Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash mingles with its fall friends in this festive soup:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

There is something magical about roasted butternut squash. Its brilliant orange flesh softens into buttery squidginess, and when roasted, its natural sugars are coaxed out and gently caramelized, accentuating the squash’s inherent nutty flavor. It’s hard to believe something so rich and sugary can be loaded with nutrients and beta-carotene, but so it is. One cup of butternut squash provides a health nut’s worth of Vitamins A and C, as well as a robust shot of potassium, manganese and fiber. In this recipe, roasted butternut squash mingles with its fall buddies – apples, cider, and loads of warming spices – yielding an essential autumn soup. Serve it as a starter to any meal, or dress it up in little shot glasses as a fancy soup starter when hosting a crowd. It’s a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes 4 to 6 large bowl servings or 16 to 18 small appetizer shots, depending on size of glass

1 medium butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable for vegetarian option)
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly brush the exposed flesh with olive oil. Place squash, cut-side-down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the flesh is fork tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the apple, curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the roasted squash and chicken stock. (There should be just enough stock to cover the squash and apples. If needed, add additional stock to cover). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 20 minutes.
3. Carefully purée the soup in batches in a food processor (or with an immersion blender). Return the soup to the pot and stir in the apple cider, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Warm thoroughly over medium-low heat and taste for seasoning. Serve warm, garnished with a small spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream if desired.

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Corn and Black Beans

Rely on your leftovers for this warming Chicken Tortilla Soup

Hearty Chicken and Black Bean Tortilla Soup

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator combined with leftovers from a roast chicken dinner. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, beans, zucchini and peppers, simmered with a few must-have aromatics (onion and garlic) and pantry staples (canned Italian plum tomatoes and black beans). I spiced up the stock with warming southwestern spices in defiance of the dreary drizzle outside, and finished the soup with a shower of shattered tortilla chips, which happened to be leftover remnants in the bottom of their bag – too small for swiping through a bowl of salsa. Leftovers never tasted so good.

If you don’t have leftover chicken on hand, a store bought rotisserie chicken and packaged stock will do the trick. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy,” I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste. This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or defrosted frozen)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Tortilla chips, broken in pieces, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, about 1 minute.
2. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Simmer, partially covered, until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar if desired.
4. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

Braised Moroccan Spiced Chicken Thighs

Transport yourself to Morocco in just one hour with this easy braised chicken thigh dish:

Braised Chicken Thighs with Moroccan Spices

Feeling wanderlust? This dish will satisfy any cravings for far-flung fragrance and flavor. The Moroccan spice-infused paste is crucial to the flavor of the chicken and ultimately the entire dish. While you can easily prepare this meal in 1 hour, you can also take the time to let the chicken marinate for several hours or even overnight. It’s worth it.

Braised Moroccan Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes, Ginger, and Honey

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus optional marinating time
Serves: 4 to 6

Paste:
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 (6-inch) cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon honey or light brown sugar
2 teaspoons harissa paste (or red chili sauce, such as Sambal Olek)
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine the paste ingredients. Rub the paste all over the chicken and between the skin and flesh. (The chicken can marinate for up to 24 hours. If not proceeding with cooking, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before proceeding.)

2. Heat the oil in a casserole or braising dish. In batches, arrange the chicken, skin-side down, in the skillet without overcrowding. Brown the skin and then flip the chicken and briefly cook until the meat takes on color, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Heat the oven to 350°F.

4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet (if skillet is dry, add 1 tablespoon olive oil). Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon stick, brown sugar, harissa, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes, and then taste for seasoning.

5. Return the chicken to the pan and nestle into the sauce, skin-side up, without submerging the skin. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 30 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro.

 

Herb and Cheesy Hasselback Potatoes

These baked potatoes are not a hassle:

Cheesy Hasselback Baked Potatoes with Parsley and Garlic

I can’t think of a better way to prepare a potato than hasselback-style. You may have seen these baked potatoes, with their distinctive accordion pattern. Thinly sliced, but still intact, the flesh is exposed while creating a cascade of ridges and edges ready to crisp. As the potato bakes, a flavorful basting sauce dribbles into the potato, flavoring the interior while hastening the browning of the skin. Apparently, you can have your baked potato and your crisps and eat them as one.

Russet potatoes, large Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes are all fair game for hasselback-style. The key to the prep is to first thinly slice a piece of each potato base lengthwise to stabilize them, so they won’t wobble or tilt while baking. Then cut thin slices crosswise, 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick, nearly to the bottom without cutting through the base. A trick to doing this is to lay 2 chopsticks, or 2 thin cutting boards lengthwise on either side of the potato, to act as a buffer for the knife as it cuts through the potato, and prevent it from reaching the work surface.

Then, brush the potato all over and in the crevices with a melted butter basting sauce, and continue to baste the potato once or twice while it bakes. About halfway through the baking process you can gently fan the slices to spread the potato further open to expose to the interior. If some of the slices break off, no worries! They will be delicious chips on the side.

