Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

This mac and cheese recipe is So Much Better than anything you can find in a box. It takes about the same amount of time, if you rush the onions. Better than quick, you know what all of the stuff is in this macaroni, no preservatives or artificial junk. You can use just about any cheese you've got - I used extra sharp cheddar and gruyere, and any squash you've got - acorn, butternut, even something like pumpkin works. If you've got leftover fresh mashed squash from another recipe use that, otherwise canned is great and quick.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Bacon
inspired by abby langer nutrition and pinch of yum


1 pound elbow macaroni or rotini
1/4 cup and 1 tbsp butter
2.5 tablespoons flour (I use King Arthur white whole wheat)
2 cups milk
4 cups grated cheese
1 cup mashed butternut squash
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 slices of bacon, cooked crisp


1. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, turn heat down, and cook for at least 30 minutes or until caramelized, tender, and brown.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions.

3. Melt remaining butter in a sauce pan. Add flour and whisk until well combined. Add milk, whisking as you go. Let simmer until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add squash and cheese. (You can add it back to the heat briefly if it isn't melting, but it is more likely to get grainy if you keep it on the heat here.)

4. Drain pasta, return the the pot. Pour cheese sauce over the pasta, stir to combine. Add onions, stir to combine. Serve hot with bacon crumbled over top.

That's it! Easy peasy. Oh, this would be good with peas too... ;)

I know this one is more of a fall food... but man am I craving some right now. What is your favorite comfort food, fall or spring?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Potato-Horseradish Gratin with Caramelized Onions

I first made this recipe on February 25, 2012. I know this because the menu for that dinner party is still the bookmark on page 862 of Southern Living's 1001 Ways to Cook Southern, a gift I received from my now mother in law when Brian and I moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts the summer of 2011. That February dinner party night I served a Rosemary-Thyme Rib Roast. Potato gratin has since made its way to my Easter table. Last year there wasn't time for this more involved version of the dish, and I went a more classic route. This year I am trying it as a make ahead dish - I'll let you know how that works out when I edit to add pictures in a couple days!

Potato-Horseradish Gratin with Caramelized Onions

from Southern Living's 1001 Ways to Cook Southern
makes 8 servings   ||   prep: 1 hr, 25 min. cook: 1 hr., 10 min. stand: 10 min.


2 1/2 lb medium-size baking potatoes
1 tsp salt, divided
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup cream-style horseradish
1/4 cup butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup (4 oz) shredded swiss cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook potatoes in boiling water to cover 20 minutes or until almost tender. Drain and cool slightly. Peel potatoes, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange potato slices in a lightly greased 13-x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. 
2. Stir together half-and-half and horseradish, and pour over potato.
3. Bake, covered, at 400°F for 40 minutes. 
4. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and remaining 1/2 tsp pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Add sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes or until onion is caramel colored. 
5. Stir in vinegar, and cook 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, and cool 5 minutes. Fold in cheese and 2 tbsp of parsley. 
6. Uncover potato; top with onion mixture. Reduce temperature to 350°F. 
7. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; sprinkle with remaining 2 tbsp parsley. 

Make ahead option: 
This can be prepared through step 5 up to 24 hours before. Remove potatoes from oven, let cool. Keep covered and refrigerate. Cover onion mix and refrigerate. 
When ready to cook, remove from fridge and allow to come back towards room temperature 30-60 minutes. Top potato with onion mixture and cook uncovered at 350°F for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. Finish with parsley as normal. 

What is your favorite make-ahead holiday meal? Favorite holiday potato? 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter 2016 - Prep Schedule

I always find big dinner parties and holiday meals so much easier to manage with a schedule. It's one of the reasons I often start my menu planning at finecooking.com - they have a great menu builder in their inspiration section that fills a shopping list and populates a schedule for you. The only drawback is that it doesn't take into account that most home cooks don't have two ovens, so you have to check it really carefully and cross your fingers that your two heart set on recipes don't conflict.

