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Cooking with Caitlin: Pumpkin Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

Hi everyone!
Have you ever wanted to see into the future? Even just a little bit? Sometimes I think so obsessively over what my life is going to be like next week, year, decade, or  even later into my life. I am just so curious about what God has in store for me—or what I have in store for myself, that I am way too excited to wait and find out! It is like that feeling when someone tells you they have a surprise for you, but you have to wait awhile to get it. I always prefer to not known about the surprise in ahead of time.

My curiosity about the future can relate to really heavy stuff like the career goals I will achieve or how I want to raise my children, as well as lighter topics like if I will ever travel outside the country in my lifetime (I’ve hardly ever left Pittsburgh) or how I will decorate my future home (I love thinking about the kitchen!). Those things are all in my distant future. This week I can’t stop thinking about the near future.

At the beginning of the semester, I was short on cash and knew I had a lot of large financial commitments in the spring. So I half-heartedly started applying for a second job. Craigslist had a posting for bartenders and servers at a bar that I frequent once a week for Zumba lessons (talk about a killer combination: bar plus an awesome workout). When I didn’t hear from them within two weeks of turning in my application, I assumed I didn’t get the job. And I was relieved! I didn’t realize how busy I was going to be this semester with commitments to my sorority, dance organizations, classes, and my current job and writing this blog! But almost three weeks after turning in the application, and three weeks deep into my crazy hectic schedule, I got an email confirming that I had been hired after all!

Now I can’t decide if I am excited or scared. I am scared to take on too many commitments and not be able to give my all to each. But on the other hand, I love working hard and I am excited to be able to take part in this new experience. It will be refreshing to meet and work with a new crowd and to break out of the CMU atmosphere a few times a week. And since I can’t see into the future and foretell whether this second job will break me or liberate me, I will just have to give it a try at new hires orientation next Thursday and see where it takes me! One thing I am sure of though is that I won’t be having much time on weeknights anymore to cook dishes like Pumpkin Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Apple and Onion Topping like I did last Wednesday!

Mmm… you just can’t beat that bubbly cheesy crust up on top. And as always, it is (reasonably) healthy for you! No need to feel guilty about this macaroni dish. More carbs and cheese please  :)
Pumpkin Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Apple and Onion Topping
Inspired by Rachael Ray’s Pumpkin Cheddar Mac and Cheese

1 16 ox box of short cut whole wheat pasta – rotini, rigatoni, or small shells are my favorites
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 medium or 1 large Granny smith apples, thinly sliced
3 slightly rounded tablespoons wheat flour
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups skim milk
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 14-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin purée or 2 cups puréed fresh roasted pumpkin or butternut squash
2 cups (2 large handfuls) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus an extra handful
Preheat the broiler.

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring about 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water generously, and add pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain in a colander and DO NOT RINSE.

Meanwhile, in a medium or large saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Simultaneously, heat olive oil in a medium or large sauté pan over medium heat. Right when the butter is melted in the saucepan, add the sliced onion to the sauté pan. Let onions sit and soften while you prepare the roux.

To make the roux, add the flour to the melted butter. Whisk continuously until the roux is golden brown in color. Then add the chicken stock, honey or maple syrup, and Dijon mustard to the roux and continue to whisk until the roux has dissolved. Turn the heat to medium and whisk in the skim milk. Let the béchamel come to a low boil.

Meanwhile, tend to the sauté pan. Add the sliced apples to the golden, softened onions and cook until apples are softened and onions are caramelized.

Continue to boil the béchamel until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. At this point season it to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk in the pumpkin and cheddar cheese.
Add the drained pasta to a greased 9×13 casserole pan. Pour pumpkin cheese sauce over top and incorporate into the pasta. Top with the apple and onion mixture and sprinkle more cheddar cheese over top. Broil for about 4 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

And lastly, devour!

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