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The Pear Vodka was chilling in the freezer for this pic!

As you know, Friday was the first day of Autumn!  Ok, so maybe you don’t know that and I’m just a weirdo.  I love autumn.  It is my favorite season.  What with the cooler temps, the colorful leaves, the chance to start to wear sweaters that aren’t covered up by a heavy coat!  Oh, and the food.  In honor of the beginning of my favorite time of year, I threw a dinner party on Saturday night!  Over the next couple of days I’m going to highlight a handful of the dishes that I prepared for my friends.

Along with the meal I prepared a fancy cocktail designed by yours truly.  It’s not super inspired or creative but it was very much enjoyed by all!  I mixed pear vodka with a pomegranate reduction (I made that myself with pomegranate juice and sugar), pear puree (chop up a peeled pear, toss in blender, blend), gingerale, and top off with a couple of pomegranate seeds!  Yum!  I wish I’d taken a pic of the drink, it was purty.

On the menu:

Appetizers:  Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jalapeños, Spinach Artichoke Dip, Hummus & Chips

Entrées: Turkey Florentine Meatballs (Rachael Ray) & Macaroni n’ Cheese with Mix-Ins

Sides: Green Beans Almondine & Roasted Mushrooms

Dessert: Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle, Carrot Cake Cupcakes w/Cream Cheese Icing & Sugar Cookies

So, I get a little carried away sometimes.

So, let’s start with the spinach artichoke dip.  It was pretty tastilicious.  The picture above was after the crust was mixed in with the rest, sorry!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup of frozen spinach
  • 1.5 Cups of frozen artichoke hearts (I used 1 frozen box)
  • 1/2 Cup Diced Red Bell Pepper
  • 6 oz Cream Cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/4 Cup Light Sour Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Reduced Fat Mayo
  • 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Heat oven to 350º.  Mix together all of the ingredients, aside from the Mozzarella, in a medium bowl.  Transfer the mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle the mozzarella over the top.  Pop this in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until all the cheese is melted.  Serve with chips, crackers, spoons (just something to get it in your mouth!).

I must say, the macaroni n’ cheese with mix-ins was the belle of the ball.  So, so delicious!  It’s gone now.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Pasta Noodles (noodles that are twirly or hollow are the best for picking up all the cheesy goodness)
  • 1 Cup Sharp Cheddar, Shredded
  • 1 Cup Gruyère, Shredded
  • 1 Cup Soft Cheese, Shredded (I chose this Norwegian cheese and I’ll have to check out the label, so update is imminent) (UPDATE: Bergenost Cheese)
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 Cups Skim Milk
  • 2/3 Cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tsps Dry Mustard Powder
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 Large Onion, Chopped

Add pasta noodles to boiling water and cook until al dente.  Please don’t let them get smushy!  I hate smushy noodles.  While the pasta is cooking, heat up some olive oil in a pan and saute the chopped onion until transparent.  Do not brown (that’s just ugly).

Once the pasta is done cooking, drain and set aside. (This is when I typically choose to preheat the oven to 400º)  Use the same pot to melt the butter.  Whisk the flour into the butter and cook on medium about one minute, being sure to not brown it.  This, my friends, is a roux!  Make sure you call it that when you make this for your friends/family, so they think you’re fancy.  Next step is to slowly pour in the cream and milk, whisking while you work.  Bring this to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mixture begins to thicken (this is a bechamel.  again, be fancy!).

Once it begins to thicken, dump in your cheese and stir until it has melted.  Mix in your mustard powder and sautéed onions.  Once this is well mixed, add the noodles and toss to coat.  Pour your cheesy noodles into a baking dish and top it off with your parmesan cheese.  Pop into that pre-heated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until all the cheese on top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.  Remove from oven and serve with tasty mix ins, like this:

Other mix ins were: sautéed and diced red peppers, crumbled up bacon, grilled beef andouille sausage and sautéed chopped spinach.

Needless to say, this weekend was not a healthy one.  But boy was it a delicious one!  Being healthy is for the work-week…right?!

More to come…..

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