Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Red Kuri Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Red kuri squash is also known as potimarron, a French portmanteau combining potiron meaning pumpkin and marron meaning chestnut, acknowledging the squash’s characteristic flavor profile. (“Portmanteau” itself is a portmanteau combining the French words porter meaning carry and manteau meaning cloak. How meta. But I digress.) Kuri is Japanese for chestnut, same rationale.

My understanding is that in the UK, it’s called “onion squash” preferring to address its appearance rather than its flavor. (Draw your own conclusions regarding whatever that says about the culinary aptitude of the Brits. 😉)

Since this one was new to me, I just halved it and cleaned it out, roasting it with some butter in the cavity. The flavor wasn’t particularly deep, actually almost watery, in contrast to its texture which was more on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the continuum. Since I felt that it needed a boost, I added maple syrup and cinnamon to the melted butter.

Given another shot at it, I might try slicing and baking it with a glaze to concentrate its flavor and give each piece some individualized attention.

Next up, buttercup (no, not butternut) squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Autumn Frost Squash

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Autumn frost squash is actually a specialty butternut squash, bred for its compact size and named, I suspect, for its misty cast.

One lesson I learned from this foray into squashdom is to not expect perfect consistency of flavor from one squash to the next seemingly identical specimen. ’Jever dig into a bag of roasted peanuts in the shell where one radiates leguminous luciousness and the next is just kind of – off? I’m sure that’s true of most produce, but it’s easy to forget; I’m speculating that this was an example of that lesson.

There wasn’t much depth of flavor in this baby after I roasted it, and the flesh was on the moist/squishy-pulpy end of the continuum, so between its flavor (which I could doctor up) and somewhat soggy texture, I decided that its destiny would be the soup pot.

Garnished with what I had on hand, chestnuts and fresh herbs (looks like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?), the soup was a festive celebration of seasoned puréed squash, chicken broth and heavy cream with a bit of fresh thyme and sage. Ginger came to the party too. But alas, not Mary Ann. (Speaking of a misty cast.)

Next up, red kuri squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Acorn Squash

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Acorn squash is a reliable mainstay of supermarket produce aisles year-round. Sweet, as well as a good vehicle for stuffing, it’s frequently seen sporting a British racing green exterior but it also comes in white and gold models; the plush interior is always yellow-orange. (Talk about your mixed metaphors.) I think of it as falling somewhere in the middle of the dry/satiny-smooth <-> moist/squishy-pulpy texture continuum.

This photo of Maple Sugar Acorn Squash with Spicy Roasted Pepitas was taken at last year’s Thanksgiving extravaganza; if you’re curious, here’s very approximately what I did:

Using an extremely sharp, heavy knife, very carefully slice it in half, pole to pole; remove the seeds and strings. In each half, place about 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of grade A dark amber maple syrup and bake in a hot oven until completely soft. Pour off and reserve the liquids, scoop out and mash the squash adding back the juices, a little freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch of dried rosemary (a little goes a long way) and more melted butter if you like. (I like.)

The topping involves pepitas sautéed in hazelnut oil (with a few drops of sesame oil for good measure) dredged in a combination of sugar, salt, ground cumin, ginger and cinnamon, with a pinch of cayenne pepper. This dish, originally sans crunch, had always been a welcome addition to our Thanksgiving feast, but the topping turned out to be its sine qua non.

Next up, autumn frost squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Carnival Squash

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Carnival squash is a relatively new hybrid of acorn squash (note the shape) and sweet dumpling squash (note the variegated markings). Its popularity stems from the fact that it is both decorative as well as tasty so you can swap this baby into any recipe that calls for acorn squash or any tablescape that calls for its sweet dumpling relative.

I was particularly curious about the difference between this type and its near-doppelganger dumpling cousin. (It’s a Cathy/Patty thing.) Aside from its slightly larger size (and therefore more capacious cavity), I was surprised to find it a bit less sweet than the dumpling contrary to what I’ve read, although YMMV, but its flesh was considerably firmer, so I decided to press it into service as an edible soup bowl. I lopped off its crown, cleaned out the seeds and strings, and baked it at high heat, cut side down, just until it was soft enough to consume but still maintained enough structural integrity to function as an individual serving bowl, perfect for this creamy chestnut soup, a tasty contrast.

