Vegan Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Ah, mac and cheese. I could sing thy praises for a lifetime. You are the chunky knit sweater of foods. Your warm, chewy, cheesy goodness is like a warm hug for my insides, and you have always been there to provide sustenance after many a drunken night.

I shall never tire of you, but alas, your excessive caloric composition prevents me from enjoying you as often as I desire. 

Oh, what's that you say now? A vegan version? With an autumnally appropriate butternut squash sauce? And a crispy, golden panko-sage topping? 

Sign me up. 

Whatever it takes to keep me enjoying this classic comfort food whenever the mood strikes and with a guilt free conscience is fine by me.

Ok, weird ode to mac and cheese over. But seriously, this vegan recipe is currently floating around in my top three favorite mac and cheese preparations (trailing by a hair behind truffle/garlic/fontina mac and lobster mac), and once you try it I suspect it will sit high up on your list, too. A rich, silky sauce comprised of pureed butternut squash and a base of cashew béchamel- which is my new favorite thing to use in like, everything- is tossed with pasta, topped with an aromatic panko and crispy sage breadcrumb topping (swoon) and baked to perfection.

Side note- how cute are the pasta noodles I used?! Technically the shape is called Tirale, but in this house they will be affectionately referred to as Mohawk Macaroni:


serves 4-6

for the panko-sage crust:
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
1 clove garlic, smashed
8-10 sage leaves
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

for the macaroni:
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 lb. dried pasta
1/4 cup cashews
1 1/2 cups plain almond milk
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2-3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 clove garlic, grated
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash in a steamer basket set over boiling water and cover. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Pass through a mesh strainer to remove any remaining lumps.
2. Boil pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
3. To make the panko sage breadcrumbs, melt 1 tablespoon of Earth Balance in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add sage and smashed garlic, cooking until sage is crisp on both sides, about 1-2 minutes. Remove sage leaves and drain on paper towels. Add panko to skillet and stir to combine. Cook until breadcrumbs are golden and toasted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and crumble sage leaves back into pan. Reserve mixture for later use.
4. To make the cashew béchamel, blend cashews and 1/2 cup of almond milk in a food processor or high speed blender until smooth. Melt Earth Balance in a medium saucepan and add flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until flour is cooked through and mixture has turned golden brown, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining cup of almond milk and all remaining ingredients, stirring to combine, and cook until mixture has thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
5. Remove bechamel from heat and fold in butternut squash puree until completely incorporated. Add pasta to pot and combine with sauce. Spoon into greased individual ramekins or a 9x9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle generously with breadcrumb mixture and bake for about 20 minutes.


Roasted Apple Bourbon Praline Ice Cream

Who has two thumbs and is really excited about the onset of Fall (even though she spent all last weekend at the beach)? This gal!

Overused phrases aside, I've been wanting to make this ice cream for ages but had to wait until the temperature dipped below 80 degrees to justify turning on the oven. #CaliProbs

This week my prayers for cooler weather were answered and I was finally able to roast up a delightful spiced apple concoction to swirl into my boozy bourbon ice cream. Boozy ice creams are the best for a couple of reasons:

1. They have booze in them! 

2. Alcohol doesn't freeze, so adding a bit of booze ensures a luxurious, velvety smooth and easily scoop-able texture to your ice cream (I always add about a tablespoon or so of vodka to my sorbets for this same reason). Just be sparing, lest you wind up with a melty, un-freezable mess on your hands. Less is more.

A smattering of chopped candied pecans rounds out the recipe perfectly. I tend to enjoy my ice creams without a lot of bits and bobs; call me a purist but normally I'm of the belief that ice cream should not need to be chewed. Rather, it should melt languidly in your mouth, you know? But in this case the pecans add a lovely toasted note that I would miss otherwise, and the finished product is the stuff that Fall inspired ice cream dreams are made of.

A little part of me thinks that I should lock up this recipe in a vault, package it and sell it for $11 a pint and build an ice cream empire on the foundation of this Roasted Apple Bourbon Praline Ice Cream - it's that good. But honestly, it's too yummy not to share, so here you go, my friends. Have at it. I suppose my dreams of world domination via ice cream can wait...

makes about 1 quart
for the roasted apple:
1 large or 2 medium sized apples, peeled cored and finely diced
1 Tbsp. bourbon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice

for the ice cream:
2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 Tbsp. bourbon
1/4 cup candied pecans, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add diced apple, bourbon, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a medium sized bowl and mix to combine. Transfer to a small baking dish and roast for about 45 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring mixture once or twice throughout cooking process. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a small food processor and puree until smooth but slightly chunky in texture. Set aside.
2. Bring half and half, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and salt to a simmer in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
3. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk warm cream mixture into yolk mixture, then transfer mixture back into saucepan. Heat over medium low heat, stirring often, until custard thickens and temperature reaches about 170 degrees. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and stir in heavy cream and bourbon. Transfer into a bowl set over an ice bath or place in the refrigerator for a few hours to chill.
4. Freeze in an ice ream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. After about 10 minutes or when ice cream has partially frozen, gradually add roasted apple mixture and candied pecans, little by little, for a swirl effect. Transfer to a container and freeze until solid.


