Pucker Up: Perfectly Pickled Banana Peppers 

Last weekend, North Carolina got pummeled with a ton of rain. The farmers market got rained out, there was no going and playing outside, and the only thing left to do was pickle everything in the refrigerator.

My fiancé’s mom came to visit from Michigan, and she brought with her a whole slew of pale yellow banana peppers that she had just picked from her garden. (And potatoes, and a 16″ zucchini, tomatoes, and gorgeous onions.) As soon as my honey saw those peppers, he said “let’s pickle them.” Any fervency in the vegetable direction gets no argument from me. So, they were saved…despite my wanting to immediately devour at least half.
With pickled lots and lots of things in the past. From cucumbers it to beets to carrots and celery, we’ve always come up with a new recipe for each. But the last time we pickled jalapeños, the recipe was nearly perfect. We decided to make a few tweaks this time, and the result was flawless.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • Five 6″ or larger banana peppers cleaned, seeded, and cut in rings 
  • One cup white vinegar
  • One cup water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • Any or all of the ingredients from the optional list below

Optional:

  • Bay leaf
  • Few garlic cloves
  • Peppercorns
  • Hot peppers prepped the same way as the banana peppers (we added two jalapeños for a bit of kick, but one nice Datil pepper would be awesome, too)

Method:

Prep the peppers if you haven’t already.

  
  

Place the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and any spices you choose to use in a non-reactive saucepan. I use my trusty old nonstick. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  

Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the peppers, put the lid on, and set a timer for 12 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat source. I just move mine to another burner.

  

Make sure you have a mason jar or other clean vessel for when the timer  dings. A heat-safe glass jar is my favorite.

Once the timer dings, carefully transfer the peppers to a jar with tongs and then very carefully pour the liquid over the top. I like to strain mine to avoid any seeds, but you don’t have to.  NOTE: Feel free to let them cool as long as you’d like so you’re comfortable handling them. Remember, though, you want to cool them as quickly as possible to avoid then becoming mushy. 

  

Screw on the lid and place the lidded jar in an ice bath. 

 

Place the jar in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. I think the crunch really sets in by that point. Enjoy these banana pepper rings on sandwiches, salads, with cheese and crackers, on chili, or straight out of the jar. Although they will last for a very long time, mine won’t live out this week. 

Happy crunching and munching,

Jenna 🙂

Freakin’ 5-star Restaurant: Curried Sweet Potato and Coconut Milk Soup

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It’s almost March. Where has the time gone? I swear it was only yesterday when there were trick-or-treaters at my door rifling through the bowl of candy for the last Snickers. But, alas, time goes on, and it always speeds up throughout the holiday season. So what happened to January? What happened to February. Valentine’s Day isn’t enough of a time suck to count as a holiday. Needless to say, I suppose I’m short on time. And what happens when we’re short on time? We (I definitely mean me) eat whatever bits of food are left around the kitchen. Brownies? Sure. Cheese? OK. Monumental amounts of carbohydrates? Absolutely. I exercise less and eat more.

But, (thank goodness there’s a “but” in all this) I did decide to dedicate a cool-ish day to making some soul-warming, vitamin-packed soups…for my mother. She recently had a hip replacement and couldn’t drive her car, go to work, or exercise the way she’d like for six weeks. I wanted her to have some yummy meals that she could just pop in the microwave when her tummy starts a’rumbling.

I will say that I didn’t set out to make a sweet potato soup. I’ve never had sweet potato soup before. I wasn’t even craving it. The potatoes just looked so good at the store…and they were on sale. Really, my goal was to make different veggie soups. But this gem, THIS ABSOLUTE GEM, happened. Sometimes my kitchen is overtaken by the dancing pots and pans of Fantasia. I don’t know what happened or how we got to this place known as perfection, but nonetheless…

I’m going to share with you the soup that my aunt called “a trip to a freakin’ five-star restaraunt.” I hope you experience the same magic.

