Sunday, December 23, 2012

Chicken liver paté: #SundaySupper is home for the holidays

Every family has its own holiday traditions. For example, my husband and I have had a fake banana on our Christmas tree since we first started living together more than 20 years ago. It's a little cracked now, but it still goes up on the tree every year. Another tradition we have is to buy one new ornament per family member per year. As time has passed, we have collected lots of fun things, which we love to unpack every year and exclaim, "Oh yeah, I remember that one! And this is one of my favorites. And so is this!" The tree gets more and more crowded every year, and that's just how I like it.

Of course, many of those traditions revolve around special foods. As a child, one of the holiday foods I looked forward more to anything else was my mother's chicken liver paté. It is still one of the best things I have ever tasted, even though it's hideous to look at. The first time I saw my mother making the stuff, I said it looked yucky. She told me, "Sometimes the best-tasting food is the ugliest. Try it before you make any judgments." So, with great trepidation, I did. And loved it.

Unfortunately, this post is not about her recipe, which is a secret process and recipe she invented and guards as though it could topple regimes. I have made attempts to duplicate it, trying several recipes that require baking in the oven in a pan of water (which is how my mother's recipe is made), but, although good, they just aren't worth the effort. In the last few years, I have turned instead to this much simpler recipe, which was adapted from a recipe in Allt om Mat, a Swedish food magazine. It's delicious, easily doubled (or even tripled), and easy to freeze. I always make a huge batch of the stuff and freeze about half. It never lasts long enough. It's especially good served with some sweet gherkins, but simply slathered on bread or crackers works just fine. Some of the butter may separate out during cooling, but you can mix it right back in to the paté. (Note that you will need a food processor or blender to make this.)


  • 1 lb frozen chicken livers, partially defrosted
  • 5 slices smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 stick butter (4 oz)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1-2 Tbsp brandy (optional)


  1. Melt the butter in a deep pan or a large pot over medium-low heat. 
  2. Add the diced bacon and onions and let the onions soften in the butter for about 10 minutes. (Keep the heat low to medium. You don't want the onions or the bacon to brown.)
  3. Roughly cut the partially defrosted chicken livers into pieces that are about an inch in size. Add the livers to the onions, butter, and bacon in the pan. Add salt, herbs, and brandy (if using). 
  4. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer and then let it simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  5. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes. Then blend it until very smooth in a food processor or blender. (Let the machine run for a good, long time so that the mix is evenly smooth.)
  6. Taste the paté for seasoning. Add salt if needed while the mix is still hot and liquid.  
  7. Pour the mixture into containers to chill. It will set up on cooling. Spread the paté on bread or crackers and enjoy. 
This week, #SundaySupper is sharing all kinds of special family treats for the holidays. Check out all the goodies and don't forget to participate in the chat on Twitter by following the hashtag #SundaySupper at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, 12/23/12. Also feel free to share your favorite holiday recipe on the #SundaySupper Pinterest board. 


Appetizers & Snacks


Main Dishes



The posts are more than recipes. They are also wonderful stories of holidays and traditions. Please take the time to visit and read each heartwarming one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pork and beans with Alton Brown's pickled pork for #SundaySupper

I hadn't intended to participate in this week's Sunday Supper, which is all about favorite chef-inspired dishes. I was busy, overwhelmed, and trying to keep up with the regular day to day. I just couldn't think of a chef's recipe that I would want to do. The research seemed daunting. And then I got the reminder email about posting #SundaySupper recipe titles to the group. And I smacked myself on the forehead. Just that morning, I had started pickling some pork, using Alton Brown's recipe. Uh, oh yeah, duh. Silly me. Serendipity strikes again.

I haven't cooked that many celebrity chef recipes even though you could call me a cooking show addict. I especially enjoy the shows where they pit chefs head to head: Top Chef, Iron Chef, Next Iron Chef, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star. Love 'em. My husband and I try to come up with ideas for the mystery basket. Ideas that we have never tried, unfortunately.