Minty Tropical Green Smoothie

 I like to think that I'm somewhat of an early bird- I can rise and shine with the best of them, and I loathe sleeping in late. If I sleep in past 8:00am I can't shake the feeling that I'm racing to catch up with the rest of the day.

But every now and then I do need a little help catching the proverbial worm...they can be slippery little suckers sometimes. On days when I'm feeling sluggish a cup of coffee might certainly do the trick, but I'm not always in the mood for the bold flavor or strong jolt of 'alertness' that coffee provides first thing in the morning, and I definitely don't want to find myself roped into a daily caffeine habit, so I try to limit my intake to just a couple of cups per week anyway.

So, when coffee isn't on the agenda but I still need a little pick me up, this green smoothie is just the thing! It's such a sweet, gentle and sunny way to start the day. And with its velvety smooth texture, vibrant tropical flavors and a zing of minty freshness, I promise you can't even taste the obscene amount of kale in this smoothie that makes it so good for you. Plus, the chia seeds add some protein and fiber to keep you going strong until lunchtime...those pesky worms won't stand a chance.

makes 1 smoothie
1/2 cup frozen banana slices
1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
1-1/2 cups packed loose kale leaves, stems removed
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. chia seeds 
1 cup coconut water

1. Soak chia seeds in 1/4 cup coconut water for about 5 minutes. Add chia seed mixture and all remaining ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulse until a smooth consistency is reached. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately.


Chilled Melon Soup with Thai Chile Oil

I hear this California Indian Summer has every intention of sticking around for a little while longer, and while I'm mighty grateful for a slight dip in the temperature over the last couple of days, the fact of the matter is that I'm still lugging the fan around from room to room at home, sticking my head in the freezer in the kitchen and maxing out the A/C in the car.

But surely there must be other ways to stay cool besides sticking your face in a blast of cold air? Ah, yes. With food of course! Duh. While there are any number of lovely foods you could eat to help you chill out, I for one can't think of a better way to beat the heat than with a refreshing, cold soup. Heaven forbid we turn on the oven when it's pushing 90 (or even 80) outside!

This chilled melon soup comes together with minimal effort- just whiz all the ingredients in a blender, stick it in the fridge to chill and that's that. Well, that could be that if that's all you want, but why not double down on the cooling effects of this dish by whipping up a hot, spicy chile oil to drizzle into your soup?

What's that? You didn't know that eating spicy food can actually help to cool you down? Let me break it down for you real simple like: Eating spicy foods raises your internal temperature which causes you to sweat, and as the moisture evaporates, you are effectively cooled down. So there you go. Plus, it's super tasty and makes your melon soup way more badass.

serves 4
for the soup:
1 cantaloupe or Tuscan melon, seeded and chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Thai basil leaves, for garnish
Thai chiles, thinly sliced, for garnish

for the chile oil:
1/2 oz. dried Thai chiles
1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup olive oil or peanut oil
pinch of salt

1. Place melon, cucumber, shallot, water and olive oil in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.
2. To make chile oil, place chiles and peppercorns in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.
3. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add chile and peppercorn mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt, remove from heat and allow to cool completely before using.
4. To serve, ladle chilled soup into bowls and garnish with chile oil, chile slices and Thai basil.


Lemon Pudding Parfaits

Ok, so I know it's September and a big part of me is getting so excited for Fall in all of it's comfy, cozy, pumpkin- flavored-everything glory, but it still feels like the dog days of summer around these parts.

SB is notorious for its long indian summers with clear and sunny 80 degree weather that can stretch on until practically November (with a handful of spectacular December/January beach days sprinkled in for good measure). In fact, sometimes it seems like summer hasn't even really begun until it's almost over! Crazy I know, but things just kind of show up whenever they feel like it in this sleepy little beach town. I'm ok with it.

So today I'm celebrating the end slash beginning of summer with this refreshing Lemon Pudding Parfait. Nothing says summer like a smooth, chilled, citrusy treat, but the gingersnap crumble gives a little hint that Fall is just around the corner...even if you won't be able to put on a sweater for another two months.

serves 6

for the lemon pudding:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

for the ginger streusel:
4-5 gingersnap cookies, crushed
2/3 cup flour
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. chilled butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup lemon curd
Fresh whipped cream

1.Whisk the sugar and the cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Gradually add milk and whisk until smooth.
2. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest and salt to saucepan. Stir over medium heat until pudding thickens, then remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter. Pass through a strainer into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Chill, loosely covered, for at least 2 hours or until set.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine gingersnap cookies, flour, ginger and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Pour contents into a mixing bowl and add chilled butter cubes. Gently work the mixture with your fingers to combine crumbs with butter until clumps form.
4. Spread the streusel mixture in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes or until crisp. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
5. To serve parfaits, divide lemon curd evenly among the bottom of six small mason jars or glasses. Layer lemon pudding and ginger streusel any way you'd like. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with more streusel.


