Friday, February 11, 2011

The Special Lunch

This title sounds like it should be a Seinfeld episode. Anybody? Is this thing on? More and more I’m feeling like I relate to George Costanza more than any other sitcom character (and my boyfriend is getting worried). Anyway…I’m back to the blog to reflect on the idea of the “Special Lunch.”

Last night, I was hanging out with some friends, and it came up that my friend Will’s birthday is in a few weeks. It falls on a Wednesday this year — the middle of the week. Mid-week birthdays are hard to celebrate properly unless you can take the day off, or you have a really motivated group of friends who wants to plan something fun that night. Everyone is working the next day, so evening festivities must be kept to a minimum.

Enter the “Special Lunch.” During a busy week, for all the reasons above it’s hard to schedule something fun. So, why not enjoy something a little bit different, a little bit special, a little bit decadent for lunch during the workday? Most people are probably going to run out at the noon lunch hour to grab something anyway, so why not kick it up a notch?

Well, apparently not everyone shares this view. When I made this suggestion to Will and our friends last night, I was met with stifled giggles and empathetic looks, albeit kind ones. Everyone agreed that a “Special Lunch” was an “Annakate thing,” and not something everyone could get behind. It was as if they all thought I was from another — foodier — planet.

To that, I must take a stand. I really don’t think my suggestion was unreasonable. Now the “Special Lunch” doesn’t have to be something over-the-top, like a three-course lunch with wine pairings from Capitol Grille downtown, or to a favorite restaurant all the way across town (although, I for one, think both of those would be wonderful excursions, and totally acceptable reasons for a somewhat prolonged absence from the office on your birthday). The “Special Lunch” could be as simple as getting extra bacon on your sandwich at your favorite take-away place, or a milkshake with that burger instead of the typical diet cola. Doing something a little bit exotic or outside your daily routine, and taking the time to enjoy it, makes the day seem special, even if it’s just a small modification to something you’re already doing. 

Am I wrong? I really think it’s a cut and dry issue. I can see that some may find this hard to swallow at first,  but I’d encourage them to really think about it! Why not? We all have to eat, so we might as well eat well. That’s something my first boss, Brenda, taught me, when I worked for her at a boutique food-focused PR agency in Chicago, and I find myself saying it often. Eating and enjoying good food is something we all should take more time to do. The stand-up dinner, the breakfast in the car — totally lame. But unfortunately, in our fast-paced, digitized world, taking time to really enjoy a meal isn’t always possible. But when you do take a little extra time for yourself — like on a birthday — you might as well fill that time doing something enjoyable like treating yourself to a nice meal, just because. So there.

At this very moment, I’m sitting at Burger Up, a lovely little joint in Nashville, enjoying a trio of sliders, some of their famous fries, and a beer — a beer! — for my lunch today. It’s not my birthday, but I took the day off just for fun, and I felt something special was appropriate. I’m sitting here with good music on the stereo, interesting people walking by, a really delicious lamb mini-burger with arugula and Dijon on my plate, and I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying it.

So with that, I challenge all the readers of this blog — including you Will! — to go out and get themselves something special for lunch sometime soon — even if it’s as simple as asking for extra pickles at your favorite fried chicken place. I bet you won’t regret it.

I’ll treat you to lunch if you do.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

RiverView Mounds Century Farm – The Local Table, Fall 2010

Is this my blog? Hello? Where am I?

Wow. It’s been awhile. Do you feel like you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship with this blog because it keeps making promises that it’ll be updated more often with new kinds of posts and then it lies? Because I do.

I thought I’d take the summer to reevaluate the blog, its name, its look, etc. And I suppose I did do that – think, that is. But I came to few conclusions. The only thing I concretely determined, in fact, was that I’ve spent too much time thinking about my blog, and way to little time writing.