One food show that was particularly important to us was Alton Brown's Good Eats. It taught us so much about the precise methods of cooking just about anything you could think of and make it good. The show also covered food history, culture, and science. For geeks like us, it was irresistible. And it was funny. AB was such a goof on that show, so much so that we were surprised to learn about his extraordinary skill and professionalism as a producer (which we discovered on The Next Food Network Star). (And I also enjoy his natty Southern gentleman style.)

However, more important than the specific lessons in cooking various items of food or the history and science was the insight that to cook really well requires precision, knowledge of the ingredients, knowledge of the techniques. This may seem obvious, but it isn't. In some ways it was a revelation: To get superior results, you have to understand how different kinds of pans heat food differently, that some foods need to be cooked at low temperatures for a long time and some need high heat for just a few seconds, and so much more. Understanding the differences and learning to apply patience or be careful about timing really does make a difference. It was exciting because there was room for growth. It's still exciting because the only way to go is toward continual improvement if you are willing to learn.

Another key to learning as a cook is to take risks and experiment, to try things that don't sound good or to try new methods. This dish is a perfect example. The first time I heard of pickled pork, I had doubts. It didn't sound good to me at all. Sounded kind of scary actually, like those giant jars of pickled eggs you see sometimes. Thankfully, my husband went ahead and tried it about a year ago (I am in no way to be commended for my kitchen courage in this story, but the mad scientist definitely is); cooked long and slow with some beans, tomatoes, onions, and herbs, the pork transformed into a rich, filling dish perfect to take the edge of a cold night's chill. You won't believe the rich smell that rises when you remove the lid from your Dutch oven.

This dish is not difficult or labor-intensive to make but it takes a lot of time. The initial pickling of the pork takes three days, then the dish itself needs to simmer 2 to 2 1/2 hours. But it's worth it. You will divide the pickled pork in half and freeze the unused half for another day. The pork and beans, served over white rice, last a few days (unless of course, you go back for seconds and thirds, as we did last night).

For the pickled pork recipe, head over to the Food Network's website for Alton Brown's recipe. I followed this nearly exactly (skipped the celery seed; didn't have it, didn't want it). For the rest of the recipe, read on:


  • 1/2 batch of Alton Brown's pickled pork, drained (drain and freeze the other half for another use)
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups cooked beans (1/2 lb dried beans, cooked); I used cranberry beans, you can use pintos, white navy beans, cannelini beans.
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, briefly chopped in a food processor
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp salt (or more to taste, but add near the end of the cook time to avoid oversalting)
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp whole-grain mustard 


  1. If you use dried beans, Pick-A-Pepper just turned me on to a great, no-soak method of cooking beans that cuts cooking time to 2 hours (at most) and leaves you with soft, creamy beans. I went ahead and cooked a whole pound at once and froze the second half in leftover cooking liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions, cook until they are soft and just starting to brown a bit. 
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir them together gently until evenly distributed. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven. 
  5. Leave it in the oven for 2 hours. Taste to test the seasoning (careful, it will be very hot). Add salt to taste. Remove from the oven. 
  6. Let it cool while you cook some white rice to serve it over. Then eat it and love it. And try to avoid going back for seconds. I dare you. 
Please check out all the other great chef-inspired dishes on offer from #SundaySupper. Lots of tasty dishes and inspiration are on offer:

Starters or Snacks:

The Main Dish:

Amazing Sides:

Sweet Endings:

Wine Pairings: 

Please join the Sunday Supper group via Twitter for #SundaySupper throughout the day on December 2, 2012. In the evening, Sunday Supper members will meet at 7 PM EST for the weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, or you can follow us through TweetChat. Also check out and pin to the #SundaySupper Pinterest board, which has more than 1,600 pins with all kinds of tasty dishes. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pancake mix with apple cider syrup and candied walnuts: A gift from the kitchen for #SundaySupper

A friend mentioned that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away (at least here in the United States). I was shocked. And perturbed. Really perturbed. Not panicked. No, not yet, but I won't deny that I am a little annoyed that the holidays crept up on me like that. Again. Every year, I think, "Next year will be different. I will be organized, on top of things, efficient, effective, and stress-free." Ha! Yeah right.

