumbs on top.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (the chef on the DDD episode recommended 425 at 12 minutes, but he was cooking in a small single-serving size dish. I found that after 20 minutes the mac wasn’t hot enough in the center). I saw in the postings I found for this recipe, and a few people who posted replies who tried this recipe, that the cooking temp and time specified in the episode did not result in a real nice brown crispy breadcrumb crust for them. That crunchy browned top is important to the recipe; it contrasts nicely with the creamy cheesy underneath. They recommended maybe cooking longer at a slightly lower temp like 400, and then forming the brown crust using your oven’s broiler setting. I had a nice brown crust form at 425 without the need of the broiler, maybe because I left it in a little longer. But if your mac isn’t browned enough on top, try the broiler trick to finish it. Enjoy!

Fried Rice

Fried Rice

Fried Rice

Well, here’s the fried rice recipe that I promised in a week two weeks ago…

Fried rice is nice and versatile because it can usually be thrown together from what’s already around in the refrigerator and the cupboard, and it can be a side dish or the main course. Add some shrimp toward the end– make it shrimp fried rice, and it can be a pretty impressive main course.

This is a good way to use up leftover rice if you made too much for yesterday’s dinner. In this case I cooked rice intending to use it for the fried rice, so I cooked it with low-sodium chicken stock for a little more flavor. If I use leftover rice that was cooked with water, I just adjust the amount of soy sauce I add when frying the rice up.

Since I was making this to go with the smoky BBQed Garlic-Soy Chicken, but cooking it separately on the stovetop, I wanted to add some smoky flavor to the rice, and I didn’t think the bacon would add enough. So I got the idea to add some smoked almonds I had left over from a camping trip. I actually tried to slice them to make slivered almonds, but they mostly just crumbled on me. But the almonds really added a lot to the fried rice– in addition to the smoky taste they added a nice crunch to it. So if you wanted to add smoked almonds, I’d recommend just putting them in a plastic ziplock bag and breaking them up with a mallet, soupcan, whatever you got that can break up almonds but not cause too much damage.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup long-grain rice (I like Basmati).
  • 2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock or Water
  • 6 Strips Bacon
  • Handful of Diced Green Onion
  • 3-4 Cloves Minced Garlic
  • 6-8 Mushrooms
  • 1/2 of a Sweet Red or Orange Pepper, or 1/2 Carrot, cut into thin strips (mostly for color)
  • 1/2 Cup Smoked Almonds, broken up
  • 1 Egg
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Peanut Oil
  • Soy Sauce to taste
  • Fine-Ground Black Pepper to taste

 

Special Utensils:

  • Wok or Large Pan

 

Serves 4

Heat the 2 cups of low-sodium chicken stock or water to boiling, then add the rice, turn heat down to low, and cover. It should be ready in about 20 minutes, just enough time to get the rest of the ingredients ready. A tip if you’re making the rice for the fried rice recipe– use just a little bit less than 2 cups of liquid to the 1 cup of rice. If the rice is a little on the dry side and not mushy at all it will do better in the frying pan.

Heat up the oil in the wok or large pan. Now everything goes fast once the oil is hot…add the bacon and cook until it starts to get crispy. Add the minced garlic and sweet peppers/carrot, and cook until garlic starts to soften up. Add the rice and mix it around in the hot oil. Add mushrooms and keep mixing rice, making sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Add pepper and soy sauce to taste.

Move the rice to make a free area at the bottom and break the egg into it. Mix the egg until it starts to set up, then mix the scrambled egg into the rice. This would be the time to add the shrimp if you were in the mood. Add diced green onion and almonds. Keep cooking and mixing rice until the mushrooms (and shrimp) are cooked, then it’s ready to serve. Enjoy!

