23 November 2011

roasted acorn squash with chile vinaigrette

One of the benefits of being a displaced American living in Canada is that I don’t have to go through the drudgery of Thanksgiving. True, Canadians observe Thanksgiving Day too – though they bumped the date to the second Monday in October, coinciding with U.S. Columbus Day. But being someone who claims allegiance to neither country, I feel happy to not take part in this loathsome holiday.

Aside from having to get together with family, the most mundane aspect of Thanksgiving is the food. Turkey just sucks. It’s generally tasteless and offers little in the way of creative inspiration. The abomination known as “turducken” is evidence of what happens when someone tries to come up with a non-traditional way to eat turkey. Turducken is a prime example of how to magnify the tastelessness of turkey by extending that quality to duck and chicken as well.

The other thing is, Thanksgiving go-withs are just as bad as the main attraction. Stuffing? Who wants to eat soaked, mushy bread bits? Green bean casserole? Why add the disgusting mass of mushroom soup to an otherwise delicious vegetable? Canned cranberry sauce served in slices? Do the can’s indentation ridges add to the appeal of this? If so, why is that nobody ever touches this monstrosity?

If for some reason you are forced to attend a Thanksgiving function, suggest to your hosts that you bring a side dish. I guarantee that if you make this squash recipe, you’ll at least enjoy one of the foods offered at your holiday meal. If you’re lucky, everyone else will be too scared to try it and you’ll have it all to yourself!

2 (1 1/2 - to 1 3/4-lb) acorn squash
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot red chile, including seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450F. Halve squash lengthwise, then cut off and discard stem ends. Scoop out seeds and cut squash lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide wedges. Toss squash with black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl, then arrange, cut sides down, in 2 large shallow baking pans. Roast squash, switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until squash is tender and undersides of wedges are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes.

While squash roasts, mince garlic and mash to a paste with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer paste to a small bowl and whisk in lime juice, chile (to taste), cilantro, and remaining 1/4 cup oil until combined. Transfer squash, browned sides up, to a platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Can also serve squash cut into cubes, lightly tossed.

PS. This vinaigrette is incredibly simple to make and is great on other things. Try it on avocado or salad. Don't be scared off by the red pepper; the sauce isn't overly hot. In fact, I sometimes add some Sriracha to kick it up!

07 November 2011

crab mushroom quiche

One of my mother’s standout Sunday or special holiday breakfast dishes was what she called “Quiche Lorraine.” She probably read the name in some trashy romance novel, wherein the heroine is served breakfast in bed in a Paris hotel after spending the night with a handsome, mysterious guy she met less than 24 hours before.

Although my mom did read some of what would be considered proper, fine literature, her real thrill was reading cheap paperbacks in the Danielle Steel genre. She was usually reading at least 4 books concurrently. Her library was stashed in the bathroom cupboard, behind the spare toilet paper.

My mother’s version of quiche was actually a crust-less, mostly all egg concoction that included finely chopped ham, green peppers and onions. I grew up thinking that all quiches were made this way. Only in later life did I discover the wide variation of fillings and the more common style of serving a quiche in a pie-like pastry, as either a lunch or dinner menu item.

This recipe makes enough for two full quiches — one to eat tonight, and one to freeze and save for your own special Sunday morning-after.

12 oz (or more) crab meat: I used combination of 9 oz fresh lump crab meat and (1) 6 oz can crab meat
5 large eggs
1.5 cups heavy cream
1 leek
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill (or use dried dill)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon (or more) Old Bay seafood seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 oz (1 cup) coarsely grated cheese: “Tex Mex” blend, or Monterey Jack/Swiss blend cheese
2 pre-baked deep dish pie shells (buy frozen, then thaw)

Cut leek’s white portion into small slices. Half the slices then sauté in butter on slow heat until the leeks start to caramelize. Add mushrooms and sauté another few minutes, seasoning with favorite herb mixture (Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning or herbes de provence). Allow to cool.

Whisk together eggs, cream, herbs, seafood seasoning, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, then stir in cheeses and crabmeat. Add in leek and mushroom mixture.

Pour into prebaked pie shells and bake until filling puffs and is no longer wobbly in center when quiche is gently shaken, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool in pie plate on rack 15 minutes.

Serve with simple salad of baby greens in French vinaigrette. For an even more authentic French meal, serve with a few cornichons — tiny French gherkins pickles — available at Trader Joe's.