Next up, one of its progenitors, the ubiquitous acorn squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – But First

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A few words that apply universally to these beauties before we get too deep into the weeds (so to speak):

Winter squash represent one-third of the agricultural trio known as the Three Sisters, life-sustaining crops planted ensemble by the indigenous people of North America, the other two siblings being maize (corn) and climbing beans. Despite their radically different appearances and flavor profiles, winter squash are all members of the same genus, Cucurbita (Latin for gourd), native to Mesoamerica and the Andes. Of the five species that are cultivated throughout the world, three are well represented in our marketplaces around these parts: C. maxima (which includes buttercup, kabocha, and red kuri), C. pepo (which includes acorn and delicata squashes along with pumpkin and most summer squashes), and C. moschata (which includes butternut and autumn frost varieties). If you’re attempting to tease out and unravel common threads based on appearance, flavor or texture, it’s a fruitless task (even though they’re fruits, not vegetables), so go back to work solving your four dimensional Rubik’s Cube – trust me, it’s easier.

Winter squash are harvested in late summer through autumn as opposed to the fecund summer squash that flourish during the warmer months – as any generous gardener who may visit you will make evident over armfuls of them. Unlike their summer cousins, their thick skin facilitates fairly long term storage at home in a cool, dry place – which raises the question, can you eat the skin? Depends on whom you ask. (And that caveat will apply repeatedly throughout this discourse.) For example, regarding acorn squash, one highly respected writer (who shall remain nameless) asserts that “the peel is not edible” while another vaunted resource (also to remain nameless) states that “it is most often prepared with its skin on as the skin is edible when cooked”. IMO, for most winter squash, if the skin is thin enough and it looks appetizing, chomp away, but personally, I don’t find any appeal in a peel when the flavorful flesh is the reason for consuming them in the first place – and I won’t miss the roughage.

Most winter squash are well suited to roasting, baking, stuffing, broiling, sautéing, steaming, and grilling, but that’s another area where the experts clash, singling out recommended methods of preparation for each variety that differ from one Cucurbita cuckoo to the next. I tend to favor dry heat (roasting, for example) because it concentrates the flavor of the flesh, but it varies with the recipe, not the squash. For example, roasted or baked kabocha is outstanding, but when it’s simmered in a dish like kabocha no nimono (more about that later), it’s every bit as delicious. My advice is to find a recipe that looks yummy to you and use that as a launching point.

Populating a continuum of textures from dry and satiny-smooth to moist and squishy-pulpy, winter squash are incredibly versatile performers. They can take the lead in a main dish, share the spotlight as a side, rock a supporting role puréed into a sauce or stew, they play well with others in a mélange, and as a matter of course can run the gamut from savory appetizers like soup to sweet desserts like pie; even the seeds can be roasted as a snack: “everything from soup to nuts” as my satiated grandfather intoned unfailingly, patting his bulging belly after every Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid.

Enough obligatory preamble. If you’re wondering about which varieties of squash will be highlighted in this series, here’s the list in the order of publication (they’ll link as I post them):

Carnival Squash
Acorn Squash
Autumn Frost Squash
Red Kuri Squash
Buttercup Squash
Butternut Squash
Brulee Squash
Honeynut Squash
Delicata Squash
Tetsukabuto Squash
Winter Sweet Kabocha Squash
Orange Kabocha Squash
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Golden Papaya Squash
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Introduction

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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As I write this, Thanksgiving is about a week away. Every year my little family eagerly gathers to celebrate the holiday with an extravagant feast that makes a British Royal Family banquet look like a box lunch prepared for a third grade field trip.

Over the decades, I have developed, tweaked, and perfected an elaborate Thanksgiving menu, much to the delight of my clan. Our annual blowout includes Creamy Chestnut Soup, Dandy Brandied Candied Yams, Maple Sugar Acorn Squash with Spicy Roasted Pepitas, Savory Corn Pudding, Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon, Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes, and of course, Roast Turkey with Chestnut Cornbread Stuffing (along with the subsequent procession of turkey sandwiches, turkey tetrazzini, turkey burritos, and turkey soup). Not to mention my bespoke gravy, two kinds of festive seasonal libations, three kinds of cranberry sauce, four kinds of pie, and five kinds of ice cream.