Oh well. Time to start thinking and planning and making it all happen. But I've grown sick and heartweary of stuff. I've hit the mall a few times recently and found myself overwhelmed (and a little depressed) by the choices, the glitter, the tack, the endless push for a more wonderful holiday than anyone else or ever before. Every year, I find myself in a spiral of anxiety in which I seek the perfect holidays, beautifully and completely decorated, with an abundance of perfect gifts. And every year, I wind myself up more and more and spend more, far more, than we should, ending up with a lot of stuff and a lot of regret. I am ready to get off that ride. It's making me a little sick.

One way to make the holidays more meaningful is to make gifts. Homemade gifts may not be as pristine and glittering and cool as storebought gifts, they may be a bit clunky and lumpy, but they feel good to make. Of all the gifts we can make and give, gifts from the kitchen are often most appreciated. The receiver can enjoy them immediately, and they leave little to no clutter. (Speaking of clutter, here's a lovely poem on that topic from Saideh Pakravan, a member of my freelance networking group.)

One of my favorite gifts to give is a special breakfast, in this case homemade pancake mix with apple cider syrup and candied walnuts. None of the components is hard to make (although the apple cider syrup does take a lot of time); the most difficult task will be figuring out a nice way to present them. Here are the ingredients you will need, the instructions, and the instructions you will write down so the recipient can make the pancakes.



  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour (you can substitute with all-purpose flour if you like)
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 2 Tbsps granulated sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp coarse salt


  • 1 gallon fresh apple cider (preferably from the farmers market; I am a big fan of Beechwood Orchards' cider because they use a blend of apples, which means the cider isn't too sweet)


  • 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon



Part 1: Combine the ingredients in a lidded box. Close the lid and shake the box vigorously. (By the way, you can double, triple, or quadruple this recipe and keep it stashed in your freezer for your own pancake breakfasts.)

Part 2: Write these preparation instructions down for the recipient of your gift:

  1. For 3-4 servings, combine 1 cup pancake mix with 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 egg. 
  2. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter on a hot, buttered griddle and cook each side until golden brown. 
  3. Serve with apple cider syrup and candied walnuts. 


  1. Pour 2 and 1/2 cups apple cider into a large stockpot. Measure the depth of the liquid with a spoon or something similar. 
  2. Add the rest of the apple cider to the pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the temperature to a slow simmer. Let it simmer and reduce for 5-7 hours. 
  3. In the last hour, start checking on it more frequently, because it's quicker to overreduce when it gets closer to the end. When you've reached the depth you measured, the syrup is done. Let it cool and pour it into jars. It will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. 


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat (I could use some of those for Christmas, hint, hint).
  2. Lightly chop the walnuts, if they aren't chopped already. 
  3. Combine the maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon in a thick-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Stir frequently so that the syrup doesn't burn. Let it thicken a bit (about 5-10 minutes). 
  4. Add the chopped walnuts to the syrup mixture. Stir until the nuts are completely coated and heated through. 
  5. Spread the nuts out on the baking sheet and break them apart if needed. Let them cool. Don't worry if they don't harden completely, or are a little sticky; they will still make a terrific pancake topping. (These would be a great topping for almost any dessert, actually.)

This week's Sunday Supper is all about gifts from the kitchen. Almost 50 gift ideas are on offer from breads to sweets to soups, so please go ahead and check these out for more ideas for homemade holiday gifts. Also, don't forget to join in the Sunday Supper Twitter chat by following the hashtag #SundaySupper at 7 p.m. EST.

Breads and Breakfast

Condiments and Ingredients

Soup and Snacks



Don't forget to share your own recipes for Gifts from the Kitchen on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board.

