My Current Obsession: Winter Squash

     Autumn is arguably the best time of the year. Especially if you live in Louisiana. Here in the deep south, even at some points in the winter, we are forced to withstand a slightly uncomfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. There have been Christmas mornings that require flip-flops and sunglasses. Many natives don’t even know what snow looks like, much less ever experienced a full-blown snow day. And while many of you in colder parts of the world shake your heads in pity for us, I will say, that our constant warm weather makes us appreciate autumns all the more. You see around mid-June the temperature starts to get a little out of hand and by August the heat is absolutely smothering to the point where you fear that your brains are going to hard-boil inside of your own skull. Maybe that’s not very good imagery for a food blog, but play along. I personally play it safe and hardly ever leave the house during the summer. My electric company is obsessed with me because that air-conditioner never leaves 71 degrees for three whole months. So you can only imagine by the time that early October comes rolling around and the atmosphere starts producing those elusive cold fronts, it almost feels like the lessening of a vice grip. I can start leaving the house again, my thermostat gets to go on vacation…it’s a MUCH needed and much appreciated time of the year.

     I’d have to say that aside from the lovely cooler weather (I say cooler because it doesn’t really ever get COLD in Louisiana like some places do) the second best part about autumn is the harvest; the bounty of delicious fruits and vegetables that we come to affectionately associate with the fall and winter months. I think I first fell in love with autumn foods where most people do, at the Thanksgiving table. In childhood, Thanksgiving was probably the biggest day of the year for my immediate family in particular. My mother’s family has 6 children and most of those children each had a holiday or an event during the year that was to be celebrated at their house. So for one day out of the year, my whole extended family made the hour-long pilgrimage from the city to the suburbs to allow my small family unit to play host to them. Which in my mind was absolutely flipping enchanting. My mother had a flair for holiday decor, and she never missed a beat with fall-inspired napkins, table-settings, garlands, center pieces. She’d have to start preparing like a week in advance. On Thanksgiving morning I’d wake up early (which got increasingly harder well into my teens years) and plop myself in front of the big screen and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Pretty much halfway through I’d get bored and start poking around the kitchen hoping for a sampling of turkey or dressing. But the smells y’all. The smells coming from that kitchen as my mother prepared each individual dish (there must have been on the upward end of ten dishes each year) from scratch. I’d always hoot when the Hello Kitty balloon made her appearance or my favorite music group of the time got to ride on one of the floats. I’d get pissed when they’d do Christmas themed dance numbers because even today I feel like Thanksgiving should have its own identity. (I’m a big advocate for Thanksgiving rights and equality) Sadly, as time went on and I got older, mostly during the back end of my teen years, our Thanksgiving traditions sunk like a ship. People get divorced. Holidays inevitably become a source of tension. I can honestly say that these days, I’ve become something of a Thanksgiving orphan, usually not having a place to go for the special day. My family promptly decided to make every happy holiday known to man absolutely unbearable after my parents’ untimely divorce. I live in a well-crafted box of memories when it comes to the holidays. Don’t feel sorry for me, I have plans to revive the old ways once I am married and have popped out a few children of my own. I’m just in this weird transitional phase at the moment.

Image

    One of the finest food memories I have locked away in the “Thanksgiving Traditions” sector of my brain, is the Butternut Squash soup my mom used to make for an appetizer. It is seriously so delicious that I’ve been known to make it in the middle of summer despite what my thermostat tells me. This stuff is like liquid gold, the perfect balance of nuttiness from the squash and the cream. Top that with a healthy portion of cracked black pepper (because if you don’t you’re not doing it correctly) and you have yourself a little bowl of heaven. Strangely enough, we’re not talking about that today, although I won’t rule it out of future entries before the year is up. I discovered another winter squash recipe recently that could definitely contend with the butternut soup for best autumn dish. We’re not even going to bring spaghetti squash into this entry, although, I’m kind of obsessing over that one too. The acorn squash, is my new cute, oddly-shaped best friend. I have to come clean, until last week I had only ever seen acorn squashes in pictures and I was kind of imagining them to be the size of a pumpkin. No. Wrong. They’re actually adorably smaller. I’d say the ones I found were the size of a softball. I’m not exactly sure why they’re called acorn squashes. I’ve never eaten an actual acorn before (despite my many years of smashing them to bits on the playground. I had a lot of pent-up rage as a kid…) so I’m not sure if they taste similar. Or maybe it’s because the color of the outside is reminiscent of the color of actual acorns and when you break both open there’s a meaty orange center. Or maybe it’s because the actual shape of the squash is acorn-like. I’ll have to look into that more. All I know is, when roasted, these little friends become sweet and terribly tender. You start with a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees F and continue to roast the halves for 50 minutes (much to the wailing complaint of my smoke detector. It doesn’t like when I do anything that involves broiling or roasting. Not at all.) But I didn’t let that deter me. I find this recipe to be laborious so this is definitely not a quick meal. But I can totally see this becoming an autumn must-have for years to come.

