Tortellini and Chard in Broth
Tortellini and Chard in Broth
As much as I dread that first killing frost in the fall, I quickly recover to enjoy cooking everything left behind. Sweet buttercup, acorn and butternut squash appear as the leafy vines wither from killer temps.

Some plants do survive and even continue growing - Brussel sprouts, chard, kale and even lettuce can survive the first frosts.

Just before we left for our week of vacation, I realized the killer frost would happen about the time we left. So I harvested the last of the basil and had a flood of half ripe tomatoes in my kitchen. The last of the potted herbs I hoped to save for indoor harvests were brought indoors as we were leaving.

I packed up most of the tomatoes, bags of small beets, a big buttercup squash, a net bag of cranberries and a selection of hot and sweet peppers. I gathered up chard, kale and a mishmash of leftover veggies from the fridge. I filled an entire cooler with bags of tomatoes I'd frozen throughout the season - leftovers after harvests - the odd-balls with blemishes. (Cores and blemishes were cut out and tomatoes were frozen in heavy zip-locked bags.)

Apparently I thought I'd be doing lots and lots of cooking at the cabin. My sister called our vacation a "stay-cation" but my cousin said, frankly, I was a "cabin slave."

Each day the latter might have seemed the case as I cooked up another batch of food destined for canning jars. Unfortunately, even though I had packed and packed everything I might possibly need, I realized I had not brought enough canning jars. (So I went shopping for more.)

It was very cool and cloudy, day after day, up north. Temps stayed below 40 each day. After I arrived, I also remembered the heavy hooded sweatshirt I'd thrown in the dryer to remove dog hairs, but it was still at home in the dryer.

It was depressing outdoors but it smelled heavenly indoors. The first morning I made a double batch of cranberry relish. The next day, I cooked up a giant batch of tomato juice cocktail from the frozen tomatoes. To create it, one cooks various veggies including peppers, celery and onions with the tomatoes, then forces them through a sieve.

Some days I would prep tomatoes for the following day or cook and skin beets for making beet pickles the following morning. Pepper jelly was an "easy day's" project. I also cooked some meals, but we usually ate out about once each day.

In spite of the overall gloom and snow falling several days, we took a car trip each day to someplace we hadn't been before. We found new places to eat fish fries, a standard in northern Wisconsin, and checked out a couple of eating places that were also microbreweries. My husband enjoys drinking dark craft beers.

One day, we drove to see the concrete park in Phillips, which was an odd, weird experience, but a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do. Decades ago, a gentlemen who had lived in the area all his life, started a retirement project of creating folk-art type of human and animal figures. He crafted over 200 items out of wood frames and encrusted them with concrete, decorated with recycled glass bits.

The only problem with this trip was that I had gotten caught up in a canning project that took longer than it should have, so by the time we started the hour-and-a-half trip, it was mid-afternoon. Thus, once we had found the park, the nearby gift shop had closed and the stores downtown were closing.

We ended up turning around and driving back almost all the way home before stopping at a local eating place and ordering an appetizer before we returned to the cabin and I cooked the meal I had planned.

Now that I am back home, I am trying to cook the rest of the food I had taken up north with us. Last night, I baked the buttercup squash I'd planned to fix on vacation. Tonight, I made chard and tortellini in broth, another meal I'd planned for but ran out of time to make.

Now that it is cooler, it's a great time to heat up the kitchen by roasting a batch of squash. Soup has a comforting sound to it when the outdoors is cooler too. Last night I figured a primer on making a basic pureed, baby-food squash would be the ticket for tonight's column, until I cooked up the last of my chard with the tortellini. I decided to share both recipes.

I like to make pureed squash the way my mom always cooked it. Perhaps I have shared her method before. Not all recipes need lots of fancy ingredients to be good. I have found that buttercup squash, the one that's shaped like a giant acorn, has the sweetest, meatiest insides that make the best mashed squash. Buttercup's natural sweetness makes a sprinkling of brown sugar unnecessary.

For years I used butternut squash - the elongated one with yellowish white skin, but recently decided it is better for roasting and creating a cream soup.

Enjoy fall and warm, comforting vegetable-based soups and dishes that tell us fall has arrived.



Mashed Squash

1 buttercup squash

A few tablespoons butter

Milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: paprika

With a sharp knife, half the squash. Scoop out seeds with a metal spoon. Cut the squash into chunks. Using an oblong cake pan, arrange the pieces skin side down in the pan. Add a small amount of water, then cover the pan with foil. Bake the squash at 350 degrees until the meat is soft - about 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and peel back the foil to cool slightly. Carefully scoop out the meat from the dark green skin. If you have a ricer, keep filling and squeezing the meat through until all has been riced. (If not, mash the meat with a potato masher after all is removed from the skin.) Dot with a few tablespoons of butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then pour in about a half-cup of milk. Mix together and add milk until the desired consistency is reached. Dot the top with a couple more tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with a bit more salt, pepper and paprika, if desired.

Tortellini and Chard in Broth

4 cups chicken broth

2 or 3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 onion, peeled and diced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 pound rainbow chard-both stems and leaves

10 ounces tortellini

Minced fresh parsley

Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Bring broth to a boil, lower the heat and add the carrots, onion and sliced chard stems. Simmer until carrots are just about tender, 10 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for the tortellini.

Chop the chard leaves coarsely. Add to the simmering broth. Cook tortellini (following packaged directions) until nearly tender, but don't overcook. Drain, then add to the broth mixture. Check seasoning, then transfer to bowls, garnish with minced fresh parsley and sprinkle with freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese.