Curried Coconut-Butternut Squash Soup

The advent of crisp weather implores bowls of belly-warming comfort. Soup – the hearty, inexpensive and endlessly versatile star of the season – has a way with taming the tough roots and squashes at the markets these days. Take the butternut squash: despite a sharp chef’s knife my hand was not left unscathed by blisters as I muscled my way through its thick skin and dense flesh. But a bubbling broth is all it takes to transform the squash into a softy.

Squash soups typically rely on a blender to give them a luxuriously creamy consistency, yet this version achieves richness without being pureed to a pulp. Small cubes of butternut squash simmer in a milky-sweet broth, and they hold their shape all through cooking. The soup becomes creamy by way of coconut milk, which contributes a rich flavor without weighing it down. Curry, cinnamon and cumin spike the broth just enough to accent the squash without masking its natural flavor. The curry and coconut shine together as they usually do, but it’s the cinnamon that brings a warm, unexpected undertone to the dish.

It’s a soup that sits in limbo somewhere between creamy and brothy, sort of the best of both worlds. Garnish with fresh cilantro or mint. Recipe sketch from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. See the recipe and my post on Bittman's website.

[From Mark Bittman]

Cook two cups of chopped squash in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, along with a diced onion, a teaspoon of cumin, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of curry powder (or more to taste). Cook the vegetables and spices until the onion is soft, about three minutes. Add five cups of chicken broth or water and a cup of coconut milk; bring to a boil and cook for about six minutes or until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a knife. Serve the soup topped with fresh cilantro and crusty bread or a scoop of rice.


Ramekin Frittatas with Kale, Mint & Pecorino

When aimless downtown wandering brought me to the threshold of Barnes & Noble yesterday I naturally landed in the cookbook section. And there, with its bold cover prominently propped among lesser inviting titles, I saw the next addition to my culinary library: Dutch food stylist Yvette Van Boven's Home Made. The hefty DIY-inspired book is laden with recipes that lend themselves to luscious full-page photographs, seemingly effortless in their rustic styling. A creative host of ingredients grace chapters devoted to techniques on everything from homemade cheese-making to smoking meat and beyond. It's the type of book that inspires you to be fearless in the kitchen; just the kind of tool I need in my armory. Unable to take it with me at that moment, I was nonetheless inspired by a simple frittata recipe with a unique combination of mint, spinach and pecorino. Already equipped with a bounty of fresh mint, and intrigued by its use in an egg dish, I created my own version using kale and pepitas.  

[Makes 4 mini frittatas]

4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp freshly chopped mint
1 cup wilted kale
olive oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper
pepitas, for garnish
shaved pecorino, for garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, add kale and saute until wilted.
3. In a medium bowl combine 4 eggs and 1/4 cup milk, whisking until beaten. Add salt and pepper, chopped mint and kale, stirring to combine.
4. Divide mixture between four ramekin dishes and top with shaved pecorino and pepitas.
5. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, or until eggs have puffed up and the cheese has browned.
6. Serve in ramekin dishes or remove to a plate.


Patience is a Virtue

It began with a pair of stockings. I was two years old, and, according to my grandmother, struggling to get the damned things on (and most likely on the verge of tears). She told me, "It will be easier if you are patient," to which I smartly replied through gritted teeth, "Patience is a virtue." Pause. "I do all the virtues."

Well, many moons (and un-virtuous moments) have passed since that bold acclamation, yet here I find myself plagued by another test of patience. This time I'm standing over a pot of simmering chicken tagine.

It is tantalizing my nostrils. But I have at least another 40 minutes to let it simmer before I indulge. I embarked upon this Moroccan-style one-pot wonder to quell a recent chili craving. The recipe: Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Golden Raisins, from the talented quarter-life cook co-authors of In the Small Kitchen. The stew brings chicken, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and raisins together in a tomato broth perfumed with a host of aromatic spices -- cumin, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and a punch of cayenne.