So I’m back! And this time, no more broken promises because I’ll stop promising all together. Instead, I’ll work on my blog material: the cooking part. I’ll get back in the kitchen and dream up some questions and inquiries about food and farming, which we can discuss here, as often as I can, which may not be the often. How’s that? It’s a win-win!

But I did do some pretty cool other writing during my hiatus that I thought I should make you aware of. Check out this post in “The Local Table,” a free, quarterly publication discussing the food and farmers in middle Tennessee. Only one of the three pieces I wrote is electronic, so here’s a little taste:

http://www.localtable.net/articles/featured100806b.php (and copied below)

If anyone is still reading this, thanks a lot. Hopefully we can still be friends.

Grower Profile

RiverView Mounds Century Farm: One Family’s Journey to Life on the Farm

By Annakate Tefft

It’s a quandary shared by many small farmers today. “We had to find a way to sell the farm, without selling the farm,” says Chris Rinehart, co-owner of RiverView Mounds Century Farm, located near Clarksville, Tennessee. Not wanting to sell the land, and not interested in continuing to farm traditional row crops such as corn and soybeans like his father, Chris and his wife, Scarlett Mulligan, set out to find a new way to make a living on their family’s farm.

“Our kids would be the seventh generation to live on this land. We couldn’t bear the thought of selling it off to developers. So we came up with another idea.”

Prior to farming, the couple spent time in the military and eventually moved to Spokane, Washington, with their son, Miles. There, Scarlett earned a degree as a physician assistant and Chris pursued a master’s degree in philosophy. When Chris’s father fell ill in 2006, the couple decided to return to their roots in Tennessee to spend time with family and raise their children (their daughter Harloew was born shortly after the move). It was also time to deal with the 375 acres of farmland that would soon be left to Chris and his brother.

“We knew we’d have to decide what to do with the farm someday,” says Chris, “but not as suddenly as we did.” Scarlett adds, “Our kids would be the seventh generation to live on this land. We couldn’t bear the thought of selling it off to developers. So we came up with another idea.”

After some soul-searching, along with lots of research, and guidance from organizations like University of Tennessee-Tennessee State University Extension Offices and Pick Tennessee Products, Chris and Scarlett found the answer. They decided to turn the farm into an agritourism destination, to educate kids and families about life on a farm. “For us, it’s about closing the gap between the food and the table,” says Scarlett.

“We get calls from small farmers like Chris and Scarlett wanting to do something more with their land all the time,” says Karla Kean, at the University of Tennessee-Tennessee State University Extension Office. But Chris and Scarlett’s passion stood out. “They have such a feel for the land,” she says. “They really want to share it with others while teaching about its heritage and conservation. They just kind of have an aura about them-it’s hard to put into words.”

The passion that Kean describes, along with their unique blend of fun, educational on-farm events and alternative crops such as blueberries and Chardonnay grapes, recently won them the title of Tennessee’s Small Farmer of the Year 2010 from Tennessee State University.

RiverView Mounds is also a certified Tennessee Century Farm. In the fall of 2008, Chris and Scarlett celebrated the farm’s 175th anniversary with their first Fall Festival, offering hay rides, pumpkin-picking, a corn maze, and barnyard animal feeding activities. They will kick off this year’s Fall Festival on September 11, and will follow that with Country Christmas 2010, beginning on November 26. Their busy roster of activities also includes hosting school groups. Kids learn about farm animals, plant life cycles, and seed-planting, and they can take a hayride out to the farm’s Mississippian Era Native American mounds. The mounds, which were recently added to the National Historic Registry, are also the origin of the farm’s name.

“The education piece is the most important thing for me,” says Scarlett. “When I ask kids where their milk comes from, nine times out of ten they say ‘Wal-Mart,’ as if there’s a faucet inside the store filling up the gallon jugs. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Upcoming plans include providing produce through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), and selling cut flowers and year-round produce from two greenhouses that Chris built. They’ve also applied to the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, a cost-sharing program for farmers, to build a Discovery Barn where kids can participate in farm activities such as churning butter and composting.

