Sunday, November 21, 2010

Choose Your Own (squash) Adventure!

In the past week, I made butternut mac and cheese TWICE. This is unprecedented, as I repeat meals less frequently than Victoria Beckham repeats outfits. I don't even eat leftovers. This fact alone should help convince you that both of these recipes were very, very good. [Food blogger fail: I have pictures of neither dish. Sorry.]

They are also extremely different. Both are easy and delicious. Only one has any nutritional value to speak of, and one is decidedly grown-up food. So, I'll let you choose.

M-N-C #1
Last weekend, my family joined forces with another awesome family and rented a cabin near Unicoi State Park in north Georgia. On the first full day of the trip, we took the kiddoes to Burt's Pumpkin Farm for hayrides and...well...pumpkins. There were about 30 different varies of squash and pumpkin, laid out in the sun and bunched together in wooden trays under a rustic lean-to, and every one of them called out to my root-vegetable-loving heart and demanded that I Cook Them That Very Night.

Enter the first squash success: butternut mac-n-cheese. Quick, kid-friendly, delicious, and surprisingly good for you. Since we're all friends here, I'll admit that, if I had read the recipe carefully and realized how healthful it was, I probably wouldn't have made it. Because anything calling itself mac-n-cheese that has so little cheese it in would just piss me off on principle. But hear me out, because it really was delicious. Just, maybe, don't think of it as mac-n-cheese--more like a butternut pasta casserole or something.

Saint's Butternut Mac-n-Cheese
--Cut 1 large butternut squash into 1 1/2" cubes.
--Boil squash in mixture of mostly water w/ some stock and a little 2% milk (enough liquid to just cover squash), 15-20 min.
--Puree or mash squash w/ liquid; add pinch dry mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
--Mix squash with 1/2 C part-skim ricotta and 4T grated Parmesan.
--Taste and adjust seasoning.
--Combine squash with 1 lb cooked penne pasta. Mix well.
--Coat lasagna pan w/ cooking spray; add pasta.
--Sprinkle with panko crumbs (mixed with 2T Parmesan and 1t of butter or oil).
--Bake at 375 for 10-15 min, or until brown.

M-N-C #2
In the middle of the week, I needed an emergency dinner idea. I was really hungry, and I actually had some time to prepare a decent meal (as opposed to the twenty minutes in which I normally have to cram prep, cooking, and eating). I had a butternut squash in my fridge (don't you? at all times? just in case?) and a large block of Cheddar, so I thought, what the hell?, and I went for my second m-n-c of the week.

Browsing around Tasteologie always gets my creative juices flowing, and it has pretty enough photos to convince Dorian to try almost anything, so I relied on those fine contributors for my recipe. This one is adapted from A Good Appetite. They have buckets of yummy recipes, so go check them out! At any rate, it was far easier than I'd anticipated, what with the whole roast-the-squash-then-make-a-cream-sauce thing. By the time the pasta was cooked, the squash was roasted and the sauce simmered patiently on the stove.

Sinner's Jalapeno Butternut Mac-n-Cheese
--Roast cubed butternut squash w/ olive oil, salt, and pepper until browned.
--Cook 1 lb penne pasta (I used whole wheat to great effect here).
--Melt a little butter in a saucepan, and saute 1/2 minced onion and 2 chopped jalapenos.
--Add 2 T flour and cook, stirring, for 1 min.
--Whisk in 1/2 C heavy cream and about 1 C milk; stir for 2 min. until thick.
--Stir in 10 oz grated sharp Cheddar and 1 T dry mustard.
--Season with salt and pepper.
--Combine pasta and squash in saucepan.
--Pour mixture into buttered/sprayed lasagna pan.
--Sprinkle with panko (tossed with Parmesan and olive oil); bake at 425 for 10 min.

If I had planned this meal instead of throwing it together at the last minute, I would have also made a fresh pico de gallo with tomatillos. Nothing makes cheese more delicious than tomatillos and onions and chiles. Seriously. Try it.

I also put some broccoli on the plate for this, as an alibi.

I will warn you, in advance, that the first m-n-c gets a little dry when you reheat it, so add a little stock or water or cream. The second m-n-c gets a little oily when you reheat it, as the cream and cheese begin to separate into their components. Still tastes awesome, though. And maybe it's a good thing--you can pour some of the grease out and then you don't ingest it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Victory for the Forces of Democratic Freedom!

