Endurance and a Great Butternut Squash

Back to Basics…Roasted Butternut Squash

Endurance. Sometimes the only difference between a win and a loss is one player’s or one team’s endurance. And Carolyn Pagnano, esteemed coach of our HS girl’s field hockey team, told me I had none. No endurance at all. She actually screamed those words ‘Annie! You have NO Endurance!’, at me as I ran laps with the other field hockey players. Carolyn Pagnano loved that drill – she would just yell ‘RUN’! And we all had to run. No defined distance or number of laps, no known end time…just ‘RUN’.  As I passed her on each lap I looked pathetically at Carolyn Pagnano hoping she would ‘call it’ and let us all stop running. She would just grin with evil and we ran on and on and on…

Penelope Pitstop Running

I wasn’t all giselle-like (animal, not Bunchen) – the girls who seemed to Penelope Pitstop their way through dozens of laps without breaking a sweat. Each stride for me was painful – horribly so. Admittedly, I’m dramatic…but it was torture. I hated running.

Still do.

My lack-o-endurance spans beyond just running. I’m the charter member of the Coalition for Picking Up at 15. I believe that 15 holes of golf is enough.

That said, I am not a professional golfer and pretty much knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete of any kind from an early age (see previous post ‘You Will Never Be Gymnast‘).

So when the world’s most elite athletes look like they’ve joined my coalition for picking up at 15, it shocks me.

In some sports like golf it’s called getting the Yips. Letting nerves get the best of you and failing to find success in even the easiest of shots. But what happened on Sunday at the Ryder Cup was way bigger than just a team-wide case of the Yips! It was the biggest choke of all time. Granted, those darling Europeans (read ‘Sergio Garcia’) staged one of the greatest comebacks of all time, but no way they could have managed it without the monumental failings of US team on the final three holes of the course.

Veterans like Phil Mickelson couldn’t even pull it out. That’s right, Philly, hold your head in shame.

Cry-Baby Mickelson

It was painful to watch. The complete unraveling of the entire team. The ultimate fail – inability to find just 4 wins out of 12 singles matches. No endurance on the final day of the tournament and now the precious Ryder Cup remains safely in the hands of the Europeans for two more years.

Watching it all unfold on Sunday, Carolyn Pagnono’s words rang in my head – ‘Annie! You have NO Endurance!’. And I realized, it’s not my strong suit. Even to this day there are things I hate to finish. Last week, I cut Squashweek short – promising more posts than I actually delivered. I just couldn’t bear the idea of one more squash dish.

But those golfers and their inability to finish what they started got to me. I had to prove Carolyn Pagnano wrong. I had one more squash in my kitchen and it had to be cooked – I owed it to my follower(s).

But I would have to dig deep. Deep into the annals of recipes to a time that was straightforward, simple and sugary….And last night I made…

Roasted Butternut Squash, ’70’s Style (side dish serves 4)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1. Cut the top and bottom off of one butternut squash. Cut the bottom as evenly as possible as you need it to stand with little support for the prep.

2. Peel all of the thick skin off of the squash…I used a regular peeler, but if your peeler isn’t sharp enough, you may have to use a paring knife

Carefully Peeled Butternut Squash

3. Carefully! Slice the squash down the center…I used my Santoku knife…just make sure it’s a pretty big knife and sharp. Do no use a serrated or bread knife. I also wear a knife resistant glove…because I’m insane and have suffered some not so small cuts.

Perfectly Split Butternut Squash

4. Remove the seeds and all of the membrane-y stuff from both halves

Deseeded and Unmembraned

5. Carefully! Cut both sides into 1ish inch cubes and put into a bowl

Rejoice now that you have all of your fingers!

BREATHE – you have survived, hopefully, with all of your digits in tact. The hard work is over.

6. Toss the cubes of squash with…

Yummy goodness to toss with Squash

  • 3 tbsp of melted butter
  • 1/8 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp or less of freshly ground pepper

7. Spread the coated cubes in one layer on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper…I do like the one that’s Reynolds Wrap on one side and Parchment Paper on the other..though it’s expensive

Buttery Sugary Cubes Ready for Roasting

8. Roast in the oven for :45 mins, flipping the cubes about every :15 mins to ensure even baking

9. Remove from the oven, transfer to a serving bowl and top with freshly chopped parsley

Sugary Sweet ’70s Butternut Squash

Serve!

