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.

Salmon and Tuna Poke Bowl

Poke Bowl Recipe

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup sushi rice
  • 2-4 oz/60-110g tuna, sushi grade
  • 2-4 oz/60-110g salmon, sushi grade
  • 2 Tbsps + 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tbsps + 2 tsp + 1/2 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsps sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp chili oil or hot sauce
  • 1 tsp wasabi paste
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice (approximately 1/8 lemon)
  • 3 mini English cucumbers, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped Savoy cabbage
  • 2 Tbsps fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp pickled ginger
  • 1/2 sheet roasted nori, cut into matchstick-sized pieces
  • 1/2 c. edamame beans
  • salt, to taste

Directions

Cook the sushi rice according to package instructions. Once cooked, sprinkle 1-2 Tbsps rice wine vinegar, mixing in and fanning the rice to cool. Once cool, place in two serving bowls. Keeping them separate, cut tuna and salmon into small pieces, approximately 1cm/1/2″. Mix wasabi and 1 teaspoon soy in a small mixing dish, then toss tuna pieces in this mix, placing immediately onto rice in bowls, allowing excess soy to fall back into small dish. Discard excess soy. In a small mixing dish, mix 1/2 tsp chilli oil or hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar and lemon juice, then toss the salmon in this mix, sprinkling with a pinch of salt. Place salmon onto rice. Arrange the rest of the ingredients around the fish on the rice: cabbage, cucumbers, ginger, nori, edamame, cilantro. Whisk together 2 tablespoons soy, 2 teaspoons vinegar, olive oil, sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp chilli oil or hot sauce. Drizzle the bowls with the dressing. Serve.

And now for the details…

When I’ve got a protein craving (yes, I get cravings for protein… I am a bit of a protein-aholic), the protein I want most is raw tuna. And so when I was shopping yesterday and walked past the sushi section and saw a dish of tuna and salmon sashimi, I grabbed it, drooling a little, thinking what a delicious treat it would be once I got home. I ended up getting home closer to dinner time, though, and decided to turn the sashimi into the full meal deal, and make a poke bowl.

Poke bowl restaurants exploded in the 2010’s, and you can often find them all over the place. But admittedly, the bowls we get there and what I have created here is not super accurate to its origins. Poke originates from Hawaii, where you can find it everywhere, from poke shops to grocery stores to gas stations. But you won’t usually see the big, colourful bowls, permeated with vegetables and avocados. More frequently, the poke is dished out on its own, or onto rice, in to-go containers and served up with minimal accoutrements. And to be honest, it doesn’t need the accoutrements. Most of the poke we had in Hawaii is so delicious in its own right, it doesn’t need a bunch of stuff to go with it. Knocking my own bowl a little bit? I guess so. The additions I’ve put in do complement the poke, but they are added more to create a balanced meal, rather than be true to origin.

With that, let’s make that bowl!

Start out by cooking the rice. I have used sushi rice, but you could use any rice that suits your fancy. I’ve seen poke restaurants use brown rice, quinoa, or even cauliflower rice. Whichever you are using, follow the package directions to cook the rice. If you are using sushi rice, once it is cooked, sprinkle the rice with 1-2 tablespoons of the rice wine vinegar, carefully stirring the vinegar in, being careful to not break the rice apart. Place the rice in two serving bowls, spreading it so it covers the bottom of the bowl.

Next, we prepare the fish. We are going to use different marinades for each fish, so keep them separate. Cut the fish into small pieces, about 1cm in size. Putting the fish into the freezer for a couple minutes will help make them easier to cut.

First, the tuna: whisk together the wasabi paste and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Add the tuna pieces, and toss until the tuna pieces are covered. Transfer immediately onto the rice bowl.

Next, the salmon: whisk 1/2 teaspoon chilli oil or hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar, and the lemon juice. Add the salmon pieces and toss to coat. Add a dash of salt to taste, then place the salmon next to the tuna on the rice bowl.

Place the cucumber, cabbage and cilantro around the fish.

Next, whisk the 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, olive oil, sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp chilli oil or hot sauce with a fork until well blended. Sprinkle the dressing over the bowls, getting it over the veggies and rice. Finally, place the edamame, ginger and nori, then serve!

