Butternut Squash and Feta

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When I read a review of The New Rules, by Christopher Kimball, I just knew I had to own it. It is a book of “recipes that will change the way you cook.”

This is part of his introduction: Rules are a mixed blessing. They are useful in building a foundation of knowledge, whether in music or cooking. But they also create boundaries that can dampen improvisation. The New Rules is our attempt to do both, to create a communal starting point for a new way to cook… while also inspiring home cooks to abandon rigid culinary notions.

A few examples – Water for stock. Putting the sweet back into savory. Blooming spices. Bitter and charred as flavors. Herbs as greens.. and etc.

I’ve already made one recipe from this book – spicy stir fried green beans – which was really good.

For the blog I chose to make this butternut squash dish because Mr. Kimball states that “a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese balances the dish with sharp, salty notes and dill adds a fresh flavor and fragrance.”

Sorry Chris, but I’m just not fond of dill.

The lesson in this dish is caramelizing, or toasting the couscous prior to cooking to enhance its flavor.

This is obviously a vegetarian dish, but grilled chicken or pork could be added, or this can be a side dish to those proteins. To serve this, I chose a pesto-slathered chicken breast.

Butternut Squash and Feta, with Toasted Pearl Couscous

4 tablespoons extra-virgin oil, divided
1 cup pearl couscous
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2” cubes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 cups water (I used broth)
1 – 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons chopped dill, divided

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the couscous and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

In the same pot over medium high, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the squash, then stir in 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

The last time I cut up a butternut squash my hand almost fell off, so I decided to test out this frozen kabocha (pumpkin) instead. It was completely thawed first.

Distribute in an even layer and cook without stirring until well browned, 3-5 minutes. Stir occasionally and continue to cook until a skewer inserted into the largest piece meets no resistance, another 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin and bay, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in 2 cups of water and the couscous. Cover and simmer until the couscous is tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes.

Off heat, remove and discard the bay. Stir in the chickpeas, squash, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of dill.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon dill and the feta.


Serve with lemon wedges.

As I mentioned, I omitted the dill.

This is truly fabulous. The couscous holds up really well, and the frozen butternut squash did as well.

If I have to be honest I wouldn’t like the butternut squash mixture as much without the feta, but that’s just me!

Thai Beef Salad

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Recently, I came across a Christopher Kimball recipe that caught my attention. It’s a Thai-inspired salad with skirt steak. Nothing terribly unique, except that when I make salads, they tend to be of the Southwestern ilk, with greens, beans, vegetables, and goat cheese.

Kimball’s Recipe has grilled steak, vegetables, shallots, cilantro,and a flavorful fish sauce-based dressing. Fabulous flavors.

The only thing I did differently was to sous vide the skirt steak. I know how to cook just about any steak in my sleep, but if you’ve ever enjoyed skirt steak, flank steak, flatiron or hanger steak cooked sous vide, you know why there was no hesitation on my part.

If you’re not familiar with Christopher Kimball, I’m actually surprised (especially if you live in the U.S.) He has authored many cookbooks, but was also the editor of the wonderful Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He has a show on PBS, and also talks cooking on an NPR show.

What I like about this man is his somewhat old-fashioned demeanor, his bow tie, his aw-shucks attitude but in Vermont style. He’s the opposite of loud, abrasive, show-offy, and arrogant.

My favorite book of his isn’t a cookbook, it’s called Dear Charlie, a collection of letters he wrote to his son, that appeared in the introduction of every publication of Cook’s Illustrated.

I loved these down-home letters about sunrises, apple pies, tractors, and so forth that my endorsement was printed on the book cover.

His latest cookbook is Milk Street, shown below, and a classic photo of Mr. Bowtie as well.

And now to his Thai Beef Salad.

Thai Beef Salad

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 large shallot, sliced
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
Rice or cellophane noodles, optional

Dry off the skirt steak if necessary with paper towels. Mix the salt, black pepper and brown sugar together, and rub onto the steak on both sides.

Vacuum seal the steak, and cook at 131 degrees F for 12 hours. This can be done the previous day. Refrigerate the steak immediately.

Just when you’re ready to start preparing the salad, remove the steak from the plastic and dry off; set aside.

Combine the shallots and lime juice in a large bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the fish sauce and cayenne flakes to the shallot mixture.

Heat a skillet over high heat with the canola oil, and sear the steak quickly on both sides. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice the stead against the grain, and add the slices and accumulated juices to the large bowl.

Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and mint. Toss to combine.

I wanted to add some noodles for fun, but it wasn’t part of Mr. Kimball’s recipe.

Transfer everything to a platter, and garnish with more cilantro.

This salad is fabulous. Refreshing, spicy, and full of flavor.

I did add a second shallot, more fish sauce, and a little rice wine vinegar.

I can’t stop thinking about how good this salad would be with grilled octopus or shrimp….