The spaghetti squash and the very old cheese.

A few nights ago I wanted some nice cheeses to go with the lovely avocado, grapefruit and endive salad I made. I headed over to Provenance where I found two seminal cheeses: the first an immaculate handmade double-cream cheese that is about the freshest cheese I've ever tasted, and the second an eight year old gouda that is so tart and rich and full that the tiniest bite got the best of me.

The gouda, which stars in tonight's meal, was bright white, dry and crumbly, freckled with those mysterious little crunchy specks that you find in high-quality parmigianos or pecorinos. And the taste of this cheese was really quite astonishing - I cut myself a thin slice to dress my excellent albeit overpriced crackers - and I could not even finish that mere sliver of cheese. It was simply too strong (and I fancy myself quite brave when it comes to strong cheeses)! So this is what happens when one ages a cheese for Eight Whole Years!

Since its texture reminded me so much of a parmigiano, I thought I might be able to use the gouda as I would that more familiar cheese. I looked to the lovely little spaghetti squash perched on my baker's rack, just waiting to be all roasted up and then shred to bits. Surely this bright and vivacious fruit could mellow even the sourest and crotchety-est of old cheeses!

Spaghetti squash with caramelized onions and the very old cheese

The surprise of this dish was all the many layers of sweetness: the rich roasted garlic, the creamy onions, the tangy tomatoes, and the fresh sweetness of the squash itself.
I, unfortunately, grew weary of waiting for my onions and didn't allow them to caramelize properly; I have since learned a valuable lesson about patience.

One small spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
Olive oil, pepper and salt
2 tbs of olive oil
1 tbs of butter
5 small sweet yellow onions, halved through the poles and thinly sliced
1 scant teaspoon of sugar
8 sun dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/4 cup grated very old cheese (for example, an eight year old gouda)
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/2 cup roasted salted pecan halves

Roast the squash:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour just enough water into a 9 x 11 baking dish to barely cover the bottom, and place squash halves cut side down with 2 garlic cloves and one bay leave tucked underneath each squash half. Roast until almost tender, about 45 minutes, anticipating as you wait how the sweet roasted garlic flavor will gently infuse the squash. Now flip the halves over, placing garlic and bay leaves in the squash "bowls." Sprinkle generously with olive oil, pepper and salt, and roast until tender, about 10 more minutes; discard garlic and bay leaves. I like my squash to be a bit crisp and not at all soggy; the squash is ready when a fork raked around the edges pulls the flesh into curious twisting threads. Let the squash rest for about 10 minutes before you scrape it from the rind.

Caramelize the onions:
Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, add the butter, allowing the foam to subside and the butter to begin to brown. Add the onions, a sprinkling of sugar, and saute until the onions begin to color. Lower heat and PATIENTLY allow the onions to caramelize, about 35 minutes or even more. The onions are done when they are a deep golden brown, sweet and melting.

Add the julienned tomatoes and stir, then add the vermouth to deglaze. The tomatoes that I have been using lately are very, very soft and need absolutely no re-hydration; you may need to soak your tomatoes in boiling water (per package instructions) if your tomatoes are of the drier sort. Allow the vermouth to cook off, and then remove from heat.

Assemble the meal:
Toss together the squash, onions and cheese until well blended. Season to taste with pepper and salt, and top each serving with the pecans.


Stop Kissing Me, I Just Want to Blog.

My friend Peter has a really fabulous idea for a blog. He has drafted
several posts. He has even secured a few guest columnists who are
excited to be a part of his new project. When Peter finally
starts this blog, I will link to it on the right hand side of this
page, so you can see how awesome it is, too.

Why hasn't Peter actually started his blog?

"Well," Peter explains, avoiding my piercing stare, "I'm just so busy
this quarter, I've got a lot of homework, I have to read all this

"And," he adds, "Now I have this relationship that takes up all my time..."

Which is totally the most awesome excuse for not blogging ever. I'm
sure every day Peter's new girlfriend wants to hang while Peter
protests, "But I was just about to start my blog! Stop kissing me! I
just want to blog! Stop being so pretty and fun!!" I'm sure all the times she's not distracting him from blogging, she's keeping him from doing his homework. Sounds like this new girlfriend is a one-way trip to Flunking Out of Graduate School-ville, if you ask me. Or at least a one-way trip to Never Starting My Awesome Blog Town.

I have a much less awesome excuse for my lack of blog (traveling around the country for work), although my excuse does involve driving home from Urbana-Champaign singing along to AniDifranco with my boss, who is one of the busiest people I know.

And he still manages to blog, Peter.

Shaved Pear, Fennel and Mushroom Salad with Preserved Lemons

I got a mandoline! I got an amazing deal on it (originally $150 - I payed $5!)! I forgot about my mandoline until Fancy Toast wrote about her mandoline! I'm glad I remembered my mandoline! Also, Megan took this picture - thank you Megan!

3 very small pears, preferably three different varieties
about 12 cremini mushrooms, washed and thoroughly dried
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut in half
1 lemon
olive oil
pepper and salt
1/4 cup or so italian parsley leaves
1/4 of a preserved lemon rind, julienned

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, thinly slice the pears, mushrooms and fennel (my slices were about 1/16 inch thick - thank you, mandoline!). If your cutting is as slow as Peter's blog-starting, you could have a bowl of water with a drop or two of lemon juice to put your pears in so they do not brown.

On four plates, arrange delicate layers of the first pear. Drizzle a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, then add a layer of mushrooms and a layer of fennel. Continue: pear 2, dressing, mushrooms, fennel; pear 3, dressing mushrooms fennel. Top each salad with parsley and preserved lemon, and a last dash of olive oil if you think you need it. This salad is perfect as is, but could be nice with a shaving or two of gruyere.