Vail restauranteur takes squash to the Today Show |

Vail restauranteur takes squash to the Today Show

Special to the DailyKelly Liken, left, did a cooking segment on the Today Show last month. She's shown here with host Al Roker.

After flying to New York to film a cooking segment for the Today Show, Kelly Liken didn’t know if she’d make it on the air after all because of breaking news. It was Oct. 20, and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was dead.

“It was announced an hour before we went live,” said Liken, owner of Vail’s Restaurant Kelly Liken. “It was pretty nervewracking –I wasn’t sure if I was giong to make it on or not.”

In the end, most of the country got the chance to watch Liken transform different types of winter squash into comfort food.

“I wasn’t seen on the East Coast, but they patched it in for Pacific, Central and Mountain time,” she said.

During the segment, Liken showed host Al Roker how to make rum-spiked acorn squash soup and then touched on her winter squash lasagna, made with layers of acorn and butternut squash, and a pumpkin cheesecake with white chocolate almond crust for dessert, something that makes “an appearance at the restaurant as winter goes along,” she said.

The segment was three-and-a-half minutes, around a minute shorter than she’d planned on, she said, but it went smoothly.

“It was a very exciting experience,” she said. “Everyone there was great, friendly and helpful.”

Liken is no stranger to television. She made it to the top four on Top Chef before being eliminated, and she’s competed on Iron Chef America. About a year-and-half-ago, she was featured on the CBS Early Show, which is also taped in New York City. But it was Liken’s first time on the Today Show, she said.

Liken had been hoping to go on the show for awhile, she said.

“We’ve been pitching them for awhile and they were interested in fall chef recipes that were doable at home that centered around produce available in the fall,” she said. “That was a good fit for us with our focus on local, seasonal produce.”

So why did squash get the spotlight?

“We use a ton of winter squash at the restaurant since we’re so committed to sourcing locally and using produce that’s in season,” Liken said. “I went back through my arsenal of recipes, things that have been on the menu in the past year or two at the restaurant, and adapted those recipes to be friendly for the home cook.”

Right after she finished taping, her phone started lighting up.

“I started getting text messages and Facebook posts. We’ve gotten a lot of support, which I so appreciate. It is exciting and nervewracking to be on a show like that, so the support is really, really nice.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

Recipe courtesy of Kelly Liken

White chocolate almond crust

3/4 cup white chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup toasted almonds

2/3 cup brown sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter

2 each eggs, slightly beaten

1-2 Tbs. heavy cream, if needed.

In a food processor, pulse the white chocolate and the almonds with the brown sugar until coarsely ground. Add the flour and salt, pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse just until butter is the size of a large pea. Turn out into a mixing bowl. Add the egg and toss with your hands until mixture is very crumble. Add cream if needed. Mixture should clump when squeezed in your hand. Sprinkle in a springform pan and press down to form even layer on bottom and sides. Chill. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until lightly brown.

Pumpkin cheesecake

20 ounces Ricotta

6 1/2 ounces sugar

1 1/4 ounces corn starch

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 each eggs

3 each yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup brandy

In a mixing bowl, beat ricotta until smooth. Add sugar, corn starch, and salt. Add eggs one at a time. Add cream, pumpkin puree and the brandy.

Pour pumpkin cheesecake batter on top of baked crust. Bake in a water bath at 350 F for 40 minutes.

Recipe by Kelly Liken

6 each acorn squash, halved and seeded

1 each medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

4 each garlic cloves, smashed

1 each large carrot, roughly chopped

1 each thyme sprig

1/2 cup spiced rum

3 quarts vegetable broth

1 tablespoon toasted pumpkin seed oil

4 tablespoons toasted pecan pieces

4 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Chopped chives for garnish

Olive oil

Salt, pepper and cayenne

Brush the acorn squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, cut side down, on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. In a large sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and thyme sprig. Sweat until translucent.

Scrape the soft squash away from it’s skin and add to the sauce pot. Deglaze the pot with the rum and reduce almost completely. Add the vegetable stock and simmer about 30 minutes. Transfer to a blender and carefully puree the soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne. Divide the soup among 6 bowls and sprinkle the pecans, gorgonzola, chives and pumpkin seed oil on top just before serving.

Serves 6

6 each fresh pasta sheets (or 12 cooked dry lasagna noodles)

2 cups smashed acorn squash (from 2 squashes halved, seeded and roasted at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes)

1 each butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced thin, 1/4 inch

2 cups truffled ricotta (2 cups ricotta mixed well with 1 tablespoon truffle oil)

4 cups sage bechamel (recipe to follow)

1 cup parmesan (grated)

Salt and pepper

Sage bechamel

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

4 cups milk

1 each large sprig of sage

Salt and pepper

For the lasagna: Assemble the lasagna in a 9 x 13 inch pan by layering first 1 thin layer of bechamel, pasta sheets, thin layer of acorn squash puree, layer of butternut squash, and ricotta cheese, and sprinkle of parmesan. Keep layering all ingredients until 1/2 inch from top of pan. Bake covered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Uncover and cool for 10 minutes before slicing into portions.

For sage bechamel: In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add the flour. Cook gently for about five minutes, stirring constantly until the roux smells nutty. Whisk in the cold milk, add sage and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook, whisking often for 20 minutes. Strain out the sage and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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