Acorn Squash and Pasta

I didn’t like squash growing up.  This was unfortunate because, growing up on a farm, my parents had a massive garden which produced many many acorn and butternut squash.  It didn’t matter if my mum put butter, brown sugar, or any other lovely toppings on the squash, its presence was resented.  30 odd years later and I’ve come out the other side. Not only do I have a toddler to whom I am reluctant to pass on my food foibles, I have found a recipe which low and behold is very flavourful AND includes squash.  And bacon.

Thekitchn is a great resource for me. It is a wealth of helpful tips, covers food trends, and frequently updates its recipes.  This Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta recipe was first published in 2008 and after reviewing the comments, it seems to be a staple in peoples repertoire.  I made a few changes, using sage instead of rosemary, deglazing the pan with white wine instead of broth but all in all I really enjoyed this recipe and will in fact, make acorn squash again soon!

Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta

1 acorn squash
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb penne
1/2 lb pancetta, diced (order from your deli counter where they can cut it into 1/4″ slices)
1/2 c white wine
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 c parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Cut the squash into 1/2″ thick wedges. Toss the wedges in olive oil, spread the wedges out on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Slice the top off the head of garlic, exposing the heads of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap in tin foil and put on the baking sheet along side the squash.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then flip the squash over and roast for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove the squash and allow to cool until you can comfortably remove the peel.  You can leave the garlic in the oven to continue cooking (I turned the oven off but left the garlic in). Once you can comfortably handle it, remove the peel from the squash and pull apart or cut the squash into bite sized chunks.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the penne.  Once cooked, reserve 1/2 c of pasta water for use in the sauce when draining the pasta.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, cook the pancetta until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crispy. While the pancetta is cooking, remove the garlic cloves from their papery sleeves. I used 4 cloves in the recipe and kept the remainders for another day.  Once the pancetta is cooked, remove it from the pan, setting it aside and pour off the excess fat.  Deglaze the pan with wine making sure to pick up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the sage and garlic, using the back of a spoon to squish the garlic and incorporate it into the sauce.  Return the pancetta and squash to the pan, tossing in the sauce.

Combine the pasta with the pancetta/squash sauce, stirring in the parmesan cheese.  Add the reserved pasta water 1/4c at a time if necessary (I only used 1/4c total)


Pot Roast Weather

It’s -24 degrees outside this morning.  With the windchill, it’s -32.  That’s cold.  Proper cold.  An image and quote keep appearing on my facebook page this winter, originally from Depressed Alien:

I think it pretty accurately sums up how I’m feeling about being in Toronto this winter!

That said, spring is coming.  Wiarton Willie didn’t see his shadow so we should be in the clear 6 weeks from now.  In the meantime, may I suggest a pot roast?

Pot roasts are the gift that keep on giving.  The initial preparation fills your home with a delicious smell and the leftovers will make the rest of your weeknight meals a bit easier to prepare.  This recipe from smittenkitchen is fantastic.  It has five ingredients if you count salt and pepper.  We ate the first iteration over mashed sweet potatoes and the leftovers served over risotto later in the week.

Smitten Kitchen’s Oven Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic (aka my new pot roast foundation recipe)

1 28oz can of tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, still in their papery covers (don’t bother peeling)
1 roast (3ish lb)

Preheat your oven to 300F.  If using whole tomatoes, use a pair of scissors to cut them into chunks (still in the can). Alternately you could be fancy and use a food processor.  I wasn’t fancy and the scissor trick worked just fine (and saved dishes).  Place the roast in a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. Pour the tomatoes around the roast, adding the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Put the roast in the oven for 3-4 hours.  When finished, fish out the garlic cloves and let cool.  Swish the now roasted garlic out of their no longer papery cover and use below in the mashed sweet potatoes (or spread on bread with a bit of butter and salt)

I strained the leftover juices, discarded the tomatoes and used the garlic in the potatoes below.  I saved the juice for the risotto later in the week.  It also kept the leftover meat nicely moist in the fridge.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be a bit wet if mashed on their own.  I boil 2 sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks) with 2 russet potatoes.  This seems to balance out the moisture from the sweet potatoes.

2 sweet potatoes
2 potatoes
garlic cloves from above
2 tbsp butter

Peel the sweet potatoes and potatoes. Cut into evenly sized chunks, place in a pot, cover with water and boil until soft (done when a knife will easily pierce the flesh).  Drain and return to the pot.  Add the soft garlic cloves, 2 tbsp of butter and season with salt.  Using a potato masher, get out all your aggression and mash until smooth.

