Butterscotch (Squash) Bread

Squash bread so good the cat ate it — several people wanted the recipe. I found it in a community cookbook last year — maybe Encore Nashville. The recipe called for zucchini originally, but since our organic box of vegetables from Delvin Farms has included about three big squash a week for the last three weeks, you can see where this is going.

Myself personally, I love squash cooked just the plain Southern way, with a chopped onion and a pat of lard margarine butter then served with plenty of black pepper. I tried serving it twice: once before Child, and once After Daughter. There was screaming both times. So I’ll be a retired widow before that side dish ever happens again, and by then, my meals will consist of Slim-Fast and a Rye Manhattan. Until then, squash must be managed: disguised as a fritter, minced for stir-fry, layered in the bottom of lasagna, and made into quick breads and cakes.

This recipe calls itself a quick bread but it’s really a one-bowl loaf cake, since the original called for 2 cups of sugar. I cut that to 1 and it’s still plenty sweet. Whole wheat pastry flour makes up about 3/4 cup of the total. I use only about half the oil and it seems fine, unless you like a really rich, slightly oily cake.


Butterscotch (Squash) Bread

    • 3 eggs
    • 1 cup cooking oil
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 cups grated zucchini
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1/2 cup oats
    • 1 (3-ounce) package instant butterscotch pudding mix
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

 

Beat the eggs, oil and sugar in a large bowl until light in color and somewhat thickened. Add the squash and vanilla and mix well.

Combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Add to the squash mixture; mix until no white streaks of flour remain.

Spoon the mixture into 2 8-inch loaf pans or a single 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes; remove and cool completely. Freezes well. A lemon-juice-butter-confectioners sugar glaze is nice. Makes 2 loaves or 1 cake.

Wholesome and Necessary for the Public Good

Fourth of July celebration in the Whitland Avenue neighborhood. We like it for a lot of reasons. It’s a chance to see people we like and hardly ever see.

This year, the weather was pleasant. Our friends have a fun party with lots of kids running around, popsicles, and a bouncy castle.

I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the food contest. It’s always fun to meet the other judges, who are sometimes friends, sometimes restaurant people or both. The competition is respectably stiff, with lots of well-prepared and well-presented entries. There are two categories: Great American Picnic Food and Desserts. It’s all about execution: this year, a simple but perfectly executed cucumber salad won, along with a pretty butterbean and tomato salad (blurry photo below) in the picnic division, beating out competitors like a mango and shrimp salad and a pesto and sun-dried tomato pasta.

An apple pie in an unbelievable homemade crust won the Dessert category. The runner-up was a chocolate latte meringue pie, a little bit of innovation that was done well. Excuse the blurry photo — it was the kind of party where I ran into a friend’s sister, borrowed her camera for ages, couldn’t really work it well, then asked her to go to a lot of trouble to post these photos. Seriously, you’ll never come across a better group of people. I wish the Whitland picnic were a commune.

But mostly the day was about the Declaration of Independence, rousing patriotic music, politicking, and talk. Lots of talk and visiting, which I can never get enough of.

The Most Disgusting Thing I’ve Eaten This Month

Big Fella’s fond childhood food memories include Shake ‘N Bake chicken, and for the 19 years of our marriage, he’s not failed to bring it up at least every month.

    I suppose I was meant to take the hint and buy it but it’s a fact that my fond childhood food memories do not include Shake ‘N Bake. We rednecks didn’t venture much beyond flour, salt, pepper and Crisco, because why would you want to bake a chicken when you could fry it?

So he finally bought it himself, like he finally started putting his Big Bucket into the dishwasher himself, again after waiting 19 years for me to do it.

It shakes up nice, and bakes up golden, I’ll give it that.

But the taste is so vile, and even the tiny nubbin I tried left my mouth tasting of plastic and chemicals. I had to drink a gin and tonic with extra lime to clear the taste. Big Fella got a Proustian rush from every morsel. I think it explains a lot, really.

Squash: For So Many Reasons

Tupperware Avalanche is becoming an all-vegetable venue, and for that I apologize, so I’ll try to be funny or at least amusing.

    Here’s our drawer of artisanal, seasonal, hand-grown marital aids. Hellooo big boy! If I were in charge of squash variety names, I’d go for the evocative: Hung Lo, Hoss, and GoodFellow (a great name for Italian zucchini varieties, I think you’ll agree).

(Speaking of which, have you seen this British commercial yet on YouTube? Food and sex, inextricably intertwined.)

The photo doesn’t really convey the volume of squash in the drawer; they’re three deep in places, so the five you can see cover about seven more. This photo was taken well after I cooked and photographed this roll call of squash dishes.