Garlic and Soy Sauce Marinated Grilled Chicken

Garlic and Soy Sauce Marinated Grilled Chicken

Garlic and Soy Sauce Marinated Grilled Chicken

Wanted to grill something this past weekend. But we didn’t have much in the house and this is the season when all the yard work makes every weekend minute precious– no time in the schedule for a last-minute grocery store run. Let’s see what we have…hmmm, some boneless chicken breasts. OK, but how to season them…a spice rub? Nahh, done that many times. Maybe some kind of marinade, but what kind exactly? What to make, what to make… finally decided on a quasi-Asian style marinade. Only had a few hours to marinate it, but it turned out great! For a side dish I made some fried rice with ingredients I had on hand– that’s what’s in the background of the pic above. The rice turned out really good too– I’ll make a separate post on the fried rice next week.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Chicken Breasts, Boneless or better yet, Bone-in. Dark meat such as chicken thighs work really well for this recipe too.
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Mirin (Rice Vinegar)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Fine-Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1 Whole Head of Garlic

 

Special Utensils:

  • Meat Thermometer
  • Garlic Press (optional)

 

Serves 4

Separate the cloves from the head of garlic and remove the skins. Dice up the garlic, or better yet, crush the cloves in a garlic press. Mix the garlic with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Marinate the chicken for at least several hours, preferably overnight.

As always, heat up enough charcoal to cover half the grill, and either burn some of your favorite hardwood down to coals or soak some wood chips for smoking. What I’ve been doing lately is lighting the charcoal in a chimney starter, then pouring out the coals onto the bottom of the grill when they’re good and ignited (but before they’re covered in gray ash, meaning they’re ready for cooking). I put some pieces of wood on the charcoal so it has a chance to catch fire, burn down to coals and be ready for cooking when the charcoal’s ready. the slightly quicker, easier method is to briefly soak wood chips, and throw the chips on the charcoal when it’s ready for cooking. I used apple wood, and it worked really well with this recipe.

Here’s a tip for cooking marinated meats when the coals and the smoking wood are ready– I tried this with the chicken, and it worked nicely. Usually you want to cook the meat on the hot side of the grill first to get a nice sear on the outside, then move to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. This works great if you used a dry rub, or you’re cooking some nice steaks seasoned only with a little salt and pepper. But if you take marinated meat directly from the marinade to the hot side of the grill it will drip on the coals and create a sooty smoke that may give the meat an off-taste. Also, it’ll be hard to get a good sear on the wet marinated meat right away. Works better to cook on the cooler side of the grill first– put down a drip pan or some foil to catch the excess marinade. Use the meat thermometer and when the chicken is close to temperature, move to the hot side of the grill to brown both sides of the chicken last. Cook to 165 degrees, let the chicken rest for a few minutes, serve and enjoy!

 

Ramen Noodle Soup

Ramen Noodle Soup

Ramen Noodle Soup

From those 5-for-a-dollar noodle packets that are a staple of broke college students everywhere, to high-end Japanese Noodle restaurants, ramen noodle soups really run the gamut in price and sophistication. I ate a lot of those cheap packaged ramen noodles in college, and I still get a hankering for a bowl of noodles every now and then. You can buy higher quality ramen noodles at Asian markets or the Asian section of well-equipped grocery stores. I’ve used those, and they’re good. But we keep the cheap packaged noodles around for emergencies, in case we want to throw together a quick and really tasty bowl of noodle soup.

First, throw out the little packet of powdered seasoning that comes with the noodles– it’s full of sodium, MSG, and God knows what else. We’re going to make a much more flavorful and healthy soup base for the ramen noodles.

Since this site is called “RecipeOptions.com”, I’ll give two options for ramen noodle soups here– a spicy Thai Tom Yum-style soup, and a non-spicy soy sauce-flavored soup. These are not strictly authentic recipes– just quick and delicious Asian style soups I put together using ingredients I’m likely to have on hand.

These recipes serve about two people (or one if you’re hungry). Double up on ingredients as needed.

Spicy Tom Yum Style Ramen

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 Raw Jumbo Shrimp, Deveined.
  • 1 Package Ramen Noodles
  • 2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Thai-Style Red Curry Paste
  • 3-4 Cloves Garlic, Diced
  • 1/2″ Square Piece of Diced Ginger
  • 1-2 Celery Sticks
  • 6 Green Onions
  • Peppers– Any Combo of Red/Green Bell, Thai, Jalapeno, Serrano, or Sweet Peppers– depending on what you have on hand and how hot you want your soup.
  • Handful of Mushrooms
  • Red Chili Pepper to taste– once again, depending on how spicy you like
  • 1 Teaspoon of Peanut Oil
  • Few Drops Toasted Sesame Oil
  • Fresh Cilantro (Optional)

 

Dice up garlic and ginger. Cut celery and peppers into thin strips. Dice up mushrooms and cut green onion into 1/4-1/2″ pieces. Juice the lime. Cut shrimp down center about halfway through to butterfly them so they cook quickly and evenly.

