who gets nmo?

This question has posed a puzzle for doctors and scientists for years. Who is likely to be diagnosed with NMO? What triggers NMO? What are the underlying causes of NMO? How can NMO be prevented, treated, cured? Like other autoimmune diseases, nobody has the answers. From what I’ve learned through the course of my condition by personal research and the 2010 Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders symposium, a person with NMO has to: (1) possess the genetic susceptibility for the disease, and (2) be exposed to the environmental factor that triggers the disease. Both must happen in order for NMO to develop; they are not mutually exclusive.

On that note, I recently attended the NMO Patient Day in L.A. sponsored by the Guthy-Jackson Foundation (to be outlined in a future post) where I befriended E and J, two young women who, like me, are ambitious and proactive types. All three of us are “newly” married without children–E for three years, J for three months, and me for six months. All three of us are thinking about possibly having children, forging forward in our vocations while being good wives to our husbands. Over dinner while the men talked man talk, E, J, and I discussed how it seems most of the people with NMO share similar qualities: determined, intelligent, strong-minded and strong-willed personalities. Nobody we met was just sitting around on their couch watching “Jersey Shore” marathons. Everyone was doing something in addition to dealing with their NMO. And almost all of them were women.

What did this all mean? E, J, and I had no idea, but I pointed out that it seems autoimmune diseases often inflict people with high stress levels. This is no surprise since most of our attacks and symptoms arise almost immediately after or even during stressful life situations. (This was, in fact, noted by the doctors.)

I thought back to all the people with NMO I’ve gotten to know over the years either online, on the phone, or in person. All of them, with the exception of two (one whom I never had contact with but I’ve kept in touch with his mother), all have been female. Additionally, all are driven, and compassionate individuals. Everyone has been open in sharing their stories and struggles; perhaps this is due to the fact that NMO is very rare and so we have to be candid with our lives in order to make connections which are rare in itself since our network is so small. E pointed out that most people she’s met with MS are much more private about their condition, and I reasoned that because MS is more widespread and the research more advanced, MS patients can keep quiet and still receive adequate treatment. NMO, on the other hand, is an orphan disease, and so with the little research and resources available to NMO patients, we feel we need to speak up, speak out, and speak loudly about our disease in order to move and shake the medical world. “Hello! We need help too!” But when I think about S and B whom I’ve been in contact with for several years now ever since my diagnosis in 2003, I find that they, too, are like E, J, and me. Of course, the future of NMO medicine cannot simply be hinged upon similar traits without hard evidence, but I can’t help but wonder why the majority of us with NMO are this particular type of woman. Any thoughts?

“quick” & easy vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Pho ga

A comfort food staple in our home

Ahh…the most famous Vietnamese dish in conjunction with the baguette sandwich, banh mi thit. How can we talk about comfort foods and not talk about pho? Pho ga–or noodle soup with chicken–is perhaps my favorite of the pho family. I grew up eating pho on occasional Sunday mornings, and while I know it’s a cliche to say so, my mama seriously made the best pho. Seriously. The best. My parents’ friends had even urged her to open up a little pho restaurant. She was bestowed the recipe by a Vietnamese chef she once knew. Unfortunately, my mama died before I ever got the chance to learn her secrets, and my dad never found the written gem anywhere. Quite literally, she took the secret to the grave.

Years later, I discovered Quoc Viet, a handy little brand of soup base. They make a variety of soup bases, including pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup), bo kho (beef stew), and bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup from central Vietnam), to name a few. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the outcomes using Quoc Viet products.

Pho is definitely a comfort food: eaten on cold days or after a late night of partying, it hits just the right spot. Vietnamese people often eat it for lunch, brunch, or even breakfast. (I’ve seen Pho Danh, which I believe has the best pho in Houston and which I will review next time I go, crowded with diners at 9 AM.)

So what makes a good pho? It’s mainly in the broth. It can’t be too oily, it has to be flavorful with the right flavors. You’d be surprised at some of the weird tasting pho broths out there. For example, Les Givrals Kahve–not to be confused with the original Givral on Bellaire, this one is an entirely different chain: one on Washington, the other on Congress–has one-dimensional broth that reeks of pepper and nothing else. Blegh.