Ingredients:

  • five sweet potatoes, cut into 1: cubes
  • mild-tasting oil (canola, grapeseed, light olive oil)
  • 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • quart veggie stock (homemade is always best)
  • tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Method:

Coat the cubed potatoes with one to two tablespoons of oil and sprinkle about a teaspoon’s worth of each sea salt and cracked pepper.

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Place in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. until everything is soft and a nice golden brown.

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In your favorite soup pot (mine is a great enameled cast iron Le Creuset knock-off from World Market), add the roasted sweet potatoes and veggie stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

IMG_3427Turn the heat down to low. Now add the coconut milk and, using an immersion blender (or transferring to a traditional blender if you don’t have one), blend until totally smooth.

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Once silky smooth, add the curry powder, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir and add the salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Because the sweet potatoes add a lot of sweetness, I added quite a bit of salt to balance it out a bit. Altogether, I used approximately a tablespoon’s worth of sea salt.

IMG_3428Stir again and let simmer for 15 minutes on low.

IMG_3429Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m so glad I took a chance and snapped some photos.

Happy soup slurping, everyone! Stay toasty warm,

Jenna

 

 

 

 

The Art of Winging it (and Creamed Corn)

I swore this wouldn’t work out. But something (well, my boyfriend, really) told me to take photos anyway. I shrugged and said “what the heck.” A couple of nights ago, I looked at three ears of perfectly cooked corn on the cob and knew I had to do something with it. I’d been slathering butter and garlic all over those perfect ears for days now, and I (Don’t even think I’m going to say that I got sick of it, because that could never happen.) felt compelled to try something different. I didn’t want to mess with perfection, but, against my better judgement…

“Creamed corn,” he said. I’d never made it before. The concept was simple enough, and if being a southerner has taught me anything (I’m barely a southerner. I’m from Ft. Lauderdale.), it’s that I know how to do corn. And, I’ll tell you, I’d save a couple of ears again to make this easy peasy creamed corn…with garlic. (I had to work the garlic in there. I had to.) That business came out soooooooo gooooooooood.

Ingredients: 

  • 3 ears cooked ears of corn, cut off the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • pinch of cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Melt butter in your favorite skillet over low-medium and add the minced garlic to the pan before it starts to bubble.

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Add the corn to the pan and toss. Keep the heat at low-medium. Meanwhile, make a slurry by adding the pinch of cornstarch to a small amount of the milk and whisking. The goal is to just get the clumps out.

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Add the milk, half and half, and slurry to the pan with the corn and bring to a slight simmer.

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 In a food processor or blender, take out about half of the corn mixture and blend. It’s up to you how pulverized you like your corn to be. (I’d actually blend less next time because I’d like more texture.) Add the blended bits back to the pan. Simmer over low-medium heat for about five minutes until it thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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 There. Creamed corn. With garlic. Yum.

20140730-112513-41113028.jpg And, yes, I’m eating it out of a ramekin. I’m eating it as I type. Don’t judge me. 😉

 Happy creamy corn, everyone!

Jenna

Homemade Local Blueberry Jam

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What does one do with a massive bag of freshly picked summer blueberries? Sorbet? Sure. Frozen and dropped into a glass of Champagne? Absolutely. Blended into a fancy schmancy BBQ sauce? Sign me up. Cooked into  the perfect jam? YES. Today, I vote for jam!

This is the second post in the “It’s UnCANny…” series, and making homemade fruit jams are a fantastic and simple way to break free from the store-bought stuff.

To make this summery-sweet blueberry jam, you’ll need:

  • 6 cups of fresh blueberries, washed and picked of stems
  • 3 cups sugar

I realize I use a lot less sugar than a lot of jam recipes out there, but perfectly ripe berries are sweet enough on their own. Feel free to up the sugar ante if you’d like.

Method:

Using your favorite heavy saucepan or enameled cast iron pot (my personal preference), place the berries first and then the sugar. 

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Over a low heat and while stirring, cook the mixture until the sugar dissolves.

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In about five minutes, it should look like this.

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Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil.

