Dinner · Soup

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup (4 of 4)

Apparently, roasting vegetables is a relatively new trend. A recent article traced the history of vegetable preparation, finding that home cooks of decades past often preferred steaming, sauteing, and even boiling when it came to cooking vegetables of any variety. Roasted vegetables were rarely found outside the restaurant kitchen, and it was only in the 90’s and early 2000’s that the cooking method assumed popularity.

As someone with only a few year’s experience in the kitchen, this came as a huge shock to me. How could decades of eaters missed out on the sweet, caramelized flavor of roasted Brussels sprouts, or the crispy, tender texture of roasted squash? How could cooks have ignored the simplicity of tossing vegetables in oil, turning on the oven, and waiting for the vegetables to come out perfectly done?

Butternut Squash Soup (1 of 4)

To show the full potential of the roasted vegetable, I’ve chosen this soup recipe. Butternut squash soup is typically made over the stove top, where the squash becomes tender by simmering in stock. This recipe veers from the traditional, roasting the squash instead. This cuts down the time spent over the soup pot by 75%. The entire soup comes together during the last five minutes, when the vegetables and warmed stock are added to a blender to combine.

Butternut Squash Soup (2 of 4)

The result? a soup that captures the unique, deep flavor of roasted vegetables. It’s perfect for a cold, January night, and begs for a slice of crusty, toasted bread.

Butternut Squash Soup (3 of 4)

Curried Butternut Squash Soup Recipe (adapted from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large  apple, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon curry powder (depending on taste)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped scallions, green parts only (for garnish)
  • toasted coconut (for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. Roast vegetables at 425 for 30-40 minutes, until tender.
  2. Heat stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add roasted vegetables and 1/2 cup of chicken stock to a blender or food processor. Pulse until the mixture is pureed and has a smooth texture.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a large soup pot and add chicken stock until the soup reaches your desired consistency. Add curry powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve, topped with scallions and toasted coconut.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

I’ll admit, the first time I read this recipe I was doubtful. In my Own “Flavor Bible” that I’ve developed over the years, I never imagined that Brussels sprouts would pair well with tofu. Roasted with olive oil and bacon? Definitely. Pan fried with Parmesan cheese? Delicious. But stir fried with soy and Asian flavors? That seemed unlikely.

Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

Enter the shredded Brussels sprout. These sprouts are sliced thinly and stir fried, replacing the typical halved-and-roasted sprout that makes a seasonal appearance on household menus everywhere. Furthermore, these sprouts retain their crunch throughout the cooking process, behaving like green or red cabbage when put over high heat.

To shred the sprouts by hand, cut the bottom off the sprouts and slice them in half lengthwise. With the cut side down, chop the halves into thin strips. Most sprouts, especially the leafier ones, will shred easily. To cook, stir fry the sprouts in hot oil for 3-5 minutes, until leaves appear charred and tender.

Toss the Brussels sprouts with some garlic, soy sauce, and caramelized tofu for a quick dinner that’s both sweet and salty – a combination that’s bound to satisfy everyone at the table.

Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts (Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces firm tofu, cut into cubes
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • 1.5-2 tbsp tablespoons light brown sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • Neutral oil, like canola oil or safflower oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu cubes and stir fry until golden, 2-3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the garlic and nuts and stir fry for another minute or so. Reduce the heat slightly and gently add in the brown sugar, stirring quickly for 30 seconds to ensure that the sugar doesn’t burn. Remove tofu mixture from the pan to rest.
  3. Add shredded Brussels sprouts to the pan. Salt lightly and cook until slightly softened and charred, about 3 minutes. Stir in the green onions and soy sauce and stir fry for another 30 seconds. Add tofu mixture back to the pan to combine flavors. Let cool slightly and serve over brown rice.

Serves 2.

