Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese

champagne!

So my apologies but we were so hungry when I made this Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese that I forgot to take a photo!  Bad food blogger, bad! Anyways,  instead I give you this photo which always makes me laugh.  This time last year I spent over two weeks in Ireland with my family where we were visiting my sister abroad.  During the last few days while the parents went to Paris, my sister and I jumped over the Irish Sea to spend some time in London.  We had been up late the night before our early morning flight (Ryan Air is awesome!) and as we exited the terminal there was a huge champagne display staring us in the face.  I couldn’t resist.  We purchased a bottle to enjoy back in the hotel room that waited for us.  Lets just say, the room that welcomed us was not what we envisioned, nor was it what was advertised.  But we made the best of it and that meant chilling Veuve in the teeny tiny sink because heaven forbid a hotel have an ice bucket, right?

Anyways, less about the booze and back to the food.  The recipe below was one of those accidental recipes as in “I was in a rush and tried to make butternut squash ravioli but only ended up making a mess”.  It was late on  a Sunday night so mac & cheese was the perfect replacement.  Measurements below are approximations as I didn’t have much patience for pen & paper at the time.

Enjoy!

Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese
3 slices bacon, diced
1/2 lb pasta (I used penne)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups cubed, roasted butternut squash*
2 1/2  tbs butter
2 tbs flour
2  cups milk
3 tbs Parmesan cheese
3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs**
Salt
Pepper

In a skillet over medium high heat render bacon until crispy.  Place bacon in bowl lined with paper towels and drain 3/4 of bacon drippings from pan (only need about 1/2 tsp).  Lower heat to medium low and add garlic.  Cook 1 minute and then begin to melt the butter.  Once melted, whisk in flour until combined.  Cook for 5 minutes then add milk.  Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, lower heat and stir in cheeses, nutmeg, cinnamon.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in butternut squash & bacon crumbles.

Cook pasta al dente and drain.  Combine drained pasta and cheese sauce.  Spread in casserole dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and some extra Parmesan cheese.  Bake in preheated 350°F oven for 25 minutes, placing under broiler for last 5 minutes.

*  Cube butternut squash into 1 inch pieces.  Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread out on baking sheet and roast in 400°F oven for 25-35 minutes or until fork tender.

** Quick fresh breadcrumbs:  Toast bread in toaster or oven until slightly browned and dry.  Place in food processor and pulse until desired consistency (I like medium fine breadcrumbs for this).

Blue Cheese Stuffed Venison Burgers with Caramelized Onions on Sourdough Bread

One of the highlights of our summer vacation at the cabin were the fabulous meals that were cooked up every night.  Of course, given the environment most of the meals were grilled and throughout the week we enjoyed grilled vegetables, potatoes, BBQ chicken and grilled salmon.  All of our meals were simple yet delicious and each night we thought we had outdone the previous dinner.

Towards the end of the week our friends began to arrive for the weekend and the dinners became more varied with a little of this and a little of that since everyone wanted to make something for the occasion.

One of our friends had recently been on a hunting trip and wanted to share some of the wonderful venison he had brought home.  It was absolutely wonderful.  Much gamier yet leaner than beef, the grilled venison steak just tasted so…natural.  It was organic without the $5 packaging.  I was extremely excited when he was nice enough to send us home with some of the extra ground venison that he had.

The weeks began to pass by and back in the city we transitioned into fall .  In all of the chaos of moving and working long hours, we almost forgot about our special package of venison in the back of the freezer.  But how could something so wonderful be forgotten?  We decided that it was time to enjoy the full flavors of the venison and reminisce over the seemingly long gone summer.

First we used the venison to make a simple ragu served over pasta.  Although a certain unnamed someone thought making a sauce would drown out the rich, meaty flavor of the meat it actually did the exact opposite.  The simple combination of tomatoes, onion & red wine actually created the perfect backdrop for such a bold meaty flavor.

After the success of the sauce, I thought that we might as well try pairing another bold flavor with the venison and see how it would stand up.  That is where the idea for these blue cheese burgers came from.  The blue cheese centers really help the meat stay moist, as it is leaner than most beef it can dry out quickly.  Sourdough “buns” also provide a great crunch to match with the creamy, luscious burgers.

Obviously this recipe can made with regular ground beef but I beg you…give venison a try!

Blue Cheese Stuffed Venison Burgers with Caramelized Onions on Sourdough Buns

(makes 4 burgers)

Printable Version

1 1/2  lb. ground venison
6 oz Cashel Blue Cheese*
Salt
Pepper
2 cups sliced yellow onions
8 thick slices sourdough bread
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Once butter is melted, add sliced onions and season with 1 1/2 tsp salt.  Saute for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring, until onions are golden & caramelized.

Lightly season venison with salt and pepper.  Begin forming half of a burger patty (about 3 oz.) into a circle in the palm of your hand.  Form a small well in the center and place about 1.5 oz. of blue cheese in center.  Take another 3 oz. of venison and place on top sealing edges together.

Place large skillet over medium-high heat.  Once pan is heated, add burgers**.  Cook 3 minutes each side and place in 350°F oven for 5 minutes or until cooked to your liking.  Keep in mind venison can dry out quickly and is best when cooked medium rare.

