One-Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

We've had warm and sunny weather this month. The crabapple tree is heavy with fruit!

I took this photo on a warm and sunny day. The crabapple tree in the backyard is heavy with fruit!

It’s the dark and gray month of November here in Vermont. So what is better than tucking in when you get home with a nice warm plate of macaroni and cheese? This one-pan dish is easy to make, plus it’s filled with broccoli and winter squash with less cheese, so you can feel good about eating this healthy twist on an all-time favorite!

I made this dish one lazy Saturday night; it had been a long day and I wanted something tasty and satisfying for dinner and yet I didn’t want to be in the kitchen cooking all night. I love one-pot meals, along with being simple to cook it makes cleanup easy! And this dish is easy enough you can fix it on a busy weeknight.

Don’t be put off from the color; the squash can give the dish an almost neon orange color. The broccoli gives a nice crunch with the creamy cheesy noodles and the bacon lends just a hint of a smoky flavor. Vegetarians (and other eaters) can easily omit the bacon and substitute vegetable broth or water for a completely veggie meal. I buy bacon a couple of times a year and when I do (unless I plan on frying up the entire package), I’ll wrap two-slice servings individually in cellophane and stick it in the freezer in a plastic bag so I have two slices ready to go for recipes like this. No need to defrost, just chop and fry. Served with a simple salad of greens, this was one dish you’ll definitely want to go back for seconds and put on your winter meal rotation!

macncheese
One-Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Serves 6 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups)

2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1 (10-ounce) package frozen butternut squash puree, thawed
10 ounce uncooked large elbow macaroni
3 cups chopped broccoli florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 4 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan.

2. Remove all but 2 teaspoons bacon drippings from pan. Add garlic to ­drippings in pan; sauté 30 seconds.

3. Add stock, milk, and squash to pan; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

4. Add pasta; cover, ­reduce heat, and ­simmer 5 minutes, ­stirring occasionally. Stir in broccoli; cover and cook 3 minutes or until pasta is done and sauce is thickened.

5. Stir in salt, pepper, and 4 ounces cheese. Sprinkle bacon and remaining cheese on top. Cover; let stand 1 minute.

rubbermaidMVK’s *Like* of the Week: Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids
This endorsement is sponsored by Cooking Light and Rubbermaid®.

One morning as I was making my lunch, I was lamenting the condition of my leftover dish drawer. I was in a hurry and trying to find containers plus a lid to go with each one so I could pack up my lunch. I try to keep things organized in the kitchen, but when I’m in a hurry, I can never find things easily and get frustrated with myself for not organizing things better and that I’m running late. That afternoon, I received an email asking if I wanted to test out Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids. I answered quickly with a resounding YES!

This 20-piece set includes different size nesting containers with the same cover fitting each one! Plus the covers snap together, so they are no longer roaming around all over the drawer! The different sizes are great for all sorts of things; they are handy for packing leftovers for lunch, prepping ingredients for dinner, and keeping my dried beans and grains in the cupboard. Best of all, when I’m getting ready for lunch, I’m not spending forever trying to find a lid, they are all right there. I’m thinking about buying another set!

Week Night Dinner Series: Bean Burritos

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding dinner is coming later and later with the terrific weather we’ve been having these days. So when I get in the house, I want to eat–STAT!

I created this one evening after mowing the lawn and was home alone for dinner. It’s quick and easy to make, and is basically cobbling together ingredients together, putting it in the oven, and eating! Just open up a can of black beans, drain and rinse, and in a large bowl add the beans and a dash or two of dried cumin for flavor. You can also add a little spritz of fresh lime juice if you have it. Take a flour tortilla shell, add a couple of tablespoons of grated sharp cheese (or slice off thin slices instead), add ½ cup of the beans, ¼ cup of frozen corn, roll, and place in a baking pan. Add a little more cheese on the outside, cover with foil, and heat at 350 for roughly 20 minutes or so.

I try to make these work night dinner recipes just five ingredients, but with this recipe there are lots of additions that could make this even more fabulous: avocado, lettuce, green scallions, salsa, and sour cream. If you want to bypass the beans and have leftover meat in the fridge, this would be terrific with leftover chicken, pork, or steak.

