Squash, Chili & Coconut Curry

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800g – 1 kg (2-2.25 lbs) butternut (or similar) squash–peel (potato peeler works great) and deseed the squash, then cut into bite-sized chunks
2 Tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2-4 mild or medium red chili’s, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 generous Tablespoon of favorite curry paste or powder (I used Thai Kitchen’s red curry paste)
400 ml (approx 14 oz) can of coconut milk
A squeeze lime or lemon juice
Sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
***See note below

Chop/prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sweat, stirring gently occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and chili’s and cook for a couple more minutes.
  • Stir in the curry paste/powder and cook for a minute or two. (It’s going to smell sooooooo good at this point.)
  • Add the squash chunks, some salt & pepper, and stir well to coat them all in the spicy, oniony mixture. Cook 2 more minutes.
  • Pour in the coconut milk’s liquids and solids, stir well and bring to a SIMMER. Cover and cook gently (no boiling) for approx 20 minutes, stirring carefully now and then. You want the squash tender and yielding to a fork, but not mushy or falling apart.
  • When the squash is cooked just enough, taste the curry sauce and add more salt and pepper if needed. Finish with a spritz of lime/lemon juice.
  • Ladle into bowls and serve with rice and/or flatbread.

NOTE: Green beans – cut into 4-5 cm (2″) lengths, add to the mixture about 8-10 minutes before it’s done cooking – will add color, texture, and it will make a complete protein when combined with either the rice or bread.

Celeriac: Is this a joke? Where’s the camera?

The first time I pulled celeriac out of the CSA box a dozen years ago, I was pretty sure the farm was pulling a prank of us. I mean, really, have you seen this thing? But ever the trooper, I followed the owner’s instructions and whipped up a lovely soup and used the remainder pieces for some crunchy snacking.

It turns out, celeriac is a fantastic soup base because it breaks down well, making a silky smooth backdrop for almost anything else you want to throw in with it. Its mild celery undertones never overwhelm the finished soup, and conveniently, eliminate the need for that stringy vegetable. I’ve used celeriac now for carrot soup, beet soup, turnip soup, and probably a few more root vegetables that I can’t remember right now. When I find celeriac at the market, I buy it. I know it’ll get put to good use.

Per the recommendation in Three Good Things, I paired it today with another familiar fall veg: Brussels sprouts (and–optional–the last bit of bacon hiding out in the freezer). Good call, Hugh. Good call. Overall, it took about an hour from beginning to end and both of us enjoyed it quite a bit. I see this becoming a regular part of the fall-winter soup season around here.

Based on amounts I had on hand, I modified things a bit but the author would no doubt recognize the overall recipe.

 

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Scary good soup (if somewhat ugly in this poor lighting)

 

Pat of butter
1 T olive oil
white onion, chopped
large celeriac bulb, peeled & cubed
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
1/4 pound streaky bacon, cut into strips (short-way)
1/2 C whipping cream
salt & pepper

Warm up the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan, add onion and sweat gently for 3-4 minutes.

Add the celeriac, stir, cover pot and let heat through for 10 minutes. Add the stock, heat to boil, and then drop hat back to a simmer until celeriac is clearly softening (5-10 minutes). Add the sprouts, stir well, cook for 5 minutes.

If using, fry up the bacon at this point and blot the fully-cooked bacon pieces on paper towels.

When sprouts are tender, puree with an immersion blender or CAREFULLY in a heat-resistant blender. (hot liquid + sudden motion = explosive force: physics works)

Back in the pot, off the heat, add the cream and stir to combine. Reheat gently, if needed. Stir in bacon pieces or use as a garnish, if using. Taste test, adding salt & pepper as needed.

If vegan, omit the butter and just use more olive oil in the beginning. The cookbook’s author recommends toasted, blanched almonds or crunchy garlic-bread croutons to give the soup some crunch and greater curb appeal.

NOTE: The Amazon link is for convenience only. I don’t receive any financial benefit from it. If possible, please buy from a local bookseller (or used).

Hot Mess

EEF8339A-5927-42A5-977A-0B0DE59FABBCYes, it looks a hot mess, but it was a goooood hot mess.

A couple of days ago, I realized that Henrietta the Hen was still resting in the freezer (after her last egg was laid). Since we received a bouquet of fresh-cut rosemary from the CSA this week, I pulled it out to thaw with the intention of making whole-roasted rosemary chicken tonight.

Well, imagine my surprise when I pulled the thawed freezer bag from the fridge and found that it wasn’t a whole bird but, instead, a miscellaneous bag of unused legs and thighs. That changed the night’s plans quick. Luckily, our CSA box also included several good-sized, perfectly-ripe heirloom tomatoes and a small bunch of baby leeks.

