Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

My favorite way to cook dinner, one which you’ll probably see me employ over and over again on this site until you beg me to learn to cook another way, involves roasting. It’s a pretty magical process, that of turning bits of raw meat and vegetables into tender, sweet, crisp, delectable dishes simply by closing a hot oven door. Really, though, as wonderful as food cooked this way tastes, I don’t prefer roasting simply with flavor in mind.

The true reason I love to roast is due to the method’s flexibility and forgiving nature. A roasted dish is pretty impossible to screw up. With your oven hot, and it doesn’t really matter how hot, add a bit of oil and seasoning and toss your barely handled ingredients into the oven, then cook until done. Or cook past done, if you’ve got vegetables in there – they’ll only get sweeter and more delicious.

Roasting is incredibly practical, too, especially when cooking dinner just seems like another chore. With all the cooking done in one pan, cleanup is practically non-existent, especially if you’re clever enough to line your baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper – then entire cleanup process just takes crumbling up that lining and tossing it in the wastebin. As for the rest of the time you’re “busy” cooking, hop up on the countertop with a good book and tell people to please leave you alone while you’re getting dinner ready.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

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Serves 4… or, at my house, 2 with lots of leftovers

This is a really lovely winter salad that would do well as an appetizer or side dish. To add a bit more protein and make it more appropriate for dinner, I incorporated some shrimp as well. We don’t often think about roasting shrimp (normally we have them boiled or grilled, or perhaps sauteed) but it’s such an easy way to cook them, especially if you’ve already got your oven hot. It’s harder to overcook them in the oven than it is in a pan and, most importantly, there’s no cleanup involved.

Because of its color and scale, this dish takes well to a rustic presentation. I like to plate it all on one big platter and let people serve themselves from that, though you could plate individually, as well. Note that because the cheese and prosciutto are already quite salty, you may want to hold back on the salt when you season your finished dish.

1 butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 small red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
1/2 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
Mesclun salad
Balsamic vinegar
Small wedge of Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 375

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Butternut squash: Cut the neck off the squash, and then halve each of the two sections lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, and cut each of your sections into quarters. Place these segments onto a roasting pan and scatter some olive oil over them. With a pestle and mortar (or with the end of a wooden spoon in a small bowl), bash up your chile with the coriander and a very big pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Rub this seasoning into your squash, and roast for 45 minutes. Squash will be tender and golden when ready. Allow to cool slightly before plating.

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Shrimp (if using): Toss shrimp with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Distribute on a parchment lined baking sheet. When the squash has only 10 minutes left on the timer, place the shrimp in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then carefully flip the shrimp, and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until golden and pinky-white throughout.

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Plating: First lay your prosciutto on the plate. It will look nicest if you sort of let it fall onto the plate, twisting into little organic piles. With your hands, pull the squash apart into roughly 1-inch pieces, and tuck these amongst the prosciutto. Scatter a few handfuls of salad greens over the dish, tucking it in in places so that everything is visible. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, over the entire dish, and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave off shards of Parmesan over the finished dish.


Making a Big Change… And Cheesecake

One month ago I did something crazy. I made a decision that was poorly thought out and highly risky, and I made it blind to what the potential upside might be if things worked out well. And, while the wisdom (or folly) of this decision has yet to bear itself out, I can still tell you with certainty that it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

One month ago I quit my job.

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Overlooking the Financial District as I write this article.

Let me take you back a little bit, and explain where this whole story begins. You see, for the past year, I’d spent my days working at a hedge fund as an equities trader in New York. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I had the job that everybody wants, and the sky-high aspirations of success to go along with it. But somewhere along my way to “making it”, my aspirations began to fall back down to earth. Six months in, I looked around me and saw how few of my colleagues had made it, and a suspicion over my chosen occupation was born. By my eighth month there, with little success to show for my time, my suspicions had grown so that I realized that the trading business, as I knew it, was largely a sham, and that my time and skills would be better spent elsewhere.

Only ten months after having moved to New York for my dream job, I was already looking for something new. I applied to jobs within the finance industry (as that was where my major and prior experience left me most hirable) for positions in compliance and analytics. Two more months went by, interviews came and went without offers, and my optimism that I might find something new began to dull.

Flowers sent by my family while I was dealing with a lot of stress.

Flowers sent by my family while I was dealing with a lot of stress.

In February of this year, my mom came to visit during New York Fashion Week. I ducked out of the office one day to meet her for lunch, and, as we began talking, lunch quickly turned into an entire afternoon off. The subject of conversation that prompted such extended discussion was the very matter that had caused me such despair of the past few months: my job. My mother wanted to know why I was having such difficulty finding a new job that I liked, and if maybe the positions I was applying for were part of the problem.

Mom: Why do you want to do compliance, Kirsten?

Me: Because, that’s what I’m qualified for. And I don’t want to do what I’m doing now, so that fits.

Mom: But, do you want to be an analyst? Doesn’t that sound… boring?

Me: Yeah. And I don’t want to do it. But what else am I supposed to do? This is kind of the hand I’m dealt.

Mom: Well… what do you want to do?

Million dollar question. Thank you, Mom, you asked me the question I never thought was relevant.

One of the million cappucinnos that I had to help me relax and come to a decision.

One of the million cappucinnos that I had to help me relax and come to a decision.

