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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Meet Dooley + Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Pizza

We have a little addition to the Kiwi+Peach family. Meet Dooley.

She is five years old and likes long runs, chasing tennis balls, staring at you while you eat, cuddling and popcorn.

Kiwi and Peach | Meet Dooley

While she certainly isn’t a new addition, she hasn’t been living with us for about two years. For lots of logistical reasons, Dooley living in Germany was not going to work out. My sweet, sweet parents volunteered to look after her while we were away, but now that we are back, she will obviously be coming with us to Asheville.

I mean, I’ll try not to turn into a crazy dog lady, but seriously, look at that face. No promises.

Kiwi and Peach | Meet Dooley

So, so lucky to get to be her human. It’s safe to say she’s going to be a regular around here.

You know what else is going to be a regular around here, this pizza. {see what I did there}

A couple weeks ago I was trying to use up the last of food and clean out the pantry when inspiration hit in the form of pizza. As soon as it starts getting the least bit cold, I put sweet potatoes on just about everything. Why not pizza?

Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Pizza from Kiwi and Peach

Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Pizza + Roasted Red Pepper, Hazelnut, and Fig Pesto

The Potatoes
1 sweet potato
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

The Basics
1 batch of whole wheat pizza dough
1 batch of pesto {recipe below}

The Toppings
1 cup of spinach, packed
5 oz goat cheese
drizzle of maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Wash your potato and dry it well. Slice it into rounds about the width of you pinky finger, about a 1/4 of an inch think. Lay them flat on a baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and a bit of pepper. Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes. When they are finished transfer them to a bowl and set them to the side.

Once you put the potatoes in, proof the yeast for your pizza dough and set it to the side. When the proof is done, go ahead and finish the dough. By the time you’re finished mixing that up the potatoes will be finished. Take them out of the oven and turn the heat off. Leave the door of the oven open so the oven can cool down a bit.

Put the pizza dough in a well greased skillet and pop it in the oven to rise for about 15 minutes.

While the dough is rising, whip up that pesto.


Roasted Red Pepper Pesto with Hazelnut and Figs from Kiwi and Peach

Roasted Red Pepper, Hazelnut, and Fig Pesto

makes about 1 cup

1/2 of a roasted red pepper
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic
3 dried figs, stems cut and quartered
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil

In a food processor, combine all of your pesto ingredients except the olive oil. Give it a whirl and then start slowly adding the olive oil as the machine is running. When you get it to a consistency you like, you’re done!

{Quick note about the pesto. The freshness of the hazelnuts you use have a huge effect on the taste. Some hazelnuts, usually ones meant for baking tend to taste slightly stale when eaten fresh. Once baked, that stale aftertaste disappears and it is delicious, so using not-so-fresh hazelnuts is okay for the pizza since you’ll be baking it. However, if you wanted to use this same pesto on say a crostini, or as a pasta sauce, you’re going to want to use fresher hazelnuts to avoid that unpleasant, stale aftertaste.}


When the dough is finished rising, transfer it to the baking sheet. Crank the oven back up to 400°F/200°C.

Roll the dough out to the size you’d like your pizza. Leaving space around the edge for a crust, slather the dough with an even layer of pesto then layer up the spinach, sweet potatoes, and finally the goat cheese. Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over the whole thing and pop it back in the oven for 20 minutes to bake the crust and melt that delicious, delicious cheese. Enjoy y’all!

Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Pizza from Kiwi and Peach

Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Pizza from Kiwi and Peach

Roasted Fall Veggie Salad with Cornbread Croutons

In his book, Thanksgiving, Sam Sifton makes the case that salads have no business being a part of the Thanksgiving spread.

“A salad is a perfect accompaniment to many meals, a hit of astringency that can improve some dinners hugely. Not this one. You can have your salad tomorrow.” {Sam Sifton, via Cup of Jo}

Well folks, it’s tomorrow.

I hope that each and every one of you had the happiest of Thanksgivings full of family, football, and most importantly, lots of good food. Am I right or am I right that you kind of never want to look at food again?

I’m also wagering that you have lots of leftovers hanging out in your fridge.

I’ve been making this little salad at least once a week all fall, and I’ve been dying to share it with y’all. It dawned on me a couple days ago that many of these veggies were probably on your thanksgiving tables, so in the spirit of Thanksgiving, be grateful for those leftovers. They’re about to be a truly great salad.

In the directions, I walk you through roasting the veggies, but really you can throw your already cooked leftovers in there and it will be a winner. It’s completely adaptable, so go wild!

Roasted sweet potatoes or yams with candied pecans? Add it.

The always present brussels that the kids wouldn’t touch? Add them.

Cranberry sauce? Why not?

How are you using up your Thanksgiving leftovers?

Roasted Fall Veggie Salad with Cornbread Croutons

Roasted Fall Veggie Salad with Cornbread Croutons

serves 2-4 depending on how hungry they are

{This genius recipe is from the lovely lady behind Naturally Ella, Erin. Very, very rarely do I follow recipes exactly. There are usually things I add or take away in order to improve or adapt the recipe to our tastes. I didn’t have to do any of that for this ingredient list. It’s pretty much perfection. I do have a few procedural short cuts to add though, so I thought I’d share it.}

1 loaf of Erin’s cornbread

To Roast
1 small sweet potato, cubed
about 15 brussels sprouts, quartered

To Toss
about 2 cups of spinach, {this is your salad base so adjust accordingly for how much you think you’ll eat}
6 oz blue cheese, crumbled

The Dressing
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp sweet whole grain mustard {we use Handelmeier}

Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C.