“Lots of the kids that come out have never been in a green space like this,” says Scarlett. “They leave so happy and energized. It’s just so powerful to be able to share this with them.” Chris adds, “It’s as if they come out here in black and white, and leave in full color.”

 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Burger Up

In honor of Eat Out For Nashville last week, a group of friends and I headed to Burger Up to support our flooded city (learn more about that in my last post) by eating really delicious burgers. Burger Up is from the Frothy Monkey people, and it’s located in the hip little 12 South neighborhood in Nashville.

Upon walking in, my first impression was good. The vibe strongly reminded me of a Chicago restaurant, not a Nashville one. Nothing against Nashville here, I just don’t typically encounter ultra-urban environments ’round these parts. I’d describe the decor as modern rustic, with exposed wood on several walls, super high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and communal tables. Hipsters abounded, with their v-neck t-shirts and ironic haircuts, but there was also a good showing from the yo-pro and hippie sets. I think I fit somewhere in between all of those genres, so I felt right at home.


The place was packed (the organizers of EOFN did a GREAT job of promoting this) but we were able to sidle up to the bar. I ordered one of their special cocktails of the evening: a Strawberry Basil Ros

é which is just exactly what it sounds like. Simple syrup, strawberries, muddled basil and rosé wine. One of the reasons I love rosé so much is because it’s so dry, and the simple syrup kind of counteracted that so I probably would have left that out. Plus the strawberries were sweet enough. I also would have upped the anty on the basil, maybe muddling some in the bottom of the glass. But overall I liked the concept. And the drink sure was pretty.

To start we ordered the Fried House Pickles. I am a huge fan of fried pickles, and these were some of the best I’d ever had. They were lightly breaded slices, or “coins”  of pickles instead of full, deep-fried spears. I always find the breading falls off the spears, and they’re usually too hot to eat for awhile. The smaller pickle pieces alleviated these problems. The bredding was crisp and light and not soggy at all. It also didn’t compete with the pickle flavor. Definitely something I’d recommend.

For our mains, we ordered three different burgers, with sides of different kinds of fries (truffled, regular and sweet potato were among the mix). The fries are almost worth a different post. They’re hand-cut, meaty, perfectly cooked fries with creative ketchups to boot. When the burgers arrived, they were served on soft, ciabatta-style rolls that were dense enough not to fall apart under the meaty weight of the burgers, yet were still slightly chewy and tender. I ordered the lamb burger with wilted arugula, peppermint dijon and boursin cheese, and I absolutely loved it. I ordered the lamb medium rare, which I almost never do with burgers but always do with steak. In a different life I worked for the beef industry and one of our cardinal rules of thumb was to cook burgers to a minimum of medium doneness. Steaks are fine rare or medium rare since they’re a whole muscle and thus only the outside can carry contaminates. Since the burgers are ground and those contaminates can get folded in throughout the burger, it’s best to cook them to at least medium doneness. Anyway…I threw caution to the wind and ordered the lean lamb medium rare. And I’m glad I did. It was tender, juicy and ultra flavorful. (There is nothing worse than a dry burger in my opinion). My other dining companions ordered the Pimento burger and the Woodstock, and I think they were all satisfied. Read all about them here: http://www.burger-up.com/


In total, Eat Out For Nashville raised $48,000!! Can you believe that? Burger-Up was packed and I hear almost all of the 50 or so other restaurants who signed up to participate were packed as well. In addition to making such a hearty contribution to the flood relief funds, most of the establishments had better Monday sales than they almost ever do. So it really was a win-win for everyone. 

In the end I highly recommend Burger Up and will definitely be back! 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eat Out for Nashville

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve probably heard about the flood. Nashville was literally under water last weekend, and much of the water is just starting to subside now. Houses and businesses were destroyed, highways were shut down and local tourism came to a screeching halt.

