Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsps butter
  • 2 Tbsps flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef)
  • 1 1/4 cup pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 115g/4oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan, grated
  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped loosely

Directions


Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk to fully mix. Add the garlic, and continue to whisk until the garlic has turned fragrant and the flour as just started to turn golden brown. Add the milk in 1/2 cup portions at a time, whisking completely before adding the next amount. Add the milk until a cream sauce has formed, but not too thin. Cook until the sauce is thick enough to stick to the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in the pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream cheese and parmesan and stir until cheeses are completely melted and mixed into the sauce. Set a pot of heavily salted water to boiling. Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Drain the macaroni, then add to the pan with the sauce and mix well. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve.

And now for the details…

This dish could almost be viewed as an adult take on classic Mac and Cheese. Or, if you’re trying to hide fruits/veggies from your kids (or other members of your household… I do know some adults who aren’t fans of veg lol), you could tell them this is Mac and Cheese and not tell them about the pumpkin 😛 Although, if you are going to try and pull one over on your kids, be aware that the texture is a little less smooth than a typical Mac and Cheese because of the addition of the pumpkin, not to mention the addition of spices!

I came up with this recipe after I’d opened a large tin of pumpkin purée to bake muffins for my in-laws, then had a bunch of extra purée on my hands. I didn’t want to do more baking, so I figured, why not do a savoury take on pumpkin, and use it for a pasta sauce instead?

The cinnamon and nutmeg are subdued and delicate in the sauce, just a small addition to bring a teaser of pumpkin spice flavours. Then the addition of the cheeses brings this dish well into the savoury realm. The hazelnuts add a nice texture contrast, and I love their flavour up against the pumpkin cheesiness.

We are going to start out by making a béchamel, or white sauce. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. As soon as the butter has melted, whisk the flour into the butter, and add the garlic. We are going to cook this, whisking constantly, until the garlic has become fragrant and the flour/butter has just started to turn a golden brown.

Next we will be adding the milk. We add the milk in small spurts, about 1/2 cup at a time, and whisking the milk in. The whisk is very important here! This will be hard if you try to using a different stirring utensil. The first couple of additions might worry you a bit. It will be very thick at first, almost paste-like. Fret not! Keep adding the milk a little bit at a time, whisking to fully mix each time, and soon you will have a nice, creamy sauce. Stop at about 2 cups, and see if you need to add any more. If the sauce is quite thick (think yogurt consistency), then you need to add some more milk. If it is closer to about syrup consistency, you’ve got it about right. We are going to cook the sauce for a bit longer after we’ve added all the milk, about 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. A good way to test it? Drop your wooden spoon in the sauce, then pull it out and run a finger along the back of the spoon. If the line you’ve drawn with your finger stays in place without the sauce running back through it, your white sauce is done cooking. Turn the temperature down to medium-low.

Now is about a good time to get your macaroni a-cookin’. Boil some heavily-salted water, add the macaroni, turn down the heat on the pot to medium, and cook according to the pasta package instructions.

As the pasta cooks, let’s get our sauce finished up. Add the pumpkin purée, nutmeg, cinnamon, cheeses, and broth. When adding cream cheese to a sauce, it’s fastest to break it up into small-dish pieces so that it with melt a little easier. Allow the sauce to heat up until the cream cheese is fully melted and the sauce just starts to bubble. By now, your macaroni should be almost done cooking. Steal 1/4 cup of pasta water and add it to the sauce before draining the pasta, mixing the water in. This is going to help the sauce stick a bit easier to the pasta.

Drain your pasta, then add it right into the pan with the sauce. Stir well until every piece of macaroni is fully coated. Do one final taste test here and add salt and pepper to taste. We waited until the last minute for this, since the pasta water, broth, and cheese will have added salty elements, and it’s best to wait until all those are melded before adding any more salt.

Pour everything into your serving dish of choice, and then sprinkle the pasta with the toasted hazelnuts, and serve.

Happy eating.

One Pan Wonder: Roast Chicken with Veggies, Potatoes and Gravy (plus a BONUS)

Roast Chicken with Veggies, Potatoes and Gravy

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 1-2kg/2-4.5lb chicken
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half
  • 10cm/4″ ginger, peeled, cut into 2.5cm/1″ pieces
  • 2 Tbsps dried makrut lime leaves (optional)
  • 1 small onion, cut in large slices
  • 2 Tbsps butter, melted
  • 1/2-1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup white wine (plus more if needed)
  • 4 small carrots, peeled, and cut in large pieces
  • 15 baby potatoes, halved, tossed in olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and cut in sections
  • 1.5 cups asparagus pieces, tossed in olive oil
  • 2 Tbsps bisquick mix or flour
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425ºF/220ºC. Ensure bird’s cavity is empty. Stuff cavity with garlic, ginger, and lime leaves. Place onion pieces on the bottom of the roasting pan. Place chicken on top of onions. Brush chicken with melted butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Pour white wine into base of pan. Place in oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF/175ºC and place carrots, fennel, and baby potatoes. Lightly sprinkle veggies with salt. Cook the vegetables and chicken until the chicken breast meat registers at 165ºF/75ºC, about 20 minutes/lb. If the liquid evaporates off, add a bit more white wine. 10 minutes before the chicken is done, add the asparagus pieces. Once done, removes chicken and veggies from the pan to a serving dish. Set the pan with the juices on the stovetop at medium-high heat (if minimal juices, top up slightly with more chicken broth). While waiting for the juices to start boiling, whisk together the bisquick/flour and broth. Once the juices start to boil, slowly add the flour mixture, stirring continuously, until desired thickness for gravy is achieved. Remove from heat. Serve.