So we pulled out the skillet, some green and black olives, that almost forgotten cup of Pinot Grigio in the back of the fridge, a cup of broth hiding in the freezer, a big scoop of both paprika and cumin, and—of course—garlic. Our chopped up tomatoes and leeks were happy to join the party, I do believe.

While our chicken tidbits braised in the oven amongst its sauce, we cooked up the last box of udon noodles. *angels singing*

Afterward, I shredded the chicken, stirred some parsley and lime juice into the mix, and tossed the waiting noodles into it all. No, it wasn’t pretty. But man oh man, was it ever good.

Jeff declares that we should add capers next time, but I stand firm in my opinion that it was nearly perfect as it was. Only time will tell.

I hope you also dined well tonight.

I been busy, man

 

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Three bean tacos

Remember when I used to write? Remember when I used to describe our delicious kitchen successes (and occasional failures, just to keep it real)? Yeah, me too. Good times. Good times.

Then, life happened.

A friend flew a ridiculous number of hours to come to visit us. We visited the Iowa State Fair with him for the first time since moving here nine years ago (overall verdict: meh) and introduced him to downtown Chicago (opinion: um, ok, wow). Both Des Moines and Chicago were bigger than he’d expected, Chicago by a large margin.

Three books arrived in late June, so hopeful and eager to be edited. And I fucked the first one up but good, so I got to do it all over again! I know, I am the luckiest girl in the room sometimes. Don’t be jealous. Well, you’ll be happy to know that book one (part deux) was received with open arms and kisses, and book two shipped today for the author’s nay/yea on each individual edit.

I have, not that I’m counting, 21 days to get book three out the door if I don’t want it following me to Chicago (and I don’t) when another friend arrives at Terminal Five to join me for a week of sightseeing, photography, eating, catching up, museum-going, walking-walking-walking, and general relaxing. So that means nose –> grindstone again, starting tomorrow.

But this afternoon and evening have been for attention-optional magazine browsing, bathroom cleaning, tub-time relaxing, carpet vacuuming, and all the other sexy tasks that haven’t gotten near enough attention lately. Sorry Mr. Dishwasher, you’re going to have to wait your turn for a good scrubbing. October good for you?

Blah, blah, blah bring on the food, right? Right.

So last night Jeff and I stood before the refrigerator and noticed something alarming: the immense bag of fresh from the farm green and yellow string beans (freakishly similar to its brother bag from the week before) had not gotten eaten by either us or the fridge elves this week. Lazy fuckers, those fridge elves, I tell ya. I’d been so busy cranking out one luxurious, decadent Caprese salad after another (it’s a hard life, but a delicious one) trying to use up the gargantuan box of vine-ripe heirloom tomatoes and bunches of fresh basil that arrived with them, that the beans had become an after-thought–a crunchy, vibrant, beckoning after-thought.

I’d managed to push through a crisper drawerful of neglected Pattypan squash earlier in the week*, so this bean betrayal felt particularly shameful. Looking in the fridge and cupboards wasn’t too encouraging, as there wasn’t a lot in there. Grocery shopping and cupboard restocking haven’t been a high priority for me the last two and a half months, I have to admit. BUT the base for some tacos was in there, I noticed. I twirled the available combo in my mind: tortillas (soft), refried beans (thick-slick), black beans (tender), a touch of cheese (binder) and grilled string beans (smoky-crunchy)? Yeah, it could work. It really could work. Maybe some chopped up plum tomatoes for garnish? A splash of Sriracha sauce or Frank’s Red Hot for kick? Sweet baby Jane, I thought, let’s throw caution to the wind and give her a go.

Warming up the grill took the longest. We chopped the ends off the string beans, coated them liberally in olive oil, shook in a bit of fancy French salt (Thanks, Eileen!), and dropped them into the grilling basket until just charred and warmed through (these are delicious as leftovers, so we grilled the entire bag’s worth at once). Back inside, we spread some warmed up refried beans, black beans, and cheese on a flour tortilla, added some of the string beans and whatever toppings we wanted and sat down to dinner. They were delicious. And they were delicious as leftovers tonight, too.

I think I’m going to do this more often with other vegetables we have kicking around in the crisper bin. It’ll be fun to play around with sauces to see if we find a few that go especially well with a variety of vegetables. Julienned carrots, if sauteed slightly, would work well, as would lightly steamed cauliflower florets. Leftover potatoes from breakfast, sauteed onions, pan-fried zucchini? Who knows, I want to try them all.

*Easy, on-the-fly, garlicy, non-mushy, oven-roasted, herb-heavy Pattypan squash
4 Pattypan squash cut into eighths
Toss with the following combination: two minced garlic cloves, some olive oil, oregano, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper
Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes
(Leftovers are good the next day)

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Garlic and Herbed Pattypan Squash

Udon noodles, God’s gift to wheat?

