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Entries in squash (4)


Sensible Squash Soup

I've been painting and cooking. Cooking and writing. Sometimes painting with what I'm cooking. But never cooking with what I'm painting....or am I?

I emerge out of this in a cloud of smoke, just as confused as you are. Oh yes. Confusion sets in. And disappointment too.

Disappointment? Yes. The other day, I painted squashes. Then I painted orange things. And more squashes. And I looked at it all and I said, "OK, great, Elana, but what are you going to do with it?"

So I made some butternut and acorn squash soup to make it all make sense. Because if anything makes sense, it's soup. Especially of the orange variety.

But it still didn't quite. Make sense, that is. Even after eating most of the soup, which was quite good with a little quinoa for protein, crispy baked mushrooms and fried sage.

So I sat down, belly full of soup, and thought. 

"Huh. What now?" I said to myself. "I know! How about I pour the rest of this soup onto this tiny white table and paint with it? And then work it into these here watercolors to see if I can match it up?"

ASIDE: This was happening while there was a snow storm a-brewing outside. John and I were staying at Iach HQ while Marmo and the Box were enjoying a vacation. It was about this time that John walked in to inquire the whereabouts of our snow plow man when he saw me, manic gleam in my eye, painting with my food. If there was ever a doubt as to who is the "odd duck" of the family, rest assured, it is obviously John who did not see the merit in such activities.

But, you, fair reader, certainly do! I can smell it. Just like I can smell the maple syrup saturating the squash as it roasts in the oven at 400°F. 

As before, I am leaving you specific instructions. Just these images from which you can certainly, if enterprising, cobble together a similar sensible soup. You can even paint with it, should you like.


You Can't Beet London

The title pun is intended. Many of you know that I recently spent some time in London. I was there for a race, representing the USA at the Age Group World Championships of Triathlon. This was an overwhelming and humbling experience. The whole Iaciofano clan showed up, as well as a hearty cheering squad from my old stomping ground in Los Angeles.

Highlights included:

Scotch eggs and fried capers at the Pheonix Pub in Covent Garden.

Copious amounts of "Flat Whites" (this one from a bike cafe called Look Mum, No Hands!)

A post-race celebration at the Dock Kitchen.

Wacky bus rides.

Underwhelming tube rides.

Black Pudding! (from Albion Cafe) John and I both liked it.

The best bathroom this side of anywhere (Nopi in SoHo).

The best food market this side of anywhere (Borough Market).

Copious amounts of clotted cream (from Brown's Hotel).

With equal amounts of gin. And rum. And heavens only knows what else (from Purl).

A proper British haircut for John.

A lot of shopping with Kaz.

Brunch featuring toast caddies! (At High Road House, Chiswick)

Waffles on sticks! (Tower of London)

More bike cafes (Zappi's in Oxford).

And a ridiculous, Team USA photoshoot around London...

Phew — that was a lot. Of beer. And gin. And blood pudding. How to recover? Vegetables. Even for breakfast. But how? Of course, I could be traditional and go with a nice vegetable frittata. But I had just been exposed to seemingly endless rows of cute coffee shops and cafes displaying their homemade baked good, including granola. I wanted to make my own.

And so I did. With vegetables. Beets and squash to be exact. These veggies toast up very sweet, so they're perfect for your morning granola. Add a little spice and nut action, and you've just created an addictive breakfast, snack, lunch...Now if I could just find an NYC coffee house that makes a flat white...

What You Need:

3-4 medium sized beets, trimmed of their greens and thinly sliced into 1/8" rounds

1 delicata (or winter) squash (you could also use butternut or sweet potato)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (I used Bob's Gluten Free variety)

1 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup roasted pistachios

3/4 cup coconut flakes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half of the squash into 1/8" inch thick pieces. Place the squash slices and the beet slices on the prepared baking sheet, but don't crowd them! Give 'em some room to breathe.

Throw them in the oven and let them bake. And bake....and bake. This takes a while, as you are essentially making vegetable chips which requires baking all the water out of the veggies. Veggies have a lot of water. The whole process could take up to an hour. Keep checking on them, as smaller pieces may crisp up faster and you don't want them to burn. Have a bowl ready to place more quickly cooked pieces.

Once all your veggies have "chipped," place them in the bowl and break them up into smaller pieces with your hands. Think about what size would fit nicely on a spoon. That's the size you should break them into.

