Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

I’m headed out of town for a mid-Atlantic tour visiting friends and family. Between finishing up the semester, spearheading the year-end fundraising push at my job, and planning and attending various holiday events, my apartment has become something of a way station. Snow boots and shoes litter the floor. Root vegetables, fondue forks and half-unpacked boxes are stacked on the dining table. The bench in my bedroom is piled high with clothing of indeterminate cleanliness. But it’s the refrigerator that calls out for my attention.

As thanks for his services, I’ve invited my cat sitter over for dinner along with a few friends. (Dinner parties are way more fun than packing.) I will be gone for nine days and there are lots of odds and ends to use up before then. For breakfast, I had a fried egg atop pan-fried butternut squash, onions and fennel. But that still left a couple of pounds of cheese lifted from my office holiday party, two giant leeks left over from last weekend’s oyster extravaganza, an assortment of winter greens from my CSA share, dairy products of assorted “sell by” dates and more butternut squash.

A few months ago, I took my mom to Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, where we had his sinfully tasty Mac & Greens. A childhood friend has long touted the delight of macaroni and cheese with butternut squash. And so this dish was born.

Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, whites and greens slice and rinsed thoroughly
  • 6-8 cups chopped winter greens (kale, collards, spinach, chard, mustard greens, etc.)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 pounds elbow noodles (You could use shells but, for macaroni and cheese, I am uncharacteristically a traditionalist.)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1.5 cups whole milk and/or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 pounds assorted cheese, shredded (Judging from my taste tests, I’m pretty sure I used white cheddar, gouda and Gruyère. But just about any cheese that melts well will work here.)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I used some I’d made from the remnants of a whole wheat sourdough loaf and then frozen a while back, but store bought are cool too.)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook in a 425-degree oven until tender and just starting to brown. Puree in the food processor, adding a small amount of water if needed. Set aside.
  2. Bring the rest of the oil to medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the leeks and cook stirring frequently until they are soft. Stir in the red pepper flakes and chopped greens. Place a lid on and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up to medium-high heat and cook stirring frequently until all liquid is gone. Set aside in separate bowl.
  3. Give your pot a quick rinse, fill with cold water, add some salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook about halfway. Strain and set aside.
  4. Give your pot another quick rinse, add the butter and bring up to medium-low heat. Add the shallot, cook for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Cook for another couple of minutes before whisking in the flour. Your mixture should turn gummy and blonde. Whisk in the milk and/or cream plus the nutmeg, cayenne, mustard, mustard powder, a good pinch of salt and lots of pepper. When the mixture starts to thicken, whisk in the cheese in batches, reserving a cup or two for your topping. Once the cheese has melted, stir in the pureed squash, taste your mixture and add additional seasoning if needed.
  5. Stir the pasta and greens into your cheese mixture and then pour into a greased baking dish. Mix the reserved cheese with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over the top, set aside and go about your business.
  6. About an hour before you are ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375. Bake for 30-40 minutes until your casserole is bubbling and your one-bedroom apartment is engulfed in the heady smell of melted cheese. If you want to get fancy, run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown your crust. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Butternut Mac and Cheese with Winter Greens

This paired nicely with a spinach and red onion salad with a Dijon and red wine vinaigrette. The recipe makes enough that five grown people can go back for seconds–and you’ll still have enough leftovers for your cat sitter to enjoy a home cooked lunch for another four or five days. As if hanging out with this adorableness wasn’t reward enough.


Pickled ‘n Deviled

Saturday night Sarah hosted the third annual Holiday Oyster Extravaganza, in which we prepare and consume 100 oysters (along with a liberal dose of booze). Shucking 100 oysters is no easy feat, but Mark once again rose to the occasion. As usual, I was in charge of the oyster accoutrement. This year’s raw oysters got a toasted fennel mignonette and a beet and horseradish relish.

Raw Oysters with Fixin's

The roasted version featured a fennel-saffron cream.Roasted Oysters with Fennel-Saffron Cream

The Blue Points were delicious, but I’m here to talk eggs. Much as I love eggs in all their forms, I’ve had trouble keeping up with the share I get from my CSA, so I had resolved to prepare deviled eggs for Saturday’s party.

On Thursday night I wrapped up my third semester in NYU’s Food Studies program and went out with friends to toast a month of pleasure reading. I got home late and tipsy, but determined to get a head start on prepping for the party. Rooting through the fridge for a snack while my eggs cooked, I stumbled on some beets that were looking a little worse for the wear. This got me thinking.

