Saturday, September 29, 2007

Butternut Squash and Pivotal Life Events

Since this is the first time in six years that I'm going back to school in the fall, you'd think I'd be all aglow with nostalgia over little autumnal details that don't get noticed when September is just another month on the calendar. In point of fact, life has been so non-stop these past few weeks that I've barely had time to do much more than scarf down a powerbar while counting my bags to make sure everybody made it off of the bus together--much less notice the geese squawking to each other on their way south or kiddos off to school with new lunchboxes. Actually, now that I think back on it I was ALWAYS too busy to notice these things while I was ensconced in the studious life. It wasn't until I graduated and started working in the Real World that I suddenly found myself looking up and thinking, "Seasons! Oh WOW! Totally forgot about those."

The one thing I HAVE been doing a lot of is laundry. Cooking is a messy business, my friends. Those pearly white uniforms don't leave much to the imagination. I come home looking like I personally took it upon myself to clean the face and hands of every toddler in Boston using only my apron and coat sleeves, and smelling like...well, like an industrial kitchen. Or perhaps several industrial kitchens.

Luckily, what I'm doing is a lot more fun than forcing cleanliness on errant preschoolers. Many of you have expressed disbelief that classes can actually last a whole eight hours and have asked me what we do, fer goodness sake, with all that time? The answer? I really don't know. I get to class with the afternoon sun slanting through the big plate-glass windows and glinting crazily off of every stainless-steel surface (that is to say, all the surfaces) and then I look up and it's almost 11:30. Somewhere in there, I've sat through a lecture, prepped and cooked some sort of food-based concoction, sampled said concoction and those of my classmates, and helped clean the kitchen. Then I stumble home smelling of several industrial kitchens and try to remember to take off at least my apron before burrowing beneath the covers.

And this is so wonderful to me. I had a lot of fears before I started, but I'm feeling more and more that this really is exactly where I'm supposed to be right now. In many ways, this feels more like remembering than learning. "Of COURSE that's how you hold a knife." "Riiiiight, beat the sugar stuff until I get ribboning--got it." (Ok, I admit, I'm still a bit shaky on the on the whole emulsification thing. "Emulsa-whatty?")

I also really struggle with not knowing where I'm going. Very scary. You know me--I like my lists and my 5-year plan and my ducks-in-a-row. As much as being in the kitchen feels like home, it's hard for me to really just stay present and recognize that this, right here, is good for me. And it's good for me all by itself, without needing to make it into something more. "Something more" about Pivotal Life Event On Which My Entire Future Hinges. Yeah, like that. No pressure.Heh heh heh...

Eeeeenyways, I've been meaning to share with you this fantastic dinner I made for my good friend B. a while back. It was only when we sat down to eat that I realized that all the major ingredients going into the dinner had been bought at the farmer's market, harvested from friend's gardens, or snipped from my very own porch garden. It was a really good feeling. Like toes wiggling in warm socks good. And it helped that this dinner happened to fall on one of the first truly crisp autumnal nights of the year. We lit some candles, opened a bottle of wine, and dug in.
Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash--peeled, de-seeded, and cut into cu
8 small potatoes--cut into cubes
1 onion-diced
corn kernels from 4 cobs
3-4 cloves garlic
fresh sage, oregano, and rosemary--chopped fine
2 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 c. soy/rice/regular milk
1/4 c. white wine

Toss squash and potatoes in a bit of olive oil and roast at 450-degrees for about 45 minutes.

Sautee the onions and garlic until onions are soft. Add white wine and simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add the herbs 3/4 of the roasted squash and potatoes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, and simm
er for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, puree the solids with just enough broth to make the soup pour-able. (Or if you are in possession of a submersion blender, use that!)

Combine the puree, remaining roasted squash and potatoes, and corn in the pot. Add milk. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is awesome served with a few chunks of goat cheese and a few splashes of tobasco sauce.