 

Squash Crab Soup — $15 a pot for a world-class, soothing, and devastatingly rich meal. Recipe below

Thai Squid with Lemongrass and Basil (And Finely Shredded Zucchini That Fortunately Disappears When Cooked): hot, salty, sweet, fragrant. Served over shredded cabbage rather than rice — a Thai cook told me that a bed of cabbage is authentically Thai, not to mention carb-free.
 

Did I mention ratatouille, that hardy perennial? Saw the film Ratatouille last week, finally, after being reassured by Sweet Cheeks and others that “no, really, it’s a good story.” And it is, if you don’t mind the idea of rats in the dish water and dozens of rats swarming over the kitchen floor. I wasn’t able to suspend judgment long enough for the rat to fully self-actualize and become a sympathetic character. Call me intolerant, but I saw him and his buddies as just another 25-point health department violation.

 
Sausage and Zucchini Bake with a layer of cheese pasta on top that can be picked off for a carbless entree. As an extra bonus for visiting Tupperware Avalanche, I’m throwing in a photo of the patriarch, a genuine American orphan who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and cleaned his plate even when he didn’t like what was being served. An example to all of us.

And for dessert, Squash Cake the First, nicely cinnamony and nutmeggy, topped with a homemade marshmallow drizzle and orange zest. Phwoar, as the British say. Cake The Second got a broiled topping of coconut, rice krispies, brown sugar and evaporated milk. It was pretty good but my broiler is like a blast furnace, even when set on “low,” so we picked off the burnt bits.
 
 

There you have it, and if you have a squash recipe for me to try, I’d love to have it, cuz I’m fresh out of ideas. The squash remaining in the drawer may have to go into the freezer so I can get some peace.


Low Country Crab and Squash Soup

I cooked my squash to a puree because I wanted a smoother soup. Stirred it in along with the water.

  •  8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2 small onions, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  •  2 lbs squash, grated
  •  1/4 cup crab base or shrimp base or lobster base
  •  1 quart water
  •  1 lb crabmeat
  •  1/2 cup flour
  •  1 cup milk
  •  1 cup half-and-half
  •  salt
  •  chives

Melt the butter in a 1-gallon pot and saute the carrots, onions and garlic until onion is transparent. Add the pepper flakes and squash and cook until squash is tender.

Add the crab paste and water and mix well. Heat to a simmer then add the crab meat. Heat through and taste the soup. Add more water if it seems to strong or salty (since soup bases vary in strength).

Whisk together the flour and a little of the milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and half-and-half. Add the mixture to the soup. Cook, stirring, until the soup thickens, but try not to let it boil. Add salt to taste, if needed. Garnish with chives to serve. Makes 6 servings.

Thanks, Church Ladies

I’m learning a lot, watching the world through the experience of my very old grandmother. It’s true that every day is a gift, and you can learn something every day. But sometimes it’s hard to be grateful for that gift when the day brings pain, or loneliness or isolation. And things you learn, you might just as soon not know.

She never complains, but it’s clear that for her, life is not about the adventure anymore. It’s about managing a body that’s deteriorating.

My gran has just a few friends left, and last week, one of them passed away. The funeral was held at a very large local church, then the family and close friends drove to the cemetery for the interment.

What happened next is something I’ve never heard of: the church put on a luncheon for the family and anyone else who cared to attend. Tablecloths, flowers and authentic Southern church lady food like orange sherbet jello, broccoli slaw, hash brown casseroleorange fluff, and that cake with the vanilla pudding and pineapple in the frosting. Also, the best coconut cake I’ve ever had in my life.

Usually it’s up to a family to make its own meal arrangements after a funeral, at just the moment they most need the care of their faith community. It was a deeply moving gesture, clearly developed by someone who knows what it’s like to want to linger with old friends after a funeral. It made a very old lady a little less lonely and it fed her a meal when there’s so little else that can be done to comfort her. I can’t think of a better definition of the word “gracious.”

 

Check out me, the CCP

If you’ve ever worked in publishing, you know the old joke that everyone’s an art director. Because everyone knows what appeals to him/her, and there’s no disputing taste. (Hey Diana, non est disputandum de gustibus!)

Same goes for recipe editing — everyone’s a recipe editor, because so many cooks feel they know the only proper way to express a particular technique. It makes my job challenging. There was the cookbook committee chairwoman from the mega-school whose headnotes invariably read, “This is great!” or the kicky variation, “This is great for families!” for 256 long pages. There was the civic group that declined to change a single recipe title, including the “One-Pot Dinner” that used a skillet and a soup pot, so if you can count, you’ll already know that’s two pots.

There was another committee that similarly clung to its titles, often in flagrant violation of a “no names in titles” rule designed to prevent unhelpful monikers like “Beth’s Cookies” and “Anne’s Steak” because what does that tell you about the steak? Or Beth? (And anyway, a lot of “Anne’s” recipes come directly from “Southern Living” or the Food Channel, so they’re not really “Anne’s,” are they?)