Well, okay. There’s nothing intrinsically democratic about vegetarian cuisine. Egalitarian, maybe. Ethical, certainly. But democratic is a stretch. I was just going to go with “Victory!” but then the little David Foster Wallace in my head forced me to submit to his perverse will.
Back to the victory: two delicious meatless meals last week, both wild successes, neither eliciting any form of “this would be good with meat” commentary from Dorian. Unfortunately for you, gentle reader, we once again put this food in our bellies before the camera could climb out of its case. But no matter—curry isn’t the most attractive foodstuff in the world. Damn tasty though.
Before the curry, I made a zucchini taco filling from Rick Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time, which has been my kitchen bible for over a decade. Bayless’ tome is my Joy of Cooking, my Mastering the Art of French Cooking; it’s how I taught myself to cook. If I’d had the foresight, I could have blogged my way through it and scored a lucrative book deal. Except I had no particular desire to change my name. (To Ricki. For the blog. Ricki and Rick. Like Julie and Julia. Get it?)
And but so, I’ve made nearly everything in the Bayless book except these tacos, which I have oft eyed up but never had the courage to serve to my family. Zucchini? In a taco?? Blech. That’s what their faces said, anyway. But I finally did it, and I’ll have you know, it was freaking amazing. Dorian LOVED it, and begged me to make it for dinner again as soon as possible. Say it with me, people: VICTORY FOR THE FORCES OF DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM!
Zucchini Taco Filling
--Broil 2 poblanos 10 min or until black all over. Put them in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel for 10 min. Rub the blackened skins off and pull out the seeds and stem. Slice into ¼” strips.
--Saute 1 chopped onion in a little veggie oil until browned, 8 min.
--Add 2 cloves minced garlic; sauté 1 min.
--Add 1 small can crushed tomatoes (or 4 small tomatoes, pureed); reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 5 min.
--Turn up heat to medium-high; add 3 zucchini, diced into ½” pieces, 1 C corn kernels, and poblano strips; add 3 T chopped cilantro, 2/3 C whipping cream, and 1 t salt. Sauté 8 min.
--Serve on warm corn tortillas with crumbled feta or queso fresco.

The second win of the week was this sweet, spicy, rich-but-healthy veggie curry from a deviation on a recipe found Cook’s Illustrated. I don’t want to impinge on their copyright (they guard those recipes very closely!), so I can’t give exact measurements here. But if you are a moderately adept cook, you’ll find great success in just throwing stuff in a Dutch oven and letting it simmer. Note that you can also change the veggies to suit your tastes.
Curry with Eggplant, Sweet Potato, and Green Beans
--Saute 2 chopped onions in a couple T veggie oil. Use a Dutch oven or large sauté pan.
--Add a large sweet potato, cut into ½” dice; sauté until potato and onion are browned.
--Add aromatics: a dollop of minced garlic, a couple dollops of curry powder, a sliced jalapeno, a dollop of garam masala, and some grated fresh ginger. Don’t fret; you really can’t screw this part up as far as amounts/ratios go. Saute 1 min, until fragrant.
--Add other veggies. I used a diced eggplant, a couple of handfuls of fresh green beans (cut into 1” lengths), and a can of chickpeas. Cauliflower would also be good. Stir around until veggies are coated with the spices.
--Throw in a small can of diced tomatoes (make sure you avoid the basil-flavored ones; I almost had a disgusting kitchen misstep because of these insidious bastards), a dollop of tomato paste, and about ½ C water, and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 min, or until the veggies are tender.
--Swirl in just a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream or coconut milk.
This was delicious by itself, but its yummy factor was amped up tremendously by the addition of some mango chutney and a Greek yogurt-cilantro-mint—grated cucumber-garlic mixture. And a generous squeeze of fresh lime.
This curry reheats exceptionally well, and so is ideal for a weekend meal with weekday leftovers. AND it takes about a tenth of the time that most curries require. AND it’s meatless (vegan, even, I think, if you use the coconut milk). AND it has no butter, unlike much Indian food. The only potential drawback is that my son couldn’t eat it; it was just too spicy for a kindergartner. Next time I might leave out the jalapeno, and grate it into the raita instead.