Meatless Monday: Pumpkin mac and cheese

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Fall is here! And I’m all in. I love summer as much as the next gal (tomatoes! the beach! relaxed schedules! sunshine! longer days!), but I can only take so much sweating before I’m ready for fleeces and squash (leaves changing! fires! apple picking! Halloween! schedules!).

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This mac and cheese is warming, cheesy, and chock full of veggies. It also works as dinner or lunch (or both!). I’ve made this with some sausage on the side for an even heartier meal, but it’s very filling on its own.

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A couple of notes:
- I use half roasted squash and half pumpkin (butternut or acorn squash is my favorite, but you could use kobocha or delicata) because I don’t always love straight pumpkin pasta sauces. There is something heavy and somehow both flavorless and overwhelming about a sauce made with just pumpkin.
- The most time consuming part of this recipe is cooking the onions. A longer, slower cook yields much better flavor that significantly improves the final dish. I recommend taking the time.
- This recipe makes twice as much sauce as you need. You can either freeze half, or make two boxes (2 lbs) of pasta for a large family. We’ve found that using 1 box of pasta and freezing half of the sauce yields one dinner for the three of us and two lunches for M (and some late-night picking for us).

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Pumpkin mac and cheese

1 Tbsp olive oil, butter, ghee, or your fat of choice
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
10 large sage leaves (about 1 Tbsp), minced
½ tsp kosher salt
½-1 can pumpkin puree
½ small acorn squash (or about 1 cup any type of squash), roasted
½-1 cup milk
½ cup gruyere, shredded
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 lb pasta
1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Preheat the oven to 425. Cut your squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake until fork tender, about 20-30 minutes.  


Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil. (I add 2 heaping tsp of salt to my pasta water and that usually does the trick.) Cook your pasta according to package directions (towards the end of cooking your onions). Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the thinly sliced onions. Brown, stirring often, until caramelized, about 25- 30 minutes. Don’t worry if your onions become a little frizzled or fried instead of caramelized. I tend to forget them or have the flame up too high for a minute. Either way, they’ll taste delicious as long as they’re well cooked.

Add the garlic and sage to the onions and cook for one minute, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat.

In a blender or food processor, combine the cooked onions, garlic, sage, acorn (or other) squash, pumpkin puree, and cheese. Blend on high. Slowly add the milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency.* Scrape down the sides as needed.

Pour about 1/2 of the sauce into a large container for another time.

Drain your pasta, but reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Put the pasta back into the pasta pot, top with ½ of the sauce, and thin out as needed with the reserved pasta water. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

*The amount of milk you’ll need depends largely on your squash. Some squash have more water in them, so you’ll need less milk. Start with ¼ cup and add more as needed.

Yield: 4 adult-sized dinner servings, 6 kid-sized dinner servings, or more if you’re serving this for lunch

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Barley and squash "risotto"

Barley and squash “risotto” |  Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Friends, lets talk about when your toddlers refuse to eat (and the blinding rage that sometimes ensues!). Despite my best efforts, this happens to us frequently (the hunger strikes, not necessarily the rage). I work HARD not to take it personally because I know it's developmentally appropriate (oral stage, individuation, changing taste buds, yadda yadda yadda). One thing I can say with certainty is that it always passes. This is our basic game plan, which we stick to, but not rigidly:

1) If he's hungry, he'll eat. Most of the time, we let him determine how much he wants. We encourage him a little if he says "all done" after two bites because sometimes he's referring to the high chair and not the food. I'm not particularly good at recognizing my own hunger/satiety cues, so I want to help M be more attuned to his body.

2) Push the veggies and protein, especially when your kids are most hungry. M is a morning eater and tends to gobble up whatever we put in front of him before 11 am, so I pack that meal with as much goodness as possible. Similarly, I offer him some veg, some protein, and some good fat in all of his meals. It's much easier to get him to eat fruit and grains, so I don't push those: They end up eaten anyway. 

3) Don't "hide" veggies, cook with them. Find the happy medium with more nutritious food. I agree with folks like Amy Palanjian from Yummy Toddler Food about not "hiding" veggies. But that doesn't mean you have to serve your kids a head of steamed broccoli and call it a day. Conversely, all veggies don't have to be smothered with chocolate or cheese. If you're making a grilled cheese, throw in some spinach and tell them that it's in there.

4) Don't become a line cook. In other words, if your kid is refusing to eat, don't twist yourself into knots preparing something else. This is the hardest to stick to and probably the least rigid of our rules, especially because M is under 2.  His tastebuds are legitimately changing, so what tasted great one day, may actually taste different the next. If he's eaten well at his other meals, we don't sweat a small dinner. Another strategy we use is, instead of making him something entirely new, we'll add a pouch or piece of toast with almond butter while encouraging him to take a few bites of the rejected food. Sometimes he refuses to eat because he's tired or too hungry and a few bites of something familiar can help him calm down and eat the other food too.

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes
Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

All of that to say, the first few times I made this "risotto" M loved it, until last night when he acted like I had made RANCID barley and squash risotto. I assure you, this dish is delicious and though there are a few steps, they can be done simultaneously, so it's less effort than most risotto dishes. And there's barely any stirring!

I used Kabocha squash, which has a creamier consistency when roasted than butternut or delicata squashes and a thicker texture than the pumpkin or acorn varieties. But feel free to swap in any squash you can find in your store or have on hand. Also swap in spinach or any other greens for the kale, and/or turkey, chicken, or beef for the pork sausage. I wouldn't recommend adding fish to this guy, but serving a veggie version alongside a piece of fish would be great. Last note: I used hulled barley instead of pearled barley, which is the browner of the two in the bulk bins of your Whole Foods. It takes longer to cook, but is more nutritious if you don't mind the extra cooking time. 

