Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mac N' Cheese

The wind has been wild here the last few days, and between midterm stress and being grumpy about the weather, I found myself craving a huge bowl of creamy mac n' cheese. Really, what better way to spend a chilly night inside than with hot, homemade, gooey mac n' cheese? And lucky me, we had company over for dinner last night. The danger with mac n' cheese is if no one is around to help me eat it, I will eat the whole thing. So I was thrilled to cook for five instead of one (ok, maybe two, if I decided to let Travis have any!).

I have four or five recipes bookmarked, and I want to try all of them, but I decided to stick with a true classic, and went with this recipe. No frilly fanciness, no 'adult' ingredients, just lots and lots of cheese. Perfect! I changed a few things, including doubling the recipe, which I would highly recommend! Between the five of us, plus a bowlful I set aside for our absent roommate, there weren't any leftovers! Guess next time I'll have to triple it, so I can have some more the next day! Mmm.

This recipe is very dish-intensive, but is totally worth it! I was fortunate enough to have a few kitchen helpers, which made a huge difference! With all the time-consuming steps to making this dish, having someone to whisk the milk mixture and/or cook the pasta is extremely helpful. If you're cooking solo, however, don't stress! This is a very manageable one-person dish; it'll just take a little longer. But again--it's totally worth it!

Mac N' Cheese

1lb smooth rigatoni noodles
16oz grated sharp cheddar
8oz grated monterey jack cheese
1/2c shredded parmesan
1/4c blue cheese crumbles
5 cups milk
6 tbsp plus 1 tsp unsalted butter
1/2 a large white onion, diced
2tbsp minced garlic
1tbsp dijon mustard
6 tbsp all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x12 casserole dish and set it aside.

Combine all the cheeses except the parmesan in a large bowl. Measure out a cup of the cheese blend and set it aside with the parmesan. You'll use this to top the mac n' cheese later.

In a small saucepan, melt the 1 tbsp of butter over medium-low until melted. Add onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Remove the onion mixture from the saucepan, setting it aside in a small bowl. In a medium saucepan warm the milk. In another, larger saucepan melt the 6 tbsps of butter over medium-low heat. Immediately add the flour and whisk vigorously for about a minute. Slowly whisk in the milk. Turn the heat up to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil to thicken the sauce. Whisk the entire time. Once the mixture has thickened, remove from heat and add the onion mixture, spices, mustard and onion mixture. Then, stirring slowly, add the large bowl of your cheese blend. Stir until all the cheese is just melted.

Fill a large saucepan about 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook for about ten minutes, or until the pasta is cooked. Drain, and add the pasta to the cheese mixture. Stir gently to combine thoroughly. Pour the mac n' cheese into the casserole dish, making sure it's evenly distributed. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese over the mac n' cheese. Then sprinkle the parmesan over the shredded cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the inside is still creamy.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Muffins

I'm sensing a common theme in this blog so far..


But can you blame me? It's the season for squash! And with the rain falling and the wind blowing, all I've been craving lately is squash. It's sweet, it's hearty, it's healthy, it's incredibly cheap right now.

Did I mention it's delicious?

Last night I got hit with another 'I have got to stop studying, for twenty minutes. I just want to bake!' urge. So I did! Again, Smitten Kitchen to the rescue! Her recipes are truly amazing. I did make quite a few changes to the recipe, of course, because I am on a constant mission to make things just a tad bit healthier. Unless it's that espresso chiffon cake I made last week... I'll post about that one someday soon! Maybe when I get a camera--what a perfect excuse to make that cake again!

Ok. Back to muffins. I substituted whole wheat flour, and played around with the sugar amounts, and overall they turned out pretty good! They have a great texture--light and moist inside, with a nice crisp top. They're pretty hearty from the whole wheat flour, and are definitely not as sweet as I was expecting, but I think they make a great breakfast muffin. I am bummed that the pumpkin flavor didn't come through more, but I'm not sure how to remedy that..

