Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole – 27/67

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Today is day 17 of my quarantine in Brooklyn. 

18 days ago, I cautiously went out for dinner, took the subway, met a friend for coffee, waited in a line that wrapped around the whole grocery store. 18 days feels like a year ago. This day 18 days ago didn’t feel like a particularly noteworthy day (besides the long check-out line), but has now become a symbol of everything that changed since then. 

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Since then, like you (I hope), I have left my apartment rarely. I have not gone more than 5 blocks from my home, besides one bike ride. I have ordered takeout 0 times. I have washed more dishes than I thought possible. I have slogged through the workday to the hum of (still considered “essential”????) construction next door. I haven’t done laundry and am still not sure where/how/when we will accomplish that. I have gotten very mad at online grocery delivery services whose websites break and who have no delivery times available, and who I am continuing to find empathy for. I have cycled between work leggings – sleep leggings – yoga leggings – repeat. I have gone stir crazy and sang dramatic musical theater songs at the top of my lungs. 

And also — I have cried at NYTimes push notifications calling the hospitals in my beautiful city “an apocalypse”. I have cried while donating to GoFundMes for our local restaurants and bars. I have cried about all the plays that had to close early, the artists out of work, the nonprofits wondering how they will keep up their payroll. I have cried about the health care workers putting their lives at risk to treat the flood of patients that isn’t slowing down. I have teared up at many a casual “how are you doing”, because the answer is still, well, not great. 

And also — I celebrated my one year anniversary not by visiting one of the best omakase places in NYC (in the Upper East Side, which might as well be as far away as Alaska at this point), but instead by making a version of ma po tofu with the somewhat correct ingredients we happened to have at home and by getting drunk on a full bottle of champagne leftover from our last party. I have made dinner with my remarkable husband every single night and shared a pot of coffee with him every single morning. I have gotten said husband to do online yoga classes with me! I have facetimed, zoomed, google hang-outed, phone called, texted, instagram messaged, keybased, and whatsapped friends I haven’t spoken to in months. I have felt extraordinarily lucky to be safe at home, still with a source of income, still eating well, still healthy. 

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I am cycling through being grateful, and scared, and anxious, and just sad like no other moment in my life. It gives me hope to know everyone else I know is experiencing this cycle too. And throughout all these micro-adjustments, we’re all cooking! All the time. I made a dorky silly google doc to track what we’re making for dinner — partly because it gives me some structure and partly because hey, I already did the work, maybe others can get inspiration from it? A mini blog. You can find that here. All recipes are loosely followed and adapted aplenty. 

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We’ve been making some comfort food, some projects, lots of fresh veggies, many easy pantry meals. In the comfort food category: I can’t believe I’ve never shared my Grandma Evie’s mac and cheese recipe. It is one of the first foods I remember eating growing up, one of the first things I made for a dinner party in college, a staple at every family event (especially alongside bagels and lox at brunch!). Most of the family fought over the crunchy parts on top, but I always liked the creamy core more. My mom always said her version wasn’t as good as her mom’s, and mine is likely not as good as either of theirs. 

The recipe is from my great-grandma Aranka, a Hungarian immigrant to NYC (hence the paprika finishing this recipe). When I get overwhelmed with what’s going on in the world, I take comfort in thinking all I have to do is stay at home, in constant contact with my family and loved ones, and I should be safe. I can’t imagine the trip taken by my great-grandparents, escaping hateful countries, getting on a boat to a new home, with no way to communicate besides snail mail. I think of these family stories and am strengthened: New York City, and its vast network of resilient residents, will recover. It may not be how it was before, but it will be back. People always need food and art and gathering places. We will pick up the pieces and move always forward. We just need to stay the f home and cook cook cook. 

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one year ago: caramelized onion and goat cheese hamantashen
four years ago: kung pao Brussel sprouts and tofu
five years ago: spicy lemon fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions (omg I might actually have everything to make this during quarantine!!)

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

passed down from my spunky Great Grandma Aranka

Most of a 1 lb box of pasta (elbows are traditional, for yesterday’s version I used part farfalle and part orecchiette)
About 8 oz cheese (a block of cheddar is great. I did half cheddar, half gouda)
One can tomato sauce (14 oz preferably, or 8 oz if that’s all you have in you pantry, like me)
Milk – one can’s worth
Salt and pepper
Paprika (I only have smoked and it’s great!)
**this time I added in a chopped chile in adobo sauce because it sounded good. It was!**

Preheat the oven to 350F. 

Boil your pasta in salty water til al dente. Drain. 

Grate your cheese into a big bowl. Add tomato sauce. Pour milk into the tomato sauce can and add to the bowl. Add chile in adobo if you’d like. Add drained pasta and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix together. If it looks dry, add a bit more milk. 

Pour pasta into a baking dish. Sprinkle paprika on top. Bake for 50 minutes, until bubbling and top is golden brown. Let a cool a bit before serving. This makes amazing leftovers, and can be frozen too. 

