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 purĂ©e (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 purĂ©e to bake muffins for my in-laws, then had a bunch of extra purĂ©e 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 purĂ©e, 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.

Rich and Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

  • Servings: 6-8 servings
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2-3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 c. aged cheddar (3yr+), shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 320g (~3 cups) old cheddar, shredded
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced
  • 10-14 small-medium yellow potatoes

Directions

Melt butter in pot over medium heat and brown. Add flour and stir until nutty smelling. Whisk in milk, ~1/2 cup at a time until sauce forms. Cook until sauce starts to simmer and thickens slightly, adding salt and pepper to taste and dash of nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in aged cheddar until melted into sauce. Slice potatoes and shallots. Layer in 8″X11″ oven-ready pan: sauce, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese, shallots, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese, shallots, potatoes, sauce, shredded cheese. Bake in oven at 177ÂșC/350ÂșF for 40-50 minutes until the cheese is browned and the potatoes are cooked through. Serve.

And now for the details…

Scalloped potatoes are, in my mind, one of the quintessential comfort foods. There is something about digging into a mass of hot, cheesy, creamy, perfectly cooked potatoey goodness that has a hard time being beat by any other comfort food.

I’ve encountered a number of different recipes for these over the years. Some call for just sprinkling flour between the layers of potatoes, then pouring milk over top. Some call for a bĂ©chamel sauce, but no cheese. Some call for cheese, but no kinds of white sauce at all. After some trial and error to find my preference, I am inclined to all the things. BĂ©chamel with some added cheese (would I truly be able to call it a Mornay if I’m not adding gruyĂšre?), then more cheese on its own, and a thin layer of shallots to add additional flavour. And lo! This recipe was born.

Let’s get to cooking.

We are going to start with our sauce. Melt the butter in a pot at medium to medium-high heat. Continue to cook until the butter has just browned, then add you flour. Reduce the heat to medium. Mix the two together well (I find that a whisk is particularly good at this task) and continue to stir over the heat for another several minutes. We are cooking the flour to remove the “raw” taste of the flour, but at the same time, we do not want to cook it too long, as toasted flour starts to lose its ability to thicken the toastier is gets. It’s one of the reasons we browned the butter first, to get that very nutty and toasted flavour, but not needing to compromise the thickening super power of the flour (the Power of Flour! A potential new comic book or graphic novel? Maybe if I could draw…)

Once we have cooked the flour, we are going to whisk the milk in about 1/2 cup at a time. We’re not adding it all at once, since that would like result in lumpy sauce, but you will also need to whisk constantly as you add, since this will thicken up FAST as you add the milk. I’ve given a pretty big range of milk to add here. A lot will depend on where you are, to be honest. Elevation seems to make a huge difference. Since moving to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and finding myself over 1000m (3280ft) above sea level, I have needed to add more more liquid to my recipes than I did when at the near-sea level of the Canadian Prairies. Add your milk until the sauce has reached the thickness of syrup (think pancake or maple syrup). Next, we are going to bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring regularly, and cooking it until it thickens. When is thick enough? Stick a wooden spoon in the sauce. If the sauce does not coat the spoon, you’re not done yet. If it does coat the spoon, run your finger down the middle of the spoon. If a line forms without the sauce running back into where you drew your line, your sauce is done. While the sauce is cooking, you can season it with salt and pepper to taste, and I also like to add a tiny dash of nutmeg.

As soon as you remove the sauce from the heat, add the shredded aged cheddar, and stir it into the sauce to melt. It may not seem like much cheese, but since we are adding even more cheese later, and using the aged (i.e. super flavourful) cheddar here, a little will go a fairly long way.

Next we start assembly. The shallots can be sliced right away and set to the side. I would recommend slicing the potatoes as you go for a couple reasons. One being that potatoes like to start turning brown fairly quickly after they have been cut. But also because it’s hard to estimate how many potatoes will be enough. Cutting as you go will allow you to stop at just the right point and avoid needing to try and cram a bunch of taters in at the last row, or worse, needing to throw them out.

We start the assembly with a thin spread of the sauce on the bottom of our 8″x11″ baking dish. The thin spread of sauce will avoid the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Because let’s be honest, between the sauce and the cheese we are adding here, there is enough fat that greasing the pan is completely unnecessary.

Next we place a layer of the potatoes. Lay them out so they overlap, and try to avoid leaving too many gaps. The layer after the potatoes will be more sauce, a little more generous than what was on the base, about a third of the sauce you have left. Spread the sauce as evenly as you can across the potatoes, and then lay a thin layer of the shallots, using about half of the shallots you have cut.

And then? NO AND THEN! Just kidding. And then: CHEESE!!! Spread out just enough cheese to evenly cover the layer. We want to keep the bulk of the cheese for the last layer.

We are going to rinse and repeat and the layers from here: potatoes, sauce, shallots, cheese, potatoes, sauce… and we use the bulk of the cheese for this top layer, really laying it on thick. This is what will form that gooey crust at the top of our potatoes. Y’know… the part that people “accidentally” scoop too much of when they are serving themselves, and “don’t realize” they left the rest of the potatoes underneath?

We are baking this monster at 177ÂșC/350ÂșF for 40-50 minutes. Our end goal: a bubbling dish of cheesy potatoes that are cooked through and a slightly browned crust on top. If you find your cheese is browning too much, cover the dish with tin foil while it cooks.

When its done, let it cool for about 5 minutes, then scoop in and serve.

Happy eating.

Grilled Halloumi and Tomato Salad

Grilled Halloumi and Tomato Salad

  • Servings: 2 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 package (~160g) halloumi
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, good quality
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Maldon salt, to taste

Directions

Slice the tomatoes into 1.5-2cm / 1/2-3/4″ slices. Slice the halloumi into 1/2-1cm-thick slices. Oil the tomato and halloumi slices, reserving some of the oil. Grill at medium-high heat on either side for several minutes per side. Place tomatoes, top with the halloumi. Drizzle with reserved olive oil. Sprinkle with cilantro and Maldon salt and serve.

And now for the details…

Yeah okay, so this was a super simple recipe. But it is also super delicious. Field ripened tomatoes are just starting to become available, and I have a bit of an infatuation with halloumi.

Halloumi. How could one not enjoy this fabulous creation. It is a cheese that is strong enough to withstand being placed on the grill or a hot pan. The result? Melting, salty, creamy tastiness that has the crispy finish of toasty cheese on the outside. Good enough to eat on its own with no further additions, we are going to balance that creaminess with the slight tang from our tomatoes and the fresh herbaceousness of the cilantro. Did I just make up a word there? Perhaps, but its appropriately descriptive.

We start by slicing our tomatoes and halloumi, and oil each side. Slice the tomatoes nice and thick, as they are going to have to withstand the high heat of the grill. If your tomatoes are very ripe and quite soft, slice them a little thicker yet.

Next we move to the grill. A medium-high heat on the grill, place the tomatoes and halloumi directly on the grill. Heat them just enough to get a nice brown grill mark on one side (3-6 minutes), then flip and grill on the other side.

Am I grilling pineapple as well for another salad? Why yes, yes I am.

As soon as the tomatoes and halloumi are ready, place the tomatoes on a plate and top with the halloumi (I cut each of my halloumi pieces in half to have the right tomato-cheese ratio). Drizzle the entire salad generously with the olive oil, and finish by sprinkling the chopped cilantro and Maldon salt overtop (sea salt or kosher salt will work too), and serve. Highly advised to serve with some crusty bread to soak up that rich, tomatoey oil left on the plate after you have cleared off the vegetables!

Happy eating.