Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Winter Squash vs Pumpkin, Part 1

Before I get to the topic at hand I want to share my little adventure this past weekend. Larry and I found ourselves with, as he likes to say, an "unprogrammed day." Between both of our schedules which seem to be packed these days, we rarely find ourselves with a mutually free Saturday.  Earlier in the week I took a run up to Amawalk Farm, in Katonah, to pick up a big load of their sweet potatoes. (I'm going to be featuring them in my blog next month, and of course there is Thanksgiving right around the corner.) While I was there Marian Cross, co-owner of the farm, invited Larry and me to come back on Saturday to help plant garlic. This was of course something I've never done, and was completely intrigued. After a quick review of the our calendars we were both "in."

I've had the great good fortune of collaborating over the past year and half with a handful of farms in New York and Connecticut. All thanks to my farmers market demos. Newgate Farm in Windsor, CT, Cabbage Hill Farm in Mt. Kisco, Gaia's Breath Farm in Jordanville, NY (and also my CSA) and last Amawalk Farm.  I am continually awed by their incredible passion and love for what they do. It's hard, laborious work, many times finding themselves at the whim of Mother Nature. In a blink of an eye they can loose animals and crops to viruses or bugs. Marian and her husband Larry Cross were recounting to us on Saturday how they lost their raspberry patch to a nasty stinkbug with no hope of bringing them back. You could see the sadness in their eyes.

Back to garlic planting! When we arrived the field was ready for us to plant. The bed had 18 rows, each row divided into 3. We basically dropped the clove in and covered it with soil. 

After all the rows were completed they rolled a big drum over them to really press the dirt down. In a few weeks the bed will be covered with straw and the cloves will get to work. From 250 pounds of garlic planted they yield over a 1,000 pounds! I'm actually quite excited to go back in the spring to see their progress. It was a fun day all around the the weather spectacular for mid-October.

I even came across this gorgeous orange orb spider. It was hard to miss against the plain dirt. 

Autumn is in definitely full swing. The leaves are turning bright beautiful shades of gold and red then falling from the trees. I'm sad to see the summer fading quickly, but excited about all the new vegetables cropping up. Potatoes of all kinds and squash, to name just a few. This week and next I'm going separate the story of squash in to two parts: winter squash and pumpkin. Both are used somewhat interchangeably, but they are slightly  different. Let's look at squash first. Squash is broken down into generally two categories: summer and winter. A few months ago if you remember, I did a story on summer squash. One of the first differences between them is the thickness of the skin. Zucchini and yellow squash have a very thin outer skin. So much so that you can eat it raw if the vegetable is young enough, and certainly if cooked. Winter squash skin is pretty much not good eats. It's much thicker and when cooked gets crispy and hard. The inside is fairly different as well. The seeds in the summer variety are small and soft, almost indiscernible when cooked. The winter variety are larger and most definitely tough and bitter. They can be eaten, but only after being toasted.

(clock wise starting at the top) Spaghetti, Acorn, Delicata and Amber Cup Squash 

At a recent visit to the Rye Farmers Markets I picked up severable varieties to play with. I did a simple oven roast on the Amber Cup, Acorn and Delicata, as you can see. All you need to do is cut in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with a little oil oil, salt and pepper and place in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Let me also add that you should make it a practice to wash all of your fruits and veggies before cutting. Any dirt that is lurking on the skin will dive right to the center along with your knife. 

For the amber cup and delicata I simply filled them with homemade applesauce and couscous. The couscous recipe you can find on my recipe page tab to the right. I used the same filling for a lita squash. Or you can just scoop out the soft center and enjoy as is! 

This week I have a quick and easy stew to show you. The squash I used for this one is butternut. The idea for this came after I got a request by Liz Johnson, from the Journal News. She did a story on slow cooker stews for Halloween and wanted to include a recipe from me.

As usual I was looking to ramp things up in the flavor category, so I decided my base would be chipotle. I love cooking with them, cooked, dried and powdered. They add a warm smoky flavor with a nice after-kick. A little goes a long way, so use carefully.

I started my stew with a base of celery, carrot and onion.

To that I mixed in the cut of veggies along with salt and pepper. Remember to season as you place in the cooker. You don't really get a chance to taste as this is cooking.

Then the chicken. I used thighs for this recipe so the meat would not dry out and taste like little rocks! Your stock goes in last and the timer is set!

This can all be pre-prepped before starting to cook, just keep the chicken separate from the veggies until you are ready to go.

In the last hour of cooking I decided to toss in a little brown rice. You can accomplish this step with a little pre-planning if cooking overnight. Start the timer so that last hour works out to the the time you get up. Then zip down to the kitchen and add the rice.

Here is my finished stew: smoky, tangy ... and a departure from the usual!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have some new cooking classes coming up at Tarry Market. In particular this coming Friday I have a new Kids Class. Check the calendar on line for details. You can also find information on classes on my website too.

Buon Appetito!

Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken and Butternut Squash Stew
Makes 6-8 servings

6 boneless chicken thighs, about 1¾ lb
1 celery stalk, ¼” dice
1 carrot, ½” dice
8 oz of small white onions (boilers), cleaned and cut in half
1 – 12 oz bag of little sweet peppers (Lil’ Sweeties), seeded and cut in half
1 -2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
½ lb tomatillos, about 2, cut into 1” cubes
½ lb tomatoes, about 2, cut into 1” cubes
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2” cubes
1 quart of low sodium chicken stock
1 chipotle in adobo, finely minced, about 1 tablespoon
Zest and juice of one lime
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup brown rice, optional, see note below

Cut the chicken in to 2” pieces, season with ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and set aside.

Place the celery, carrot, onion, pepper, garlic, tomatillo and tomatoes in a, 5 quart slow cooker and combine well with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.  Add the squash and chicken and mix everything together.

In a large mixing bowl combine the chicken stock, chipotle, lime zest and juice and pour into the pot.

Set on low heat for 8 hours.  After it finishes cooking allow the stew to cool completely, if not eating right away, and place in refrigerator.

Reheat in the oven or microwave and serve over rice or egg noodles
Cook’s notes: * You can prep all the ingredients ahead of time just keep the chicken separated until you are ready to cook.

* If cooking over night start cooking at a time that will allow you the ability to have 30-45 min to cool down before placing in the refrigerator.

* To make the stew a little heartier add ¼ cup of brown rice in the last hour of cooking.

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