 

Baked Eggs and Spinach, Spanish-ish Style

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Reasons I should be eating cake for breakfast today instead of greens:

  • I survived this week.
  • A week which consisted of dress rehearsal and final performance for my, shall we say, incredibly stubborn current group of senior citizen actors I devised a play with. Hoo boy this was a tough one. Cake deserved.
  • A week which also consisted of rehearsals every day for the show I’m directing for Bond Street Theatre — our production of The Law of the Jungle — originally created in Afghanistan and currently restaged with teens from our weekend workshop series. Friday was opening night, and they killed it! Cake definitely deserved.
  • A week which also consisted of visiting the final senior center theater program I oversaw, wayyy out in East Elmhurst, Queens.
  • Monday is the first day of Urban Stages Summer Camp, for which I’m the director. The staff is trained, the theater is set up, the campers (more than we’ve ever had!) are ready to descend. And this administrator is feeling confident. (Cake!)
  • Other things accomplished this week to celebrate: we submitted visas for our upcoming China trip(!), got a good start on our wedding website, ordered a test save the date, and I found time to make muffins.
  • Also this country is going to shit and it’s terrifying, so I think cake for breakfast is the least of our concerns.

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Reasons I should be eating greens for breakfast instead of cake:

  • My fridge has been taken over by CSA greens. Like SERIOUSLY taken over. Send help.
  • (Also, I definitely ate this with half a leftover raspberry lime muffin I made for my teens, so I ended up with the best of both worlds.)

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Practicality, psh — these eggs also taste great. I say “Spanish-ish” because this recipe contains two of my favorite Spanish ingredients — smoked paprika and manchego cheese — but I don’t actually know if this is consumed in Spain. But I do know it’s delicious and that now I have one less bundle of greens to deal with in the fridge.

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four years ago: easy rhubarb cake 
three years ago: mustard greens with oyster sauce and garlic oil 
two years ago: Lebanese un-stuffed eggplant with yogurt sauce 
one year ago: tapado (Caribbean fish, coconut, and plantain soup)

Baked Eggs and Spinach, Spanish-ish Style

a swanky original

½ pound spinach (about 3 big handful)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 giant garlic clove, minced
big pinch red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
a couple splashes hot sauce (this is my favorite and adds even more smokiness)
Non-stick spray
2 eggs
shredded manchego (or cheese of choice)
fresh oregano, minced (optional)
s&p

Preheat oven to 375F.

If starting with farm-fresh spinach, remove stems and rinse. (My favorite way to do this is in a big bowl — fill with greens and cold water, hold greens to one side and drain, and repeat three times. Takes a little while but is quite effective.) Dry on clean kitchen towels, or a salad spinner if you didn’t break yours last week (oops). Give a rough chop.

Heat a big saute pan over medium heat. Warm olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for about a minute, until your kitchen smells great. Add spinach all in one go, and sprinkle with generous pinches of salt, pepper, and the smoked paprika. Then mix together. As spinach cooks down, add vinegar and hot sauce. Turn off heat when spinach is dark green and totally shriveled. For me this took about 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Get out two oven-safe ramekins and spray with Pam or other non-stick spray. Arrange half of spinach in each. Make a little divet in the middle and crack one egg into each divet. Sprinkle eggs with salt, pepper, and manchego cheese.

Put ramekins on a rimmed baking tray (for easy maneuverability) and bake until whites are set but the yolk is still a bit runny. (In my notoriously slow oven this happened around minute 21, but I began checking around 15 minutes.) Sprinkle with oregano and extra hot sauce if you’d like. Let it sit for a moment before eating — everything will be hot!

Other things I’ve made with CSA ingredients this week:

  • a salad to use up lettuce, fresh oregano, and radishes
  • a Callaloo soup that I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of (I blame the okra)
  • raspberry lime muffins
  • lettuce wraps with hummus and curry roasted cauliflower

Butternut-Tahini Mash

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Some recent favorites:

  • Rokia Traore, an incredible Malian musician, on Spotify while cleaning the kitchen. It’s love.
  • The (surprisingly!) flavorful veggie Ramen at Tabata II (and the fact that it exists on 8th Ave and 35th St…)
  • Heattech layers from Uniqlo. I think I’ve worn my “warmest shirt ever” every day since purchasing it last month.
  • AirBNB, because it led us to this YURT(!!!) as a destination for our upcoming California trip!
  • The amazing Instagram feed The_Pho_Project for its never-ending use of “pho” wordplay and punnery
  • and this dip. Or, more exactly, this excuse to eat tahini-drenched, smoked paprika-covered smashed roasted squash on everything!

This was my favorite take away from the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse. A simple but amazingly tasty dip/mash/spread/puree to enhance any and all foodstuffs. The cleanse called for you to eat with roast chicken, which I’m sure was delectable. I substituted fried tofu cubes which was equally tasty (but if we’re being technical a bit too much of the same texture). I snacked on it for days with pita, celery sticks, carrots, or even a quick stolen as-is spoonful. Treat it like hummus and you’ll find dip elation phoever and ever.

Butternut Tahini Mash Dip Paste

Butternut-Tahini Mash

From Bon Appetit’s Food Lover’s Cleanse

1 butternut squash, cut in half length-wise
3 big garlic cloves, unpeeled
olive oil
¼ cup well-stirred tahini paste
¼ t smoked paprika
½ t ground cumin
2 T lemon juice
s&p
zaatar

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 T olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper on squash halves and then place onto baking sheet, cut side down. Add garlic cloves to baking sheet. Cook for about 45-50 minutes, or until squash is very tender.

Let cool for about 5 minutes. Then, spoon squash flesh into a big bowl (discard skin). Peel garlic cloves and add them, along with tahini, cumin, paprika, and lemon juice. Mash everything together roughly with a fork. Add s&p to taste. Sprinkle with zaatar to serve.

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