Pumpkin Muffins

1 1/2c whole wheat flour
1/3c canola oil (it's all i had--I'm sure vegetable oil would work just as well)
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/2c + 2-3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2c raw sugar
1/8c pure maple syrup
1c pumpkin puree
1tbsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Yield: 12 muffins, plus I made a little muffin patty with the extra batter..could probably yield 14 muffins total, depending on the size of your muffin pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin cups with muffin liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, pumpkin, salt, baking powder, baking soda, spices and sugar (minus the 2-3 tbsp extra raw sugar). Whisk in the flour until just combined. Spoon batter into cups, filling each almost to the top. Using the leftover raw sugar, sprinkle a small amount of sugar on the top of each muffin. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through. They're finished when a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Let them cool in the muffin pan for about five minutes, then transfer them to a wire cooling rack. These are delicious when they're still slightly warm!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

Oh. My. Gosh. This soup is amazing!

How amazing? Lick the bowl amazing. Lick your spoon amazing. Lick your boyfriend's bowl amazing.

..don't judge me.

It really is that good. And so far, everyone who's tasted this soup has tried a spoonful, paused, looked at me with wide eyes and said something along the lines of 'Wow' or 'That's incredible!' or 'There's no meat in that?' Yeah, I didn't really understand that last comment...BUT this soup does have amazing flavor, is filling without being heavy, is incredibly healthy, and is somehow almost better cold than it is hot! Though, as both versions are so delicious, it's hard to compare.

Am I getting the point across? About how good this soup is? About how you should make it right now? I hope so.

If not, consider this: at a dinner party last week I broke our blender! Why? Because I was unwilling to not make this soup. The bad part? No more soup until we get a new blender!

This recipe is adapted from one I found at Smitten Kitchen. The first time I made this soup I also made my own version of the croutons, but since I want this post to focus on the soup, just trust me: the croutons are really really good!

Butternut Squash Soup

1/4c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (I imagine canola oil would work well instead of butter)
10c 1/2in cubes of fresh butternut squash (about 1 large squash).
2 cans low sodium vegetable stock
1 large white onion, finely diced.
3 cloves minced garlic (or: 2 heaping spoonfuls of jarred minced garlic)*
3 sage leaves, minced*
1tbsp dried thyme
1/2tsp ground ginger*
1tsp salt*
1tsp pepper*
1/8c whipping cream (or half and half)

*I eyeball the spices in this recipe based on flavors I'm craving in the moment. If you like more sage, add another leaf or two! If you like lots of salt and pepper, add more! This recipe is great for adjusting to your personal flavor preferences!

In a large soup pot melt the butter on medium heat. Once melted, add the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the stock, squash, and spices. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat back to medium and cover, stirring occasionally. Once the squash is cooked all the way through (a fork should easily spear the squash) turn the heat off. In batches appropriate for your blender, puree the soup (Note: make sure each batch going into the blender has some broth in it--otherwise the squash won't blend easily). Pour blended soup into a large serving bowl. Once all the soup has been blended, stir in the whipping cream.


Pumpkin Cookies with Maple Glaze

Last night I decided I needed to take a study break. I also decided I needed to use those cans of pumpkin I'd just bought..I also decided I needed cookies.

Enter: Travis' Pumpkin Cookies with Maple Glaze. I found the original recipe at Joy The Baker's, beautiful site, but made several modifications to 'healthify' these amazing cookies. I wanted to at least include whole wheat flour, and reduce the amount of white sugar. Also, I'm not a big fan of butterscotch chips, so I left them out.

These cookies are amazing! I loved the slight heartiness the whole wheat flour gave them, and the slight crunch of the raw sugar. My roommate said he couldn't even tell they were 'healthier'! The maple glaze was the perfect addition. You just can't go wrong with maple and pumpkin! With how easy these cookies were to make, and how incredibly delicious they are, I have a feeling I'll be making these all winter long.

