Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash

Last week I worked a couple of night shifts.

I used to have a position where I worked nights for a month at a time, every three months. That was too much for me. Over the course of the weeks, I’d start to feel more and more ghost-like, spending my days alone and my nights with only a handful of colleagues; the final hour I was pretty much alone and I would slink out into the dark night, drive home and stay awake until three in the morning before finally crawling into bed.

But I don’t mind the odd night shift, actually. Sleeping in? A sunny day to one’s self? A few hours to bake and cook and photograph and eat? Sounds good to me. (Especially in these days of waning winter light, when full sun has been minimized to just a few short hours in the early afternoon.)

Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of waking up and having Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash for breakfast?

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash

That morning, searching around for something to eat, I realized I had better use up some butternut squash that was otherwise going to have to be imminently pitched. Roasting it was the only reasonable answer. And, as I dumped the cubes into a roasting dish and drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled on salt and pepper, I remembered a Barefoot Contessa recipe for a risotto with roasted squash.

In pulling out my recipe book, however, I realized I was missing some key ingredients, including shallots and pancetta. I’m sure these things make her version even better, but this bastardized version made me swoon when I sat down less than an hour later with a big bowlful and the contented feeling that comes from hot food and knowing work is still hours away.

Luckily, I did have a small box of saffron — another of my myriad food impulse purchases that had not been cracked open. Saffron, those delicate threads, so scarlet, so fragile. I remember growing up, seeing the same type of small, clear plastic box in my mum’s cupboards. But I have no recollection of her ever using it. The red threads impart a lovely orange-yellow colour to the risotto and also their own flavour, which I can’t really attempt to explain. Still, while I made this with saffron, if you don’t have it, I wouldn’t panic.

This made enough to feed two adults generously, likely four as a side dish. Or, one of me over the course of several meals.

Roasted butternut squash


Getting the risotto started

Final steps

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash

  • 1 small butternut squash (1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup arborio rice
  • pinch saffron (optional)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 400. Peel the butternut squash, halve it and remove seeds. Cut into 3/4″ cubes. Place squash in roasting dish or on sheet pan, toss with olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender and golden in spots, about 25 minutes. Toss once to ensure even roasting.Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, add diced onion and saute until translucent. Put chicken stock in microwave safe bowl or measuring cup and heat. (Time will vary on the microwave; start with two minutes. This can also be done by warming the stock on the stove, but I find the microwave system saves me another pot to wash. If the stock cools too much, just microwave it again.)

Add rice to onion and oil mixture and stir until the grains are coated. Add the wine and let it reduce slightly. Add one cup of stock, along with the saffron, if using. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock is absorbed — about five to 10 minutes. When the stock is almost gone, add the next cup. Repeat with the last cup of stock. When the liquid is all absorbed, remove pot from heat, stir in butter and cheese. Toss in roasted squash. Add salt and fresh pepper to taste.

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Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Hello fall!

Um, actually, that would have been more accurate about a month ago during the exactly two-day period that it was autumnal here.

Fall here leaves me wanting. One day the leaves are amber, gold, red; the next, they are brown, scattered, shredded on the ground. I want more time when there is only a slight nip in the air, when watery sunlight filters through the increasingly bare trees, when there is a crunch underfoot from those already fallen.

But, at least I can taste fall.

Lone cupcake

Pumpkin and squash and warm spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger. Roasting and baking, soups and stews and pots simmering on the stove.

I went a little crazy at the grocery store, inspired by a host of pumpkin recipes I wanted to try out: pumpkin cinnamon rolls, chicken enchiladas with pumpkin sauce, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pies. I walked out of there with six cans of pumpkin. Why do I always buy things like I am part of a family of six instead of a single girl in a tiny apartment with no discernable cupboard space?

(And, as an aside, why do all American recipes call for 15-ounce cans of pumpkin? They don’t appear to exist on this side of the border. I can only find 14 ounces or 28 ounces. Are we Canadians stingy with our pumpkin supplies?)

And which of all these recipes would have me cracking open the first can? It wasn’t much of a struggle to decide. I am increasingly drawn to cupcake recipes. I like individual desserts (perhaps I have sharing issues?) and cupcakes are so darn cute. So, when a friend invited me over for dinner, I shamelessly offered to make dessert. (One does not willingly make cupcakes when one lives alone. It is, literally, a recipe for disaster.)

So, Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing it was.

These were lovely and moist, full of flavour and ridiculously easy. I give two thumbs up to any recipe that doesn’t require me to soften the butter first. Sometimes I just can’t quite plan that far ahead. Since this one calls for melted butter, you can impulse bake these puppies. A dangerous thought indeed. And the icing was a breeze, even if you do need to pull out the butter and cream cheese early to make it whippably soft.

When I arrived at my friend’s house, she put the cupcakes up on the counter, but not far enough out of reach from her young son, who managed to swipe a finger over the icing of one cupcake. I agree, Erik, the icing is irresistible!

Cupcake from the top

I used the same recipe from my Red Velvet Cake (hot pink velvet cake?) for the icing. It’s foolproof and ridiculously good.

The batter was a little too delicious, though. This recipe, according to Martha Stewart, will give you 18 cupcakes. (Find hers here.) I don’t know what size of pan Ms. Stewart is using, but this easily made two batches in my 12-cupcake pan. Or, more accurately, it made 23 cupcakes. It would have made 24 had I not eaten so much batter. Good lord.

