Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Basic Butternut Squash Soup

Soup is my favorite food and subject. I often wake up with new soup combinations on my mind.   Why?  Soup is the ultimate playground of creativity.

Healing Power of Soup

Another thing that intrigues me is the healing power of soup.  It is legendary.  Mothers everywhere whip up a batch of chicken soup at the first sign of illness.  It seems to restore a feeling of well-being immediately.   Whether it’s a scientific fact or a placebo effect, the end result is still the same. Comfort in the body, mind and soul boosts your immune system and leads to wellness.

Soup’s well deserved healing reputation may be attributed to the fact that it is one of the few ways of cooking that allows you to consume all of the nutrients available from the food. With all cooking methods, nutrients tend to leach out into the water, steam or juices that escape and are then discarded.  With soup, you are consuming that water so nothing is lost.

Nutritional Value of Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash, like sweet potato, has a very high percentage of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  A rule of thumb when it comes to identifying the nutritional value of foods is the color.  When you see orange veggies, you can pretty much count on Vitamin A to be at the forefront.  It’s a great thing to add to soups when you want to boost your nutrition intake.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup is a blank canvas when it comes to creating with soup.   The possible variations are endless, but let’s begin with the basic recipe.

I find that caramelized onion is a great compliment to the flavors in this squash.  I also use red bell peppers as opposed to green because the flavor and color combines well with the sweetness of the squash and enhances the visual appeal.


1 large Butternut Squash (take great care in peeling and cutting—the shape of this squash can make it difficult to work with).  Trader Joes carries peeled and cubed squash for a very reasonable price.

1 or 2 large onions

Red Bell Pepper

Butter and/or Olive Oil or any vegetable oil

Chicken Broth (I used 2 packs of powdered chicken bouillon.  You can make your own broth by boiling chicken, onion, celery, carrots, bell peppers and seasonings, cooking until meat is tender and then skimming everything out and storing the broth in the fridge.  I do this around Thanksgiving when I know it will be used in many dishes.  You can also freeze it.)

Season Salt

Garlic Powder

Black Pepper

Costco no salt organic seasoning

Red Pepper Flakes


Chop onions and Red Bell Pepper

Melt butter or oil in the bottom of the pot

Add onions sautéing stirring constantly until they become translucent and golden brown (take care not to burn!)

Add red bell pepper and continue to sauté for a few minutes

Add cubed squash

Add water just enough to cover squash

Season including powdered bouillon (bouillon is salty so hold back on any additional salt until you taste)

Bring to a boil

Cover and simmer until squash is tender

Use a potato masher to mash squash

Stir to combine all ingredients

Taste and add more seasonings if needed

Serving Variations 

*I Individualized each serving as follows:

Serving #1:
1 Tablespoon of Heavy Cream
Grated Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese on top as a garnish
Served with toasted Whole Grain Bread
This is my favorite!

Serving #2:
Thawed frozen cooked shrimp in a cup of water with Old Bay Seasoning
Drained and added to soup
Reheat bowl to heat shrimp or heat shrimp prior to adding
Served with Crackers
My Hubbie’s favorite.

*What would you like to add? 
Here are a few ideas:  Toasted nuts, pasta, cooked veggies, boiled chopped egg, meat, fish, shell fish like King crab.  Remember that creativity is all about creating something that appeals to you.

Simple and fast.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fake Curry (in a hurry)

Red Chili (a common addition to curries)
Trinidadian and Guyanese Curry   

Food that passes through our doors doesn’t stand a chance of emerging in a plain, boring or tasteless dish. Our kitchen is where all souls meet. Our food is influenced by our ancestry—mine, African, Native American, Irish and Southern--my husband Puerto Rican,  Bajan and Trinidadian. It’s not that we have some sacred recipes handed down. It’s that we cook what we are inspired to cook and our inspiration comes from deep within our gut. Maybe it’s even in our DNA.

We love to cook, and we rarely use a recipe, because frankly, some recipes are disappointing.  Case in point—I have a cookbook authored by a flash-in-the-pan chef who had 15 minutes of fame doled out by association.  She was well-schooled in the culinary arts and her recipes were somewhat complex.  I decided to follow one of her recipes from start to finish creating a Sunday dinner feast for my family that was not only elegant, but flavorful—so I thought.  I was not impressed by the end result.  It was flavorless in my opinion and I could have skipped much of the process and arrived with a much tastier result on my own.  This is one of the reasons that recipes for me are just a jumping off point to ideas on the road to creating a satisfying sensory experience.

Now, I am not from the Caribbean, India or any country where curry dishes are a staple, but I make a delicious curry dish that my kids call Fake Curried Chicken.  They say that because I made up the recipe and don’t have a Caribbean bone in my body but the fact is, I know what I like.  I also know that everyone who tries it--including them--loves it.  So, with no disrespect to true curry chefs out there because I really love authentic Caribbean, Indian and other ethnic foods, here is my personal take on curry.

Recipe--Fake Chicken Curry (in a hurry)

This is one of those dishes where I can walk in, dump everything in a pot, put the rice in a rice cooker and move on to do other things including relax.  It won’t be long until the house is filled with a beautifully intoxicating fragrance that no one can resist.


Chicken Wings (I sometimes cut at the joint)

Curry (explore this one because there are so many different curries available—Curry is really a combination of turmeric, coriander, and cumin as a base with many other spices like chilies, cilantro, and fennel.   Whether hot, spicy or mild; green, red or yellow; the variation of curries are as endless as their countries of origin.)

