Roasted Crusted Squash

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This happens every year in DC. The winter isn’t really a winter until the week after Christmas — when it gets frigid. And then the weather stands up, inching past 60 degrees at the end of January.

Once, I even broke out the flip flops.

Man, that was a mistake.

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This recipe dates back to November. Thanksgiving, which I hosted with some friends at home in DC, was quite the affair.

The food, of course, was to-die-for. The wine flowed like water. And the everyday accents were masked by faux NPR and BBC news accents reporting on Anderson Cooper’s whereabouts on the Gaza Strip. Saving children, curing cancer… you know, the usual. One of my best friends and co-hosts is a gay international politigeek, so naturally, we steered the conversation from making fun of beauty magazines to Anderson Cooper’s black t-shirt.

It’s quite different from my blood-related family dinner conversation. No more or less filled with love, though. That’s for sure.

This squash recipe is teaspoon-for-teaspoon from Sprouted Kitchen, one of my self-proclaimed all-time favorite blogs. Her name is Sara, too, so naturally, she and I are kindred spirits. I’ll let the missing “h” slide, though.

Anyway, I thought I’d post this before my beloved winter cold is swept away in a metaphysical January heat wave. In fact, I might make this next week.

One butternut squash goes a long way.

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Roasted, Crusted Butternut Squash, via Sprouted Kitchen

Ingredients

1 Butternut Squash (about 2 lbs.)
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Fresh Ground Nutmeg
1/3 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs / Panko
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Minced Garlic Clove
1 Tbsp. Finely Chopped Parsley
1/4 Cup Fresh Thyme Leaves
Salt and Pepper

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler — and be careful, because that squash can be slippery. Then, slice the gourd in half lengthwise, and chop off the ends. Cut into quarter-inch slices.

Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or foil, and line up your squash slices. Make sure you don’t overcrowd them! Using a pastry brush, give each piece a light coat of olive oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Generously cover the squash with your crumb topping, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are browned, the cheese is melted, and the squash is fully cooked.

Making Mayonnaise

Last night, I had a dream that two of my close friends in DC picked me up in a car that I did not recognize. We were going on a road trip.

Like most dreams, the scenery is familiar to me when I’m in the dream, but when I flashback after I’ve awoken, every road and every mountain is unrecognizable.

Thinking it was a simple road trip, in the dream, I realized that my friends were driving me to Philadelphia. In the dream, I recognized the city (reality: I’ve never been there, nor do I actually know what it looks like). They revealed to me that I was kidnapped because I had a job interview for an Art Director job at Runners’ World.

The great thing about this whole dream is that if this had ever happened in real life, I wouldn’t think twice. It’s not beyond the love or insanity, and the excitement and happiness I felt in the dream was pretty close to how excited and happy I’d feel if that same scenario had happened in real life.

I’ve been at my job for almost five months, now. And I’ve loved almost every moment of it. It’s weird (and unmistakably wonderful) to finally be in a good place. And I don’t only mean the workplace. But then again, my work is my life, and my life is my work.

After failing at turning down freelance clients, I’ve been on social lockdown for the better part of a month. Some projects are great; others are nightmares. Such is what happens when you take your passion and turn it into your source of income.

But when the nightmares are gone, and my projects are awesome, it’s beyond worth it. And every other option, if there were one, would feel contrived.

I lived in Tanzania for a summer when I was nineteen. There were so many things I’d change about myself back then, in the same I’m sure many of us would thoroughly enjoy turning back the clock and smacking our former selves with a brick of humility and then wipe off the resulting selfishness from the floor. And then torching the selfish sponge.

But I guess everyone was young and stupid at some point.

One of the things I look back on and appreciate the most was the simplicity with which we lived our lives. We ate, slept, drank and sang together in a beautiful house, just a five minute walk from the Indian Ocean, and about five feet from the gate to our house was a little vegetable stand. On warm days, a couple of the volunteers and I would make tomato sandwiches with fresh tomatoes, mayonaise, salt, and pepper. When we had electricity, we would “toast” the bread between the plates of a waffle iron. Almost seven years later, I find myself making the exact same sandwiches — comfort food, for the former international development worker.

I’ve always wanted to go back. To visit the friends I made who stayed there, to meet their husbands and wives, and their kids. To actually learn how to make chapatis, and to buy a lifetime supply of Chai Bora. To wake up to a glass of freshly squeezed passionfruit juice every morning.