More 15 minute madness

With the pending arrival of a baby expat, I’ve continued in my mission to check out some of the Jamie Oliver 15 Minute Meal recipes he’s demonstrated on his program currently showing on Channel 4.  Perhaps I’m optimistic, but I figure that a meal that can be thrown together in roughly 15-30 minutes might be doable with a newborn?  The 416expat has also shown an increased interest in cooking lately and has also tried his hand at reproducing some of the recipes.  I’ve got to admit, recipes that (1) produce leftovers and (2) 416expat demonstrates an enjoyment and interest in preparing are particularly appealing to me at the moment.

My latest attempt has seen me reproducing Jamie’s Glazed Pork with Spicy Rice.  I went for quinoa instead of rice but really enjoyed the flavour adding cumin, smoked paprika, and fennel seeds produced.  We used the leftovers the next day in sandwiches topped with the quinoa, pork, arugula/rocket.  Let me know what you think!

Glazed Pork with Spicy Quinoa and Vegetables

Glazed Pork with Spicy Quinoa and Vegetables

Glazed Pork 2


Glazed Pork with Spiced QuinoaAdapted from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals on 4oD

600g pork tenderloin (aka pork fillet in the UK)
salt and pepper
1 tbsp all spice (ground)
1 tbsp olive oil

Cut the tenderloin into 2 pieces of equal length that will fit into your frying pan.  Score the length of each piece and open like a book.  Place on a large sheet of parchment paper.  Season with salt, pepper, and all spice.  Fold the parchment paper over and, using a rolling pin/frying pan/mallet, tenderize the meat until it is of equal thickness.  In a pan, heated over medium high heat, add the olive oil and the pieces of pork.  Leave on the heat to allow a crust to form.  Flip after a few minutes, cooking both sides.  While the pork is cooking, throw together the sauce below.  Also, get your grill/broiler warming up.

4 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp brown sauce (aka HP sauce)
1 tsp tobascco
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 tbsp honey
2 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch of salt
thin out as needed with apple juice

Mix together.  When the pork is nearly done, remove it from heat and carefully spoon the sauce over the pork.  It will splatter when it hits the pan so be careful. Keep any extra sauce aside for later.  Put the pan under the broiler to finish pork with glaze/sauce.


Prepare quinoa in a quantity that works for you (I made 160ml quinoa with 1L water)

3 ribs celery
2 peppers
1 red onion
splash olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
pinch or two of cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika

Roughly chop the celery, peppers, and red onion.  Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan.  Add the olive oil, vegetables, and spices.  Cook, after a few minutes adding a splash of water to help break the frying and encourage the vegetables to steam.  When Quinoa is finished, add to the vegetables, tossing together and finishing with the juice of half a lemon.

Serve the pork with the quinoa and sauce.

Bologna & Near Venice

After spending a day in beautiful (but hyper-touristy) Venice, we took the expert advice of our hotel’s concierge, hired a car, and took off to a “real” Italian city: Bologna.  Bologna is Italy’s 7th largest city and sits at a gateway between the picturesque (but poor) South, and the industrialized North.  It’s also known for its cuisine, breaddy pastas and of course the sauce Bolognese.


We hired a Fiat Panda for the day at a cost of GBP22 (about C$35).  It is one of my favorite rental cars so far, with a crisp shifter and frugal petrol engine.  The trip to Bologna is 160km, and including our detours we ended up driving about 450km in the day.  While petrol is expensive, the Panda only used EUR30 in gas for the whole trip.


We saw these hills from the autostrada, and stopped to take a look.


Bologna was a bit gritty.


Now-dry canals in the city centre


Bologna is home to the world’s 3rd oldest university, and Europe’s second largest preserved city centre.  Much of the city’s sidewalks were covered arcades, providing shelter from the elements.  During our visit in early March the temperature was about 16c.


Covered sidewalk arcade, to the left.


One of Bologna’s symbols is this the Two Towers, actually a cluster of medieval towers scattered throughout the old part of the city.  The big one is twice as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And, for EUR3, you can climb it:



In the main town square, we could hear music from a funeral service for an Italian musician (we found out later, Lucio Dalla).  You can see the square is packed with thousands of people wearing black.


All in all, 498 stairs!


On the way back, we checked in at the small city of Ravenna on the Adriatic coast, just south of Venice



Well, British Airways had a seat sale and we took the plunge – a long weekend in Venice, while staying at the Hilton, just like a rock stars!  The reason it was all possible?  No one visits Venice in the wintertime, so we had the city to ourselves.  The hotel we stayed at, the Hilton Garden Inn, was fantastic: brand new rooms, helpful concierge, and a 7 minute shuttle onto the island. At EUR75 a night in a city known for high room rates, this was one of the best hotel values I’ve had in Europe.

