Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Early Visit with Santa

This past weekend, we spent a little time shopping at the Holiday Expo in downtown Erie. Now, please do not judge. I know it is not even Thanksgiving yet, but sometimes you just want to get an early start to Holiday shopping. Besides, it ended up being a bust and we walked away without a single purchase. Maybe we'll just give everyone gift cards this year. And cookies.

We ran into a very special (and jolly!) individual. As soon as the man in the big, red suit walked past, Matthew was instantly intrigued! And frightened at the same time. Santa sat in his chair and then held his arms open wide so Matthew could feel free to go sit on his lap. Matthew took three ginger steps forward...

...and then ran.

When we finally caught up to him and dragged him back, Santa suggested that "Mom" sit with him on his lap. Santa or no Santa, this mom was a little creeped out by his suggestion (I may or may not have imagined him seductively rubbing his leg with his white-gloved hand while asking me to "Ho-Ho-Hop on board!"). I only agreed to it if Paul also took a turn sitting on Santa's lap.

And he did...

Paul acted extremely sheepish and embarrassed about the whole thing. Secretly, I think he was thrilled! Doesn't he look so giddy and happy in the picture? And look how he is even wearing a shirt that matches Santa! He's sucking up early to the big guy with the hopes that he will receive a new MP3 player this Christmas since he just ran his last one through the washing machine.

After taking these pictures, Santa proceeded to give Paul and I some parenting advice that made absolutely no sense. Something about letting the kids stay up late so they sleep in longer and eat fewer cookies. Let me know if you can interpret that riddle of fun. What the pictures don't show is that we were sitting right across from a full cash bar and something tells me, at least based on the gibberish coming from his mouth, that Santa may have had a little too much bourbon.

Below is one of my favorite ways to use butternut squash. It is a dish that we have looked forward to making each fall when we can get some beautiful butternut squash for around 10 cents per pound. It is one of Paul's favorite fall dishes - probably because it has bacon in it. Matthew would not touch it, but his opinion does not exactly count. He chose a cut up hot dog over this deliciousness. Weirdo.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

4 slices bacon , halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
8 fresh sage leaves, plus 1 tablespoon minced (Do NOT use dried sage)
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 scallions, sliced thin (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds

Cook bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Add whole sage leaves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl, reserving bacon fat and bacon-sage mixture separately.

Return skillet to high heat, add 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat and heat until shimmering. Add squash in even layer and cook, without stirring, until beginning to caramelize, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add butter and allow to melt, about 30 seconds. Add scallions, nutmeg, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and minced sage; cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; continue to cook until squash is tender, 1-3 minutes more.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and transfer back to Dutch oven.

Add squash mixture to pasta; stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and reserved bacon-sage mixture, adjusting consistency with reserved pasta liquid. Serve, sprinkling individual servings with almonds and additional Parmesan.

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