Archive for butternut squash

dinner at t’s

Posted in delicious stories, vague recipes with tags , , , on November 30, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

We all know that moment: the party is done, the guests are gone away, the leftovers are stored, and the kitchen has been tidied. It’s the sad moment at the end of every great feasting celebration when you realize that once again self-sufficent dinners of scrambled eggs and toast await you, and the pile of mundane tasks that were pushed to the side admidst the warmth of expectation, planning, and preparation for whatever party/dinner/feast you just held are still just as mundane.

Staving off that moment was the reason that Tanya decided that she was going to throw a dinner party on Sunday night. Those of us who had scattered for the holiday were going to be returning to quiet apartments and empty refrigerators and those of us who were in town were sure to be facing down the Sunday evening blues.

Tanya had spent the greater portion of the morning baking oatmeal chocolate chip cake, assembling two pans of macaroni and cheese with butternut squash, and straightening up the apartment. When I arrived in the evening, all that was left to do was to put a lentil soup on the stove, pop open a bottle of wine, and unwrap the cheeses that Tanya had purchased from DiBruno Brothers.

With Tanya in sweat pants, some music playing on the stereo, and a set of recipes in front of us, we put the final touches on the menu

The Menu

Mulled Wine

Ewephoria and Abbaye de Belloc with Baguette

Lentil Soup

Butternut Squash  Macaroni and Cheese

Asparagus with lemon and butter

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

The mulled wine was made from a table red that Tanya had bought from the Adair Winery (along with her bottles of blackberry kir) and a sachet of mulling spices that had also come from the winery. We added, according to the sachet’s directions, about two cups of water to the wine and some brown sugar. Then I studded some oranges with cloves, sliced the oranges and added that to the mixture. The mulled wine went on the back burner on low heat for about an hour.

*A side note and tangent: The smell of oranges with cloves is one of the hallmarks of the change in season. It speaks to the warmth and tantalizing possibilities that reign when we are trapped indoors for the long, cold winters. Here are golden globes that cannot help but feel exotic with their oily skins that leave the scent of orange with you for hours and the sharp spiny cloves that remind me of pine trees under snowfall or mincemeat pies. It’s all part of a season and a change and I would not want to smell this smell any other time of year. In Tanya’s kitchen it was a reminder of the time to come when we pull ourselves in, burrow down, and hide within the warm glow of kitchens and beside fireplaces (if we are lucky) until spring comes again.

The two cheeses that Tanya had selected were both sheep’s milk cheese. The Abbaye is made in France and is smooth and creamy. If left out to warm to room temperature, the flavors are subtle but markable and you can taste the sweetness, almost faintly grassy, of the sheep’s milk. It is a mild cheese but not an uninteresting or bland cheese. I think that it stands perfectly well by itself on a good slice of bread but it could also be paired with a light honey or a pear jelly to pull out the sweetness of the milk used. The second cheese, the Ewephoria, is a sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. This cheese was selected by the cheesemonger at DiBruno Brothers when Tanya mentioned that she wanted to pair it with mulled wine. This cheese is aged a little longer than the Abbaye and the creaminess has given way to a denseness that is almost like a parmesan (but is lacking in those crystallized bursts of saltiness). The cheese also had the underlying sweetness that comes from using sheep’s milk and was complimented with a faint taste of port and walnuts (?).

The lentil soup is one of Tanya’s standbys. Faultless for its simplicity, it is a good reminder that good food does not have to come from complicated recipes. Roughly chopped carrot, celery, onion, and garlic are tossed in a pan with some olive oil to sautee. Then about a cup and a half of lentils are added with a can of chopped tomatoes, some dried basil, some dried oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, some more oregano, and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to cover the lentils and vegetables and then put the heat on medium and let the soup bubble away until the lentils are soft. Salt and a dash of white wine vinegar added at the end to taste. Can be served with parmesan.

The macaroni and cheese with butternut squash was a new dish for Tanya and for me. I had a version that was conconcoted by Alex Jones and it was delicious so I was really exicted to taste what Tanya had created. For this version of macaroni and cheese, butternut squash is roasted and then mashed up with some ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Shredded cheddar is also added to the mix and the cheeses are then mixed in with the cooked classic, elbow pasta. The dishes are then topped with bread crumbs and parmesan and put in the oven to melt all of the cheeses together.

Tanya served this dish in the large white mugs she uses for soups and ice cream and sometimes tea. The crunchy bread-crumbed top could be broken through down to the soft butternut sweet, cheesy noodles. The nutmeg was faint but delicious and I couldn’t help it and added some cock sauce to mine for just a touch more heat to the heavy cheesiness. Despite our best mug-filled attemps, we only made it through one of the casseroles. Luckily, macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that is only going to get better three days from now, so the fact that Tanya still has a casserole dish and  a half left-over bodes well for dinners in the coming week.

The asaparagus with lemon were suggested by a friend of Tanya’s who when reviewing the menu (per Tanya’s request) was worried about the heaviness of the meal and the flavors. He suggested something light and citrusy. The asparagus (although out of season) steamed and splashed some lemon juice and a little better, fit the bill perfectly.

And then the grand moment: dessert….

To fit in with the hominess of the rest of the meal, Tanya selected a dessert that was just as unfussy as the macaroni and cheese. She used a recipe that I had passed on to her from my mom’s collection of recipes.

Ingredients:

1 cup of uncooked oats

13/4 cup boiling water

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter (softened)

3 eggs beaten

1 3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 oz chocolate chips

3/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine boiling water and oats in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Add sugars and butter to oatmeal. Mix in the eggs, flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt. Stir in 6 oz chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the baking pan and put walnuts and remaining chocolate chips on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

The oatmeal chocolate chip cake is one of those cake’s where everything comes together just right: dense, chewy, sweet, chocolatey, but somehow not overwhelming.

For me it was the perfect taste to end the meal on because it reminded me of home and my mom (again, those tastes of the familiar….)

It turned out that the dinner party was a three lady affair–Tanya, Begum, and me. And it was wonderful. Tanya had dimmed the lights and lit some candles, the house was warm and smelled of all the good food she had spent the day preparing. We ladled out warm mugs of mulled wine and sat on the rug comparing stories of the holiday. Dinner happened slowly over the course of the evening, each course enjoyed in its turn.

And for some reason, even though the party ended, the left overs were packed away, the candles were blown out, and we three each returned to our small homes in the city, that sad feeling of a celebration ended never happened.

Onward we go, to the next dinner, the next delicious.

Take care, eat good things,
Waverly

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