Call it the Yips or just a lack of Endurance – I wish the US Golf Team could have pulled it out and returned the Ryder Cup to the US.

It’s a funny thing, endurance. And to this day, I am still at times driven by a desire to prove Carolyn Pagnano wrong.

I was over squash. Facing that last squash and finishing SquashWeek was hard. But, then I remembered one of the greatest fictional sports speeches of all time – In A League of Their Own when Dottie tells Jimmy she’s quitting because it just got too hard, he says: ‘It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.’

It was hard to complete SquashWeek – And this sweet and buttery butternut squash is what made finishing it great.

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The Pleasures of the Flesh: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Unbelievably delicious: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Chefs will tell you that we all eat first with our eyes. Our eyes see a beautiful strawberry or basted chicken or leg of lamb or cheesecake and our mouths start to water as we imagine its deliciousness.

We’re told repeatedly that beauty is only skin deep, but no one follows that up with beauty is the first thing we see, the first impression and can make us believe that something or someone is fabulously wonderful. Whether we like it or not, it can keep us from experiencing people and places and foods that are wonderful..Beauty is a tough category  for the squash family. Because they’re like not that pretty to be honest.

And the fact that we might judge them and avoid them based just on looks is sad, just sad. I mean, if we truly made all of our food decisions based on how something looked, think of all we’d miss out on…there are certain foods we might never eat. Consider kiwi fruit or burritos or even Yodels – all sort of ugly, but completely delicious.

I think the same holds true for squash. They’re rough to look at – large, hard and intimidating. Oddly colored, strangely shaped and emitting no alluring aroma. A squash virgin has no ideas of the hidden wonders of the flesh that make risking your fingers to knife them open worth it.

So…squash aren’t super pretty. I realize that no one would pay to see the Ms Squash beauty pageant. And I know that to choose a pretty squash is like declaring a tallest midget…But, since another blogger announced this week that he had a favorite child, I feel compelled to say that Acorn squash is pretty pretty and maybe even prettiest of all squash. And, lucky for me, its flesh is as delicious – sweet, delicate yet hearty – as it is beautiful. In this case, beauty is skin deep and deeper.

And, there are other amazing ways to enjoy an acorn squash – beyond just the traditional basting in brown sugar and butter…Here’s one.

Stuffed Acorn Squash (side dish serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

1. Saute 1/2 cup of roughly chopped baby bella mushrooms in 2 tbsp of olive oil

Baby Bella Mushrooms

2. In a second saucepan, over medium heat saute 1/2 chopped shallot and 1 chopped clove of garlic until fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes

Saute Garlic and Shallot

3. Add in 1 defrosted package of chopped spinach, squeezed dry. Heat through – about 2 mins

Stir in 1 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach

4. Add in 1 tbsp heavy cream and stir

5. Add in 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese and stir to combine

Ricotta and Spinach Deliciousness

6. Once heated through, add in the sauteed mushrooms and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper

Combine Mushrooms and Spinach

7. Add in 2 heaping tbsp of parmesan cheese, stir to combine

8. Remove from heat and set aside

9. Slice the tops off of 2 Acorn Squash about 1/3 of the way down the squash and remove the seeds and membrane-y stuff from the base and the lid

Acorn Squash, Split and Cleaned

10. Put 1 tbsp of butter into the base of the larger side of each split squash

11. Using a small spoon, scoop some of the spinach, cheese and mushroom mixture into each squash on top of the butter. Do not overstuff!

12. Top with toasted panko bread crumbs and replace the top of each squash

Acorn Squash Stuffed and Topped with Panko

Oven Ready Stuffed Acorn Squash

13. Gently place the stuffed acorn squash on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into the oven for 1 hour until fork tender

14. Let cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh and filling and put into a serving bowl. Mix together and serve hot

So, squash virgins, see the beauty in this amazing vegetable. Look past the tough exterior and heft. Fear not the splitting process. And, squash experts, give Acorn Squash a new look – move away from the 1970’s traditional brown sugar steam bath and elevate her with a delicate, creamy filling.

And, mostly all people, please enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.

Not as it seems: Herbed Spaghetti Squash

Things are not always as they seem. And we’ve all fallen victim to items or people pretending to be something they are not.

