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Put Pumpkin in Your Béchamel (Our Latest Contest Winner Taught Us How)

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A big congratulations to Mary Catherine Tee whose Kale and Italian Sausage Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel was voted the winner of our Your Best Savory (Winter) Squash Recipe contest (and is inspiring us to think out of the pasta box when it comes to lasagna)! Here's a little more about her:

Kale and Italian Sausage Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel
Kale and Italian Sausage Lasagna with Pumpkin Béchamel

What's your favorite food?

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Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) at any dim sum restaurant. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than a pillowy steamed dumpling filled with a small pool of near-boiling, fatty broth and a morsel of meat, drenched in black vinegar.

What's one recipe you can't wait to cook this fall? Why?

Steamed oysters. More specifically, a saltine cracker topped with a steamed oyster and a smattering of Crystal hot sauce. Nothing says fall like a clear, cold night with friends gathered round a pile of oysters, shucking, laughing, and drinking beer. More than the recipe (such that it is), it’s the experience I look forward to the most.

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Photo by Mary Catherine Tee

Describe your most spectacular kitchen triumph.

Does a ‘grill’ triumph count? I recently visited my home down south and learned the basics of smoking pork from my pit-master father. I’m from Eastern North Carolina, the mecca of whole-hog barbecue and the birthplace of Ed Mitchell, so the stakes for smoking pork are high. After a day of imbibing and taking mental notes (never a good combo) while tending a smoker, I brought everything I learned back to Maine.

Long story short, just last week, I perfectly smoked my first pork shoulder on my Weber Kettle Grill. It would have made Ed Mitchell proud.

What is your ideal fall food?

Macaroni and cheese. Stovetop or baked, creamy or with crunchy corners—I’m not picky. I like it all.

Music or no music while cooking?

Music.

What cookbooks do you take the most inspiration from? Why?

An oldie: I have evolved with The Joy of Cooking. At 6 years old, I stood on a step stool and assisted my grandma in making chocolate chip cookies from its pages and at 26 years old, it was my go-to when Iearning the basics. There’s no doubt it will be on my cookbook shelf and cracked open time and time again for decades to come.

A newbie: I just got Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots in the mail, and every page of that cookbook strikes a personal chord with me. The essays and the recipes conjure up feelings of nostalgia, homesickness, and pride for my Eastern North Carolina roots and like Vivian, it’s taken time and separation to respect and understand its allure. I’m sentimental to a fault, so I think cookbooks should evoke a feeling or two, nostalgia and pride being some of the best, so this one has it all covered.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

What's your go-to dish for entertaining?

Anything that doesn’t require a lot of attention or cleanup. This summer, we had a house full of guests nearly every weekend, so we did a lot a New England lobster bakes—lobsters, clams, sausages, corn, potatoes, and eggs all steamed in white wine and dumped in the middle of a newspaper-covered table with buckets in between guests to discard shells. They’re always impressive spreads and the food largely does the work. That’s my kind of entertaining.

Favorite fall dessert: Go!

Paul Prudhomme’s Sweet Potato Pecan Pie with Chantilly Cream. It’s the product of a perfect marriage between pecan pie and sweet potato pie, which are #2 and #3 on this shortlist of favorite fall desserts.