As I wake up to my fourth straight day of rainy weather this week, I can’t help but wish I was back in the Florida house fighting off the sun with wide brimmed hats and sunscreen. Not that I’m complaining about the fact that Fall has finally arrived here. I don’t mind cooler temps, but this rain man. I require sunshine. So I’m beating the rain day blues the best way I know how – baking. Mr. Foodie is still raving about the American Gingerbread I made the other day, and yesterday, we hosted a dinner party for my grandpa Calvin (also a pastor) who will be marrying us next year! Calvin is not related to me by blood, but he and his late wife, Ann, were like grandparents to my siblings and I for the last seventeen years. I’m so lucky that we’ll have Calvin presiding over our ceremony because he knows me so well. I also plan to carry a little piece of Ann with me as I walk down the aisle – a little photo in a locket on my bouquet. I remember the first time I ever made mac n cheese for her, she said “some day you’ll make a wonderful wife.”
Mr. Foodie never got to meet Ann before she passed away, but he met Calvin when we were dating a couple years ago. I was so excited that we would get to spend time with him for dinner. Because I know he loves it, I made my Adult Mac n Cheese and a baked squash dish since I was given a massive amount of squash from a dear friend who works near the Capitol garden! We’ll also have salad for something fresh and non-baked.
My mac n cheese is inspired by Ina Garten’s as it uses two of her favorite cheeses: Gruyere and Fontina. Both of these are excellent melting cheeses – perfect for fondue or any gratin dish. I also like the pairing of the creamy, milder fontina with the sharper, pungent gruyere. Luckily I live near a Wegmans whose cheese counters are to die for. They always have a fresh batch of these cheeses grated and ready to go.
I also use mild italian sausage (or spicy depending on who I’m cooking for). Even the mild offers a spicy zing to an otherwise cheesy, starchy dish. It makes it even richer, but this flavor combo hits the spot, especially on a rainy day. I sprinkle the top with wheat panko crumbs for a little crunch and texture – I’m telling, you, this mac n cheese will change your life.
The veggie bake is based on something I found a while ago about using up your summer squash. In addition to the tasty squash my friend gave me from the Capitol garden, I also had some whole zucchini left over from our camping dinner. I really wanted to find a dish that would use them all and which would enable me to do prep ahead of time (always a good idea when hosting a dinner party). This veggie bake was just the ticket. Of course I only got a pic of it prepped and forgot to take one after it was baked and before we consumed it. Oh well, isn’t it pretty?
Added on top of this is a mixture of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Both the mac and cheese and the veggie bake I made the day before and covered until I was ready to bake them – I popped both into a 350 degree oven at different times since the veggies cook faster (partly because I doubled the mac n cheese recipe and it was super cold from the fridge). Later, my mom remarked how much she enjoyed having dishes that didn’t require any attention right before the party. All we had to do was assemble the salad and set the table. We went all out and used china and cloth napkins – it was so much fun!
I hope you enjoy making these recipes and making them your own. What rainy day comfort foods do you like to make?
Fontina/Gruyere Mac n Cheese
(I doubled this recipe for my dinner, but here I’m giving you the original recipe)
1 lb regular sized pasta shells
1 pack of uncooked Italian mild sausage, casings removed
1 stick of butter
1/2 Cup flour
1 Quart milk, warmed
12 ounces gruyere (with both cheeses, I just pick up two containers as measured by Wegmans and I eyeball it – you can add cheese to taste)
8 ounces fontina
salt and pepper
Panko bread crumbs (wheat or white as you like)
Cook the pasta according to the instructions, drain, and set aside. Cook the sausage, drain off excess fat, and set aside. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Once melted, turn down heat and add flour, whisking constantly for two minutes until the mixture is golden brown and the flour taste is cooked down. Slowly add the warmed milk to the pan, whisking as you go. Turn the heat to medium and let it cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat (and here is where many recipes say to up the cheese into the sauce and then pour onto the dish, but I usually put the cheese into the dish and then pour the white sauce over it – either way it bakes together in the dish). Mix the pasta and sausage in a 9×13 baking dish. Add the cheeses and mix together. Pour the white sauce over top and mix lightly. Taste and salt/pepper if you like. At this point you can cover and pop in the fridge or sprinkle panko bread crumbs on top and pop in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes (or close to an hour if you are taking it out of the fridge). When the cheese is bubbling and the top is slightly browned, you know the mac n cheese is ready.
Squash Veggie Bake
2 medium-large zucchini
2 large yellow squash
1 Cup parmesan
1/2 Cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper
Cut the squash and zucchini into 1/4 inch thick wheels (using a mandolin or a knife). You don’t have to alternate them as I did (photo above), but you can inside a pie dish. Propping them up, though, enables you to drizzle the crumb/cheese mixture in between them. Oil the veggies and season them in the pan. Sprinkle the panko crumbs and parmesan over the top, pushing some down with your fingers between the pieces. For a little more flavor, you can dot the top with butter and I’m experimenting with adding other things, like sauteed onion and red pepper flakes (make it your own!). Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes (or turn up the heat for crispier veggie-edges. I used 350 since I was also making the mac n cheese).