When I was in college, my very smart roommate had neglected to fulfill her science requirement. And, suddenly she had just one semester left to do so. As a non-science scholar – she majored in Russian and International Studies or something – finding an easy class was her only goal. She certainly didn’t want to waste any of her brain space on sciency stuff. She just needed to earn the required 3 credits and be done with it.

Geology 101

So, since all of the football players did it…she elected to take ‘Geology’, otherwise known as ‘Rocks for Jocks.’

Taking Geology would not only fulfill her science requirement, but would also ensure that she would be surrounded by the tall, fit and fabulous members of the famed football team – yay. Two birds, one stone – pun intended.

Sure, we teased her about both the participation in ‘Rocks for Jocks’ and the calculated exposure to all of those giant ballers. But, to have the chance at a husky boyfriend and an A in science was all worth the taunting to her. In fact, she considered it a brilliant plan.

As the semester started, her hopes for an easy A and football boyfriend were high. She preened before class – you know, like wearing an oversized oxford, stretch pants and pearls – and even applied a little mood lipstick – the kind that started green and then turned bright red to reflect one’s sexy mood.

From the very beginning of the semester something wasn’t right. Maybe the footballers were just busy with practice or training or something and had to miss class. Or, maybe they had sent all of these seemingly geekier guys in their place. Either way, they weren’t there…This was not turning out as she planned.

Actually, nothing was. Geology was not the easy A she had counted on…why were they studying the tides and phases of the moon, landscapes, terrains. Why was Geology so hard?

The night before the final, she was cramming like she had never crammed before. Going in to the test, she was only toting a B average and couldn’t believe her Easy A was slipping away from her. How did this happen?

The phone rang. I picked it up. It was another friend who was also in her Geology class and cramming for the test…I listened as he asked if our friend was studying …He had some questions or needed some notes.

Then he told me something that confused me. I asked for more information. I asked if he was certain. After a little more clarification, he convinced me (almost) and I told him my roommate would have to call him back.

Still not wholly believing him, I went slowly into the other room.

I approached my roommate who was poring over the pages of her highlighted textbook. Beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Her left hand frantically scratching out snippets to memorize in her notebook.

I gently and quietly asked if I could see her Geology textbook.

Puzzled and a little angry – She looked up from her study bean bag chair.

I insisted and, finally, she handed me the book.

I closed the book and looked at the cover…twice to be sure.

Hmmm. I shook my head.

Geography Textbook NOT Geology

There it was…bold letters and all: Geography. She had been taking Geography all semester. All semester. Ah, that’s why it was super hard, they never talked about rocks AND there weren’t any footballers in the class!

My super smart roommate had fallen victim to the tortures of Geography all the while believing she was studying Geology.

One dish that can fool you into believing you’re eating one thing when you’re eating something entirely different is spaghetti squash; the squash that presents as a pasta.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Very carefully hack a small spaghetti squash in two

Butchered Spaghetti Squash

NOTE: I cut the bottom and top off. Evening the bottom allowed for the squash to stand upright. Eliminating the top made the slicing in half more manageable

2. Place cut side down in a baking dish, add about 1/2 an inch of water, cover with aluminum foil and put into the oven

3. Bake for :45 minutes then flip the halves over so they are cut side up. Re-cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake for an additional :15 minutes or until the flesh is very tender

4. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

5. Remove the seeds and then using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the skin

Spaghetti Squash Forked

6. Heat a skillet with 2 tbsp of butter and add:

  • The forked spaghetti squash flesh
  • About 2 – 3 TBSP of Herbs: Chiffonade of Basil, Chiffonade of Sage, Chopped Chives and Chopped Parsley

Herbs: Sage, Basil, Parsley and Chives

Spaghetti Squash Heating Through with Herbs

7. Toss to combine and then transfer to a serving bowl

Herbed Spaghetti Squash

8. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash Table Ready

These days, my super smart roommate is a bigwig lawyer living in the middle east. I googled her and that’s what it says on some oil company’s website. There she is in her lawyerly pose – The only woman on the company’s board of directors.

But, I’m  a little skeptical. She’s barely lived in the US since earning her law degree. And, did I mention that she speaks Russian? My other college roommates and I are pretty certain that she actually works for the CIA.

Perhaps she is the ultimate charade – fooling us all into believing she’s just a corporate lawyer, when really she’s heading up covert operations in the middle east. After the Geology – Geography incident, we all know anything is possible. And, nothing, not even a bowl of spaghetti is ever truly as it seems.