So, local restaurateurs are rallying to raise some money. In a movement called Eat Out For Nashville, on May 17, local restaurants from Nashville to Cool Springs will donate at least fifty percent of proceeds to the Tennessee Emergency Response Fund of the Community Foundation of Tennessee.

So far participating restaurants include Amerigo West End, Amerigo Cool Springs, Baja Burrito, Burger Up, Lazzaroli’s Pasta, The Melting Pot, Menchie’s Yogurt, Paradise Park Trailer Resort, Patterson House and The Perch.


And that’s pretty damn good considering this movement started exactly one week ago and has been promoted and seeded almost exclusively through social media platforms. Consider that for a moment. While many jump at the chance to bash social media as a “waste of time,” Eat Out for Nashville shows how these platforms can help mobilize an effort, communicate for a cause — and all for free. For updates and to join in the support, follow @EatOutForNash on Twitter (already 230 followers!) and “like” them on Facebook (907 fans so far!). The word is spreading like wildfire, or perhaps like rising flood waters. 

If you’re local, dine out next Monday and share where you ate! I haven’t yet decided where I’m headed but I’ll be sure to post it to the blog. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Portland, Pinot and Pale Ales

I’m on location in Portland this week. Ah…the land of beautiful landscapes, local eating, and the hipster, hippie-dippie set. Love it out here. The main purpose of my visit is to attend the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which kicks off today. Over the next four days I’ll be listening to the likes of Kim Severson, food editor for The New York Times, and Ruth Reichl, former executive editor of Gourmet magazine, wax on about food and cooking. I’ll also be attending sessions with topics like “The Death of Recipes” with Michael Ruhlman, “Career Strategies for Food Writers” and “Culinary Medicine: Eating Something You Believe In.” You can imagine my excitement.

In addition to all that, I’ve also been visiting with friends and doing some of my own food and drink “research.” On Sunday my friend Ashley and I went wine tasting in Yamhill County outside of Portland. We tasted lots of famous Oregon Pinots including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and several Pinot Noirs. I love Pinot Noir, and was surprised at how different each was, based on vintage and winemaker. Some were the typical jammy wines with red cherry and plum notes. Other were peppery, with a hint of mushrooms.Yesterday, my buddy John and I enjoyed some late afternoon beers at the relatively new brewpub Ninkasi in Eugene, Ore.

The Pacific Northwest is famous for their hoppy beers, so we did a sampler of several of them, so I could taste the differences. Until recently, I thought I wasn’t a fan of pale ales and their signature hoppiness. But as I’m learning, that’s like saying I didn’t like something as vast and varied as bread or pasta. There are a zillion different kinds of pale ales and India Pale Ales (IPAs). In fact, I’ve long-considered Bass to be one of my favorite beers, not realizing that it was a pale ale, too. Guess I needed to get my facts straight, and Ninkasi helped me do that. PK Nice was one of my favorites of the five we tried. It’s a pale ale with more corn than barley so the malt is smoother. It also had notes of vanilla, which complemented the malt well. And the hops somehow squeezed their way into all of that for a round, refreshing beer. My second favorite beer was Tricerahops…a double IPA! Can you believe that? Double the hops of a regular IPA. Somehow it was citrusy and refreshing without any of that “bite” I thought I didn’t like in hops. My mind was blown.

To read more about IPAs and pale ales and their differences, including an interesting fact about how India pale ales got their name, check out this article published in Seattle Weekly a few years back. It gives a great overview of the two styles.

More to come from this conference and Portland, I’m sure. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bagna Cauda

I think garlic is exciting. When using it minced as an aromatic in a saute, I add it at the point the onions are becoming translucent and only allow it to cook until fragrant, or about 30 seconds, before I add the next ingredient. Whenever I hear that sizzle as the small minced morsels hit the pan, I swear my heart starts beating a little faster. Garlic just elicits good feelings..