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Barley and squash risotto

3 cups water
1 cup hulled barley
2 cups chicken stock
½-1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into pieces
1 cup roasted Kombucha squash, about half of a small squash
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz pork sausage, de-cased
2 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
10 fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp dried sage

Combine barley and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, about 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut squash in half and place cut side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 30- 45 minutes or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly and scoop out 1 cup (or half) of the cooked squash and set aside.

In a separate pan, brown the sausage. When fully cooked, remove and drain on a paper towel and add the shallots and garlic to the pan with the leftover pork fat and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and cook until aromatic.

When barley is done, add chicken stock and bring back to a boil. Add chopped kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add squash, parmesan, salt, and pepper. If the risotto looks too wet, let simmer for a few minutes until enough liquid has evaporated, but remember that the risotto will firm up as it cools. (Basically, you want the mixture to be oozy, but you shouldn’t see any excess liquid.) When ready, add the sausage, sage, onion, and garlic mixture and let heat through. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top.

Yield: About 8 servings, ¾ cup each

Need ideas for using the leftover squash? Try these grain-free waffles but swap in squash for the sweet potato.

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes
Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Burgers! Burgers! Burgers!

Buffalo chicken burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner or game day snacks. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #gamedaysnacks #buffalochickenburger

Buffalo chicken and cauliflower burgers and salmon and sweet potato burgers are on heavy rotation in our house, especially during Whole 30. Throw an egg on top and it's breakfast. Add some roasted veggies or a mashed sweet potato and it's lunch. Chop one up and throw it over a salad for some extra protein with more flavor than plain old chicken or salmon. See? Versatile. Also, both of these are M's favorites.

Salmon and sweet potato burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner and has a hint of sweetness for those sweet cravings that plague every Whole 30-er. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #salmon #salmonburger #sweetpotato

I especially like eating the buffalo chicken burgers on Sundays because they feel like a game day indulgence. If you're heading to a party, make these into sliders or meatballs and bring them with you. No one will know they're Whole 30 and you'll have something great to eat so you can fearlessly be social while also sticking with this re-set you've taken on.

The salmon and sweet potato burgers are clutch when I'm craving sushi. We're lucky that M loves salmon, so it's not hard to stack his diet with Omega-3s. But I hate the way the salmon smell lingers in our small apartment when we cook it on the stove, so this recipe utilizes canned wild salmon that, frankly, doesn't necessarily smell better, but definitely smells less.  

Buffalo chicken burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner or game day snacks. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #gamedaysnacks #buffalochickenburger

Did I mention that I FINALLY had success making my own pickles this weekend? I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe, but swapped out dill for a few cloves of smashed garlic because I hate dill.

Salmon and sweet potato burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner and has a hint of sweetness for those sweet cravings that plague every Whole 30-er. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #salmon #salmonburger #sweetpotato

On the side, we've been serving sweet potato, purple carrot, and delicata squash fries. To roast, heat the oven to 425, cover your pan with parchment paper, spray the paper with olive oil, toss your vegetables onto the trays, add a few glugs of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, and roast for 20-25 minutes, until you get the browning you want on the outside. I check them after about 10-15 minutes and give the tray a good shake to flip some pieces over. I've heard that one trick to getting crispier oven fries is to heat the pans ahead of time, but I never notice enough of a difference to warrant the extra step. But if you try this, let me know how it works!

Buffalo chicken burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner or game day snacks. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #gamedaysnacks #buffalochickenburger

Buffalo chicken burgers (Whole 30)

1 lb ground chicken
1 cup riced cauliflower
½ medium red onion
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup almond meal
1 egg
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp clarified butter
3 Tbsp Frank’s hot sauce

Add chicken, cauliflower, onion, garlic, almond meal, and egg to a large bowl and combine using your hands or a spatula. In a separate bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Form into 6 equal patties using a 1/3 cup measure.

Coat your pan with 1 tsp clarified butter and heat over a medium low flame. When hot, add chicken patties and turn up the flame to medium. While the first side is browning, sprinkle some of the clarified butter/hot sauce mixture onto each patty. When the first side has a good sear, flip the burgers over and coat the other side with clarified butter/hot sauce. After 2-3 minutes, check the sear. If brown enough for you liking, turn the flame down to low, cover, and let cook for 8-10 more minutes. When meat thermometer has reached 165, your burgers are done. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the meat reabsorb some of the juices. 

Yield: 6 burgers

Buffalo chicken burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner or game day snacks. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #gamedaysnacks #buffalochickenburger
Salmon and sweet potato burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner and has a hint of sweetness for those sweet cravings that plague every Whole 30-er. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #salmon #salmonburger #sweetpotato

Salmon, sweet potato, and sage burgers

2 cans boneless, skinless wild caught salmon, 6 oz each
1 large sweet potato, roasted or microwaved (7-8 oz)
2/3 cup almond meal
1 tsp dried sage
2 eggs
2 Tbsp dijon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and smash with a fork. Mix very well. Heat a large sauté pan over a medium flame. Shape into 6 patties using a 1/3 cup to scoop out equal amounts for each patty and sear on one side. Let cook until there is a good browning on one side and then carefully flip. Cover the pan and turn the flame down. This will allow the burgers to steam a bit and cook through while also browning the outside.

Yield: 6 burgers

Salmon and sweet potato burger | Me & The Moose. This Whole 30-compliant burger is perfect for lunch or dinner and has a hint of sweetness for those sweet cravings that plague every Whole 30-er. Throw an egg on top and it could also be breakfast. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #burgers #easydinner #quickdinner #dinnerrecipes #lunch #lunchrecipes #salmon #salmonburger #sweetpotato