Here's my menu for Easter 2016 - if you like the looks of it, you'll love this schedule and shopping list. ;)

Prep Schedule


If curing your own ham (which you need to if you get a natural ham), start brining it 72 hours before you want to cook it. Since we are sous viding, Brian started this on Tuesday. This is the step you need curing salt for below. If you get a ham a more conventional route (like, a grocery store) you will jump ahead a little and skip the curing salt and liquid smoke on the shopping list. ;)

Set up the ham to sous vide for 48 hours. (Start by noon or 1pm if serving around 2-3pm).
Make the shopping list
Go shopping
Drink a glass of wine and toast to the culinary adventure to come 
Maybe dust something


Bake and frost the carrot cake. 
Steam and peel the eggs for the deviled eggs.
Make the potato gratin, up to the step where you add the onions. Cover and refrigerate. Caramelize the onions, cover and refrigerate. 
Make the cheese sablés, but when it says to make a flat disk and refrigerate, instead roll it into logs, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment, and refrigerate overnight. 
Make sweet tea, if room in the fridge. ;) 

Sunday Morning

Take the gratin out of the fridge to come up towards room temp so you don't shock the dish when you put it in the oven. 
Make sweet tea if no room yesterday - put it where the gratin was. ;)

Sunday - 2 1/2 hours before (11:30am here)

Make the deviled eggs - refrigerate until ready to serve (2pm for appetizers here). 
Prep veggie tray.
Heat the oven to 400°F. 
Cut cheese sablés into 1/4 inch slices, brush with glaze, and bake.

1 and 1/2 hours before

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. 
Top the potato gratin with caramelized onions and bake for 30-40 minutes, until heated throughout. 
Remove ham from sous vide. Make a glaze from the drippings. 
Make the dressing for the peas and carrots.

1 hour before

Put out the appetizers. ;) 
Make popovers. When gratin removed from oven, increase heat to 425°F. Bake popovers for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350°F, bake for 15 minutes more. 
Once removed from the oven, increase oven temp back up to 450°F.
Steam the baby carrots and sugar snap peas, toss with dressing. 
Make the carrot salad, let sit at room temperature. 

20 minutes before

Put glaze on ham and cook in 450°F oven for 10-20 minutes. 

Just before dinner

Top the carrot salad with the chives.
Slice the ham.

Shopping List

carrots (4 pounds total)
sugar snap peas (8 oz)
1-2 lemons
1 orange
2 1/2 pounds medium size baking potatoes
2 large onions

eggs (need 18 if doubling popovers and making 8 deviled eggs/16 halves)
1 pound cream cheese
2 cups half and half
3 1/2 oz sharp cheddar
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
4 oz swiss cheese
butter (you'll need about 3 cups, all totaled)

country ham
smoked salmon

Dry goods:
chopped walnuts (2 1/2 cups)
vanilla extract
all purpose flour (6 cups)
light brown sugar (2 cups)
1 pound confectioners sugar
raisins (1/2 cup)
dried currants (1/2 cup - sub dried cranberries if you can't find currants)
cream style horseradish (1/2 cup)
untoasted walnut oil (though toasted is fine too)
pink curing salt (we ordered from amazon)
liquid smoke flavor (again, amazon for us)

Probably have at home:
dijon mustard
kosher or sea salt
onion powder
oil (canola, corn, etc - 1 cup)
baking soda
baking powder
ground nutmeg
ground ginger
apple cider vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar

It looks like a lot of steps, but it includes all of the temperature changes. Having it all written out takes a lot of guessing and panic out of the day. I do this step blog post or no for big meals. :) Maybe someday I'll be so pro I don't need it, but today is not that day! 

What about you? What is your must do holiday prep step? 