Imagine my excitement when I read a recipe in a recent issue of Bon Appetit for bagna cauda, a garlicky dip for crudites or steamed vegetables like artichokes that called for three heads – not cloves, heads — of garlic.


In Food Lovers’ Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst defines bagna cauda as a combination of “…olive oil, butter, garlic and anchovies served warm as an appetizer with raw vegetables for dipping.” She also notes that the dip hails from Piedmont, Italy. The term comes from bagno caldo, Italian for “hot bath.”
   
Here’s the recipe, along with some pics. I enjoyed this with lightly sauteed asparagus instead of artichokes the first night, then used it as a dressing on a spinach salad with toasted sunflower seeds, tomatoes and some parmesan cheese the second. I also added diced red onions. The onions combined with the garlicky dip gave me some sort of garlic-onion hangover the next day. I felt headachey and awful! If only my toothbrush could talk…

Bagna Cauda
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated, papery skin removed (but cloves left unpeeled
3 tablespoons butter 
1 2-ounce tin anchovy fillets, drained, anchovies chopped 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
crudites, steamed veggies, crostini for dipping (I used sauteed asparagus)
 
Place unpeeled garlic cloves in small saucepan. Add enough water to cover garlic cloves by 1 inch. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until garlic is tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain; transfer to plate. Chill garlic cloves until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Squeeze garlic cloves from peel and place cloves in small bowl. Using fork, mash garlic cloves until smooth.

Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Add anchovies and sauté 1 minute. Add mashed garlic and oil. Simmer over low heat 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm before serving, stirring occasionally (bagna cauda will separate when served).

Monday, April 5, 2010

I’m Back!

New job, new house, new city. And now I’m back, Nashville. After many life changes, it’s time to start blogging again. But first, an update. This is a little more personal than my posts usually are, but here goes anyway.

I just started a job as the private events coordinator/PR maven at The Viking Store, a cooking school and retail store for kitchen goods in the pretty little town of Franklin, Tenn., right outside of Nashville. So far it’s going amazingly well. My goal when leaving Chicago and the world of public relations agencies was to find a job where I still got to use the skills I learned at the agencies (communication, management, organization), but closer to the kitchen. Now I’m planning foodie events, working with chefs to choose menus and generally getting people excited about cooking classes. It’s a pretty good match for me. If you have any friends or business connections who may want to plan a foodie event for their group, I’m your girl. I know, I know, this blog is not for promotions, but I had to give myself a little plug. I’m a networker, after all!

Secondly, I moved. And it’s awesome. The house is old and has tons of character. The kitchen is BIG, well not that big, but it’s the first kitchen I have had mostly to myself and my cooking equipment so it feels enormous. I’ve put my tools in a tool drawer, pan lids in a pan lids drawer and have all my cookbooks out and ready for use (in that glass corner cupboard in the picture below). And I love it more than even I could ever imagine. I feel like I’m a better cook these days because of it.

Speaking of tools, I’m looking to outfit my kitchen with some new goods now that I’m surrounded by cooking gadgets of all kind every day at Viking. My current favorite is a microplane. It zests like the devil, and also acts like a strainer when you squeeze a lemon or lime over it if you don’t have a nifty citrus juicer, which I don’t (I smell a first purchase). Lemon zest adds such a kick — the zest takes the lemony flavor to places the juice alone never could. The only way you can get this zippy zest is to use a microplane or zester. So go buy one! Seriously they cost a few dollars and it’ll add so much flavor to baked goods, sauces, dressings — anything — very easily. I was poking around online to find something on zesters to prove my point, and I found this excellent Chow.com video tip. I could watch their online tips for hours. They’re short, succinct and helpful. I’d even venture to say it could make the viewer a better cook. Check them out — it’s only 28 seconds long and definitely worth the time.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool?

