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Acorn squash is neither my least nor most favourite of the winter squash family. I use butternut squash by the bushel but acorn not so much. I like acorn, but it’s fussy to deal with if you are doing anything that does not leave the skin in tact. Even scooping cooked squash out of the shell can be a bit of a pain with all those grooves. Acorn squash has great flavour and texture, is low in calories and high in fibre, vitamin C and A but so are the others and I generally choose the smooth squashes instead.
That said, a ring of maple-glazed acorn squash is so pretty. And not many squashes are of an appropriate size for stuffing. You wouldn’t serve someone half a pumpkin, now would you? I had envisioned doing something like that for today’s blog but when it came down to it, I really wanted pasta. I decided on penne tossed with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and roasted squash with wilted arugula. Sorry, there is no recipe, just an ingredient list and some basic procedures.
Squash Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Penne
- ½ lb pasta, cooked al dente
- 1 medium acorn squash, peels and cubed
- 1 lb mushrooms, quartered
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium onions, julienned
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons chicken stock
- 4 cups baby arugula
- salt and pepper to taste
- Toss squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes, until cooked through.
- Caramelize onions adding balsamic near the end of cooking. Set aside.
- Sautee mushrooms with garlic and rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Return caramelized onions to the pan, add arugula and chicken stock. Toss with mushrooms until wilted.
- Add squash cubes and pasta to pan. Toss gently until liquid is absorbed.
- Add salt and pepper as required.
The best thing about squash is that it can take almost any flavour profile, from curry to bolognaise. Your options are virtually endless. Hope you enjoy National Acorn Squash Day.
The first time I tasted Coquilles St. Jacques was in the fanciest restaurant in my small northern BC hometown. It was my first parent-sanctioned date and it was a very big deal for the boy who emptied his wallet to buy us a truly grown-up meal. The restaurant is still a great place for a celebratory dinner, the boy is still a good friend and Coquilles St. Jacques is still a personal favourite.
Sadly, Coquille is another dish on a long list of outdated and cliché menu items, once considered haute cuisine, now just a pedestrian relic. But, like so many of these unfairly maligned foods, it is less about the taste than about over-exposure. It’s a lot like that song that you heard on the radio every two hours one summer that was then relegated to the long-weekend classics play list – you still enjoy it when you here it, you just don’t want to hear it every day. I’m happy to play that old song today… though not the original. Instead I’m going to play a modern cover.
Every time I’ve had Coquilles St. Jacques in a restaurant, and it’s been a goodly long time, it has been small scallops swimming in cream sauce, covered with mashed potatoes and served in a scallop shell. I’ve had a few variations – one with shrimp, another with mushrooms, each with varying quantities of shallots and garlic, but for the most part they have never strayed too far from the theme. This photo from the Impromptu Gourmet website is exactly as I remember that first Coquille.
The funny thing is that Coquilles St. Jacques is generally understood as a specific preparation for scallops but it is actually a medieval name for the scallops themselves. The scallop was the symbol of the Order of Saint James during the crusades and the scallop was so named the “shells of St. James.” The Christian association with scallops is why you will often see them as part of Christmas dinner in France – though you may not see the creamy preparation we are so familiar with.
That’s enough food trivia. The real task is to update this classic. My launching point is the weather. It is far too warm for a bowl of cream sauce and I wanted to lighten the overall dish while maintaining the luxurious elements that make Coquilles so wonderful. Instead letting my scallops swim in a pool of cream, I decided to grill them and let them wade in the shallow end. Second, I traded the mashed potatoes for a ramekin full of Potatoes Anna nestled on a pile of wilted spinach. I’m very fond of mushrooms with scallops and cream, so I grilled a few slices of portabello to finish the dish off.
The sauce is a basic white wine reduction finished with cream and is really open to adaptation. Start by sautéing a finely diced shallot and two cloves of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of butter. Once they’re soft, add a ½ cup of dry white wine to the pan and let it reduce by half. Add a ½ cup of cream and salt and pepper to taste. A little grated nutmeg is a nice touch and tarragon is a fantastic addition. Heat the sauce through and reduce until thickened a bit.
The scallops are beyond easy though susceptible to overcooking – be careful. I like mine dusted with a little salt and pepper and seared in a cast iron pan with about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Make sure your oil is good and hot and that your scallops are dry before you put them in the pan. A large scallop will take about 2 minutes per side.
Potatoes Anna is just thinly sliced potatoes layered with butter and salt. I usually do mine in a cast iron pan, but I thought I’d give the ramekins a try this time just to get that nice little disc. Use russets or another high starch potato. Peel and slice them very thin – no more than a ¼ inch thick – this is a good time to pull out your mandolin. For two people, you’ll need one medium sized potato and about 4 teaspoons of melted butter. Butter the ramekin generously. Fill with potato slices, drizzling a little butter and salting between each layer. Bake in a 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until tender.
The spinach is pan sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.
So there you have it. A classic starter turned into an elegant dinner. It has all of the elements of the traditional Coquille St. Jacques but with an added depth flavour from the pan seared scallops and the roasted potatoes. I still love the old version, but I think if more restaurants offered up a modern variation, Coquilles St. Jacques could enjoy a renaissance of sorts.
Talk about a big dose of nostalgia. Licorice and grilled cheese really are the foods of my youth, a not so distant youth that I revisit on an almost weekly basis.
When left to my own devices, particularly as a child and as a young adult, I practically lived on grilled cheese sandwiches. Quick, easily adapted to create any flavour, and most importantly, easy to make for one. Grilled cheese is the ideal meal for a solo diner. Then, as now, when home alone grilled cheese is my go to meal.