Quoc Viet makes a delicious broth. I actually prefer my homemade quick & easy chicken pho to any other restaurant’s. One day I will attempt to make it from scratch, but till then, this is a simple yet savory substitute. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: “Quick” & Easy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Summary: Pho ga–instructions can be found on the label of the Quoc Viet soup base, but here is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar Quoc Viet brand “chicken pho” soup base
  • 15-20 chicken legs
  • 1 pc. fresh ginger, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 whole onion, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 2-3 gal. water
  • 3 pkg. rice sticks (banh pho), cooked al dente
  • 1 bunch scallion/green onion, washed & finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & finely chopped
  • 3 limes, cut into sm. wedges
  • Sriracha, hoisin sauce & fish sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine chicken, ginger, and whole onion. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add contents of the Quoc Viet soup base, making sure not to tear open the enclosed spice bags. Boil at med. heat for 20 min.
  3. Remove chicken, ginger, onion, and spice bag. Add chicken broth to soup and adjust water to 2-3 gal. of water, depending on taste. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, remove skin from chicken and shred meat.
  5. To serve, in a lg. bowl, place noodles, chicken, scallion, and cilantro. Pour steaming broth into bowl. Garnish with freshly squeezed lime juice, Sriracha, and/or hoisin sauce.

Quick Notes

I put quotation marks around the word “quick” because while it is quicker than making pho from scratch, it still takes some time to prepare.

You can often find the Quoc Viet soup bases, along with the other ingredients, at your local Asian grocery store. You can also find them online but you’ll probably have to purchase in bulk.

The specific brands of ingredients I like to use are:

  • Swanson chicken broth
  • Sriracha brand hot sauce which is a Thai sauce made of sun-ripened chili peppers and garlic
  • Koon Chun hoisin sauce

As for rice sticks, I like to get the medium-sized noodles (rather than the small that are served in most restaurants), simply because this is what my mama used to serve, and it’s nostalgic for me. As for brand, I used to get the one with a red rose on the package, but that brand has become increasingly harder to find, so I’ve resorted to using one with an elephant. Some cooks I know say it’s an abomination to use dried rice sticks, preferring to only use the fresh ones in the refrigerated section of the store. Anyone have a suggestion as to which rice stick brand I should use?

Variations

Different people like different garnishes and condiments with their pho. I personally only add lime, choosing to forego all the various sauces and veggies. Call me a purist, but I tend to like tasting the essence of a dish. For others, though, you can serve raw veggies: bean sprouts, mint, basil. My mama used to like stalks of green onion blanced in broth. Sometimes, I like slices of red onion doused in vinegar. Place these garnishes in the center of the table and let diners help themselves. Just be sure to let the newbies know it’s for the pho and not a side salad; my dad’s seen a man eat this at a restaurant before his pho came out.

This recipe should make about 20 servings.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: brunch

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

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houston gets greener with bike share

B-cycle

Bike sharing demo in Discovery Green on Nov. 1



When we were on the Barcelona leg of our honeymoon earlier this year, John noticed there were kiosks around the city where people were seen swiping a card into a machine and then pulling a bicycle from the pile and taking off down the road with it. After a few times, John realized it was a sort of a bike share program where you could, upon running a credit card, rent a city-owned bike to get around town and then simply return it later at whichever kiosk you end up at. Even better, it’s free if you get it back to a kiosk in less than 30 minutes.

We thought this was such a neat idea: by providing an inexpensive, efficient mode of transportation for its citizens, it promotes less emissions and cleaner air. When, if ever, will Houston get on the earth-friendly bandwagon?

Well, it looks like we who are notorious for our gassy SUVs and monster trucks will not have to wait much longer. According to Laura Spanjian, Houston’s Sustainability Director, the city will launch the beginnings of a bike share program in early 2011. Houston was one of 25 communities to receive a $423,000 grant from the EPA to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, beating out 400 other competitors. (Way to go, Houston, considering you choke in almost every other competition–read: sports.) Houston also plans to use part of the grant on improving its electric car infrastructure, aiming to increase the number of charging stations from 15 to 65. With such plans in place, Spanjian hopes to meet the new EPA ozone guidelines.

I know this post doesn’t necessarily pertain to my themes of eating, cooking, and seeing vs. not seeing, but since I’ve been blogging a lot about cycling lately, I thought it was worth sharing. It’d be awesome if they added some tandems on the kiosks but somehow, I don’t picture that happening.

snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

I like 'em soft.



