Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese [Recipe]

Wow, it’s been busy! You can probably tell from my lack of posts. Most recently, I was happy to share my travel to the finish line as I ran the NYC Marathon. The story is a long one, and I was fortunate enough to share it on a feature for HellaWella, called, “My first marathon: An amateur’s journey to the finish line”. Read the full story here.

The Verrazano Bridge: The start line of the NYC Marathon 2014

The Verrazano Bridge: The start line of the NYC Marathon 2014

But on to the good stuff… since I was able to carb-o-load, I took advantage. And in the week(s) after the marathon, I was still happy to let go and enjoy the benefits of running 26.2 miles, by eating whatever I want. Among those meals was my favorite indulgence: mac and cheese!

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

In the fall it seems that a million recipes pop up for butternut squash mac and cheese. But since I consider myself a “mac and cheese maven” I figured it was finally time to form my own recipe. I received a butternut squash in my CSA this week, so it was time to put my skills to the test.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

As always, a good macaroni in extra cheesy. I used 3 types of cheese, so this definitely delivered, but the added sweetness from the squash made it really unique. It was the perfect comfort food for fall and into the winter months when you need a meal that warms your insides. 

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
And if you need an extra side dish for your holiday meals … I think this one is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
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Ingredients
  1. 1 butternut squash
  2. 1 Tbs. oil
  3. 1 lb. pasta (I prefer shells)
  4. 4 Tbs. butter
  5. 1/3 c. flour
  6. 1 c. milk
  7. 1 tsp. nutmeg
  8. 1/2 tsp. salt
  9. 1/4 tsp. pepper
  10. 1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
  11. 1 c. parmesan cheese
  12. 1/2 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  13. 1/2 c. bread crumbs (I prefer Panko)
Instructions
  1. Cook Squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off stem of the squash and slice vertically. Hollow out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Rub the inside of the squash with some olive oil, just until coated, and season with salt and pepper. Place face up on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until fork tender.
  2. Cook Pasta: Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente in salted water.
  3. Prepare Cheese Sauce: melt butter in a pan on low heat. Once melted, whisk in flour to form a roux. Whisk in milk a little at a time, stirring constantly. Allow the sauce to thicken over low heat, continuously stirring. (Be careful not to boil.)
  4. Once all the milk is incorporated, remove from heat. Add nutmeg, salt, pepper, cheddar cheese, and half of the parmesan cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.
  5. When squash is cooked through, allow to cool until you can handle (or use oven mitts). Scrape out the inside of the squash into a bowl or pot. Add half of the cheese sauce and stir well.
  6. Add the drained pasta to your squash-cheese mixture. Stir until all pasta is covered in sauce and add to a greased baking dish.
  7. Pour remaining cheese sauce over the pasta. Top with remaining parmesan, mozzarella, and finish with breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until breadcrumbs just begins to brown.
Jai La Vie http://jailavie.com/

I’m Running a Marathon!

Way back when, in early January, I decided to post my “resolutions” for 2014. By making them public, I felt it would give me some accountability. Well, I’m still in the process of learning more French (I at least made progress and have more plans for 2015). My more vague resolution was to be happier, and I would say I am much happier today than in 2013, or even the beginning of 2014, so I would consider that a success and plan to carry that into 2015. My “quieter” resolution (that I was worried I’d chicken out on) was to get laser eye surgery – CHECK! 

Ok, so that leaves one big one: run a marathon! On Sunday, November 2, I will complete this goal as I run 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City. I am officially going to be a NYC marathoner!

The Course: Marathoning through all 5 boroughs!

The Course: Marathoning through all 5 boroughs!

I was blessed to get in via the lottery – which is pretty hard to do apparently. Luck was on my side, I suppose. My backup plan was to run for charity; by raising a few thousand dollars for a registered charity, runners can get guaranteed entry to the marathon. Because I was so lucky, I decided it wasn’t fair to let those good intentions go to waste. So, I decided to fundraise for my favorite international charity (which is actually not an official NYC Marathon charity, but it’s one very near and dear to me).

Here’s my plea:

Help support me in the race for water.

On November 2, I will be running the NYC marathon. On the long 26.2 mile journey through the 5 boroughs, I will be handed water at least 25 times. Most of us will never think about where this water comes from – when we’re thirsty, we flip a handle or push a button.

But, in many developing countries, women and children walk for hours, up and down mountains, just to collect water that can make them really sick.

That’s why on November 2, I am “running for running water.” Help support me by supporting my campaign to bring water to those who don’t have the luxury of turning on a faucet. Help me end the water crisis.

100% of everything we raise will directly fund water projects. And when those projects are finished, charity: water will send us proof in pictures and GPS coordinates, so we can see the actual people and communities we impacted.

And just to give you a sense of why I love this charity, 100% of all donations go directly to the cause. There is zero worry about your money going to the CEO’s million dollar salary, or not directly contributing to a cause. You’ll get an update on exactly where your money went, including coordinates of the water project and stories of its success. And the cause? If you’re interested, watch this video to see why the need for something so simple – and taken for granted here in the U.S. – is such a serious need in other parts of the world.

You can donate here.

And follow me on race day via the mobile app or watch me on ABC! Hopefully I don’t twist an ankle so that I can officially check this off my list. 

Wish me luck! 

