Easy Pumpkin Dinner & Dessert!

Friday, October 26, 2012

It’s finally FALL! I absolutely love the chill in the air, the rustle of leaves, tall boots and warm sweaters. It’s also great to get to snuggle up at home and enjoy some fantastic fall flavors. Although, in the spirit of things I do have a secret to share.

I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin. Gasp! Pumpkin pie? Nope. A certain pumpkin spice latte from a very popular coffee shop? Not for me. I even grew up near the town where 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin is produced. They have a pumpkin festival complete with many of your pumpkin favorites, like pumpkin pancakes. Yep, you guessed it – I always hated it.

So when Steve and I came across a recipe for pumpkin macaroni and cheese, I agreed to give it a try because I knew how much Steve would love it. And… it’s amazing! Sweet and savory. Warm and comforting. This is the perfect fall comfort food. And to top it off, it’s super simple to make and tastes just as good as leftover as it does fresh out of the oven. Great for busy parents who, like us, cook on Sunday so that we’ll have easy dinners for the week.

Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese 

(Note: my adjustments are in bold)

8 ounces of uncooked noodles (I used whole wheat rotini)
1 cup of canned pumpkin
1 cup of light cream (I mixed heavy cream and skim milk)
4 tablespoons of Neufchatel cream cheese
1 cup shredded part-skim sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (divided) (I used cinnamon and nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I didn’t have any handy so I omitted)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup of panko (Japanese bread crumbs) (I used whole wheat bread crumbs)
1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray

Cook pasta until al dente, about eight minutes in boiling water. Rinse and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish. Meanwhile, heat cream and pumpkin in a sauce pan on medium heat, until thickened. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in cheese until completely melted. The sauce will be quite thick.

Add in 1/2 pumpkin pie spice, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper. Add pasta and stir it into the pumpkin-cheese sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture into the greased dish. Sprinkle panko, parmesan cheese and rest of the pumpkin pie spice to completely cover the top of the macaroni. Add in more cayenne if you want a spicy crust.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until bread crumbs have browned.

Now, because pasta typically comes in 13 ounce boxes and you will have leftover pumpkin and cream cheese,  you can modify the recipe to make a larger quantity of mac and cheese. Or you can take the extra pumpkin and cream cheese and make pumpkin bars! Are you with me?

Swirled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars 


6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature (if you made the mac and cheese, you’ll have a little less than 8 oz which is fine)


In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until smooth. Beat in 2 eggs, pumpkin, and 1/3 cup water until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. In another bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg; stir or beat into butter mixture until well blended. Spread batter evenly in a buttered and floured 10- by 15-inch baking pan.

In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, remaining egg, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. Drop cream cheese mixture in 24 evenly spaced 1-tablespoon portions over batter. Pull a knife tip through filling to swirl slightly into batter.

Bake in a 350° oven until center of pumpkin batter (not cream cheese mixture) springs back when touched, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pan, then cut into 24 bars.

Note: You can chill them airtight for up to 3 days.

Both of these recipes have made a pumpkin believer out of me! Enjoy!

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