PS (can I include a PS in a blog? I guess I make the rules for this blog so YES): I appreciate all the “follows,” comments and encouragement over the years. Thank you so much for taking the time to be interested. It’s my April resolution to update more often with a variety of posts, so stay tuned! Your support makes me tear up just thinking about it. Seriously.

Love and good eating,
LaAguacate

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Squash-Buckling Adventures, Part II

Well, I cooked the squash. My roommate said it looked like a vegetable massacre in the kitchen, after I was done slicing, peeling, seeding, roasting, smashing and pureeing.

To be honest, I had some reservations about the results of all this squash. Having so many different varieties to deal with (see last post for the particulars) made me realize that squash and other gourds can be intimidating. They have this hard, seemingly impenetrable exterior, with vibrant, sometimes wild streaks and blotches. From the outside, there is no indication of the flavor and texture of what lies within. And when you slice them open, the fibrous, fleshy pulp doesn’t immediately smell or look appetizing. It takes long, slow cooking to coax out the buttery, earthy flavors. But I learned you just have to jump in, roast the suckers, and hope for the best. It was quite a day and I was exhausted at the end. But I did conquer my fear of the squash unknown. Following is an overview of the results of a pie, soup, roasted seeds and mashed squash.
But first, I cooked all the squash the same way. They were sliced, seeded, and roasted with a little butter until they were tender, and the skins had begun to collapse. Once cool, I scooped out the flesh and composted the skins. All the recipes begin from this point.

Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping (click here for recipe)
I forgot to take a picture of this baby, but it was good. It’s really gratifying to make a pie completely from scratch — homemade crust, homemade pumpkin, homemade whipped cream. The best part was the topping. The nuts gave it a savory note to combat the sweet brown sugar. At least just try the topping sometime. Yum. I substituted one cup of fresh cooked pumpkin (from the cushaw and pie pumpkin) for the one cup of canned it calls for. For the record, there is nothing wrong with using canned pumpkin. I’ve read it’s one of the best products you can buy canned, because it’s just cooked pumpkin, without any of the hassle. But if you want to use fresh, just make sure you puree the cooked flesh (for a smoother-textured pie) and use cheese cloth or a couple of paper towels to squeeze out the excess water (so the pie doesn’t get soggy). Even though I used cushaw squash and a pie pumpkin, the flavor was still earthy and pumpkin-y — just like mom used to make.

Gingery Squash Soup
This was a made-up recipe, that turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I sauteed a chopped medium onion in olive oil until the onion was translucent, then added in a few cloves of minced garlic, just until the garlic was fragrant. Then I added about 3 cups of cooked squash, 4 cups of chicken broth, 3 tablespoons of ground ginger, 1.5 tablespoons ground cumin, and one tablespoon of cayenne. Then I scooped portions into a blender, added a dash of milk, and pureed it until fairly smooth, but still with texture. Then I added it back to the pot, added salt and pepper to taste, and let it barely simmer for an hour to meld the flavors. I ended up freezing about a third of it in individual plastic baggies and have been enjoying it in single-servings for lunch. Yum.

Roasted Squash Seeds
I mixed all the seeds from the various squash together for the roasted seeds. After doing some research, I learned that the key to good seeds is getting the seeds dry enough to ensure they brown. There are several ways to accomplish this. Some people rinse them to get the slime off, then leave them out to dry overnight. Others boiled the seeds in salted water for 10 minutes to season and clean them, then dried and roasted them. Still others just rinsed and dried and roasted them. I tried the latter of the two techniques (I have no patience for overnight drying!), first tossing the cleaned seeds with a tablespoon of unsalted butter and some table salt. The seeds that were boiled in salted water first had a better flavor than those that were just roasted.

