Common food delicacies

I was just reading the Macaroni thread over in GQ. And it got me to thinking about my mom’s mac and cheese. Not the crappy blashphemous glowing yellow stuff from the box. But the real caserole style with cheese, cream, noodles and crackers on top. The whole thing was good, but my family always fought over the edges. If you’ve never had real Mac, the edge always gets this cheese that is almost, but not quite burnt. It gets a perfect crunchy border right along the edge of the dish, that as far as I know cannot be duplicated in a non cheese caserole. Finally my mom started cooking it in cake pans or tureens to maximize the ‘edge’. But the seperated middle would still be sitting loney in the pan until the end. What’s your favorite part of common foods?

I love the edges of most things, really. The skin on sausages are the best part because of the juicy, crunchy snap they have when you bite into them, the crust on a pizza may not be my favorite part but it shares equally in my love its toppings.

And if someone steals the end piece of cornbread (not that disgustingly sweet abomination that non-Southerners make from a box. Ugh.) or french bread, there’ll be a fight.

End piece of cornbread? Cornbread is ROUND, if it’s made right…in a round cast-iron skillet.

For great mac and cheese, see the works of the great food writer John Thorne…here’s a link to the mac and cheese page of his Simple Cooking website.

“Common foods” makes me think of my mother’s father, a grand old Czech-American gentleman who died when I was nine. But I still remember his kitchen, and the old-world dishes he turned out. Some of which were SO peasant-like that my father-in-law, whose background is Lithuanian Jewish, told me “YOUR people must have been REALLY poor” when he tasted my versions of them.

There was a thing Grandpa called “Dill Gravy.” I was just talking with my (older) sister about this thing the other night.

He would take a few huge handfuls of fresh dill from his garden and simmer them in water. Then stir in sour cream, a little caraway seed, and a couple of boiled potatoes (boiled separately, for no reason my sister and I could fathom). Then, when the soupy mixture was hot, he would crack in a couple of eggs and poach them in the liquid, salt and pepper, and serve in big deep soupbowls.

My sister and I have “improved” this recipe by adding onions (onions are ALWAYS a good idea) and chopped cabbage, and calling it “cabbage soup.”

But I’ll always remember sitting at his big dining table and eating Dill Gravy out of thick bowls.

That is pretty damn similar to my mom’s procedure, but with slightly different ingrediants. She used a combo of cheddar and mozzerella, heavy cream instead of evaporated milk, chili powder instead of mustard, and oyster crackers on yop.

Most often but not always. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to see a rectangular thing of cornbread while growing up and it was generally made by my VERY Southern stepmother. Conversely, my mother, who was born and raised in New York City, always makes it in a cast iron skillet.

Really? But it’s not a casserole! That’s his whole point!

Made in a breadpan? I used to make cornbread in a breadpan.

Perhaps I’m not very knowledgeable on the nuances of Casserole-ness. Basically if my mom cooked it in her standard-issue-midwestern-housewife-issue-green-and white-flowered casserole dish(which she did before moving to the cake pans), I consider it a casserole. I assumed it had more to do with the baking dish than the ingredients to be a casserole.

Waht would a casserole style mac and cheese be then?

No. It was more shallow, maybe 2/3 the height, and while it was rectangular, it was much more squarish than a breadpan would have been.

I love the toasted bits of rice on the bottom of the pan after making a pot of it on the stove (as opposed to a steamer). My in-laws, who come from Ecuador, call it cocolon, and it’s battled over at the end of a family meal.

There isn’t much better than the oysters from a roasted chicken. I love those sweet, moist little nuggets of meat.

Oh, and there’s the utter delightfulness of roasted chicken or turkey skin, when it’s well-seasoned, brown and crisp. Man, that’s good.

I’ll second the cheese! For even more of it, here’s a quick snack. Throw a handful of grated cheese in a non-stick pan, spread it out evenly to the size of a slice of bread, salt and pepper if you like, and put the bread on top. Move it around a bit as it fries until, as wolfman says, it’s “almost, but not quite burnt” and flip it over to brown the back a little.

I also like the crusts of bread or cornbread.

One that nobody else seems to understand is the crunchy goodness of the core from a head of cabbage. Whenever my mother was cutting up a cabbage, I was right there to get the core to gnaw on the rest of the day.

My favorite part of the cake? Not the frosting, not the cake . . . I LOVE the “cake sludge” that forms when the moist cake sits on the platter that you can scrape up with your finger. Needless to say, I can only indulge in this practice in the privacy of my own home, with the curtains drawn. Dang, is that good.

Oh, I understand. I love the core!

Oh, no kidding! My Dad taught me that secret when he taught me how to carve the turkey, and we’d each get one. My sister wasn’t interested enough in cooking to want to learn that, so for years, we kept it our little secret. I’m sure Mom knew we were snaking them, but she didn’t mind.

And to this day, since I’m the cook, I don’t mention them to people for fear that I’ll have to share them. There are some benefits to being the only cook in the house, after all!

The ends of a salami are a special treat around my house, and of course, who can omit the cake beaters or cookie dough?

Also, if a little bit of cheese falls out of a grilled cheese sandwich, the kids don’t get to see that - it never makes it to the plate after it’s been toasted a little crispy.

I am another fan of end bits.

The heal of the bread loaves (real loves of peasant bread not sliced crap). The ends of the meatloaf (yes meatloaf, I LOVE meatloaf).

As for cornbread, I got as a gift one year a skillet with wedge compartments to make individual wedges of cornbread when it’s turned out. At first i thought “what a multitasker” untill i realized you get perfect wedges with crispy edges all the way around… MMMMMMMMMMM

I don’t like casserole mac 'n cheese, so I have no idea if this is appalling genius or just nasty. But for those of you who really like the burnt crust, have you ever thought of…get ready for it…making mac 'n cheese in muffin tins?

As for my own common delicacies, there’s nothing in the world more comforting than boiling up spaghetti, draining it, sauteeing a dozen cloves of crushed garlic in olive oil, tossing it with the spaghetti, and adding lots of salt, pepper, and parmesan to the mix. Naaaaaaammmmm.


Wouldn’t the sour cream curdle if you boiled the potatoes in that mixture? Or did you mean why not boil the potatoes in with the dill and then add the sour cream (which might be more heat than the dill can take? )

Muffin tins! Great idea!

For the spghetti, I’d throw it in the pan with everything else to fry a bit while it’s being tossed. (I’ve mentioned this before. It’s even better with a few chopped olives, preferably Sicilian.)