Test Kitchen Challenge #1

It’s coming up on the first anniversary of this blog, and I thought this would be the perfect time to get the test kitchen off the ground. If you’re like me, you have mountains of recipes and cookbooks; I’ve been working for over 20 years on getting my recipes onto a digital file, and it’s been quite the arduous task. I need some help in winnowing my recipes down to a much more workable collection. Unfortunately, there are so many recipes out there for basics such as chocolate chip cookies, one can never choose which one to stick with. My goal is to have the best recipe, perhaps two, of the same dish instead of, say, 10 different lemon bar recipes (I actually have eight so far). Eventually I’d like to make an e-book (perhaps even a print version) of my recipes, and I’ll make it available for readers to download.

The rules here are simple. Whichever of the recipes listed below that you choose, you are required to make the dish, at least initially, exactly as written. Once you’ve made it as written at least once and tested it with family and friends, feel free to make as many versions of it as you wish, changing any ingredients, cooking directions, or other aspects of the recipe you think need to be changed. Try to make each change separately, one at a time per batch, to keep everything as methodical as possible. When I go to test a new recipe myself, I write down each variable I plan to change. Each new version will have one variable changed according to my list, and then I’ll write down how it turned out. I go through each variable so I can be sure to have tested it in as many different ways possible.

You have to write down every change you make and the results. This is for your own reference, but I also want you to share your findings with me. All you need to do is email me at sharirogers@thebountifulfreezer.com to let me know of your results, including the best version of the recipe according to you. I’ll test the final results myself, and the version I like best will not only appear in my own recipe collection, but also on this website for readers to print and use as they wish. Also, when you’ve gotten the recipe exactly as you like it, you may keep it and use or share it as you wish; none of my recipes are copyrighted as of yet.

You can email me or comment below with any questions you may have about the testing process. I would also like to see your results, so include a picture in your email. I will only use first name and last initial for any recipe tester identifications when I publish my final version of a recipe on this blog.

Keep these things in mind when changing your variables. Add, subtract, or switch out spices and seasonings to your taste. If you can’t find the exact ingredient at your local supermarket, try going online, especially for any ingredients you’re unfamiliar with. And if you are unfamiliar with an ingredient, you can ask me or else look it up online.

Ingredients that are listed as generally as possible refer to the basic ingredient that one would typically use in cooking; for instance, “flour” refers to all-purpose, and “sugar” refers to granulated. You can use whatever kinds of these ingredients you normally use. Any other varieties of an ingredient are specified; “whole wheat flour” and “packed brown sugar” would be examples. You can use whatever you have on hand of these ingredients as well.

There may be some recipes that specify NOT to use certain ingredients, such as fat-free “half and half”. Who came up with that abomination, anyway? If you’re a vegan and the recipe calls for whole milk, don’t try substituting nondairy milk-like drinks, because the recipe will probably not turn out right. Also, use the sizes of eggs called for in the recipes so they turn out right; I usually use large eggs, but some recipes of mine specify extra large and/or jumbo eggs. The reason is that they’re older, and according to my mom, older recipes used larger eggs, closer in size to extra large or jumbo.

Remember your mise en place. I will always write a recipe with the ingredients in the order they’re used in the recipe. Sometimes I’ll write something like “¼ c. + 2 T. milk, divided”. What you should do in these cases is look through the recipe to find out where exactly the milk will be used, and how much is used at each point in the recipe. Divide the milk accordingly, and put each amount in the line of your recipe ingredients in the proper order. For reference, ¼ cup equals four Tablespoons so the above example equals six Tablespoons. You may have to divide the ingredient into three or four different amounts, depending on how it’s used in the recipe.

Here’s a quirk about my recipe writing. I learned from my teacher in my 9th grade cooking class that Tablespoon is abbreviated T. and teaspoon is abbreviated t. As you see, I even go so far as to write or type the words out with the appropriate T or t. Cup/cups will always be abbreviated c. I’ve written my recipes like this for over 35 years now, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. I thought I’d start with that good old standard mac & cheese, because very few people I know dislike it. Let me know what you think!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese I (Makes 6 servings) Prep: 20 Minutes Cook: 30 minutes

  • 6 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • ¼ c. flour
  • ¾ t. salt
  • ⅛ t. freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash paprika
  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ½ lb. elbow macaroni, cooked to slightly underdone and drained
  • 1 c. plain soft breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375 °F. Spray 1½-quart baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside. Melt 4 Tablespoons butter in medium saucepan or top of double boiler over medium heat. Add next 4 ingredients and blend well. Pour in milk; cook and stir until mixture is thick and smooth. Cook and stir 5 minutes more; remove from heat, add cheese, and stir until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth.

Spoon small amount of sauce in thin layer in bottom of prepared baking pan; layer with one-third macaroni and one-third remaining cheese sauce. Repeat layers 2 more times. Stir together breadcrumbs and remaining butter; sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake 20 minutes or until topping is golden brown, cheese sauce is bubbly, and macaroni is tender.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese II (Makes 4 servings Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 30 minutes

  • 1 10¾-oz. can condensed Cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
  • ½ soup can of milk
  • ⅛ t. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ c. rotini pasta, cooked to slightly underdone and drained
  • 1 T. plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 t. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Stir together first 4 ingredients and spread evenly in 1-quart baking pan. Stir together breadcrumbs and butter; sprinkle over casserole. Bake 20 minutes or until mixture is bubbly, pasta is tender, and breadcrumbs are lightly browned.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese III (Makes 6 servings) Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 40 minutes

  • 5 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 T. finely chopped onion
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2¼ c. scalded milk
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2½ c. wagon wheels pasta, cooked to slightly underdone and drained
  • ¼ c. plain dry breadcrumbs
  • ¼ c. grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Spray 2-quart baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside. Heat 2 Tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add onion and cook 1 minute or until softened. Stir in flour to make smooth paste. Reduce heat to medium and add scalding milk; cook and stir until thickened. Stir in mustard.

Add Cheddar and Jack cheeses to sauce and cook until melted and smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add pasta and stir to coat well. Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan.

Melt remaining butter; add breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle mixture on top of pasta. Bake 30 minutes or until pasta is tender, mixture is bubbly, and topping is golden brown.

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