I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to have udon noodles with a stir fry but holy cow those are delicious. It’s funny how firmly we fall into hard and fast habits, isn’t it? Usually we cook up white or brown rice, and while I do have some pre-cooked and ready to go in the fridge right now, I decided to grab a box of udon noodles on a whim while shopping today. Best decision in ages.

Also delicious? Chopping an entire finger of peeled ginger into teeny tiny chunks and dropping it in while the dried red chili’s, salt, pepper, a drip of fish sauce and a good splash of soy sauce thickened over some of this week’s sautéed CSA veggies and grocery store staples: small carrot dice, juvenile onion pieces, red and orange bell pepper squares, sliced mushrooms, and assorted sturdy greens wilted into soft, sweet oblivion.

Lunch leftovers

After more than a week of vegan grain bowls (I’ve been working is through all the leftover bits and bobs in my cupboard), it was a nice change of pace to slice a chicken breast into thin slices and brown that in some sesame oil.

What I should have added in was some of the Thai bail (with the purple flowers, below) from this week’s CSA herb haul. But as we’ve just started getting those in our box each week, that’s a habit we have yet to get into. Soon it’ll be second nature.

A pretty, tasty herb garden at our fingertips

I’m looking forward to putting the impulse jar of kimchi I grabbed at the market today to good use too. Bibimbap has been calling me since January, well since I first had it in Paris a year ago this past January, actually. I was an instant fan then and, since it’s a perfect fit for veggie odds & ends, like a stir fry is, it’s time to get to making it. Cross your fingers.

Next week is RAGBRAI and Jeff’s Uni roommate is coming into town to ride a few days of it with his daughter and Jeff. I’m going to doing copy edits while they pedal across the Iowa landscape, but will see them over the weekend and in the evenings. Lucky for them, this terrible heatwave is expected to break on Saturday night, just in time for us to make a night ride out to see a local destination bridge.

Don’t knock the familiar

It’s surprising to me that so much emphasis is placed on the new, the different, the surprising, the exciting when it’s often the familiar things/people/places that bring me the greatest peace, the deepest joy, the highest happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I like variety and see the value in not spending life at the mercy of the same ol’, same ol’. But what gives me the most comfort but the things and people, the places and meals that I go to time and again, the ones that I know will leave me with a smile, relaxed, or sighing with contentment.

Hot, steamy, sweat-filled day? That’ll be coffee-flavor Hagen Daaz ice cream, straight out of the container or a chocolate double scoop from Java Joes. Great news or terrible? My fingers head straight to a select set of telephone numbers. My feet could walk to Jeff’s office from anywhere in the city without any sight, sound or smell cues. One step off the escalator from Blaak Station and, “I’m home,” will escape my lips. Swiss chard in the CSA box? Check the egg carton because that means quiche. Super easy, always tasty, satisfyingly filling.

  • Pre-heat oven to 400F.
  • In a large bowl, whisk 6 large eggs with some sea salt and pepper. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.
  • In a non-stick pan, sauté 1 onion (chopped fine) and 1-2 cloves garlic (minced) in a Tablespoon olive oil. When nearly translucent, add 1 bunch chard leaves (chopped small-medium) and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.
  • Add 1 cup grated (medium cheddar, parmesan, or any other mild cheese in the fridge that melts well) and the chard mixture to the eggs. Stir well.
  • Pour into an uncooked pie shell. (You have one of those pre-made and hiding in the freezer already, right??)
  • Cook 30 minutes, or until a sharp knife blade comes out clean.

(Leftovers are also good cold.)

What does one eat after a mini-tri workout?

Anything one wants.

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In this case, a veg-heavy, clean out the fridge, grain bowl prepped beforehand and scarfed down afterwards.

  • farro
  • quinoa
  • steamed kale
  • carrots
  • white radishes
  • sugar snap peas
  • chickpeas
  • avocado
  • halved grape tomatoes

Topped with: 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 clove garlic sliced, sea salt & fresh ground pepper (shaken in jar, straining out the garlic)

Highly recommended accompaniment — sit on deck as the sun goes down and chat with neighbors over drinks about their recent holiday trip.

Relationships and commitments

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A little backstory for reference, some friends had their first baby a week before the year ended. Having a kid grown and gone, it’s fun watching the whole process begin again – without the sleepless nights, sore body, ears on high alert and perpetual dead arm from carrying an infant around nearly non-stop. ‘Auntie’ duty is waaaay easier than Mommy duty. Dirty diaper, back to dad. Fussy hungry baby, back to mom. Contingency plans for ev.er.y.thing and finding yet another mystery stain on your favorite shirt? Hmm sounds familiar but I might be blocking it.