ImageImage

     Like 96% of the recipes I’ll post here, this one I found on Pinterest. If you’ve never been on Pinterest before (seriously, what are you doing with your life?) it’s basically a massive feed of pictures of everything in the whole world. Like the entire Internet condensed into thumbnail pictures. The idea is, when you see something you like, you “pin it” to one of your boards (I have 130 boards. Sorry/I’m not sorry.) Many of these pins have sources and so I feel it is my duty to credit those who in a sense “own” the content that I find on there. This particular recipe belongs to Ms. Nicole over at http://www.preventionrd.com which it seems was adapted from Food.com. Now this lovely little gem of a recipe has found its way to my kitchen and has become a two-thumbs up, boyfriend-approved, EVEN healthy autumn meal in my household. I might have added a little more sage than I was supposed to, I’m often heavy-handed with spices, but in this case, I feel that sage gives it such a fall flavor and I love how it’s baked right into the squash itself. I used ground regular (I believe pork) Italian sausage which was tasty as ever and paired so well with the sweet squash. Pop on over to Nicole’s site to get the skinny on the nutrition facts about this recipe! She is a registered dietician and knows science things that I don’t understand.

Image

Sausage and Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash from PreventionRD.com

2 large acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp ground sage, divided
3/4 lb Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
4 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 apple, cored and chopped
1 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the melted butter, garlic, and 1/4 tsp sage. Brush the inside and outside of each squash with the butter mix. Place the squash on a cookie sheet, cut side up, and roast for 50-60 minutes, or until fork tender.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate, set aside. To the skillet add the onions, celery, and mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the apples and cook for another 2 minutes.

Return the sausage to the skillet then remove from heat. Season with 1/4 tsp sage, salt, and pepper. Stir in the panko and Parmesan. Add the egg and stir to combine.

Divide the stuffing evenly among the four squash halves. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

I hope everyone is enjoying the fall season so far and please stay tuned for more recipe finds and many more entries to come.

Cheers,

Katie

The Creation Story

Welcome, Interwebs Traveler, to my humble blog.
    My name is Katie. In my most basic form, I am a 20-something-year-old with many fancies, one of them being anything gastronomic. I am too young to be epicurean, but in much too deep to be a casual foodie. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. I was reared in a food family hailing from the culinary epicenter of the United States, the great and resilient city of New Orleans. I was raised on crawfish boils in the spring, snowballs in the summer, Saints football in the fall and gumbo in the winter. I guess you can say I have a little bit of swamp blood in me, and there ain’t no shame in that. Everyone knows that if you’re raised in Louisiana, you were born to eat. My family get-togethers were always centered around a meal and the children in my family were raised around the stove. If it wasn’t spiral hams at my grandmother’s, it was homemade hearty casseroles and stews from my mother’s kitchen. My father presented me with the other side of the culinary spectrum at a young age. When I was only still in middle school, my father made a point to bring my younger sister and I to high-end, five-star restaurants. His mission was to show us the finer things in life; to appreciate a good well-crafted meal. Before I was 12 I knew how to hold a wine glass, how I liked my steak and the difference between grades of meat. I had acquired the taste for strong cheeses and an impeccable understanding of flavors before I entered high school. Having supped my way through the likes of Commander’s Palace and other highly acclaimed local restaurants so young, I lost interest in the culinary world for a brief time in high school, and took to obsessing over diets, boys, and entirely too much black eye-liner and clothes. What can I say? It happens. I have always been something of a loner. I keep a few close friends nearby, but I have always found it incredibly trying to get close to people. It’s not that I don’t like people, or that I particularly enjoy being by myself, it’s just that at many times in my life I have found myself alone. Going to college was one of those times.
    

     Being dramatic and 18-years old, I chose a college that was just far enough from my hometown that I could break out and start anew. I moved into a tiny dorm/apartment on campus with a VERY eccentric pro-wrestling enthusiast roommate, who absolutely hated me on sight and spent all of her weekends at her parents’ house. I found myself often depressed and alone with my pantry and refrigerator. I also lived next-door to Quizno’s which had free wifi and supplied me with a delicious bounty of baked sandwiches. I got fat and watched entirely too much television. Somehow I managed to ditch my freshman 15 by walking everywhere. I didn’t have a car and I lived very close to a specialty grocery store that sold gourmet ingredients. I was drawn to Champagne’s like a fly to a bug zapper. I managed to import an art student boyfriend who wore a trilby hat and insisted on growing a monk beard from South Carolina who I met on the Internet. We spent all our time trying to be pretentious food geeks by crafting the likes of stuffed eggplants and exotic Thai soups in my tiny kitchen. We watched A LOT of Food Network, too much for me to comfortably admit and often we tried to re-create the elaborate meals we saw on television. It was chaos. Unbridled chaos. I had never cooked before in my life. I had watched many people do it and I had ordered a meal in many a fine restaurant. Cooking was uncharted territory. By this time I had traded in my grumpy roommate for a peppy blonde named Heather (who was opposite from me in all ways but somehow we meshed really well) and our specialty was destroying the kitchen making red velvet cupcakes. I didn’t really formally learn to cook until my hipster boyfriend left me to drop out of school and go back home. In retrospect, I don’t really know why I got so messed up over it, but I came completely unglued. For an entire summer I forgot to eat. I forgot to watch television. I lost 30 pounds because all I did was go to summer classes, and hole myself up in my dark bedroom listening to Evanescence. Three months later I managed to present myself to the world when the lease expired on my dorm and I moved into my first real apartment.
  