Dinner · Vegetarian

Ratatouille Spaghetti

Even though the temperatures this week undoubtedly hint at fall, the vegetables at the farmers market still speak of summer. Nothing makes me happier than the colors and flavors of tomatoes, summer squash, corn, and eggplant, and I’m happy to extend their season way into September.

This brings me to one of my favorite recipes, ratatouille.  This success of this dish is rooted in its components – bring together all your freshest summer vegetables, throw them in a pot, and you’re sure to get a winning result.

What’s more, the cooking directions are entirely informed by sturdiness of the vegetable. Curious where to start? Eggplant is notorious for its long cooking times, so why not saute it in a batch by itself. Ready to move on? Add in your peppers and onions, which typically take about 5-7 minutes to begin breaking down. Follow up with your summer squash and zucchini, since both vegetables have relatively similar textures and will cook at about the same speed. Top the dish off with your tomatoes and continue cooking until the flavors and fresh and sweet – you’ll know it’s ready when you taste it!

A few tips: chop your vegetables so that they are fairly comparable in size. This will help to control cooking times, ensuring that each vegetable is cooked through (but not overcooked!). In addition, don’t forget your seasonings. Salt and pepper go a long way with fresh summer vegetables, and the basil adds a special last touch.

Ratatouille Spaghetti (adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe at Food 52)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup corn kernels (from one ear of corn)
  • handful of basil, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • olive oil
  • cooked spaghetti, for serving

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a sturdy skillet. Once hot, add eggplant slices and saute until lightly browned and softened, about 7-10 minutes. Remove eggplant and set it aside.
  2. Heat another tbsp olive oil and add in the onions. Stir for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add in the garlic, 1/2 the basil, and red chili flakes and stir for 30 more seconds.
  3. Add in the diced red pepper and stir for a few more minutes. Once slightly softened, add in the zucchini and summer squash. After 2 to 3 minutes more, add in the tomatoes. Salt and pepper as needed and cook for 10 minutes over low to medium heat (tomatoes should not come to a boil).
  4. Add corn and eggplant to the skillet and cook for 10 more minutes, or until all vegetables are softened and flavorful. Top with remaining basil and serve over spaghetti or pasta.

Serves 2-3

Dinner

Mama’s Gumbo

Today, my friend Ben is guest blogging with recipe for chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. I’m so excited to have my first guest contributor on Sweetly Seasoned, and my thanks goes out to Ben for sharing such a delicious looking dish!

gumbo dish

Gumbo is the backbone of Cajun cuisine and the life’s blood of culture in Louisiana. It is often used as a metaphor to describe the mixture of all the different cultures in southern Louisiana, including French, Spanish, Native tribes and enslaved Africans.  There are many different gumbo variations and traditions based on locality, family history and personal taste.  Gumbo recipes are often passed down through families and adapt and change to the next generation.

There is a running joke in my family that we could draw a family tree based on how my granny’s recipe has been interpreted by the aunts, uncles, and many cousins.  My granny raised six children to adulthood, all of whom changed different aspects of the gumbo recipe.  Each of those six children raised children of their own and taught them their method of cooking gumbo.  As this tradition was passed down to my generation, my cousins and I adapted the recipe as we saw fit.

family photo

The roux is the most important aspect of any gumbo because it determines the character, texture and flavor profile.  The darker the roux, the deeper and more complex the resulting flavor will be.  Making a roux is like playing a game of chicken with yourself to see how dark you can get it without burning the edges.  Most people make roux on the stove top, but my mother taught me to bake it in the microwave while stirring at intervals to have more control over the process.  I often start it in the microwave and finish it on the stove.

roux and gumbo ingredients

Onions, celery and bell peppers are known as the “trinity” of Cajun cuisine.  When garlic is added to the equation it is known as the “holy trinity.”  Okra and file (ground sassafras root) are used primarily as thickening agents, although they definitely contribute flavor.

More than an important cultural food, gumbo is intrinsically linked with family history and personal narratives.  When I cook gumbo, not only am I honoring my grandmother, my mother and all my aunts and uncles, but also my future children and the children they will one day have.  It’s what ties my family together; past, present and future.