Easter 2016

Easter is such a great holiday. I've seen a lot of naysayers recently complain that it's the new Christmas and ask "when did Easter get so big?" Um, it's kind of a big deal. Christmas has so much pressure to find the perfect gift and has been so commercialized recently, and I hate the arguing about saying "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" (don't get me started on the red cup hate this year, good grief). Thanksgiving is wonderful but we are always trying to get somewhere in time. We don't really travel for Easter these days. I act like Wendy and collect lost boys around me, many of them from my husband's department, and cook like I'm trying to feed 30 instead of the 3-6 that we usually host. The air is full of promise of warm evenings and bright flowers. All of the trees have bloomed around here and we had the most magnificent sunset tonight, and as I type this at 7:30pm it's still dimly dusk outside.

I love the menu planning process for holidays and dinner parties. I love skimming fine cooking, my cookbook shelves, pinterest, and old menu pages from previous years, remembering joyful moments shared with friends and family, laughing to myself about recipes that flopped, getting hungry remembering the delightful surprises and wild successes.

This is my menu this year. I've dropped a side, added a side, rotated back to a harder version of another one, retreated to the comfortable familiarity of popovers (unlike the awful dinner rolls I tried last year), and of course, I kept the carrot cake.

Easter Menu 2016


Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon
Vegetable Crudités

Salads and Sides

Popovers (from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

Main Course

Sous Vide Country Ham



Sparkling Apple Cider
Watermelon Mint Lemonade
Sweet Tea

So, what's cooking at your house this weekend? Do you travel for Easter, host, or order Chinese? Any favorite spring traditions? 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel topping

The last few weeks we've been making tons of fruit smoothies for breakfast. Let me tell you, I'm hooked. They are such a great way to get in some dairy (make them with natural plain yogurt), and they're perfect for the fruit that is lets say... not quite fruit tray pretty any more, yes?

Joyful foodie blueberry muffins with streusel topping

So we've gone through a TON of fruit! Its been awesome. We've finally cleaned out the section of the freezer that has had frozen fruit in it for AGES. I mean we're talking strawberries from last summer's "how much fruit could a flat of berries really be??" experiment and frozen mix bags from my last smoothie attempts ... they were misguided, and always tasted like frost bitten fruit. It doesn't have to be like that!!

Joyful foodie blueberry muffins with streusel topping

Last week I made the Peach Crisp using (mostly) farmer's market peaches. Delicious. And while I joked about eating leftovers for breakfast, I have restrained myself. That has however left this nagging want for something sweet... fruity... and baked to go with those smoothies in the morning. (Or bacon. You can never go wrong with bacon.)
Enter: THIS MUFFIN. I totally misjudged how much streusel topping I needed last week with the peaches, and I hate throwing perfectly good food/ingredients away... so I went on a muffin hunt. Found Barbara Bakes. Anyone already know her? If not, oh man, go click around her site. It's beautiful and everything looks so yummy and I can practically smell her pictures. (Oh wait, that's the muffins.)

Just don't forget to come back over here, ok??

You ready?

The BEST Blueberry Streusel Muffins

adapted from Barbara Bakes


1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon salt ...basically a pinch ;)
1/4 stick butter (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons nuts of your choice (I like a mix of pecans and cashews)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries, fresh*

*Barbara says you can use frozen. I really really wouldn't. Save your frozen berries for smoothies or oatmeal or tea. These stay suspended in light fluffy batter so perfectly, if they are fresh they pure explode on your tongue with tart sweet juicy perfection. Don't deny yourself that kind of pleasure. 


Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line your muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.

Prepare your streusel topping and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix first three ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt.)

In a large bowl of stand mixer, beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla, and milk. Beat briefly. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Gently stir in blueberries.

Spoon batter into lined muffin tins. You should get somewhere between 12 and 15. They puff up really nice if you are closer to 12, but I was timid about filling my muffin tins. Don't  worry about being timid. It'll all work out either way. ;)

Generously heap streusel topping onto the muffins. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Allow muffins to rest for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

For the streusel:
Pulse first six ingredients (flour through salt) in food processor. Add butter and pulse again. Add oats and nuts and pulse a final time.

