Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.

How good it is | Tara O'Brady

The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy. 

That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.  

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood. 

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.

Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the  more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget. 

 

(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK

I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice. 

The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
  •  3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  1 tablespoon curry powder
  •  1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  •  2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
  •  1 tablespoon maple syrup
  •  1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  •  1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
  •  Juicy wedges of lime, for serving

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top. 

NOTES:

  • When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week. 

I'm well aware that many of you are counting down the hours (minutes?) until Thanksgiving. To that end, I'll cut to the big tah-da: a spectacular savoury galette, one with caramelized onions, Fontina cheese, and roasted butternut squash.

For all of us not celebrating a holiday tomorrow, consider that lack of turkey, stuffing and pie an unexpected boon, as your oven is now free and clear to make said galette — which, if you don't mind the suggestion, is something I think you should do.

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It is a recipe from Deb, found on page 99 of her bestseller, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012).

Deb is a superstar already, hardly needing any explanation or introduction as to why her recipes are crowd-pleasing and craveworthy, or how her writing gives only a glimpse of vivacious personality behind those words. All the things you've come to expect from her site have been seamlessly translated to her book; it is chock full of photographs, detailed procedures and helpful notes. She is right there with you for every step of the recipe.

A particular and attentive cook, Deb is one that considers details. She’s like America’s Test Kitchen with less suspenders and more fun, with the added bonus of an adorable toddler. She tests recipes thoroughly; she talks about what worked and what didn’t, she explains her thought process of why she tried this and not that, why she recommends a certain technique — she does her best to consider every angle, every possibility, every variation she can, to get to the best possible result.

So when she presents you with a golden-crusted, filled-with-goodness galette, it will, indeed, be as delicious as it looks. And oh, that crust. Made by hand, it comes together quickly, gorgeously pliable and forgiving to work with. Where lesser crusts might put up some resistance or even crack, this one feels like cool, weighty fabric and smoothly falls into neat pleats. When it bakes, it puffs into layers, opening up those folds and rounding out. The edge shatters into large flakes, and where it is thicker, it goes pillowy with air.

I can see this pastry as means of conveyance for all sorts of deliciousness, kale and feta maybe, or sliced tomatoes with roasted shallots. There's endless possibilities there; keep it bookmarked.

The filling is hardly a slouch either, lush with sweet onions and cubes of succulent squash, bound with cheese and set off with thyme. It is elegant and rustic, decadent and comforting, and absolutely autumnal.

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In one of her earliest posts, Deb writes:

“I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen 'after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to' is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it.”

That sums up why we keep turning to Deb, and her boundless generosity when it comes to her time, recipes and advice. She sincerely wants our meals to be better, and does her darndest to guarantee they are.

I'm thankful for her efforts, and her friendship.

Last week, I was honoured to host The Cookbook Store's author event with Deb in Toronto. Cheers to Alison and all the staff for organizing the night, to the chef school at George Brown Collegeand Chef Scott for the welcome and the best signs I've ever seen. To everyone who attended, y'all were amazing. Your enthusiasm got me through some nerves.

And, congratulations Debbie on the book. It deserves all the success it’s getting, and more. Here's to another visit soon, French 75s all around. Tiramisu too.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CARMELIZED ONION GALETTE

Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf Publishing Group, 2012). Deb suggests this as an appetizer, or as a main. The recipe can also be divided to make two 9-inch galettes.

For the pastry

  • 2½ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour, including 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour if you like, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) table salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 g) or 2 sticks, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (64 g) sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, strained
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (79 mL) ice water

For the filling

  • 2 small or 1 large butternut squash, about 21/2 pounds (1134 g)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil
  • 1½ teaspoons (5 g) tsp table salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (14 g) butter
  • 2 large sweet onions, such as Spanish or Vidalia, halved, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional
  • 2 cups (180 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp (4 g) water, for glaze (optional, but makes for a croissant-looking finish)

 

METHOD

To make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest pieces the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or up to two days.

To prepare squash: Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into ½-inch to ¾-inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil into one or two smaller baking sheets, spreading it to an even slick. Lay the squash chunks on the baking sheet in one layer, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon (2 g) of the salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, if using.

Mix the squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

To assemble the galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16- to 17-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash-and-cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 2 to 2½-inch border. Fold the border over the squash and cheese, pleating the edge to make it fit. The centre will be open. Brush the outside of the crust with the egg-yolk wash, if using.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for five minutes, then slide onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 hearty 12-inch galette, serving 8

Tara's Notes:

  • One day I used a mix of Fontina and Gruyère for the cheeses as I happened to have both in the fridge, but not enough of either to make up the full amount called for in the recipe; it was a nice combination.
  • In another incarnation, I added a diced Empire apple to the filling.
  • Dried red pepper flakes make a good substitution to the cayenne. 
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