Mama’s Gumbo Recipe

This recipe will make enough for about 8-10 people (on the conservative side). Adjust amounts accordingly.

Instructions are for a chicken-sausage gumbo. Substitutions for a seafood gumbo are below.

Roux:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all purpose flour

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, mixed in a bowl with Tony’s Seasoning
  • 2 lbs. andouille sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices (Amy’s Chicken Andouille Sausage is great for this)
  • 2 medium onions,  chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 6-8 okra pods
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
  • Gumbo file- a couple of tablespoons added to the pot some time before serving or can be sprinkled into individual bowls. It is a flavoring agent as well as thickening agent.

Instructions:

  1. To make the Roux (microwave oven is the easiest): Combine oil and flour in a Pyrex bowl (do not cover). Stir the oil and flour together until smooth. Place in the microwave for 6 min. Take out VERY CAREFULLY (IT WILL BE EXTREMELY HOT, USE GLOVED POT HOLDERS). Stir until smooth and color is consistent throughout. Place back into the microwave for 1 min. increments doing the same stirring each time until the color of the roux is a dark chocolate brown. You may want to taper to 30 sec. increments as the roux darkens so as not to burn it. (On the stove top: heat a pot over medium heat and cook roux  STIRRING CONSTANTLY until it is the right color).
  2. Transfer the Roux from the Pyrex bowl into a very large heavy pot on the stove. Add onions and garlic and cook for about 5 min. to soften. Add bell pepper, okra and celery to the pot. Cook until soft and almost all of the water from the veggies is cooked off.
  3. Add chicken breast and brown the outsides slightly. Pour in chicken stock slowly, 2 cups at a time, stirring to integrate into the roux. You may add up to 4 cups of water, or more, depending on the thickness of the gumbo you desire. Add the sausage and bay leaves. Sprinkle more Tony’s  to cover the surface of the gumbo.
  4. From this point, you will have to taste the gumbo as it cooks to determine if you want more Tony’s or just salt. Cook for a couple of hours to integrate the flavors, stirring occasionally.

If making seafood gumbo, follow the same directions and add whatever seafood you like after the water.

  • Crab: 1-2 lbs. of lump and claw meat or as much as you can afford
  • Oysters-shrimp (peeled and de-veined): about 3 pounds or as much as you can afford. Add the shrimp about 30 min. before serving so as not to over-cook.

Serve in individual bowls with about an ice cream scoop of long grained white rice.

EAT WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND ENJOY!!

Dinner · Vegetarian

Root Vegetable Couscous

While this dish might be rather dull in color, it’s shining with flavor. With a long list of spices (star anise, cinnamon sticks, ginger, turmeric, and paprika), every bite tastes sweet, spicy, and delicious.

Winter Couscous

The toughest part of this recipe is the preparation. While root vegetables might be plentiful at this time of year, their texture makes them a struggle to peel and chop. Once this step is done, however, the recipe is largely hands off and requires little attention.

If you’re looking for a new way to use up that squash, or want a warm dish to offset the cold of winter, this one won’t let you down.

Winter Couscous 2

Winter Couscous Recipe (adapted from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi)

Ingredients:

  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 3/4 in. cubes
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 in. cubes
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp chile flakes
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 in. cubes
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • harissa, to serve
  • parsley, to serve

Instructions:

  1.  Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together parsnips, carrots, onions, cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, ginger, turmeric, paprika, chile flakes, olive oil, and 3/4 tsp salt. Place in a large baking dish and roast for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the dish from the oven and add butternut squash. Cook for another 35 minutes.
  3. Boil vegetable stock in a small pot.  Once ready, add couscous and remove from heat.  Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, add in 1 tbsp of butter and fluff with a fork.
  4. Remove vegetables from the oven and add 1 1/2 cups water and dried apricots.  Continue roasting for 10 minutes more.
  5. Serve vegetables on top of couscous with harissa and parsley on top.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Dinner · Pasta

Sausage and Winter Vegetable Pasta

People often ask me how I have time to cook during the week. The days are so busy, they tell me, that the last thing they want to do is spend their evening hovered over a recipe in the kitchen.

