cheddar, avocado, lime and shell pasta, a cookbook review: melt

Avocado lime pasta with cheddar

If you love mac n'cheese as much as I do, then I am sure you will absolutely fall in love with Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, a fantastic new cookbook by longtime food bloggers, Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, that I had the opportunity to review. Accompanying a delectable collection of recipes in this cookbook, is the awe inspiring photography of Matt Armendariz that will leave you, as I will simply put it, very, very hungry! 

It is hard to imagine diversifying something as simple as cheese and macaroni but that is exactly what both Stephanie and Garrett successfully accomplished in their cookbook, they combine both of these  ingredients and whip up a variety of different recipes that go above and beyond what one could imagine. Personally for me, I was thrilled to see Indian cheeses like paneer being mentioned and used in this book and ingredients from other wonderful international cuisines. This book is written with passion and love, so you know it's definitely one you will want to own.

Shell pasta

Sometimes, it can be an absolute headache to find certain ingredients but both Stephanie and Garett have painstakingly, listed several alternate suggestions for cheeses and wine pairings, which is sure to make any cook's life easy. I particularly love that they even have a couple of useful chapters and resources devoted to cooking with cheeses and pasta and a special reference section at the end of the book, to help you get out there and expand your own creativity in the kitchen! 

Avocados and limes

Now here's some fun stuff, Stephanie and Garrett are celebrating the release of their new cookbook with some really great giveaways including a $500 Le Creuset cookware set, visit Melt for more details. 

This is one of my favorite recipes from Melt, it has every fresh flavor and ingredient that I love to cook with. Ripe avocados, fresh limes, spicy jalapeños, and refreshing cilantro leaves with warm, bubbly cheddar are all combined into one rich creamy sauce full of flavor that coats and fills the cup of every piece of shell pasta. Get your copy of Melt, I know you will love it as much as I do!

Cheddar, Avocado and Lime Shell Pasta

beecher's flagship cheddar with avocado, lime and shell pasta

from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

yields: 4 to 6 servings

ingredients

1 jalapeño pepper 
zest of 1 lime
2 green onions, green parts only, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ripe avocados, pits and skin removed, divided
10 ounces conchiglie or other medium shell pasta
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces Beecher's flagship cheddar, shredded
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
lime wedges for garnish

1. Remove the stem from the jalapeño and cut the jalapeño in half. Remove the ribs and seeds-or keep them, depending on how much heat you like. Toss the jalapeño into the bowl of a food processor with the lime zest and lime juice. Add green onions, garlic, and flesh of the 2 avocados. Blitz together into a very smooth paste. 
2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside. 
3. To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon-a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave clear swath. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and pepper. Add the avocado-onion paste and whisk together until uniform and creamy. The key word here, if you haven't guessed, is smooth. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the pasta and cilantro the sauce and stir together. Dice the last avocado and toss together with the mac and cheese. Serve immediately with a splash of lime juice. 

avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

Avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

A couple of weekends ago we did something crazy, we went out and bought a power boat. After an endless wait of two weeks (which isn't that long but we are both terribly impatient), the boat was finally delivered to D.C. late last week and of course, we spent every day of the entire weekend taking it out on the Potomac. As a kid, I'd been on the ocean on a few ships and a fishing boat once but this was much different. Fresh waters are so different from the sea and it smells less too which is nice, though I would not mind the ocean one bit! Snoopy is still adjusting and we hope that eventually (more like sooner) we can stop carrying him on and off the boat as he is too scared to make the jump himself and believe me carrying 45lbs on and off a boat after a few days is tiresome! On day one he whined a bit which I assumed to be his getting acclimated to an unfamiliar rocking motion on the boat (while we were docked), however by day two, he barked to say hi to every person that passed by. He enjoys the speed of the boat once it picks up and likes to stretch his head out to sniff the air and catch the wind. Snoopy is still struggling with the existence of some of the wildlife such as the flying herons and the swimming ducks and I think he will soon come to terms with it. He likes to do things at his own pace. Our dog runs our life, house, and now the boat!

boat

I'm curious to learn fishing but for now one license at a time is good, first I need to get my boating license so I can learn to drive. It is interesting to see how the waters get so busy here but I enjoy the people watching part while they boat and kayak their way through. More than anything, I am really looking forward to docking in Old Town Alexandria and eating out at some of the waterfront restaurants. 

Snoopy on the boat

I've been trying to do better this year by consuming a few avocados a week to gain some healthy fat in my diet. Consequently, avocados were bound to make their way into my food and they did just that by occupying a spot in these delicious dark chocolate madeleines. This was my first time baking madeleines as well as using avocados as a butter substitute. Everything turned out delicious and I was excited to use my madeleine baking pan that I found at an antique store in North Carolina a few months back. To stick with theme of using less fat, I sprayed the pan's molds with a light neutral cooking spray oil which worked out perfectly, instead of greasing it the traditional way with butter. Make sure you use a soft and ripe avocado and puree it to complete smoothness to avoid any fibrous textures or clumps of avocado meat. Since the traditional technique to prepare madeleines involves the use of melted butter, I warmed up the avocado puree in a water-bath to help solubilize some of the fat. Another tip while working with the batter, spoon it in and spread it a little to fill the mold, it will rise during baking and puff up well. 

butter-free madelines1

Overall the entire weekend was a set of first firsts for me and each one of these experiences from boating to my baking experiments. I've realized that I am always happy when I bake!

madeline pan and avocado1

avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

yields: 16-18 large madeleines

ingredients

3/4 cup unbleached cake flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ripe avocado
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a little confectioner's sugar for dusting

1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. 
2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and keep aside. 
3. Mash and puree the avocado to get a smooth paste (you can use a food processor for this). Seal the puree with cling film in a glass bowl and place the bowl with the puree in a warm-water bath at 70C till use (this helps to melt out some of the fat and make it smoother).
4. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs for 5 minutes on medium speed until light and foamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk for an additional 5 minutes on medium-high speed until thick and creamy. Remove the mixer bowl from the stand mixer. 
5. Sift the flour-cocoa mixture into the whisked eggs and carefully fold the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula using a circular motion. Fold the pre-warmed avocado puree into the batter. 
6. Generously coat a madeleine baking pan with a neutral cooking oil spray. Spoon and spread out the cake batter into the molds. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. The madeleines are baked and ready to be removed when the center is firm and springs back when pressed with the fingers. Remove the madeleines from the tray and allow them to cool on a wire rack. You can store them in an airtight container.
7. Before serving, dust the madeleines with a little confectioner's sugar using a sieve.