Monday, February 28, 2011

Food: Butternut Squash Soup

Although it's a couple months into the New Year and most of us have hopes for Spring, Mother Nature keeps sending swaths of snow to Southeast Michigan. About a week ago all the cold whiteness had melted (we actually hit the "balmy" upper 50's twice!)…and she tricked me into thinking warmer weather had arrived. But then she decided to play a dirty prank and dropped a cascade of another 10" of one short evening. More shoveling (groan)! Alas I must turn to food again to make me believe warmer weather is indeed in the not-so-distant future.

When I first found this recipe, I wasn't quite sure what to think. I mean, who's ever heard of a winter squash soup topped with summery/tropical ingredients (cashews, green onions, bananas, curry powder, and coconut)? But then again, I love unusual combination of flavors (or unconventional surprises and delights as we would call them in Marketing). Especially when those combinations can warm me up on a cold day -and- give me the feeling of a warmer destination.

Knowing Ina Garten's recipes and her keen sense of what flavors meld wonderfully together, I just had to try this version of butternut squash soup. To make it even better, this dish is definitely filling enough to be the only thing you serve (Lesson learned - I actually made this as a side dish to another meal...and it was completely unnecessary). And it's so festive and sunny in its appearance, no one is going to be able to resist. It might also make you think you're on an exotic beach vacation somewhere….a pink sand beach in the Bahamas, perhaps. Yes, it's OK to dream your way out of the cold, dreary, late-season snow...starting with this soup.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Curry Condiments
Recipe by: Ina Garten via The Food Network


  • 3-to-4 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded (MM Time-Saver Tip: Many stores like Trader Joe's and Costco sell cut/peeled/seeded butternut squash in containers in the refrigerated veggies section)
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 apples, peeled and cored (MM Note: I used Pink Lady apples)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-4 c chicken stock
  • 1/2 t curry powder


  • Scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced diagonally
  • Flaked sweetened coconut, lightly toasted
  • Roasted salted cashews, toasted and chopped
  • Diced banana


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Cut the butternut squash, onions, and apples into 1-inch cubes. Place them on on a sheet pan and toss them with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Divide the squash mixture between 2 sheet pans and spread in a single layer. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until very tender.
  • Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to a simmer. When the vegetables are done, place them in batches in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add some of the chicken stock and coarsely puree. When all of the vegetables are processed, place them in a large pot and add enough chicken stock to make a thick soup.
  • Add the curry powder, 1 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper. Taste for seasonings to be sure there's enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor. Reheat and serve hot with condiments either on the side or on top of each serving.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food: The Slanted Door's Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

I'm currently planning trip to California for my Mom's 60th birthday. She's never been to the West coast and I can't wait to show her my favorite city (San Francisco) as well as charming Carmel-by-the-Sea and decedant Wine Country. Jonathan and I took a similar trip a couple of years ago and he told me it was one of his favorite vacations - super relaxing, scenic, and, of course, full of great tasting food adventures.

When I think of San Francisco, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building (you should have assumed one of my favorite things has to do with food!). The Ferry Building is a special place with scrumptious restaurants like The Slanted Door (Vietnamese cuisine) and Taylor's Refresher (California-style roadside dining), and fine-food specialty shops like the Cowgirl Creamery (cheese), Acme Bread, Miette (cupcakes), and Scharffen Berger (chocolate).
So it's only appropriate that the recipe below happens to come from my favorite Ferry Building restaurant (The Slanted Door).

The smells and flavors of this Asian-style chicken dish combined with heavenly scented jasmine rice are wonderful. And paired with the fact it only takes 30 minutes to throw together (start-to-finish), you can't really go wrong - it's faster (and better) than just ordering carry-out. To dress up the flavors and textures, I often like to serve the chicken with peeled and steamed edamame (many grocers like Trader Joe's offer this option on the frozen foods section).