But this year will be different. For the first time I can remember, I’m spending the holiday cooking for one. Thanksgiving in the Time of COVID.

So I decided that I’d track down a teeny turkey (just prep it and throw it in the oven unadorned) and pick up a wee winter squash (same technique) – no behemoths: no humongous Hubbard, no massive Marina Di Chioggia, no colossal Crookneck no matter how curvaceous.

And that was the genesis of this series. It started innocently enough with a run to the farmers’ market to procure said diminutive squashlet but upon arriving I spotted a vendor who was flaunting about two dozen varieties. Jeez. Now, those of you who visit here know that food decisions are anathema to me; hell, I’ve learned how to say “one of each, please” in fourteen languages. So what you see in this photo is what I bought during my first trip. Yes, I said “first” because after I brought them home, I ran back and grabbed a few more. (Hey, that that’s how I roll. Nothing succeeds like excess. Reread that Thanksgiving menu if you don’t believe me.)

Anyway, in the following posts, I’ll feature each of these (plus a few more), offer a little info, show you what I’ve done with them, and identify a few favorites from the squash patch – so stay tuned for the next installment!

But First…. 😉

Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Cooking in the Time of COVID – National Hamburger Day

Instagram Post 5/28/2020

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It’s National Hamburger Day and you know what that means: if I don’t post a photo of a home cooked burger, I can’t be one of the cool kids. So, succumbing to peer pressure and not wanting to disappoint, here ya go.

Of course, I kicked it up with herbs and spices native to the cuisine of the country whose flag bedecks the bun; obviously, that says it all so I won’t bore you with ingredient details.
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Pizza-ish

Instagram Post 5/11/2020

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Today’s adventure in Polish sausage swap-ins (see my last post) was this:

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Looks a lot like pizza, doesn’t it? I already had mozzarella, mushrooms, and homemade tomato sauce, but I wasn’t about to invest energy in making pizza dough (quarantining is frustrating enough), so I resorted to my package of trusty, versatile flour tortillas.

I sprinkled some corn meal onto a jelly roll pan and laid in a tortilla, topped it with the thinnest possible layer of mozzarella, and sandwiched that with another tortilla. The idea behind this experiment was that the mozz would act like a laminating glue to yield a base with enough heft to support the toppings. Stuck it into a hot oven to melt the cheese – essentially to see if the theory would work.

Added sauce…


…and mushrooms.

Sautéed some country style kielbasa wiejska, tossed in a little fennel seed to trick it into thinking it was Italian sausage and topped this doppelganger with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of trompe l’olive oeil. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

To give you an idea of the thickness of the “crust”:

In its native habitat.

Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Heros & Villains

Instagram Post 3/5/2020

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Sometimes you just want a big ol’ sammich and nothing else will do, and I found a number of likely candidates while prowling around Essex Market (88 Essex St) on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I spied this over-the-top example at Heros & Villains, stall 41, called The Big Kahuna: dry-aged beef from neighboring Essex Street Shambles (shambles being an archaic term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market) onions, peppers, pickles, aioli, cheese sauce, spicy ketchup, lettuce and tomato. Happily, you could still taste that the meat was of good quality even through the agreeable jumble of sauces (all made from scratch). Craving satisfied.

Chicago’s Pizza With-A-Twist

Instagram Post 2/28/2020

If pizza is a romance between Italian and American cuisines, then I guess that would make Indian Pizza a ménage a trois. And, yes, it’s a thing in India too. (Indian pizza, that is.) Chicago’s Pizza With-A-Twist is a franchise with at least 45 locations in the US, one of which is 259-07 Hillside Ave in Floral Park, the focus of this post.

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You’re looking at a half Butter Chicken, half Tandoori Paneer model; other toppings include Paneer Tikka Masala, Curry Paneer, Aloo Chaat, and Palak Paneer (with pesto sauce, of course) among many more.

Isolating a slice of each (chicken left, paneer right) reveals a disappointing similarity that I had tried to avoid though considerable deliberation when we were ordering; I don’t know if alternative choices would have mattered. The dominance of red onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and tomato overwhelmed any subtleties that the two mild sauces and toppings might have brought to these slices. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t bad at all, I was just after a little more variety at the time.

(I do know about Korean pizza and other international suitors, but that’s a story for another day. 😉)