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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Honeyed Tequila Shrimp and Mango Tacos

Hey there buddy. Happy Labor Day! I hope you’re having a lazy day off from work as the summer days wind down.

Fall weather has well and truly made it’s arrival in Munich. That said, we are still getting a good amount of summer produce at the market so I snatched up a mango while the getting was good. {Unfortunately I think we’ve seen the last of the peaches though. Sad day.}

Since it’s not a holiday today for us here in Deutschland, we decided to celebrate last night with tacos! Actually, pretty much any summer celebration means tacos for us. We are big fans. {Okay, I’m a big fan. The Kiwi eats what I put in front of him.} The Kiwi says that these are his favorite tacos yet. {I believe his exact words were that they were “awesomely, deliciously, tasty.”} But really. The spicy and the sweet and the earthy flavors are all perfectly balanced into one little taco bundle that is begging to be eaten.

I also made a rosemary and maple bourbon lemonade and was going to make this fig and salted honey topped faux cheesecake but completely forgot I had to soak the cashews. Doh! {No worries. I made it today. Yum!}

I thought this was a perfect way to say farewell to summer. How are you celebrating today?

Honeyed Tequila Shrimp and Mango Tacos

The Wet
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp chili flakes
pinch of salt, pepper, and oregano
2 Tbsp tequila
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey

The Shrimp
4 oz shrimp, tails removed
1/2 of a sweet onion, sliced

The Assembly
6 wheat soft taco tortillas
3-4 leaves of red cabbage
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 mango, cubed
a few dollops of sour cream {or plain yogurt}

Start heating a pan on medium heat. When it’s hot, pour a tiny bit of olive oil in the pan and toast the tortillas, one by one, lightly on both sides. Set them aside until you’re ready for the assembly.

While the tortillas are toasting, mix all the herbs and spices together in a small bowl. Whisk in the tequila, olive oil, and honey.

If you have some extra time, now is when I generally prep the goods for the assembly and slice my onion, but you can do it whenever.

When the tortillas are finished toasting, add a bit more olive oil to the pan and then pop your shrimp and onions in there. Pour in the wet and, stirring frequently, cook for 5-7 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by about a quarter and the shrimp are nice and pink.

Onto the assembly. It isn’t rocket science…load the suckers up! {I do a layer of cabbage, then the shrimp and onions, mango, top it with cheese, and if you feel so inclined, a big ole dollop of sour cream.}

Enjoy!

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes

Having spent pretty much my entire life in the world of education either as the daughter of a teacher, a student, or a teacher myself, August has always meant one thing–back to school. I know that lots of folks in other parts of the country don’t start back until September {or, you know, February if you’re in NZ}, but in Georgia, we go back in August.

Maybe y’all that go back in September have the right idea though. August is still summer! The weather is still beautiful and there are lots of beautiful summery fruits and veggies in season and just asking to be carefully crafted into the most perfect summer dinner.

But once we go back to school… there just isn’t time! Especially in those first couple of weeks. The trick, I’ve found, is to have a few super quick weeknight meals up your sleeve that you can make on auto pilot. So for all my teacher friends who are back in school here is one of those recipes. It’s a super quick and healthy alternative to eating out multiple nights a week and, let’s face it, much cheaper. If the carnivore in your house really needs some meat, you can always stir in some shredded rotisserie chicken.

Are you back in school yet? What are some of your go-to week night meals? Some of our other favorite quickies are the cashew chicken noodles, Greek couscous with zucchini, and of course, my summer favorite.

Kiwi+Peach: Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes

{adapted for two from Martha Stewart}

The Pasta
6 oz whole wheat rigatoni {or some other kind of tube pasta}
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
pinch of salt

The Sauce
2 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. pine nuts {or sliced almonds}
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled {plus a bit more for the top}
8 or so fresh basil leaves
fresh ground black pepper

To get started prepping, heat a large pot on medium high heat and boil your jug. Slice your sun-dried tomatoes into thin strips.

Pour the boiled water into your pot and when it has returned to a boil, add the pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, according to the package directions {usually 8-10 minutes for the tube pasta}. When its finished, drain the water then return the pot to the heat. {Just leave the pasta and sun-dried tomatoes in the strainer for a minute. We’ll get back to that in a quick minute.}

Drizzle the olive oil in the pot and then add your minced garlic, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes. Mix well and stir continuously until the pine nuts have toasted a bit. Add the wine and let it cook until the wine has reduced by half. Grab your pasta and sun-dried tomatoes and pop it back to the pot. Add the goat cheese and basil then stir very well.

Plate up and then sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese, a few grinds of black pepper, and a couple basil leaves.