My recipe makes one burrito, so you can either whip up a batch for leftovers, or you can add some scallions and grape tomatoes to the remaining beans and have it for a  later meal as a side salad!

This photo doesn't really do the dish justice, but trust me, it's delicious!

This photo doesn’t really do the dish justice, but trust me, it’s delicious!

Bean Burrito for One
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
A dash or two of cumin
Fresh lime juice, optional
5 Tablespoons grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup frozen corn
1 flour tortilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Take the drained and rinsed black beans and place in a mixing bowl. Add the cumin and lime juice, if using.

3. Place the tortilla shell on a baking pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons of cheese, ½ cup of black beans, and the corn. Roll and place seam-side down. Top with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve atop a bed of lettuce, with avocado, salsa, and sour cream on the side. Add green scallions if desired.

Gougères (or Fancy Cheese Puffs)

Many a Sunday morning in the cooler months, you can find me hunkered over my computer writing in one of the best bakeries I’ve ever visited. The Vergennes Laundry (written up in the New York Times here) is a small authentic French bakery with incredible pastries and delicious, dark coffee. If I’m there in the morning, it’s a croissant, and late morning to early afternoon, they start bringing in more goodies for something more substantial. (My latest favorite is gilfeather (turnip) rosemary tarte flambée, which is dough topped with cheese, sweet turnips, rosemary, and sea salt.) Lots of delicious little bits and pieces here and there, and sometimes I’ll bring home a tiny truffle for later. Writing, eating, and reading the Sunday The New York Times, I’m in heaven; it’s a great way to wile away the cold days with a cozy spot at the table and the wood fire ovens warming the room.

One of their treats are gougères, which I would describe as a cross between a cheese puff and a small popover. And like everything, they are delicious. Warm cheese mixed with herbs in a puffy roll. So I decided I wanted to make these at home. And boy, did I find a recipe!

David Lebovitz is the author of the book, The Sweet Life in Paris. A former pastry chef at Alice Water’s famous Oakland restaurant, Chez Panisse, Lebovitz decided following a couple of life changes to pack it up and move to Paris. If you want a food memoir that makes you laugh and drool, this is a great book. He gives stories of being an American living in France and ends each chapter with a recipe. So when I was looking for a gougère recipe online and I found his, I didn’t need to look any farther. His recipe is clear, easy to follow, and the results incredible.

I found myself home alone with a hunk of Vermont cheddar cheese in the fridge on election night. I had time while I was waiting for the polls to close and knew what I was going to make. Don’t be intimidated by the long recipe; it’s just eight ingredients, but read the recipe over carefully, as his instructions are really helpful. These made for a perfect dinner with a salad and a glass of wine. But I also thought they would be great for a cocktail party, pop them in the oven, and pull them out when your guests walk in the door. I would recommend eating soon after they come out of the oven; no, I didn’t eat the whole batch (although I came close!), but they definitely lost something the next day.

I don’t have a pastry bag, so I used a heavy plastic bag and snipped off the end. I found this a bit messy and difficult; I’ve never done this before and lost a lot of batter trying to get it in the bag. (My batch only made 20, not 30.) Next time I think I’ll just use a spoon–or find someone to hold it open!

Gougères
From davidlebovitz.com

About thirty bite-sized puffs

Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don’t let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you’ll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don’t ‘cook’ them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I’m not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but the intrepid can put the dough in a food processor or use an electric mixer to add and mix the eggs in quickly.

If you don’t have a pastry bag with a plain tip, you can put the dough into a freezer bag, snip off a corner, and use that. Or simply use two spoons to portion and drop the dough onto the baking sheet. This recipe can easily be doubled.

1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese (See above for ideas)

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.
3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don’t ‘cook.’ The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.)
5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.
6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.
7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely golden brown.

For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they’re done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking.

Serving: The puffs are best served warm, and if making them in advance, you can simply pipe the gougères on baking sheets and cook right before your guests arrive, or reheat the baked cheese puffs in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving. Some folks like to fill them, or split them and sandwich a slice or dry-aged ham in there, although I prefer them just as they are.

A bit of troubleshooting: The most common problem folks have with pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, is deflated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or underbaking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling. If yours do deflate, that’s fine. I’ve seen plenty of those in France, and I actually think the funky-looking ones have a lot of charm—and you’re welcome to quote me on that.