I am not a perfect cook. Really, most of it boils down to various kitchen character flaws that exhibit themselves so perfectly in cooking: impatience, messiness, and procrastination, to name a few. Even with recipes, I often scrunch my nose at the directions, not out of hubris, but because I am still slightly impatient and jittery and lack zen-like patience. With cooking and baking, sometimes you break the rules and try new things and it turns out totally awesome, other times it just seems like a quiet little failure. You made something adequate, decent, but it wasn’t memorable.
So the successes become etched in your brain – the time I made this bittersweet chocolate and pear cake, for example, which resulted in a perfection that I, miraculously, have since been able to replicate every time. Modern miracle. Or these milky espresso cookies that my dad loves. Wait, I’m listing baked goods. Anything with sweet potato, or yam, I swear I’ll nail it! You see, I’m still working on becoming a decent cook. This Thanksgiving, however, was different. I planned for about two weeks beforehand, switching recipes every day it seemed. Finally, I settled on a few things: one was a solid recipe that I followed every step of the way (except for proportions). One was an idea of a recipe that I played with and sort of completed on the fly. One was a thing conjured from the thin air of my anxiety, cold-riddled brain. All were…amazing.
the idea: Roasted Squash with Blueberry Balsamic
4 small delicata or acorn squash
1 cup slivered almonds, bought pre-toasted or toasted in a pan
seeds of 1 pomegranate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
1/3 cup goat cheese or feta (something crumbly)
sea salt, pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Add balsamic vinegar and blueberries to a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir every once in a while and cook until the vinegar has reduced and feels thick and syrupy, about 25 minutes.
Cut the delicata squash down the middle, length-wise. Scoop out the seeds and slice into slivers, about 1.5 inches thick. If working with acorn, cut in half across the “equator” of the squash. Scoop out the seeds and slice into chunks. Place on a cookie sheet or roasting pan and drizzle with generous amounts of olive oil. Sprinkle sea salt & pepper, an amount of your choosing, and roast for about 15-20 minutes, until the squash is soft but not crumbly, and the skin is slightly golden & crisp.
Remove squash from oven and arrange on a long platter. Drizzle with the balsamic syrup, sprinkle with goat cheese, almonds, and pomegranate seeds.
I cannot say enough good things about this “salad” of Brussels sprouts, pear, & lentils with a tangy dressing. It was a big hit at the table, even among people who don’t normally like Brussels sprouts (I think the fact that they are shaved and roasted adds to the appeal versus just cooking the sprouts whole) and it was flavorful, but filling. Bacon will probably make this even better, but I did not add bacon – don’t worry, vegetarians, the flavor does not suffer. And you still have protein-lovin’ lentils!
the thing from my brain: Chocolate, Coconut, & Banana Tarts
A chocolate-banana tart shell, with chocolate ganache & coconut cream, topped with a banana slice & coconut flakes
Shell: Blend 12 honey graham crackers, 1/3 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1.5 – 2 bananas in a food processor. Mixture should resemble dough – if it is too wet, add white or wheat flour with your hands. If it is too dry, add more coconut oil or bananas. Press into greased cupcake tins to create little tart shells and cook for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Ganache: Heat 1 cup heavy whipping cream on medium-high heat in a small saucepan. You don’t want to burn the cream, but it should reach boiling point or near-boiling. Remove from heat and stir in 8 oz. of a bitter or semi-sweet chocolate. Keep stirring until the mixture turns into a shiny chocolate liquid. Scoop into your tart shells and let cool completely.
Coconut Cream: Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream & 1/2 cup full fat coconut cream (no coconut liquid) in a mixer on high for about 6-8 minutes. Watch carefully — if you mix it too much, it will turn into butter. It will turn into a dreamy coconut whipped cream, which you can top the cooled chocolate tarts with. Make sure to store this dish in the fridge before serving.
Top with a slice of banana, a sprinkle of coconut flakes, and a pinch of cocoa powder.