Butternut and Beer: A Mac and Cheese Challenge

After a whirlwind of a weekend, the Kiwi, Dooley, and I are back from DC, no worse for the wear, and full to the brim from good food and lots of laughter. Did you enjoy your long weekend? What did you do with your day off?

In Germany, we had lots of these random days off in the middle of the week. {Thank you, Bavaria.} Most of the time we were able to schedule travel around those days, but sometimes we just stayed home, cooked ourselves a nice meal and relaxed which also happens to be one of our favorite ways to spend a lazy Sunday, but that’s beside the point. Days like that are perfect for tackling those longer recipes that won’t be weeknight staples, but are nice to have up your sleeve for a dinner party or when you want to impress folks. This recipe is kind of like that.

Wait, mac and cheese? Impressive? You bet your buns it’s impressive. Though I’ll allow that this isn’t your average macaroni. No Kraft boxes or neon yellow ‘cheese’ sauce to be found here. What we have instead are layers of complex flavors like sweet, earthy vegetables, strong, creamy cheeses, and malty, caramel-y beer that work together to create a very grown-up party in your mouth. It’s also chock full of winter vegetable nutritional powerhouses like spinach, squash, and onions so you can feel good about it too.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a long recipe and it has a number of steps—but when you get right down to it, it’s really pretty easy. You can do it and when you do, you’ll feel like you’re the next Alton Brown! That’s my favorite part of trying new challenging recipes, that instant gratification for challenging yourself and succeeding. Plus you get to eat the results so that isn’t half bad either.

Beer and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from Kiwi and Peach

Beer and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

serves 4

{My inspiration for this one came from Amanda over at The Marshalls Abroad. I loved her idea of using the butternut squash as a thickener for mac and cheese. While I stuck with her method for making the squash roux, the rest of the recipe is my own.}

The Roux
1/2 of a large butternut squash
drizzle of olive oil
dash of sea salt
3/4 cup milk

The Pasta
1/2 pound of whole wheat pasta {I recommend using shells or actual macaroni.}

The Mixers
1/2 of a large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic
drizzle of olive oil
2 tsp sweet whole grain mustard
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp chili powder
dash of green pepper sauce
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup beer {I recommend a dark, malty beer like a brown ale or a stout.}
3 ounces spinach

The Cheese
1 cup of a strong cheddar, shredded
1 cup of goat cheese

The Crumble
4 ounces crackers {I use the Trader Joe’s multigrain ones that kind of look like Ritz.}
1 1/2 tbsp butter

First things first. Fire up the oven to 400°F/200°C and boil your kettle.

You only need half of a large squash so go ahead, cut it in half, and put the other half away. Scoop out the seeds then peel the half you are using and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Spread the cubed squash out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Give it a stir until all the squash is coated, and pop it in the oven to roast for 30 minutes.

In a stock pot on medium heat, let’s get your pasta on to cook. I usually knock a couple minutes off the cooking time because the pasta will keep cooking while the mac and cheese is baking later. Don’t forget to salt your water! When the pasta is finished, pour the pasta into a strainer to drain the water and set it to the side. Return the pot to the heat.

While the pasta is cooking, I use that opportunity to dice my onion and peel my garlic. Once the pot is back on the stove, drizzle a bit of olive oil in the pot then toss in your onions and press your garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onions are starting to soften.

About this time the squash will finish roasting. While the onions and garlic are cooking, take the squash out of the oven and transfer it to your food processor. Add the milk and then puree to make the roux.

Reduce the temperature on the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Add the squash roux to the onions and garlic in the stock pot then start adding the mixers. The mixers are there for flavor, so feel free to substitute if you don’t have a particular ingredient or if you’re feeling creative. Do be mindful though of the wet ingredient ratios—they’re kind of important. The last thing you want is a too dry or too soupy mac and cheese.

Once the mixers are in, let it simmer for a few minutes to give the flavors some time to settle in.