* The pancake mix recipe is slightly adapted from The Harvest Eating Cookbook by Keith Snow. Do not forget to check out his Harvest Eating website for lots of seasonal eating ideas and recipes. 
** For more ideas for what to use apple cider syrup with and a recipe for boiled cider baked beans, check out the Washington Post recipe. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pink lemon cupcakes: The trouble with color (and a heartbreaking baby story)

My little boy turned six this week. It's hard to believe so much time has passed since those first terrifying days when he was a helpless floppy thing with a neck too weak to keep his head upright, soft spots in his skull, and an appetite I could barely keep up with. Now he's his own person, becoming more himself and more independent every day, which is great, but sometimes I miss him wanting to be with us. Other times I sigh with relief that I can just sit back and watch him be himself.

No. I must stop here. Pretending that the terror of those first days was solely because he was a helpless baby and I didn't know how to take care of helpless little babies is nowhere near the whole truth. There's more to the story. 

The Boo (nicknamed for scaring us so) was born with Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN). It means his blood didn't flow the right direction, and he was at imminent risk of death from lack of oxygen from the moment he was born.

We were not prepared for trouble. My pregnancy had been just about perfect. Every test had gone well. So when the doctors and nurses lifted him over to the warming table, and I could hear him struggling and the quiet, concerned, intense murmur, I could tell something wasn't right, but I was too exhausted and torn up to understand. I was just waiting to see my boy. Instead, they whisked him away to the NICU, and I didn't get to see him at all. 

I don't remember much else about that day. I was stitched up. They tried to get me in a wheelchair to go and see the Boo in the NICU, but I passed out cold (blood loss or meds? I have no idea). Mike went back and forth between me and the NICU, watching over us both, doing his best to take care of us, understand what was happening, and translate medical speak into English for us laypeople.  

I think a day passed like this. I spent time learning how to pump milk, trying to eat well, and receiving lots of visitors, and Mike went back and forth, back and forth, relaying information, keeping us together. He brought me a picture of the Boo's ear; it was all he could see among the tubes and wires, and it was perfect.

A little over 24 hours after the Boo was born, I was finally able to sit upright in the wheelchair and make it to the NICU to see my baby. He was beautiful and heartbreaking. We weren't allowed to touch him or speak loudly around him. Any stimulation at all meant that his blood oxygen level would go down, so we had to keep our distance and pour love onto him through air and glass. 

By the second night, Mike had been awake for more than 48 hours. At two in the morning, it seemed as though the Boo was finally beginning to stabilize, so Mike lay down on the couch in my recovery room and fell asleep. Two hours later, I was still semi-awake when the doctors came in quietly to tell us that things were no longer going well. The Boo would have to be transferred to another hospital with more advanced equipment, specifically the ability to provide treatment with inhaled nitric oxide and an ECMO machine (a kind of bypass machine that takes blood out of the body, oxygenates it, and then passes it back into the body). I was wheeled down to the NICU with Mike, and we sat and watched as a team of medical personnel prepared to move our little baby into a plastic box on a gurney (a device they called the "Spaceship") and transfer him to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, DC.

I will never adequately describe the grief of sitting in that wheelchair, in that dark, night-quiet hospital corridor watching skilled, concerned, caring people preparing to take my son away. A cold, black pit had opened in my chest and would never close. I could not stop weeping. When I heard the siren as the ambulance left, I wept more. I wept every time I heard an ambulance for a few years. 

I couldn't go to Georgetown that night, but we decided Mike had to go while I stayed and prepared to leave Manassas Hospital the next day. I spent the day pumping milk, eating, and trying to get on my feet long enough to shuffle down the hall, a prerequisite for release. In late afternoon, I was released, and my parents drove me downtown.

