Sunday, June 19, 2011

MMMac and Cheese

I've made it through the first week of Operation: Follow the Meal Plan, and I've faithfully prepared the designated menu each day. Worried that I'd have a perpetual week one menu printed on the board, I set forth to find the following 2-3 weeks of meals and when Thursday came around, I erased that pane's worth of meals and filled them in for the following week. It has been such a great tool in not only making me feel organized, but also is proving to be a great reading practice for Henry. When he asks what the chef will be preparing later in the day, I direct him to the board and he has to sound it all out. He's able to read a lot more than I gave him credit for! It's also helping him to differentiate between colors, which is something he's struggled with. Which brings me to last night's menu.

My kids have finally given up the ghost and learned to embrace the creamy goodness that is Mac and Cheese.  How did I turn them on to this culinary delight? By pulling out the oldest trick in the book. Or is that box?

 When I was younger, the only thing I considered to be real mac and cheese (as opposed to the generic Albertson's boxed mac or, gag, my mom's home-made) the neon orange glop that is Kraft, which I only got when I had the pleasure of preparing it while baby-sitting. It is the cheesiest, after all. God love her, my mother, while actually a good cook when she takes the time, has no sense of smell and took weird short-cuts to ensure we ate healthfully; 1/3 cup sugar in Kool-aid as opposed to 2 cups, blech! (Hows about you just don't let us drink Kool-Aid?) This misguided attempt led to noodles with the barest swath of cheese and really no other seasoning aside from that. Bah-land. (To be fair, I'd eat her home-made rolls and dutch apple pie any day of the week and twice on Sunday.)

As an adult, however, I've learned to truly enjoy homemade mac and cheese. Probably because it's made properly with whole milk, heavy cream and fantabulous cheese and spices. When we still lived in Massachusetts, I made Late Nite Kitchen's Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese and swooned. When I was flipping through my cookbook to meal plan, I found it again and slapped that baby in the queue. The goat cheese and sage marry nicely in the already cheesy and savory dish for a truly special treat.

J and I had date night last night, but instead of caving and just making hot dogs or some other gross quick fix for the kids, I made the mac and cheese as planned. As I knew they'd already balk at the squash, I left off the bread crumb topping, but the bite I had (somebody has to make sure it's not poisonous, right?) was pretty darn good without it. I also omitted the bacon/pancetta because I'm pretty sure the baby-sitter is a vegetarian and I'd invited her to eat it as well.

As an aside, in a true display of parental hypocricy, J and I had hot dogs for dinner at the baseball game.


Before you read the recipe and think it's too much work, I took the following short-cut, which had this baby in the oven in less than 20 minutes, including chopping and prep. I omitted the bacon, but that wouldn't make a difference on prep time. The biggest thing I did was use a bag of frozen, organic, chunks of butternut squash, which I quickly sauteed with the onion (a Walla Walla sweet, naturally) and some garlic, after they were opaque, as opposed to roasting it in the oven. I had time to take an afternoon nap, wake up at 4:10, jump in the shower, put on my make-up that looks like I'm not wearing very much make-up, prep this dinner and get it in the oven before mopping my floors and washing all the interior windows like a made woman in time for the baby-sitter to get here at 6:00. And I still had 15 minutes to spare. The kids, thanks to J, were bathed and sitting at the table in time for me to scoop some dinner into their bowls, kids their little heads and fly out the door for a night on our own.

You can always take a recipe that looks complicated or time consuming and take short-cuts that don't compromise healthfulness or flavor. 

Autumn Comfort Mac and Cheese - This recipe was created by Veronica Vadakan.

1 butternut squash (approximately 2 pounds), peeled and cubed into 1-inchpieces (or a bag of pre-cubed butternut squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced (or bacon)
1 shallot, minced
12 ounces cavatappi pasta or maccaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups italian blend shredded cheese mix
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese

(I omitted this last night, which also cuts out a tiny bit of fat...kind of like getting a diet coke with your burger)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1/2 cup italian blend shredded cheese mix

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss butternut squash pieces with olive oil. Spread squash pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway. Remove when squash is tender and caramel brown. Set aside and reduce oven heat to 350°F.

2. Cook pasta according to directions for 'al dente.' Drain well.

3. On the stovetop, cook the pancetta (or bacon) over medium heat in a skillet for 6 minutes. Add shallots and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

4. In a 2 quart sauce pan, melt butter. Add flour and, stirring constantly, cook approximately 2 minutes or until golden brown. Add milk and cream in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Add 2 cups of cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in 1-1/2 tablespoons of chopped sage. Add 1 teaspoon black pepper.

5. Mix cooked pasta, cheese sauce and pancetta together in a large bowl. Gently fold in roasted butternut squash and crumbled goat cheese. Pour into a lightly greased 9" x 13" baking pan.

6. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in the microwave in a large glass bowl. Stir in sage, cheese and panko crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture in the pan.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

8. Turn on broiler and move pan to the top rack of the oven. Brown for 3 minutes or until golden brown. (didn't need this step, as there was no topping)

9. Remove from oven and wait 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle each serving with minced fresh sage, if desired. (I did not desire)

Bon Apetit!


Kristin said...

Yum, that Mac and cheese sounds relish!

Kristin said...

Or delish! (the verification word is fatterp, are they trying to tell me something?)

Sally HP said...

HA HA! Maybe the intuitive google read the ingredients!

Crafty Mama said...

Mmmmm....butternut squash is my favorite veggie of all time! I definitely want to try this.