What I Learned at the Cabin This Year... Butternut Squash Tart = Good. Candles + Soufflé = Bad.

Tom and I just enjoyed another fun weekend in the Shenandoah Valley on the annual cabin trip organized by our friends Jim and Colleen. This year, there were eight of us on the trip, and Tom and I were responsible for making Saturday night dinner. Tom handled meats and a vegetable side, and I made the vegetarian entree and dessert.

I browsed epicurious.com for vegetarian main dishes and decided to try making a Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Tart. It was seasonal, and it looked like it would be substantial. Tom and I stopped by Wegmans in Fairfax -- my favorite grocery store anywhere -- on the way to the cabin to pick up our food supplies, and I was somewhat panicked when I realized that they were out of whole butternut squash. Fortunately, Wegmans also sells fresh, diced butternut squash, and that ended up being a whole lot easier to deal with anyway.

I decided to go ahead and make the pastry dough crust included with the recipe instead of buying a frozen crust, even though this required me to lug along my food processor, rolling pin, silicone pastry mat, and pie weights (not such a big deal, since we were already bringing along all sorts of equipment for our other weekend cooking and baking projects). The dough was easy to handle and baked into a beautiful, golden crust. The filling was not all that difficult to prepare, and the tart looked and smelled wonderful when it came out of the oven.

I was positively thrilled with the way this tart came out. While not technically difficult, it was somewhat time consuming (especially making the crust, roasting the squash, and caramelizing the onions). But it was totally worth it! The crust came out flaky, buttery, crisp, and full of flavor. The filling was well set, wonderfully herby, and rich with savory deliciousness. The dominant flavor was not squash, but herbs, cheese, and caramelized onions. I used panko instead of fresh bread crumbs, and the crisp panko sprinkled on top made for a wonderful little crunch. I would absolutely, definitely make this tart again -- assuming I had a few free hours on my hands, of course.

For dessert, I decided to make chocolate soufflés. Normally I bring a birthday cake to the cabin, since the annual cabin trip traditionally takes place over Jim's birthday, which is the day after Veteran's Day. Since Veteran's Day inconveniently falls on a Wednesday this year, and five days is a bit much for a long weekend, we decided to go up to the cabin for a quick three-day trip, just Friday through Sunday. I told Jim that I probably wouldn't bring a cake this year, since it would be doubtful that we could finish it in the short time we would be at the cabin (especially because I also brought along two loaves of banana bread that I baked the day before we left, and refrigerated dough for a batch of Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookies, which Jim likes to eat fresh out of the oven). Jim jokingly said that he didn't care, so long as there were still candles.

I made my usual chocolate soufflé recipe from epicurious.com. Usually I make the pistachio ice cream that goes along with the soufflés, but I didn't feel like dragging along my ice cream maker to the cabin as well. I decided to try something new and make an Earl Grey Custard Sauce to go along with the soufflés instead. I wish I had taken a picture of the sauce. It was the color of coffee with cream and in fact tasted exactly like Earl Grey tea. It was a very good complement to the soufflé, and a bit like having tea with your dessert!

I did, however, learn an important lesson after we stuck a few birthday candles into Jim's soufflé. Don't put birthday candles into a hot soufflé! I should have realized that this would happen, but the hot center of the soufflé completely melted the candles. After Jim blew out the candles (which were severely tilting by the time we finished singing "Happy Birthday") and pulled them out of the soufflé, all that was left of the portion that had been inside the soufflé was the wick. Poor Jim lost quite a bit of soufflé when he had to dig the melted wax out of his soufflé before he could eat it!

Previous Post: "Jim's Birthday Weekend At The Cabin," November 2, 2008.