Me: I don’t know. Not this. I’m wasting my time doing this. I mean, if I really got to choose, I wouldn’t even be in finance. I wouldn’t be doing any of this. It’s boring, I’m not good at it, and frankly, the more I think about it, I think the whole industry is kind of a scam. It’s just… you know, I’m so unhappy with what I’m doing now, and if I want to really be happy in my career, it’s not going to be in finance. It’s going to be in something that makes me happy, that I care deeply about. Like the way I care about food, and cooking, and taking care of yourself, and how cooking can do that for you – how it can take care of you.

That’s where everything changed, in that conversation I had with my mom. My passion for cooking and opinions about food are no secret to my family, and so to her it made complete sense that I would make a career out of cooking – it’s what I’m good at, it’s what I love. Yet the idea that a creative career path, which offers no real security or predictability up front, was a valid choice for me had never existed until that moment there with my mom.

Taking the long way home through Washington Square Park after I quit my job.

Taking the long way home through Washington Square Park after I quit my job.

Two days later, with my parents’ blessing, I quit my job. For the week following, my mood came and went like the tides. At the start of each new day, I awoke feeling liberated and enthused. My concept of what life could be expanded with each new thought. In the evenings, though, my enthusiasm retreated, and fear that I had made the wrong decision began to haunt me. But the glorious mornings continued to come, and my eagerness over all the new possibilities grew larger. That eagerness soon grew so large that it pushed out my lingering fears and replaced them confidence.

I have made the right decision, and my future is now mine to shape how I like.


The day I quit my job was Friday, February 14th – Valentine’s Day. At the suggestion of my very thoughtful boyfriend, I took on a project that afternoon that would keep me too busy to bother with worrying about the decision I had just made. I shared the finished project with him that night, and I’m sharing it with you here. If you, too, are in need of a multi-step challenge to keep you occupied, or really just want to impress someone special with a massive treat, I highly recommend this recipe.
"Baby, I'm Yours". Click to hear our favorite band's cover of this classic song.

“Baby, I’m Yours”.
Click to hear our favorite band’s cover of this classic song.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves… a lot (2 for a week, or at least 12)

Note: I prepared the recipe as written here, and it was incredible. But, if I were to make it again, I would probably cut out the chocolate ganache topping. It was difficult to cut (shattering with each slice), and the cake already has so much chocolate in the crust and fudge layers that the ganache kind of just gilds the lily. But, if lily-gilding is your thing, go for it!

Note #2: I made my cheesecake in a 9-inch round cakepan. If you have a springform pan, I would recommend using that instead.

Note #3: You can bake this cake in a water bath, which promotes even cooking, though I found my cake to bake fine without this extra step.

Smitten Kitchen Finished Cheesecake

I have to credit this beautiful photo, which shows the finished cake so much nicer than my own photos do, back to Smitten Kitchen.

Chocolate Crust

9 oz (255 g) chocolate wafers (I used Oreo sides)

6 oz (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

½ cup (95 g) packed dark brown sugar

7 tbsp (100 g) unsalted butter, melted

Fudge Layer

1 cup (235 ml) heavy whipping cream

13 oz (370 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Cheesecake Layer

2 8-oz packages (455 g) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups (320 g) smooth peanut butter

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

¾ cups (180 g) sour cream

3 large eggs

2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract

Ganache Topping

1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream

4 ½ oz (130 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

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Make the chocolate crust: In a food processor, blend cookies, chopped chocolate, and brown sugar together until finely ground. (You can do this by hand by bashing up the cookies in a paper bag and mixing them with the chocolate, very finely chopped, and the brown sugar.) Drizzle in melted butter and process until crumbs begin to stick together, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Transfer crumbs to a greased 9-inch cakepan. Evenly distribute crumbs along the bottom and sides (within ½ inch from the top) of the pan. (I find that keeping my fingers wet helps a lot here.) Chill the crust while making fudge layer.

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Make fudge layer: Bring cream to a simmer in a large saucepan. Remove from heat, and whisk in the chocolate. Continue to whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over the chocolate crust and spread in an even layer. Freeze until fudge is firm, about 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 350°.

Make cheesecake layer: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and sugar in a large bowl until well-blended and fluffy. Beat in sour cream; then the eggs, one at a time; and the vanilla. Mix until smooth. Pour over the now-chilled fudge layer.

Bake: Bake in the middle rack of the over for 75 to 90 minutes. When done, the outer edges of the cheesecake will feel firm and dry to the touch. The center of the cheesecake (about the innermost 2 inches) will still be quite wobbly. Transfer cheesecake to a rack to cool slightly, the place in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours.

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Make ganache topping: Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate. Pour onto chilled cheesecake and spread to the edges. Return cheesecake to the fridge for the ganache to set, about 30 minutes.

*To write on cake: Mix 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter with 1 tbsp softened unsalted butter and ¼ cup powdered sugar. Beat until fluffy. Transfer to a bag to pipe onto cake. I used a sandwich bag, rather than a piping bag, which is why my lettering looks so… homemade.

A Few Links to Share



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  3. Out of ways to make your vegetables exciting? Try these crispy parmesan green beans, they’re pretty darn good.
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  5. Wired is serving up some great new music, and I’m downloading.
  6. My inbox would be a zoo if I didn’t use Unsubscriber. Just drag your emails into a special folder and their gone forever.