Here's my modified recipe:

Travis' Pumpkin Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
1c all-purpose flour
1c whole wheat flour
1tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2c white sugar
1/2c raw sugar
2 eggs
1/2c canola oil
1c canned pumpkin
1tsp vanilla extract

Glaze Ingredients: (Modified from a recipe at Ice Cream Before Dinner)
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp half and half (or milk, or cream..)
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/2c confectioner's sugar
1/4c light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 and line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl. In another, smaller bowl, whisk the eggs and sugars together until creamy and light (about 1 minute). Whisk in the oil, as you stir (this would be way easier with a stand mixer, I assume, but it worked fine slowly whisking with one hand and pouring oil with the other! Those of us without kitchen gadgets have to improvise!). Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla. Slowly pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture, and combine with a rubber spatula. The dough will be quite runny. If you have an ice cream scoop that equals 1/4c, use this to scoop dough onto baking sheets. Or, if you don't have a scoop (I don't!) a spoon works just fine! Simply eyeball the amount. Space cookies about 2 inches apart. I got 8 cookies on each sheet.

You can bake each sheet separately, as Joy recommends, or together, as I did because I simply didn't have the patience! If you bake them separately, bake each for about 16 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies feel just slightly firm, and the bottoms are just slightly golden brown. If you bake them together, rotate completely after ten minutes (that is, bring the sheets on the lower rack to the top rack, and visa versa, and spin each sheet). Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes--they will stick to the parchment paper initially, but cooling them thoroughly will alleviate this. Once cooled, transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack.

While the cookies are cooling, in a small saucepan melt the butter, brown sugar and half and half on medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the syrup, and then the confectioner's sugar. And that's it! Once the cookies are completely cooled, dip them upside-down in the glaze, and return to the cooling racks until the glaze has set (of course, you'll have to try just one cookie immediately..and that's okay. I tried three.)

TIP: Place the parchment paper you baked the cookies on underneath the cooling racks, to catch any glaze drips!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Well, only a few things to mention, I guess.

The first is the long run I went on last week that did not go so well. I hadn't run more than once or maybe twice during the week leading up to it, but decided I was going to go for it--8 miles. Also, for the last two months I've done more or less all of my running on trails. But for some reason I decided that the long run should be done on pavement. Or rather, I knew better, but also knew I have to start running on pavement at some point...the race next month is a road race, after all! So even though I knew better..I knew I should do an easy 45 minute trail run instead..I set out for a long run around town. It went well until the last two miles or so, when my knees started to HURT and at times were buckling underneath me. I stopped to walk about half a mile from home, because I couldn't justify it anymore. I should have walked long ago, but my pride wouldn't let me..Awful, I know. So I came home, iced immediately, and as to be expected the next few days my IT bands were pretty sore. I haven't run since then and they feel better! I've swam, and gone on a great ride (40 miles) but no running yet. I got scared thinking I was digging myself into another overtraining hole, and during the offseason, no less, so I backed off.

Which, I guess, leads me to the other training struggle I've encountered lately. I have a hard time accepting that it IS the offseason, and this IS the time when I can and should focus my attention on things besides triathlon and training. I'll be done with college in 6 and a half weeks, and right now that should be my main focus. Yet yesterday, when I didn't do anything active and hadn't the day before, either, I was getting so down on myself! I hate the feeling of not doing things. It's partly why I got into triathlon in the first place. So I can stay as active as I prefer to. But yesterday the hours quickly slipped away from me, and I had to accept that while I did have time for a short run, or ride, I'd be better off doing homework. So it's something I'm working on. Finding a better balance between training and other obligations, knowing where my priorities lay and accepting that, and making sure I am filling all my personal needs (training, schoolwork, and my new hobby: cooking!!) to a point where I don't feel like anything is lacking or missing in my life. Not training is definitely just as hard as training!