Butternut Squash and Bacon Mac and Cheese

We’re approaching the halfway mark to Thanksgiving, so why not do a little #TBT (Throw Back Thanksgiving!) post?  Kevin and I hosted this past Thanksgiving for my mom’s side of the family, and in my search for new belt-loosening inspiration, I came across this indulgent recipe for Butternut Squash and Bacon Mac and Cheese on Brown Eyed Baker.  I’ve always been a sucker for savory dishes with a hint of sweetness, but I also love naughty dishes that pretend to be healthy by adding a vegetable.  Ladies and gents, don’t make this if you’re looking for a healthy alternative to mac and cheese.  It’s mac and cheese. It’s not supposed to be good for you. That being said, this recipe is DELICIOUS and just as decadent as any good mac and cheese recipe.

Butternut Squash and Bacon Mac and Cheese
Butternut Squash and Bacon Mac and Cheese

Here is the recipe as adapted from Brown Eyed Baker:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 slices thick-cut peppered bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1/2 butternut squash, finely diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 T unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 T all-purpose flour
  • 3 C whole milk
  • 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups), divided
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups), divided
  • 16 ounces cavatappi pasta (or shaped pasta of your choice)
  • 1 C breadcrumbs (I like panko)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Heat a large pot of water over high heat for the pasta; cover.
  2. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or other heavy, stainless skillet), fry the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

    BACONNN!!
    BACONNN!!
  3. Adjust the heat to medium-low and add the butternut squash and onion to the bacon grease. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash and onion are browned and cooked through. Once cooked, use the back of a wooden spoon to mash up the mixture (it doesn’t have to be completely smooth – leave some chunks in for texture).

    Butternut Squash, Onions Cooking in Bacon Grease
    Butternut Squash, Onions Cooking in Bacon Grease
  4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the box directions for al dente pasta (if your box doesn’t specify al dente, cook it for 1 to 2 minutes shorter than the time called for – it shouldn’t be cooked the whole way through). When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it in a colander.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, until the flour starts to brown a bit and smells nutty, whisking constantly. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the milk. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.
  6. Once the sauce comes to a simmer, stir in 6 ounces each of the Gruyere and cheddar cheeses, adding a handful at a time and stirring with a wooden spoon until completely melted before adding the next handful. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat.

    Cheese Sauce
    Cheese Sauce
  7. Add the cooked, drained pasta, bacon and butternut squash mixture to the sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is completely combined and evenly distributed. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
  8. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the breadcrumbs.
  9. Sprinkle the macaroni and cheese with the remaining shredded cheeses. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of the cheese.

    Sprinkle with Bread Crumbs and Remaining Cheese
    Sprinkle with Bread Crumbs and Remaining Cheese
  10. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

This is definitely one of my favorite mac and cheese recipes, even better than Alton Brown’s.

2015 Thanksgiving Spread
2015 Thanksgiving Spread

Here was the menu line-up with links to recipes where applicable:

APPS:

  • Crudité and Trader Joe’s hummus
  • Truffle mushroom crostini (I guessed at this, and it turned out well but I’ll have to try and retrace my steps in order to post a recipe for that later)
  • My Favorite Simple Kale Salad

MAINS/SIDES

  • Ham from Bristol Farms (courtesy of my mom)
  • Chicken Apple Sausage Cornbread Stuffing – this time using half sweet Italian and half spicy Italian chicken sausage instead of the chicken apple.  I actually think I like it better that way!
  • Brussels Sprouts and Bacon (tripled that recipe, without the kimchee).
  • This butternut squash and bacon mac and cheese
  • Zucchini casserole (courtesy of my aunt)
  • Mashed potatoes (courtesy of Kevin)

DESSERTS

Enjoy!

Momofuku Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi Puree and Bacon

Here’s another super backlogged recipe from a dinner I made celebrating college graduation for one of my cousins last year.  I’ve enjoyed a few of David Chang’s recipes, and have had only one restaurant experience at his Noodle Bar in Toronto…where I got a wicked case of food poisoning.  Still, I love Korean food …and brussels …and bacon, so this recipe sounded promising.

Momofuku Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi Puree and Bacon
Momofuku Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi Puree and Bacon

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and outer leaves removed and discarded
  • 1/4 lb smoky bacon, cut into 1-to-1 1/2-inch-long pieces
  • 2 Tunsalted butter
  • 1 C Napa cabbage kimchi, pureed
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup julienned carrots (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F. Split the brussels sprouts in half through the core and set aside.

  2. Place bacon in a wide, ovenproof skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.  NOTE: If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, just pan fry and then transfer everything to a baking pan when it’s time to put everything in the oven.

  3. Drain most of the fat from skillet and add brussels sprouts, cut side-down. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until sprouts begin to sizzle. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until sprouts are deep brown in color, about 8 minutes. Shake skillet to redistribute sprouts, and continue roasting until bright green and tender, 10 to 15 minutes more.

  4. Return skillet to stovetop and turn heat to medium. Stir in butter and bacon; season with salt and pepper. Toss sprouts to coat.

  5. Divide kimchi among 4 shallow bowls, using the back of a spoon to spread out kimchi so it covers the bottom of each bowl. Divide brussels sprouts evenly among bowls, arranging on top of kimchi. Garnish with carrots and serve.

I wasn’t sure how adventurous my cousin would be with the kimchi, so I put the puree on the side.  These were DELICIOUS with and without the kimchi puree.  If kimchi isn’t your thing, I’d still recommend this recipe without it.  The brussels had a really great texture to them.

Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Alex, Lingie, and I made the trek up to the Pacific Northwest back in December to visit our beloved Andrew. The four of us, being the laid back yet eccentric group that we are, decided that the first bullet point on our itinerary was for us all to cook a meal together. Nothing else was planned til less than week before our departure date.