Like most comfort foods, people have very specific expectations regarding the “correct” flavour and texture for grilled cheese. I am not among them. Sure, cheddar on sour dough is always a satisfying alternative. But I rarely make an unembellished sandwich and I never know what I’m going to make until I open the fridge. Among my favourite combinations are brie and caramelized onion, swiss with shredded chicken, smoked cheddar with shredded pork, mozzarella with tomato and basil and, of coarse my standby, aged cheddar with a fried egg and hot sauce. As for the bread I can be inspired by almost anything that looks good at the bakery that day. Olive bread is awesome with any cheese and tomato, olive oil and rosemary with chicken, or how about a dark rye to go with salmon and goat cheese. And don’t stop with yeast breads. I made a chicken, pickled jalapeno and Monterey jack on left over corn bread one time. I’m not sure how many Weight Watchers points it was worth but it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made. When it comes to grilled cheese, my only real criteria are crispy bread and gooey cheese.
Today’s creation – smoked turkey and gruyere with Spicy Apple Chutney on multigrain bread. The whole meal took less than 15 minutes including walking to the grocery to buy bread. (I knew I’d forgotten something yesterday.) I wasn’t planning on using the chutney but my jar of cranberry sauce was MIA and the chutney had somehow crept to the front of the fridge – a little culinary serendipity.
The sandwich was awesome – the perfect combination of salty, sweet, crispy and creamy. (Why is Fred Penner in my head again?)
Now for the licorice side of this equation. I was the kid that always ate the black jellybeans and jujubes, the one that ordered licorice ice cream and the one that actually liked the hard-as-rock licorice candies in my Halloween bag. I’ve never been much of a sweet tooth and I think I can explain my love of licorice with this one simple fact – licorice is never super sweet. Now, I could turn this into herbal medicine lesson, but I’ll leave it to you to find all the healthy excuses you could deploy to justify your licorice indulgence. As for me, I’m comfortable saying that I don’t need any other reason than I love it.
Your love of licorice does not have to end in the candy isle of course. I made chai infused crème brûlée a few months ago. The star anise was the standout in this very popular dessert. You can also infuse licorice flavour into your dinner. Fennel and orange salad is a great alternative to cabbage slaw. Pernod pairs beautifully with prawns and other shellfish. Tarragon and a splash of sherry make ordinary button mushrooms truly special. The following recipe was inspired by a trip to Granville Island. All those fresh ingredients just called out to me.
Mushroom Tarragon Cream Sauce with Parpadelle
• 1 pound fresh parpadelle or other wide noodle
• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• 3 large shallots, julienned
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or quartered
• 2 tablespoons Brandy
• ½ cup dry White Wine
• 1 cup chicken stock
• 1 cup cream
• 3 tablespoons butter, divided
• 6 tablespoons tarragon, chopped
• ½ cup parmagiano regiano
• Salt and pepper
• Lemon juice
1. Bring large pot of well salted water to a boil.
2. In a stainless steel sauté pan (you’ll get better caramelization than in a non-stick pan) heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter.
3. Brown chicken and remove from pan.
4. Add shallots to pan and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
5. Add mushroom and sauté until they release their water and begin to brown.
6. Deglaze pan with brandy and white wine.
7. Add chicken stock and cream. Simmer until reduced by about a third.
8. Add chicken to sauce reheat.
9. Salt and pepper to taste.
10. While the stock is reducing cook the pasta. Fresh pasta only takes 3 to 4 minutes so don’t put it on too early.
11. When is pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly, reserving a cup of pasta water.
12. Toss pasta in sauce and thin with pasta water if required.
13. Toss with tarragon, cheese, butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.
14. Serve with an extra sprinkle of grated parmagiano reggiano.
And why stop with dinner? Licorice makes me happy. And, happy hour makes me happy. So logically, licorice at happy hour should make me practically euphoric. Now, I may have moved beyond flaming sambuca shooters, but a steaming sambuca coffee (hold the cream) is still on my menu. Or, if you prefer a shi-shi girly version, a Galliano, vodka and espresso martini with chocolate shavings is quite delicious. Of course, everything that comes in a martini glass is delicious. And then there are the classics – when was the last time someone offered you a Harvey Wallbanger? In the name of nostalgia it’s high time, don’t you think? Or you could try this variation of an old standby created by the lovely Monique.
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
½ a lemon cut into small wedges
1 tablespoon simple syrup
Muddle tarragon, lemon and sugar syrup in a glass. Add ice and top off with soda.
The version we made with lemon was quite tasty. But we both think lime would be better. Maybe that’s just an excuse to make them again.
So there you have it – two foods that I associate with my youth that have grown up with me. No more processed cheddar on white bread for me. The grilled cheese of my past was barely food, but the grilled cheese of my present can be decidedly gourmet. And I can accept that there are no more trick-or-treating expeditions in my future, but I know that I will savour that first sip of my martini today as much as I did any licorice rope pulled from the candy bag then.
If there is a lesson to learn, it is probably that we remember our childhood favourites so fondly because they appeal to our palates on some fundamental level. I would argue that even the foods that you have rejected in adulthood contain some element that you continue to enjoy. The flavours that you loved then are the foundation of the sophisticated palate you possess today. Be they ketchup, fish sticks, mac and cheese or over-sweet wine, they are all part of a culinary journey.
Sorry for the lack of photos. I keep getting error messages and have to get on a plane very soon. But trust me, it all looked great 🙂