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.

In another bowl, combine the oats, spices and nuts. Mix in the olive oil and maple syrup and coat all the dry ingredients evenly with the wet. Spread this mixture onto a baking sheet (you can use the same one that you used for the veggies) and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. With five minutes left in the baking time, sprinkle the coconut flakes on top. Coconut will toast up rather quickly, so it doesn't need much time.

Remove the mixture from the oven and add it to the bowl of veggie chips. At this point you can also add in the dried fruit. Mix to combine. Store in an airtight container for weeks! Now you can have your vegetables for breakfast.



Highlights from Thanksgiving 2012

Another Iaciofano Thanksgiving has come and gone. As you may recall from reading posts of Thanksgivings past, our family Turkey Day is a small affair. And as Aunt Olga has left us, to hopefully dine at pearlier Thanksgiving day tables, it has become even smaller.

Nevertheless! The Iaciofano's put on quite a show, gastronomically speaking, that is. But as with any show, we must begin with the warm up, the intro, the....well the schlepping.

Yes, the holiday schlepping. I have before intimated that I might require my own personal sherpa (please post applications in the comments section). This past Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no different. I and about 298,461,928,317,318,291,283 other turkey revellers descended on Penn Station at 4pm to catch a train to the New Jersey suburbs. However, I am about 99.99% convinced that I was the only passenger carrying the following items:

1. 4 different camera lenses and a camera

2. A tripod (that got repeated dirty looks from other travellers)

3. 2 pairs of sneakers

4. 2 different types of squashes

5. Cranberry sauce of my own making

6. Various plates (sandwiched in between clothes for cushioning)

7. A computer

8. Heavens only knows what else

I carried these items to accomplish cooking, photographing and a little racing. Enthusiastic, I know.

And so, we (by which I mean myself and all my gizmos, accoutrements and sneakers) arrived in Morristown, NJ ready to go. 

And go I did! I began the day with a little warm-up: The Morristown Turkey Trot at Ginty Field. It's nice to get out and trot with turkeys before you devour them. And it's even nicer when you place 1st in your age group of turkeys! Toby pictured above was overjoyed by my win (as you can see), as was The Box, who complained repeatedly of the cold weather, stole all the granola bars from the post-race buffet, and insisted we stay for the award "ceremony".

Anyway, I brought the extra sneakers for the race. They're racing sneakers, see....and I have this wackadoodle idea that they make me go faster. And they're pink.

And now, on with the show...Thanksgiving Day Dinner! There were a few stand-outs to the meal, one of which was ALLLL MINE MWAH HAHAHAHA!!

No seriously, I made it myself. Concocted it in my head, in fact, based on previous stuffing knowledge, some crazy theories and a sprinkling fairy dust. This miracle of carbohydrate and vegetable was the:

Stuffing with Winter Squash, Fig and BACON!

Also known as: The Best Stuffing in the UNIVERSE

What You Need:

This recipe serves 10-12

2 loaves good-quality white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
Roasted chestnuts, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 leeks, (just the white parts), trimmed rinsed well and diced
6 pieces cooked bacon
6-8 dried figs, diced
1/2 delicata squash with seeds removed
1/2 butternut squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 acorn squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 Kabocha squash, peeled with seeds removed
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus a few more leaves for fried sage garnish
5 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper

*A note on the squash - you could use more or less of any of the varieties listed, depending on availability. You could also use pumpkin!

What To Do:

The night before, you can slice up the squashes and roast them. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash into thin slices - there's no need to remove the skin from this little guy, as it's edible and very delicate....get it? Delicata??? ... ok, moving on.

Peel the butternut and slice into small cubes.

Th Acorn and Kabocha squashes are a challenge to peel because of their odd shape. Half these and remove the seeds. Then, place them, cut side down and brushed with a little olive oil, on the baking sheet. They may require a little more roasting time, but they will get nice and soft, and you can remove the insides after roasting.

Place all your sliced and cubes squash on the baking sheet as well. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage (use more if you like, but be warned that sage is a powerful herb!).

Roast in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. As I said the halved squashes may require more time. If so, remove the sliced varieties and let the other bake an additional 10 minutes.

Now onto the stuffing part! For the bread cubes, you can either buy a bread, cube it, and spread the cubes in single layers on baking sheets, letting them dry at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.