  The plan was for Heather and I to move in together, but extraneous circumstances left the entire apartment to me. At first this was terribly unsettling but I didn’t mind it after awhile. I got really health conscious after I became terribly aware of my single status on Facebook. I’ve always struggled with weight my entire life due to hormone-related complications. My endocrinologist was breathing down my neck encouraging me to learn to eat right and at that point I started to take things into my own hands. Living alone left me with a lot of free time and a lot of moments to listen to my own brain think. And if you suffer with depression like I do, your brain can think some pretty nasty things. I needed a hobby. I started looking through recipes, ones that weren’t so challenging and chaotic and I began strategically teaching myself techniques. Most of the basics were inborn in me. Something about coming from a food family will do that to you. But a lot of things I learned from watching chefs on television, YouTube tutorials and asking a lot of questions. I became really invested in learning how to cook. Cooking was one of those rewarding things that I didn’t have to answer to anybody about. I was the only one eating my food so if it tasted good to me it was a success. I burned a lot of things. Mostly my hands and other appendages. I cut myself, I dumped a lot of things on the floor and I somehow managed to adhere a pizza to the inside of my oven. Don’t ask. I didn’t have the fanciest and best equipment. I didn’t have the biggest and the best kitchen. My meals at first were basic and uneventful. But I was addicted. I was addicted to the smells and the colors and most of all the way my mind went silent when I cooked. For the first time in my life I had found something that made the thoughts freeze like water. I was more comfortable burning the shit out of myself trying to take a chicken out of the oven than I ever was doing anything else.
    

     Perhaps it’s the strategic step by step motions of cooking, the mental checklist that plays out in your head as you’re preparing a meal. It forces you to think clearly, to mentally put your ducks in a row. It’s challenging. Physically and strategically. I knew at that point that this was something that I could live for. By the time I started talking to my current boyfriend, my culinary repertoire had been coming along nicely. Our first date we had coffee before class, and then I asked him over for dinner that night. It’s funny because when cooking for a new beau I could have pulled out all the stops and made something completely extravagant. But I didn’t. I didn’t make anything that I saw on television or in magazines. I made a simple baked chicken that I had watched my mother make when I was a child. It was a spur of the moment kind of recipe that I remember she threw together one night after a late choir practice at church. I remembered that I had tasted nothing so buttery and delicious in my life than that chicken and so strangely enough, I decided to make that. I made homemade mashed potatoes though. I was kind of pleased as punch about that. I dressed them with a simple side of green peas and left it simply at that. That night he took his shoes off at the door and pretty much hasn’t left in almost 3 years. I was lucky that my boyfriend loved food as much as I did. We’re not the kind of fatties that would be content with eating large quantities of Burger King just because we like the taste. Although I’m not even going to try and deny that we haven’t done that before. Food is a passion. Cooking, the preparation, the ritual of bread-breaking is what I am really after. Through this relationship, my culinary love has become so much more well-rounded.
    

     The way I see it food is so much more than a necessity. It’s a chance to make a memory. It’s the chance to tell stories and have communion with other people. It’s the very fabric that binds us all together at the seams. Food is a culture. It’s the adventure in finding the most local, farm fresh ingredients, the intricacy of beer-brewing, the pomp and pleasure of fine-dining, the community that happens over a bubbling pot of gumbo and the thrill of finding new and exciting places to taste. It’s creativity at its most practical. At some point I downgraded to a smaller much more economical apartment but I gained a roommate that I absolutely can’t get enough of no matter how hard times get. He and I spend entirely too much time stirring up trouble in the kitchen, taste-testing, discussing, writing, blogging, grocery hunting, restaurant hopping and now pod-casting about food. And we’re not really sorry about that. The way I see it, if I can bring even the smallest of smiles to someone’s face by creating a meal for them or with them, or even inspiring them to do the same in their own lives, I’ve done something great. I’ve had food blogs before that I lost sight of and felt hindered my vision. I bring this blog to you now with the intention of entertaining, inspiring and teaching. Everyone has their little piece of something to share with the world. This just so happens to be mine.