Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

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Butternut squash mac and cheese topped with golden crunchy panko bread crumbs and rich aromatic rosemary makes for a creamy, nutty, and healthy(ier) Thanksgiving side- or just a nice fall dish. One that makes you feel cozy and comfy as nights become cooler and forgotten warm winter coats are reluctantly remembered. Since I was a kid I have been making the macaroni and cheese recipe from Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. I have mentioned this tattered and loved cookbook before, whose recipes I still use in modified extent.

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For the butternut squash mac and cheese I replaced the macaroni for roasted butternut squash, added a bit of depth with spices and rosemary, and crunch with the toasted panko bread crumbs. The butternut squash was perfectly tender and well-coated in the sharp cheddar cheese sauce. I like to use a shallow dish to maximize surface area for lots of crisp rosemary panko. Roasted butternut squash mac and cheese is fitting for a feast like Thanksgiving or if you’re feeling fancy, just a nice Tuesday night dinner.

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

  • 2 lb butternut squash peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tsp melted butter or ghee
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 small diced white onion
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp dried ground mustard
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 12 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, 2 oz set aside for topping
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 sprig rosemary chopped

Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel the butternut squash, cut it in half, and core out the seeds. Dice the squash into nice little cubes for your butternut squash mac and cheese. Toss the diced butternut squash with the butter or ghee and sea salt. Roast the butternut squash for about 20 minutes or until almost done through. I opened the oven at 10 minutes and stirred the squash so it wouldn’t stick to the cast iron skillet. I like to use the skillet for aesthetics, but this would be easily done in a glass pyrex dish 9×13 would probably work best.

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While the squash is roasting make the cheddar cheese sauce starting with the roux. I didn’t get to take great pictures of this step because my kitchen lighting is dismal. Melt the butter on medium to low heat and cook the onion until soft and tender. Add the flour and stir well, add the spices and allow the roux base to toast slightly for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. Stir in the zebra white and yellow shredded cheddar and cook over low heat until sauce is thickened. Grate the nutmeg into the sauce and stir.

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Add the butternut squash to the cheese sauce and gently stir. You want to keep the squash in neat little cubes. Add the butternut squash and cheese back into the cast iron skillet (or pyrex you roasted the squash in). I hate doing dishes so I try to use as few as possible! Mix the panko bread crumbs, rosemary, and the extra side of cheddar cheese. Top the butternut squash with the bread crumb mixture and bake for an extra 10 minutes until nice and golden brown on top. Butternut squash macaroni and cheese is a great Thanksgiving side dish.

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Signature Thanksgiving Cocktail: Bourbon Cider

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Bourbon cider is the best cocktail I have made to date. Fresh apple cider, warm spiced bourbon, and rosemary simple syrup are shaken and poured over ice making the perfect signature Thanksgiving cocktail (or for this unusually warm November here in the city). Not that I’m complaining, but I was expecting chilly winds that lead to roasted chestnuts, hot toddies and warm ciders. Bourbon cider is the perfect signature thanksgiving cocktail for a fall dinner with friends, your Thanksgiving feast, or holiday party this season.

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Bourbon cider is sweet, spiced, and refreshing with a hint of earthiness borrowed from the rosemary. When recipes are simple and call for few ingredients, you need to seek out the very best you can find to maximize deliciousness. I purchased my rosemary and fresh apple cider for my signature Thanksgiving cocktail from Migliorelli Farm at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. The cider was crisp and subtle and masked the strength of the nose on the bourbon just enough.

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Rosemary simple syrup is insanely easy to make- I microwave equal parts water and sugar with sprigs of rosemary and allow it to cool for this earthy fall cocktail. Bourbon cider has all the sweet and spice of fall with savory and aromatic rosemary balancing the apple and autumn seasonal flavors. This Thanksgiving cocktail is easy to make and perfect for a signature holiday drink! The bourbon cider can easily be made into a punch for a large crowd too.

