Thursday, October 7, 2010

Autumn in LA... Nat "King" Cole, The Kinks, Sergio Mendes & more!

I almost died of heat stroke last Monday. No joke – Walking 5 minutes outdoors during lunch precipitated a bunch of “are you okays” from my co-workers upon retuning to the office.

Fast forward a week from the hottest day in LA history... It’s rainy, low 60s, overcast, girls are wearing boots... Autumn in LA has arrived.

To commemorate the coming of ye ol' harvest, let's cook, listen to great tunes, and then go watch "It's a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown." Who's with me?!?!

Autumn means wonderful things are in season – Apples, pears, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash... Autumn also brings wonderfully inspired songs - a bit slow and pensive, yet hopeful and comforting.

Unlike Summer which makes a lot of us want to be outdoors , Autumn makes a lot of us want to spend a cozy day at home filling the house up with fragrant smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, and hot apple cider while listening to comforting and warm tunes.

As such, I bring you my ultimate comfort food Autumn dish - Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese paired with my picks for the best of Autumn listening. I made this on a perfect Autumn day while listening to my Autumn playlist. It was soothing to stir up butternut squash and creamy cheese, listen to the rain beat on the windows, and hear Nat "King" Cole's voice fill my kitchen. 

On to the Music.  I scoured the net and my iTunes to come up with my ultimate 2 hour Autumn playlist, but paired it down to six for you my friends (but if you are interested in more, let me know).

Here it is!

Autumn Leaves - A 1940s classic. For me, Autumn is a reflective season that conjures up memories of past loves and romantic Fall outings - hay rides, apple picking, baking pies, pumpkin patch visits. I wonder who Nat King Cole was thinking of...

California Dreamin' - Quintessential CA Autumn song (and my former Fall ringback!). I already love LA, and this song gives me another reason to keep that love alive, despite the traffic on the 405 because of all of the idiots who can't drive in the rain (oh wait, I may be one of them). Thank you Mamas and the Papas for this gem (no matter what you did/do in your personal lives).

Autumn Almanac - I freaking love The Kinks! What a happy song! Let's gather on a Friday and have buttered currant buns and then roast beef on Sunday... La la la la la la la la. Yay British rock!

Autumn - I will admit that I have never been a huge Paolo Nutini fan, but this song is converting me... The simplicity of Paolo's big voice solely accompanied by piano is lovely.  I am getting there with you Paolo...

Cinnamon and Clove - This playlist needs a little spice!  Enter Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66.  "A cup of sweetness, a pinch of sadness, a touch of Cinnamon and Clove" is the makings of many a Fall recipe.  A sassy, saucy, spicy, yet certainly Autumnesque tune - makes me want to make apple pie... This song should be on "Dancing with the Stars" if it hasn't yet.

Leave the Light On - My favorite comforting song by a female recording artist.  I want my dad to tuck me in to bed right now.  This song inspired this posting and this recipe because Mac & Cheese is warm and soothing and Priscilla Ahn's voice is just the same.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

On to the Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese.  If you aren’t familiar with butternut squash, it’s a an orange phallic looking vegetable.  The first time I bought one, I had no idea how to peel and cut it. I ended up hacking off the skin with big knife – it wasn't exactly elegant, but it did the job. Here is a good instructional how-to video on peeling and cutting up butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese (serves 6-8 so half or quarter this recipe for 2-3).

Here is what you need

- 1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound) , peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups). If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of cutting and peeling a butternut squash yourself, you can buy it already peeled, cut, and cubed at the grocery store. You can also use frozen butternut squash – they come in 12 oz sq. packages.
- 1 cup low-sodium canned chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry or ground mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 14 oz to 16 oz elbow macaroni – I like wheat macaroni because its nuttier and healthier.
- About 1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- cup grated Monterrey Jack cheese
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (for the topping)
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- Any other cheese you feel like adding – I threw in some Gouda (why not!)
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I like wheat Panko breadcrumbs)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (note no butter is used in this recipe so its less bad for you than traditional mac and cheese)
- Cooking spray

Here is what you do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch square or round baking dish with cooking spray. Combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Mash contents of saucepan; stir in all cheeses (except for the Parmesan which is for the topping), nutmeg, cayenne, ground mustard, and salt, and season with black pepper. Stir to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni; cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to your baking dish.  Then pour the cheesey squah mixture on top and stir it into to fully coat the macaroni.

In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.

Bake about 20 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble on the sides, and then broil for about 3 minutes to crisp up the topping.

And for dessert - 20 Ingredient Apple Pie.  I heard this on Splendid Table on NPR and thought it sounded awesome... I may give it a test run on Thanksgiving.

Hope you all enjoy this special season friends.  Hugs and Kisses.


  1. Ok - so I freaking love the Kinks too. And it has been so long that anyone has reminded me how much... fetching Ipod now for a Kinks marathon. Thank you Z for reminding me of their delights... ;)

    Believe it or not, autumn has arrived here in South Florida too. Its - in the 70s! I busted out the tights, Pashminas and boots. Yay! This weekend I tried to buy a butternut squash because I LOVE them and they just made it to my local store. Made the mistake of taking the husband along for the trip. After I explained what a butternut squash was, he insisted he didnt like them. But, I KNOW he will eat this delicious mac and cheese you have here. After he eats 3 servings and tells me how delicious it is - I may tell him what the main ingredient is :) Much love from Palm Beach!

  2. That mac & cheese looks delicious! Wow! I want some right now. I like the new widget with upcoming concerts, very cool :)

  3. Your cool Z! Loved the Pumpkin patch reference too! You should have food parties so some can watch, some particpate? and all eat! :) In the meanwhile, Ella how you feelin about us rockin and creatin some of these foodies into our belly?!

  4. Alicia - Yay pashminas! I love them for the cool weather and only have about ten. Let me know how the husband food experiment goes...

    Ella - Thanks for noticing the concert calendar! Hope to expand it...

    Reed - A Rockin' Foodie party is a great idea!!! Will have to work on that one :)

  5. Lola vs. Powerman or Muswell Hillbillies are quintessential Kinks albums to get. 'Strangers' off of Lola is a beautiful song. Your mac n cheese is beautiful too.

  6. I've been looking for a good mac'n'cheese recipe for a while, especially one that involves breadcrumbs! Z- do you think the 'nonmeltable' kraft cheese will work? :) hehe. Wasn't so bad in fatfree tortilla, folded in half, and heated in the microwave for 15 seconds. The quesadilla never saw it coming.

  7. Ms. Sonz - I've made a 15 second microwave fat free tortilla quesadilla with light cheese blend a million times and love it. You know i love cheese so i always go for the real stuff, BUT there are no rules in the kitchen so I say try the kraft experiment and let me know how it works. xoxo