A Festive Lunch

Coffee in Venice 2010, oil on board, 12 x 16 inches

It’s cold and snowy today on our Colorado hillside.  I’m dreaming of vacations and wishing I could have coffee with my pals. Alas. I look forward to a brighter new year and the possibility of gathering with friends.

What a year it’s been.  I’ve cooked and baked more than perhaps any other time.  And mostly for the two of us.  First thing each morning I think about the day’s menus and make a mental inventory of the fridge, pantry and freezer.  What is at its use-by date? Do we have lettuce?  Or parmesan?  Should I defrost a package of chicken for a pot pie?  What do I want to eat?

This time of year, the choice of produce is limited, but it is pomegranate and squash season, two of our favorites. Amidst the flurry of holiday baking, packing the boxes Bud has made out of rejected prints for delivery to friends, and making a trip to the post office to send a gift box to my sister, I squeezed in time to prepare this seasonal salad for our lunch.   And it’s a beauty with the various greens, burnished gold squash, white fennel slivers and feta, and ruby red pomegranate seeds.

First, roast the butternut squash.  Peel and seed a small squash, (or use half of a large squash).  Cut into ½ inch slices, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400° for 15 minutes on a baking sheet lined with parchment – or on a grill pan. Turn and roast for an addition 5 – 10 minutes until tender and browned.  (I often do this in my toaster oven.) Cut the slices into 1 ½ – inch, bite-sized pieces.  These taste best at room temperature so cool but don’t refrigerate.

Prepare a bed of greens – a combination of red lettuce, romaine, endive, and best of all, arugula.  Add the squash pieces and ½ a head of fennel, thinly sliced.

Toss the salad with a simple dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, all to taste.  Add a light blanket of crumbled feta or goat cheese. Sprinkle with a handful of pomegranate seeds and one of toasted pepitas. 

(Remember, this recipe is a guide, a template, not a rule. Use a proportion of the ingredients that suits the number of diners and your appetites.)

For a variation on this salad I marinated big Royal Corona beans from Rancho Gordo in a mustardy vinaigrette that included the zest of a lemon.  At lunch time, I added some slivers of fennel and diced cheese – gruyere, cheddar or a Manchego.  Arranged on a bed of arugula and topped with pomegranate seeds. (The biscuits are Buttery Sourdough Sandwich Biscuits, recipe at www.kingarthurbaking.com , recommended by my sister Susan. Delicious.)

For another delicious, festive treat I used the fresh cranberries and pecans left over from my traditional Thanksgiving preparations to make these muffins. Serve them with salads or enjoy with your morning coffee.  

Cranberry Pecan Muffins

Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by greasing the cups or adding paper liners.  I prefer the crispy outside of muffins baked without paper.  Preheat oven to 350°. 

Toast 1 cup of pecans, then whizz half of them in the Cuisinart or blender until finely chopped. Coarsely chop the rest and set aside.

Cream together 6 tablespoons butter and ¾ cup brown sugar. 

Stir in a large egg and ¾ teaspoon vanilla.

Add the ground pecans, 1 3/8 cups unbleached flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt.

Stir in 3/8 cup milk and the zest of ½ an orange.

Add 1 cup fresh cranberries, thawed if frozen, and the chopped pecans.

Bake at 350° for 25- 30 minutes until brown and set when tested with a skewer. Makes 12 muffins.

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