Souper Season: Vegan Butternut & Avocado Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup. Bowl by DG designs

At 10:48am this past Saturday, it began. Fall is officially upon us. Try as you may, you can’t stop the seasons from changing. All you can do is hope against a repeat of 2011’s Snow-Tober and embrace the cooler, darker mornings, the earlier sunsets, the changing leaves and all that comes with fall.

A few positives about the onset of autumn – The return of boots – wrestle them out of their summer hiding places – backs and tops of closets and wear them proudly! Sweaters, fashion tights, football, the NYC Marathon, season premieres of your favorite shows. Oh yes! Fall is filled with wonderful things.

The chill in the air also ignites a desire for sipping, savory soups.

Let me just be honest: a bowl of soup does not a meal make. Those girls in their Manolos and Pashminas who would smile as they popped a head into my office at lunchtime and say: ‘Hey, I’m going to get some soup, wanna come?’ drove me insane. Hot soup is a starter. Cold soup is a pallet cleanser. Neither is a meal.

I don’t care if it’s loaded with rice or pasta or jam packed with vegetables and infused with cream. Soup isn’t a meal. OK, yes when the proportion of protein – beef, chicken or turkey NOT tofu or egg – far outweighs the amount of liquid, it can be a meal. But that’s a stew or a chili – not a soup.

So, to celebrate the season of soup and kick off #SquashWeek….A Souper Starter:

Vegan Butternut & Avocado Squash Soup (serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Cut a 3lb Butternut Squash in half and remove the seeds….The 3lbs is a guideline and unless you have a food scale, you may never know how heavy your squash is as under 5lbs generally won’t register on a regular scale. Because I was curious, I stood on my bathroom scale and weighed myself and then weighed myself with the squash – exactly 3lbs. Just lucked out on this.

OK, splitting the squash is the hardest part and requires patience, strength, courage and the right tools….sharp knife and knife resistant glove. These tools do look like murder weapons, but the only thing murdered was the squash I assure you….

Squash Splitting Tools. Not murder weapons…

Butternut Squash hacked in two and de-seeded

2. Drizzle the cut side of the Butternut squash with Olive Oil and a little salt and place cut side down on a rimmed baking dish lined with tin foil

3. Cut an Avocado Squash in half, drizzle the cut side with Olive Oil and salt and put cut side down on the baking dish with the butternut squash

Avocado Squash: purchased at local farmer’s market

NOTE: The avocado squash added another layer of flavor. It’s sweeter and a bit more delicate. The seeds are small, and since I was going to puree the soup, I left them in…

Butternut and Avocado Squash ready for the oven

4. After 30 – 35 minutes, remove the Avocado Squash from the oven and allow to cool.

Avocado Squash Roasted and Ready for Scooping

5. Once cooled scoop out the flesh from the squash and set aside

6. The Butternut squash will take longer to soften – closer to :60 minutes. You will know it’s done when you can easily pierce it with a fork. Remove from oven, allow to cool and then scoop out the flesh and set aside

Butternut Squash, roasted, softened and ready for scoopin

7. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and then add in two diced shallots and saute until fragrant and softened – about :06 mins

Shallots Sauteing and Softening

8. Add the squash flesh, 1 qt of Vegetable Stock and 1 1/5 tsp of Curry Powder and bring to a boil – I used mild, but you can go as spicy as you like

Bringing the mixture to a boil

9. Reduce to a simmer and cover for :10mins until the squash flesh is broken down

10. Remove from heat and allow to cool for :05 – :10 minutes

11. Working in batches, transfer some of the mixture to a blender and puree. If you like a little chunk in your soup….just chop, don’t puree. Transfer post-blended soup to a new saucepan on the stove and keep over low heat. Repeat until all of the mixture is blended and soup-ified

BE CAREFUL! If the soup is too hot…it will blow the top off of the blender – seriously, let it cool!

Butternut and Avocado Squash Mix in Blender

Butternut and Avocado Mixture to Soup Staging Area

12. Once heated through, garnish with parsley and a drizzle of Olive Oil and serve hot.

NOTE: If you are not Vegan, you can add a dollop of Sour Cream

Fall is here. Celebrate it! And with the dawning of fall, Squashweek has officially begun. So, get some colorful squash from your farmer’s market, grab a sweater, put on those boots, tune in to football or the newest episodes of your favorite TV shows and start any fall meal with this Souper Squash Soup.