Roasted Winter Squash Mac and Cheese

I like blogging because I like to talk about and share what I’m eating and cooking. But a necessary evil of having any kind of website, even a blog, are computer problems. I’ve been plagued with Internet problems all week. I wanted to get this up on Tuesday, but Monday night my Internet (and I’m told everyone’s in the area who subscribes to the local provider of cable Internet) was out. Then, Tuesday night, the Internet service was back up and running, but it ran off without making sure my computer was on board. And, I’m not an IT person. My “IT Department” (i.e., my brother) tried to walk me through fixing it over the phone, but it’s beyond my capabilities, even with phone technical support. So, I am sitting with my laptop right beside my modem with it plugged directly into my computer just so I can get this post out of the way… That’s how much I like blogging, I suppose.

You’ll be THANKFUL that I did. (Did ya see what I did there? Har har.)

I had some chunked up winter squash in the freezer from last year that I wanted to use before I get ready to put this year’s squash in the freezer. I think it was a Long Island Cheese variety, which is like a cross between butternut and pumpkin. I had a gallon-size zip top bag of it already cut into chunks, and I’ve been putting it in just about everything for the past week. I’ve made muffins and scones and oatmeal with the puree from the chunks, but I thought it would be great to roast them and add them to some mac and cheese, for some savory and non-breakfast winter squash love.

I actually like winter squash better in savory dishes than I do the sweet stuff. It actually pairs fantastically with cheese. Hence mac and cheese. I am just all about the hearty winter casseroles and things coming out of the oven now that it’s chilly. Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? I’m actually a big fan of putting all sorts of vegetables in it, too. You probably recall my Dreamfields pasta caramelized fennel mac and cheese. It’s great to experiment with adding things to it once you get a good base recipe down pat.

winter squash mac and cheese (4)

Roasted Winter Squash Mac and Cheese (serves 4 as a main course)

  • 8 oz. dry elbow macaroni (I used Dreamfields)
  • 2 cups winter squash cut into bite-size cubes (I used Long Island Cheese)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tb unsalted butter
  • 3 Tb all purpose flour
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 oz. fontina, shredded
  • 2 oz. sharp white cheddar, shredded
  • 4 Tb bread crumbs
  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • 3 Tb shredded parmesan

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the winter squash in a pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast 25 to 30 minutes uncovered, turning once, until the edges get browned. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until just al dente. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter on medium heat and add the flour. Stir well to combine to a paste and continuing stirring a minute or two until the color begins to deepen to a golden brown. Whisk in the milk until you don’t see any lumps. Continue whisking until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg with salt and pepper to taste. Add the shredded fontina and cheddar cheese and stir well to combine. Mix the cooked pasta, roasted squash and cheese sauce well to get everything coated. Melt the other tablespoon of butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Add the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Pour the mac and cheese mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

winter squash mac and cheese

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This is so easy it’s not even funny. And you could really wow some folks if you bring this as a side dish for your Thanksgiving feast. Because everyone goes crazy for mac and cheese, young and old. It’s so good, you might want to make extra so you have some leftover for yourself when Thanksgiving dinner is over.

Cold Frame Greens

Most people harvested their last tomatoes, peppers and winter squash a long time ago. I love gardening this time of year. I feel like I am cheating. I have vegetables growing outside under a cold frame in below freezing temps.

It’s more of a challenge to garden in the fall. Sorta. I mostly just leave them alone and water them every once in a while. That’s not that hard. The growing is much slower with cooler temps, though. A lot of patience is required.

I have had tsatsoi growing in there since August. I’ve never grown it before, and I wondered how it would hold up. I figured it was much like cabbage or kale or something like that, and only gets better after a freeze. That is because the plant starts producing more sugar to protect itself as the temperature gets closer to freezing. Sugar has a lower freezing point than water, so the more sugar the plant produces, the lower the temperature it can survive. That’s why kale is always better after a freeze.

