Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A delicata situation

My best friend Meghan is one of the most consistently excellent cooks I know. I have yet to experience a remotely mediocre meal during my various trips to see her in Houston over the years. We've logged quite a few hours in the kitchen together, yet though we share an almost clinical obsession with local, seasonal ingredients -- I swear she can identify a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato at 100 yards -- our cooking approaches differ quite drastically. You see, Meghan is meticulous in her technique, precise in her acquisition and measurement of time and ingredients. Me, well...

I substitute ingredients in recipes quite often. In fact, I substitute directions in recipes quite often, too. This is not because I am incapable of following directions, but rather because I find that I'd prefer to use ingredients I have on hand as much as possible. And, okay, fine, in many cases I believe I have a better sense of what would really improve the dish, never mind whatever some Post Food Section columnist or cookbook author directs. I cook it for... awhile until it tastes... done. (I can't imagine why mom thinks I'm stubborn.) I can estimate this stuff when giving other people recipes, but in truth "precise" is not a word I would use to describe my culinary practice.

This year for my birthday, I decided that for perhaps only the second time in my life I would actually follow a recipe as written. I selected a savory Autumn Stroganoff from the Cafe Flora cookbook. In spite of dad's clamoring for a more meaty meal, I insisted that *I* should choose the recipes for *my* birthday meal and that my family would have a vegetarian feast. After all, the Portabella Wellingtons from the very same cookbook that rang in my 33rd year were well worth the effort. (Dad remains in disbelief that these were also sans meat. I think I heard him mumbling something about "stubbornness" between mouthfuls during his second helping that night, but it was hard to discern over the sounds of scarfing.) I'd given my parents the list of ingredients the week before and mom had picked up the sherry and tamari and mushrooms and pasta and... what was that, a butternut squash? No, no, the recipe called for delicata. No, the oblong yellow, stripey squash, you know? There were none to be found. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and ibtis.... I'd make do.

Not an hour after I started making the vegetable stock at my parents' house, my cousin Sonia called to ask me what she might do with the two delicata squash she'd impulsively picked up at the farmers' market. "What??" I about fell over and very nearly dropped the phone. "You can give them to me!" Dad was promptly dispatched on a squash reconnaissance mission and returned home an hour later with... two buttercup squashes. Agh. See? The universe doesn't *want* me to follow recipes. I cooked down the mushroom essence a bit more, poured in some more sherry (and another glass of wine for myself), and set to chopping and oven roasting the buttercup squash and baby bella mushrooms. Ah, might as well double the garlic while I'm at it. And that sauce needed more thickening... Recipe, schmecipe.

The end result was rich and delicious, especially dear because it continued the tradition of just the four of us cooking together. Still, I couldn't help teasing cousin Sonia about her misidentification when she came by later for dessert, since after Meghan and I my closest cousin is usually the most likely to correctly identify obscure vegetables. "No, no, it was in a basket labeled 'delicata,' I swear!" (Just like the basket in the picture here, except that this one, taken at a co-op on my way to Burlington last week, actually contained delicata. Ahem.) But all was forgiven over champagne and a made-from-scratch chocolate cheesecake that my little brother and I had concocted (following a recipe... mostly.)

Oops, enough teasing: looks like they're about to start boarding my flight to Houston! After waking up to zero-degree temperatures in Montreal at Becky's house this morning, I'm looking forward to cooking with Meticulous Meghan in Warmer Climes for the next week. The Tour de Friends (and Food) continues....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the photo! We got one of those squashes in the bonus vegetable basket from Arganica. We thought it was an underripe spaghetti squash, but I think it's actually a delicata. Knowing what it is definitely makes it a little easier to plan.


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