Archive for the ‘Pumpkins and Squash’ Category

Butternut Fritters

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

I haven’t forgotten about this blog—but my house is a little disjointed, inside and out. Cooking has not been high on my list of things to do.

First of all … I am a construction zone! Parts of my house that have been falling apart for years are now being fixed. In general, I’m happy to see the work being done. Of course, I wish the process were less expensive. And I wish the nice construction guys would arrive just a tad later in the morning. I’m thrilled that the house is going to be solid again, however.

My Driveway

My nice friend Michael has also been painting inside the house. I envisioned a soft buttery yellow for the living room so I bought many, MANY paint-sample cans and had friends help me paint swatches on the living-room wall. For a while the room looked like a patchwork quilt. We finally decided on a very light yellow. Even after all of my consultations and deliberations, I’m not 100 percent sure that the color is not TOO light and TOO yellowy. (I’d show you a picture, but the color doesn’t show up well on my camera.)

It’s clean and fresh, however, so I’ll live with it quite happily. Now if I could just remember where everything went on the walls and in the room before we moved it all in order to paint!

Michael also painted the kitchen a brighter yellow, which I adore. While he was painting, however, cooking not only slowed down. It stopped.

Finally, the indoor space has been disrupted by two adorable little boy foster kittens who are staying with us for a while. Luckily, my own Ruby and Truffle adore them. Having three young cats in the house makes things awfully lively, however, particularly in the middle of the night. The good news: the mice coming in for the winter are being hunted down relentlessly. The bad news: my feather boas apparently look like big mice.

Ruby is very proprietary about her friend Jojo.

Despite all the chaos I did decide to create a new recipe a couple of days ago. Before my farm share ended last week, the farm supplied us with a couple of months’ worth of squash. I love squash, particularly butternut squash. I’m happy eating it mashed or made into soup or roasted in the oven.

With all the rain, however, I was longing for something novel and (I admit it) slightly fattening. So I decided to try fritterizing some squash.

I’m partial to savory rather than sweet fritters so these are just a little spicy. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure whether they’re fritters or pancakes; they have a certain latke-like consistency. Whatever they are, they’re extremely satisfying now that the weather is getting just a bit cooler. I imagine one could make them with other types of fall squash.

Here’s the recipe. I’ll be back with another when things calm down a bit on the home front!

Butternut Whatevers

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (a little less if you don’t like spice)
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
chopped chives, parsley, and/or cilantro as desired
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup (generous) grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups grated butternut squash (peel the squash first and scoop out the seeds and goop; 2 cups will be about half of a small squash)
peanut, canola, or even olive oil as needed for frying

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, salt, spices, herbs, and garlic. Stir in the flour, followed by the cheese. Mix with a spoon until blended; then stir in the grated squash. Your batter will be mostly squash.

Pour oil into a frying pan until it just about covers the bottom of the pan when you swirl it around to distribute it. Heat the oil until it is about 350 degrees. (It will shimmer!)

Pop spoonsful of batter into the hot oil.

Cook the batter quickly, turning as needed, until it is golden brown. Do not crowd the fritters in the pan! They will be idiosyncratic but lovely. Add a little more oil if you really must for frying.

When individual fritters are ready drain them on paper towels and store them in the warm oven until all the fritters have been cooked.

Serves 4 to 6 generously.

Butterscotch and Truffle

Once More onto the Crust

Monday, November 15th, 2010

 
Neighbors returned recently from a dinner at the Charlemont Inn with tales of being fed squash pizza.
 
As a fan of both squash and pizza, I was intrigued. It was only a matter of time before I fed a version of this dish to my family.
 
My success was mixed although generally positive.
 
As I note in the recipe below, I think the squash needed more spices to offset its sweetness. And it DEFINITELY needed the thinnest crust possible.
 
On the other hand, the color was pretty gorgeous, and we definitely ate the slightly sweet/slightly spicy combination. So I have decided to post the recipe. 

If any of you try it (and/or adapt it), please let me know what you think! I’ll probably make it again next fall and post an update.