Last night, I harvested some tsatsoi to use in stir-fry. I saw that my radishes and beets are still plugging along. Maybe, if the weather isn’t super cold over a long period of time, I’ll have some for salads this winter. A few years back, I planted some lettuce in a cold frame, and right after, it got really cold for two weeks or more. I figured the seedlings were dead and forgot all about them. Then, the early spring, I noticed some bright green under the cold frame. The lettuce had not only survived the winter, but was right on schedule when the weather finally warmed up just a little bit for spring salads.

cold frame vegetable garden

cold frame greens

This cold frame is super easy to set up. The raised beds are there all the time. I simple stick some 24-inch pieces of rebar in the corners, and slipped some tubing over the pieces. Then stretch some plastic, which I bought at Green’s Feed and Seed, over the hoops, and staple it along the sides. You’re ready to go at that point. You can find lots of plans for making similar set ups on the Internet. When the spring growing season rolls around, you just take it all back down and store it for next winter.

With the cold frame, I can get at least a couple more months out of the growing season, and more cool weather vegetables. When you enjoy growing vegetables as much as I do in my backyard, that’s just more opportunity to do what you love.

PROJECT RECIPE: Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches

Now that there’s a half a cow in my freezer, any time I find a recipe using beef roast, I’m all over it. Because you can eat regular ol’ beef roast only so many times. And for the Hubs, that’s not very many times.

I need to mix it up when it comes to beef roasts, and it’s a bonus when I can use my slow cooker to do all the heavy lifting. I found this recipe for Slow Cooker Beef Brisket French Dip Sandwiches on Pinterest. Honestly, it was the pictures that pulled me right in. Don’t you just wanna take a bite of that crusty bread and gooey cheese?

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper! I love quick and easy, and what could be easier than making dinner in a slow cooker? Plus, sandwiches are a great way to do something different with a beef roast, or get another dinner out of the leftovers. The flavors of the au jus were so deep and rich, too, I think because of the wine. Mine didn’t look as pretty as Neighborfood’s, but they were still pretty dang good.

french dip beef roast slow cooker

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t use brisket. I used rolled roast. Also, instead of swiss cheese, I used grand cru alpine cheese–which is basically swiss. And I didn’t have red wine for the broth, but I had white. I think it was just as good had I followed the recipe exactly. I have to confess, I burnt the buns when I put them under the broiler. Oh well, just slap some extra cheese on there to  make up for it.

beef roast au jus french dip sandwich

Definitely try these if you have leftover beef roast. Or try them with a beef roast. Either way, you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll have dinner on the table with barely any effort. Win-win in my book!

Eating Arizona

Like Raising Arizona, but eating. Do you remember that movie? What a classic.

So, earlier this week, I went to Arizona with my mom. Seeing the Grand Canyon has been on her bucket list for a long time. We knocked it out and then some over three days.

We got so many Kodak moments captured on film of the beautiful scenery, but I also got some shots of the fabulous food. People experience travel differently. Some like to go and see the sights. Maybe snap a few photos to remember what they saw. Some may seek out experiences like the sunset party at Mallory Square in Key West. Photographs wouldn’t quite capture the scene. You had to be there to take it all in. I like to experience a new place through my tastebuds. The memories of the place stick with me clearer.

We flew into Phoenix, arriving too late to do much. The next morning, we pointed the car toward Sedona. I’m used to green mountains that turn red, orange and gold in the fall. The surroundings looked so foreign to me. They were rocky and deserty, and the most stunning shades of red and pink and brown. The weather was absolutely gorgeous.

Tortas de Fuego flautas

Arizona has a lot of Mexican food, obviously since it shares a border with Mexico. I found Tortas de Fuego in Sedona on Yelp. I love places like this–so unassuming and straightforward. This place was legit Mexican. I ordered chipotle chicken flautas with rice, beans and guacamole. The chicken was so good; just the right amount of spicy. Also, did you know that flautas are basically the same thing as taquitos, except flautas are made with flour tortillas and taquitos are made with corn? (I just learned that when I looked it up for this post… Thank you, Internet.) I love that this place had a salsa bar, too. The salsa was very smooth, though, almost like it had an immersion blender run through it. There was a red, green and yellow. I could see bits of corn in the yellow one, and it was a little spicy, but really rich and creamy. The red was super hot, and the green wasn’t at all. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the yellow or the green. Definitely, if you are looking for a quick and cheap bite in Sedona, go here.

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We continued north to Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim, and got there right at sunset. Seriously, this was the ideal time to pull up and see it for the first time. It was stunning. I’m not even going to to try to describe it, because it just wouldn’t matter. You have to see it yourself to know what I am talking about.