A few years back a friend and I spent a weekend checking out Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. We had occasion to dine at a smorgasbord, where I stumbled on the delight that is a beet-pickled boiled egg. As previously confessed, I am a sucker for a hard-boiled egg. Throw in tangy flavor and an outlandish pink hue and I am putty in your hands.

Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs 

  • 2 large beets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar (Bragg if you can get it)
  • 3-4 tablespoons assorted pickling spices (I used black and red peppercorns, coriander, fennel, allspice, torn bay leaves, and probably something else I’m not thinking of at the moment.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard powder
  • salt, pepper and whatever your taste buds tell you to add
  • 2 scallions, greens thinly sliced and white portion reserved for another use
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400. Rinse the beets, toss them with the olive oil in a small pan and stick in the oven. Cook until tender (about 45 minutes).
  2. Boil the eggs using your own technique or according to my interpretation of Betty Crocker’s failsafe recipe.
  3. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel and slice them. Add these to a large jar or a bowl along with the vinegar, salt, sugar and spices.
  4. Peel the eggs and add them to your brine, taking care not to splash the fuchsia liquid all over your white tank top.Eggs Pickling
  5. Place a lid or some plastic wrap over the top and pop it in the refrigerator. Let these sit for 12 to 24 hours, stirring at least once to make sure they take the color evenly. I left mine in the brine until I got home from my office holiday party the following night and this is what they looked like.Pickled Eggs
  6. Fish the eggs out, pop them in the fridge to dry, and snack on the pickled beets. Still not a good time for a white tank top.
  7. Carefully slice your eggs in half lengthwise and pop the yolks into a bowl. If you’ve left them in for the full 24 hours, the yolks will be quite a sight, as will the paper towel where you set the halved eggs.Sunset Egg YolksBeet Stains and a Lemon
  8. Using a fork, mash the yolks roughly with the mayonnaise, mustard, mustard powder, salt, plenty of freshly-ground pepper and anything else that strikes your fancy. Press the mixture through a sieve for a refined, creamy filling. Or don’t. Taste the mixture and tweak as you see fit. I added a pinch of sugar and probably some other stuff I can’t recall.
  9. Let the filling chill until just before you are ready to serve. Spoon it into a freezer-worthy plastic bag, snip the corner and pipe the filling directly into the egg (not so) whites. Or just glob it in with a spoon.
  10. Garnish with the scallion greens because none of the crappy stores you went to had chives and a little green makes the eggs look more like food and less like some sort of alien life form.

Beet-Pickled Deviled EggsThe eggs were a smashing success, as was the party. The guests laughed. The Christmas tree twinkled. The yule log crackled on the flat-screen television. At some point in the night, Prosecco and oysters gave way to rum and hunks of leftover cheese. Eventually, I was forced to brave the elements. A daylong snowfall had turned into freezing rain. The streets were slushy and abandoned.

Mouse HatMy newly acquired hat and I got home a little before 3:00am. I had a devilishly good time at this year’s Oyster Holiday Party, but will confess to feeling a bit pickled come Sunday morning.

EAT THIS: Roasted Broccoli and Ricotta Panino

Roasted Broccoli and Ricotta Panino

You know those broccoli florets you lifted from last night’s office holiday party? Roast them with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes then layer them onto toasted ciabatta along with ricotta cheese sprinkled with nutmeg and a little more olive oil, and you just may recover in time for tonight’s party. ‘Tis the season.

Giving Thanks for 75 Degrees

I spent Thanksgiving at my mom’s house in South Florida. My grandparents, who are now 93, relocated to Boca Raton last year. In celebration of their move, the menu featured a Florida theme.

Smoked Marlin Dip with Crackers
Sweet and Spicy Pepitas
Deviled Crab Empanadas with Citrus-Chive Aioli
Crudite and Plaintain Chips with Black Bean Dip

Baked Brie en Croute with Cranberry-Mango Chutney

Mango Mojitos

*  *  *

Butter Lettuce Salad with Mango,

Florida Avocado, Hearts of Palm and a Citrus Vinaigrette

*  *  *

Mojo-Brined Turkey with Gravy

Corn Bread and Mofongo Stuffing

Cranberry-Mango Chutney

Sweet Potato-Plantain Gratin with a Coconut-Rum Glaze

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Grilled Asparagus

Baked Manicotti (courtesy of the Purificatos)

*  *  *

Kabocha Flan

Key Lime Pie

I had intentions of getting photos of the whole meal. But the pressure of producing 20+ different dishes (including the vegan, gluten-free and heart healthy variations not listed above) and a serious burn got the better of me. Suffice it to say that the dishes not pictured were delicious and the mojitos helped ease the pain from my blistering fingers.

