The Gastronomist Manifesto

Chefs of the World Unite!

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.

My gorgeous girlfriend, displaying the final result of the mac ‘n cheese.

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.


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6 thoughts on “The Rant and the Recipe: A Twist on Macaroni and Cheese

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more on what you said about eating healthy and losing weight. Also, the mac and cheese you made looks delicious! It’s a great idea baking it in a squash. I don’t eat meat though, so I will have to substitute it with something 🙂

  2. My mum’s diet advice has always been: “If you want to lose weight – leave it on your plate.” Solid advice from a wise woman.

    • That is very solid advice. Really hard for a lot of Americans to stomach for some reason (I can’t speak for the rest of the world here.) I think it might be because we’ve stopped doing what our mums did and stopped cooking good, easy food at home, and turned to awful fast food/packaged food that you have to eat lots of to feel satisfied because it’s so awful.

  3. I can suggest endless meat-less versions.

    My favorite is tempeh. The tempeh that you buy at a store is bland, but it has that bite, a nutty flavor and it absorbs flavor like nothing else. IF you buy it and allow it time to draw in flavor, it can be amazing.

    If you wanted to re-create my recipe with it, all you’d need to do would be to up the use of paprika and garlic by a bit, give the tempeh a slower roast in the olive oil–low heat for maybe a couple hours. If you wanted to skip the “meat substitute” thing at all, then you’ve got a million options. The smoky flavor of chorizo enhances the cheese and culls the sweetness of the squash, but if you used st0re-bought smoked tempeh, chipotle peppers, roasted eggplant or zucchini…. I prefer such “fresh” substitutes to all the manufactures “fake meat” products out there.

    Best of luck, if you keep reading I will try to boast as my great vegan recipes as I can here!

    • OOOOOH the tempeh-option sounds good! Thanks for the suggestion! I think I shall give it a go! I usually use mushrooms, aubergines, tofu or paneer as substitutes for meat in a lot of dishes, but I’ve never tried tempeh.

      • Those staples you mentioned would all be great in this recipe. The reason I’d still go for tempeh is the texture if nothing else. Squash and mac’n’cheese are mushy, and mushrooms, aubergines and tofu would just be more mush. Tempeh, even if you cook it a lot, still stays reasonably solid (as the sausage here.)

        You should definitely give tempeh a go. It packs more protein than tofu. The years I spent as a strict vegan, tempeh was my go-to source for protein. I still use it a lot to this day.

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