And now for the details…

Roasting a chicken was one of the first recipes I remember learning and being able to do on my own when I was younger. Roasted chicken is a surprisingly easy dinner to cook. And it displays nicely enough to look like it took a lot of effort to put together.

And you may ask, am I going to be a weirdo and name the bird like I did during Mo’s adventure? You know the answer. This little guy’s name is Fisher. He’s named after a recent song we did in RPM class, called “You Little Beauty”, and the artist’s name is Fisher. The moment I pulled the wee, three pound Fisher out of the fridge, I knew he was going to be a little beauty at the end, so the name only seemed right.

I am stuffing the chicken with some added flavour elements, but to be honest, you can do this recipe with nothing stuffed inside, and just some salt and pepper on the bird, and it turns out great! You may need to modify the cooking time a little bit, though, an unstuffed bird cooks in less time.

Let’s get to cooking, shall we?

Before we start prepping Fisher, preheat the oven to 425ºF/220ºC. We start at such a high heat to kinda sear Fisher’s outsides at the beginning to help lock in his juices.

Before stuffing, tie Fisher’s legs together so he can’t run away. Just kidding. Fisher is a dead chicken. He can’t run. But, we do want to tie his legs together to keep them in so they don’t splay out while he’s cooking and get all dried up. Unsure how to truss a chicken? This post provides a great step-by-step instruction to help you out!

Like I said earlier, you can get away with not stuffing Fisher, and just cooking him as is, with a little salt and pepper. But I like the added flavour Fisher will get from adding a few things into his cavity while he cooks. A lot of recipes will call for stuffing the bird with lemons or oranges… Citrus and chicken do go pretty well together. But to be honest, I’m not the hugest fan of the flavour of a roasted bird with lemon… Cooked lemon has a tendency to get bitter, and I don’t love the flavour it passes over to the poultry. I find it almost takes away some of the umami-ness of the meat. And so I’m going off-script with this one, and stuffing the bird with garlic, ginger, and lime leaves. No lime leaves? No worries. Omit them. I added them to play around and see what they added, and to be honest, the flavour addition was marginal…

Stuff Fisher with the chunks of ginger and garlic and leaves, alternating between them so they are spread out throughout the cavity. Before placing Fisher in the roasting pan, lay out the thick cut onion pieces on the bottom of the pan. We lay Fisher on top of the onions. These are going to lift Fisher up slightly so he doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, or sit in his own juices while he cooks. Next, brush Fisher with the melted butter, making sure to get any exposed bits and pieces of him nicely covered. Sprinkle Fisher with kosher salt and pepper, then pour the white wine in the base of the pan.

Place Fisher in the oven and cook him for 15 minutes. While he is doing his first stint in the oven, get the veggies ready to go. Cut the stalks off the fennel, then quarter and core it, then slice the quarters in half. Peel the carrots, and cut into large pieces. Cut the baby potatoes in half, and toss them with a little bit of olive oil.

Remove Fisher from the oven, and turn the oven down to 350ºF/175ºC. We’ve got the original “sear” on Fisher and now we reduce the heat to roast him all the way through. The lower temp is also going to allow us to cook the veggies in the pan with Fisher, without burning or drying them out too much. Add the fennel and carrots first, stirring them a bit to coat them with whatever juices have collected in the bottom of the pan. Then we add the potatoes to the pan. I like separating the carrots/fennel from the potatoes to give the taters some space to crisp up a bit more. Sprinkle all the veggies with a little bit of salt.

If there was little to no juices in the bottom of the pan, add a little bit of white wine or chicken broth to the pan. Place the pan back in the oven. Now we simply wait. Fisher is going to cook for about 20 minutes/pound. The most important consideration is to make sure that the meat registers at 165ºF/75ºC when measured at the thickest part of the breast, not touching bone. If you do not have a meat thermometer, you can cut into a deep part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, then Fisher is done. If there is still some pink in the juices, Fisher needs a little more time in the oven.

Just before Fisher is done cooking, by about 10 minutes (when the meat is around 10ºF/5ºC under it’s final temperature), add the asparagus into the pan. Again, we are going to check the juices at the bottom. If they are low, top up with a bit of wine or broth.