Brush olive oil onto bread slices.  Place in broiler for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Slice garlic in half and rub over bread.

Place burger on buns and top with onions.  Serve and enjoy!

venisonburgersApologies for the poor pictures – still trying to get camera set up after the move!

Our burgers were served with a side of sweet potato fries and a chipotle dip (plain greek yogurt, diced chipotle, hot sauce).

* Cashel Blue Cheese is a fantastic blue cheese from Ireland.  I chose it for this recipe because it is creamier than some other blue cheeses and it has earthy notes which mimic that of the venison.  Feel free to use your favorite blue cheese!

** These can also be made on a grill pan or on the outside grill

Bringing Home The Memories – Parsnip & Shallot Tart

IrelandConnemarra Region, Ireland’s West Coast

Last October, I had the wonderful pleasure of taking a 17 day vacation to Ireland & London.  My sister was “studying” abroad in Dublin at the time so my family & I thought it would be a great opportunity to see her and tour the country.

The trip was fantastic for so many reasons, 17 days of no work & no blackberry, experiencing my family’s heritage, enjoying the outdoors all made it an experience to remember.  Above all of that for me, however, was the food Ireland had to offer.  Visiting many small towns throughout the country meant I was also touring the country through taste.  Whether it was seafood chowder made from fresh caught seafood on the West Coast or traditional yet modern Irish pub grub in Dublin, I was never disappointed with what was placed before me.

I plan on writing a detailed post about this trip and share my culinary journey as well as some of my photos but right now I would like to share a dish I had in Dublin and recreated when I was back in the states.  One of my favorite things about cooking & baking is being able to capture a specific memory in a dish and I am happy to say I was able to achieve that here.

On our second stop in Dublin towards the end of the trip we went to dinner at a wonderful restaurant called The Winding Stair.  The location was originally a meeting place for local writers in the 1970’s and although it was sold in 2005 the new owners decided that the bottom floors should remain a bookshop while converting the upper level to a restaurant. Its history gives this restaurant a relaxed and homey feel while its chefs produce outstanding food.

Winding Stair

The menus, which are printed on single sheets of paper and attached to clipboards, had so many fantastic choices it was a burden to pick only one entree.  Since the table had shared an absolutely terrific & local Irish charcuterie board (and I had enjoyed numerous red meat meals throughout the trip) I opted for the vegetarian option – a Parsnip & Shallot Tart served with Roasted Root Vegetable Puree.  My choice was perfect, the tart was light and airy yet dense & hearty enough to satisfy me.  The earthy parsnips were balanced by the delicious Grubeen cheese & buttery crust.  The roasted root vegetable puree was fantastic as the supporting lead, with strong hints of turnip and sweet potato blended into a creamy puree.

After settling back into my routine at home in the states, I began to crave this wonderful little tart.  Not only did I crave its taste and delicate texture but I also wanted to remember my trip.  The wonderful memories of spending time with my family and enjoying a country that seemed to embody so much of what I am.

So I set out to recreate the tart with little more than my memory.  Grubeen cheese is also a locally produced Irish cheese which can be difficult to find in the States.  Instead, I used a 3 year old aged Gruyere- which after reading up online I learned would be a good substitute.

The recipe that follows is not exact as I was too excited to write it all down but the end result is delicious and I hope you try it out.

The Winding Stair’s Parsnip & Shallot Tart

Ingredients
makes about 5 indivdual sized tarts
6 medium shallots, thinly sliced
2 large parnsips, diced
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup Gruyere, shredded
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoon olive oil
handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
5 prebaked tart crusts – see below
Shallots

Carmelize onions in a sautee pan with butter, 1 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt, about 15 minutes.  While onions are cooking, in a baking dish toss parsnips with olive oil (2 tbsp), salt and pepper.  Roast in 400°F oven for 30 minutes, turning occaissonaly.

In a large bowl whisk together milk, heavy cream, egg & egg yolk.  Fold in shredded cheese and parsley.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

CHeese3 year-Gruyere

Egg & Milk MixtureMilk & Egg Mixture

Place cooled onions on the bottom of prebaked tart crusts.  The onions should cover the bottom and not be in more than one layer.  Arrage cooled parnsips on top.  Pour egg & milk mixture into each tart pan and top with additional shredded cheese.

before ovenTarts before going into the oven

Bake in 325°F oven for 40 minutes or until middle is set.

I served my tarts roasted brussel sprouts & balsamic vinegar.  Enjoy!

finished

Tart Crust

Ingredients
makes about 5 indivdual tart crusts
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons ice water (may need more)

In your food processor, pulse together for 10 seconds the first three ingredients and then add the ice water.  Pulse for 5 or 6 more times quickly until a dough begins to form.  Place dough onto a floured surface and begin to roll into a bowl.  Once formed, place in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

DoughTart Crusts

When ready to use, roll out the dough and cut out circles about the size of your tart pans.  Place dough in the tart pans and press up along the sides, crimping the edges.  Poke 3-4 holes with a fork.  Line the tart crusts with parchment paper and weigh down with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake in a 350°F oven for about 12-14 minutes or until the tart is golden brown.  Remove and cool on a wire rack until ready to use.

FamilyFamily (minus my brother)
Enjoying a pint & getting out of the rain in Dublin