a beacon in the night chowda’

This is recipe makes me think about a cold rainy Summer day in Cape Cod. Let me set the scene; It was the 80’s and my family had decided to go to the Cape for our annual vacation. I had a ‘totally mint’ new pair of flashy red sunglasses, Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” was playing nonstop on the radio that Summer (and I sorta new all the words) and my favorite partner in crime would be joining us on the trip. Good times were clearly on the horizon! And then the bottom fell out…

First I discovered that we’d be camping on the Cape— I hate camping. Secondly my cousin who had planned to come along got sick and bailed, so it was just pre-teen me and my parents. Ugh. And then it rained.

Rain is never fun on vacation. Rain when you’re camping on the Cape is even less fun, take my word for it. Rest assured we made the best of it and continued to sightsee and explore just as we would if the sun had been shining. (“What can I tell you? Let’s just make the best of it.” was such a frequently used phrase in our house I should have had it printed on a t-shirt.) However those damp Summer days actually did hold two bright spots for me; The first was finding an old-fashioned penny candy store where a couple of dollars could still buy you a boat load of sugary goodness and the other was a truly no-nonsense lunch we stumbled into one afternoon.

We had clearly spent the morning out in the elements ‘making the best of the situation’ because I remember being cold, wet and unhappy in a sulky pre-teen kinda way. We then piled back into the truck, destination unknown, when my father abruptly decided to steer the car down to the end of one of the docks, just to see what’s there. That’s when we found a tiny dockside shack that made and sold steamy cups of soup. New England, Manhattan and whatever the fisherman had caught that day Fish Chowda’. The rain drizzled down and seagulls swooped from piling to piling while we ordered and quickly took it back to the truck to stay dry. And then suddenly the clouds lifted, the sun shone through and like a beacon in the night or manna from heaven the soup instantly warmed us and lifted our spirits! (Okay so it wasn’t actually that dramatic. It in fact continued to rain and I was sandwiched between my parents eating soup out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. But… the soup was seriously delicious and it did warm my chilled body and make the remainder of my soggy day more tolerable. And frankly, that says something.)

So the moral of this story could be something like: It never hurts to try and make the best of a situation; don’t be afraid to suddenly take a new road or it is possible to find simple, delicious, perfection in a little styrofoam cup!

Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash
This reminds me of summer at the Cape and works perfectly well with either haddock or cod.

cod chowder

5 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced small
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cream sherry
3 cups fish or chicken stock
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 lbs. skinless haddock or cod fillets
1/2 cup heavy cream
cayenne pepper, for garnish

  1. Dice the bacon, add to a large stock pot and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced onion, celery and thyme to the bacon fat and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add the flour to the pot and allow to cook until golden brown. Then add the sherry to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any stuck on bit from the bottom.
  3. Stir in the stock, clam juice and butternut squash and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the squash is just tender 10-12 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish fillets into large bite sized pieces. Stir in the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. When the squash is tender add the fish to the pot, cover and simmer until it flakes apart easily, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the cream and allow to cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Serve with a hearty sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

*inspired by epicurious

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not so ordinary butternut squash soup

It’s hard to believe it’s already mid-November, which means Thanksgiving is basically right around corner (I know, just typing that gives me palpitations.) Naturally I’ve been thinking about my dinner menu for a while now, in fact being the list-maker that I am I already have the menu (the current version of it anyway) taped to a cabinet for me to consider and reconsider as the big day approaches.

I try to serve a mix of “never had for Thanksgiving before” appetizers and side dishes along with everyone’s “must-have to qualify as Thanksgiving” favorites. In past years we’ve started off the day with things like baked brie with honey and almonds, homemade smoked salmon and mini bean piroshki— all delicious but not necessarily good enough to become tradition. In our house tradition dictates that we always start the meal with butternut squash soup, locally cured kielbasa, an array of cheeses and of course shrimp cocktail. Followed a bit later by deep-fried turkey, mashed potato casserole, either collard greens or brussels sprouts, cornbread stuffing and finally pecan pie. I know, I need to loosen my pants just thinking about it, but oh man is it good! To my mind Thanksgiving is not about skimpy, restrained or I’ll just have a taste— No Thanksgiving, more than any other day of the year, is all about prolonged indulgence and second-helpings.

I mentioned that I make butternut squash soup every Thanksgiving and while I realize you can’t swing a horn o’ plenty without hitting a squash soup recipe this time of year, my Coconut-Curried Butternut Squash Soup is not just any other recipe. It’s incredibly flavorful, tastes holiday-appropriately indulgent and is the perfect toasty warm start a chilly Fall day. Oh and did I mention that it’s also healthy and low-fat. I know, delicious, satisfying and low-fat… clearly a Thanksgivukkah miracle!

Anyway I encourage you to give this soup a try then sit back, relax, enjoy the day and offer up a few words of thanks for elastic waist pants.

Coconut-Curried Butternut Squash Soup
You can garnish the soup with a bit of toasted coconut or roasted pumpkin seeds if you like, but it’s just as delicious plain.

butternut squash soup2

1 large butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. coconut oil (or olive oil)
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp. Thai Red Curry paste
2 tsp. Madras curry powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz can unsweetened light coconut milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Brush the cut sides of the squash with oil and place cut side up in a roasting pan. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, cover with aluminum foil and roast for 30-40 minutes or until a fork easily pierces it. When the squash is done and has cooled enough to handle, use a spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh and set aside.
  2. Heat the coconut oil and butter over medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the curry paste, curry powder and salt and cook for a few more minutes.
  3. Stir in the chicken broth, coconut milk* and squash. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring and breaking up any large chunks of squash.
  4. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender and serve.

*To make this soup ahead follow the directions but omit the coconut milk. On the day you’re going to serve the soup add the coconut milk and bring the soup back to a simmer. Serve and enjoy.