Last but not least, we come to our final third course: a simple dessert that can be highly addictive. A college friend, Jeanette, gave me this recipe years ago after she baked some, and we just couldn’t get enough. Snickerdoodles are similar to sugar cookies but what sets them apart is their use of a cinnamon-sugar coating. Cinnamon reminds me of wintertime, and thus, comfort food. It also made for the perfect third course because its smaller portion and lighter taste provided a nice balance to our heavier first two courses, not to mention it’s the thing Karen always requests from me. Naturally, I had to give her what she loves for her birthday dessert. They were popular with everyone else, too. They were sliding off the plate even before dinner was served.

In the ten or so years that I’ve had this recipe, I’ve always wondered where the term snickerdoodle came from, but I never bothered looking it up. Till now, that is, when I actually have a reason to dig up some information.

My husband said he once baked snickerdoodles for school when they had a colonial history unit, so he claims snickerdoodles have been around as early as the 18th Century. After browsing around online, I found his statement to be true: the snickerdoodle originated from early America and was likely adapted from European recipes after they settled in the New World. According to the every so reliable Wikipedia resource, the origin of the name is unknown, although some claim the word is either Dutch or German while others say it was, like many other New England cookies, named on a whim. Whatever the origin, I’m just glad it finally reached me. It’s simple to bake and keeps well so could be made in large quantities and given away for the holidays.


Recipe: Snickerdoodles

Summary: Recipe from Jeanette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1.5 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.75 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar for coating
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon for coating

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a med. bowl, mix together butter, shortening, 1.5 c. sugar, and eggs. In a separate lg. bowl, blend together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Then combine mixtures until fully blended.
  3. In a sm. bowl, combine 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Shape dough by rounded tablespoons (approx. golf ball size). Roll balls in mixture to coat. Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 min. until set. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.

Quick Notes

This recipe yields 24 cookies. The serving size is 2 per serving.

What is cream of tartar, and why is it used in this recipe? It is a byproduct of wine-making. Grapes are a natural source of tartaric acid, and after fermentation, they leave behind a deposit of tartaric acid inside the barrels. This mixed with potassium hydroxide creates an acidic salt: cream of tartar. In baking, baking soda is the leavening agent that works faster than yeast. But it needs 2 parts of the acidic cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda in order to produce the gas bubbles that lighten and raise the dough as soon as it is moistened.

Variations

Now if you want to forego 2 products and just use 1, note that 2 parts cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda creates baking powder. I used to wonder what the difference was between baking soda and powder, and there you have it. Baking powder is the acidic and basic mix of the 2 ingredients thereby becoming the leavening agent in baking.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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our tandem story

KHS tandem

I was asked by a friendly reader after blogging my first experience with an supported bike ride how it felt to ride on the back–the technical term being “stoker”–of the tandem bicycle. It was then that I realized I never talked about the short, short history of our tandem cycling on this blog: why we decided to get one, where we went to get it, how we picked “the one.” So here it is: a breif, brief history of our life as tandem cyclists.

It all started when John decided to bike the MS150, a two-day, 180-mile supported ride from Houston to Austin held every April in support of raising money for MS research and the National MS Society. His first year doing the ride was only one-and-a-half years ago in 2009. By chance, the Houston Chronicle learned of his story–how his girlfriend at the time (that’s me) had an autoimmune condition similar to MS and how that inspired him to ride the ride–and decided to run an article about us. (The printed version, which we plan to frame one day along with the bandana I decorated for him, is sitting in a plastic sleeve on our shelf.)

So with John getting into biking and having done the MS150 for two years (2009-2010), I thought it would be cool if I could join him, not necessarily to do a full-out MS150, but to get regular exercise and do a few locally supported charity rides. The only other time I rode a tandem was in Vancouver with Joanna, and once we got the communication down, it was fun and easy. But with John, I was afraid that his experience combined with my novitiate would make for constant bickering to the point where the poor bicycle would be casted aside to the dusty corner of our garage. Regardless, we took the risk and decided a tandem bike would be our wedding gift to ourselves. So a few weeks after the dust had settled from our wedding, John and I drove up to House of Tandems in Spring, test rode a KHS, fell in love with it, and dished out the [insert amount equivalent to five thousand packages of ramen] for one we could call our very own. It was custom-built with a matte-finished champagne colored frame, Ultegra 105 components, and a Cateye computer to record our speed, RPMs, etc.