Heat up a soup pan, add the sesame oil (just a few drops for flavor) and the peanut oil. Add the garlic, ginger, peppers, mushrooms and celery and stir-fry them in the oil for just a few minutes– not too long. Add chicken stock, red curry paste, fish sauce, and chili pepper. When it starts to simmer, add ramen noodles and cook for about two minutes.

Add green onion, lime juice and cilantro (if you like cilantro– a lot of people don’t like the taste, but if you do it really adds a lot to the soup). Finally, add the shrimp, turn off the heat, cover and let the soup sit for about three minutes. This is the secret to NOT overcooking shrimp in soup– don’t boil it! Make sure the shrimp is completely submerged in the broth and let the residual heat cook the shrimp just right. Enjoy!

Ramen Noodles with Soy Sauce Flavored Broth

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 Raw Jumbo Shrimp, Deveined.
  • 1 Package Ramen Noodles
  • 2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 3-4 Cloves Garlic, Diced
  • 1/2″ Square Piece of Diced Ginger
  • 1-2 Celery Sticks
  • 6 Green Onions
  • 1/2 Sweet Red Bell Pepper
  • Handful of Mushrooms
  • Fine-Ground White or Black Pepper, to Taste
  • 1 Teaspoon of Peanut Oil
  • 1 Sheet Nori (Japanese Seaweed), cut or torn into strips

 

Dice up garlic and ginger. Cut celery and peppers into thin strips. Dice up mushrooms and cut green onion into 1/4-1/2″ pieces. Cut shrimp down center about halfway through to butterfly them so they cook quickly and evenly.

Heat up a soup pan and add the peanut oil. Add the garlic, ginger, red pepper, mushrooms and celery and stir-fry them in the oil for just a few minutes– not too long. Add chicken stock, soy sauce, and white or black pepper. When it starts to simmer, add ramen noodles and cook for about two minutes.

Add green onion and nori. Finally, add the shrimp, turn off the heat, cover and let the soup sit for about three minutes. This is the secret to NOT overcooking shrimp in soup– don’t boil it! Make sure the shrimp is completely submerged in the broth and let the residual heat cook the shrimp just right. Enjoy!

Perfectly Grilled Pork Tenderloin

pork-loinPork tenderloin is the equivalent of the beef tenderloin that filet mignon cuts come from. Used to be though, the Food and Drug Administration recommended cooking pork to an internal temperature of 165 degrees– which resulted in a relatively dried-out, flavorless cut of meat. But a couple years ago, the FDA changed their recommendation for cooking pork to an internal temp of 145 degrees. This is great news for us backyard barbequers, for now we can confidently cook pork tenderloin the way many chefs have been doing it for years. And what a difference 20 fewer degrees makes! I was amazed at the difference the first time I tried it. Pork tenderloin cooked medium, so it’s still slightly pink in the middle, is juicy and delicious. It almost rivals filet mignon in flavor, in my opinion, and at a lot less per pound.

Grilled pork tenderloin is good either as a dry rub or marinated. I decided to marinate it this time– maybe I’ll do a dry rub pork loin post later this summer– I’ll definitely be making this again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Pork Tenderloin, any size
  • 1 12-oz. can of your favorite Cola
  • 1/2-Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Granulated Garlic Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Oregano

 

Special Utensils:

  • Meat Thermometer

 Serves 2-4, depending on size of tenderloin

Mix the marinade ingredients. Marinate the tenderloin for at least several hours, preferably overnight.

Heat up charcoal to cover half the grill, or heat up half the burners on your gas grill, if you insist on using a gas grill (crime against barbeque, in my opinion, but I try to keep an open mind). I also cut up some apple wood, burning some on the coals to embers, and reserve a few chunks to soak in water for smoking. I think I mentioned in another post, if you have a gas grill and you want to smoke meat, I’ve heard you can put wood chips in foil, wrapped up but open on the ends, then set directly on a burner to get the wood inside the foil smoking.

When the coals are ready. first put the pork on the hot side of the grill, turning every few minutes just until you get a nice brown on outside of the meat. Then move the meat to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking with indirect heat. Insert the thermometer probe into the middle of the loin, sit down, open your favorite beverage, and wait until the temp reaches 145. take the tenderloin off the heat, let rest for 5 minutes or so, and enjoy!