(No pickled ginger in the house? No problem, neither did I! This recipe from the New York Times is a super fast, super easy way to put pickled ginger together, with only an hour resting time!)

Happy eating.

Juicy Grilled Burger Recipe

Grilled Burger recipe

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 700g/1.5lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 4-6 burger buns
  • Burger fixings (e.g. burger in photo: caramelized onions, peanut butter, bleu cheese, spicy mayo, onion jam, tomatoes)

Directions

Mix the raw ground beef with the egg, Worcestershire, mustard, shallots, salt and pepper until fully mixed. Split the meat into 4-6 parts (6 will be 1/4lb burgers, 4 will be 3/8lb), forming into patties. Press a small indent into the middle of the patties with your thumb to avoid “puffing” of the middle. Place on a grill heated to ~400ÂșF/205ÂșC. Cook on each side for 7-9 minutes, flipping only once, until fully cooked in the middle. Serve immediately, with buns and fixings.

And now for the details…

I’m not sure what the weather it is like in the part of the world you are in right now, but for us here in Calgary, Canada, spring is in the air, which also means its time to get back to grilling. There are a few brave souls who grill in the winter, but needing to shovel snow to access our grill is not something I’m interested in…

And what better food to kick your grilling into high gear than the hamburger? A nice big, juicy burger, topped with your fixings of choice? Yum.

In this recipe, I am using all lean ground beef. I have heard/read about adding in some fatty ground beef to up the juiciness factor, but to be honest, I am too lazy to get that specific. If you want to give it a try, please feel free to give the suggested 80% lean / 20% fatty method a whirl and let me know if the effort fo measuring/mixing is worth it in taste 😛

We start everything off by mixing the meat with the egg, Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, shallot and salt and pepper. I did not measure the S&P, that’s up to your preference. For ours, I used about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the same of pepper. Keep in mind when you’re adding your salt that the Worcestershire is already fairly salty and we are adding a full tablespoon of it to the meat. Best method to mix all these ingredients? By hand. You could use a mixer or wooden spoon if touching raw meat grosses you out (I have a few friends who are anti-touching raw meat), but by hand allows you to get a good mix in without overworking the meat. Yes, it is possible to overwork ground beef. If you mix too much, it will actually cause the meat to compress, giving the patty a tougher, rubbery-like texture.

Next is time to form up your patty. You can divide the meat up into four or six roughly-even parts, depending on how big you want your burger patties to be (and how many people you’re serving!) Six parts will give you six quarter pounders. When you are forming the patties, it is the same as when we were mixing, don’t squeeze the hell of out of the meat when you’re forming the patty. Just use a light squish to make sure they stick together; it’s not an attempt to beat the Hydraulic Press Channel… Use your thumb, and press a little dimple or divot into the middle of the patty. This will help to keep the patty from “puffing” in the middle while its cooking, and result in a more even burger.

Next is grill time. Preheat your grill to medium heat, somewhere around 400ÂșF/205ÂșC. Place your patties on the grill, close it up, and let them cook for 7-9 minutes. Avoid the temptation to press the patties with your spatula/flipper, which presses/pushes the fat and juices out of the meat, resulting in a drier burger. Once the first 7-9 minutes are done, flip the patties and let them cook for another 7-9 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers at 160ÂșF/70ÂșC. I know some people are fans of a pink inside to their burgers, but I like them well-done. Really, unless you are grinding your own beef and have full control over the handling of the meat and sanitizing of the equipment, I don’t know that I would go with a pink inside.

Finally, assembly time. Tons of options here, you could have all the fixings ready, and leave it up to the folks eating, like a burger buffet, or you could preassemble and serve. While the typical fixings are ketchup, mustard, mayo, relish, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. might I suggest toppings a bit off-course? The toppings on ours were inspired from a burger I had in Ottawa, Canada a few years ago. They called it the “PB & J” burger, and I’ve been mildly obsessed with peanut butter on burgers ever since. In this burger, I used a caramelized onion jam for the “J”, and crumbled pieces of bleu cheese, but I’ve tried it with fig preserves, or with grape jelly, and both were also delicious. I would recommend adding the PB as soon as the burger comes off the grill. It get a little melty and oozy and is so good. I also used a little spicy aioli under the patty before placing it on the burger bun.

Top the burger off with some caramelized onions and tomatoes and you are ready to consume!

Happy eating.