My answer to their question is simple: Have a set of go-to dishes that you can make in 30 minutes (or less) without a recipe. These dishes don’t have to be radically different from one another, or use fancy ingredients that you probably don’t have stocked in the pantry. Instead, these dishes can be variations on a theme, each with a slightly different flavor profile and set of ingredients. The key is to have a flexible base recipe, one that allows you to recreate the dish 2-3 times a week without it feeling repetitive.

roasted tomatoes

pasta greens edited

This dish meets all of those requirements. The concept is very simple, combining pasta, vegetables, and protein. The recipe itself is infinitely adaptable, making it a great dinner option for every season.

During the winter, I try to stick with vegetables that are easily available. This recipe features cherry tomatoes and kale, although root vegetables also work well. My preferred protein is sausage, which adds a hint of spice without a huge investment of time. Just remember to cook the sausage before the vegetables, since the cooking oil from the sausage adds great flavor to the sautéed kale.

pasta in pot edited

During the week, I rarely dig up that complex recipe from Bon Appetit that I’ve been waiting to try. Instead, I save that recipe for the weekend, whipping up something similar to the recipe below.

Sausage and Winter Vegetable Pasta Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 spicy Italian-style sausage (I’ve used both turkey and chicken sausages here)
  • 8-10 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 tbsp Romano or Parmesan, or a mixture of the two cheeses
  • red pepper flakes
  • dried thyme
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and follow directions on package for correct cooking time. Before draining, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water for later.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, coat with olive oil, and spread on a foil-lined baking pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until tomatoes are wrinkled and slightly brown on the bottom.
  3. Remove sausage from casing and break into small pieces. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add sausage and stir occasionally, until the sausage is browned and fully cooked.
  4. Remove sausage but leave as much oil in the skillet as possible. Add onion to the same skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, kale, red pepper flake, and thyme and sauté for another 4-6 minutes, until kale has broken down slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add sausage and tomatoes to the kale filled skillet. Toss in the pasta and stir, adding pasta water as necessary for additional moisture. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Dinner · Vegetarian

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew

Lately, temperatures in the teens and single digits have encouraged me to spend more time in the kitchen. With plenty of ingredients on hand and time to spare, I’ve had the chance to try a handful of recipes that take longer than I’m usually willing to spend over the stove.

This winter stew is one of my latest creations. It’s a combination of some of my favorite winter vegetables, including kale, squash, root vegetables, and beans. The end result is both colorful and hearty; the perfect thing to eat when the temperature drops below freezing.

squash stew

The key here is to roast the squash and carrots in the oven before adding them to the stew with the rest of the ingredients. The roasting process allows the vegetables to caramelize while cooking, bringing out their natural sweetness. I also went for a broth that was tomato-based rather than broth-based, making the stew thicker and more flavorful than similar recipes.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Stew Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 small butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups whole tomatoes, with juice (from a 28 oz. can)
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale (about 8 leaves)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • salt, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 32 oz. vegetable broth

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash and carrots lightly in olive oil and spread on a sheet pan lined with foil. Roast 25-30 minutes, or until squash is tender when poked with a fork.
  2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
  3. Chop whole tomatoes and add them to the saucepan. Add thyme and basil and let simmer.
  4. after 5-10 minutes, remove half of the tomato liquid. Place it in a blender and puree for 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomato mixture back to the saucepan. Pour in vegetable broth and bring back to a simmer. Add in kale and cook for 30 minutes at a gentle simmer.
  6. Add white beans, squash, and carrots. Cook until heated through and serve.
  7. Makes 6-8 servings.