Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

 

If you could choose your final meal on Earth, what would it be? My choice would be mac and cheese. The ultimate comfort food! For me, nothing brings more satisfaction than to dig into a creamy bowl of cheesy pasta, made even better topped with crunchy bread crumbs—and maybe some crumbled bacon pieces. 

Mmmmmmmmm….

I’ve enjoyed this favorite dish while on my WW (once known as Weight Watchers) wellness journey for the past 19 months. That’s what I love about this plan: You can eat the foods you love. Nothing is off-limits! I just have to adjust my other meals during the day to compensate, which is all part of eating in a balanced, healthy way.







I’m down 83 pounds so far! 








One day I went looking for a lightened-up version of mac and cheese that wouldn’t take such a big chunk out of my daily food budget. That’s when I came across a recipe on the WW website for butternut squash whole grain mac and cheese. At first, it seemed almost scandalous to add squash to my beloved dish! However, I decided to give it a try, but with my own personal flavor twists of cayenne for a little heat and crunchy bread crumbs for the topping.


Eureka! It tasted amazing! Honestly, I don’t even notice the squash flavor, but it adds a creaminess to the dish typically put there by cream/whole milk and lots of cheese. Not to mention added nutrients. 

Need more convincing? How about this: You make the mac and cheese on the stovetop. In one pan! No boiling the pasta separately. No oven needed. 

This recipe calls for whole-grain elbow pasta (Barilla is my favorite) but feel free to use regular if you prefer. Of course, it could also be made with full-fat cheese as well. I also grate some parmesan cheese over the top and sometimes sprinkle on some crispy bacon crumbles like I did here 👇.



For my fellow WW purple plan members, with the bread crumb topping, this dish is 3 points per serving. (2 points without the bread crumbs.)


Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Makes 6 1-cup servings

1 cup water
2 cups fat-free milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dry English mustard
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon thyme 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
10 ounces whole-grain elbow pasta
9-ounce package frozen butternut squash, cooked and mashed
4 ounces 50-percent reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

For topping:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
Black pepper, to taste

In a 3.5-quart or larger Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water, milk, seasonings, and macaroni to a simmer, stirring constantly. (Don’t let it boil. You just want to see bubbles begin around the edges of the pan.) Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente.

While the pasta cooks, make the topping by heating the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs, thyme and pepper. Sauté until the mixture becomes golden brown. Pour into a bowl and set aside.  

Add the butternut squash and cook for an additional minute or two. Then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cheese a hand full at a time, until it is melted and creamy.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of the breadcrumbs over the top of each serving. 


   

Friday, October 2, 2020

Hemingway Black Bean Soup


 
Sometimes you just need a big pot of comfort beans. 

When I wrote the review of Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette in August, I was transported back to the single day I spent in Key West while on a cruise in 2016. Those 6 hours were enough for me to fall in love with the town’s unique and beautiful spirit. 




I loved the houses with sleeping porches to beat the nighttime heat. I loved all the people traveling on bikes and scooters.




I even decided the chickens roaming everywhere were cute!

My favorite stop was the Hemingway Home. No big surprise a writer would be intrigued by the home of such a famous and infamous author like Ernest Hemingway. 




still dream of one day having a writing studio inspired by his. Also, as a cat person who is absent from feline friends thanks to rental agreements, I had to pet each one of the purring polydactyl (six-toed) creatures I met.




In the gift shop, I picked up a copy of The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth. It’s a lovely cookbook full of stories and photos of Ernest Hemingway and the key people and places in his life. Plus, there are plenty of recipes for some of his favorite meals.



I tested out this one for black bean soup. My only changes from the original were to use chicken broth instead of just water and utilizing my slow cooker instead of the stovetop. 

For my fellow WW members, this is just 1 point per serving on the purple plan! 



What I love most about this recipe is you can use these beans in many other dishes as well. They work for refried black beans, a bean dip, or drained and added to burritos. Soup isn’t the only option with a pot full of these beauties! 

I’ve marked a few more recipes in the cookbook to try (Lime Ice, anyone!) and Key West is tops on my list of places to explore further one day. 

Hemingway Black Bean Soup

Adapted from The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth

Serves 6

1 pound dry black beans
2 large green bell peppers
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons crushed dried oregano
32 ounces low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
Diced bell peppers, for garnish
Sour cream, for garnish

The night before, rinse the beans and check for any stones. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with water to 2 to 4 inches above the level of the beans. Set aside to soak overnight.

The next day, drain the water from the beans and then pour the beans into a slow cooker. Dice the green bell peppers and onion and add to the cooker, along with all the ingredients up to the vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours. Add water to the slow cooker if more moisture is needed.

Just before serving, add the vinegar, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve as is or over rice. (I used brown rice.) Garnish with the chopped bell peppers and sour cream (or Greek-style yogurt).