 
First Try Butternut Squash Pizza
 
Ingredients:
 
extra-virgin olive oil as needed for sautéing and roasting
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely diced
1-1/4 pounds butternut squash (cut into chunks)
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seed (I will increase this next time!)
1 teaspoon chili powder (ditto)
3/4 cup water
more water or cream to thin the squash as needed (I used a couple of tablespoons of cream, but I think water would do as well)
1 pizza crust
grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese as needed (I used about 1-1/2 cups)
1/2 bell pepper, cored and cut into thin strips (I used a yellow pepper because I had it, but green or red would make a prettier contrast with the squash.)
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If your pizza dough is refrigerated, take it out of the fridge so it can come to room temperature while you are doing the rest of the work.
 
Place a Dutch oven on the stove top, and heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in it. Toss in the onion and garlic and sauté until they begin to brown.
 
Toss in the squash, salt and pepper, and seasonings, and stir to coat the squash with spices and oil. (Add a little more oil if necessary.)
 
Place the pan in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Stir in the water and continue to cook, covered, until the squash is very soft—about 1/2 hour longer.
 
Remove the pan from the oven, and mash the squash and remaining water together. Preheat the oven as indicated in your pizza dough instructions.
 
Mash in a little liquid to make the squash puree spreadable. Next, roll and/or stretch the pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.
 
Spray your pan lightly with cooking spray and oil it even more lightly. Place the dough on the pan. Spread a very thin film of olive oil on top.
 
Spread the squash puree on top of the crust, and top that with the grated cheese. Arrange the pieces of pepper onto the cheese topping.
 
Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven this took about 20 minutes.
 
If you are using a thicker pizza crust, you may want to cook the crust a bit before you spread the toppings on so that the pizza cooks all the way through. 

Serves 4 to 6.


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Apple-Pumpkin Scones

Friday, November 12th, 2010

 
I know I’ve been a bit fixated on warm breakfast foods lately—probably because of the chill in the air.
 
These scones are so seasonal that I had to keep up the breakfast trend for one more post!
 
I have seldom met a scone I didn’t like, but even to my sconophilic taste these are special. You can taste and feel everything in them—the apples, the pumpkin, the spices, and of course the butter.
 
The Scones
 
Ingredients:
 
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking power
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold sweet butter
2 small apples, cut up
1/2 cup (generous) pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons sweet cider
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
additional sugar as needed
 
Instructions:
 
Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the apple pieces into this mixture.
 
In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the pumpkin, cider, egg, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the dry mixture and blend just to moisten the dry ingreidents. They won’t ACTUALLY get completely moist at first.
 
Transfer the ragged dough to a board, and knead it a few times to make the ingredients start to hold together. Shape it into 1 or 2 slightly flattened rounds (1 for large scones; 2 for small). Using a serrated knife, cut each round into 6 or 8 pieces.
 
Place the wedges of dough (your future scones) on a cookie sheet covered with a silicone baking mat. Allow the sheet to cool in the freezer for 1/2 hour.
 
While it is cooling preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
 
Remove the scones from the freezer, sprinkle sugar generously over them, and bake them for 15 to 18 minutes, until they are a nice golden brown on the bottom. 

Makes 6 to 16 scones, depending on size.


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Laurel’s Squash Risotto

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

 
This recipe was inspired by Laurel Ritmiller Lucrezia of Boston. I “met” Laurel on Facebook when she informed Mass Farmers Markets (and therefore all of that organization’s friends!) that she was getting ready to make some butternut squash risotto. I was taken by the idea and asked her for her recipe.
 
Of course, being me and having the ingredients I had in the house, I changed the recipe! (Laurel said I should feel free to do so.) 

I had just used up my butternut squash so I tried a delicata instead. The butternut would probably provide squashier flavor and require more chicken stock since it’s larger. The delicata was lovely, however. Its flavor was subtle, and it lent a gorgeous seasonal color to the risotto.

 
The Risotto
 
Ingredients:
 
1 medium delicata squash
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter plus another 1/4 cup later if desired
2/3 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/4 cups Arborio rice or long-grain rice
1 cup white wine
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup finely diced carrots (optional)
4 teaspoons chopped parsley
several sage leaves, finely chopped
I small fresh tomato, diced
grated parmesan cheese to taste (start with 1/2 cup)
1 6-1/2 ounce roll of chèvre cheese (optional but what a great idea)
 
Instructions:
 
Peel the squash. Cut off the ends and scoop out the seeds and the goop in the middle.
 
Cut 3/4 of the squash into small cubes. Cut the remaining quarter into tiny julienne strips and set them aside.
 
Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan and pop in the cubes of squash. Cover and cook until the squash softens, about 20 minutes. Let the squash and liquid cool for a couple of minutes and then puree them. I used a potato masher for this, but you could also employ a food processor or blender.
 
Put the squash stock into the saucepan and keep it on low heat as you make the risotto.
 
In a heavy saucepan over moderate heat melt 1/4 cup butter and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the rice. Cook for 1 minute.
 
Add 3/4 cup of the wine plus the bell pepper and carrots (if you’re using them), and stir. Add 1 cup of squash stock and keep stirring.
 
As the mixture cooks and the rice dries up, add the remaining squash stock a bit at a time. Cooking will take quite a while–somewhere between half an hour and 45 minutes. (In my experience, the only sure-fire way to know whether risotto is done is to taste it and decide whether the rice has cooked.) If you run out of squash stock, add a small amount of water.
 
About 20 minutes into cooking your risotto, add the small pieces of squash.
 
Just before serving, add the tomatoes, the herbs, the remaining wine, the last bit of butter (if you want an extra rich risotto), and the parmesan.
 
For extra deliciousness, top each serving with a wedge of chèvre. I didn’t have any in the house so I omitted this, but I’m trying it next time! 

Serves 6.


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How to Milk a Carnation: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

 
TV premiere week has come and gone. Veni, video, vici, as they used to say at MTV.
 
I am not unhappy with this season’s televised offerings. Nevertheless, I would trade any (perhaps all) of the shows currently on the air for a few episodes of Burns and Allen.
 
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show celebrates its diamond anniversary today. It debuted on CBS on October 12, 1950.
 
George Burns and Gracie Allen were hardly strangers to entertainment when their television program went on the air.
 
The two had worked together for almost 30 years in vaudeville, in films, and on the radio—and each went through years of show-business experience separately before their meeting in 1922 (or 1923; accounts vary).
 
In some ways, the basics of their act had barely changed over the years. As always, Gracie played a “dumb Dora” character whose reworking of facts and words amused audiences. As her straight man George cued audiences on how to interpret her zaniness.
 
Nevertheless, the pair incorporated a few changes into their television show, which was written by George Burns himself along with an experienced stable of writers.
 
First, George’s character steps out of the action of the show to address the audience and comment on the plot. He is part stage manager, part actor, part Greek chorus, part narrator, and part master of ceremonies.
 
Second, the pair played “themselves,” celebrity performers George Burns and Gracie Allen, living in Beverly Hills, California, not just characters named George and Gracie.
 
Eventually, their son Ronnie joined the cast as himself. Their announcer (first Bill Goodwin and later Harry Von Zell) played their announcer, who extols the virtues of the sponsors’ products, most notably Carnation Evaporated Milk. 

Gracie is always fascinated by the idea of getting milk from carnations.

 
Early on in the series, George’s narrator observes that the show has “more plot than a variety show and not as much as a wrestling match.” In fact, the plot is generally set off by one of Gracie’s misunderstandings—or, as I like to call them, reinterpretations–of a situation.
 
The plot is resolved when it is time to end the episode, often in a rather cursory manner. For example, George once settles a court battle by informing the judge that he will never work on The Burns and Allen Show again if he doesn’t wind up the case in a hurry.
 
A fairly typical plot comes in an episode titled “We’re Not Married” in which Gracie and her loyal friend Blanche Morton (played by Bea Benaderet) have just seen the Ginger Rogers film of that title. It revolves around the discovery by a number of couples that the judge who married them several years earlier forgot to renew his license.
 
Gracie observes that the judge in the movie (played by Victor Moore) looks like the judge who married her to George—and promptly jumps to the conclusion that she and George have never really been married.
 
When George informs her that Victor Moore didn’t marry them, she only responds, “Why didn’t you tell me then? I could have spent our honeymoon looking for a husband.”
 
George tries a number of tricks to get Gracie to believe that they are legitimately married, eventually importing his best man, Jack Benny, to argue his case.
 
A bare plot synopsis doesn’t capture the magic of Burns and Allen. I could give you many reasons for watching it and, I hope, loving it. Here are three.
 
First, despite—or perhaps because of—the decades Burns and Allen spent working with similar material, the couple’s performances are amazingly fresh. George Burns is obviously having the time of his life. And Gracie Allen is such a strong actress that her character’s “illogical logic” comes across as authentic and rather sweet.
 