We were an even dozen around two tables pushed together. In keeping with the tropical theme, my mom went with colorful napkins and no tablecloth.

Florida Thanksgiving Table

She also came up with a stellar floral arrangement.

Tropical Flowers

The exhaustively researched bird was from BN Ranch. It was compact for its impressive heft.

BN Ranch Turkey

Lacking room in the fridge, I opted to use a cooler to brine the bird.

CoolerMy stepdad devised a rather ingenious strategy for getting a whole lot of potable water into the scrubbed, bleached and rinsed cooler.

Aaron and Surgical TubingHe was also a great help in juicing the citrus that went in the brine along with bay leaves, cumin seed, garlic, cilantro and a whole lot of salt.

Mojo BrineThe bird spent 36 hours in the brine and another 12 hours air drying before it was stuffed with some of the leftover citrus and garlic and rubbed down with butter.

Mojo-Brined Turkey Raw 2It started out in a high heat oven before I dropped the temperature to 375. I basted the turkey periodically and, after a couple of hours, draped it in an olive oil-soaked cheesecloth. (Sadly, I failed to get a shot of the Shroud of Turkin.) It cooked faster than expected. Within four hours, this beauty emerged from the oven.

Mojo-Brined Turkey Cooked

Tony did a bang up job of carving the bird, which was delightfully moist, meaty and redolent of citrus and spice.

Turkey CarcassThe next day, I added the carcass and trimmings to a large pot and let it simmer for a very long time.

Turkey StockThe whole house smelled like turkey. Fortunately, we had plenty of leftovers on hand to satisfy any eau de turkey-induced cravings.


Naturally, the day started with coffee and kabocha flan.

Kabocha Flan, Sliced

I strained the stock into a liquid measuring cup and cooled it so that I could easily skim the fat off the top. Liquid Gold

I then froze the super concentrated stock in a few miniature plastic containers, which I packed in a portable cooler and schlepped back to Brooklyn by way of Miami Beach. Having suffered a nasty bout of food poisoning while in Miami, I gave the stock one more boil back at home before tucking it in my freezer. I see some serious gumbo in my future. In the meantime, I’ll try to get working on a recipe for the Kobocha Flan.

A Recipe for Recovery

I just got back from South Florida where I spent Thanksgiving with my family. I tacked a couple of days in Miami Beach on to the end of my trip. I was looking forward to checking out the Miami dining and cocktailing scene–as well as the swanky pool at my hotel. Instead, I contracted food poisoning and spent the next 36 hours checking out the pay-per-view selection and the marble-tiled bathroom floor. (While there a few suspects, my money is on the peel-and-eat shrimp.) When I did manage to drag myself to the balcony, this is what I gazed upon.

Fontainebleau View

I made it through last night’s plane and taxi rides without incident, but still felt the need to sleep with a bucket next to the bed. I’m in that awkward stage of recovery when the thought of food nauseates me but so does an empty churning stomach. White toast, white rice, white pasta or Saltines would probably be advisable, but these are not things I keep around and going to the store seems unthinkable at the moment.

As luck would have it, I did have the ingredients below–all of which are easily digestible and/or possess restorative properties. The inspiration came from Blue Hill Yogurt, which is very popular with a certain one-year-old friend of mine.

Tahini-Squash Yogurt (aka Sophisticated Baby Food)

  • 1 small delicata squash (I imagine butternut or any number of other winter squashes would work nicely.)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I used goat, but any kind would do, so long as it has the good bacteria.)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  1. Core, peel and slice the squash. Steam until tender.
  2. Puree the squash plus the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. You could get fancy and run this through a chinoise to remove any fibrous squash matter. It was all I could do to pour it into a bowl.

Delicata Squash-Tahini YogurtThis was tasty and seems to have kept my blood sugar up until well into the afternoon. I do not hold it responsible for the stabbing pain just under my left lower ribs.