But, you could also use pre-dried bread cubes. Look for those in the Thanksgiving section of your supermarket. I won't judge you...I used the pre-dried version this year on account of juggling 14 different squashes, 4 camera lenses, a tripod, rolling suitcase and two pairs of running shoes (we'll get to that later) through Penn Station at 4pm the night before Thanksgiving.

Rinse and chop up your leeks. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet, stirring, until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh sage; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup stock; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon. I use the microwave for this task. Mostly because I love how once you use your microwave for cooking bacon, any time you heat it up after that for at least a month, it smells like bacon is cooking. Ever noticed this? Try it now. I place 2 paper towels on a plate, and place the 6 slices of bacon on top of that, evenly spaced, all lying next to each other. Then I put one more paper towel on top. Bacon likes to be tucked in, you see?

I cook the bacon in 30 second intervals to my desired degree of crispness. Don't crisp the bujeezuz out of it, as it's going to bake in the oven afterward.

Now grab a LARGE bowl. How large? In charge, people, that's how large.

Transfer the leek mixture to the large bowl. Add remaining 4 1/2 cups stock, the chestnuts, bread, salt, cooked bacon, figs and all the squashes; season with pepper. Toss to combine. If not stuffing turkey, transfer to a buttered 17-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake until hot and golden brown, 30 minutes more.

You will love this. John even loved it. Aaaaand, I must toot my own horn here, AUNT EMILY EVEN LOVED IT. No joke, people. She said it was "unique" and she actually meant that in a good way. Huh.

The next was Marmo's creation, from a recipe from the Silver Palatte Cookbook:

Ginger Pumpkin Mousse

What You Need:

4 eggs

7 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

minced crystallized ginger for garnish (don't eat it all before you garnish!)

What To Do:

Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light colored and thick. Add the gelatin and beat to blend well. Mix in pumpkin puree and spices and chill mixture until it begins to set.

Whip the heavy cream with a hand-held or standing mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour into 4-6 dessert dishes (like small ice cream bowls or ramekins). 

Chill for 4 hours. Before serving, decorate with crystallized ginger.

And then we commenced lying about. In the living room. With the Jets game on.

Let's not talk about the Jets game. But I will give you a sampling of Iaciofano Thanksgiving dialog, unrelated to football:

John: (Glancing at the fireplace) We should light a fire.


Me: (from the opposite couch, and apparently newly awake): LIGHT IT UP!!


Marmo: Who's going to CLEAN IT UP?!

John: I'll start it! (walks away to get some wood)


Marmo: Oh jeez.

The Box: Lighter's in the kitchen!!!

Toby: BARK BARK BARK!!! (translation: Light it up!)

And so we did. We lit it up. And then we watched more football (egads), and I fell asleep hours before normal people do. In fact, I was getting so much sleep, I decided to hang out in the burbs for the weekend.

On Saturday, I declared it my Family Birthday Dinner. We had not celebrated my birthday as a family yet. Hurricanes and power outages and train disturbances had postponed it. What did I want for my Family Birthday Dinner? Chinese food. Yes, I did! Chinese food from Bill and Harry's in East Hanover, NJ and Gruner Veltliner. 

And so, we lit it up (by which I mean started the car), and off we drove to sample the Szechuan Dumplings in Spicy Peanut Sauce that the Box and I had an argument about.

Me: I want the Szechuan Dumplings.

The Box: They don't have those at Bill and Harry's. You're thinking of the other place.

Me: No, they have them at Bill and Harry's. They have that spicy peanutty-saucy thing. 

The Box: No.

Me: YES.

The Box: No, you're imagining it.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I imagined them all the way into my mouth because lo and BEHOLD - there they were on the menu. LIGHT IT UP!!

We polished off a bottle of this stuff (and then another one)...

which The Box actually liked even though he claims to never have heard of Mr. Veltliner.

And then we all learned a lesson from our cookies:

The Box: Courageously shouldered the mistake in his recollection of Bill and Harry's appetizer menu.

Marmo: Did what was right and let herself be seen in public with all of us.

Me: I'm really not sure what this fortune is talking about. Imperfections??

John: Discovered his new talent: lighting it up!!

Happy Holiday Season everyone - and so it begins!


Let's Play Squash

Here I go again, revising traditional Italian dishes, making them healthier and hopefully making you wealthier and wise in the process. How? With squash, that's how.