Put the pan back in the oven and cook for the final 10 minutes, until the chicken reaches the correct temperature. Remove the pan from the oven when everything is done. Move the chicken and veggies from the pan onto a serving platter.

Place the pan, with the juices, onto the stovetop and set the burner to medium-high heat. You might need to tip the pan so the juices tilt to one end of the long pan. Let the juices heat up to start boiling. Yet again… if minimal juices, top up with a little bit of broth.

In a small bowl, place 1/4 cup of the broth, and whisk 2 tablespoons of bisquick (remember the leftover flour mixture we had from the Kraft box? Now’s the time to use some of it! Otherwise, plain flour works just fine) into the broth until smooth with no lumps are left. Once the meat juices start to boil, turn the temperate down to medium, and slowly add the flour liquid, a bit at a time, stirring continuously, until the gravy has thickened.

Remove the gravy to a gravy boat, and serve!

Happy eating.

And now… BONUS TIME!!!

My RPM members groan when I introduce a bonus, since it usually means a “surprise” extra 15-30 seconds of effort after everyone thought the heavy effort was over. Well… at least they used to groan when I was still teaching (waiting for COVID isolation to end so we can make it back to the gym!) Soon… *tapping fingers* soon…

In this case, the bonus is making chicken broth from the leftover carcass after you have devoured the meat of of Fisher’s body. I made the broth using my Instant Pot, but you can easily do this on a pot on the stove, you’ll just need to cook it for about double the time, topping up the liquid if it boils off.

After getting most of the meat off Fisher, remove the ginger, garlic, and lime leaves from inside his cavity. You can leave them there if you would like, but you will end up with a very gingery-flavoured broth. Place Fisher’s carcass into the pot, and fill it with water until the carcass is covered, or you’ve almost reached the “MAX” line on the Instant Pot. Add some onion, carrot, and celery to the pot.

Cover and seal the pot, cooking on the “soup/broth” setting for 1.5 hours. If you are cooking on the stove, heat the liquid up until it starts to simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 3 hours. Once done, let the seal release if in the Instant Pot, then strain the solids out of the broth. I would suggest using a cheesecloth to getting the little uckies out of there and you’ll have a nice, clear broth. Place the broth into freezable containers and place in your freezer for future use! The broth should keep in your freezer for several months.

Prawns in a Brandy Cream Sauce

Prawns in a Brandy Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1/4 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 giant prawns
  • 1 cup seafood broth
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 85 g/6 Tbsps cream cheese
  • 1/2 tomato, cut in small pieces
  • 250 g/9 oz dry pasta

Directions

Set a large pan on a stove at medium-high heat. Place the olive oil, onion, and garlic in the pan. Cook, stirring regularly until the onions have started brown slightly. Add the prawns, cooking for several minutes, then flip, and cook for several minutes on the other side. Remove the prawns to a dish and set aside. Add the brandy to the pan. Cook down until reduced by half. Add the broth. Turn temperature down to medium. Cook down for five minutes. Add the cream cheese in small pieces. Stir and cook until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Add the tomatoes Cook the pasta according to package directions. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce. Add the prawns back to the sauce. Stir to full coat the prawns. Drain the pasta. Add to the pan with the prawns and sauce, mix fully. Serve.

And now for the details…

Here we are people, the final day of my personal daily recipe post challenge! Quarantine is officially done after today, and my plan for tomorrow afternoon is to go grocery shopping! Yeah, maybe not very exciting to some, but when you’ve been in a house and haven’t been able to leave in two weeks, it’s pretty exciting. I’m also going to be going shopping for another friend who is presently in isolation and can’t leave their house (if you can’t pay it forward, at least pay it back!)

Today’s recipe is yet again thanks to the frozen fish we bought out of a random man’s truck. This time, I am using the giant prawns we bought. If you don’t have giant prawns, regular prawns will do just fine, but use a few more.

Start by heating the oil in a large pan on medium-high heat, and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have started to brown. Add the prawns to the pan. Cook until the prawns turn pink and brown slightly. Turn the prawns, and cook on the other side.

Remove the prawns to a dish on the side, and add the brandy. Cook down until reduced by half, then add the broth. If you can’t find seafood broth (I have only been able to find it very recently), use chicken broth, which is neutral enough that it won’t affect the taste of the sauce too much. Turn the temperature down to medium.

Cook the sauce for 3-5 minutes. Add the cream cheese to the pan, dropping it into the pan in small pieces, which will help the cheese melt easier into the sauce. Cook the sauce, stirring regularly, until the cheese has melted completely. Add the tomatoes.

While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta in heavily salted water according to directions. Once the pasta is almost done, add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce, then drain the pasta. Add the prawns back to the sauce and cooking, stirring, to coat the prawns with the sauce. Add salt and pepper the sauce to taste.

Add the pasta into the pan with the sauce, and stir until the pasta is completely coated with sauce. Serve immediately.

Happy eating.