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I believe this makes my third butternut squash soup recipe…but they are so easy, cheap and healthy that it’s worth it to keep collecting them! I found this one via Pinterest, which does not always work out, but I think it’s a keeper. Mainly because it’s so incredibly EASY. Most soup bases have a little more chopping and stirring but other than roasting the butternut squash (about five minutes of actual prep) and sauteeing some onions, all you do is dump stuff in. I love the coconut milk in it, which adds a different flavor and makes it slightly sweet – my todder GOBBLED it up! Three cheers for an easy, kid-friendly, highly-flavored weeknight soup.

Note: I used two small sized whole butternuts squashes, halved and roasted, chicken stock instead of vegetable stock because I had it on hand, and only one can of the coconut milk. I also did not add the extra coconut flakes to the soup.

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Pantry meals

Pantry meals

Here’s a great list from Bon Appetit of meals that you can make from leftovers in the frig or pantry. I use all these techniques myself; I like to use up random (sometimes expensive) leftover ingredients from another meal in frittatas, pizzas, and soups. These are really practical suggestions for how to create a meal when you have an ’empty’ cupboard!

My sister called recently looking for ideas on dessert to take to a dinner party the next day. For the life of me I couldn’t think of more than one on the spot, but a few more have come to me since then, so I thought I’d catalog them for myself, and anyone else who’s interested.

The best things about all these desserts is that they have a fancy, WOW factor yet are extremely easy to prepare. So they’re perfect for dinner parties when you don’t want to add a lot more cooking to your agenda, or for a last minute dish.

1. Choco Hoto Pots – Basically your classic molten chocolate cake, in a ramekin. You can buy very cheap ramekins at World Market so don’t let that stop you. The ingredients are probably already in your pantry (if you keep chocolate chips on hand, which you should).  You can use regular sugar and skip the white chocolate chips. Mix these up by hand (no getting lots of dishes dirty) and then pour into the ramekins and stick in the fridge til you’re ready to bake them. I like to put them in the oven just when everyone has finished dinner, that way there is plenty of time to digest and be ready to eat again by the time they’ve cooked and cooled a bit. Be sure to err on the side of under-baking than over-baking…they need to be gooey in the middle! Spectacular with fresh whipped cream on the top or side if you have extra time.

2. Chocolate Roll – this is a recipe my Mom makes and we’ve all loved it since we were kids. You buy these Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers in a yellow box, often stocked near the ice cream toppings for some reason, in my grocery store. Whip up some fresh whipped cream and then just layer them on top of each other with the cream between, then ‘frost’ the whole roll with whipped cream after laying it on the platter. Super easy. After it chills in the fridge for several hours, the wafer cookies soften and taste like little cake layers. Be sure to cut on a diagonal to get a pretty looking slice.

3. Gingerbread – This is best for fall and winter, and it’s full of all the best spices of those seasons. The cake is a very basic batter to whip up and it’s quite moist so it doesn’t need a frosting. I love it with fresh whipped cream on top. There is also a nice lemon sauce that you can pour over. Easy to make in advance. Very classic recipe.

4. Pumpkin Streusel Squares – This recipe feels like cheating when I make it (using a couple other prepared products makes me feel like it’s not really baking) but it tastes delicious, makes the house smell great, and people go crazy for it. To fancy it up for company, I’d serve it with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

5. Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries – This is a wonderful, cool, flavorful summer dessert. Panna cotta sounds fancy but you’re essentially just mixing a few dairy products together with flavorings and gelatin. Balsamic strawberries are genius – macerated strawberries all grown up with the balsamic vinegar and pepper which somehow, I swear to you, totally work. You can make the panna cotta the day in advance and strawberries a couple hours ahead.

Hopefully these are helpful ideas the next time any of us are in a pinch for something easy and special at the last minute!

Ode to Soup

I found this quote in one of my cookbooks and felt that it sums up exactly my love of cooking soup! I find it a comforting thing both to make and to eat. I could eat soup every night once the weather turns chilly. Probably my friends and family complain that I do…

“Beautiful soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such dainties would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”

– Lewis Carroll

Pumpkin Bread

There are so many extravagant pumpkin recipes floating around Pinterest and other places these days…but not much can beat plain old pumpkin bread for me. I never had a great recipe until someone recommended Sara Foster’s Spiced Pumpkin Bread. She is sort of like a Southern Ina Garten and one of my very favorite resources for baked goods. I tried this recipe once and was sold. It’s perfect. I have no suggestions on how to improve it. She even writes the recipe for two loaves, which I love; I always double quick bread recipes because it’s no extra work or time at all and you get an extra loaf to give away or stash in the freezer. This wonderful, moist bread is a consistent breakfast treat for us all fall and winter long. I’m adding it to my Thanksgiving cooking list to have on hand for easy, no-cook breakfasts. Enjoy!

Tomato Tatin

It wasn’t pretty (I didn’t have the correct size and shape of pan or the correct puff pastry) but it was GOOD…this recipe for Tomato Tatin is a keeper! A tatin is typically a French cake which is made by baking fruit in a caramel sauce with a batter poured over. After it’s baked, you invert the pan onto a plate and the fruit is gooey and golden with cake underneath. The same concept is applied to tomatoes – layered with chopped olives and caramelized onions (I’ll reserve a 1/2 cup next time for another recipe, as there were more than necessary, and I like to use them in salads or on pizzas) and then topped with a pre-made puff pastry. The flavors were awesome, so summery and Provencal. We enjoyed this with my parents as a lovely summer meal with roasted potatoes, cut fruit and an orzo salad. Exactly how we like to eat in warm weather! I will make this again soon and hope it turns out prettier, though I’m confident it will be yummy.

This was a fortuitous Pinterest find. We scooped up a bunch of sweet and spicy peppers at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, because Michael loves when I saute those bad boys up with sausages on the side. We also got a box of lovely, creamy fingerling potatoes just because. I’d been planning to make the sausage and peppers meal when I saw this recipe for Summer Vegetables with Sausage and Potatoes. For once it is nice to have a recipe to go with the meal in my head, so I figured I would try it. It was a major hit!

What I liked most about this recipe was that the potatoes are perfectly cooked. My grandmother makes these oven-browned potatoes that are so super yummy and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside and I’ve never been able to replicate them. But this was similar, and quite easy, and all on the stovetop as opposed to heating up the whole oven. The technique rendered perfectly crispy and very flavorful potatoes.

Though the potatoes cook for a while, you can finish all the other prep work while they are cooking and then it is quick work to finish the dish. This was hearty and flavorful and fairly healthy – we use chicken or turkey sausage in our recipes to cut down on fat. I really liked the hot Italian turkey sausage we used last night, but we do like a little bit of heat. And conveniently, this is a nice one-dish meal with all your meat, veg and starch together, no need for any sides!