Have you ever taken a vacation with your significant other, your parents and your younger sibling? Add in 11 days of travel, a cruise ship and 6 places you’ve never visited, and you’ll just begin to break the surface of our 2016.
Yes, we attempted what many would deem (or hope?) impossible. A vacation with my hubby and his new in-laws. You’d think we’d have had enough of each other given that we are running a farming operation in their backyard, but no, apparently we needed more intense, all-inclusive time together.
Barely settled from the hectic holiday family fun (and certainly a few pounds heavier), I packed up my bikini and cutest (most flowing) summer clothes on January 9th. We arranged for a friend to house sit, shipped off the pups and arrived in bitter cold Chicago without our winter coats in search of much warmer temperatures.
And warmer temperatures we found! Beginning in Puerto Rico and extending to the other five islands we visited, the day time temps never dipped below 80. I won’t show you my tan lines. You might break into tears. Let me just say, I have found the answer to the January blues and it has a whole lot to do with sunshine, sandy beaches and drinks with little umbrellas in them.
What my parents had in mind was a trip equal parts adventure, fun and relaxation. We began with two days in Puerto Rico, visiting the El Yunque National Forest and other phenomenally beautiful places. We dined well (see examples 1 & 2), drank excessively and stayed at the most stunning resort I have ever seen (thanks Priceline!).
A cruise ship swept us away from our Puerto Rican adventure and we were in for seven days aboard a vessel three times larger than the Titanic. Quite the daring proposition for a Carrot who has never been on a ship*. The cruise ship took us to five lovely islands each with it’s own distinct style, culture and beauty. We explored the sights, tried every local beer we could get our hands on and even did a little snorkeling (with sea turles!). I’m obviously sitting at home contemplating the reality of moving to any five of these serene islands.
*thank goodness he only got (very mildly) sea sick one evening
The trip culminated back in Puerto Rico with another two days to explore Old San Juan. The expansive historic forts, colorful Spanish architecture and rooftop restaurant atop our hotel all vied for the top place in my heart.
Now back in wintery Wisconsin, I’m craving all the comforts of home. This baked mac & cheese laced with salty bacon, spicy sweet parsnips and the most peppery cheddar you can imagine certainly hits the spot. Plus, it’s got a vegetable in it. Mac & cheese with veggies definitely equates healthy eating. Let the post-vacation “detox” begin!
CRACKED PEPPER PARSNIP MAC & CHEESE
3 pieces bacon, thick-cut
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk, warm
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (preferably with cracked black pepper ala Renard’s)
1/2 pound pasta of your choice (I used farfalle, also known as bow-tie)
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place bacon on one end of the baking sheet, put in the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees (no preheating necessary!). Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Combine parsnips, oil, honey, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper in a small bowl and toss until parsnips are well-coated. After bacon has baked for 10 minutes, remove baking sheet from oven. Tilt pan so bacon grease coats empty side. Pour parsnips onto bacon grease in an even layer. If oven is preheated, place baking sheet back in oven. If not, wait until it is fully preheated. Bake for 10-15 minutes until bacon is browned and crispy. Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain excess grease. Dice bacon and set aside. Continue roasting parsnips another 5-10 minutes until well softened and lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, begin the mac & cheese sauce. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add flour, whisk until smooth and then cook, stirring often, for 5-8 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking as you go. Whisk until smooth and then simmer until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.
While the roux cooks (that’s the name for the mixture of butter and flour made above), bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add pasta and cook for suggested. amount of time until al dente. Drain the pasta and pour into the bechamel sauce. Add the shredded cheese, diced bacon and roasted parsnips. Stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then back for 20 minutes, uncovered, until browned on top.