Thursday, February 14, 2013

Quinoa & Butternut Squash "Mac and Cheese"

So Winter Storm Nemo kicked my ass. Not because I lost power or because I had to shovel a driveway or dig a car out. Because literally, and I mean that in the actual way, upon returning home from a little hour long exploration of my post-blizzard neighborhood I was hit with a winter storm sized cold. It's like my immune system punished me for daring to go outside in a 3 degree F windchill and bask in the glory of walking down a trafficless Beacon Street. I guess I learned my lesson because I haven't been this sick in years. Consolation? I took some lovely shots of my 'hood:

The view from my bedroom window. I would have opened the screen, but there was about 6 inches of snow piled up against it.
Aside from Marathon Monday, this is the only time I've ever seen no cars on Beacon Street!
Amory Street Park. Just to the left were many, many children and families engaged in a sledding free-for-all. I may have joined them had I not been alone and in possession of a sled.
When it became apparent last Thursday morning that we were in for a big one I planned to go to Trader Joe's after work to stock up on storm essentials. I wanted to cook something that would last for a few days since climbing over 6 foot snow banks to get food was not really something I was interested in. Mac and cheese was my first thought, but sitting in the house for three days eating nothing but mac and cheese, while delicious, was not a good idea. I saw this recipe on Pinterest for a quinoa "mac and cheese" and I decided to use that as a jumping off point.

Trader Joe's was experiencing an End of Days situation pre-storm so after a tiny bit of forcefulness and waiting in line for half an hour I made it out with the ingredients and only the ingredients I needed. I would have loved to have questioned the man buying 5 gallons of milk and nothing else, but I really didn't want to know. People go crazy during storms.

Back to the food! In an effort to cut down on the cheese a little bit I decided to add some mashed butternut squash to this dish. It's super creamy and has a similar color so I think it really does trick your brain into thinking that you're eating some outrageously cheesy dish. Here is the rest of the breakdown for my quinoa and butternut squash "mac and cheese":

1 cup cooked quinoa
Veggies - I used about two cups of broccoli and cauliflower
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water or broth
1 cup grated cheese, any kind you want
2-3 cups butternut squash, cubed
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Cook the quinoa according to package directions. In a large saucepan, bring the butternut squash, milk, and water to a low boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until the squash is tender enough to mash. At the same time, fill another large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and cook for 2-3 minutes. If you're using different vegetables, boil or saute them - whatever you like. They will also be baking in the oven so just cook them a little bit.

Drain the veggies and fluff the quinoa with a fork when it's done. When the squash is tender, remove it from the stove and start mashing it with a fork or a potato masher. That is if you didn't bring your potato masher to your sister's three or four Thanksgivings ago and never remembered to bring it home.

Once the squash is mashed, crack open the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk them well. You may want to temper the eggs with a little bit of the hot liquid, but I didn't on this occasion. Sometimes when uncooked eggs are added to hot liquid, they'll scramble. And you don't want that. To temper them, add some of the hot liquid to the eggs, whisking the whole time, until the eggs are up to temperature, but still uncooked. Once your egg situation is squared away, add them to the squash.

Next, add in everything else: quinoa, cooked vegetables, garlic, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and obviously the cheese. Mix it well.

Spray a 9 x 9 baking dish with non-stick spray and pour in the quinoa and squash mixture. Sprinkle the panko crumbs evenly on top and pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the top starts to brown.

And that's it! Get yourself a nice big ol' bowl and dish it out. Feel free to add more cheese on top because, duh, cheese.

I think this is a perfect, healthy substitute for mac and cheese. The squash makes it so creamy and the flavors are exactly the same.

And there's just enough cheese to satisfy the greatest of cheese lovers. That would be me. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my doctor to beg for a Z-Pack.

If you're in the Northeast US, how did you fare in the blizzard? Any crazy grocery store stories? And do tell if you've taken a traditional recipe and make it a little bit healthier.

Oh and happy Valentine's Day! I hope your day is full of love no matter where it comes from. I'm happy that I can taste a little bit better today so I can have some chocolate! 

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