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.

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.

Farmers Market Potato Salad

Tasting Potatoes, Danish-style

I discovered this fresh and light-handed salad years ago when I lived in Denmark. Most likely it was at one of our frequent family gatherings, seated outdoors at a long wooden picnic table in the shadow of a thatched roof farmhouse with the summer sun hanging, as if caught on the hook of the horizon, refusing to sink as the evening set in. It was certainly summer, because that’s when new potatoes are at their peak in Denmark, and considered not only a staple but a delicacy to be greedily devoured.

I was smitten by the salad’s restraint, simply tossed with oil and vinegar, and generously layered with freshly snipped flowering sprigs and herbs from the garden. As an American, my experience with potato salads to that point had been the heavy-handed mayo and egg sort, tasty for sure, but more of a cloak and disguise to the mild-mannered potato. I would prod a fork through those murky salads swathed in cream, sugar, and oil in an attempt to fish out any intact morsel of potato, which by then had no flavor except that of the coating with which it was blanketed. The Danish potato salad was delightfully different, and appropriately Scandinavian in its understatement and use of fresh ingredients, celebrating the humble potato with a confetti of garden herbs. Most importantly: I could taste the potato.  And when the season’s newest potatoes are available, delicately sweet and faintly redolent of butter, there is nothing as sublime as the taste of potato.

As you can see, I chose blue potatoes for this salad, since I love their unusual color and how they contrast with the flowering yellow mustard greens I found at the farmers market. You can also use yellow or red new or small potatoes. The combination of herbs is up to your taste and whatever might be growing in your garden or stashed in your fridge. If you can find flowering mustard, add it to the mix or use it as a garnish, since it adds a nice peppery bite and vibrant color to the salad.

Danish Potato Salad with Garden Herbs

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes plus cooling time
Serves 6

3 pounds new potatoes or small potatoes (red, white, or blue), washed
Salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, chervil, chives, tarragon, coarsely chopped
Flowering mustard sprigs for garnish

1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

2. Cut the potatoes in half or large bite-size pieces. Add the potatoes, the oil, vinegar, scallions, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper to a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Cool to room temperature.

3. Before serving, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Add the fresh herbs and stir to blend. If the salad is too dry, add additional olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Frozen Meringue Cream with Summer Berry Compote

Berries and Cream 2.0

Summer Berry Compote and Frozen Whipped Cream

Who doesn’t like berries and whipped cream for a simple summer dessert? Sweet, freshly picked summer berries and cream are the height of ease and good flavor, and a combination I rely on throughout the summer season. Sometimes, though, if I want to up the presentation a notch, I make this frozen dessert. The good news is that this version is also easy to make, and it should be prepared at least 8 hours in advance of serving, so it’s a great do-ahead dessert when entertaining.

To make it, I fold crumbled store-bought meringues into the whipped cream and freeze the cream in a loaf pan. The meringues add a nice light crunch and a jolt of sugar to the cream. Once frozen, the “loaf” can be sliced and served with fresh berries spooned on top. It’s fresh, light, and luscious, and always a crowd pleaser.

To make the frozen cream, first lightly oil the loaf pan, and then line it with plastic wrap. This allows for easy removal from the pan once frozen. The whipped cream is delicate, so should only be frozen for 8 to 24 hours. Once the loaf is removed from the pan and sliced, eat it immediately, because the cream will quickly begin to soften. Also, in the past I’ve added berries to the loaf, but I find that they remain frozen while the cream softens, which is not ideal for eating, so I spoon fresh berries, or, in this case, a compote over the top. 

Iced Meringues and Cream with Berry Compote

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus freezing time and cooling time
Serves 8.

Iced Meringue Cream:
3 ounces meringues, divided
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Compote:
3/4 pound fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Lightly oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Line with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides. Crumble 1/3 of the meringues, leaving large chunks intact, and spread over the bottom of the pan.

2. Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until traces of the whisk appear. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

3. Crumble the remaining meringues and gently fold into the cream. Pour into the pan and spread the cream evenly on top. Cover with the plastic overhang, and then cover the pan entirely with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Prepare the compote: Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the berries break down and release their juices, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

5. To serve, remove the frozen meringue cream from the freezer. Unwrap the plastic and invert the cream onto a serving platter. Remove any remaining plastic. Cut into serving slices and serve with the compote spooned over each slice.