What followed was a desperate search for food and a cold, miserable night in a guest room at Georgetown. By the time I got to the hospital, the cafeteria was closed, so we had to order Chinese to be delivered to the emergency room. We slept on a bare mattress on the floor. Mike's glasses broke during the night. The next morning, we decided this was no place for me to stay and recover and gave up the guest room. Our plan was that I would visit during the day, and my brother (who had immediately booked a ticket from Sweden on hearing of our troubles) would drive me home to rest every afternoon, while Mike stayed until late in the evening.

And so the next few weeks passed. Mike sat and watched our boy's saturation rate like a hawk for 10 days. For him, every dip in the numbers was a slash to the heart, a threat that our son would die. The one night I wasn't there because I was too sick and weak to make it, the doctors wheeled out the ECMO machine (an invasive procedure that can leave permanent scars) and then decided against it. I was dazed, in shock, and on pain medication, trying to maintain a schedule of pumping milk and stacking up bags of it in the hospital refrigerator until the day when the Boo would be able to start drinking. 

Then came a turning point. One night, while I was doing my two a.m. pump, and Mike was calling the hospital to check on our boy, the nurse told Mike that the little guy had extubated himself. (She had a hilarious way of saying this, which left us laughing in hysterics.) The boy was done. Annoyed with the stuff stuck down his throat, he just spit it right up. As my sister-in-law commented later, "Only two weeks old, and already rebellious and addicted to drugs." (To save his life, the doctors had had to administer a lot of drugs to keep him sedated and ensure his blood flowed in the right direction. We had to wean him from the addiction by administering opium for several weeks, but that's another story.)

After 29 days, we finally got to bring our boy home. Those 29 days of fear and grief were the worst of my life, and they left damage that took a long time to undo. But he survived. And now the earth has traveled around the sun six times since the day when he first arrived, so it's time for a treat.

This post was supposed to be about the cupcakes I made for his birthday celebration at school, but obviously, I got a little off track. My original idea was to make cupcakes that look like toadstools, a fun thing to celebrate both his birthday and Halloween. Sadly, the natural food dyes I purchased were not up to the task of turning my lemony frosting red, just pink. Even though I added ALL the dyes, red, blue, and yellow, the frosting remained stubbornly pink. It's a pretty pink, but I still feel a little funny about showing up with pink cupcakes to my boy's birthday party. At least the taste made up for it (and I gussied them up with some sprinkles, although my decorating skills are seriously lacking). 

So now, finally, here is the recipe for pink lemon cupcakes and some tips for coloring foods. This batch was enough for 24 mini cupcakes and 12 regular cupcakes, so it would probably be enough for 24 regular cupcakes or 48 minis (if you have two pans, which I didn't, thus the mixed sizes). 


  • 1 and 1/3 cup PLUS 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 and 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola or other mild vegetable oil 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • zest from one lemon (don't forget to wash the lemon carefully)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 12 Tbsps (1 and 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsps lemon juice (make sure to strain out any seeds)
  • zest from one lemon
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • red food coloring (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place bake cups in the wells of your cupcake pan(s). 
  2. In a large bowl (your stand mixer bowl if you have one; it will make this recipe so much easier), mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and lemon zest. Use the paddle attachment at low speed to mix it all together evenly. Then add the sugar and mix at low speed until evenly distributed. 
  3. Add the oil and mix at low speed until the mixture is crumbly, sort of like sand. 
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract until blended. Add the egg mixture to the flour-oil mixture at low speed until blended. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides if needed. 
  5. Finally, with the mixer at slow speed, add the boiling water in a slow, even flow until the batter is just mixed and smooth. Once again, scrape down the sides as needed. 
  6. Fill the bake cups about 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes for regular cupcakes and 30-35 cupcakes for mini cupcakes. They should be lightly golden-brown on top when they are done. Let them cool in the cupcake pans. (Putting the pans on a rack would probably aid cooling.)
  1. Sift the powdered sugar into a stand mixer bowl if it has lumps.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients (softened butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract) to the bowl. Start mixing slowly with the paddle attachment until the powdered sugar is just incorporated into the butter to avoid getting a cloud of sugar. Then beat on high speed until the frosting is white and fluffy.
  3. Beat in drops of red food coloring until you get the shade of pink you want. 
After making this recipe, I asked my friend Cheryll of Decker'ated Delights who makes beautiful cakes and cookies how to get a good shade of red. She shared these tips:
  1. Don't use food coloring. 
  2. Use the paste. Apparently AmeriColor works well and doesn't leave a funny aftertaste. (Obviously, this doesn't quite fit with my real food ideals, so I will probably have to live with pinks and lavenders for now, but I wanted to pass on the information in case you want to try it.)  
  3. Tint with a light pink first for a vibrant red. (Or light brown if you want a deeper red.)
  4. Then tint with red. 
* Adapted from the Devilishly Moist Chocolate Cake recipe in Tish Boyle's The Cake Book.
** Adapted from the Creamy Frosting recipe in Williams-Sonoma's The Kid's Cookbook. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall market soup with bacon, beans, sweet potatoes, and kale