Herb and Cheesy Hasselback Potatoes

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Serves: 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for finishing
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for finishing
1/4 cup finely grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, and/or chives

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Cut a very thin slice lengthwise from the bottom of each potato to stabilize the bottom. Cut each potato, crosswise, as thinly as possible, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, to about 1/4 inch from the bottom, without piercing the base. Place in a baking pan or cast iron pan.
3. Melt the butter with the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the garlic, salt, and pepper and remove from the heat. Brush the potatoes all over and in the crevices with some of the butter mixture.
4. Transfer to the oven and bake until the potatoes are tender and beginning to crisp, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, basting once or twice with the butter. In the last 10 minutes or so of cooking, sprinkle with the cheese and continue to bake until the cheese is melted.
5. Remove from the oven and immediately brush all over with the remaining butter. Season with additional salt and black pepper and sprinkle with the herbs.

Asian Spiced Turkey Meatball Skewers with Sweet Chili Sauce

Everything tastes better on a stick, including turkey meatballs:

Asian spiced meatball skewers with a sweet chili dipping sauce

Here’s the thing: it’s fun to eat with your fingers. Skewering food, such as these turkey meatballs, puts the fun in food. It takes ordinary recipes and sticks it to them (pun intended), along with an assortment of dipping sauces – because dipping a stick in a sauce is half the fun of eating food on skewers. If you need to encourage your kids to eat their veggies, or if you wish to invite your 20 best friends to a cocktail party, food on a stick is the way to go.

These Asian spiced meatballs are a sweet and spicy blend of ground turkey, ginger, cilantro, and garlic. They are fragrant and addictively good. Dutifully skewered on sticks or speared with toothpicks, they put the fun in food. Paired with a sweet and sour chili sauce for dipping (or drizzling) they are guaranteed to be gobbled up.

and nd who doesn’t like meatballs? Besides, it’s ’s also fun to eat meatballs.

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Chili Sauce

Active Time:
Total Time:
Makes about 20 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs

Meatballs:
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red jalapeño chile pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Chili Sauce:
1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek (red chili paste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

Vegetable oil for pan frying

1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl and mix to combine without over-mixing. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls (wet your hands from time to time to prevent sticking). Arrange on a plate, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

2. Prepare the chili sauce: Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the meatballs in one layer without overcrowding and flatten slightly. Cook until brown on both sides and thoroughly cooked through the center, 6 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

4. Spear the meatballs with small skewers. Thinly slice the reserved green scallions. Serve with the Chili Sauce for dipping or drizzling. Garnish with the green scallions.

 

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.

Fresh and Cheesy Nachos with Shrimp and Avocado

Call it Nacho Night – You Deserve It

Homemade Cheesy Nachos with Shrimp

I confess: Foodie I may be, parent I certainly am, and health-minded … almost without fail – but there is always a time and place for nachos. We can all do with a little cheesy nacho goodness from time to time to balance out a healthy diet, to dig into with our hands, and to wash down with an ice cold drink. And as a heaping platter of chips goes, this one is relatively, um, light. Is it possible to call nachos healthy? Where there is a will, there is a way.

This recipe for fun food isn’t as decadent as you might think. On the nacho scale of goop and weight, it scores relatively high on lightness and freshness. Sure, it’s layered with the requisite melty cheese (as any bonafide nacho plate should). Otherwise, it is not bogged down with mounds of meat, cream, and beans rendering its nest of chips soggy and heavy. Instead, there’s a generous helping of plump garlicky shrimp, and a colorful smattering of chopped fresh vegetables and herbs, such as tomato, onion, avocado, and cilantro, layered throughout the chips in the spirit of a deconstructed salsa.

The point is that these nachos are tasty, more-ish finger food, inviting interactive, family-style dining. And we can also all do with a little fun and togetherness when it comes to sharing our food and eating. These nacho score top points for that.

Shrimp Nachos

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

Shrimp:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound medium (21/25) shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 large ripe, but not mushy, avocado, diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 to 10 ounces salted tortilla chips
4 cups grated sharp Cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheese
3 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 large vine-ripened tomato, cored and seeded, diced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the shrimp in one layer and cook until pink and just cooked through, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes. (It’s ok if the shrimp are a little under-done. They will continue to cook in the oven.) Transfer the shrimp to a plate lined with a paper towel.

2. Combine the avocado, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and gently stir to coat.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread half of the tortilla chips in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish or sheet pan. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups cheese, half of the white scallions, half of the jalapeños, and half of the red onion over the chips. Spread the remaining chips over the top and sprinkle 1 1/2 cups cheese over the chips. Scatter the remaining white scallions, jalapeños, and red onion over the top. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the nachos are hot, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler.

4. Arrange the shrimp over the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheese over the shrimp. Transfer to the oven and broil until the cheese melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the avocado, tomatoes, green scallions, and cilantro evenly over the top. Serve immediately.