Turnip Cake Pad Thai

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey… and by small, I mean tiny; the borders of my town encompassed roughly 1 whole square mile and my graduating class had about 85 people in it. I guess you could say I was pretty lucky, because even though my town had more hair salons than people to occupy them, I still managed to find some of the silliest, craziest, most adventurous people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my friends.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, we had formed a clique cult 14+ members large. We even had a name for ourselves (the SMC), a mascot (a stuffed pink rat named Ratzo), pet names (Choch/Larks), a handshake. It was all very complex and mysterious…

…and by mysterious, I mean mildly embarrassing, because when I look back, it’s clear just how obnoxious we were…

Since our one-horse town had little to offer other than a Kosher Dunkin Donuts, we started inventing things to do…

Like having food fights at Applebees…

 

and going team bowling, dressed as ninjas versus pirates (and getting kicked out for bowling more than one ball at the same time)…

having wayyyyy too many dance parties….

…and craming 12 people into a 4 person tent, even though most of us had beds to sleep in less than a 5 minute walk away.

More than any of those silly things, I look back on that amazing year as a time where I got to live deeply with a group of friends, most of whom I had known since childhood, and who would become as close as family to me.

Fortunately, if my senior year of highschool was a hit sitcom, my life here in Boston would be the spinoff; two of my very bestest friends from that crazy group live here in Boston (one as my roommate!) and many more have come to visit us over the past couple of years. From trips to Cape Cod to Dorchester Saint Paddy’s Day shenanigans, we’ve managed to continue the adventures right here in our new home; a home that, this time, brought us together by choice instead of chance.

From NJ to Boston...still the bestest of friends.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t get nostalgic for our lil’ ol’ town in New Jersey sometimes. Usually my nostalgia takes the form of hunger, since the things I miss about New Jersey are bagels, fat sandwiches, pizza, and Thai food. Yep, I’ve never had better Thai food than I’ve had in my tiny little town in New Jersey, and the reasons for that can be summarized in 4 words — turnip cake pad thai.

Sound strange? Fear not, my friend. Turnip cakes are square little pillowy morsels of soft, fried, sweet goodness. There’s no real adequate way to describe them other than starchy, soft, and friggin’ amazing. They’re usually found on dim sum carts and appetizer menus of Chinese food places; the only place I’ve ever known to put them into Pad Thai is our little Thai restaurant in Nowhereville, New Jersey.

My (subpar) version of turnip cake

Whatever possessed me to order something as bizarre sounding as Turnip Cake Pad Thai, I’ll never know, but the dish has become practically legendary among my group of friends. It’s just that good.

Because it can be found nowhere else on the planet, it’s been one of my long-term cooking goals to recreate this dish in my own kitchen. This weekend I tried and (sort of) succeeded, so it’s going to have to be a goal I keep working at. For now, I’ve managed to make a passable version, and since I have two gigantic daikon radishes still sitting in my fridge, I’m going to have to make it again.

Pad Thai itself is a relatively easy dish, but turnip cake takes blood, sweat, tears, and miracles. Well, maybe just sweat and proper equipment. My turnip cake mostly likely failed because I was using this make-shift contraption to steam it:

In the end, I ended up forgoing the steaming in favor of this recipe’s favored approach of just straight up pan frying it. The results were okay, but not the same as the turnip cake I’m used to… big, juicy, soft rectangles *cue choir of angels*

I also didn’t stop to take great photos because I was freakin’ hungry after hours of slavin’ over my favorite dish in the kitchen. Hopefully when I get the recipe to a place I’m happy to, I’ll take some nicer photos to show off the goods. For now, enjoy this recipe for Pad Thai, which is freakin’ a-mazing (turnip cake recipe to come!).

Pad Thai (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
NOTE:  For a thicker sauce, double the first 6 ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate, mixed in 2/3 cup hot water
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (more to taste)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces dried rice stick noodles , about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces) [omit if, like me, you friggin' hate bean sprouts]
  • 5 medium scallions , green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
  • OPTIONAL ADDITIONS FOR CARNIVOROUS AND VEGETARIAN CHEFS ALIKE: 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine + 12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined OR 12 ounces tofu OR 12 ounces turnip cake
  • Lime wedges
  1. Mix the tamarind concentrate with 2/3 cup hot water, stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
  2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp or tofu if desired and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp or tofu are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp/tofu to plate and set aside.
  4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
  5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Dear Beloved Fellow Veggies,

Happy Belated Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnvial or whatever else you like to call the day of the year where you can gorge yourself on food, drink, and general merriment (beads anyone?) while pretending that you’re not going to do it again for 40 long days.

