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? 


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