Some of the best soups are happy accidents. This is especially true when you get most of your produce and meats from farmers markets: Ingredients available one week may be gone the next, and the chances of that perfect convergence of vegetables and fruits ever happening again are slim. That's the case with this soup, which is a rich, warm, filling, and nutritious concoction that is just what you want on a chilly fall evening (in fact, I'll be going back for seconds soon), but it may be a long time before I can replicate it precisely because I probably won't have all these ingredients again at the same time.

But that's OK. Making this soup was an act of discovery, an exploration of flavors and textures. It was also an act of building something, adding component to component until it all came together with a toss of chopped kale at the end. Kind of fun to make, really. Furthermore, I experienced that moment when I had added just enough salt and pepper, the vegetables had mellowed and released their sweetness and savor to the stock, and the test spoonful exploded into my mouth, forcing me to do a happy dance and to shamelessly proclaim how good I am. It was a great soup.

I make a lot of these soups, the ones where I add this and that until it's done, but they don't always succeed. In fact, I've made some real disasters (beets and pumpkin do not, I repeat, do NOT go together). But most of them are pretty good, some are outstanding. There are a few lessons I've learned from building soups like this:

  • Always use a good stock, preferably homemade.
  • Give the onions that you will start almost every soup with plenty of time to mellow, at least 10 minutes. Don't rush soup.
  • The stock should slightly cover the vegetables, not drown them. If you have too much stock, your soup will be watery. If don't have enough stock, the soup could be mushy, more like a vegetable stew or porridge. 
  • Aim for balance of flavors: sweet vegetables combined with bitter ones. (Like sweet potato with parsnips.) 
  • If you include a lot of root vegetables, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, and so forth, try dicing an apple and adding it to the soup. You'll be surprised. In a good way. 
  • If you have some greens on hand, try chopping them up and adding them in the last few minutes of cook time. 
  • Add salt and pepper at the end of the cook time to avoid oversalting. (The stock will cook down a little, which will concentrate the salt if you add it too early.)
  • Above all: Have fun, be inspired, see what you find at the farmers market, and taste, taste, taste. 
Now, even though the ingredients for this particular soup may not be easy to come by, here's the recipe anyway because you can use it as a starting point and replace or drop ingredients as you like. If you don't have fresh Dragon Tongue beans, which you probably don't (beautiful things, I wish I had thought to photograph them), you can replace them with cooked pinto beans. (If you use cooked pinto beans, drop the overall cook time by 20 minutes.) If you don't eat bacon or meat, you can use olive oil to soften the onions and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Try different kinds of greens. And if you don't have butternut squash puree just hanging around the refrigerator (which I did), you can either eliminate it or use some plain pumpkin puree from a can (just go for the good quality stuff though).


