Friday, January 5, 2007

The joys of winter eating

I love winter squash. Love it, love it, love it. Butternut, buttercup, acorn, African, whatever kind: I love it. So I was pretty excited to see Rachael Ray offering up a mac'n'cheese recipe that includes butternut squash.

What I was not happy to see was the amount of saturated fat in the recipe. 2 1/2 cups of full-fat cheese PLUS a cup of heavy cream? That's insane . . . and probably unnecessary, I thought, given the creaminess of the butternut squash to begin with. (And you know with how thin she is Rachael Ray isn't eating much of the original version, too!)

Here's my revised recipe, which isn't low in fat but at least kicks up the veggie quotient while cutting lots of the saturated fat.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Serves 7-8

1 lb. organic whole-wheat macaroni with ridges in it
2 T. olive oil
2 T. organic butter
1 small organic onion
2 tsp. (preferably organic) dried thyme or 2 T. fresh thyme, chopped (I'll probably use 3 tsp. organic dried sage from now on, or 3 T. fresh, chopped organic sage)
5 T. whole-wheat flour
2 c. butternut squash soup (I used the organic, refrigerated kind from Costco; I'm guessing the boxed kind would work if you used a little less, since it's thinner)
1 10 oz. box of frozen, cooked, organic winter squash, defrosted
1/2 c. organic skim milk
1 c. reduced-fat extra sharp organic cheddar, shredded
1 c. very high quality cheddar, shredded
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided in half
1/2 c. Italian-seasoned or regular bread crumbs
Black pepper

Put water with salt on to boil for your pasta. In the meantime, start making your sauce. (When your pasta is done, drain it and set it aside.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat olive oil and butter in a medium-sized, non-stick pan on medium heat.
When the butter has finished melting, toss in the thyme (or sage) leaves and stir around.
Grate the onion with a hand grater directly over the pan, stirring occasionally as you go.
Add flour and whisk together. Let cook for 1 minute.
Whisk in soup and butternut squash.
Add milk and stir in. Heat until the mixture begins to bubble.
Stir in cheeses (half of the Parm) using a figure-8 motion. Season the mixture with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Stir the pasta and the sauce together. Spray a deep baking dish and pour the mac'n'cheese into it.
Stir together the remaining Parm and the bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mac'n'cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes. Voila. Look at all that beta carotene!

Yum. I give it three-and-a-half stars: creamy, cheesy, slightly sweet from the squash, and the familiar orange Kraft mac color from a natural source. . . . It's very tasty, but I want to play with the seasonings some and get the fat down a little more before I'm perfectly content.

With the mac and cheese, I decided to use up the organic brussel sprouts in our fridge in an easy manner: roasting. I prepared them to go into the oven before I started on the mac and cheese.

I put the brussel sprouts in a collander and rinsed them well.

Then I cut off the hard, flat end of each sprout and peeled off its outermost leaves (the tough ones that often look dirty).

Then I cut each sprout in half and tossed all of them into a large bowl with a small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I spread the sprouts on a pizza sheet (with edges to keep them from rolling off) and roasted them about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Verdict: I really enjoyed the sprouts, but my husband (who still ate his) thought they were a bit dry. It's possible they could have used a little more olive oil, but I am trying to cut back on adding fat to things to see where I think it matters.

You may notice in the photo of our dinner that our portions look large. That's because when it's just the two of us at a meal, we're usually eating off of salad plates instead of larger plates. A smaller amount of food is more satisfying on a smaller (though not ridiculously small) plate. Also, I portioned us out approximately half brussel sprouts and half mac'n'cheese for our plates. With the amount of winter squash in the mac'n'cheese, I probably came close to my goal of having 2/3 veggies in any given meal.

Now it's time for an early bedtime. Tomorrow morning we'll be hitting the weekly organic farmer's market for a fresh load of local veggie goodies!

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