For some time, our bike remained in the garage. It was just too damn hot in Houston to ride. At one point, we even had a flat on it because it sat idle for so long. But now that the weather is cooling, biking is more bearable, so we’ve ventured to take the KHS out more.

Riding a tandem as a stoker (back) versus a captain (front) takes both more and less energy, depending on how you look at it. The captain has to steer, which requires more concentration, but the stoker is supposed to be the stronger “pedaler.” But obviously in our situation, I have to be the weak-pedaling stoker. Pedaling on a tandem isn’t difficult though–I manage to move us forward at a decent pace even when John picks up his feet and I have to pedal for the both of us. In fact, it’s kind of nice because when I get lazy, I just rest my helmet on his back and close my eyes while my legs simply go through the cycling motion.

Tandem cycling, like any other team sport, requires communication. John has to call out such warnings as “Going!”, “Slowing!”, and “Stopping!” This way I can clip in and clip out with my shoes, something I still have trouble with in spite of my egg beater pedals. My main complaint, however, would have to be the uncomfortable stock seat. Even though I wore my padded shorts, my crotch was tender (bruised?) for three days after the Midnight Ramble. After urinating, I couldn’t even properly wipe myself–I had to gently dab all the while gritting my teeth. Needless to say, John and I are planning to replace the seats in time for the Tour de Donut (which we are riding the day this post is scheduled to publish). Hook up John’s iPod speakers to the thing, and we’re ready to go.

Biking in itself is fun. I get aerobic exercise; build lean muscle in my back, arms, and legs; and enjoy the sounds and smells of what I’m sure is scenic Houston. Yes, it would be nice if I could enjoy the sights, too, but being able to feel the breeze on my face is enough to get me out there cycling.

real men bake banana nut & pumpkin nut breads

Pumpkin nut bread

Pumpkin nut bread made entirely from scratch

Recently, John and I took a leisure trip to Macy’s in search of things on which we could use the last of our registry Star Rewards credit. Ever since the Paris part of our honeymoon, John has been on a French baguette kick. About a month ago, he decided to finally give baguette baking a try. He bought bread flour, looked up recipes, rolled up his sleeves, and started kneading. The first baguette looked awesome but wasn’t fluffy like a true baguette. The second attempt looked unappetizing and hardened into a rock within two days. Then our friend, Mei-Mei, said, “Why don’t you just buy a bread maker?”

At first, John was reluctant; he knew that now, when any bread turned out delicious, it wouldn’t be due to his blood, sweat, and tears. He would have to give most of the credit to the boxy machine on our kitchen counter. But we had leftover credit at Macy’s and opted for the Cuisinart CBK-200, a 2-pound convection automatic bread maker. The thing is heavy-duty, taking up a fourth of our counter space, but what it lacks in sleekness, it makes up for in efficiency and convenience. Now all John has to do is pour the measured ingredients into the machine, close the lid, and turn it on. It’ll beep when it’s ready for mix-ins (e.g. nuts) and beep again once it’s done. Like a slow cooker, we can just throw everything in and forget about it for a few hours. Then later when we return to it, we’ll have a freshly baked bread. A bonus is how nice the house smells when you’ve got something baking. Mouth-watering, I say.

In the month we’ve had it, John’s used it to make a French loaf, banana bread, pizza dough, and the latest creation, pumpkin walnut bread. Except for the French loaf (which still turned out edible), everything has been pretty damn delicious. He’s gotten a lot of compliments for his breads, and while our friend Daniel said that with all this baking, John’s lost his nuts in his bread, John says real men bake.

The truth is I’m happy John’s been spending more time in the kitchen. It gives the Blind Cook a much needed break. The following recipe is one he found online for banana nut bread. He used the same recipe to make both the banana bread and the pumpkin walnut bread; for the former, he baked it sans nuts since we didn’t have any on hand, and for the latter, he simply substituted the bananas with the fresh pumpkin he had spent five hours the other evening preparing. (That in itself was a whole ordeal. First he had to cut open the pumpkin, roast it in the oven with a layer of brown sugar on top to sweeten the field pumpkin, puree it in the food processor. That wasn’t all. Then I had to stand there with a knee-high sock in hand, which we read was an acceptable substitute for cheesecloth, while he spooned globs of pumpkin puree into it in order to extract all the water from the orange mass. Craziness, I tell you.)