While it’s simmering away, grate your cheeses and make the crumble. For the crumble, I put my crackers in a ziploc bag and take the rolling pin to it. In a bowl, melt the butter then add the cracker crumbs to it. Using a fork press the crumbs into the butter until all of the butter is absorbed evenly.

Remove the pot from the heat. Remember the pasta? Go grab that and stir it in to the mix. While you’re at it, add the cheeses too. Keep stirring until the cheeses have melted and the pasta is evenly coated.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish and top it evenly with the crumble. Pop it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the crumble is browning and the mac and cheese is bubbling. Take it out and let it cool for about 5 minutes to let it set, then dig in!

Beer and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from Kiwi and Peach

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Beer and Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a soup person.

Chili? Always.

Soup? Eh.

To be fair, soup in my house growing up meant Campbell’s. The tomato soup was always made with water. {Yuck.} The brothy soups were bland, not filling, and frankly the meat in them just creeped me out.

I’m not a soup person.

Except that, maybe I am.

Something seems to have changed this year.

Maybe it’s because Sheena keeps posting some of the most delicious look soup ever?

Maybe it’s because I’m incredibly stubborn and am seeing how long we can go before we have to turn the heat on, so a nice warm bowl of soup sounds like perfection?

Maybe it’s because soup made from scratch, while still ridiculously easy, is exactly one and a half million times better than soup from a can?

Either way, I’ve been making soup.

This soup is the gateway soup. Between the bacon, aged cheddar cheese, and the dark wheat beer, there really is nowhere this sucker can go but on the keepers list.

Beer + Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Kiwi and Peach

Beer and Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup

{I had been dreaming about a broccoli cheddar soup with bacon and a dark wheat beer. After looking at tons of recipes, I liked From Away’s method best and used it as my base and inspiration. I altered the amounts to serve two, added the broccoli, and omitted some of the other ingredients.}

4 ounces {120 grams} thick cut bacon, chopped into bits
1/2 of a medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of broccoli {I used about 3/4 of a head and chopped it up pretty small}
1 Tbsp thyme
salt and pepper
1 cup of beer {I used a dark wheat beer. My recommendation: Schneider Weiss Aventinus or Franziskaner Royal}
1 cup of chicken stock
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cream {I used soy.}
5 ounces {150 grams} of cheddar cheese

This is one of those recipes where its best to have everything prepped before you get started. So chop that bacon, onion, and broccoli. Peel the garlic and put it in the press.

Beer + Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Kiwi and Peach

Beer + Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Kiwi and Peach

Now let’s get started.

Heat a large pot in medium high heat.

Once hot, toss the bacon in there and cook it for a couple of minutes. You just want the fat to render and for it to cook up a bit. When it’s finished, transfer it to a bowl and set it to the side.

Back in the pot, throw your onion, broccoli, and minced garlic in and give it a stir. Cook for about 5 minutes or until it all starts to get tender. Stir regularly so all of that nice bacon grease on the bottom of the pan gets incorporated. Season the veggies with some thyme, salt and pepper.

Add about half of the beer {1/2 cup} to the pot and let it simmer away for 3 or 4 minutes until it has reduced by half. Then add the chicken stock.

While the beer and stock are reducing, we’ll make the roux to thicken this baby up. In a separate little pot, melt the butter and then whisk in the flour slowly to avoid lumps. Continue whisking for a couple minutes, then add it to the soup. Let this simmer for about 5 minutes while the whole thing thickens up.

Once the soup is coating your spoon, add the cream and the rest of the beer and give it a stir.

You can turn the heat off at this point, but leave the pot where it is. Add the bacon back in and start stirring in the cheese. It might take a couple minutes for the cheese to completely melt, but just keep stirring until the chunks are gone.

Serve it with bread. Serve it in a bowl. Serve it in a bread bowl. But most importantly, enjoy every bite!

Beer + Bacon Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Kiwi and Peach