Sweet potato and kale macaroni and cheese

Being at home alone means something different to everyone.

To me, it means absolute post-work freedom. Last night, that freedom took a variety of forms: going vegetarian for dinner, eating chickpeas and strawberries (not together) while making said meal, obsessing over episodes of my new favourite show (Girls on HBO), fantasizing about homemade Popsicle flavours, buying pasta that is shaped like tiny radiators, drinking my favourite craft beer brought back from Ottawa, and dancing to music in the kitchen while picking away parts of the roast chicken I bought at the grocery store.

Radiators, kitchen dancing, Girls (season one: finished), map-hanging, chicken eating

Yes sir, it was a good night.

There’s nothing like a dose of might-as-well-be-Monday macaroni and cheese to chase the post-long weekend blues away. I won’t whine, but I will say that I am always a little bit sad when I return from a few days in my old home, Ottawa. This weekend was absolutely brilliant, and filled with patio word games, human-chain crowd weaving and rental bike cruising. More on that later.

My Tuesday doubts were doused by this delectable dish.

The sweetness of the potato contrasted perfectly with the sharpness of cheddar. Both were balanced by the crunch of the breadcrumbs and the tender, chewy kale. The orange hue and crumby exterior made me feel like I was eating sweet potato tempura and, let’s face it, any healthy dinner that can be compared (visually or in taste) to a sinfully marvellous deep fried appetizer deserves to be applauded.

Also: let’s talk kale for a minute.

To me, kale was an unknown variable, the “x” in the equation that has yet to be solved. Tonight, I finally manned up and solved that problem and was most happy to discover that the answer was: x = awesome. I used a bag of frozen veggies packaged up by this Canadian company called Cookin’ Greens.

Their website says things like “the new fast food” and “from farm to freezer in six hours or less” … both of which seem pretty stellar to me as we continue to live in a society that doesn’t put enough value in local food or healthy eating. God knows we could all use some more dark and leafy greens in our life. The kale was the perfect supplement to this meal and I can’t wait to use my “designer mix” (spinach, collards, rapini, yellow beans and onion) later in the week.

Oh yes, and one more perk to being home alone? So many leftovers!!! Initiate lunchtime excitement.

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Spaghetti with spinach walnut pesto

I first discovered my love of pesto the summer after second year when I lived with Natalie (yes, this is a blog plug – she just started a new site, visit!).

Natalie is allergic to tomatoes (didn’t click her blog? Do it now because you feel bad that she can’t eat ketchup! KETCHUP, guys!), meaning that she eats a hell of a lot of this basil-pine nut-olive oil deliciousness. And, in proper roommate brainwashing form, she made me obsessed with it. I make pita pizzas with pesto and cheddar cheese on a regular basis.

But enough with my love of normal pesto. I thought I would mix up the Hilary-pesto relationship a bit. We’ve been together a long time. Now we’re experimenting.

SPINACH + WALNUTS (+ a decent sprinkling of kosher salt at the end)

Lets discuss how much I adore the font Futura. I'm feeling very Wes Anderson-esque

I was flip-flopping with dinner plans yesterday. I knew I wanted spaghetti, and also knew that I was too cheap and resembled too much of a bedroom hobo to venture to the grocery store to get any sort of appropriate pasta toppings. Then, as often happens when one is forced into a situation where it seems like there is no way out, something brilliant happened.

I discovered that spinach pesto was a thing. I always have spinach. Mostly because I never make salads ever. It’s a problem. I also happen to have an inordinate amount of nuts lying around. The recipe  just presented itself.

One Magic Bullet party later and voila! A new and healthy dinner creation. I packed the pesto-coated spaghetti into my medium-sized food ring and made a cute little carb cube. This was really good, inexpensive, and used up half my walnuts and spinach. Guess what I’m making again tomorrow?

PS: anything with lemon zest or lemon flavouring will always, always taste like birthday cake batter to me. I blame you, Dorie Greenspan. You and your perfect party cake recipe.

Operation Clear Cupboard: walnuts, one bottle of olive oil

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Cheddar and broccoli macaroni and cheese

Lately, I’ve been experiencing an irrevocable craving for Kraft Dinner. Those who know me well, will know that I’m always craving cheese and pasta. Always. This didn’t help my cause.

An attempt to create the anti-KD

Nor did it help when one of my roommates had a bowl of uncovered, day-old Kraft Dinner sitting at the front of the fridge. If there is anything I love more than the cheesy, freshly made KD, it is slightly crusty, old pasta. Seriously. Judge me now and never read this blog again. Regardless of how much my culinary horizons have expanded through this blog, I will always enjoy cowering in the corner of my dining room picking away at clumpy noodles.

That’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks. As much as I love good food, I also love the guilty pleasure bad stuff. Like Kraft Dinner. Likely poorly grilled chicken nuggets. Like pizza that is just greasy enough that the weight of the oil forms deep trenches across the melted cheese.