Time is the critical invisible element in this multi-step production, as ingredients enter the pot at staggered paces. The chicken makes a quick entry to brown, then hops out so the onion can take a solo turn. Onion stays to welcome the spices and basks in aromatic solitude for a bit, until rejoined by the chicken, this time with chickpeas and diced tomatoes in tow. A deluge of chicken stock and the party is set to stew. Their bubble bath lasts two hours.

At this point I have hovered, stirred, walked away for a while, come back, stirred again, smelled, burned my mouth on a few eager taste-tests... and the sweet potatoes haven't even entered the scene yet. (They're holding out until the last 30 minutes of simmering).

After long-last, the sweet potatoes take a dunk, simmer til soft, and the raisins, freshly chopped cilantro and slivered almonds give the tagine its final touch. It's a one-pot wonder rich in spice and sweet complexity. Well worth the wait. A struggle at times, like the stockings, but this one I have patience for.

[Adapted from In the Small Kitchen, by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine]
Makes 10 servings

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each halved
1 ½ tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
About 1 quart chicken stock
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ cup golden raisins (I had to use regular raisins for lack of the golden variety...)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a 350 degree oven until fragrant and golden, keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn (optional)

1. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Coat a large pot or Dutch oven with a thin layer of olive oil. Heat it over high heat and brown the chicken, in batches, making sure not to crowd the pot. If the chicken sticks to the bottom, don’t worry — this will help develop the flavor of the sauce. Remove the browned chicken from the pot and set it aside in a mixing bowl.

2. Add the onions to the same pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté until translucent, making sure to scrape up any remaining drippings from the chicken, about 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the garlic, cumin, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Cook until the spices are fully incorporated and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot, and add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Toss to combine.

4. Pour in enough stock to submerge all the contents (this may be less than 1 quart, depending on the size of your pot) and bring to a summer. Turn the heat back down to low and cook, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, the longer the better. (Taste occasionally, adjusting seasonings to your liking). 

5. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, add the sweet potatoes, submerge them in the liquid, and cook until tender.

6. Add the raisins, half the cilantro, and the lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes.

7. Spoon the tagine into individual bowls. Garnish each bowl with some of the remaining cilantro, sprinkle with the almonds (if using), and serve.

Note: You can make the stew through step 5 and then refrigerate it overnight. Just reheat it for 30 minutes over medium-low heat before your guests are due to arrive, and continue with the remaining ingredients.

For a Vegetarian Squash Tagine: Omit the chicken, and substitute 3-4 diced zucchini or yellow squash. Double the chickpeas, and use vegetable stock instead of chicken.

Fall Sandwiches

The sandwich has long-tolerated its tainted reputation as a boring lunchtime staple. True, brown-bag ham & cheese isn’t especially haute cuisine, yet the space between two slices of bread is a crevice for creativity. 

A notorious “over-stuffer” when it comes to sandwiches, I have learned that there is much value in selectivity. Paring down the number of characters clamped between bread bookends requires careful consideration of flavor pairings. With less room to hide in the layers, every ingredient has a voice, and harmony is key. This week I embraced the power of three, traversing cold, hot and pressed terrain in quest of creatively streamlined sandwiches. Behold three deliciously simple hand-held heros that exude the flavors of fall and elevate the sandwich to a level above the lowly lunchbox. Recipes from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

1) Kale + Prosciutto + Goat Cheese -- Crunchy, leafy, chewy and creamy -- the range of textures makes each bite interesting, with the optional roasted red peppers adding a welcome touch of sweetness.

Kale and Prosciutto Sandwich:
Roll four leaves of kale and slice them into half-inch ribbons. Cook in olive oil until wilted and softened; season with fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toast slices of sourdough or other good-quality bread; spread the toasts with goat cheese and a heaping spoonful of kale; top with a slice of prosciutto.

