April 27, 2012
Fresh Tomato and Squash Curry

I should call this refrigerator curry.  Essentially the curry version of the refrigerator soups I make so often, this curry was born of produce that screamed “use it or lose it” from the crisper.

First I diced and sautéed half an onion over medium heat in a splash of olive oil.  I seasoned the onion with salt, cumin, and some phenomenal homemade garam masala that was a gift from Marlene.  I allowed the onions and spices to cook together for a good 5-10 minutes, until the onions were thoroughly browned and fragrant.  I then added two large diced tomatoes.  Ordinarily one might use canned tomatoes, but why use canned when you have fresh?  The onion and tomato mixture cooked for another 5 minutes or so, allowing the favors to meld and the sauce to thicken.

I then added one large chopped zucchini and the bulb part of a butternut squash (leftover from the squash fries), cubed.  I added a healthy splash (1/4 cup or so) of vegetable stock and simmered, covered, for 20-25 minutes, until the squash was tender and cooked through.

I topped the curry with a dollop of Greek yogurt and some fresh cilantro.  It was out of this world delicious.  Aromatic, wholesome, and robust without being heavy, this squash curry was perfect for the wet and chilly spring weather we’ve had lately.

April 24, 2012
Baked Butternut Squash Fries

We make baked fries all the time.  Slice up some potatoes, toss them in olive oil and sea salt (and occasionally a handful of herbs), and bake them until they’re browned and crispy.  They’re beyond delicious.

These fries are exactly that but with the sliced rounds from the neck of a butternut squash rather than potatoes.  The squash imparts a slightly sweet flavor that is both subtle and satisfying.

I made them simply: thinly sliced, tossed with light olive oil and plump kosher salt flakes, and baked at 425F for 30 minutes.  Soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, subtly sweet balanced with an addictive saltiness.  Tantalizing and then some.  They were devoured in five minutes flat.

February 2, 2012
Sweet Potato Squash Soup

Not knowing it was going to be 70 (!!) degrees on February 1st I made more soup.  Because, you know.  Late January, early February — the calendar calls for soup.  Not that I’m complaining about 70 degrees.  Unseasonable weather, make yourself right at home.

The soup came together simply.  I tossed the acorn squash (halved and seeded) in the oven the previous evening to cut back on prep time.  I wasn’t sure what I’d be making, soup or pasta or other, so the squash went on its own.  Had I been set on soup I would’ve roasted the sweet potatoes too.  400F for 45 minutes until softened and slightly browned.

At go-time, I sautéed a whole onion and two carrots (diced) in a tablespoon of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.  I salted to sweat the onions and sautéed until translucent before adding a diced sweet potato and a large clove of garlic (minced).  I covered everything with 2-3 cups of vegetable stock and 1 cup of water.  I also added a parmesan rind for depth of flavor.

The soup simmered for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes were soft but not falling apart.  I then scooped the roasted squash into the mix, removed the parmesan rind, and blended until smooth.  Served with a drizzle of green olive oil and a dusting of freshly grated parmesan.

This soup is rich and creamy, even without any cream.  The cheese rind imparted a wonderful flavor that you smell with each bite.  It’s a sweet soup too, even without apples or sweetener.  I shared it with my new coworkers and received rave reviews from all.  It’s an easy, enjoyable meal.  Be sure to have a hunk of crusty bread at the ready.

November 30, 2011
Butternut Squash Stuffed with Creamy Quinoa

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving there seemed to be an awful lot of quinoa-stuffed squash recipes floating around the internets.  So naturally, said stuffed squash was at the top of my list of meals to make for the fam.

I thought it was decent: better than okay but not knock your socks off.  My family, however, scarfed it like they’d been fasting all day.  I need to cook for those guys more often.  Talk about feeling like a gourmet.

The dish takes a little while to come together, but mostly because the squash needs to be roasted for a decent amount of time.  I halved and seeded an acorn squash, and then did the same for a butternut (although the butternut was so big I quartered it).  I lightly coated each piece with olive oil and a healthy sprinkle of salt and roasted them at 450F.  The acorn squash was done in about 25-30 minutes, while the butternut needed closer to an hour.  Neither is a big deal, but I could’ve gotten a head start on the roasting if I had planned correctly.

Toward the end of the roasting, melt three tablespoons of butter in a large wok or sauté pan.  You can totally do a light olive oil here, but I figured I’m home and we’re kicking off the holidays, why not go for animal fat — everyone loves them some butter.  Dice half a large onion and sauté in the butter (with a generous pinch or two of salt so it sweats) until translucent.  Now is where we get to the Smith tangent.

Last week, Publix was doing a buy one get one free special on celery, among dozens of other must-haves for holiday cooking.  So naturally, when Pun and I were doing our Thanksgiving shopping, we nabbed two bunches of celery.  Apparently Pops also saw the buy one get one promotion and, celery being his daily go-to snack of choice, snagged two as well.  Which means we had four full-sized bunches of celery crammed in the fridge.  You see where this is going.