Venice is in Northern Italy on the Adriatic Sea.  Hollywood’s Italy is usually the south – sun drenched beaches, dusty sand, olive trees.  Northern Italy is a bit different; while it’s hot in the summer winters can be proper cold.  Once home to a population of 200,000, tourists are slowly taking the island over; only 60,000 permanent residents remain on Venice itself.  We grabbed our Rick Steves Italy book and went nuts:


The world famous Rialto bridge.


To combat rising tides, much of the island has been built up around the buildings.  This makes for some low ceilings.


Tasty pastries by the canal.


The blue-green water is saltwater from the surrounding lagoon.


A gondola ride is a pricey proposition – EUR100 by day, and more by night.  The cheap trick is to choose a Traghetto, which goes from one side of the Grand Cana and back.  The 40 yard, 3 minute journey costs just half a Euro!


The island of Murano,home to Murano glass.



A Murano glass…glass.


These little guys were EUR5 each.


It was easy to capture Venice on our DSLR.  Point, shoot, everything looked fantastic.



Super ornate column outside the Doge’s (Duke’s) Palace.


The famous Bridge of Signs, leading from the courthouse (left) into the prison (right)


Plaza San Marco – St Mark’s Square.  Trading houses on the left, and the Basilica straight ahead.


A weekend in Kent

Last weekend we hired a car (a GBP22/day, 3-cylinder Peugeot 107) and rocketed off to the Kent countryside.  Kent is a county that borders London to the north, and the English Channel to the south.  We stayed at the 1406-built Elvey Farm, which has about 10 rooms and an on-site gourmet restaurant.  Because January isn’t prime time prices were discounted to GBP100 per night over 2 nights.

Kent all about the countryside, and Elvey Farm is right in the middle of Kent (some might add in the middle of nowhere).  But there is a decent enough pub 15 minutes walk away, as well as a 2-hour loop walk that has a rendezvous with another country pub.  The county was at a time known for producing hops (a key ingredient in beermaking) and is known as the Garden of England (though, to be honest, I think every region tries to lay a claim to this).  Still, if you’re looking for real deal English countryside within easy reach of London, this is it.

ImageSo, here’s our room – as you can see, huge!  One queen sized bed; two twin beds in the back room; a single bed to the right; and a big bathroom dead ahead.  Coming from our 400sqft London flat this was quite a surprise.


As you can see, entry into the room was another matter.Image

English countryside!


This was the view from Pluckley (the town with the pub) back down into Elvey Farm.  The first building in the centre of the show is the farmhouse and adjacent barn.


So no one wants to go on vacation in January – in spite of flowers blooming, somehow its too cold to enjoy the great outdoors.  These look like snowdrops, which Canadians are used to seeing in April.ImageImage

These pictures are from our longer 2 hour walk on the second day, along the Greensand way.ImageImage

I was good and didn’t chase any sheep.Image

Apple buds!Image

It was just a 2 hour walk, but along these muddy paths it turned out to be a real workout.  Hunter boots seem a lot less silly when you’re slogging through mud like this.


If moss can grow on it, it will.


This is a ruined church, built 1506, destroyed 1943 by a Nazi bomb.  Rather than tear it down, the ruins have been left intact.


Back on track!  Solid ground was a relief after the inch-deep mud.Image

This tree made me think of the Sam Roberts tree from We Were Born In A Flame.Image

English countryside!  Hunter boots!  Waterproof jacket, and a smile!  This is how we do it.

Anniversary in Amsterdam

Finally, after nearly 2 years on this soggy little island, we were able to ride the rails 4 hours to Amsterdam.  The ride via Eurostar (with a stop in Belgium) costs about GBP130 and, given it goes from city-centre in London to city-centre in Amsterdam, is about as easy as intercontinental travel can get.

We took a 3-day long weekend, and given the small size of the city (about 1 million people with a famously compact pedestrian-friendly core), it was just enough time.  Hotels are a touch expensive (not much choice under EUR100) but the beer was cheap and the food was great!

We stayed in the Jordann, a gentrified neighbourhood just outside the old central area.  In Amsterdam the old centre is the capital of vice (reminded me a but of Queen & Bathurst) but the Jordann is more grown-up, less pott-y, more quiet, and filled with gorgeous shops and cafes.

We’ll be back.