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Boil until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. This batch took about 10 minutes.

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Enjoy the taste of summer.

Until next time…

Jenna

 

It’s UnCANny: Vegan Refried Black Beans

We’ve been working toward eliminating canned goods from our pantry for quite some time, and last night, we finally said adios to canned refried beans. Honestly, refried beans from the grocery store shelf are fairly disappointing. First, we don’t love pinto beans. Second, finding organic refried beans is difficult. Third, they’re salty. Fourth, they’re not worth the money. Fifth, we like to have control over what we eat. Making these organic, vegan refried black beans from scratch was incredibly simple and very inexpensive. You’ll never go back again. I promise.
You’ll need:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Method:
In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, sauté the diced onion until soft and translucent.
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Add the garlic and stir constantly for 30 seconds.
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Add the cooked black beans, cumin, oregano and lime juice.
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Begin mashing with the back of a large wooden spoon or a potato masher. Mash until your heart’s content. I prefer mine smoother rather than chunkier, but it’s up to you.
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Give the beans a taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
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I made an amazing quesadilla with these beans, but the possibilities are endless. You could serve them along side enchiladas, have them on a vegan taco salad, or eat them with saffron-scented rice. Regardless, be proud that you’ve said goodbye to a canned pantry staple.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be re-creating more unCANny favorites, and I hope you’ll join me as I work toward reducing our household waste.
Until next time…

Fresh Jalapeños: We can pickle that!

I’ve never looked at a basket of garden-fresh organic jalapeños and thought “Mmmm…I’d love to gnaw on those!” So when I was gifted with some uber-spicy jalapeños from my friend at the farmers market, there was only one option: pickling. These are great for perking up a sandwich, sprinkling on nachos, or serving on top of a steaming bowl of chili.

This is such a simple process as this isn’t a proper canning. But it’s great and so very quick!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound fresh jalapeño peppers
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

Cut one pound of fresh, washed jalapeños in rings.

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Soak the rings in a bowl of cold water. Swish around with a long-handled utensil every now and then as this will help some of the seeds fall to the bottom. Please don’t do this with your hands and then touch your eyes! Gently scoop out the pepper rings without getting the seeds that have fallen to the bottom and transfer to another vessel.

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In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, garlic cloves, salt, and sugar together and bring to a boil. Add the drained jalapeños to the pot.

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Cover with a lid and let sit for 15 minutes off the heat.

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Transfer to your favorite jar and keep in the refrigerator. They’ll last for quite some time even though they’re not properly canned.

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The Crabbiest Cakes

20140402-203407.jpgWhat’s not to love about crab cakes? Barring any food allergies or other dietary restrictions, there’s nothing about this little piece of decadence that the tastebuds of the world shouldn’t fully appreciate. The more crab, the better.

I’ve had some of the tastiest Alaskan King crab leg meat frozen and just waiting for the right opportunity. Crab bisque happened. And now this. I painstakingly bashed those shells myself; I need this. I’m so happy, I could cry.

One of the best things about a top notch crab cake is the simplicity. They’re easy to put together and easy to make. They’re puuuuuurfect.

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces of crab meat (you don’t have to use Alaskan king crab legs)
  • 4 ounces of saltines or other plain Jane cracker, processed or crushed (for my gluten-free friends, go with your favorite gluten-free cracker)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Cornmeal (optional)
  • Butter or canola oil for frying

Method:

Make sure all of the crab is free of shell pieces and coarsely shredded or chopped.

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Combine all ingredients in the list except for the cornmeal and butter or oil.

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Form into patties, and choose any size you like. I prefer them on the smaller side. Then let them rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. This will help the patties set and stay together during cooking.

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One by one, coat in cornmeal. Just lightly press in the cornmeal and brush off the excess. A light coating is perfect. I love the added texture of this step, but you can omit it if you prefer.

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In your favorite skillet, add about a tablespoon of oil or butter and set the burner to medium-high heat. Gently add the crab cakes one by one to the hot skillet.