For those of you who have made it through the weekend without any major feats of debauchery, I tip my (chef’s) hat to you — we’ll see how you’re faring when Saint Patrick’s Day rolls around.

Boston isn’t exactly the place to celebrate Mardi Gras; we’re probably too busy preparing for epic St. Patty’s Day celebrations, which are pretty much unrivaled by all except those in Ireland. Bold statement? No, really, I kid you not. Up until this year, schools and government offices were closed for Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston — it’s just that big of a deal.

So where does the discerning glutton celebrate Mardi Gras in America? Well, if Boston is the place to be for St. Patty’s Day, then NOLA is where it’s at for Mardi Gras, which, from what I hear, New Orleanian’s pretty much celebrate all year long. I mean, let’s look at the facts: heart-attack inducing food laden with red meats and butter? Check! Cheap, strong drinks that you can glug from plastic cups in the streets? Check! Loud music and drunken tidings? Check and check! Yep, sounds like a year-round mardi gras party to me!

Ever since making my pilgrimage to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in December, New Orleans has shot straight to the top of my domestic travel to-do list. Since I am an aforementioned “discerning glutton,” NOLA sounds pretty much as close to paradise as you can get, and lately I’ve been regaled by the tales of my many friends who have visited and loved it. I’ve got the Bayou on the brain, that’s fo’ sho.

My sometimes-sous-chef has roots in NOLA (who dat?!) and is partially responsible for piquing my interest in cajun/creole food. New Orleans cuisine isn’t exactly known for its vegetarian friendliness, so I’ve never really tried my hand at cookin’ cajun, but when my buddy and I were planning our latest culinary quest, we kept pawin’ at the idea of a New Orleans theme.

And so, that weekend, we found out for ourselves that you don’t need to travel all the way to NOLA to feel the Mardi Gras spirit. Sometimes all you need is a bottle of Abita, a strong homemade hurricane, some good music with good company, a few killer kitchen dance moves, a fondness for real bacon, and a big sizzlin’ pot of cajun red beans. And when you pass out in your own bed early that night, over-indulged and slightly tipsy, still laughing from the night’s kitchen escapades, you realize you’ve had yourself as memorable a night as you could ever have in the real NOLA. 

Red beans and ricely yours,
Two Veggies

Yep, I just posted a picture of real bacon on my vegetarian blog. Whatcha gonna do about it?

Red Beans and Rice (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

  • 1 pound small red beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
  • 4 slices bacon (about 4 ounces), chopped fine (use fake bacon + some oil if you’re being a good vegetarian)
  • 1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small green bell pepper , seeded and chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 celery rib , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (see note)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie broth!)
  • 6 cups water
  • 8 ounces andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices (veggie sausage works great!)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar , plus extra for seasoning
  • 4 cups white rice, for serving
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
  2. Heat bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and almost fully rendered, 5 to 8 minutes. Add onion, green pepper, and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, paprika, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in beans, broth, and water; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are just soft and liquid begins to thicken, 45 to 60 minutes.
  3. Stir in sausage and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is thick and beans are fully tender and creamy, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and additional red wine vinegar. Serve over rice, sprinkling with scallions and passing hot sauce separately, if desired.

Vegetarian Poutine With Homemade Cheese Curds!

I know I’ve written extensively about my love affair with gravy. One of my favorite vehicles for indulging that passion is with poutine, which for those of you who have never heard of, is a Canadian specialty that’s pretty much just heaven on a plate.

Fries + Cheddar Cheese Curds + Gravy = *Choir of Angels*

My cooking buddy (and fellow poutine worshipper) and I have been on a search for the best poutine in Boston, and sadly we’ve found that only ONE restaurant in the entire city makes their “poutine” with real cheese curds (it’s Saus for all you lil’ Bostonian poutine connoisseurs out there). All the other imposters have frankly been an abomination to the institution that is truly authentic Canadian poutine.

In the many months we’ve been parading around as Boston’s premiere poutine critics, we’ve pretty much seen everything… ricotta masquerading as cheese curds, provolone hiding in the murky depths of lukewarm canned gravy, a complete horror show of cheese melted on kettle chips that laughed in the face of everything poutine stands for.

The horror show, a complete mockery of poutine, courtesy of Jaime K. on Yelp.

Yep, we’ve seen everything… except actual poutine.

Quite honestly the search has left us a little disgruntled and pretty darn disappointed, so at some point we decided we’d track down some cheese curds and just make our own. But after months of extensive internet searches, puzzled looks from shop owners, and countless false leads, we came to the conclusion that all of metro Boston just hates cheese curds. They were nowhere to be found.