I’ve also been getting a lot of mail from MICA, the school I almost started a graduate program at this summer. I even found myself browsing their MFA curriculum. And before I knew it, I was emailing my contacts there.

A few weeks ago, after a high school musical production and a late night dinner, I received two fortune cookies. The first’s fortune was forgettable. The second, however, read “Be assertive when decisive action is needed.” I stuffed them into a jacket pocket for safe keeping — it had been years since I actually kept a cookie’s fortune.

Yesterday, while waiting for the metro, I reached into my pocket and remembered the fortunes. Except the only one I had found in that pocket was the one I had forgotten about. Somewhat somber because I realized that I lost the good one, I crumpled the lesser fortune into the smallest morsel of paper I could. But I did not forget the fortune that I loved. Because you know what? It applies to everyone, and as of late, I’ve been alright. But sometimes, we need a little reminder.

Mayonnaise

Ingredients:
1 egg yolk
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 pinches sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup olive oil

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolk salt, mustard, and sugar. Combine lemon juice and vinegar in a separate bowl, and then vigorously whisk half into the yolk mixture. With one hand, whisk briskly, while slowly adding the oil a few drops at a time with the other hand. The liquid will thicken and lighten a bit (it’s emulsifying!). Once it starts thickening, you can slow down the whisking, and add the oil in slightly faster.

Once most of the oil is added, pour in the rest of the lemon juice mixture.

Continue whisking until all ingredients incorporated. Leave at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours then refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Apple, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart

Washington, DC, is a bit of a late bloomer: Fall is only really hitting the district as we speak. Yes, the fall I’ve been longing for since the heat wave in June.  The fall that carries a breeze, the fall that tints foliage into my favorite color (orange), and the fall that finally satisfies you with the comfort of staying in on a Friday night to make French onion soup. Continue reading “Apple, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart”

English Muffins

I have a confession to make.

I am not a morning person.  Definitely.  Not.  Me.

Weird, right?  I know.  I used to think all bakers were morning people, too.  Sorry.  I was wrong.  I’m one of those girls that has to set an alarm at 6 AM to wake up sometime between 7:30 and 8.  I really do hit the snooze button that much.  It’s a problem.  How am I ever going to own a bakery? Continue reading “English Muffins”

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

or How I taught my friends to stop freaking out and love running in the cold.

Have I ever told you that I started a running club?  I don’t think I have — so, for your information, I did.  And it’s fabulous.

At the cookie rager, a couple of friends expressed their interest in running, but also a fear of pain and suffering.  We established a weekly running club, which meets on Monday evenings for an easy jog around Washington, and ends with a Sweetsonian dinner — called Monday Rundays.  Oh, and it’s ladies only.  Very important.

It’s happened a few times now, with the holidays interrupting a few weeks — travel schedules, abhorrent weather, etc.  In my opinion, it’s a great way to start off each week: one easy run. Add girlish chatter, a smidgeon of complaints, and a slew of sarcasm.  Within thirty minutes, I have a dinner party of women (girls?) who had no idea that they could be hooked on running.  I only know they are hooked because Rachel skipped the run tonight (so lame, I know) and came to dinner feeling so guilty and lazy that she pledged not to skip out on our run again.

I usually put the girls to work as space permits in the closet that is disguised as my kitchen, and we normally assemble a very healthy runner’s dinner — high in protein, low in complex carbs.

I would never in my life make this — this beautiful tart — after a run.  What a waste!  No way.  I would only make this dish on a day of complete lethargy and indulgence.  A day filled with shopping, sleeping, and probably (obviously) gluttony.