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In about two minutes, flip them over.

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See how easy that was?

No smoke and mirrors here…just delicious crab cakes. Oh, by the way, they freeze perfectly in an air tight container. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, a citrus aioli, or your favorite tartar sauce.

Crabby eating, everyone. Enjoy!

 

 

Staying Toasty with Potato, Leek, and Green Onion Soup

Monday night, Florida got below freezing. Palm trees had frost, pink lawn flamingos were stowed in garages,  and bikinis were put away. And this girl? This girl was clinging to a massive mug of potato, leek, and green onion soup.

Oh, how I love soup. Oh, how I love cleaning out the veggie drawer. Oh, how I love the warmth that radiates from the stovetop as I hover above my giant, red, enameled cast iron pot.

If you love warmth and delicious soup, and I know you do, read on…

Ingredients (use organic whenever possible):

  • 1 large leek, sliced and cleaned
  • 3 large green onions, sliced
  • 5 medium Idaho potatoes, washed and cut in 1″ cubes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat (omit if your vegetarian, and just add one extra tablespoon of butter)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (omit if you’re gluten-free)
  • 3 1/2 cups 2% milk (or use what you have on hand, but I don’t recommend skim)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Melt the butter and, if you choose, bacon fat in a heavy pot over medium-low heat.

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Sautee the leeks and green onions for about 3-4 minutes until softened.

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Add the flour and stir constantly for 4-5 minutes.

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Add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper, and stir. Bring contents to a simmer.

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Add the cubed potatoes and paprika. Give it a good stir, bring to a simmer over low heat, and put on the lid.

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Cook for about 15 minutes and check the potatoes. They should be fork tender.

At this point, strain out about half of the potatoes and leeks and out in a separate bowl.

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Using a traditional blender, food processor, or immersion blender, purée the contents still in the pot.

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Add the potatoes back to the pot, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Also, I’m sorry about not having a gorgeous photo of the finished soup in a pristine bowl. I was hungry, and I ate. It was so worth it. 🙂

Get Rich in 2014: Decadent Crab and Prawn Bisque

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Sometimes I go a little overboard. Sometimes I like to treat myself to something decadent. Sometimes that involves Alaskan king crab legs and tiger prawns. And, sometimes, like this time, my dad is responsible for the overwhelming seafood feast that arrived at my door. All I had to do was figure out what to do with it. “If I must,” I told him…

Our seafood extravaganza lasted two days (and we still have leftovers!). The first day involved garlic, butter, and penne. The second day, oh that glorious second day, turned into a magical soup, the kind of warm, comforting embrace I dream of. At first, I couldn’t decide: chowder or bisque, chowder or bisque, chowder or bisque…my head spun. And then I looked toward a Martha Stewart cookbook for a smidge of divine inspiration. Boom. Done. Bisque. But I had to do some concocting on my own. I wanted to play with my fancy crustacean foods and create something spectacular and show dad that he should always bring king crab and tiger prawns over here.

For about 4-6 servings, you’ll need:

  • one large leek, thinly sliced, rinsed and drained
  • two green onions, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or two tablespoons cornstarch made into a slurry for my gluten-free friends)
  • 3 cups milk (I used 2%, but you could use whole)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
  • finely ground black pepper
  • a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
  • one pound of your favorite pre-cooked crustaceans, cut in bite-sized chunks (I used tiger prawns and king crab leg meat)
  • one large russet potato, cut in small 1/2″ cubes

Method:

In a large pot or dutch oven, melt the butter.

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Sauté the leek and green onions on medium-low until they’re just softened, about 3-4 minutes.

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Turn the heat to low and add the flour. Cook while stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.

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Add the milk and cream and cook until the mixture begins to thicken. For my gluten-free friends, this is where you’d add your cornstarch-water slurry. Also add the paprika, salt, pepper and hot sauce and give it a good stir.

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Incorporate the potato and stir.

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Put the lid on the pot and bring the contents to a very gentle simmer over low heat. Cook for about 3-4 minutes until the potatoes soften. If you haven’t done so already chop up the seafood.