I will eat soup noodles in my bedroom until the day I die.

To try and change my habits, I wanted to take one of my guilty pleasure foods – KD in this case – and make something healthy (yet just as satisfying) out of it. Hence this cheddar and broccoli macaroni and cheese, inspired originally by some random recipe I found on my Epicurious iPhone app. My dinner quickly became an improvised mac and cheese recipe, and I was melting butter, grating cheese and preparing cute little broccoli florets (okay, this is a lie, I bought the frozen, pre-cut ones…).

And tada – there you have it. An easy substitute to KD, featuring a vegetable that I gave the nastiest stink eye to as a kid. Turns out that when covered in melted cheese, broccoli can actually be something quite wonderful.

Mr. Elephant approved.

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Spaghetti Carbonara: The first of many Europe trip-inspired meals

Subtitle: A tragic tale of love and loss featuring borrowed Dutch bicycles

Food-wise, Europe was every bit as inspiring as I hoped it would be. In our four weeks of backpacking, Gord and I travelled across seven countries and have done our best to try the local cuisine of each. Basically we ate lots of pizza, pasta, cheese, eggplant, bread, macarons, bacon-wrapped hotdogs, pancakes AND MORE. Whew.

Over the next few weeks, Gord and I will be recreating our favourite dishes from our trip. We plan on having country-themed dinner parties in which we feed guests food from that one specific nation. Think massive, five-course meals.

To get a headstart on our food recreations, Gord and I made an Italian cuisine-inspired meal: spaghetti carbonara. In Amsterdam we had access to a kitchen at the airbnb apartment we were staying at, and we took full advantage of the fact that we could finally cook a full dinner.

Also, spaghetti carbonara happens to be just about the cheapest and easiest dish you can make. It requires about five basic ingredients. One of them is bacon. Have I convinced you to make this yet?

Of course, like any good plotline, no meal is complete unless presented with a dilemma. Ours came in the form of groceries lost whilst riding a bicycle. Seriously. Such a Dutch problem.

Here’s the story:

Having gone grocery shopping for dinner supplies in downtown Amsterdam, Gord and I smartly decided to use the elastic laces on the back of my borrowed bike to strap down our precious cargo. Off we go, biking away, me trying very hard not to get T-boned (almost happened twice) by the no-patience-for-tourists Dutch cyclists.

Sometime between the grocery store and a third of the way back, our bag of groceries decided to dislodge itself from its unstable home. Moments of hilarious realization occured and we backtracked our route in hope of recovering our estranged cargo. No such luck.

The story ended on a happy note, though, and we found a grocery store on the way home, repurchased our ingredients and peddled back, this time with the bag dangling from Gord’s handlebars.

Moral of the story? When trying to blend in with fashionable Dutch cyclists, ensure things are securely tied to your bicycle, or risk looking ridiculous as items unknowingly tumble from said vehicle. Lesson learned.

In the end, the resulting dinner was worth every once of the trouble. Our first home-cooked meal in a month. Delicious.

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Creamy macaroni with sun-dried tomatoes and Kettleman’s cream cheese

At this point you’ve probably guessed that this pasta was kind of creamy, huh?

With the combination of melted provolone and Parmesan cheese, whipping cream and cream cheese, I had no other choice but to include the adjective twice in the title of this post.

Oh, and speaking of cream cheese, this wasn’t just any old Philadelphia stuff.  Nope, this cream cheese was of the light vegetable spread variety, and came to my kitchen from the infamous Kettleman’s Bagel Company located not too far from my house.  Since I never buy bagels (I love them, but I would eat half a dozen in an hour*), I needed to find another way to use up the rest of the cream cheese.  Matt had very kindly bought it for me one morning when he went to get us bagels, back when I was sick a few weeks ago (yes, I do happen to crave bagels when I’m sick, deal with it).  What a dear he is.  I’m not 100% sure what vegetables are in said spread, but I’m thinking there were possibly peppers and carrots, as well as some unidentifiable green item.  Mystery ingredients, ftw.

Anyways, I basically built the rest of the pasta dish around everything else that I had in the fridge, including half a red pepper, two types of onion, provolone cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and a garlic-infused olive oil (the latter was not in the fridge).  Toss ’em all together and you have a sinfully delicious, heart-stoppingly creamy (possibly from all the fat) pasta dish.  So delicious.

This is what happens when I half-hazardly decide to create my own recipe. Yes, this is a piece of Rogers junkmail (this is why you didn't get this, Ariel) from our old house.

PS (!!!!!!!!!): I GOT A NEW CAMERA!!!!!  It is a Canon Rebel T3i and I already love it to death! Depth of field! In my food photography! EXCITEMENT!!!!!

*Almost a true story. I once bought Montreal-style bagels in Westboro and walked down the street in the middle of winter stuffing pieces of delicious warm bread into my mouth.  I went through three bagels in 20 minutes.  I am not proud of this (translation: this was the most proud moment of my life).

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