Bringing up your game

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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The signs of fall sports frenzy are clear to see, at least to me, based on my voyeuristic approach to grocery shopping.

I can’t resist sizing up your cart because you might have something more delicious planned than I do, but lately what I see are mountains of potato chips, nacho chips, tubs of dip, bottles of salsa and cases of soda pop.

Clearly we’re digging in for a winter of serious entertainment.

Sorry, this column isn’t about replacing your favourite snacks with healthy alternatives — although I’ll work on that for you. It’s about bringing up your kitchen game to satisfy the sports nuts in your family without spending your entire weekend at the stove.

Serve either of these dishes for supper tonight and they won’t need snacks for later.

Ultimate Party Mac and Cheese

This is the one you see on all the food shows lately, where you salivate and wish for a bowl but then go right back to your usual macaroni and cheese recipe based on a white sauce.

I made this for a housewarming recently and at least five people told me it was the best they’d ever had.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that traditional dish; it’s just that the cheese is muted by the flour and you will never get that ooey gooey stringy goodness with which TV hosts tantalize us.

Don’t serve this to your family by the plateful — it is definitely a crowd-pleaser to be dished up in small bowls and savoured as that perfect bite.

If you’re an Olympic athlete you can probably afford the calories; otherwise, treat this one with caution — and watch out for people sneaking back for seconds.

I do enjoy a little crunch on top, but I don’t want a crumb topping to interfere with the creamy deliciousness, so the only suggestion I have is to crush a few crispy, buttery croutons on top just before serving — if you so desire.

This amount will make 12 perfect, if small, servings, and it freezes well.

1 lb. uncooked macaroni

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. each salt and white pepper (or black if you don’t mind the specs)

1 cup coffee cream, blend cream or half-and-half

1-1/2 cups whole or 2 per cent milk

1 lb. grated old or medium cheddar cheese

1/2 lb. grated Swiss cheese

1/2 lb. grated Monterey jack cheese (or other of your choice)

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

Topping:

1 cup each grated old cheddar and mozzarella

Cook the macaroni according to package directions, but shave two minutes off the cooking time. Drain but reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Toss almost-cooked macaroni with the reserved cooking water and set aside.

In a large, shallow roaster, whisk together eggs, sour cream, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk then stir in cheddar, Swiss, Monterey jack and butter bits.

Add the reserved macaroni along with the water it’s in, stirring well to combine.

You’re going to think you’ve done something wrong because the mixture will seem soupy and altogether too loose. But remember, you’re making cheese custard with macaroni now, not your old mac and cheese.

Sprinkle cheddar and mozzarella evenly over the top and bake at 325 F about 1 hour, until the mixture is bubbling and a little bit of crusting is going on around the edges.

This is a lower temperature and longer time than you would usually find in this kind of recipe, but it ensures a creamier result. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

Game Time Mexican Dip

This is a substantial dish that will make a perfectly delicious supper that can be eaten on the couch, in the den, in front of the TV.

Count on enough dip to feed six with tortilla chips, but the recipe doubles or triples easily if you’re entertaining.

1 14-oz. can refried beans

1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, minced (more or less to taste)

2 tsp. hot chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Toppings:

1/2 cup each chopped onion and sliced olives, black or green

1 cup each diced tomato and shredded lettuce

1 large bag tortilla chips

Spread beans in a greased shallow casserole dish. Top evenly with Monterey jack; set aside.

Fry beef and onion over medium heat until cooked through; drain and discard any fat in the pan. Add garlic, jalapeno peppers, chili powder and cumin, and cook, stirring, two minutes or until fragrant.

Stir in salt and pepper. Taste the mixture now and add a little more salt and pepper if needed. This layer has to be extra flavourful as a counter to the beans.

Spread meat evenly over cheese in baking dish then top with grated cheddar. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes or until cheese on top is melted.

Remove from oven and top with chopped onion, olives, tomato and lettuce. Serve with tortilla chips for dipping.

A tub of ranch dressing or sour cream is a nice touch on the side, and for an even more substantial meal, boil some long-grain rice or throw a few baking potatoes in the oven.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: Party Mac, The Telegram

Geographic location: Monterey

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