Oct 23, 2014

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Not Your Ordinary Pumpkin

By Arianna Johnson
October 26, 2010


Photo Courtesy csa.com

This time of year, everyone sets out to search for that perfect pumpkin to carve. For Halloween, you always have to find a pumpkin which is big enough and has the right shape in order to create the best Jack-O-Lantern. However, as delicious as pumpkins may be - in pies for Thanksgiving and otherwise - there is another oddly shaped vegetable that tickles my fancy in the fall: squash!

There are many different varieties of squash and many different ways to prepare them; however, my favorites happen to be butternut and acorn squash. Like I said, there are a million different things you can do with squash, but I prefer to roast them or puree them for a soup or sauce.

It is amazing what happens when you chop a squash up, put it on a baking sheet, season it with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg, and pop it into a 400 degree oven; a squash becomes practically like candy. Really, they caramelize and become crispy, like little nuggets of orange candy!

I know that it’s probably surprising that a funky-shaped vegetable would taste so amazing, but it’s true. I personally discovered that I liked it last fall when I tried a recipe by Rachael Ray. It was roasted butternut squash with mushroom ravioli in a sage browned butter. It was divine! So, after that, I started experimenting on my own.

Before this, I hated squash because of how my mother prepared it (sorry, Mom). She would always cook the life out of the summer squash, which, in turn, made it mushy, like baby food. Also, she happened to love spaghetti squash, which I dislike because of its stringy texture; but then again, it may also be because my mother overcooked it as well. However, after I started experimenting with it, I now love it and can never wait until fall time comes around so I can eat it. Here’s a recipe I came up with:

“Healthy” Mac ‘N Cheese
Serves 4–6
*2 cups leftover butternut squash soup
1 pound Rigatoni
2 Tbsp butter or vegan spread
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk or soy milk
¼ tsp nutmeg
10 sage leaves, chopped
½ cup Parmigano-reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
*If you don’t have any leftover butternut squash soup, this is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a 2–3 pound butternut squash in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Season with olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Place squash cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake for 40–50 minutes, or until tender. Let it cool, then puree in a blender or food processor, in two batches, with 1 cup vegetable stock or water.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Heat a medium pot over medium heat and melt butter; whisk in flour. Carefully pour in milk while whisking and bring to a boil. Add sage, nutmeg, and season to taste. Add puree to heat through. Drain pasta and mix everything together in the pasta pot. Pour mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top. Bake for 20–30 minutes. Let it cool slightly before serving.

This dish is exactly what it says: a healthy version of macaroni and cheese. It looks identical to the stuff you get out of the box, but much healthier.

So, the next time you head out pumpkin picking, consider picking up a squash or two, as well. If you don’t end up cooking them, try to carve them and let me know how it goes.

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NOMA vs elBulli

By Arianna Johnson
October 11, 2010


Photo Courtesy telegraph.co.uk

Now, I know most people are going to look at this title and wonder, “What language is this girl speaking?”

Although these names aren’t of English origin, they are the names of the two best restaurants in the entire world. NOMA is situated in Copenhagen, Denmark and elBulli is located in a small, beachside town just two hours north of Barcelona, Spain. Both of these restaurants are the top two because of their innovative techniques and experimentation of how food should be presented (a.k.a. gastronomy and deconstruction).

I will in no way, shape, or form try to be an expert in either of these fields, but as a food writer, I am trying to aspire to dine in such places and experience what they have to offer. The reason I am shifting from writing about my own food experiences and recipes is because I found two articles (in two different magazines) on the first and second ranked restaurants on the globe. What’s even more interesting is the fact that elBulli (second place) is permanently closing its doors and thus making way for NOMA to keep its number one spot for many years to come.

Food , as far as presentation goes, has become an experience. It really has become more like eatable art or some mad scientists experiment than just something that is cooked and served on a white plate (McInerney). The word “gastronomy” literally means the art or science of good cooking, which is what these high-end eateries are producing every day. There are some differences, however.

Besides the obvious geographical differences, NOMA is much less “techie,” in the sense that it is pushing the envelope. This nouveu cuisine that the head chef, Rene Redzepi, prepares is for diehard locavores, like himself. Rene decided that NOMA was going to be a place that embraced local ingredients (which is better for the environment as well) from Denmark, Sweden, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands. Although this is also seen in the U.S. with chefs supporting local farmers by buying their products for their restaurants, Redzepi takes it to a whole new level. He refuses to use anything that is not in season or accessible, therefore he doesn’t use “tomatoes…or eggplant or mangoes…vanilla beans…or olive oil.” Instead, he finds different ingredients that can produce the same kind of flavor or taste experience that is typically found with such foods. He accomplishes this by trekking into the woods of nearby Lammefjorden to find certain edible vegetation that is inexplicably delicious, but rarely consumed. Rene’s dishes are not only appealing to one’s tastes buds, but also to the eye. His delicately, clean plating is non-pretentious, yet can evoke a certain curiosity that goes along with the whole dining experience at NOMA. All of these elements put together are what has won the restaurant Michelin stars and the coveted title of top restaurant on the planet (Steingarten).

Adria Ferran, the brain behind elBulli, is seen as a food revolutionary (the best chef in the world) who closes his restaurant down for five or six months in the off season to create his “avant garde cuisine.” Ferran takes you through a journey, or story, when he delivers his over thirty course dinners. These smalls plates that he presents look like one thing and taste like another. For example, a simple scoop of ice cream with caramel sauce actually turns out to be a “chicken curry,” with curry ice cream and warm chicken gravy or a square sitting on a piece of wood actually being the most delicious corn bread ever made by man. What this master craftsman does with food can only be referred to as modern and futuristic, such as his use of foams and hydrocolloids and sphereification. Some of the techniques mentioned above are the reason why he is shutting the doors of such a notorious place at the end of 2011. As disappointing as it may be to everyone who hasn’t been able to sit at one of the tables of elBulli, there has to be a point where this reinvention has to stop. The pressure to come out bigger and better every year is too big of a burden for a man to handle. However, this is not the end for Adria (McInerney).

He firmly believes that food is, indeed, a combination of science and culinary arts coming together as one to create a whole new species of dining; he is now simply passing on his knowledge to others, going as far as having a course at Harvard dedicated to designing “haute cuisine,” so the world can take this cooking renovation and run with it (McInerney).

The good news for NOMA is that it gets to stay on top, at least for this year; the good news for us is that Ferran is offering to share his genius with other geniuses that can reproduce his work; however, the bad news is that there will be no more elBulli, no more restaurant set in a quaint beach scene with an almost oxymoronic dining experience inside. All I know is that I cannot wait to reap the benefits of this nouveu, haute, avant garde, genius, gastronomic, delicious food.

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