Today's Recipe Revise focuses on ravioli. I've made my own! Imagine that. Acutally, you don't have to imagine it because I'm going to tell you how I did it. I made this particular pasta dough with whole wheat flour, so you could get some good-for-you grains in your diet. Yeah, you need them.

For the "stuffing," I used butternut squash and – get this – NO cheese. I promise, it's still delicious. Topped with a mix of roasted delicata and butternut squashes, this dish is perfectly balanced. The whole wheat pasta has a nutty taste (try it with hazelnut flour if you're extra-industrious) and the squashes are flavorful and meaty. Sage and some grated Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese give this dish extra life. So, let's make it happen.

First the pasta:

Makes about 30 1" diameter ravioli

What You Need:
100 grams all purpose flour
100 grams whole wheat flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 egg white for sealing the ravioli 

What You Do:

Measure out your flours using a scale - this is the only way to determine if you have the proper amount. After you've measured, mix them up together in a bowl, so that the all-purpose and the whole wheat are incorporated.

Pour onto a clean surface. I use my counter top, but if you'd like to use a large cutting board, that's fine as well.

Make a well or hole in the center of the flour and pour your beaten eggs in there. The sides of the well will hold them in place.

Using a fork or two of your fingers, start incorporating the flour into the eggs, slowly. Once all the dough is added, you will have a ball of egg and flour. This is a sticky process - don't worry, you're doing it right!

Knead this ball of dough with your hands for about ten minutes. The dough should start to spring back when poked with your finger. This means the gluten in the flour is starting to work and is giving the dough strength. This is good! Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. 

After the dough has enjoyed a disco nap, feed the dough into your pasta machine between the rollers at its widest setting. Crank that bad boy through at the widest setting THREE times, folding the dough onto itself in thirds after each pass. Then, start narrowing the settings on the rollers until the dough gets very thin. At the final pass, you should have a very thin sheet of pasta.

Place this on a cutting board and cut out 1 - 1 1/2" squares or circles. I used a cookie cutter for mine, but you can use one of those fancy-pants ravioli cutters or just use a dang knife. Keep it simple people. The fewer appliances you have, the less frequently they get caught in your drawers leaving you cursing the day you bought a can opener. Anyhoo! For more detailed instructions, you can check out a video on pasta making by yours truly here.

For the filling:

What You Need:
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted or boiled until it is soft.
1/4 almond milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 

What To Do:

Take your roasted b'nut and place it in a blender or food processor. Add the other ingredients and blend until smooth.

Reserve it in an air tight container, or start filling your ravioli with it immediately. You can even store it in the freezer for weeks if you like!

Once you have cut out your ravioli squares or circles, take a teaspoon and place small dollops of the squash filling onto the squares. Don't forget to leave half the squares filling-less, as these will be the tops.

Brush the outer rim of the ravioli square with egg white and top with another (unfilled) square. Press the top layer of pasta into the bottom with a fork, sealing it.

Repeat this for all the ravioli.

At this point, you can either freeze them for later use, or start boiling a pot of water to eat immediately. I vote for the second option, but if you must reserve them for later, place small squares of parchment or wax paper between the ravioli so they don't freeze together and create a giant squash chunk. Giant squash chunk is just not as cool as separated ravioli, trust me.

Boil a large pot of water, and once the water is boiling, salt the water. Don't be shy about salting it either. Go for it!

Plop in the ravioli. Even if they were frozen, they will only require about 3 minutes of cooking. They should float up to the top of the water when they are done.

For the topping:

What You Need:

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed into very tiny cubes (use the other half from the filing!)
1 or 2 delicata squash, cut in half with the seeds removed and sliced so you have half-moon slices. You don't have to worry about peeling the delicata.
Fresh sage - a LOT of it. Chop it up coarsely
Fresh rosemary, chopped. Just a sprinkle 
Salt and pepper - to taste
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil 

What To Do:

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place your chopped squash on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the herbs, salt and pepper and olive oil. Using your hands, mix it all up.

Place it in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, until the squashes are soft to the touch.

Plating It Up:

Place some ravioli in a bowl, top with the roasted veggies, and some Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese. 

Optional Bonus Points: Fry sage leaves in olive oil until they are crispy. Place on top of your finished dish. It'll be extra fabulous.