There was the cookbook where the headnote writer used the word “refreshing” in the headnotes of some 15 of the 200 recipes, including a fish recipe. Nothing like a refreshing fish, is there?

But now I have a new arrow in my quiver, because I am a newly minted Certified Culinary Professional, granted and acknowledged by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. And that means I know about culinary stuff, and no one can deny it because I have letters after my name.

Go on — ask me about selkirk bannock.

Or how to stuff a mirliton

or how much miso soup can be made from a 8-gram packet of kelp broth.

There are more neurosurgeons in the United States than there are CCPs at this point, so it’s a little like the old punchline: “Stand back! I don’t know how big this thing gets.” Not sure where this particular path is heading, but there’s so much work to be done in food policy, food distribution, and agriculture right now to make sure there’s good, clean, adequate food for everyone. But for starters, now that I’m queen, I’m going after recipe titles.

Plum Coffeecake, an Iced Latte, a Magazine

Do you go through phases with magazines? I bet I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed to Outside, Esquire and Gourmet three times each. After a few years, the tone and approach seem homogenous and I look for a new perspective. There have been similar phases with Cook’s Illustrated, Food & Wine, and Cooking Light.

At this moment, I’m in love with Saveur for its narrative and its focus on a cuisine embedded in a culture, and Fine Cooking for its attention to detail (and also the occasional assignment they throw my way). I love this month’s feature on burgers — every mag has a burger feature this summer, but none has as good a burger as Fine Cooking’s Mexican Black Bean Burger with Tomatillo & Avocado Salsa. My burger turned out identical to the magazine’s, except their photo was in focus and mine was not.

I learn something in every issue, which isn’t true for every culinary magazine. There was a taste test of olive oils grouped by flavor profile, which is a great idea, since I enjoy some types of olive oil and dislike others. I learned why the edges of microwaved foods get so hot while the center is cold. Discovered that “sushi grade” fish isn’t a real designation, just a marketing term. Learned how to make my own seasoned rice vinegar — it always seemed as if it would be simple, and it is.

    Our plum tree bears plums every few years, and they’re too tart to enjoy fresh. When you look around for plum recipes, you get pretty much the same five cakes, a tart, and an ice cream recipe. But FC offered recipes with updated flavors and techniques like caramelized plums atop cinnamon-walnut shortcakes; a plum tart in a lemon shortbread crust, and Plum Coffeecake with Brown Sugar & Cardamom Streusel, which I made last weekend.

On newsstands this week is the September issue, including a test of grill woks, 19 of which shared our house for several weeks this spring.

Cucumber Ginger Limeade, Because It’s Hot

Every summer, the same thing happens in the cookbook business: the workload ramps up to critical at just the moment we’re supposed to leave town for a week. So to the hard-working members of the cookbook committee of Service League of Urbanopolis: I’m going because it’s time to go. I leave your book in less cranky better hands. I’ll be back in a few days.

And I leave visitors to this blog with a few thoughts:

I’m selling my Harold’s gift card on eBay. I’ve been shopping there five times since December, and it occurs to me that I don’t know these size 16 people who wear wild prints and inappropriately cut clothes. What are they like?

Have you noticed the return of tautology? At first, it was just a co-worker saying, “It is what it is.” Which is pretty well indisputable, and that’s good, since you don’t want to argue with colleagues. But then rap singers started telling us that we’re not hot because we’re not hot, and Olympics contenders are telling the interviewer that they’re nervous to meet Mary Lou Retton, “because, you know, she’s Mary Lou Retton.”

I’m not saying I understand the trend, except maybe English is developing subtle layers of meaning. Or maybe it just is what is it is.

Does your midlife crisis not feel like the stuff sitcoms are made of? Yeah, mine neither.

    I leave you with two cool photos because it’s hot. I’m gone because I’m out of here.

First, a picture of ice cream. Not since the torrone and riso ice creams of Italy have I eaten an ice cream this good. It’s creamy without being greasy. There’s just enough air whipped into it to give it a light, as opposed to icy, texture but not the puffy, gelatin texture that cheap ice creams have. The blackberry flavor is intensely blackberry flavored.

And the other is cucumber limeade. You can decide whether it needs a shot of vodka. Mine did.


Ginger Cucumber Limeade

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled
  • 3 limes (or 1/3 cup frozen limeade concentrate)
  • 1/2 cup sugar syrup
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup club soda or sparkling water, chilled
  • ice

Juice the cucumber, limes and ginger in a centrifugal juicer. (Or blend them in a blender — but squeeze the limes first.) Add the sugar syrup to taste. Combine the mixture with the club soda in a pitcher. Serve with a slice of cucumber, and a shot of vodka if you need it. Makes 3 servings.