So...with that said, what better meal could you make for yourself during the work week? This is a wonderfully fast, healthy, and flavorful dish that can make any night seem like a special evening. You'll feel good about yourself...even if you didn't make it to the gym tonight :)

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

Source: Food & Wine - recipe by Charles Phan


  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c fish sauce
  • 1/4 c water
  • 3 T rice vinegar
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 t finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 t coarsely ground pepper
  • 2 dried red chiles
  • 1 T vegetable oil (I like "Smart Balance")
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces (MM Tip: If you prefer the texture of white meat, chicken breast also works well in this recipe)
  • 1/4 c cilantro sprigs, roughly chopped (MM Comment: I used a little more cilantro than this and it gave the dish a bright, fresh flavor)


  • In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper and chiles.
  • Heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the fish sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Food: Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

"Oh, can you feel the love tonight?" Are you ready? Yes, I'm talking about February 14 - and it's rapidly approaching! Do you know what you're going to make to surprise that special someone? (I know, planning isn't all that romantic. But a wonderful dinner certainly qualifies as being such.)

If you happen to live in the North, then chances are Valentine's Day generally occurs on a cold, blustery, winter day (sigh). One where romance doesn't consist of enjoying a beautiful sunset on a beach but rather cozying up by a roaring fireplace (that is, if you're lucky to have one in the comfort of your own home) and avoiding going outdoors and shoveling snow at all costs. It also (hopefully) means treating your sweetie to a lovingly prepared, warm, homecooked meal that mixes comforting flavors and smells with a beautiful presentation. Accompanied, of course, by a delicious, delictable glass of wine. Maybe this one, perhaps (yes, yes - you CAN do red wine with fish).

The recipe below (which originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Gourmet) is what I suggest you make this year to woo your Valentine. I love the complimentary combination of flavors and the simplicity of its preparation. And the fact you can make the herb butter and caramelized onions the day prior, if you'd like, and cheat on the lentils by buying the pre-steamed variety in the refrigerated section at Trader Joe's, makes it a no-brainer for those in a time crunch. I think this is my favorite way to enjoy salmon lately. It's a perfectly paired combination of warm nutty lentils, sweet caramelized onions, crisp-crusted, meaty fish, and citrusy, tarragon-infused, dijon-mustard butter. Wow - that was rather long-winded statement for such a simple dish. Are you swooning yet? Or at least salivating? I must say, this recipe is also very French - oh là là - which, by default, makes it very romantic, oui?

I apologize that the photo I've posted doesn't do the recipe justice at all. Unfortunately all I had with me was my iPhone - so the colors look rather drab and dark, not like a wonderful Valentine's gift at all. But when you pair deep brown lentils with juicy pink salmon and bright green herbs, it IS a sight to be seen. So basic yet oh so lovely and wonderfully flavorful.

For dessert, you can never go wrong with this cake. Or you could make it easy and just pick up some special cupcakes or cookies from your local bakery. Either way, you're sure to impress the one you love. Bon appétit!

Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

Adapted from Gourmet


  • 5 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 T chopped chives
  • 1 T chopped tarragon
  • 2 t dijon mustard (this one is rather wonderful)
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 package pre-steamed lentils (found in Trader Joe's refrigerated section)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 4 (6-oz) pieces of skinless salmon fillet
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil


  • Make the mustard-herb butter (can be prepared 1 day in advance): Stir together the first 5 ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate and soften slightly prior to serving.

  • Prepare the lentils: In a heavy skillet on medium-low heat, sauté onions in the 1 T of olive oil until translucent and slightly carmelized (~10 minutes). Drizzle with 1T of lemon juice, stir in lentils, and keep warm on low heat.

  • Cook the salmon: Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t fresh ground pepper. Heat 1 T unsalted butter and 1 T olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Then sauté salmon, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, 6-to-8 minutes total.

  • Plate: Serve the salmon over the lentils, topped with mustard-herb butter (and a sprinkle of left-over tarragon, if desired).
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