Seattle!
Seattle!

Here’s what we came up with!

Andrew's Salmon Prep
Andrew’s Salmon Prep

Andrew taught us how to do a pan-fried salmon, and Lingie helped prep.  We liked the recipe so much, we made it again the next night.

Ain't Nobody Got THYME Fo Dat...
Ain’t Nobody Got THYME Fo Dat…

Andrew also made a linguini vongole with bacon lardons.

Linguini Vongole with Bacon Lardons
Linguini Vongole with Bacon Lardons

We all contributed to a salad consisting of julienne pink lady apples, grated pecorino, and candied walnuts all topped with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Salad with Grated Pecorino, Julienned Pink Lady Apples, and Candied Walnuts
Salad with Grated Pecorino, Julienned Pink Lady Apples, and Candied Walnuts

At the request of our gracious host, I made a batch of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies in Andrew’s oven, which had convection capabilities at the flip of a switch (which I used, obvi).  I live quite an exciting life.  Alex helped me with the cookies.

Alex is Great with Balls
Alex is Great with Balls

I liked these cookies because they used two kinds of dark chocolate, so they weren’t too sweet (which is my issue with most chocolate chip cookies).

Gorgeous Lighting
Gorgeous Lighting

However, if I made these again, I would use the organic chocolate I’ve recently discovered at Trader Joe’s.  It’s deliciously 85% dark and cocoa buttery smooth.  It’s also quite bitter… like me!  You are what you eat, right?

Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" Chocolate Chip Cookies
Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” Chocolate Chip Cookies

We paired the cookies hot out of the oven with pints (yes, PINTS) of Ben and Jerry’s “Pistachio Pistachio” ice cream, and I used the dust remnants of the chocolate I chopped to sprinkle over the ice cream.

Not going to lie – pistachio and dark chocolate were made to be together.  The beauty of pistachio ice cream with any form of dark chocolate (bars, warm cake, cookies, anything!)  brings me tears of joy every time.

This recipe was also my inspiration for what I ended up baking yesterday in preparation for Valentine’s Day… which I probably won’t post about for another 3 months at this rate.  More to come on that front!

Meatloaf “Cupcakes” with Mashed Potato “Frosting”

During the month of Leslie‘s birthday dinners, my multi-talented culinary musician friend Jason and I decided to collaborate on a home-cooked meal for everyone’s favorite munchkin.  The email chain with Leslie, Jason, Shirley, and I procured us an abundant menu of comfort food.  I picked Meatloaf Cupcakes with Mashed Potato Frosting – a savory dish for a change.

Who Loves Mashed Potatoes?

For the mashed potato “frosting”, I used the recipe from SkinnyTaste.com’s meatloaf cupcake recipe.

MMM Pureed Yukon Potatoes

However, since we were already eating so heartily, I didn’t use SkinnyTaste’s meatloaf recipe.  I defaulted to my favorite Turkey and Quinoa Meatball recipe, since it pretty seamlessly incorporates quinoa and lots of veggies.

Meatloaf Cupcake “Batter”

For the potatoes, Jason did all the prep while I took forever trying to “de-leaf” the sprigs of thyme (un-de-leafable!).  The thyme added some great flavor to the potatoes as well as some color to the otherwise very beige finished product.  We pureed the potatoes in a food processor to ensure a smooth creamy finish when piping.  Yes, I piped the potatoes onto the cupcake.

“Frosting” the Cooked Meatloaf

Jason pretty much owned the roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, and even made a balsamic reduction with brown sugar drizzle to offset the saltiness of the dish.

Jason’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Drizzled With a Balsamic Reduction

Leslie, being the ever-gracious host she is, refused to let us do all the cooking and made yummy almond-crusted tilapia filets and phyllo and prosciutto-wrapped roasted asparagus.  However, Leslie’s eyes started to tear while she was chopping onions, so Tri MacGyver’d an “eye shield” for her.

Tri’s Makeshift Anti-Onion Eye Shield

Jason found a basic creme brulee recipe endorsed by Alton Brown on FoodNetwork.com, so we went with that.  After making this, I was really surprised that a lot of people didn’t know what a vanilla bean looks like and that the pulp of a vanilla bean is what is used in recipes.

De-Beaning a Vanilla Bean!

Leslie suggested adding sliced strawberries to the recipe for some extra pizzazz and color.  Solid recommendation!

Time to Torch!

Everything was set for Leslie’s birthday dinner finale!

Birthday Dinner Party!

Here’s what my first plate (admittedly, of several) looked like!

Phyllo and Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus, Almond Crusted Tilapia, Brussels Sprouts, and Meatloaf Cupcakes

It ended up being my first culinary collabo, and I would say it was a success!  The first of hopefully many to come – and sooner than you think!

Pear and Arugula Salad

Pears and arugula were on sale at Ralph’s, so I decided to make a pear and arugula salad.  However, I hate crumbly cheese… goat, bleu, gorgonzola, feta…  If it comes in crumbles, I hate it.  Since most pear and arugula salad recipes incorporate some form of crumbly cheese, I decided to make my own version.  I love me some shaved parm, so I used that to give the salad the salty kick.  I threw in some avocado because… well… I throw avocado on everything.  I’ll definitely include some candied walnuts the next time I make this!

Pear and Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan Cheese

With the leftover bacon from the Shrimp and Spinach Salad that I made and the aforementioned arugula salad, I made a tasty BLTA using argula instead of lettuce.  Arugula and salty things go so well together!  NOM!

BATA (Bacon Arugula Tomato Avocado) is the new BLTA