Mango Meringue Tarts

OMG you guys. My heart is positively aflutter over these cute little mango tartlets. If they had cheeks, I would pinch them, that's how adorable they are. And it's not just because I'm a complete sucker for anything mini, although if I'm being completely honest that probably has a teeny tiny bit to do with it. 

They're so bright and sunny and pretty, just looking at them makes me do a little happy dance. And when I eat them I feel like a little girl sitting at tea party in my fancy dress with my fancy cup of tea and even fancier pastries. Pretty much the best feeling ever.

Ok, let me break this down for you so you can get to making them and feeling like a fancy little tea party guest in no time. A flaky, buttery pastry crust is baked into tartlet pans and filled with a homemade mango curd that is just the bee's knees. It's incredibly easy to make, but make sure to do it in advance (the day before even) so that it has plenty of time to set before you fill the tarts. You'll definitely want to keep the leftovers around in the fridge to smear on toast, spread on a crepe, swirl into yogurt and about a thousand other delightful things I can think of...

And let's not forget about those perfectly toasted tufts of meringue, the crowning glory of these magnificent treats. You'll probably wind up with a little leftover fluffy goodness- do not let it go to waste. Wanna know what I did? I added a little lemon zest and made mini lemon pavlovas and meringue cookies! And what do you know, they also pair brilliantly with that leftover mango curd, creating a whole new dessert after the original one is long gone. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

makes about 10 mini tarts
for the mango curd:
1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4-1/2 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the mango and how tart you want your curd to be
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

for the tart shells:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbs chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 Tbs cold water

for the meringue:
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. To make the mango curd, puree the mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in a food processor, scraping down the sides as needed, until a smooth consistency is reached. Add yolks and puree for another 10-15 seconds. Strain mixture through a mesh sieve into a metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of a spatula. Discard solids in sieve.
2.  Set metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F, about 10 minutes. Remove from over saucepan and gradually whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. To make the tart shells, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse once to mix. Add the butter and pulse until pea-size crumbs form, about 20-30 seconds. Add egg yolks and water and process for another 10-15 seconds or until large, moist crumbs form.
4.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a ball and divide in half. Flatten each half into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
5. Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 400ºF. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured surface. Using a 3.5-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 10 rounds. Transfer each round to a 3.5-inch tartlet pan and press the pastry with your fingertips to fit up the sides. Poke with the tines of a fork and bake until the tart shells are evenly golden and crisp, 15-18 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes, then remove the tart shells from the pan and cool to room temperature.
6. To make the meringue, place egg whites and sugar in a heatproof mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160ºF on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and whisk on high speed until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
7. To assemble tarts, spoon mango curd into cooled tart shells and pipe meringue around the edge of tarts using a small star tip fitted to a pastry bag. Torch meringue tops lightly with a culinary blowtorch, if desired.


Grilled Peach Bruschetta

Things are still humming along at full speed over here at Le Petit Chef headquarters, and since I'm buzzing around like a good little worker bee...or am I the queen bee of this operation? Yes, I think I quite like the sound of that.

Anyway, my point is that this blossoming little business of mine is still keeping me crazy busy, but I reaallly don't want my blog to suffer and withdraw into oblivion (kinda like it has been recently, dang). So naturally, when faced with such a dilemma I did what any good food blogger slash personal chef with overachieving tendencies would do: I lugged my camera along to one of the dinner parties I catered last week in order to share one of my most favorite summer appetizers with you. 

I don't know where on earth I got the crazy idea that I could somehow sneak in a fully styled photo shoot while preparing a six course dinner for twelve. #ChronicMultiTaskerProblems.

In reality all I had time to do was set the platter down, wipe my hands on my apron, snap a few quick shots and sprint back to the kitchen, so what you see is pretty much what you get today, folks. But what you get is sweet, juicy, smoky, summery goodness in the form of Grilled Peach Bruschetta!

I die. I mean, it is that perfect in all it's simple glory. Crunchy, charred ciabatta spread with a thin layer of rich, creamy burrata (so good with ricotta or goat cheese too, btw) and topped the most wonderfully ripe grilled peaches combined with flecks of tarragon, freshly cracked black pepper, flaky sea salt and a finishing drizzle of honey: it's everything that dreams are made of in one heavenly bite.

*Bonus: if you wind up with leftover grilled peach yumminess, use it up as a topping for your favorite grilled meat- thick, juicy pork chops would be my top choice, but chicken or fish would be just as delicious too!

serves 10-12
1 loaf ciabatta bread, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces burrata cheese, torn
3 medium ripe peaches, halved and cored
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Honey, for drizzling

1. Preheat and oil a cast iron or gas grill. Brush 2 tablespoons olive oil evenly over ciabatta slices and grill over medium heat until crisp and lightly charred on both sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Brush peach halves with vegetable oil or spray with non-stick spray. Grill, flesh side down, until lightly charred, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then chop and place in a medium sized bowl.
3. Chop tarragon and add to bowl along with salt, pepper and remaining tablespoon of olive oil and mix to combine.
4. Spread a layer of burrata over each slice of ciabatta and top with a dollop of grilled peach mixture. Season with additional salt and pepper and drizzle with honey.