  • 6 slices bacon, chopped finely
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cups fresh (shelled) Dragon Tongue beans
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 small potatoes (yellow or white), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 apple, cored, peeled, and diced
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree
  • 2-3 cups chopped kale
  • salt (to taste)
  • white pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tsp thyme


  1. Cook the bacon in a large soup pot over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot and let it drain on paper towels.
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Let them cook slowly until they are soft and shiny. Give the onions a good 10 minutes to mellow. 
  3. Add the beans, the stock, and the thyme to the pot. Bring the stock to a boil, and then lower the temperature to a simmer. Let the beans and stock simmer for 20 minutes (if you are using cooked beans, skip to the next step).  
  4. Add the potatoes and the apples to the stock. Let them cook for 10 minutes. 
  5. Add the sweet potatoes to the stock (sweet potatoes cook faster than regular potatoes). Let them cook for another 10-15 minutes (check that they are soft). 
  6. Add the chopped kale and the bacon. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper to taste.          

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Butternut squash and tomato soup: Celebrating all things orange for #SundaySupper

I've left the windows open for a few weeks now. I wanted to be done with the air conditioning (although a few days of lingering heat did cause me to doubt my decision). But tonight chill air creeps in through the window, curls up around the house, and goes to sleep like the fog in T.S. Eliot's poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock." The mornings and evenings are getting darker, and a quiet, interior life is starting to settle in, a life of reading, dreaming, knitting, sewing, and, of course, cooking.

Fall is my favorite time of year, for many reasons. The trees dress in their brightest finery, their last party of the season, the world dances with liquid light and reflected color, and streams and rivers run dark with leaf tea. And when the rains come, the chilly air carries the smells of fire and dry leaves, and the urge to bake with rich spices or slowly braise a stew takes hold. And of course, this is the season for soups: warm, satisfying soups that take advantage of a harvest of winter squashes, root vegetables, and the last of the summer vegetables.

This butternut squash and tomato soup is one of my favorite fall soups, which I've adapted slightly from Crescent Dragonwagon's Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook, the first cookbook I ever fell completely heads over heels in love with. Warm and filling, the soup is sweetened with some maple syrup. Serve it with a piece of crusty bread for dipping and perhaps with a glass of cider for a simple fall meal. Or it could be a perfect starter later in the season for Thanksgiving.


  • 2 large butternut squashes (alternatively, you can use 4 cups of canned pumpkin instead, just make sure it's good quality)
  • 3-4 Tbsps olive oil or butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock (or for a vegetarian soup, use a well-flavored vegetable stock)
  • 1 28-oz can of whole or diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 Tbsps maple syrup plus extra for drizzling
  • salt and pepper


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash the butternut squashes and split them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard (or you can clean them off and roast them like you'd roast pumpkin seeds). 
  3. Drizzle the cut sides with a little maple syrup and place the halves cut side down on the parchment paper.
  4. Bake the halves in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour. Poke them with a fork to make sure they are soft and cooked through. 
  5. Let them cool enough to handle and to reabsorb some of the liquid that will leak out.
  6. Scoop out the flesh and mash it with a big spoon. (Note: If you double the number of butternut squashes, you can make a lot of extra puree to freeze for other uses. You can use butternut squash puree as a replacement in just about any recipe that calls for pumpkin.) 
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until they are soft and shiny, about 10 minutes. Try to avoid browning the onions. (Take your time with this step.)
  2. Add the stock to the onions, bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes. 
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juices, 4 cups of butternut squash puree, and 2 tablespoons maple syrup to the stock. Let the mix heat up again. Then use a hand blender to puree the whole mixture until it's very smooth. (Alternatively, you can use a blender, but you will have to do that in batches.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle a little more maple syrup on top to serve.  

This is just one of many recipes celebrating fall and one of the most prominent colors of fall, orange (also my favorite color), in this week's All Things Orange Sunday Supper event. Here are all the wonderful recipes and don't forget to join in the Twitter chat using the hashtag #SundaySupper at 7 p.m. Eastern (U.S.) time.

Sunrise (Breakfast and Brunch)

High Noon (Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches)

Sunset (Dinner and Main Dishes)

By the Bonfire (Sweets, Snacks, and Sips)