But anyway, days like that balance out the other days in my life, most of which are spent training for half marathons.  And speaking of, tomorrow is day three of training.  Good-bye, gluttony :(

WHAT YOU NEED:


for the crust (makes about 2 6-inch tarts):
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, cold and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons cold water


for caramelized onion the filling:
1 or 2 medium-sized onions
enough goat cheese to fill your tart mold


for the spinach quiche:
2 eggs
150 mL of milk (I didn’t try to convert the European measurements)
1 small onion, finely diced
a generous handful of fresh spinach, chopped finely
sprinkles of cheddar or goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

WHAT TO DO:

To make the crust, simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse-grind until finely mixed, and the dough begins to form a ball.  Then, remove the dough, knead in any straggling pieces, and roll to your desired thickness.  I prefer a very thin crust, usually about 1/8 of an inch.  After rolling, transfer to your tart dish, fork the base to prevent bubbles, and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

For the caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts, first slice the onions as thinly as possible.  Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a wide, shallow pan, and sautee the onions until soft.  Add one minced clove of garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook on low for about twenty minutes, stirring frequently.  Some people like to add a little sugar to speed the caramelization, but I prefer my onions as savory as possible — there’s enough sugar in them to begin with!  When your onions are fairly transparent and a deep brown color, you’ll know you’re done.

crumble the goat cheese in your tarts, and top with the hot caramelized onions.  I let them sit in the oven at 350 degrees for another ten minutes — it added a little bit of color to the crust and melted the goat cheese to better mold into the tart.

For the quiche, first whip the eggs and milk in a medium mixing bowl.  Then, sautee the onion in a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add the spinach, and remove from heat after spinach has completely collapsed — 30 seconds to one minute.  Combine with the egg and milk mixture, and pour into your half-cooked tart crust.  Bake the quiche at 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

Sun Dried Tomato Pastry Puffs

After running three miles, eating something this unhealthy is okay, right?  Right.  Next week marks my six-month anniversary of leaving California and moving to Washington.  I know — six months!  It feels like the time flew by, but at the same time, I remember that after living here for one month, I felt as if I had lived here my entire life.  Time traveling is a funny thing.
Anyway, in my six months as a district resident, I’ve learned a few things:
1.  There are no Philly cheese steak joints open in Georgetown after 3 AM.
2.  Telling a woman in the metro “Dayum, sweet thang, I’ma kidnap you” will not get you a date.
3.  DCist Real World summaries are on-point and much more entertaining than the actual show.
4.  Consult a map before embarking on a Rock Creek Park run.
5.  Never, ever, shop at Trader Joe’s on a Sunday.
DC residents, please take note of all of the above: I have witnessed and/or experienced situations leading to each rule.  The outcomes are never pretty.  The final rule, however, is the most vital to those of you who have issues of personal space, frustration, or passionate hatred for minute underground parking lots.  There is only one Trader Joe’s in Washington; why only one, is beyond my comprehension. Aside from the heinous check out line that wraps around the entire store on Sunday afternoon, the shelves are usually looted, and its normal Sunday crowd is so dense that my roommate generally knocks items and shelves onto the floor.  It’s not a pretty sight.  But it doesn’t stop anyone from going there.
So naturally, after a few Sundays of absolute hell, I learned to coerce Kristen into grocery shopping on a weekday night, close to the store’s closing time, while employees are restocking the shelves.  And, when it’s available (because it is usually wiped off the shelves) I grab 3 to 4 jars of sun-dried tomatoes.  Because you really can’t have enough SDTs in your cupboard.

WHAT YOU NEED: 
Recipe derived from Dorie Greenspan
for the pastry:
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup cottage cheese
 
1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried basil
for the filling:
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, in olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (walnuts would work as well)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons basil and oregano
1/2  cup grated cheese of choice (I used a cheddar blend)
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup mushrooms, minced (I didn’t have these, but they would be amazing with this recipe)
WHAT TO DO:
First, in a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, salt, cheeses, and sugar.  Beat with an electric mixer until completely creamy, then gradually add in the flour and basil flakes.  When the dough is evenly mixed, form into a ball, and chill in your refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Then, mince the garlic, and heat in a pan over medium heat with the mushrooms for 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor, and add the pine nuts, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and basil.  Grind until mixed.  Add cream cheese, and fold the mixture.
When the dough is chilled, roll out on waxed paper, no thicker than 1/8 inch.  use a cookie cutter or paring knife to cut out square shapes of dough, in sizes of your choice.  If the dough feels too sticky, dust with flour and/or chill for a few more minutes.  Place the pastry filling off-center in each square, then fold over and press the edges with a fork to seal.  I used 3 to 4 inch squares, and about a teaspoon of filling for each.  Bake on parchment paper at 400 degrees for about 10 to 13 minutes each, until the surfaces are golden brown.