Friday, March 7, 2014

Foodie Book Group Mac N' Cheese

 Looking for a good read that will keep you in stitches and provide you with a bunch of delicious recipes at the end too? Read "Mud Season" by Ellen Stimson. 

Get ready to guffaw as you read about one family's misadventures in its move from St. Louis to Vermont, where they bumbled their way through buying and later selling a country store (oh, with lots of hapless adventures in between), while raising chickens, rescuing baby lambs, fighting off skunks and a few bats too. The mac n'cheese dish, above, loaded with Vermont cheddar, gruyere and bacon too, is one of the recipes in the book.

Looking for a way to interact with people who love to read and also love food? Start a book group for foodies, like the newly formed one I was asked to join. We've been in existence only four months, and we meet monthly for dinner to discuss books and to eat. (Well, sometimes the eating part takes the bulk of the evening.) We all bring food inspired by the book, or actually mentioned in the book we just read.

 For our most recent book -- "Mud Season", we brought little else other than bread, wine and flowers. The only people who actually cooked were the hostess and ….. the author. 

Yes, Ellen Stimson, the engaging and down-to-earth woman who wrote this delightful read, attended our luncheon/book discussion group, giving us plenty of "behind the scenes" insider information and an afternoon of laughter. Most book groups don't have the added plus of having an author in attendance, but it helps if a member of your book group is also the book's agent, as ours is - Rosalie Siegel.  Maybe she twisted Ellen's arm just a little. If so, you'd never know it since they willingly took on the cooking for the day.

Actually, I think Rosalie's husband Evan may have made the mac n' cheese. We were all grateful, in either case. And then to add the sweet finale - Ellen presented platters of her Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls. The recipe is among those in the book, and at the bottom of this post.

 I don't recommend these if you've got a weakness for chocolate -- or peanut butter. They'll disappear quicker than you can say "chunky monkey." And don't say I didn't warn you if your jeans start to feel a little tight.

printable recipes here

From Ellen Stimson's "Mud Season"

Vermont Mac 'n Cheese

Vermont Mac N' Cheese

This one will not make you skinny, but it will make you happy.


  • About a pound of macaroni

  • A couple of tablespoons olive oil

  • 4 ounces thick cured bacon, preferably from local happy pigs

  • 5 cups whole milk, preferably raw

  • ¼ cup sweet butter

  • About ½ cup flour

  • About 1 cup grated hard cheese (I like a local Parmesan when I can get it. Aged two years, if available)

  • 1½ cups grated Gruyère (sheep or goat is especially lovely here in the mountains. Older cheeses have that wonderful nutty flavor)

  • 1½ cups grated Vermont sharp cheddar (How sharp? Really SHARP . . . and from cow’s milk)

  • 1½ teaspoons good salt (less or more to taste)

  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Cook the macaroni al dente in salty water. Drain, toss with the olive oil, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

  3. Add the bacon to a small skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown, but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain, then add to the cooked macaroni.

  4. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a foamy boil, then reduce the heat to very low.

  5. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring until a smooth, pale roux has formed. Return the saucepan to medium heat and, while whisking steadily, begin ladling the hot milk into the roux, 1 cup at a time, completely incorporating each cup before adding the next. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and bubbles gently, about 2 minutes. Add the hard cheese, half the Gruyère, and all of the cheddar, along with the salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stir until the cheese has completely melted.

  6. Pour the sauce over the macaroni, mix thoroughly, and pour into a buttered 10-by-14-inch gratin dish. Back in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove, sprinkle the remaining cup of Gruyère over the top, and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes until the top is golden and crunchy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

make these over and over every year in December. You simply have to have them for Christmas Adventure weekend. Eli and all his friends always want these every day after school just before the holiday break. And I love to accommodate them. We have to have a pile of them when we wrap presents, and every year at our big winter party, if folks don’t see them they will ask. Plus, of course they have to be on the table on the actual day, and there had better be plenty for the next week too. One year, during the worst of the HQCS, I gained nine pounds in December alone. I credit these delicious little menaces. They are not complicated. But they do take time. Worth it, though, since the people you make them for will worship you.



  • A pound of peanut butter—I prefer all creamy. Some people use half crunchy, half creamy.

  • ½ cup butter

  • 2½ cups powdered sugar

  • 3 cups Rice Krispies—these must be fresh. And I think they’re essential. They add a bit of depth.

  • 1 package chocolate chips—semisweet

  • ¼ bar of paraffin wax—or you can use just a bit of Crisco if you don’t have (or prefer not to use) paraffin. If you’re gifting these, paraffin is kind of essential. If not, you can really leave it out and be okay. It won’t be as pretty, but you don’t have eyeballs in your stomach! If you use only ¼ bar you will not taste it and they will look lovely.


  1. Mix together the peanut butter, butter, powdered sugar, and Rice Krispies. Stir, stir, stir. Form into small balls. Smaller than Ping-Pong balls. Maybe about bouncy-ball size. Put them in the freezer.

  2. While the inside is becoming a hard little middle of love, get out your double boiler, choco chips, and paraffin wax. (No double broiler? No problem. Fill a big pan with water and set a smaller pan on top. Voila! You have a double broiler.) Melt the chocolate and paraffin together. Without the paraffin wax, the candy won’t get quite as hard and therefore will become somewhat of a messy disaster when you eat them. Which is no big deal if you are just eating the batch yourself.

  3. Take out the frozen balls and use a wooden skewer to dip the peanut butter goodness into the chocolate deliciousness. You may want to keep about half of them in the freezer—otherwise they get a bit soft and the dipping becomes more like dropping them into the pot and picking them out with a spoon. (Not that I’ve ever done that.)

  4. After you’ve dunked each ball, let it sit on wax paper for a while and harden. You can speed this up by putting them in the fridge. You’ll probably eat a few while they wait and that is okay. You are just testing them for the fam.

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