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This right here is a big bowl of hearty, spicy autumnal goodness. I’ve never had a chili like this before. I’m a big fan of the beef and beans kind of chili, topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream, and I love a good plate of Cincinnati chili with its chocolatey notes, served on top of spaghetti.

This one is different. This one is autumn in chili form. This is chili with butternut squash and apples and it’s thick and chunky and beany and unexpected and extremely satisfying. I’ll definitely be adding this recipe to my repertoire – it’s a keeper.

Note – use a big pot for this. Admittedly, I used a huge butternut squash (I’m crazy for butternut squash) and my 7 quart Martha Stewart Dutch oven was barely big enough for it, but I think my 5 quart Dutch oven wouldn’t have worked well here.

Autumn Harvest Chili

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, October 2011

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 1/2 lb cooked chicken-apple sausage links, cut in 1 inch pieces

2 large red onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4 inch chunks (about 6 cups)

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4 inch chunks

2 cans pinto beans (or kidney beans), drained and rinsed, 1 can slightly smashed

1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

Gala or other apples, cut in rings

  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high. Add sausage; cook 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon.
  2. In the same pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook onions for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more, until onion is nearly tender. Add squash and cook 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cook 1 minute. Return chicken to pot and add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high. Cook apples 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light brown. Transfer apples along with beans to chili. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, until apples are tender. Top with sage and apple slices. Makes 8 servings.
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I think of all the seasons, I get most excited for fall… after weeks of being unable to turn on the oven – even dreading having a single burner on because it will turn the kitchen into a sweltering sauna – suddenly finding myself able to to roast or simmer or braise to my heart’s content comes as a relief. I love cooking with butternut squash and pumpkin again, warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, slow-cooking braises where the meat falls off the bone. There is nothing so satisfying and comforting as tucking into a big bowl of steamy, hearty soup on a chilly fall day.

This soup certainly fits the bill. It’s about as hearty and wholesome as they get – big chunks of colorful, tasty fall veggies, chock full of fiber- and protein-packed lentils, bursts of vitamin-rich spinach, all melding together in a flavorful, soothing broth. It’s perfect for fall. James and I have been enjoying the heck out it – the recipe makes a lot so we’re getting quite a few easy dinners out of the leftovers. After a long  hike yesterday up a mountain in central New Hampshire, it sure was nice to come home and heat up a couple of servings of this deliciousness.

The original recipe calls for just sweet potatoes, but I had half of a butternut squash already peeled in the fridge, leftover from another dish, so I chopped it up and threw that in as well. I think it’s a winning addition – I’m crazy for butternut squash – so I think I’ll add it to this soup from now on. Feel free to leave it out, or even substitute a different kind of winter squash… I’m think I’ll have to try pumpkin one of these days. Swiss chard, tough stems removed, could be substituted for the spinach. The original recipe also calls for vegetable broth, which would make this meal vegetarian, but I prefer the savory goodness of chicken broth.

Lentil Soup with Sweet Potatoes, Squash and Spinach

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Serves: 8 – 10

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 1/2 cups brown lentils

4 (15 ounce) cans chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

3 cups water

2 cans (15 ounce) diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

Coarse salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent and garlic is just barely starting to brown. Add carrot, celery, sweet potatoes, and squash. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables soften, about 6 – 9 minutes.
  2. Stir in the lentils, broth, and water. Add the diced tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Cook on medium-low heat for about 35-40 minutes or until lentils are cooked.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and stir. If necessary, season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves and serve.

I hated French onion soup from high school until only a couple years ago, probably because my only experience with it was the high school cafeteria version of it – overly salty, with a slight tinny tang from the soup cans, and a sad island of soggy bread floating on top. Gross.

So I never tried it again until my husband told me that he loved French onion soup and that he’d like me to make it sometime. I was skeptical, but I turned to the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen because if anyone can do French onion soup well, they can. My America’s Test Kitchen Family Cook Book and Family Baking Book have become my go-to resources for  solving any culinary trickiness. Overwhelmed at the prospect of making chicken cordon bleu? Their recipe is killer. Want a no-fail recipe for amazing buttermilk drop biscuits? Their recipe is perfection. So I whipped up the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for French onion soup and of course, it is awesome.

