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.

Apples Galore!

Is it just me, or did mother nature skip over Fall this year? Two weeks ago it was in the upper 70s. Last Monday we turned on the heat in our house for the very first time. Three days ago I dusted off my winter jacket and bundled up with a scarf and gloves.  Yesterday I walked home from a Halloween party in three inches of snow. Today I went to CVS to buy Halloween candy and the Christmas stuff was already overtaking the seasonal aisle.

Is this some sort of joke, mother nature? What happened to fall foliage and sweatshirt weather and crisp evenings that make me want to consume mass amounts of cranberry apple tea? I feel like I’m being robbed of my second favorite season (second only to Christmas season, o’ course!).

Regardless of the weather’s severe lack of cooperation, I’ve been pretty darn proud of the work I’ve put in to appreciate what semblance of Fall has been given to us…

I’ve worn lots of pretty, colorful scarves. I’ve taken long, ambling walks through Beacon Hill, appreciating the “classy” fall decorations. Come Monday, I will have attended three Halloween events… in costume.

But most importantly, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume something pumpkin or apple flavored on a daily basis.

Not that it’s been hard… no sir, not when you have 25 pounds of fresh picked apples like we do! Yep, that’s right, 25 pounds…

Whoever gifted all those apples to my roommate probably thought they were doing something exceptionally nice, but for the past two weeks we’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed with the seemingly bottomless bag of apples on the floor of our kitchen…

We’ve both been packing them every day with lunch. My roommate (a teacher) hands them out liberally to her kids when they’ve forgotten a snack. We made a year’s worth of apple sauce with about 30 apples… and we still have enough apples to pack both of the crisper drawers in our refrigerator.

So last weekend, I decided it was time to bunker down and go to town on our apple supply…

I know what you’re thinking…

Apple pie?

Close…

Apple turnovers!!!

Anyone with half a brain knows that the best part of apple pie is when the crust gets all ooey gooey with apple sugar goodness. Most of the time, when someone cuts me a slice of apple pie, I scoop out the innards and concentrate solely on the warm, gooey crust…

That’s why turnovers are so awesome! They only use an itty bitty spoonful of apple pie filling, surrounded by a big heaping mass of layers upon layers of puff pastry. One turnover is like eating a Laurenized slice of apple pie… all crust, with just a hint of goopiness!

Not to mention, they’re SUPER easy, which is a necessary element of any baking endeavor for me, since I’m severely lacking in baking mojo.

Apple Turnovers (adapted from allrecipies.com)

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 Granny Smith apples – peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 (17.25 ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Combine the lemon and 4 cups water in a large bowl. Place the sliced apples in the water to keep them from browning.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain water from apples, and place them into the hot skillet. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Stir together cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Pour into the skillet, and mix well. Cook for another minute, or until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat to cool slightly.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  4. Unfold puff pastry sheets, and repair any cracks by pressing them back together. Trim each sheet into a square. Then cut each larger square into 4 smaller squares. Spoon apples onto the center of each squares. Fold over from corner to corner into a triangle shape, and press edges together to seal. Place turnovers on a baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them. Brush the top of each pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with white (or colored!) sugar.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until turnovers are puffed and lightly browned.

Soon to Be Tofurkey Day!

OK, OK, it’s time to get my bloggin’ shoes on and make a REAL post that’s not modified pasta with butter or some variation on rice.

Think Lauren, think! What would be super culinary of yo’ lazy ass?

Well… Thanksgiving is right around the corner… perhaps it’s time for some pre-tofurkey day practice! I’m armed with a pound of fresh cranberries (word to the wise — they don’t taste like craisins when they’re raw :( ) and a shelf full of various squashes — time to get cookin’, Pilgrim style!

This year we’re planning on hosting our very own vegetarian Thanksgiving. Instead of turkey, or even tofurkey, we’re having a homemade seitan loaf prepared by a close vegan friend. Us veggies have always been left out of fun holiday-time events like carving the roast beast, so this was very exciting news…something substantial to sink our steak teeth into!

But sadly that meant one big letdown — no giant stuffed squash as our big time centerpiece…

Which left one burning question: WTF am I going to do with all these squashes!?!?

I have exactly six of them… they take up a whole shelf in our kitchen. Do squashes even go bad?! Am I going to be inundated with these things forever, without even an expiration date or a hint of mold to help me usher their way out of the house?!

No sir, not if I can help it.

That’s right… it’s squash stuffin’ time!

The beauty of stuffed squash is that it presents an entirely open palette. Even if you follow the traditional equation of squash + carbs + veggies + spices, there are still a multitude of questions to address; rice or bread? something more exotic and weird like pasta? ooo how about potatoes? or even squash stuffed squash (hey, I have a LOT of squash, ok?!)!

The door is pretty wide open to possibilities, and you don’t have to stick with the traditional Americanized version… how about Mexican stuffed squash (with rice, beans and tomatoes), Asian stuffed squash (a stir fry on a bed of squash), or just plain ol’ leftovers stuffed squash (am I crazy or would soup in a squash bowl be AWESOME?!). Ohhh how my hungry mind wanders!

Since I’ve never made stuffed squash before, I decided to stick with a nice, solid, traditional base. Like many ubiquitous and foods with a million variations, I couldn’t find a recipe that I loved AND had all the ingredients to, so I came up with my own using stale bread and veggies from the freezer:

Easy, Traditional Stuffed Squash

  • 1 squash of your choosing, cut in half and de-seeded (I’d go for acorn or butternut)
  • Enough olive oil to give your squash a nice, light basting + 2 tbs more for the stuffing
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped but not diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1/4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 to 1.5 cups bread, cut into cubes or small pieces (If you have crusty or stale bread, go with that. Slices from a loaf of bread work, but you generally want something that holds up a little better. Whole wheat bread produces a nuttier flavor; since there’s already nuts in this recipe, I’d go with white, if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth (or less)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
  • Liberal pinches of the following spices:
    • Rosemary
    • Parsley
    • Paprika
    • Chile powder
  • Salt and peppa’, to taste
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan
  1. Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly baste the insides of the squash halves with olive oil and throw ‘em open side up on a baking pan. When the oven is preheated, stick the squash in and bake for 30 minutes.
  2. While the squash is baking, prepare the stuffing. Start by sauteing the garlic and onion in a large skillet over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, carrots, peas and two tablespoons of the vegetable broth. Saute for two minutes until combined.
  3. Add the bread to the pan and mix well. Little by little, pour in the vegetable broth until each piece of bread is coated and wet, but not soaking (this may require more or less vegetable broth than listed). Throw in the spices and heat until all the excess liquid is absorbed from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and throw in the nuts and a handful of parmesan cheese.
  4. Take the squash out of the oven and fill with the stuffing mixture. Consider covering the squash with tinfoil if you prefer a less crispy and more evenly cooked stuffing (I like the crispier stuff, so I didn’t). Stick the squash back in the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until squash is tender. About 5 minutes before the cooking ends, top the squash with more freshly grated parmesan and allow to melt in the oven.
  5. Take the squash out of the oven, let cool for 5 minutes and eat!
I had leftover stuffing, so I just stuck that at the bottom of the pan to bake on its own. The result was great and a perfect prelude to our upcoming Tofurkey Day! I especially enjoyed the cheesy goodness that came from the melted parmesan:
Woohoo! Happy cooking!