WND/TND – Stuck a Feather In His Cap

November 3, 2010

I go through cooking phases.  There are some weeks when nothing sounds appealing and menu planning is an exercise in whatever seems like it will be the least amount of work.  Then there are weeks when there are more recipes I want to try than there are meals in the day.  This is a week when everything is making my mouth water and my fingers itch to be at home in my kitchen cooking. 

On Sunday I made a recipe for beef, leek and barley soup that promised me it would be the easiest and most satisfying soup I’d ever made.  And, even allowing for the fact that I added steps like browning the meat and deglazing the pan with some sherry, it was in fact one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made.  Also, the recipe didn’t lie, it was very satisfying.  Put it on the back of your stove to simmer while you get on with the rest of your Sunday and come dinner you have a fragrant and steaming bowl of soup ready to go with approximately 30 minutes worth of effort on your part.  Also, the whole recipe feeds 6-8, so I also had leftovers to give away to crazy busy friends who don’t have time to breathe much less cook.

Easiest Beef, Leek & Barley Soup
– I used ½ beef stock and ½ water
– I browned my beef short ribs, then browned 8 oz of mushrooms in the beef fat (took them out and added them back in for the last hour of cooking), and then deglazed my pan with a generous splash of sherry (because why not?) before proceeding as directed by the recipe.

For Dinner this week I indulged myself with a macaroni & cheese taste-off.  This is a two part story.  On the one hand we have a friend who spent the month of October as a vegan and clearly needed to be reindoctrinated into the ways of cheese now that it was finally November.  And on the other hand, there’s this recipe for butternut squash macaroni & cheese that I’ve been eying since March.  When I first saw it we were just starting to segue into Spring and it felt like such an autumnal dish that I held off on making it until it was more seasonally appropriate.  Now it’s very definitely Fall (we even caved and turned our heat on this week – well after the horse fair in Zuidlaren* I might point out) and I suddenly found myself debating on which side of the different and interesting line the dish was going to fall – tasty and new, or just kind of weird.  I hedged my bets and made 2/3 of a recipe of my regular mac & cheese, and 2/3 of a recipe of the butternut squash mac & cheese and as a result had ludicrous amounts of food on the table.

The votes are in and the proof is in the leftovers.  This is to say, I have leftovers of the regular mac & cheese, and not a noodle or buttery crunchy crumb left of the butternut squash mac & cheese.  I can’t say that it identifiably tastes of butternut squash, but it tastes more complex and richer than the regular mac & cheese.  Plus, everyone liked the milder flavor of the monteray jack cheese (vs. cheddar) and the creaminess imparted by the cream cheese.  Incidentally, the addition of butternut squash to the mix should in no way fool you into thinking that this recipe is better for you than any other macaroni and cheese recipe.

The added benefit to having made the butternut squash mac & cheese is that I now have 1 ½ cups of leftover pureed butternut squash.  I have so many things I could make with it that I’m positively giddy with anticipation.  I could make pumpkin muffins for breakfast, or pumpkin scones for a weekend treat.  But, I think what I’m actually going to try is the recipe for pumpkin-turkey “ghoulash” that I ran across on epicurious the other day.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with goulash that any self respecting Hungarian would recognize, but terrible pun notwithstanding it sounds tasty all the same.

I’m also currently looking for an excuse to try Butternut Squash Winter Rolls, and Cauliflower & Parmesan Cake.  I’m also searching for a reason to stage a repeat of the impossibly decadent Pumpkin “Fondu” before pumpkins disappear from the grocery store (I remain baffled that you can buy butternut and acorn squash year round, but can only buy pumpkins in the month of October).  I’d say that clearly this is an indication that I need to throw a Fall party, except that it took me four tries to find a date when everyone was available to see the next Harry Potter movie, so I’m not even going to attempt trying to plan something less urgent.

* This, according to my mother who usually voices this opinion from the safe distance of somewhere a lot warmer than Boston, is when one is allowed to turn on the heat.

Macaroni & Cheese/Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese
Moroccan-style Roasted Chicken
Carottes Râpées
Green beans

Macaroni & Cheese Experiments
I ran across a blog where the writer had baked mac & cheese in muffin cups to maximize crispy edges and cute factor, and thought it was a genius idea.  I think, after having attempted to make them, and more or less failed completely at unmolding them, that this works better in theory than in practice (although her blog had pictures, so clearly it is possible).  Also, I think (heresy!) that this creates too much crispy edge in relation to gooey interior.  I suspect that they are awfully cute though, if you can unmold them successfully.

The old faithful recipe (previously given):  Macaroni & Cheese


Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese
(serves 8 )

1 lb macaroni (or other small pasta), cooked
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup butternut squash puree*
12 oz monteray jack cheese, grated
4 Tbsp cream cheese
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp paprika
1 cup panko breadcrumbs + 2 Tbsp butter, melted

Melt 2 Tbsp butter over a low heat.  When the butter is melted whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned.  Slowly add milk and cook until slightly thickened.  Add cheese and butternut squash.  Whisk until well combined.

Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and mix with the panko bread crumbs until they are lightly coated.

Add pasta to sauce and stir well to combine.  Pour into a greased casserole dish, or muffin cups.  Top with breadcrumbs.  Bake in a 400 oven until top is golden brown – about 30 minutes for casserole, and 10-12 minutes for muffin cups.

* Sometimes you can (apparently) find frozen pureed butternut squash, or canned pureed butternut squash.  I also saw a suggestion of looking in the baby food aisle for pureed butternut squash.  If none of those options is available to you, you can also make your own.  Split a small butternut squash lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds and place it face down in a casserole dish or baking sheet.  Roast for about 30-40 minutes at 400 until the flesh is tender.  Allow to cool and then scoop out the meat and puree in a blender until smooth.  You only need a little for the recipe above, so freeze the rest and substitute it for pumpkin puree in muffins or pie at some later date.

To bake macaroni & cheese in muffin cups
Liberally grease a non-stick muffin tin (or use cupcake liners – although you’ll lose crispy edges if you do this).  Fill the cups 2/3-3/4 of the way full with macaroni and cheese.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes until tops are golden brown.  Allow to rest in muffin cups for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven to help them retain their shape.

Note:  I think that if I’d had the patience to wait a few more minutes I might have been able to unmold my muffin mac & cheeses, but it was 8:15pm already and I was hungry so that wasn’t happening.  The moral of the story?  Next time put them in the oven earlier and see if unmolding can be made to work.

Moroccan-style Roasted Chicken

Recipe previously given:  Paean to Summer Vegetables

Carottes Râpées
David Lebovitz says that he thinks this would make it into the top five National French dishes.  I’d agree and would add céleri rémoulade
(which he also has a recipe for on his site) to the list; I’ve certainly eaten large quantities of both.  Actually, I think that the two salads served on a plate with some cold beets and hard boiled eggs smothered in mayonnaise is possibly the quintessential French crudite plate.

7 large carrots
1 apple (optional and non-traditional)
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp sugar
2 lemons, juiced
Dab of mustard (optional)

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar and mustard (if using).

Peel and grate the carrots finely either by hand, or using the shredding attachment of a food processor (I highly recommend the use of the food processor).  Do the same for the apple if using.

Toss the carrots (and apple) with the parsley.  Season with salt and pepper, and then toss with enough dressing to moisten the salad but not drown it.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (I needed more lemon juice and salt).



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