1 large Onion

1 Green Bell Pepper (my personal preference for curry)

Celery (nice but optional)

Season Salt (use care with salt—curry seasoning may also contain salt)

Corn Starch

Black Pepper

Garlic Powder

Cooked Rice (I use brown)


Add chicken to appropriate pot with room to spare for veggies and water to cover the chicken plus at least 1 to 2 inches above (this will allow chicken to cook well and cover the added veggies). 

Chop the onion, green pepper and celery and add to the pot

Season well with garlic powder, pepper, salt and curry—be generous with the curry and stingy with salt—you can always add more at the end or on the plate if needed.

Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer

Cover and let cook until the chicken is well done, almost falling off the bone

Mix a small amount of corn starch with an equal amount of cold water in a bowl or cup stirring until you have a smooth lump-free mixture.  Turn the fire up and add cornstarch and stir.  As you come back to the boiling point, the cornstarch will thicken the liquid to a gravy consistency—continue this process gradually until your gravy meets your preferred thickness.  You don’t want to end up with a cement block but if you do end up with your gravy being too thick, just add a little more water.  

Taste and add more seasonings if needed.  After trial and error a few times, you will know instinctively how much seasoning is needed for you.

Serve over cooked rice with vegetables of your choice on the side.

Variations—This is just my basic dish.  I have done this with potatoes right in the mix eliminating the need for rice and I’ve also made mixed veggies in lieu of rice or potatoes just putting the curry chicken right on top. 

It’s simple, delicious and easy, always a favorite for my family or when unexpected company arrives.


Feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Basics and My not-so-secret ingredient Spaghetti Sauce

When I got married I knew nothing about cooking.  I went in the kitchen, read the package instructions and tried not to burn things.  Unfortunately, as hard as I tried, burning and bad meals were the order of the day.

My husband, an inspired chef, knew that he would have to teach me a few things if he was ever going to eat a decent meal that he didn’t cook himself.  Yes, he gave me some basic how-to’s, but what really left its mark was the exposure he gave me to foods and spices I had never known growing up. 

He introduced me to sweet peppers, plantain, mangoes, sauces, and spices, but more importantly he made me realize that cooking well is cooking from the heart.  It was on from there. 

Not every inspired dish has turned out well.  When my children were growing up like all kids everyday they asked “Mom, what’s for dinner?”  Whenever my answer was “Oh, it’s a surprise!” they looked just a little uneasy.  Today when my family sees that inspired look in my eyes, they can’t wait to taste my latest creation.

Success means using basic combinations that work

Honestly, the only rules here are the ones you make because everyone’s taste buds are different.  Depending on where you are in your cooking skills, you will begin to understand that certain combinations of ingredients create the basis for a successful dish. 

A great example of this is onions, sweet peppers and fresh garlic, my favorite trio.  They are generally always good together.  When you are working with these three ingredients, whatever you are making is bound to turn out good.  You then build on this foundation.  

If you hate garlic don’t use it!  Remember, the idea here is to free yourself of rules and go with what you truly feel in your gut.  I do advise you to be adventurous to try new things and even if you previously thought you hated something, try to see it in a differently.   Doing new things in new ways is what creative cooking is all about.

Spaghetti and Meat Sauce with Sweet Potato

I love sweet potatoes.  Their beautiful orange color and naturally sweet taste makes them a year round staple in my house.  One day while preparing spaghetti, it seemed to me that a sweet potato would add just the right amount of creaminess that I was craving. I know, that sounds a bit strange to you right now, but I am telling you that this has become a staple in my house.  Even my husband, who hates pasta and tomato-based sauces, loves this. 

Ingredients (feel free to substitute):

Spaghetti #9
Ground Turkey  (small pack)
1 large sweet potato
1 Sweet Red Pepper
1 Clove of Fresh Garlic
1 can of crushed tomatoes
Olive Oil


Put on the water for spaghetti.
Peel the sweet potato and then cut into big chunks.
When the water begins to boil, throw it into the pot.
Have a strainer or slotted spoon handy.
Cook until tender.
Remove to a bowl or large dish.
Add spaghetti to boiling water--follow package directions.

Peel and chop the onion, peppers and fresh garlic into small pieces.
Sauté the onion and peppers in olive or any vegetable oil until the onion is translucent.
Add the garlic last and
Remove from the pan.

Sauté ground turkey, chopping and stirring until all the pink is gone but again, don’t let it burn.  I generally use a little olive oil in the pan when doing this when doing this because ground turkey doesn’t have much fat.

Add the sautéed onion, garlic and peppers to the meat.
Season according to your taste—I use powdered garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and an organic unsalted seasoning mix I bought in Costco.
Add the can of crushed tomatoes and let it simmer adding seasonings to taste.

Using a potato masher,  mash the sweet potato.
Add to the sauce and mix well.

Here’s the great thing about the sweet potato:

  •  It sweetens the sauce taking away that harsh tomato acidity that often comes with tomatoes without having to add sugar (hence my husband’s love for this dish)
  • Sweet potatoes add a creamy texture to the sauce
  •  One sweet potato adds 4 grams of fiber, 475% of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin A and 32% of Vitamin C.

So you have now created a masterpiece with a high-nutrition IQ that tastes heavenly and provides comfort all on the same plate.

What could be better than that?


Comments and questions related to this post are welcome!

About this blog...

I am not a chef, nor do I play one on TV, at least not yet.  What really bothers me is that when it comes to eating and cooking, people tend to limit themselves.  They either say things like, I can't cook or they follow recipes like they were the law.  They eat fast food and think it's good and they have these hard rules about specific things like hating all vegetables or fish. 

This blog is about my creative exploits in the kitchen and how you too can begin to create some culinary masterpieces of your own.  Somewhere deep inside, you have the ability to create in the kitchen or anywhere else in your life. You just have to begin to trust your inspiration and figure out how to bring it to life.