Mashed Squash with Blue Cheese
I had a little squash left over from the cushaw and the acorn squash, so I mashed it up with a little milk, salt and pepper and sprinkled it with some gorgonzola and fresh parsley. It was good, the flavors worked, but it needed some fat or heavier cream instead of the milk. If I make it again, I’ll add in a little butter during the mashing.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Squash-Buckling Adventures in the Snow

We got six inches of snow in Nashville this weekend, and people are losing their minds. Having recently moved from Chicago, I find this freak-out particularly humorous. Schools and businesses everywhere have shut down, grocery stores are short on milk, eggs and canned goods, and cars have been abandoned all over the highways…seriously abandoned, often unscathed. People must see ice, panic, slam on the breaks, fling open the car door and run screaming down the highway, hands waving in the air. Or at least that’s what this snobby, snow-hardened northerner imagines. So I’m staying in, away from all the madness.

To occupy myself during the freeze I’ve decided to do some cooking. What better way to pass the winter hours than to fill the house with warm smells and good food. Plus it’s a great feeling of accomplishment and productivity without ever having to leave the house.

But what to cook? For a foodie, this is a great problem to have. I pulled out my favorite new cookbooks (Christmas gifts…thanks Mom!) including Chez Pannise Vegetables, The Gourmet Cookbook and CookWise by Shirley Corriher and began flipping through. As I was getting situated at the kitchen table, I had to move a few things around to make room for the books — a newspaper, a couple magazines, and a huge bowl of squash my friend and frequent La Aguacate commenter DJ B gave me from his CSA share. Oh wait.

These squash are real beauties. I learned from Angel at Avalon Acres, the farm where they were grown, that they are (from left): cushaw, a really cool squash indigenous to middle Tennessee, pie pumpkin, the tan one is a Cuban pumpkin, and the two small ones are acorn squash.

And so begins my squash-buckling adventure. I’m thinking definitely a pie, maybe soup, something roasted, a mashed variety with blue cheese, something in bread form and maybe more soup? What have you made with squash? Do you know these squash? What’s your favorite type of squash? How many times can I say “squash in the same paragraph? Squash, squash, squash.

I’ll circle back soon with the results of my day/s of squash cooking. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Rutabaga…duh, duh, DUH

At nearly five pounds, with a tough-looking texture and dark, stormy coloring, the rutabaga appears a formidable adversary. Its name even sounds intimidating. But supposedly, according to a recent article in The New York Times, “it’s the best vegetable you’ve never tried.” I was intrigued.

According to Susan Tyler Herbst in Food Lover’s Companion, “this root vegetable is thought to be a cross between a cabbage and a turnip.” She also shares that “the name comes from the Swedish rotabagge, which is why [it's] also called a Swede or Swedish turnip.” Rutabagas are in season throughout the cooler months, as most root vegetables are, from September to June. I was right on time.

I got to work cutting the beast down the middle, peeling it and slicing it into a half-inch dice. It really didn’t take long, but the initial cut through its nearly five-inch diameter took some strength.

I decided to prepare my rutabaga in two different ways, both mentioned in the article above. I tossed one half in a pan of salted boiling water and cooked it for 20 minutes. When it was tender, I drained and mashed it, and added a tablespoon of unsalted butter and a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. I left the peel on the other half and tossed the cubes in some olive oil, REAL maple syrup, salt and pepper. Then I roasted them for about 30 minutes, until the flesh was just tender, but not too soft.

The flavor was peppery like a turnip yet buttery like a squash. It had a fresh, clean taste, and wasn’t too starchy. The boiled rutabaga wasn’t silky smooth like mashed potatoes can be, but grainy and a little fibrous like squash. It was fine just the way it was but would also have tasted good with some fresh parsley sprinkled on top. The roasted version was also tasty. The maple syrup added the sweet flavors of fall. I also would have enjoyed it as part of a roasted root vegetable medley including sweet potatoes and onions with a little thyme.

Overall my rutabaga experience was a good one. I enjoyed it with Chicken Breasts Provencal, polenta and fresh spinach.

If you can get past the rutabaga’s intimidating exterior, you’ll find the delectable flavors coaxed out of this rooty beast make it worth your while to try it.