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Signature Thanksgiving Cocktail: Bourbon Cider

Makes 1 cocktail, increase proportions as needed

  • 2 oz bourbon or rye
  • 1 oz fresh apple cider
  • ½ oz rosemary simple syrup
  • Splash club soda (or hard apple cider if you like)
  • Sprig rosemary for garnish

Make the rosemary simple syrup according to how much you would like on hand. I knew I was going to use more rosemary simple syrup the next day for my Baked Brie with Guava, so I made a larger batch than usual. For around 6-8 signature Thanksgiving cocktails pour 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a microwave safe bowl with a large fresh sprig of rosemary. I microwave the ingredients for 30 second intervals and stirred well after each set of 30 seconds up to 1 minute and 30 seconds or until the simple syrup is no longer cloudy and is clear (if you are making a larger batch microwave at 30 second intervals until clear). I let the rosemary simple syrup cool with the rosemary sprigs in it, and once cooled I replaced them with fresh sprigs which have a brighter color and flavor.

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When the simple syrup is cool add the ingredients into a shaker over ice. Shake well, for about thirty seconds, and strain over fresh ice then top with a splash of club soda (or hard apple cider if you like to emphasize the apple flavor with some effervescence. Garnish the bourbon cider cocktail with a warm rosemary sprig. I run the rosemary over a lit lighter for around 20 seconds. Heat just until the rosemary is warm and aromatic, they should not light on fire. This step is very easy and enhances the bourbon cider cocktail especially the sweet apple and earthy profile.

If you want your cocktail to be sweeter or stronger simply manipulate the proportions to your liking. Remember cooking and bartending is all about experimentation and what you like. Everyone’s palate is different so have fun with it and find out what you like best.

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*Note: If you want to make this as a pre-made punch for a crowd I would pour the entire bottle of bourbon or rye,  2 cups fresh apple cider, and 3/4-1 cup of the rosemary simple syrup. Stir together well and add a larger format bottle of hard apple cider and about 8 oz of club soda. Guests can pour over ice and you can have sprigs of rosemary ready on the side. I haven’t made this as a punch but I will closer to Thanksgiving and update on its success!!!

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Cilantro Garlic Sauce

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Pollo Tropical got me addicted to cilantro garlic sauce. This place is a Hispanic fast food mecca in South Florida- easy take-out like the home cooking your abuela made. Chicken, pork, maduros, tostones, white rice, sopa de pollo, yuca frita (and have we mentioned the cilantro garlic sauce!?!) are all authentic and Cuban. My mom is a power business woman so when I was growing up she would often get us Pollo Tropical on the way home from guitar lessons, swim practice, or soccer games. I grew up eating this stuff and crave it; my love for Pollo Tropical is close to my passion for Publix Subs.

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I made cilantro garlic sauce and yuca frita for a post I did over a year ago. This single post has been by far my post popular post and drives the most traffic to this site. The fanaticism behind Pollo Tropical’s cilantro garlic sauce is no joke people. So I decided to test out the very best variations to make sure my recipe was just right. Based on my research, I have to modify my previous recipe. I tested the sauce with mayonnaise, yogurt, and sour cream, and I also did variations with two, three, and four garlic cloves to test the impact on flavor. As I tried out different recipes I also realized the freshness of the garlic impacted the flavor. Older garlic can tend to have a sharper and spicier flavor than fresh cloves- I prefer the fresh and lighter taste.

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After trying to make the cilantro garlic sauce with mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and sour cream I decided I like sour cream the best, but hey you do you and make it according to your palate. Greek yogurt is the thickest of the three and the mayonnaise has that distinct underlying egg flavor. Cilantro garlic sauce is a great condiment for tostones, chips, tacos, yuca frita, burritos, and even crudites.

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 Cilantro Garlic Sauce

  • 12 oz sour cream (or Greek yogurt or mayonnaise in any combination)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Remove the stems from the cilantro and wash it well in cold water. Cilantro can have gritty sand on the leaves so make sure to rinse well. Dry the cilantro using a salad spinner or I usually roll it up in several paper towel sheets and place it in the refrigerator while I prep everything else. Muddle the garlic and olive oil together with a mortar and pestle. Although you will be using a food processor, I think this step really infuses the garlic and oil together helping to smooth the taste of the garlic in the sauce.

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Mix the lime, salt, and cayenne into the garlic oil and then pour into the food processor with the chopped cilantro and sour cream. Pulse the cilantro garlic sauce until it is smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce to determine if it needs more citrus or salt. I have found that it can become very salty very quickly so err on the side of caution. Serve the cilantro garlic sauce with yuca frita, French fries, tostones, fajitas, chips, mariquitas, or with tacos, on bowls… at this point the possibilities are endless.

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