I chopped three large stalks of celery and added them to the well-buttered onions.  Meanwhile, I spooned the roasted acorn squash from its shell and diced it.  (I use the term “dice” loosely because roasted squash is quite soft and doesn’t hold its shape well.  Which is well and good; the end result is creamy and it doesn’t matter how it starts.)  I then added the diced/mashed acorn squash to the softened veggies and stirred until well incorporated.

In another pot, I had two cups of garlicky quinoa cooking.  When it comes to cooking grains, I shun all instructions on packages.  Have you ever followed the instructions and had perfectly executed end product?  I think not.  That shit is watery, bland, and all-around abominable.

Here’s the simplest, most delicious, fail-safe way to make grains: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil (or other light oil; I find grape seed or sesame seed to be fab too) over low heat.  Add whatever flavor you’re feeling: diced garlic is always a winner; diced shallot or ginger gives nice flavor too.  Allow garlic (or other) to cook briefly (one to two minutes), before dumping a cup of your selected grains in.  With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the grains so all become coated with the fragrant oil.  This process should take mere seconds.  It’s important to move quickly, because you don’t want your grains to burn.  Cover your grains with two cups of water, cover, and turn the heat to high.  Once boiling, turn the heat to low and set the timer for 20 minutes.  DO NOT LIFT THE LID FOR ANY REASON once covered.  All of the trapped steam is working miracles for you.  When the timer goes off, remove from heat, uncover, fluff, and voilà.  Best damn rice/quinoa/other of your life.

(Note: since couscous is a pasta and not a grain, its cooking time is 10 minutes.  That couscous is a grain is a common misconception.  It’s not nearly as good for you as you’d like to believe.)(Note deux: remember to keep your grains to water ratio at 1:2 and the timer is 20 minutes after the boiling point and you’re golden.)

The above grains how-to is so easy I was able to teach Freshy with the same verbal instructions over drinks.  For some reason or another, for a few years in New York her go-to drunk meal was making (and burning) rice.  Why she endeavored to make a pot of rice while hammered is beyond me.  I am happy to report that this recipe changed her life and she’s now a competent rice maker, sober or otherwise.

That’s what, tangent number three?  Anyway.  Back to the quinoa.

Once my quinoa was cooked I dumped about 3/4 of it in the buttery vegetable mixture (in hindsight I could have used all of it, but I was worried there weren’t enough veggies to go around and didn’t want the quinoa to overpower the dish — a needless worry).  Stirred everything together and turned off the heat.

The butternut squash quarters came out of the oven and were lightly dusted with the tiniest pinch of cayenne (not everyone likes spicy but squash definitely needs some pop) and freshly grated nutmeg.  They also got a small squirt of honey in their piping hot centers out of habit.  Heaping spoonfuls of the creamy veggie quinoa mix were then piled on top of each squash quarter and then topped with freshly grated parmesan and a couple pieces of fried sage.  Country rustic goodness, meet Miami Florida.

To me, the buttery quinoa and salty parmesan and fragrant fried sage made the dish.  I kicked myself the whole time because I didn’t think to buy a chicken ahead of time.  Should I make this again, I’d also serve a roasted chicken alongside for the carnivores.  The stuffed squash was seasonal and toothsome on its own, but to take this meal from good to bangin’ I recommend serving some sort of savory accompaniment.  Roasted chicken seems to me the perfect (and easy) candidate.  Fried sage *and* crispy chicken skin?  I can hear the choruses singing your praises after your next dinner party already.

October 27, 2011
Botched Pasta Al Forno

I attempted to make BGSK’s Butternut Squash Pasta Al Forno on Tuesday for the book club I recently joined.  (A local group of adorable mid-twenties girls, more on them later.)

I had a gorgeous squash on hand from our farmers’ market that I specifically picked out with this recipe in mind.  I ran out to our corner bodega for cheese, but they only had mozzarella.  I was hoping for ricotta or gouda to help round out the flavors, but no such luck.  Strike one.  Strike two was I misread the recipe; my ratio of squash to pasta was about half what it should have been.  Also, I used milk in place of cream and didn’t have any sage.

I tried to compensate for these shortcomings by adding a couple tablespoons of butter to boost the creaminess, beating an egg into the milk to act as a binding agent, and adding a healthy shake of cinnamon to the mix to enhance the autumn flavor.

It was a big hit at the book club, although I was slightly disappointed with it.  It wasn’t as rich or cheesy as I’d wanted, but in fairness I was envisioning more of a mac ‘n cheese than a creamy pasta dish.  Moreover, I’m sure a little ricotta or gouda (or both) would add the flavor and texture pop I was jonesin’ for.  I’d also increase the squash ratio and make sure to have sage (perhaps fried sage?) — I’m sure both would make a delicious world of difference.

Overall, a decent dish as I made it.  Next time, the flavor punch version BGSK intended.

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