 2) Tuna + Fennel + Tarragon -- Fennel is a refreshing, crunchy accompaniment to the tuna (as opposed to the standard celery), while tangy yogurt laced with tarragon provides the requisite creaminess.

Tuna Sandwich with Fennel and Tarragon:
Dice a bulb of fennel and a shallot or red onion. In a bowl, mix together about half a cup of plain yogurt, the fennel, the shallot, a drained can of tuna packed in oil, a teaspoon of chopped fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper. Serve in pita pockets, or rolled in large romaine lettuce leaves, with lemon wedges on the side.

3) Mushrooms + Oregano + Fontina -- A grown-up grilled cheese. The fontina, a cut above Kraft Select Singles; the sautéed mushrooms, rich and meaty. A kiss of oregano seals the deal.

Panini with Mushrooms and Fontina:
Cook about two cups of sliced mushrooms in butter; season with fresh oregano or thyme, salt, and pepper. When the mushrooms have released their liquid and dried out, divide the vegetable mixture among slices of good-quality whole grain bread with thinly sliced fontina or other semi-hard cheese on top; add another slice of bread on top and brush the outside of both sides with olive oil or softened butter if you like. Cook the sandwich in whatever press you have until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, adjusting the heat as needed.

 (Note: Good bread is the foundation of a successful sandwich, so pick something hearty – a sourdough, ciabatta or 12-grain. I recommend toasting for extra support and crunch.)


Flatbread Pizza with Figs, Goat Cheese and Balsamic

Haunted by an association with the dried fruit aisle, figs are too-often robbed of the complex traits they possess in season. There is nothing quite like a fresh fig. It's delicate and sweet, with dark, chewy skin encasing a pulpy flesh that swims with tiny seeds. The succulent burst released from its teardrop capsule puts dried versions to shame.

Fresh figs perform best with simple, bold flavor pairings, and using them as a pizza topping is a genius way to savor the last of the season’s crop. Here, fig crescents are spread across a flatbread crust and baked at high heat until their flesh oozes out, warm and sweet. Dabs of creamy goat cheese melt alongside, the tang a pretty perfect complement to the figs. A splash of balsamic is the final touch. Sometimes only something this simple can be so insanely delicious. Recipe sketch from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
[From Mark Bittman]
Slice a couple of handfuls of figs into quarters. Brush olive oil on lavash or other flatbread and dot generously with goat cheese; spread the figs evenly on top of the cheese. Bake in a 450 degree oven until the cheese melts and the figs soften. Drizzle with a tiny bit of balsamic and serve.

Click here to see the full post and more recipes on Mark Bittman's website


Banana Nut Bulgar

Bulgar once again makes its claim as a breakfast grain, stirring up the standard oatmeal routine. More resistant to liquids than the super-absorbant oat, bulgar retains an al dente quality as it cooks -- the result is a hot cereal with more textural interest than its uniformly creamy counterpart.

Here, smooth banana enters the scene, perfuming the bulgar with a subtle fruity note. Laced with honey and punctuated by the crunch of sunflower seeds and almonds, this bowl is like taking a spoon to a loaf of banana bread.



1 cup bulgar wheat
1 cup soy milk
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 banana, mashed
1 Tbsp honey (plus more for drizzling)
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted almonds, roughly chopped


1. In a small saucepan, bring soymilk and 3/4 cups water to a boil. Add bulgar and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes -- adding 1/4 cup at a time of additional water if it absorbs too quickly.
2. As the bulgar is cooking, mash one banana and roughly chop the almonds (mind your fingers). Set aside.
3. When the water is nearly absorbed -- the bulgar should be creamy, yet retain its texture -- stir in 1 Tbsp honey, the banana, almonds and sunflower seeds.
4. Serve with additional honey drizzled on top and/or more milk as you prefer.

Notes: The soymilk could be swapped out for another type of flavored milk (almond, coconut, etc.) for a different flavor; I used what I had on hand.