OK, back to task. So the new dad is not American and in his country it’s the norm for the new dad to gather with friends at the local pub for a drink in the first few weeks after a child’s birth. Are you saying, “Well, this presents a dilemma now, doesn’t it?”

Well, to me, the answer is “Not in the least” because a) these friends are aware of and very supportive of our decision to refrain from restaurants, cafe’s, bars, etc; b) we had already visited with them and shared a congratulatory drink (with the dad) the day after the wee one was born; and c) when the “Sorry, would love to but, ya know” went out the response was “Ok. It’s just the tradition back home. It’s going to be fun, all the guys are invited, would have enjoyed having you there too.”

To Jeff, however, it became a major dilemma in his mind. His friendships were on the line. He wasn’t being responsive to a friend. Things were at risk of going belly up if he didn’t go. And anyways, It’s just a drink. (Insert a bit of side eye here from me.) You get the idea. This was, by the way, the 4th of January. Halfway through the first week of 2019.

Long story short, he went. I visited the new mom at their place for the evening. When we reconvened later that evening, I laid out my disappointment with his decision and the reality that things like this are going to happen throughout the year. Where do we draw the line? When is a reason “good enough” to break this promise we made to each other and when is it a convenient excuse? What about being responsive to our commitment? What did it say that he couldn’t even get past the first week without buckling? We both went to bed angry, not even gonna lie. But Saturday dawned new and life goes on. Today, he admitted that the change in our going out habits has been rather harder than he expected it to be and apologized for some on-going surliness this past week.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve said my piece, didn’t rant and rave, but definitely made my feelings known. I’ve moved on with the knowledge that I can’t make his commitment stick if he chooses not to, but that I can and will hold myself to the decision we made. My guess is that Jeff won’t make breaking this promise a regular habit. I hope that it will be a one-time blip and that we’ll laugh about it in months to come.

********

Yesterday, we had our first Open Table lunch for friends. We made Pantry-Basics Tomato Soup and Two-Sided, Extra Cheesy, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with frosted brownies for dessert. Comfort food at its most basic, easy to prepare, and delicious. We did a repeat tonight with the leftover soup and, like chili and spaghetti sauce always are, it was even better as the flavors definitely mingled and mellowed overnight in the refrigerator. We made some no-frills grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it which were more to my liking, but Jeff missed the in-your-face bite that the grated parmesan melted onto the outsides gave to yesterday’s sandwiches.

Chicken, veg, noodles and a sharp sharp knife

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Look at the gorgeous texture of those noodles and vegetables

The brand new year, 2019, arrived at the stroke of midnight as it has a habit of doing every 12 months. With this turn of the calendar, however, things took a significant turn for my household. Goodbye spendy restaurants, sunny cafés, kitchy diners, and cozy pubs; hello shiny new kitchen shears and sheep’s foot paring knife. Time to get chopping.

Yesterday I made a spatchcocked (butterflied) whole chicken (use kitchen shears to remove the backbone and then splay it out in a rather unceremonious manner on a roasting sheet) and roasted an embarrassing amount of Brussel sprouts to go along with it. The chicken reached the desired temp in record time – 45 minutes! – but the veggies about 10 minute earlier, so we noshed on caramelized goodness while the chicken finished roasting and resting. That’s right you naughty bird, you just lay there and think about what you’ve done! Luckily Jeff doesn’t mind his meals in shifts from time to time.

With the backbone, skin, wings and bones, I made a batch of stock that bubbled away for a few hours and added some nice moisture to this dry, winter cave of a home. I swear, if you even look at the floor rug out of the corner of your eye lately, you’ll feel an electric current racing up your right thigh.

After another attempt at poached eggs for breakfast this morning — finally, success! — and a light lunch of toast and apricot jam (don’t judge), I got down to the serious business of making some soup with the remaining chicken breast, the usual vegetables, some greens (a boatload of kale and a bit of fresh parsley), egg noodles, and that luscious stock from the day before.

I cut the carrots and celery on the diagonal because I was feeling fancy. No simple rounds for us, old chap. And instead of a small onion, I finished off a large half one that was napping in the fridge, cutting it quite thin instead of the usual dice. I’m glad I did too, as the onion nearly melted into this really nice, silky texture without any need to sauté it beforehand. Less work, great flavor, and one less pan to wash. (Please hold your applause until the end of the meal. Thank you, thank you.)

Rice could have been used instead of the egg noodles I suppose but, let’s be honest, rice is dead boring sometimes. I wanted taste and texture, not just bulk and filler. Now, now, don’t go sending me any pro-rice hate mail. Yes, sometimes rice is the best starch out there for a given meal, but for me and my family, we choose egg noodles (for our chicken soup).

All in all, a decent way to begin the new year in the kitchen.