Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Butternut Squash and Bacon Mac n' Cheese

By Paul Briand

Let me say at the outset that his recipe is awesome.

I found it, as I usually do, just trolling around various food and recipe sites, finding it at

I love mac ‘n cheese. I love bacon. Throw in the squash as a reasonably healthy addition? Sold.

The squash really adds an element of flavor and texture that makes this dish worth the work (and the many pots and pans) that go into it.

Some notes: I tried to reduce the sodium content by using low-sodium bacon (yes, there is such a thing, though bacon lovers might ask, “Why bother?”). I used a whole onion. And I used orecchiette as my pasta, which I’ve used before in other mac ‘n cheese recipes.

12 slices thick-cut peppered bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ butternut squash, finely diced
½ yellow onion, finely diced
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups), divided
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups), divided
16 ounces cavatappi pasta (or shaped pasta of your choice)
1 cup plain breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Heat a large pot of water over high heat for the pasta and cover;
2. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or other heavy, stainless skillet), fry the bacon until crisp;
3. Remove the bacon to a towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease;
4.  Adjust heat to medium-low and add the butternut squash and onion to the bacon grease. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash and onion are browned and cooked through. Once cooked, use the back of a wooden spoon to mash up the mixture (it doesn't have to be completely smooth - leave some chunks in for texture);
5. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the box directions for al dente pasta then drain;
5. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a large saucepan;
6. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, until the flour starts to brown;
7. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the milk. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer;
8. Stir in 6 ounces each of the Gruyere and cheddar cheeses, adding a handful at a time and stirring with a wooden spoon until completely melted before adding the next handful. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat;
9. Add the cooked, drained pasta, bacon and butternut squash mixture to the sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is completely combined and evenly distributed;
10. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish;
11. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the breadcrumbs;
12. Sprinkle the macaroni and cheese with the remaining shredded cheeses. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of the cheese;
13. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Click here for recipe card.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crispy Old Bay Wings

By Paul Briand

This is the recipe I settled on for the tailgate chicken I brought to a family reunion last weekend at the Air Force-Army football game.

It was a three-part event: the gathering/buffet Friday night at the hotel in Newburgh, N.Y., the tailgate before the game itself at West Point, and the tailgate after the game. There was a fourth part - the gathering Saturday night back at the hotel - but by then the chicken, all six pounds of it, was gone.

I needed something that was portable, whose flavor would stand up when served cold, and wasn’t messy. This recipe, which I found on the Old Bay seasoning home site, did the trick.

Some notes on the recipe: I didn’t serve it with the optional dressing, though that certainly would have added an element of flavor and it would have cooled down the heat that some people taste with Old Bay. Also, I made six pounds of boneless/skinless tenders: I didn’t double the recipe, I made two separate batches.

After I rinsed the tenders, I patted them dry with paper towel, then tossed them with about a teaspoon of canola oil before then tossing them with the breadcrumb mixture. Lacking skin, it helped crisp up the tenders once they got into the oven.

1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
3 pounds chicken wing pieces
Blue cheese or ranch dressing (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, mix bread crumbs and Old Bay in large resealable plastic bag;
2. Add chicken wings in batches; shake to coat well;
3. Arrange chicken wings in single layer on large foil-lined shallow baking pan sprayed with no-stick cooking spray. Discard any remaining bread crumb mixture;
4. Bake 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through;
5. Serve with blue cheese or ranch dressing, if desired.

Click here for recipe card.

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