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The light was gorgeous as it slipped behind the horizon behind us, leaving the last few beams of sunlight on the farthest ridges. It was just breath taking. The next morning, we got up for a sunrise bus tour out to Hermit’s rest. It was super cold at 6:15 a.m., probably in the 30’s and really windy. But it was still worth it. Again, the light was just perfect, and I wanted to just stand and watch as the sun came up and the light changed with the passing minute on the canyon. It is beautiful in the light of day, but it’s the most dramatic at sunset and sunrise, and worth planning your visit to be there for one, if not both.

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After the tour, we had breakfast in El Tovar’s restaurant. El Tovar is the beautiful, historic hotel on the canyon rim. (We stayed next door at the more modern and lower-priced Kachina Lodge). The Yelp reviews for El Tovar’s dining room for dinner were just okay. I was wary of pulling the trigger on such an expensive meal without stellar reviews. The menu was pretty impressive, but I guess, it failed to impress up yelpers to leave great reviews. The price of breakfast was much more reasonable, and the menu just as impressive, so we decided to go that route.

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I had the blackened trout breakfast, which came with eggs, potatoes, and an English muffin. I got my eggs soft poached, and  while the poach was perfect, I was disappointed that you could taste the vinegar from the water. They came to the table pretty wet. It helps to poach an egg if you add a little vinegar to the water, and these tasted like they were brined. I also like to drain mine pretty well when I make them at home. The trout, however, was amazing. The restaurant is committed to using sustainable ingredients as much as possible, which scored brownie points with me.

I should add that for dinner the evening we got there, we stopped at the Grand Canyon General Store on the road into the National Park, which has a fantastic selection on wine, beer and snacks, and bought some wine, crackers and cheese. It was wonderful to sit on a park bench, although bundled up in coats, below the stars with our picnic dinner. At the South Rim, you are approximately 8,000 feet in elevation, so the stars looked like they were so close you could reach up and touch them.

We hiked around the visitors center on some of the easier trails for several hours before deciding to head back south to Flagstaff, and some sights we wanted to see, then onto Prescott. Prescott was a little out of the way, but it was a beautiful little town. I wished we weren’t running out of time by this point in the day, because it would have been great to spend more time there. We snapped a few pics of The Palace on historic Whiskey Row. It’s Arizona’s most historic bar, dating back to the days when Prescott was an old prospector town. Seriously, if you go inside, sit at the bar and order and drink. You’ll think you’re back in the cowboy days or something.

Prescott

 

We got back to Phoenix too late to do much, but I had plans for dinner at The Attic. Maybe next time… We simply ran out of time. The next morning, we visited some things around Phoenix and Scottsdale, which is only a few miles away. There are a number of things you can pack into a day within a few miles drive. We visited Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, which was absolutely beautiful. If you are a Wright fan, definitely take the time to go by here. I love art deco design, and everything at Taliesin West feels so good on your eyes. Beauty everywhere, whether it is the Sonoran desert itself, or the geometrical lines on every possible space that are the signature of the property.

Next, we headed down to Old Town Scottsdale, where we shopped in jewelry store after jewelry store. If you need a silver and turquoise fix, go here to shop. You’ll surely find something that strikes your fancy. We were kinda hungry walking around Old Town Scottsdale, but we just followed the amazing smell of a smoker to Bootleggers on First Street. The place was practically empty for a late lunch, and we sat out on the patio where the smoker was doing its magic. Yelpers said the thing to get here was the bacon board, but it wasn’t on the menu. The waiter told me it was on the dinner menu, but he hooked us up. While we were deciding what to order, he brought us a sample of their signature apple pie moonshine, which was delicious. It was so smooth, but really sweet. It wold be hard to drink much more than a sample because it was so sweet–and also because it is moonshine. That stuff sneaks up on you fast.

Bootleggers Apple Pie Moonshine

Bootleggers bacon board

The bacon board was everything you’ve dreamed about. Three kinds of bacon: jalepeno, black peppercorn, and cherry wood, and two types of pork belly. One was traditional, and one was lightly brined, lightly smoked. It came with hot pepper jam, caramelized onions, grainy mustard, and bread toasted with aged cheddar. It was crazy how the bacon was so different. I couldn’t pick a favorite–probably the jalepeno. You didn’t even taste the jalepeno until the very end; a very subtle spicy. The pork belly was amazing on the toasted bread with the mustard and hot pepper jam. It tasted like the best grilled cheese you could imagine. I could have stayed there all afternoon enjoying the sunshine, tasty local beer and cured meat. My kinda place.