Mmmm spices

Mixing it up

Pumpkin Cupcake Batter

Pumpkin Cupcake Batter

Cream Cheese Icing

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I doubled this because I love nutmeg.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (I used a 14-ounce can and it was still lovely and pumpkin-y)

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and the spices. In another bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in pumpkin puree.

Line the cupcake pan with liners and fill each about halfway with batter. Bake until tops spring back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the pans if needed. (I have one pan, so did not bother with that step.) Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and sugar.

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Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pastries

I was first intrigued by this combination when I saw a posting about butternut squash and caramelized onion in a galette that referred me back to Smitten Kitchen. I printed it out and was ready to go until I looked over the instructions for the galette’s pastry and got a bit confused. I’m not going to lie, pastry intimidates me to begin with, so I just wasn’t sure I would be able to pull this recipe off. But I had bought the butternut squash already and had some fontina that was quickly going south. And, oh, what’s this, a package of puff pastry in the freezer that’s not getting any younger too….

Could I overcome my fears after the puff pastry disaster?

Butternut Squash

Red Onions

So, I hauled out the puff pastry and let it defrost overnight in the fridge. There’s only one way to overcome such fears — confronting them.

In the end, this was relatively easy to assemble. I peeled and cut up the squash, tossed with it some olive oil, salt and pepper and threw it in the oven while I puttered around tidying up, checking email, playing a few scrabble moves on Facebook. Later, I caramelized the onions, grated the cheese and then rolled out the puff pastry. I didn’t quite think that step through, and cut the puff pastry dough along the diagonal line, leaving me with triangles to roll out. I ended up with these totally nonsensical shapes, but luckily I was able to fold them into little packages nonetheless.

All assembled, I brushed the parcels with whipping cream (because I had some and I had to use it up) and sprinkled with Himalayan pink salt. (I am the worst impulse shopper. What compelled me to buy pink salt? Sigh.)

These were fantastic, but now I’m going to try the combination over pasta.

Assembling the pastries

Puff Pastry Package

Cutting in

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pastries

  • 1 small butternut squash, about one pound
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large red onion, halved in thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper
  • pinch sugar
  • 3/4 cup fontina cheese, grated (I’d be tempted to try this with other cheeses too)
  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, defrosted overnight in the fridge
  • milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel the squash, halve, scoop out seeds and dice into 1/2″ squares. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish, then roast for about 30 minutes until it is starting to get golden and soft. Let cool.

Melt butter in a pan, add onion, sugar and salt and cook over low heat, stirring occassionally, until the onions are golden. Let cool.

Divide the puff pastry in four and roll out on lightly floured surface. Add one-quarter of the cheese in the centre of the pastry, then top with about a half-cup of the squash and one-quarter of the onions. Fold one side over the mound of cheese and vegetables and then the other, tucking the edge of the pastry under the parcel. Repeat with the other two sides, so you end up with a rectangle. (Or, frankly, close up the parcels however you like.)

Put the parcels on a baking sheet and brush the four parcels with milk or cream. Bake at 350 until golden — about 20 to 25 minutes.

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Nutmeg Shortbread

I am completely addicted to other food blogs and find my need for a quick fix completely appeased by Foodgawker and Tastespotting. No, no, go on, take a look. I’ll wait. (Although, some of you, hopefully have just come from there.)

As a result, an ever-growing list of recipes to try is starting to clog up my bookmarks folder and I’m realizing that I have to actually start making some of things rather than just drooling over images of what other bloggers have made.

Which leads me to Nutmeg Shortbread.

These had been advertised as “tea cookies” at Apple Pie, Patis and Pate, but as I made them I realized they were shortbread. (Is “tea cookies” a common alternative name for shortbread?) This was kind of funny because I don’t love shortbread. But I really liked this recipe. I suspect using granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar gave them a slight chew I don’t find in other recipes.

Since there are so few ingredients, I have to say that this recipe really requires freshly grated nutmeg. Like other spices, pre-ground nutmeg loses something. I don’t think you will regret buying fresh nutmeg. These little nuggets are so innocuous at first appearance, but are beautiful marbled loveliness on the inside and the smell and taste is intoxicating.


When I wrote out the recipe, I only copied the ingredients, the oven temperature and the time the cookies should be in the even, believing the method would be the same as other cookies. So, I used my hand-held mixer to add in the flour and the dough seemed to shatter into granules. And that’s when I really began to freak out. Apparently, I was supposed to mix the flour in by hand. Whoops. But I thought I’d see it through anyway. It’s not really a disaster, I figured, until they come out of the oven as a disaster. So I packed the dough into logs, wound them up in parchment and threw them in the fridge overnight.

When I unwound the packages the next afternoon, the dough had formed into nice logs and, for the most part, were easily cut into slices. There were the odd pieces that crumbled a bit when I tried to cut off a slice — mostly, I suspect, because this is where I had joined the lumps of dough and I guess it was not quite as seamless as it looked..

Still, they baked beautifully and were super tasty. My love of intense flavours, however, was still left wanting. Next time, more nutmeg.

Nutmeg shortbread dough

Nutmeg Shortbread

Nutmeg Shortbread

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (But you may want to consider adding more if you really like the taste of this spice.)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and the egg. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture by hand until just combined.

Divide the dough in four and roll into logs about 8″ long and 1″ in diameter. Wrap in wax paper, plastic wrap or parchment and chill until firm, from two hours to overnight.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350. Cut each log into pieces 1/2″ thick and space evenly on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just golden.

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