This is amazing soup. It is savory and bursting with flavor from the sweet red onions that are cooked down to mellow deliciousness, from the fresh thyme, and from the surprise (to me at least) ingredient of balsamic vinegar, which adds a wonderful richness and complexity to the dish. The geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen noted that many French onion soup recipes have a tinny flavor from the beef broth, and their solution works wonderfully: the recipe calls mostly for chicken broth, with just enough beef broth for flavor without giving the soup a strange aftertaste. (I use Swanson Natural Goodness chicken broth, which is lower in salt and has no MSG. For the beef broth, I used Rachel Ray’s brand, because that is the only kind I could find in the store that does not use MSG.) The results are French onion soup perfection – savory and deeply flavorful and satisfying. This is ultimate comfort food.

So if you’ve been haunted by memories of bad, bad French onion soup, don’t let that stop you from making this. French onion soup, it turns out, is actually amazingly delicious – as long as you have the right recipe!

French Onion Soup

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Cook Book

Serves 8

Prep time: 15 minutes Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 medium red onions (about 3 pounds), halved and sliced thin

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Salt

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth

2 bay leaves

Pepper

1 baguette, sliced 1/2 inch thick

8 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded (2 cups)

  1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, dark and sticky, about 30 minutes.
  2. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping all the delicious browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the chicken broth, beef broth, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and discard the bay leaves.
  3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange oven-safe soup bowls on a rimmed baking sheet and ladle the soup into them. Top each bowl with 2 baguette slices and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup of the cheese. Bake until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.

To make ahead: This soup can be prepared through step 2, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month. Reheat over low heat and proceed with step 3. (We ate it over a period of about 5 days and it tasted delicious every time.)

I don’t repeat recipes very often – there are too many new and interesting recipes out there to try! – so the fact that we have had this many times should tell you something. It’s a delicious soup for a cold winter night, hearty and healthy and very satisfying. It’s definitely one of our favorite soups. It’s extremely flavorful and interesting and different from any other chicken noodle soup I’ve ever tasted, unique and impressive enough for company but still simple to prepare.

Swiss chard is so, so good for you and it’s delicious too – it’s a mild leafy green similar in taste and texture to spinach. It’s packed full of iron, vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium and potassium, and fiber. Chickpeas are loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamin B6. This is one healthy soup!! And trust me, you’ll enjoy this soup so much you won’t even notice how good it is for you.

Another reason I love this soup: it’s cheap eats. I always keep canned beans, chicken broth, and egg noodles in our pantry (I’m a big fan of having a well-stocked pantry), and a bunch of Swiss chard will go for about $3, so it’s not an expensive dish to make. You don’t have to pay a lot to eat well. And you don’t have to eat a lot of processed foods to eat cheaply.

I accidentally used beet greens in this soup this last time, and I didn’t even realize it until I went into the fridge for my bunch of beet greens and found a bunch of Swiss chard instead. So feel free to substitute with beet greens or even spinach, if you like. Beet greens will turn your noodles pink after sitting in the fridge overnight, though! My other change to this recipe is that I add about a cup of cooked chicken at the end. I’ll use leftover chicken breast meat, or shredded rotisserie chicken meat, or this last time I roasted two chicken thighs on the bone in the oven with just salt and pepper and cut up the meat. It’s not necessary, but James enjoys the extra meatiness.

You could also easily make this vegetarian by omitting the chicken meat and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Tunisian Soup with Swiss Chard and Egg Noodles

Adapted, just barely, from Batter Splattered

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (I use 1 teaspoon ground cumin)

1 bunch Swiss chard or beet greens, stems and center ribs chopped and leaves coarsely chopped (reserve separately)

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5 cups chicken broth

1 to 2 tablespoons harissa or other hot sauce,to taste (I use 1 tablespoon of Tabasco sauce for a nice kick without being too spicy)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 (19-ounces) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

4 ounce fine egg noodles (about 1 1/2 cups)

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

About 1 cup shredded chicken breast meat, optional

If using seeds rather than powder: toast cumin seeds in a dry small heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat, stirring, until deeply fragrant and dark brown (be careful not to burn). Cool, then grind to a powder in grinder.

Cook chard stems, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, harissa (or Tabasco sauce), and lemon juice and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Add chard leaves, chickpeas, chicken (if using), and noodles with 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer, covered, until tender, about 7 minutes.

Serve soup sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and remaining cumin.

Chili is one of the best meals for the cold dark days in the middle of winter. They’re hearty, spicy, flavorful, and comforting.I used to make chili from those packets of chili mix that you can get at the grocery store, the ones that are full of MSG and preservatives and who knows what kinds of scary chemicals. I used them because I thought they made making chili easy. HINT: making chili is easy anyway. I mean, how much harder is it to measure out a teaspoon of this, a couple tablespoons of that, than ripping open an envelope of mystery powder? There are so many benefits to mixing the spices yourself rather than relying on the packet: you can adjust the flavors to your liking, you avoid consuming nasty chemicals like MSG, the spices in your cabinet are probably fresher and better tasting than a packet that’s been sitting in the grocery store for who knows how long.