Whip up a loaf of Erin’s cornbread and pop it in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. {To keep dirty bowls to a minimum, I always combine my wet ingredients in a mixing bowl first and then place a sieve over the bowl and measure my dry ingredients into it.}

While the cornbread is cooking, wash and chop your veggies. Leaving the skin on, because there are tons of nutrients in that stuff, chop your sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. Cut off the base and quarter the brussels. Put them in your roasting pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Give them a toss and put them in the oven to roast for around 45 minutes.

about 15 minutes before the veggies are done roasting, chop your cornbread into little squares, toss with olive oil and rosemary and add them to the roasting pan to toast them up.

While those finish, put your spinach in a large mixing bowl and crumble the cheese over it. Also go ahead and shake up your dressing. {I put all of the ingredients in a mason jar and give it a shake. Super easy and beats the heck out of the store bought stuff in terms of flavor.}

When the veggies and croutons come out of the oven, transfer them to the big bowl and pour the dressing over the whole thing. Give it a toss and serve.

Roasted Fall Veggie Salad with Cornbread Croutons

The Green

I’m going to fill y’all in on an embarrassing little secret. Up until about 2009, I ate everything in layers. By everything, I mean everything. Sandwiches obviously, but burritos and pizza too. My family has no idea where this little neurosis came from, but from the time I could feed myself that is how I ate. I’m sure it has something to do with them trying to trick me into eating carrots, but ever since I can remember I ate things ingredient by ingredient so that I knew exactly what I was putting in my mouth. {Hi. My name is Lauren, and I am a bit of a control freak.} Thankfully, I got that under control, and I can now can enjoy and appreciate all of these exciting ‘new’ flavor combinations with minimal angst.

That said… I am a big fan of open faced sandwiches. Why? Well first of all, you can fit twice as much yummy sandwich goodies on there so they are more filling. Secondly, much to no one’s dismay, I like it because I can see what all is happening on the bread, so I enjoy it angst free without fear of carrots. Needless to say, I make these a good bit. They are perfect for weekend lunches, but if you want to make it a meal, throw some roasted veggies on the side or whip up a salad.

I’m curious. Did you have any weird eating habits as a kid? The Kiwi swears he didn’t, but I question his recall.

Kiwi+Peach: The Green

The Green

4 slices of bread
1/4 cup pesto
4 large basil leaves {or spinach}
1/2 of an avocado
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Spread the pesto on each slice of bread and top with the basil leaves and avocado slices.  Grate the parmesan cheese and sprinkle a healthy bit on each slice.  Pop it in the oven on broil for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the leaves have wilted a bit.

Stuffed Chicken Parmesan

What are your feelings on spinach? I love spinach. I really do. But there is this thing that happens when we want to cook with spinach…burnout.

Spinach can technically grow all year, but most of the year the only way we can get it is in size ginormous. I’m talking like 5 cups of spinach in a bag. When you are only cooking for two people that’s a ridiculously large amount of spinach to consume. We literally have to eat spinach every day for a straight week to use it up that much spinach. {I guess I could take up drinking smoothies for breakfast, but I don’t see that happening just yet.} Sure I could just use what I need and let the rest go to waste, but then I just feel guilty. {There are starving kids, you know?} Anyway, after this week long spinach binge, I never want to see spinach again–until two weeks later I forget about it and buy another bag.

Needless to say, there are a number of recipes that I throw some spinach in to use it up. And why not? Spinach is great for you {just ask our favorite sailor}. It’s chock full of vitamins A and C and minerals like iron and calcium. {Maybe I should rethink those smoothies.} This recipe, though, has to be one of my favorites. I have had a hankering for it for a couple weeks, but was hesitant to put it on the meal plan because I knew it would another spinach binge. However, this past week I spied a bulk bin of spinach at our local. Much to the displeasure of all the German shoppers around me, I may or may not have let out a squeal of glee. Thank goodness it’s finally spinach season! We can buy only the spinach we need and I can make this deliciousness any time I’d like!

Stuffed Chicken Parmesan

{adapted for two from Skinny Taste}

The Stuffing
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup ricotta cheese {cream cheese or mascarpone work too)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 fresh oregano leaves, chopped
5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

The Breading
1 egg
¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 more fresh oregano leaf, chopped
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 or 2 chicken breasts {Depending on how much meat the carnivore in your house requires. We use 1, and he doesn’t complain.}

The Toppings
½ cup pasta sauce
½ ball of buffalo mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450°F/225°C.

First we’ll prep the stuffing. Start by putting a healthy handful of spinach in a medium size bowl and microwave for about 20 seconds. {This will wilt the spinach just enough to make it easier to mix with the other ingredients and eventually stuff the chicken.} Then add the rest of the stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Go ahead and prepare the dish you are baking this yumminess in {I use olive oil, but Pam or straight butter would get the job done as well}.

Now onto the breading. Get out two bowls. In one, crack your egg and beat it a bit. In the other combine the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic salt, and pepper.

Now it gets a little messy…

Using a meat tenderizer {a wine bottle works too–I know this from experience}, pound the chicken out until it is about the thickness of your pinky finger and then cut it in half. Spoon the spinach mixture on the chicken and roll it up. Then dip the rolled chicken first into the egg and then into the bread crumbs. Make sure it is coated all over and then transfer to the baking dish seam side down. Repeat for second bit of chicken and then pop it into the oven for 25 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, I usually put some pasta on or whip up a salad. {Full disclosure: I’ve never made a salad with this–usually because we will be having a spinach salad at some point in the week and I need some pasta in my life. But the point is that you could. You could have a nice healthy salad. We have pasta.}

Anyway…

After the chicken bakes for 25 minutes, take it out and cover the top with your favorite pasta sauce and a nice slice of mozzarella. Put it back in the oven to heat the sauce and melt the cheese. This usually takes about 5 more minutes for me. After that, plate up and dig in!