I mean really, we’re 6 friggin’ hours from Montreal, where finding poutine is as common as finding a McDonald’s in any city in America. So freakin’ common, in fact, that they actually sell poutine at McDonald’s in Montreal. Come on people, even Ronald McDonald is on board! Somehow the Northeast just still hasn’t gotten the message that cheese curds are freakin’ delicious when slathered gravy and served on top of french fries.

It should be a testament to how deeply I love poutine that in a bought of frustration I ended up making my own cheese curds. At home. By myself. Yep, I ordered cheese making supplies and spent the better part of 12 hours hovering over a vat of milk with a thermometer for the sole goal of eventually making poutine. This recipe has truly been a labor of love months in the making.

There’s no way I can not blog about the process of making my own cheese. It has to be done. At some point. But I’m just too freakin’ excited that my poutine actually happened to do it now. In the meantime, you can follow these directions, like I did. It’s actually very simple to do, albeit a little time consuming.

Proof that I actually did it.

Instead, lets focus on these freakin’ delicious looking photos and the awesome oven fries recipe I found to form the base of such an awesome dish.

Aforementioned cooking buddy is a big, bigggg fan of Cooks Illustrated and has gotten me really into it too. Either of us has yet to find a recipe on Cook’s that has truly failed us, so with a million+ recipes out there for french fries, I figured why not stick to the big guns and consult my new favorite trusty resource.

Crispiness isn’t really an issue to consider when making fries for poutine since the gravy gets the fries nice and wet anyway, eliminating any possible crunch. Oven fries are usually a lot softer and “wetter” than deep fried fries, but they’re a lot less work and a lot bettah fo’ you (if you’re into that sort of thing). Cooks method for oven fries was extremely simple, but pretty darn genius… by soaking the potatoes and not coating the fries directly with oil, my final product was actually pretty comparable to the fried stuff… crispy and and everything! I would absolutely make these fries again, even just with a veggie burger on a regular ol’ weeknight.

I was so very happy with how this poutine turned out… it was better than any poutine I’ve had at a restaurant in the last couple of years AND it was entirely vegetarian. Even though I normally make exceptions for meaty gravy deliciousness, throwing on the veggie gravy really made it feel like mine, which is what cookin’ is all about, right? Hope you enjoy!

Vegetarian Poutine

  • 1 to 2 big handfuls of homemade cheese curds (or if you’re lucky enough to have found them, store-bought ones)
  • 3 medium-sized russet or yukon gold potatoes
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Any other spices you’d like to add to your fries (I used oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic, cumin, paprika, and chile powder)
  • Ingredients for lentil gravy
    • 1/4 cup butter
    • 1/2 onion chopped
    • 3/4 cup lentils
    • 3 cups vegetable broth
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
  • 3 scallions, chopped fine, whites and green parts
  1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position; heat oven to 475 degrees. Chop the potatos into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch matchsticks. Place potatoes in large bowl and cover with hot tap water; soak 10 minutes. Meanwhile, coat 18 by 12-inch heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with 4 tablespoons oil and sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; set aside.
  2. Drain potatoes. Spread potatoes out on triple layer of paper towels and thoroughly pat dry with additional paper towels. Rinse and wipe out now-empty bowl; return potatoes to bowl and toss with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and any spices you desire. Arrange potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet; cover tightly with foil and bake 5 minutes.
  3. Once you put the fries in the oven, start the gravy. In a large skillet, melt the butter and add onion and lentils. Sautee for just a minute or two over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat. Add poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring consistently. Allow to simmer while you bake the fries (lentils will take about 20 minutes to be cooked throughly).
  4. Once the fries have baked five minutes with the foil on, remove foil and continue to bake until bottoms of potatoes are spotty golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating baking sheet after 10 minutes. Using metal spatula and tongs, scrape to loosen potatoes from pan, then flip each fry, keeping potatoes in single layer. Continue baking until fries are golden and crisp, 5 to 15 minutes longer, rotating pan as needed if fries are browning unevenly.
  5. Transfer fries to second baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Top with cheese curds, then a few ladle-fulls of gravy, followed by a light sprinkling of chopped scallions. Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Sage Breadcrumbs

Fall is weird…

Sometimes Fall is warm. Sometimes Fall drives you outside and takes you on long, ambling walks. Sometimes Fall wants you to put on a sweater and spend the day at a pumpkin patch, or a corn maze, or an apple orchard, or a football field. Sometimes Fall hands you a big bowl of pumpkin ice cream and tells you that you sho’ better get your fair share before Winter comes a-knockin’.

