Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Besides the fact that it is 80 degrees here in Charlotte most days, in my heart fall is in full swing. One of my favorite things that come with cooler weather is the food. Soup ranks high on the list of comfort foods I crave as the leaves start to change. The options are endless in the soups and stews world and I am always trying to find my next seasonal staple to add to the menu.

Over the weekend I was reading Food & Wine magazine and came across a butternut squash soup recipe that incorporated bacon. I didn’t love the rest of the ingredient list, but i loved the idea of bacon. What came out of that idea was this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. The name is somewhat lackluster, but I couldn’t make it Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup with Candied Pancetta. I guess I could have, but I am pretty sure blog titles have a character limit. Anyway…

This soup is heavenly, y’all. It is everything I wanted and more – roasted winter squash and red pepper combined with candied pancetta and thyme make a rich, hearty soup that has a decadent depth to it. I don’t know what is on your menu this weekend, but I would *strongly* consider throwing this together if you have the same love affair with fall and soups as I do.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Winter squash seasoning blend (see NOTES below)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 8 oz. diced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 13.5 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • Cracked black pepper and sea salt
  • Fresh thyme leaves

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Scatter butternut squash, red bell pepper, and onion evenly on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with homemade squash seasoning blend or seasoning blend of choice. Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour; until vegetables are soft, browned, and fragrant. Take vegetables out of oven and allow to cool slightly (5-10 minutes is all you need). Then, transfer vegetables to a bowl and puree using an immersion blender. Set aside.

Knock oven down to 325 degrees. Melt butter in Dutch oven or oven safe large pot over medium high heat. Add garlic and pancetta, stirring frequently until pancetta crisps. Add brown sugar and saute until brown sugar caramelizes; this creates what I describe as a “candied” pancetta. Stir in butternut and bell pepper puree, coconut milk, whole milk, and chicken stock. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne, pepper, salt, and thyme. Cover and transfer to oven. Bake on 325 for 1 ½ to 2 hours; until soup is thick and creamy.

Serve warm; garnish with desired toppings.

NOTES:

  • My winter squash seasoning blend consists of 1/2 Tbsp. Himalayan pink sea salt, 1/2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes, 1/12 Tbsp. dried thyme, and 3 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning blend.
  • If you don’t have pancetta, bacon is a great substitute! Both come from the pork belly – however bacon is usually a heartier and smokier than pancetta. If using bacon as substitute, cut amount down to 5 oz.
  • This recipe is time consuming, but I personally feel like the time enhances the depth and complexity of flavors in the end result.
  • If you want to use an Instapot in lieu of the Dutch oven, simply caramelize the bacon/brown sugar/garlic on saute mode and then set to slow cooker mode for 1:30-2 hours once you have combined the soup.

Traditional(ish) Chicken Salad

Traditional(ish) Chicken Salad

Happy Labor Day from Cookies & Kale! I have a love/hate relationship with three-day weekends. I LOVE the extra time to get away with friends and family – however I always come back with a to-do list a mile long because I didn’t get around to completing my chores around the apartment. My go-to lunch for the week after a weekend getaway is chicken salad. It’s quick, easy, and *most importantly* delicious.

The thing I love about chicken salad is that you can dress it up (or down) as much as you want. In a time crunch? Use a rotisserie chicken from your local grocer. Don’t like nuts? Omit them. Prefer red to green grapes? Switch em out. There are endless options to this dish and to be honest, I never usually make it the same way twice. However, I finally found a combo that sticks out more than the others. It is a little more adventurous (and healthy) than your grandma’s tried and true, but is traditional enough to still feel (and taste) like home.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Seasoning blend for chicken (personal preference)
  • 1/2 cup green grapes, halved
  • 2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup candied pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayo (Dukes, obviously)
  • 1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Garlic salt

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place chicken in greased glass baking dish and season with seasonings of your choice. I usually use a combo of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning blend. Drizzle 1-2 tbsp of olive oil over chicken. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Take chicken out of oven and let cool. Using a fork, shred chicken. Then, toss shredded chicken in the baking dish to coat chicken in juices and seasonings; transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add chopped celery, grapes, and nuts. Using a spatula, fold in mayo and Greek yogurt. Finish with garlic salt.

Chill for 2-3 hours before serving.

TIPS:

  • Green grapes help counteract the sweetness of the candied pecans. If you choose to sub red grapes, I would opt for regular pecans to help balance the sugar component.
  • I find ½ cup of greek yogurt : ⅓ cup mayo the optimal yogurt : mayo ratio. I find that subbing a portion of the mayo for greek yogurt adds a lightness and sharpness to the chicken salad that doesn’t fully come through with mayo alone. On the opposite side, the mayo adds a fat component that the shredded chicken breasts need. If you have an alternate preference – you can easily sub just mayo or just greek yogurt.
  • I personally feel like you cannot have chicken salad without celery. It adds a crunch and brightness that I find myself searching for if I omit it.
  • I season my chicken breasts heavily so the chicken salad itself doesn’t need much “extras”. Shredding the chicken in the pan it cooked in and then “mixing” it with the juices and seasonings gives the chicken salad an extra “oomph”. However, if you opt for a rotisserie chicken, you may want to add a little extra of whatever your go-to seasoning preference is. I usually season my chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Blend. Sprinkle some garlic salt right before you chill your chicken salad and you’re good to go!
  • I prefer to chill my chicken salad before serving, allowing time for the flavors of the chicken salad to come together.

Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Few things are more fitting than launching Cookies & Kale with a cookie recipe. Cookies have always been *my thing*. Everybody has their go-to combinations – mine are brussels and bacon, garlic and goat cheese, and brown sugar and butter. I’ve tried endless cookie recipes throughout the years and this base from The Tender Crumb is one I always comes back to. Crisp, cracked edges are complemented by a soft, slightly gooey center. And while few things beat a traditional chocolate chip cookie, I have a soft spot for the combinations that come out of a late night cooking sesh.

In college, I would get overwhelmed with exams and homework and end up in the kitchen at 10pm. A lot of creative cookie combos came out of that tiny galley kitchen in Sundance Ridge, but these Raspberry Chocolate Chunk gems were one of the few creations to stick. Tart bursts of raspberry paired with rich layers of semi-sweet chocolate create a decadent treat – but the secret touch is the sprinkle of sea salt right before baking.

Don’t let the idea of raspberries, dark chocolate, and sea salt in a cookie make you uneasy because these bad boys are oh so worth it. Fair warning, the dough is almost as divine as the cookies themselves, so be prepared to give yourself some grace and remember that eating cookie dough from the bowl is really just a sign of a life well-lived.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I use Ghirardelli baking bars)
  • 3/4 bag frozen raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Sift together flours, baking powder, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, vanilla, and chocolate; mix until well combined. Remove bowl from electric mixer and fold in raspberries, making sure they are evenly distributed throughout batter.

Using a cookie scoop (or an ice cream scoop if you’re in a pinch), scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle sea salt over cookies. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 15 minutes for larger cookies and about 12 minutes for smaller cookies. Remove cookies from oven. Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

NOTE:

Cookies will look under-baked when taking them out of the oven. The key to perfect, gooey cookies is taking them out of the oven a few minutes early. While cooling, the dough still proceeds to bake, which can play a role in dry, over-baked cookies.