But what we got out of it was a pumpkin walnut bread truly made from scratch. I’m so proud of my hubby. If a computer geek can bake it, so can you. You just may need to throw some money down for a bread machine first.

Banana bread

Banana bread sans the nuts



Recipe: Banana Nut or Pumpkin Nut Bread for the Bread Machine

Summary: Original recipe from the Bread Maker section of All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. margarine or butter, softened
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 2.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. mashed bananas or pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Spray bread machine pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Pre-mix ingredients in the order listed. Place mixture in bread machine pan.
  3. Select the “Quick Bread/Cake” cycle. Press “Start.” Check after 1 min. to see if dough is well-blended.
  4. Cook until cycle ends. Remove pan and cool completely before removing bread from pan.

Quick Notes

For best results, use King Arthur flour. It’s more expensive but seems worth it for quality breads.

Baking powder = 2 parts cream of tartar + 1 part baking soda. This will be further explained in my snickerdoodles post.

The prep time listed below only accounts for the mixing of ingredients and does not include the time it spends in the bread machine.

Variations

We’ve used this same recipe to make both banana bread and pumpkin nut bread. I’m sure there are other mushy fruits/purees that could be added into this bread. Why not try?

Cooking time (duration): 10

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: snack

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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country green beans

Let’s face it. Most Southern cookin’ recipes are not the healthiest–fried this, fried that, butter this, lard that. Typically, a hefty scoop of mashed potatoes would go wonderful with this birthday meal #2 next to the chicken fried chicken and the baked mac ‘n cheese, but I decided to “healthen” it up a bit and cook some fresh green beans instead. The nice thing about this choice is that it also adds color to the dish, making it more appealing to our visual sense. (I know this shouldn’t matter to the Blind Cook, but I am, after all, cooking for others who are sighted.)

Okay, so once I took a look at the list of ingredients, the green beans didn’t look too healthy any more, but I figured I’d be using much more butter in mashed potatoes, so better to just stick with the greens.

It turned out this was the only dish that incurred no leftovers. Was it because a pound of beans could easily be devoured by six hungry stomachs? I like to think that it was just that good. The best thing about these country green beans, however, may be that it was damn easy to cook. I mean, look at the instructions–it’s only one step!


Recipe: Country Green Beans

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 c. chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cooked bacon
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. water
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a med. saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cover and simmer over med. heat until beans are cooked through, about 15 to 20 min.

Quick Notes

You can use kitchen scissors to trim the ends off green beans. But being blind, I found that snapping them off with my fingers was more efficient. This will work if the beans are fresh enough to snap easily. Otherwise, they’ll be too soft and pliable, and you’ll end up losing more bean. In this case, stick with the scissors.

Variations

The original recipe used ham, but since I already had turkey bacon on hand from the clam chowder, I decided to use that instead.

Cooking time (duration): 25

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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why evite sucks

Note: This is categorized under “Technological advances” but it is more like a lack thereof.

I just spent the past 90 minutes trying to RSVP to an event on Evite. One single event. One single RSVP. Needless to say, I’m pretty pissed right now. Why does Evite suck so bad? I’ll tell you why. Their site is utterly counterintuitive for people who have to use screen reading software to navigate. Before the “new” Evite rolled out, I didn’t have too many problems RSVP-ing, but creating an Evite was loathsome–it would take me maybe an hour or so to figure out which field the cursor was in. Now with this new Evite, even RSVP-ing sucks! I’m sure for sighted people, the format or layout is cleaner, but hello?! What if you are using JAWS or a screen reader to find your way around the web? Now the event itself is hard to find, and once you click on the event in the list, the details are difficult to locate. And then every time I click on a radio button to RSVP “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” my screen reader isn’t letting me tab to the comments box and then the “reply” button. This means there is something not working with Evite and my screen reader, and I’m going to blame Evite since JAWS seems to give me no problems elsewhere. I had to retype my RSVP a dozen times before it finally saved correctly.

And why are there so many links on the Evite? In JAWS, the tab button is used to scroll from link to link, and with everything being labeled as a link, it takes me too long to find the field or button or link I’m looking for.

Still convinced that Evite doesn’t suck? There is an entire site dedicated to Evite’s suckiness. If you google “evite sucks,” you get a ton of search results. Evite, you suck. You’d better redeem yourself in your next version. Get a group of blind people to do some QA testing on your site. I hope somehow this post finds the Evite CEO’s eyes!

what do i do with all this pumpkin?

