Maple Roasted Squash

Sorry to be away so long, I’ve been missing this blog lately, but migraines, MRI’s, and doctor’s visits have kept me away (not to mention all the applesauce making and pork shoulder braising…) but today, on one of my first migraine-free days, I couldn’t resist it anymore, I had to post.  There’s a lot of stuff I want to tell you guys.

Squash

I recently found out about a fantastic food blog through the equally fantastic language blog, Language Hat.  This food blog, The Language of Food, is similar to Harold McGee’s Curious Cook in that it let’s me think about food and get my nerd on at the same time.  These types of blogs hold a special place in my Google Reader, and are read religiously because, while I adore great photography, and baking babies, studies in food really whet my appetite. (Hardy har har. Can you tell I’ve been totally out of it?)

Ready to be roasted.

Dan’s most recent post sparked my interest, and hunger, a few weeks ago.  The topic is dessert; he ate subjected himself to a bacon doughnut, and the experience spurred Dan’s thinking about the mixing of savory and sweet in desserts, and main courses, and about desserts in general.  I’d love to recount some of the insightful, educated things Dan says, but I think I mentioned the two weeks of migraines I just had, and well, brain don’t work so good.  So you’ll have to go there (go on, click) and read for yourself. (Please do, too, it’s a great read.)

Squash, peeled

The post got me thinking, in a much less articulate way, about my own food tastes.  I only recently started mixing sweet with savory.  As a kid, I didn’t understand applesauce with pork.  As a self-satisfied twenty year old, I thought that I had exceptionally nuanced tastebuds, and that was why I was so skimpy with the chutney I added to my cheese (my woefully unstinky cheese).  But recently, as adulthood continues to humble me, I realize I was all wrong.  It started with a dish of thyme roasted apples and onions (I promise to post it soon) that I could not get enough of.  I was giddy, ecstatic, repeating over and over to Jim how happy I was with this dish that I’d cooked (yes, I did say humble in the last sentence, so what?) I couldn’t believe how well the sweet apples played against the onions and thyme.  I made the dish over and over again.  And then I realized that I needed more of this sweet/savory combination.

Salt, pepper, maple, olive oil

Maple roasted squash was next.  I’d always thought squash was itself sweet enough, no maple syrup, or brown sugar, or marshmellows were needed.  But given my new-found love of sweet thyme roasted apples, maple roasted squash would be a test.  If I liked it, that would be it: I would forever be a girl who embraces sweet things with her savory courses. (I have big dreams, I know.)  The squash turned out lovely, subtly sweet; the maple syrup lending a warming quality, offset by the bits of charred edges and the round, clean flavor of olive oil, and,  totally autumnal.

Suffice it to say, I’m that girl.  A little sweeter than I used to be, and better off for it.

Maple Roasted Squash

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

This is hardly a recipe: I don’t want to give quantitative amounts because who am I to tell you what size squash to get?  Uniformity is not a squash’s strong suit, so don’t get too caught up with finding the perfectly sized one for your recipes.  Just go for an approximate size, and use your better judgement with the rest of the ingredients.  This particular recipe is forgiving; just start slow with the maple syrup, and remember that you can always add a touch more olive oil, or salt, to mellow out the flavor.

2 small acorn squash, peeled, cut in half, deseeded, and sliced
a glug or two of maple syrup
a more generous glugging (or two) of olive oil
a big pinch of salt
a big pinch, or grinding, of black pepper
chives, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Have a baking sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or a silpat, ready.  In a large bowl, add the squash, maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well with your hands.  Tip the contents of the bowl out onto the baking sheet, letting all the excess oil pour out, too.  Put the pan in the oven and bake to your desired donneness (I like mine a bit charred), anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Serve garnished with some snipped chives, if you like.

P.S. Have you heard that Barry Estabrook has started a blog?  He did. Cue ethical-meat-eater’s rejoice.

P.S.S. (Or is it P.P.S.?)  I have a Muntz fix for all you cat lovers, posted on my friend’s blog. You’re welcome. Update: More Muntz, this time it’s a video! (with sound)

Carrots with honey and balsamic.

