Pictured above: a Thanksgiving meal including the (top right) Roasted Butternut Squash soup and (top middle) Wild Rice and Chestnut stuffing. See recipes below.
I’m a sucker for the fall season. All it takes is one unusual Houston cold-front in early October and I’m smitten. I pull out my boots from the back of the closet, start making hot-teas throughout the day, open all the windows in our house and at the office, and then start scouring my cookbooks for recipes that offer a soup or squash in their content! My next endeavor this fall is to use this website http://www.pickyourown.org/TXhouston.htm to find some local farms within a day-trip driving distance to go and pick my own produce which may just inspire some new recipes. Beyond new recipes, cool weather, and looking forward to some time reading a good book… something else happens about this time of year…
Just this week, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding fall weather and how it seems to elicit thoughts, memories, and cravings for delicious holiday foods and treats. When I hear people talk about this, it seems like there’s a sense of dread. Almost a statement of, “Here it comes: the ruin of any goals I had for healthy eating because _______ just tastes so good!” This makes me wonder how we have come so far in thinking that fall, winter, and holiday eating MUST be unhealthy to be enjoyable. Folks think that you have to stick to some fad diet for the entire holiday season to prevent weight gain. Wrong! The key is to focus on maintaining flavor in your food while eliminating the traditionally processed ingredients commonly found in our favorite recipes for stuffings, appetizers, desserts, soups, and stews this time of year. Don’t believe me? Try a few of the following recipes and see if their flavors are as enticing as some of those fad-diets can be.
SMOKY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
My brother-in-law made this for our Thanksgiving meal appetizer last year and it is now a family favorite. We also made this for a cooking demonstration at Heritage last holiday season and the class participants were surprised at the complex flavors of the simple ingredients.
Ingredients for 4 large (1 cup) or 8 small (1/2 cup) servings:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
One 3-pound butternut squash, peeled and diced (8 cups)
1 small canned chipotle in adobo, chopped
7 cups chicken or turkey stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup crème fraîche (or 0% plain/unflavored Greek yogurt for a lower fat version)
1/4 cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish
In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the squash and chipotle and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and honey and bring to a boil. Simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
Puree the soup until smooth; season with salt.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir the crème fraîche or Greek yogurt with the 1/4 cup of chives. Microwave until just melted, 30 seconds. Serve the soup with a swirl of chive cream/yogurt and a sprinkling of chives.
SEASONED KALE CHIPS
I’m shocked at how much it costs to purchase pre-packaged kale chips at the store when they are SO easy and inexpensive to make yourself. We usually make a batch of these before dinner parties for people to snack on while the main course is being prepared. Men and women alike say they are shocked at how kale can taste so good.
- 1 bunch organic kale, any variety
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
Yield 8 cups
Remove the center ribs and stems from 1 bunch kale. Tear the leaves into 3-to-4-inch pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread on 2 baking sheets coated with olive or canola oil cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F until browned around the edges and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes.
WILD RICE AND CHESTNUT STUFFING
Here is a beautiful holiday stove-top stuffing dotted with ruby-red cranberries (or cherries, depending on your preference). Good-quality wild rice triples in volume as it absorbs a rich wild mushroom broth, offering an elegant contrast to the puffy nuggets of chestnut.
To reduce prep time, you can use bottled or vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, but truth be told, they don’t taste as good as freshly roasted.
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 ounce (about 1 cup loosely packed) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
30 fresh chestnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 ½ cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts)
1 cup finely diced celery
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish (or use ½ to ¾ teaspoon dried rubbed sage)
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup unsweetened dried cranberries or unsweetened dried cherries
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Soak the mushrooms in 3 ½ cups of hot water until they are soft, 15 minutes or longer. Strain and reserve the mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop any large pieces of mushrooms. Set aside.
In a heavy 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, bring the mushroom liquid and wild rice to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until some of the grains have “butterflied” open and curled up, and the rice tastes tender, 45 to 65 minutes (depending upon storage conditions and age).
If you’re not using canned or bottled roasted chestnuts, while the rice is cooking, roast the chestnuts: Set a rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
With the tip of a paring knife, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Set, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the chestnuts until the X puffs open, 20 to 25 minutes. Wrap the chestnuts in a kitchen towel for a few minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the shells and use the towel to rub off the thin brown skins. Discard any chestnuts that are moldy.
Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the leeks, celery, and dried sage (if using) and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry, balsamic vinegar, and cranberries, and cook uncovered for a few minutes. Stir in the chestnuts and soak mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the rice is done.
Stir the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid) and fresh sage (if using) to taste into the leek mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the celery and leeks are tender and the flavors have mingled, about 5 minutes. Add a little water during this time if the mixture becomes dry. Garnish with additional sage, if using fresh.