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Finally, add the seafood and stir.

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Add the lid back on and cook for another two minutes until everything is warmed through.

Adjust your seasonings, warm some crusty bread, and enjoy eating like royalty…until you have to do the dishes.

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Have a happy and blessed new year, everyone,

Jenna

Fall Comfort Food: Roasted Butternut Squash Alfredo

Roasted Butternut Squash Alfredo

The farmer’s market is currently packed with fall favorites. This is prime roasting season and, much like people go bonkers for pumpkin everything as soon as October hits, my heart goes pitter patter for butternut squash in November! Last Saturday, I did a double take at the most gorgeous butternut babies perfectly arranged on a rustically rickety wooden table and nearly tripped over my own feet to get there. Without flinching, I threw money down on the table, snatched my squash baby, and headed for my car in a dreamlike state considering all the culinary possibilities. The squash was my oyster. Thank goodness I opted for the autopilot option.

Then it hit me: roasted butternut squash alfredo! Cheesy, creamy, squashy, yummy…

My friend, Celeste, is a butternut aficionado and was our dinner guest. (She’s pretty much our guest every time she’s in town. We love her.)  And, short of me smacking her hand every time she tried to steal a piece of hot squash from the oven, she awarded this dish the Celeste Seal of Approval.

So, for this super flexible recipe, you’ll need:

  • 2-3 pound fresh butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • Canola oil
  • 5 tablespoons organic unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic 2% milk (you could use whole, too)
  • 2 cups, preferably homemade, organic chicken stock or broth (see my stock recipe here)
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • A splash’s worth of organic cream or half and half
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh grated nutmeg (optional)

Method:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cubed butternut squash with a tablespoon of canola oil, a nice pinch of sea salt, cracked black pepper to taste, and a smidge of fresh grated nutmeg if you so choose. (I didn’t have any in my pantry, so I didn’t include it this time.) Line an oven-safe vessel with parchment paper and lay out the squash in a single layer.

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Roast the squash for about 30 minutes until it starts browning. Caramelization is your friend.

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Next, get out a nice heavy pot; I prefer to use enameled cast iron. (Actually, I always prefer these.) It’s time to make a roux! This is just a fancy way of saying to melt the 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and vigorously whisk in the 2 tablespoons of flour until you get a smooth paste. (For my gluten-free friends, try white rice flour.) This is what will begin to thicken the sauce. Cook this roux for 3-4 minutes while whisking constantly.

Now add the cup of milk and 2 cups of chicken stock (For my vegetarian friends, use veggie stock). Keep whisking and bring this all to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. It should slightly thicken. Add more liquid (more stock or water would be fine) if it’s too pasty.

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Now it’s time to add the roasted butternut squash. You should have about 5-6 cups, give or take, of the roasted veggie. It doesn’t have to be exact. Be gentle! I don’t want you splashing hot liquid all over yourself and saying I told you to do it.

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Hopefully, you have an immersion blender handy because this’ll make your life really easy. If not, a large food processor or blender would work just fine. (Truth be told, I like to do as few dishes as possible.)

Turn the heat to low, and blend the contents of the pot until nice and smooth.

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This took me about 2 minutes. (Look, a rare glimpse of me cooking! You thought it was all a clever ruse, didn’t you?)

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Next add two small handfuls, about a cup’s worth, of fresh grated parmesan cheese and a healthy splash of half and half or cream. I usually have half and half on hand for coffee, so I used this. Like I said, this recipe is super flexible. Bring this back to a gentle simmer for 2-3 minutes, and give it a taste. I added cracked black pepper and a pinch of sea salt to mine.

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Serve this roasted butternut alfredo over your favorite pasta, but I do recommend a tube-shaped pasta like rigatoni, ziti, or penne. The sauce finds its way to the hollow center and, for sauce gluttons like myself, this is the only way to roll.

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Happy stretchy pants season, everyone! I’m so happy Fall is finally here.