I heart my food processor

Beet and Apple Salad

4-5 beets--peeled and sliced
2 apples--sliced and tossed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice (to prevent browning)
1/2 c. walnuts
Parmesan Reggiano
A few handfuls of field greens
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 Tbsp good olive oil

Sautee the beets in a bit of olive oil until tender--about 20 minutes, if I remember correctly. (Alternatively, before peeling or slicing the beets, you can roast them in a 450-degree oven wrapped in foil or boil them in water.)

While this is happening, measure out the vinegar and mustard in a cup and whisk until combined. Add the olive oil and whisk until combined. (Hey, guess what, guys?! This is an EMULSION! A temporary one, though, so you may have to re-whisk before serving.)

Put a handful of field greens in a purty dish, layer on the beets, apples, and walnuts. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of the dressing and shave Parmesan over the top with a vegetable peeler.

Rosemary Flatbread

One recipe of thin-crust pizza dough--recipe HERE.
Several sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped coarsely
Kosher salt or sea salt
Good olive oil

When preparing the dough, do not separate into two balls of dough. Spread the dough onto a piece of parchment paper into a roughly rectangular shape about 1/2 inch thick. Cover and let rise for at least fifteen minutes and up to an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 500-degrees.

When ready to bake, brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle on the rosemary and salt. Use the flat of your hand to gently press the salt and rosemary into the dough--GENTLY! You don't want to deflate the dough too much.

Bake on a sheetpan (or baking stone) until the top is golden and dark brown in places--10-15 minutes. The dough will puff a bit and you might get a few big bubbles. Serve warm or room temperature. This will keep for a few days in a tightly sealed container, and you can re-crisp in a 250-degree oven.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fall? Really?

Ouch, where did September go? Has it really been three weeks since that last post? What a busy month it's been: culinary school starting, house-sitting, wedding-going, Ben Harper show attending, autumnal adjusting, America's Next Top Model watching....precious little sleeping, though, I can tell you that. Ah, sleep.

Well, things are in the air, my friends. I've got many stories and recipes and pictures to share with you. This weekend? Maybe? Pretty please, oh elusive Gods of Free Time?

In the meantime, here's a little preview of what I've been up to these past few weeks:

Citrus Tart
I gotsta practice my pate brisee a little more (super shmancy name for pie crust, don'chya know).

Potato Rosemary Tots
Yes, there was a classier name for this recipe, but they came out looking like...well...classy tots. So there you have it. I felt they deserved a little carnival cone presentation, given their humble appearance.

Crepe Quiche Cups
The filling is a spinach mushroom quiche (with lots of cheese, of course)

And a classic potato-leek soup (a.k.a vichyssoises when served cold), kicked up a notch with some pesto.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wednesday Roundup

Current Reality Reading:
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

because I've had it on my shelf for, oh, four years without reading it, and now I have been given a big poke in the keister by THIS interview with Paul Elie about his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which looks into the lives of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. Because I'm slightly insane, I feel obligated to read at least one work by each person before reading Elie's book. To add another layer of intrigue--at one point or another, I have tried to read at least one book by each person and have failed each time.

Current Escape Reading:

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Book #3 of the Song of the Lioness Quartet) by Tamora Pierce

Currently eating:

Spinach Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Followed by too many:

Crunchie Bars that the Engineer's aunt and uncle brought me from Scotland. Soooo delicious and addictive. P.S. Here's a link to how you can make your VERY OWN Crunchie bars! (Click HERE). I dipped mine in chocolate, and will eventually post pictures, I plomise.

Currently wanting to make:

Fruit and vegetable preserves (a.k.a. Stuffing my squirrel cheeks for winter)--link HERE.

Also thinking about:

Starting a food-only satellite blog to My 3 Loves. Any suggestions for clever creative names that haven't already been taken by some of these clever creative people? A dinner (or goodie care package) courtesy of yours truly if I pick your name for my blog title!

Almost done knitting:


Then I'll be on to knitting:

Christmas Presents. For real. I mean it this year. No, I really do!

And that might actually be possible because:

Patriots Season (I mean Football Season) starts on Sunday!

Except I'm probably going to be just a leeetle bit distracted by THIS....