The Rant and the Recipe: A Twist on Macaroni and Cheese
Recently NPR’s “All Things Considered” did a feature on a series of billboards in NY trying to scare Americans into thinking cheese is a prime cause of obesity in America and working towards banning it (“no more cheese! except in our taste for billboards!”) The perpetrators of this horrendous propaganda are the PCRM–one of the most illegitimate and scam-fueled crack-pot organizations on the food scene today. Dig yourself into the bounty of their scam charade.
Granted, foods topped with cheese are often bad on a nutritional level, but the campaign reaches the lowest dregs of logic and reason. A lack of general nutritional sensibility in America is not going to turn 180 by a ban. But research-based information is not for the PCRM and their financiers’ (PETA) strong suit. Scare tactics are. Good, legit, pragmatic diet tips from experts (the PCRM is none of those things) say the same thing: Moderation.
Moderation is not “cleanses” that do absolutely nothing but psych you out. It’s not the “Diet Plan of the Season.” It’s not “lose 20 pounds in a week with this simple trick.” It’s not PETA acting under and funding false “physician” groups to promote vegan diets. Lose weight? Cut calories. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Above all, a good, moderate health plan means not expecting results in unreasonable time spans. I myself am trying to lose weight, and I’ve dropped 13 pounds in several months, and no special diet plans were involved, just the same common-sense and scientific advice that’s been preached for decades now. And you know what else? I get to keep my cheese! As in this recipe…
Mac ‘n Cheese… With Chorizo, Roasted Peppers and Baked in Acorn Squash
This was a tinge of inspiration. I’ve seen plenty of recipes calling for baking items in hollowed out squash; and I know of baking mac ‘n cheese. This was just a touch of inspiration and more-so, this is a middle-finger to the PCRM, who say we should banish cheese. Here is my counter strike. This dish is *not*, I should say, low in fat or calories, but it does take a very common comfort dish and does diminish the calories, adds hella flavor and is really fun to prepare. And it’s pretty easy, despite the number of steps involved.
To start, you need to heat an oven to 400 degrees. Let it heat and take a baking pan/dish and line it with foil (this makes for 1 second clean-up later.) Take an acorn squash and split it in two. Advice, comrade!: Acorn, butternut and many squash varieties are hard to cut even with a sharp chef’s knife or cleaver; thankfully, my friend Jess passed along this amazing bit of advice for cutting squash: put it in the microwave for one minute at a time, repeating and testing the process until that squash yields to your knife. I don’t know how I’d prep squash without her advice. It works like magic.
When your oven is heated, throw your squash in, on the foiled sheet, for about 40 minutes. I would advise using the top rack as it’ll crisp up and brown the top of the squash more, but this is not really important. Meanwhile, or within that cooking time….
Take approximately 1/2 a link of Mexican chorizo and draw a knife across it so you can split its casing. It’s important here to note that there is a major difference between Mexican and Spanish chorizo. Normally, I prefer Spanish, but Mexican chorizo is raw, soft and essential here. Add it, whole, to a small pan with a light coating of oil on a med-low heat (and when I say “med-low” I don’t mean “medium!”) Stir and try to break it apart gently with a spatula or spoon. More advice from Party Command: I rarely cook with chorizo, and even though I bought fresh-made, spatulas and forks could not break it down to a “crumble.” If this just happens to you too, just pass it too a cutting board and use a knife.
So when the chorizo was getting brown, had released some juiciness; I tossed in one minced garlic clove and about one half of a roasted red pepper (store-bought, you can find them in the deli section of a Whole Foods.) With a dash of paprika, salt and pepper; I lowered the heat to low and just let them sit.
Back-tracking a bit, just a bit before you start that mix of sausage and peppers, put a sauce pot of water to boil for the macaroni noodles. For the mac ‘n cheese part of this dish I went all out… Whole Foods boxed, but you can use the old Kraft if you want too. Although boxed mac ‘n cheese is not as good as the “real thing,” this recipe is not about “the real thing.” This is about simplicity and comfort food. So take your box, cook it as the directions say, and wait for MY further instructions…
Watch your pan of sausage/peppers/garlic and when the garlic starts getting a slight tan and your chorizo is cooked through, stop cooking. Add this to your mac ‘n cheese from a box when that’s done too, and stir. After 40 minutes in the oven the acorn squash should be tender–you can test with a fork–remove and when it’s cool enough to handle scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Reduce your oven temperature to 300. Spoon out a seedles bowl in the squash and add the mac ‘n cheese to where it’s just overflowing. Here you can sprinkle bread crumbs over top or hit a drizzle of olive oil if you like–but this is optional.
Place the squash-mac back into the oven and let it cook until it gets to your level of done-ness. Here I do not think opening the oven to check is going to harm anything. If you want it lightly browned or crispy–use judgement and remove. Allow the bowls to cool. When ready serve on a plate. Best of all, this is easily tweakable. Vegetarian? Omit the chorizo, use tempeh or a diced veggie. Unsure about, or can’t find chorizo? Swap chorizo for Italian sausage or Andouille sausage.
This is comfort food at it’s best.