Sometimes Fall is cold. Sometimes Fall strongly calls for a large dose of pumpkin coffee and a pair of fuzzy socks. Sometimes Fall barges in through your open window and makes you want to curl up under the covers and never, ever leave your bed. Sometimes Fall urges you to bake apple pie solely so you can warm your feet by the oven.

Sometimes Fall is lonely. Sometimes Fall strips the landscape and drives everyone indoors. Sometimes Fall is selfish and hogs all the sunshine and makes you walk home in pitch dark at 5:30. Sometimes Fall likes to remind you of people who aren’t there anymore.

But sometimes Fall is uniting. Sometimes Fall takes you out to your favorite bar for a pumpkin beer and Sunday night football. Sometimes Fall dresses you up in silly costumes and lets you eat candy with all your friends. Sometimes Fall reminds you how important family is and urges you to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle to spend some time with them…

And sometimes…Fall puts a good friend in your life who loves the crazy, mixed-up season of Fall just as much as you do…

…A friend who will take those long, ambling walks with you when it’s warm and buy you pumpkin coffees when it’s cold…

…A friend who will talk to you about football over poutine at your favorite bar…

…A friend who will come over when Fall makes you feel lonely and play your guitar and teach you songs…

But if you’re really lucky, Fall might just give you a friend who has discovered an epic, heart-attack-inducing, belt-loosening recipe for pumpkin mac and cheese…

And if you’re really really lucky, that friend will want to help you make it!

And it’s a good thing, too… because this recipe is hard work! It took the two of us, working full-time on it roughly three hours to complete! Luckily we were armed with an arsenal of good music and flavored vodka to keep us entertained and focused (…sort of)!

The result was highly intriguing. Decedent? Hellers yes! Pumpkiny? Yes sir! Cheesy? Sho’ was! And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing… my natural instinct is to say it needed mo’ salt (surprise surprise), but really, I just think it needed more oomph of any kind. Cheese and pumpkin and pasta and breadcrumbs all wrapped together can get kind of bland… if I were to do it again, I would go double or triple on the spices and make that shiz POP!

Don’t get me wrong… I nearly cried tears of bliss when I took the first bite from it straight out of the oven. But was it worth the three hours it took to make it? Given that time frame would I make it again? Hmmm, that’s up for debate. If I were making it by myself, I might have to give it some serious consideration… but for a lazy Saturday afternoon with a good friend, some good cocktails, and some good music? Nothing could be better. :)

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese With Sage Breadcrumbs (From The Small Boston Kitchen)

  • 1 – 2 1/2-3 lb. Sugar Pumpkin, scrubbed clean
  • 6-7 whole cloves (I didn’t have these so I left them out)
  • 3 pieces of whole wheat bread (I recommend getting a fresh loaf from the bakery on this one, with a similar consistency to french bread. Don’t use sliced bread from the Wonderbread aisle)
  • 1 lb. dried pasta
  • ½ Vidalia onion, diced (I used a whole one)
  • 6 TBS + 2 TBS butter unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 TBS flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda
  • 1 + ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1- 8 oz. log of goat cheese
  • 1 TBS whole grain mustard
  • 1 TBS + 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • A generous pinch nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • Olive Oil for drizzling
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Carefully cut the pumpkin into six equal parts and scoop out the seeds. Pierce the insides of the pumpkin pieces with the cloves, salt generously and then lay onto a cookie sheet, flesh side down. Roast pumpkin until it is very soft, about 35-45 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel off the skin of the pumpkin and place the flesh into a blender or processor. Blend the pumpkin until smooth and velvety, and set the pumpkin puree aside.
  2. On a baking sheet, toast the three pieces of bread until they start to brown a bit. Set them aside to cool, then use a processor to pulse the bread crumbs. Mix in 1 tsp fresh sage and a pinch of nutmeg. Using your hands, combine 2 TBS of softened butter to the crumbs until they are evenly distributed. Season with salt and set aside.
  3. Heat a medium-sized sauce pot and add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Add the diced onions and a generous pinch of salt and cook on medium heat until they start to lightly brown (about 15 minutes). Add the butter to the pot and once it has completely melted, gradually add the flour, stirring constantly. Let the butter-flour mixture heat for a minute or two and then remove the pan from the heat and gradually add in the milk, stirring constantly. Return the pan to medium heat and add two cups of the pumpkin puree, stir, then add the mustard, goat cheese, smoked Gouda and 1 cup of cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Add the 1 TBS sage and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the pasta until very al dente (about 5 minutes). Strain pasta and add to the cheese sauce, and pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with remaining ½ cup of cheddar cheese and Sage Breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered at 400 degrees until the breadcrumbs brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.