NYC Wine & Food Festival: Christmas for Foodies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, despite what the NYC department stores are trying to convey, it’s not Christmas. But for foodies, it’s pretty darn close. It’s the NYC Wine & Food Festival! 

Last year I won an all-weekend pass to festival events, courtesy of Illy Coffee. This year, I had no such luck but since it’s a food blogger’s paradise, I was not going to miss this weekend for the world. 

Stacked: Sandwich Showdown

Stacked: Sandwich Showdown

Stacked: Sandwich Showdown

We kicked off the festival with a sandwich tasting event (and vendor competition) hosted by Chef Robert Irvine. You know, this guy with his arm around me… ;) 

 

Casual meet and eat with @chefirvine at the Sandwich Showdown #nycwff

A photo posted by Tom (@tomarchibald17) on

There were quail egg and duck confit biscuits, lamb sliders, ham & cheese meatballs, roast beef dip, cauliflower sandwiches, and pretty much any combination of deliciousness that you could put on a Martin’s potato roll. Paired with some Voss (only the best) and a cocktail in a mason jar (which we got to keep) and this was an event worthy of the pounds that I gained. Tom, who used to work in a sandwich shop and says his favorite food is “sandwiches” (which I say is a food GROUP) – this was some form of heaven for him.

NYCWFF: Biscuit with Quail Egg

NYCWFF: Biscuit with Quail Egg

When I first walked in I thought, “Imagine tasting every single sandwich here!” By the time I left, I was saying, “I can’t believe we tried every sandwich here.” We waddled our way home to digest. 

At the Sandwich Showdown!

At the Sandwich Showdown!

Tacos & Tequila: A Late Night Fiesta

Tom and I went to this event last year and we knew it was one we’d be returning for annually. We turned it into a party with some more friends and family also in attendance. They moved the event to the “late night” category (starting at 10 p.m.) and it also changed to the rooftop venue. It was a litttttlllle chilly but luckily there was some tequila – including an Illy espresso and tequila concoction – to make up for it. Oh, and tacos. Lots and lots and lots of tacos.

Bring on the Casamigos! Tacos & Tequila 2014

Bring on the Casamigos! Tacos & Tequila 2014

The most delicious of the night was probably from Toloache, one of the featured restaurants that I’ve actually eaten at. They had Tacos de Lechon roasted suckling pig with pickled vegetables and chicharron, served with a warm brussels sprout salad. I’m a huge brussels sprout fan, and I hope/wish this is on their regular menu.

In second place, I would vote the taco from Kin Shop: Braised Beef Brisket & Bone Marrow Taco with fried taro root, radish sprouts and yellow bean aioli Crispy Roti. The taco shell was like a warm pita – delicious.

The weirdest of the night was a cow heart taco that I’m told tasted like bland pork. (Animal organs are the one thing I don’t experiment with.)

And no, my memory for all these tacos is not that great. A cool addition to this year’s event was the esurance SavorBand – you tap the band at each taco station and rate what you like. Then you can login online and revisit what you tasted! Cool technology, cool promotion. 

Oh, and since the event was hosted by Casamigos – you know, George Clooney’s tequila – we got a pic with Georgey.  Or is that just an excellent photoshop job? Ah, let’s just say it’s him. :) 

Me, George, Rande, and Ashley

Me, George, Rande, and Ashley

The only disappointment of the night was the “ghosting” of Bobby Flay. He was the headliner for the party, but he showed up to give a quick two minute speech and then he was out of there.

The most we saw of Bobby

The most we saw of Bobby

Grand Tasting (Sunday)

Since Saturday was already packed with “stuff your face” events, Sunday was reserved for the Grand Tasting. While it wasn’t as star-studded as last year (meaning I didn’t have to wait in line for an hour to hand Giada a cook book with trembling hands so that I could get her autograph), the food was just as good without the distraction of the Food Network talents.

Shop Rite Grand Tasting #nycwff

Shop Rite Grand Tasting #nycwff

I entered to win about 50 contest (let’s see how lucky I am) and meanwhile got some fun free stuff. Just like last year, we ate way too much food and still tried to shove more in as if we were starving. (The irony is the event is to combat child hunger… I have mixed feelings about this hypocrisy, but I suppose it’s all for a good cause.) 

Grand Tasting, NYCWFF 2014

Grand Tasting, NYCWFF 2014

We ended up with a strategy of not finishing each sample, no matter how small it was. This was easy to do on the Barilla pasta station and the places that handed you a full sandwich. But on some … it was just too hard to resist. 

Grand Tasting, NYCWFF 2014

Hi Piggy!

Massive Mozz at the Grand Tasting

Massive Mozz at the Grand Tasting

So what was the best thing I ate? Well, I have a new favorite food. Keeping with the the trend of “hybrid” pastries (see: Cronut) I was introduced to the delectably satisfying “bruffin.” It was explained as a brioche muffin-type pastry, but it tasted like a flaky croissant. It was the first and the last thing I ate (and the only thing I had seconds of). The best part is, if I head downtown I can get another one here in NYC – Bruffin is a store on Delancey Street and they are frequent Smorgasburg vendors.

bruffin

Photo courtesy of @thebruffin [Instagram]

Ah, I was so sad to see the weekend end. I think I have post-festival depression – this event is just too much fun. Until next year NYCWFF … 

Photo Booth at the NYC WFF

Photo Booth at the NYC WFF