Second, the program presents a delightfully egalitarian view of marriage. George’s character never talks down to Gracie—or if he does, he regrets it. Their marriage, like their ongoing vaudeville routine, is one long conversation between people who may not always understand each other but clearly always love, respect, and enjoy each other.
 
Finally, I love the way Burns and Allen explores the push-pull between narration and language, between linear thinking and intuition.
 
George’s straight man/narrator should be in control of the plot; he has many more lines than Gracie and knows far more about what is going on in each episode than she does. He works hard to entertain viewers.
 
Nevertheless, Gracie’s character derails every single plot (and delights every viewer) with absolutely no visible work, simply by being herself and challenging the meaning of a few words. George’s reassertion of the logic of narrative at the end of each episode never has the power of Gracie’s disruptions of the plot and their life. And linearity never quite rules. 

Gracie Allen’s health and a desire to live a quiet life after years of nonstop work led her to retire in 1958. Her heart gave out in 1964. It took George Burns years to regain a foothold in the entertainment world without her. He finally made it as a solo artist in 1975, when he won an Academy Award for playing an elderly vaudeville veteran in The Sunshine Boys.

 
Anecdotes about his late wife and the daffy character she played continued to pepper his stand-up work and the books he wrote until he died in 1996, having just fulfilled his ambition to turn 100.
 
It’s hard to determine the accuracy of any of those anecdotes. In the foreword to George Burns’s book I Love Her, That’s Why, his pal Jack Benny wrote:
 
Some of the episodes [related by George] I’m sure are true. Some of them will have a basis of truth and then will develop into the damndest lies you have ever read…. Sometimes at a party when [George] is telling a long story about me, he is so convincing that I have to take him into the other room and say, “Did that really happen to me?” He says, “Of course not. It was Harpo Marx, but Harpo isn’t here and you are. 

In the case of George Burns and Gracie Allen, the only truth one can discern with certainty is that the pair loved each other, on and off the television screen. And that’s probably the only truth that matters.

 
Inspired by Gracie Allen Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
 
Although Gracie Allen’s TV character doesn’t spend a lot of time cooking, she does enter the kitchen from time to time, with predictably confusing results.
 
My friend Jack recently reminded me that one of Gracie’s signature dishes is roast beef. She preheats the oven and puts in one large roast and one small roast. When the little one burns, the big one is done.
 
Naturally, the character spends a lot of time cooking with evaporated milk, even if she never does figure out how to milk a carnation. Announcer Bill Goodwin is fond of pumpkin pie made with evaporated milk. (For a variation on this recipe, see last year’s “Pumpkin Pie Plus” recipe.)
 
I decided to make my own evaporated-milk dish. I was inspired by my friend Kelly Morrissey, who told me she had made roasted butternut squash into a lovely pasta sauce with the addition of spices and a little cream.
 
If you want to use cream instead of evaporated milk in this recipe, please do; I love cream! The evaporated milk was actually quite tasty, however.
 
The squash gives the dish a lovely color, a delicate flavor, and a remarkably smooth consistency.
 
Ingredients:
 
1 small to medium butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
several sprigs of sage, cut into small pieces
olive oil, salt, and pepper as needed
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup evaporated milk, plus up to 3/4 cup more as needed (if you’re making the dish with cream, use plain milk for the additional moisture)
a generous dash of cayenne pepper
1 pound pasta, cooked according to package directions (I used wagon wheels because I find them entertaining and not too big to handle)
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (or to taste)
several sprinkles of paprika
 
Instructions:
 
In a Dutch oven at moderate temperature (350 degrees), roast the squash pieces uncovered, garlic, and sage in the olive oil, adding salt and pepper generously.
 
When the squash begins to soften, pour the water into the dish and stir. Cover and continue to cook until the squash softens completely. The cooking time should take somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the age and density of your squash.
 
Remove the pot from the oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes. (Leave the oven on.) Carefully ladle the solids and liquids into a food processor or electric mixer, and mix until smooth. Mix in the nutmeg, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, and cayenne.
 
Grease a 2- to 3-quart casserole dish, and combine the cooked pasta and most of the cheese in it. Stir in the squash mixture. Your dish should be moist but not swimming in liquid. If it is not moist enough, add more milk. Top with the remaining cheese and the paprika.

Bake for half an hour. Serves 8 to 12.


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