Stepping down off my soap box…

This recipe caught my eye because it’s unlike any chili I’d ever had – it includes cocoa powder in the list of spices and it’s served over spaghetti. I guess this is pretty common in Ohio, but for this Jersey girl, it sounded very unusual and intriguing. The cocoa powder adds a subtle dark chocolatey note to the chili that’s really delicious.

This recipe has a long list of spices, so it could be expensive to make this if your spice cabinet is rather small, but I had everything except for the chipotle chili powder so it was a very reasonably-priced meal. Plus none of the spices in this recipe are uncommon, so if you do have to invest in some spice jars to make this, you’ll easily find other recipes to use them in. The long list of spices gives this chili a deliciously complex spicy flavor.

So here’s the cast of characters: a lot of spices, salt, cocoa powder, canned crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, an onion, some garlic, and of course BEEF. This is a very beefy chili, and the beans are served as a garnish.

You start by chopping up an onion.

Then throw your beef into a big pot.

Add your chopped up onion…

And the minced garlic…

And cook it all up until the beef is browned and the onion is soft.

Now, you’re supposed to add the chili powder with the onion and garlic and cook them all up together, but I forgot so I added it at this point and let it cook up a bit before going on to the next step. It was fine, but: don’t be like me! Follow the recipe!

After you drain the fat from the beef, add the tomatoes. I used crushed tomatoes, but you could also used diced.

Here are all the beautiful spices and the cocoa powder all in one little dish. I measured these all out in advance because mise en place makes my life so much easier. Plus I love having all my ingredients all set up, chopped and minced and ready to go in their own little dishes, because other than making the cooking flow much better, they all look so pretty in their raw stage. And I get to pretend I’m on a cooking show.

Stir in the spices,  cocoa powder, salt, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, and let it simmer for an hour covered, and another half hour with the lid off. And that’s all there is to it! Chop up an onion, mince a few garlic cloves, measure out some spices, mix everything together in a pot and then just sit back and let your house fill with yummy smells. Easy peasy.

Mm, that’s some beefy, spicy deliciousness right there.  Now, to be clear, when I say “spicy,” I don’t mean that this dish is anywhere near a 4-alarm type of chili. It has a nice kick to it but the flavor is a complex melding of spices. This isn’t a hot-hot kind of chili.

And here’s your secondary cast of characters; don’t forget about these guys! Cook up the spaghetti. Drain, rinse, and heat up the beans (I nuke mine in the microwave). Grate up the cheddar cheese. And, well, open up the sour cream.

Serve the chili on top of the spaghetti and then add the toppings of your choice – I like to add the beans, then the cheese, and then the sour cream. You can also serve it with chopped onions, but James and I aren’t big fans of raw onion.

This is a delicious dish! And it makes a lot – James and I probably ate it for dinner for four nights. But we never got tired of it because it’s so good.

The recipe comes from Rachel at Coconut & Lime, so please head over to her blog to get all the details and then MAKE THIS CHILI. It’s so good. You’ll be so glad you did.

I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. I have a collection of more recipes than I can ever actually make, probably, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more. So whenever our weekend errands include getting my husband a haircut, I happily wait for him while perusing the salon (“salon” sounds awfully girly and expensive, and this place is neither, but it’s not a barber shop because they cater to men and women, so what else can I call it?)’s magazines. If I find something I like, I’ll copy it down in my iPhone, or if I’m in a hurry I’ll take pictures with my iPhone and hope that the text won’t be too blurry to decipher later. My magazine of choice is Real Simple, which I kind of want to subscribe to, but I’m not really motivated to since I can get it for free at the haircutting place. Ha!

The last time we went, I couldn’t find the latest issue of Real Simple, so I wound up looking at Women’s Health. Not the kind of magazine I’d immediately reach for in a waiting room, but I’m glad I did because I found a bunch of yummy-looking recipes, this one included. I furiously copied it into my iPhone and emailed it to my mom and sister, then a couple of days later I found an excuse to make it.

This is a really good stew, but I think it could use some improvements.  I definitely liked it better the second day, when I served it over couscous (rice would be good too) – without it, the stew didn’t seem substantial enough. My hubby and I agreed that it would be better with some shredded chicken in it, too. And I might bulk it up even more with a second can of chickpeas – if I were to keep this strictly vegetarian and skipped the shredded meat, I’d definitely add another can of chickpeas.