Modifications: The second time I made this I tried half white whole wheat flour and half regular all purpose flour. It still turned out good, so if you're already making that switch it works here. It was definitely a little denser this way, but still tasty. Maybe add a tablespoon or two of oil to keep it moist and up it to two teaspoons of baking powder to help fluff the muffins.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Steamed Eggs

Don't you just hate when the night before you promised egg salad to the church/shower/social event you realize that you used all the eggs you'd been saving* and you were going to have to use new eggs?

*You know, because older eggs are easier to peel when you're doing hard boiled eggs?

Well have I got good news for you. There is a better way to cook eggs for egg salad, deviled eggs, etc. One that just doesn't require long fingernails for picking off tiny flecks of shell, leaving divots in the egg white, or cursing under your breath.


Steam them.

Steamed Eggs

from finecooking and seriouseats


Bring 1-2 inches of water to a boil in a steamer pot.
Fill a bowl with ice and water.
Place eggs in steamer basket. Cook covered 6 minutes for soft boiled, 12 minutes for hard boiled.
Spoon eggs into ice water bath. Let sit for 15 minutes to cool (and stop the cooking). Peel under running cold water.


Your turn! 
What's your best time saving (frustration saving!) technique? Does it have a recipe that it really shines for?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Menu and Timeline

Holidays are one of my favorite things. I love cooking for friends and family and spending hours talking over good food. Starting with a detailed plan helps keep things running smooth so it stays fun. I've definitely had dinner parties that stressed me out... so I'm sharing my Easter timeline to help you wrangle the to-do list and keep the stress of entertaining low!

My Easter Dinner Menu: 
Deviled Eggs
No-Knead Dinner Rolls (dough can be made the day before)
Peas with lemon, mint, and scallion
Balsamic Carrots
Potato Gratin
Carrot Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Sweet Tea

***Important Scheduling Note!! We got a fresh local ham this year, brined it ourselves, and sous vide cooked it for 48 hours, so other than the last minute glaze making, it is excluded from this timeline. Most hams need 3ish hours to be fully heated through. Try this recipe from Pioneer Woman if your ham didn't come with directions. (Full disclosure, I haven't tried her ham recipe, but I trust her as a source.)

Two-Seven Days Before: 
Make the menu.
Read all the way through all of the recipes (even if you've made it before).
Add ingredients to shopping list. (Keep count of things like eggs to be sure you have enough by the time you're done with all recipes. I keep a tally in pencil.)
Go shopping.

The Day Before:
Make the bread dough for the dinner rolls, right up through the last mixing step. Cover and let sit in the fridge overnight.
Make and frost the carrot cake.
Make the sweet tea.
Boil the fresh peas (or thaw the frozen peas).

The Morning Of: 
Take the dough out of the fridge to let it come up to room temp for two hours.
Put the ham in the oven.
Hard boil eggs for deviled eggs. Peel, and cool to room temp.
Prepare deviled eggs, refrigerate until serving.

Two-Three Hours Before: 
Roll dinner roll dough into large marbles, placing three in each cup of well greased muffin tins. Cover and allow to rise for 1-2 hours.
Heat oven to 375°F. Clean, peel, and slice potatoes. Layer in gratin dish with cheese and seasonings, pour in heated cream. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Forty-Five Minutes Before: 
Roast carrots at 400°F for 20 minutes, toss with balsamic glaze, roast for 5 more minutes.
Put dinner rolls in 400°F oven for 17-20 minutes.
Make glaze for ham.
Once carrots and rolls are done, turn oven up to 450°F to final roast sous vide ham.

Twenty Minutes Before: 
Cook peas.
Roast ham at 450°F for 10 minutes.

Day of cooking dishes used:
Roasting pan (ham)
Gratin/Casserole dish (potatoes)
Jellyroll pan/baking sheet with rims (carrots)
2 Muffin tins (dinner rolls)
Medium saucepan (heat heavy cream for potatoes, then peas later)
Steamer basket (eggs - could also do in medium saucepan in AM, clean for potatoes and peas in PM)

Your turn!
What is your classic Easter must have menu item? How early do you start planning and prepping?


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