There were things I really wanted to try in Arizona, but it was too short of a trip. I’m told Phoenix is known for fry bread, and sadly, I didn’t get the chance to try any. I guess I’ll have to wait until next time. I’ll definitely be back. There was so much more that we crammed into our trip, that I simply couldn’t write about it all. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself. I can see how folks like Frank Lloyd Wright, and thousands of other visitors fall in love with the desert and the canyon. It’s just absolutely stunning.

A Well-Stocked Larder

Does anyone remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper from when you were a kid? That’s what I feel like this time of year. I’ve got a larder busting at the seams with all the summer and fall produce I’ve put up and stored over the past couple months.

Canning is a bit of extra effort, but I really enjoy it. Late summer is when produce here is at it’s absolute peak, so why not save a little of it for later in the winter months when the quality and selection isn’t as great. You can buy canned veggies and year-round, but there’s just something satisfying about opening a jar of tomatoes you canned yourself (and maybe grew yourself) to make a pot of soup or chili. While canned veggies from the grocery store are cheap, if you grow them yourself and can them, they’re basically free.

 canning vegetables

I’ve got several quarts of green beans canned by my in-laws, several quarts of both vegetable and chicken stock, both quarts and pints of tomatoes, pickles, jams and salsas that I canned. At the end of last month, I bought some pumpkins and winter squash for storing. The pumpkins will need to be cut up soon, but the winter squash will last a few months. I’m not even sure what varieties they are. I also store some extra dry goods here like rice, beans and pasta that I buy when I find a good price.

I never can anything without consulting a reputable recipe. Canning is surprisingly easy if you follow the directions. This is not the place to experiment with recipes. The recipes have all been tested and verified with food safety in mind. I generally use the Ball Blue Book, but Extension Services are also a great resource for canning instructions and recipes.

sweet potatoes and apples for storing

I’ve got some apples, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes stored in my garage, too. They will last several weeks in here because it’s cool and dry in the winter.

freezer full of beef and stock

My freezer is stuffed to the gills with the half a beef we bought back in September. Did you know that meat has a season? Back in the day, beef and pork was slaughtered in the fall. This was because the animals had reached maturity and because it was difficult to keep them alive over the winter, as there isn’t much besides hay (or dried corn for pigs) for them to eat then. I’ve also got quite a supply of chicken and turkey stock that I’ve frozen, as well as batches of vegetable scraps to make more vegetable stock. I just save all my carrot peels, bits of onion, stems from herbs and anything else you might throw away when you are peeling or chopping vegetables, and make vegetable stock from that when I have the time.

It’s a challenge to fit anything else in this deep freezer at this point. And, I don’t have any more space for jars of canned goods. by mid-summer next year, It will be looking pretty thin, and I’ll be ready to restock.

So, I say, “Bring it on, old man winter. I’m ready.”

Noelle’s Salmon

So, just a couple weeks ago, a coworker was telling me about her “super secret Sunday salmon” recipe. It was something she came up with because she grows bronze fennel. It’s a close relative (like really close) to the fennel they sell at the grocery store.

I happen to have everything I needed to make her recipe in my fridge (and pantry). So, I figured I’d give it a go.

It was delicious. Too delicious not to share with you. Sorry, Noelle, the recipe is secret no more.

I didn’t have any bronze fennel. But I did have the leftover fronds from when I made Caramelized Fennel Mac and Cheese. It was still delicious. I imagine even more so with the more pronounced flavor of bronze fennel.

Noelle’s Salmon (2 servings)

  • 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tb fennel fronds, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tb brown sugar
  • dash of kosher salt and pepper
  • 2-5 oz. filets of salmon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients except for the salmon in a small bowl. Brush the mixture over the salmon filets and let sit in you refrigerator for 30 minutes. Put it in the oven and bake for 18-ish minutes. It is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

I couldn’t take credit for this recipe. My coworker is the genius behind the sweet and spicy flavor of this salmon. I see why it’s her Sunday salmon go-to recipe.

Try it!

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