I was surprised, given all the cumin and curry powder, that this stew isn’t at all spicy. It definitely has lots of flavor, but hardly any heat. And that’s perfectly fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but I like my curries to be spicy.  Next time I make this (and there will definitely be a next time), I’ll add 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes in step 2, when you add the curry powder and cumin.

Curried sweet potato and chickpea stew

adapted from Women’s Health, April 2010

1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onion
2 c coarsely chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 qt low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
4 c peeled 1/2 inch pieces of sweet potato or butternut squash
1 (or 2) cans chickpeas, drained
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional)
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
3/8 tsp ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in onion and bell pepper; cook for 8 minutes or until tender.

2. Stir in curry powder, cumin,  crushed red pepper, if using, and 1/4 tsp salt, cook 2 minutes. Add broth and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3. Remove 1 cup of potatoes and mash with a fork. Stir mashed potatoes back into pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes to allow mixture to thicken. Stir in chickpeas, coconut milk, shredded chicken, if using, cilantro and black pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until warm throughout. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and serve, over brown rice or couscous if desired.

Makes four servings.

I love soup, especially brothy soups full of veggies and interesting flavors. Those kinds of soups fill me up without making me feel heavy. It’s comfort food without all the guilt!

I remember the day the issue of Everyday Food with this recipe came in the mail, and that’s because I was salivating over the minestrone soup. I’m always excited when EF arrives, and I generally sit down and tear through it right away, making a mental catalogue of all the things I need to make IMMEDIATELY.  When I thumbed over to the recipe for this soup, I thought: Oh. Oh my. Yes. It’s chock full of veggies and flavors, and it comes with a full page of alternative ingredients. Don’t want to use a potato? Maybe butternut squash would suit your fancy. Not a fan of cabbage? Try kale or Swiss chard! I was impressed with all the options and couldn’t wait to play around with the various combinations.

Now, months and months later, I finally got around to making it. My only regret: that I waited so long to bring this delicousness into my life. The soup is robust and satisfying. We definitely didn’t miss meat with this meal. The red pepper flakes give it just a touch of spiciness to keep things interesting.

And the toasts. Oh, the toasts. I got the idea from Tyler Florence’s Ultimate cookbook, from his recipe for minestrone soup (which looks awesome, by the way). They’re super simple and oh-so-tasty. Slices of baguette + butter + a healthy dose of freshly grated parmesan cheese, popped under the broiler for a few minutes. They make a great accompaniment to the soup, and I imagine they would to a lot of other dishes as well. We used sesame semolina for the first loaf, and a baguette for the second (what can I say, this makes a lot of soup so we needed a lot of bread. And the cheese toasts are so good, you can’t have just one.) and I think I liked the semolina better – the nuttiness of the sesame seeds really complimented the nuttiness of the parmesan cheese.

Classic Minestrone

From Everyday Food, October 2008

Serves 6

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

2 T olive oil, plus more for serving (optional)

1 medium red onion chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 large celery stalk, diced

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped

1 large potato, peeled and diced

1/4 head Savoy or green cabbage (1/2 pound, cored and thinly sliced

1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1 garlic clove, minced (optional)

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, plus torn leaves for serving (optional)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a lage pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion, carrots, celery, red pepper flakes, rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to turn golden, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add tomatoes; cook until some of the liquid evaporates, 1 minutes. Add potato, cabbage, cannellini beans, and 7 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in green beans.

Reduce to a simmer, and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; stir in garlic, if using, and basil. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and, if using, more oil, if desired.

Alternatives:

Replace green beans with 2 cups diced zucchini or summer squash

Replace potato with 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut squash

As an extra vegetable, use 1 1/2 cups frozen peas (add to soup after 15 minutes of simmering in step 3)

Instead of cabbage: kale, tough stems removed and thinly sliced; or escarole, trimmed and thinly sliced, or Swiss chard, trimmed and thinly sliced

Instead of cannellini beans, try a 15 ounce can of another variety, drained and rinsed: Kidney beans, chick peas, or pinto beans

What I did:

I used butternut squash instead of a potato, zucchini and summer squash instead of green beans, Swiss chard instead of cabbage. I also used 4 cups of chicken broth and three cups of water rather than 7 cups of water (7 cups of water just sounded awfully… watery). And we thought one can of cannellini beans was not enough, so the second night I added a can of kidney beans, and I really like having two types of beans in the soup.

Suzi

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