Living in the Northeast, we experience pretty dramatic season changes: one day, the world will be green and warm; the next, bone-chilling with a rainbow of reds, oranges, and yellows.  The change into fall can make a person think—about the new sweaters she  must acquire, and the changeover from tomatoes to apples in her salads, and the looming task of having to wake up early so she can streak down to her car in the snow and start warming it up a half-hour before she leaves the house and why, oh, why did she not get around to installing that remote control car starter this summer, when she didn’t need to buy sweaters, because she is so not spending money on a remote control car starter now that she’s started dreaming of all the sweaters she needs.

yellow carrots

It also makes her think about carrots.  Along with all of the carrot’s rooted friends, carrots sustain many a Northeasterner through the cold, cruel winter, which is way, way too long, or or at least seems so in October when it’s 40 degrees and they’re already talking about snow.   Carrots, with their bright colors and sweet flavor, don’t seem to understand how cold it is going to get, or how high propane heat costs right now.  Carrots are in their own world, full of sunshine and cute carrot limbs.

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I usually roast carrots alongside a few garlic cloves, with a liberal glug of olive oil, a good amount of pepper, and maybe some thyme.  But this time I went down another path, toward a honey balsamic glaze that, caramelized and a little tart, amplifies all that sunny sweet carrot goodness.

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The glaze isn’t as sweet as some honeyed glazes for carrots can be; the balsamic does a good job providing a foil and, luckily, the cheap balsamics will do this better, so don’t go wasting all your precious Balsamico Tradizionale on this recipe.  Instead of the usual thyme, I used micro opal basil, a specialty herb from one of my favorite people, but regular basil or—even better—tarragon would work here, and parsley would do the trick in a pinch.  Stuck inside because of the freezing rain this weekend, I’ll at least be thinking about herbs and carrots.

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Honey-balsamic Glazed Carrots

2-3 pounds carrots, peeled and quartered lenghthwise
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
herbs, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Add carrots to a roasting pan and coat with a bit of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven, stirring the carrots every so often, for about 45 minutes, give or take depending on how large your carrots are, or until they are tender and have browned and caramelized.  (This can be done a few hours ahead of time.)

Heat honey and balsamic in a small sauce pan until combined.  Whisk in the butter and season with a touch of salt and pepper.  Taste to see if it is too tart, or too sweet, and add more butter if you need to mellow out the flavor.

Toss carrots in the glaze and if the carrots have gone cold, reheat in the oven for a few minutes, watching that you don’t burn everything, before serving. Garnish with herbs.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup.

I have to warn you, I may start waxing sentimental over fall during the next few weeks. I love this time of year — early fall — when I can still get tomatoes and corn but pears, squash, and figs are also in market.  The stress of the holidays hasn’t kicked in, an evening walk is comfortable in a long sleeve shirt, and the windows can be left open all night to enjoy the chilly breeze.  It’s the specific time of year when seeing a pumpkin on someone’s steps isn’t just another pumpkin and when thoughts of ghouls and wicked witches are delightfully wholesome.

The leaves start to turn—but aren’t taking over the yard—and the idea of spending the weekend snuggling on the couch with my fiance seems just right.  And then there’s soup.  Soup shines in fall; I’m not conflicted about it, like I can be with summer soups.  Roasted tomato and garlic soup, in particular, is  suited to early fall, when roasted garlic is wholly, utterly, in my thoughts again.  Sticky, sweet, and slyly pungent, roasted garlic will turn you on your head, and combining it with its true love, the roasted tomato, is even better.

You’ll have to act quickly to make this soup.  At least in the Northeast, tomato season is coming to a close, which is a sad, sad thing.  So sad, you know, that I think it’d be okay to make this soup with tomatoes that are a little less-than, if you don’t catch any before they are gone.  Or, as I know I will this winter, try making this with canned whole San Marazanos by just taking them out of the can and washing off the excess sauce before continuing with the recipe (you can leave the tomatoes whole, here.)

If you like tomato soup, you’ll love this one; it tastes like tomato soup should taste, not too salty like the processed varieties, nor too sweet.  The garlic adds background depth and a touch of caramel sweetness, but isn’t going to prohibit anyone from kissing strangers later in the day.  And, at least for me, this soup epitomizes the beginning of fall even more than meatloaf.  I may be a little biased, though, since this soup is also a part of my livelihood.  I’ve started a little project, the Stockton Soup Lady.  I’m selling soups about town and this is one of my favorites.  Homemade Soups, Hand Delivered is my slogan, and I’m a wee bit proud of thinking it up.  It’s a teeny-tiny project now, and I rather like it that way: I can spend lots of time going from farm to farm, choosing my ingredients, and I don’t have to bribe friends for freezer space to store all the chicken stock I’m making.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

adapted from Gourmet

4 lb tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/3 cup heavy cream

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.

Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan and add garlic to pan. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes and garlic 1 hour, then cool in pan on a rack. Peel garlic.

Cook onion, oregano, and sugar in butter in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and stock and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then force through a sieve into cleaned pot, discarding solids. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 2 minutes.  Serves 6-8.

Old-fashioned meatloaf.

I still have a peck’s worth of peaches on my counter.  The temperature shot up today and we’ve got the air conditioner rumbling on low.  I sun-tanned this morning.  And ate an ice-cream for lunch.

But despite all that, I’m officially in fall mode.  There’s no going back after you’ve had a few mid-September rains and some cool weather, and the thought of butternut squash soup and apple pies and long, slow braises all enter your head.  I may even be swimming in the bay next weekend if this hot weather keeps up, but I’ll be doing so in fall mode; smores will be required afterward.

To enter fall-mode properly, I made meatloaf.  Not a fancy one, like this French loaf I’ve been eyeing, or one with un-meatloafy ingredients, chiles or what-have-you.  No, I made an old-fashioned meatloaf, with good ol’ Heinz ketchup, store-bought breadcrumbs, and locally smoked bacon.  Because you see, when I say old-fashioned, I mean it.  There was a butcher shop involved.  And ground beef made from the cattle that graze out back.  The vegetables were from the local farmer markets, the eggs from our friends Carla and Harry; only the ketchup and breadcrumbs were, well, nationally produced (is that what we call things that aren’t local?).

Obviously not everyone can buy all local ingredients to make a meatloaf, but getting good meat (preferably from a butcher) will certainly make your meatloaf taste better.  A few things to look for:  you want meat that is not ground to bits but looks like thick, loopy strings of meat.  You want to see bits of white fat throughout.  If possible, try to buy it from a butcher (you can try to find a local butcher here) so you see the meat in the butcher’s case instead of having to buy it pre-wrapped.  The color should either be purple or bright red.  If it’s bright red outside but gray inside, that means that it’s not as fresh as can be, but okay in a pinch.  If it looks gray and dull all over, don’t buy it—it’s about to spoil. If you can’t find good ground meat, buy chuck and ask the butcher to grind it up for you, or bring it home to do yourself.

When it comes to topping, I’m a line-of-ketchup-down-the-middle type of gal, but we had some perfectly smoked bacon and I guarantee that if you do too, it’s impossible not to use it.  I didn’t miss the ketchup at all and I think the bacon kept everything extra juicy.  And we had bacon on the side, a serious plus.

On the side went fingerling potatoes, turnips, and carrots, braised in chicken stock, browned butter, and a pinch of cinnamon.  And boy, oh boy, it declared fall.  Root vegetables will do that.  Cinnamon, too.

If you’d like to celebrate the beginning of fall with this meatloaf, I really hope you’ll make the veggies alongside.  The carrots speak to the subtle tomato sweetness in the meatloaf.  The turnips are both sweet and starchy.  And potatoes and meatloaf are eternal partners; one cannot exist without the other.  And I’m beginning to believe that fall cannot exist without meatloaf.


Old-fashioned Meatloaf

adapted from Gourmet

2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup plus additional as an accompaniment if desired
2 pounds ground chuck
scant 1 cup store-bought bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

4-6 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large heavy skillet cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes. Cook vegetables, covered, stirring occasionally, until carrot it tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 cup of ketchup and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl combine well vegetables, meats, bread crumbs, eggs, and parsley. In a shallow baking pan form mixture into 1 10-by 5-inch oval loaf and lay bacon slices over the top.

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.

Printable Recipe

Braised Carrots, Turnips, and Potatoes with Cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds potatoes, washed and halved
chicken stock
salt, pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound baby turnips, peeled and halved
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins

In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and begins to brown.  Add potatoes and saute for one minute.  Add chicken stock to reach halfway up the potatoes.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil and cover.  Cook for 5 minutes, then add the turnips and carrots.

Cook, covered, for another 15-20 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until the liquid boils down and the vegetables caramelize and brown, stirring gently throughout, so that most pieces brown without breaking apart.  Serve with a sprinkling of chives.

Printable Recipe