My laziness got the better of me, and the other night, we did not carve a single pumpkin. We did not get a single trick-or-treater. We did not watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I was able to convince a friend to take home one of the pumpkins, but I still have a huge pumpkin sitting in my foyer that I don’t know what to do with. At first, I figured I could puree it and use it to make a pumpkin cheesecake (recipe forthcoming) for Thanksgiving, or give it to John to use in the bread maker and bake a pumpkin gingerbread loaf, or even use it to make pumpkin ice cream. But alas, while doing some research online to figure out how to turn fresh pumpkin into the canned variety (which so many of these recipes call for), to my dismay, I discovered that a carving pumpkin used for jack-o’-lanterns (also called a field pumpkin) is not the same thing as a sugar pumpkin, which is darker and squatter and whose sweeter flesh is more suitable for baking. Ugh. Now I’m stuck and clueless with this field pumpkin. Besides roasting the seeds, does anyone have any idea what I can do with this thing? John suggested leaving it in a corner of our yard and taking a photo of it every day for a year and posting in on a site we’d start called shrinkingpumpkin.com, but I know laziness will overtake us once again, and the photo-taking will soon cease, and we’ll just have a rotten, ugly gourd in our yard. So any other suggestions, anyone?

baked mac ‘n cheese

Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? Besides the lactose intolerant, of course. And if you don’t like mac ‘n cheese because you don’t like cheese, then I have nothing more to say to you.

Up until this birthday dinner, my mac ‘n cheese was always of the Kraft variety. I remember due to a NMO exacerbation several years ago, I was on corticosteroids whose main side effects on me are insomnia and increased appetite. Often accompanying these appetite changes were strange cravings, and during this particular round of steroids, I ate at least one serving of Easy Mac every day. I even had to go to Costco and buy in bulk.

But thank heavens, my taste buds have since sophisticated, and I tried making good ol’ mac ‘n cheese from scratch this time. The idea came to me when I was watching this “Good Eats” episode on melted cheese, and Alton Brown baked some mac ‘n cheese. And then when I went online to search for the recipe and saw it’s enthusiastic reviews, I was sold.

It was definitely a hit. The panco bread crumbs made all the difference. Overwhelmed by the exoticism? Let’s break it down.

Panco is simply Japanese for “bread crumbs.” The difference between this variety and the American kind is that panco is flaky rather than crummy–uh, I mean crumby (sorry, another bad joke). This means there is more surface area so to make a long story short, your foods will turn out crispier, crunchier, yet lighter. Even after microwaving the leftovers, the panco still added a delightful crunch to the mac ‘n cheese.

Another differentiating factor is the sharp cheddar. None of that bland, watery mild cheddar here. We like a hearty, pungent cheddar. I cheated and opted for the kind that come already shredded in a bag, but if you’re looking to build up forearm muscles, try buying a block of sharp cheddar (either white or yellow or both) and grating it yourself? We received this sweet mandolin slicer as a wedding gift, and it makes cheese grating easy. And remember that if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.


Recipe: Baked Mac ‘n Cheese

Summary: Original recipe from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked slightly less than al dente
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4.5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tbsp. mustard powder
  • 3 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1 lg. egg
  • 18 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp. butter for topping
  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. panco bread crumbs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a med. saucepan, melt 3 tbsp. butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard powder, and whisk continuously for 5 min. so that no lumps form. Stir in milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for 10 min. before removing bay leaf.
  3. Temper in the egg, and stir in 3/4 of the cheddar. Season with salt & pepper. Fold in the macaroni, and pour into a 2-qt. casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  4. In a separate sm. saute pan, melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter, and toss the panco to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 to 40 min. or until edges are slightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 min. before serving.

Variations

I changed up some of the measurements only because the ingredients came packaged in varying amounts. (E.g. I didn’t want to purchase 2 boxes of panco or have to save only 4 oz. of the 12-oz. pkg. of macaroni.) And I thought the recipe still turned out okay. I think the thing with casserole type dishes is they don’t have to be an exact science. This is good for all you non-recipe followers out there. (You know who you are.)

I also baked the macaroni for longer than what the original Alton Brown recipe called for because I like the edges a little burnt. Personally, I think it tastes better and adds that toasted crunch.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

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