Comfort Food ~ Love in a Bowl

It's getting cooler here in California, though it could change and feel like summer soon again. When it's momentarily autumnal, blustery and rainy, I like to roast vegetables in the oven. The smell of the roasted vegetables fills my place with a warm, comforting aroma. With the oven on and the fireplace going, I pretend that California has seasons. It reminds me just a bit of a wintery time once spent at a Bed & Breakfast Inn in rural Virginia. There I was, cozy and content, reading poetry by a roaring fireplace while the kitchen cooks made Southern dishes like fried tomatoes, eggs, and cheese grits. The silver tumblers were nice and cold with freshly squeezed orange juice, the fluffy eggs and cheesy grits with the tomatoes sang out in full gospel with the kind of nourishment the soul asks for.

Nourishing. Soul satisfying. Comfort food.

I enjoy many different styles of cooking. When I think about what I like to cook most, it's the pleasure of comfort foods that influences my own home cooking. Even when dining out, I tend to gravitate towards the creamy, the warm and rich, the soups, the sauces, the full-bodied and starchy. Yes, I love comfort most of all.

Lately I've been into making soups, risotto, quiche, eggs and egg dishes, polenta, and suddenly I feel the desire to make cheese grits. Having lived in New Orleans for nearly five years, I think it had the most influence on my cooking. There were a few nights in the Big Easy when I treated myself to dinner at Emeril Lagasse's Nola. I simply ordered the garlic mashed potatoes. That's all. A big bowl of garlic mashed potatoes and a glass of cabernet was all I wanted. The maître d’ looked a bit astonished to see a lovely lady alone with a book tucked underneath her arm, asking for a table for one. But I was quite happy that way, with my bowl of mashed potatoes, my glass of wine, and my book.

The other night I made rosemary chicken with shiitake and chantrelle mushroom polenta in a miso-truffle honey gravy, with poached eggs and shaved parmesan cheese on it, a side of balsamic glazed carrots from the farmers market, fresh green leaves of basil, thyme.

I also made a big clay pot full of butternut squash soup from the vegetable roasting pan.

Turmeric is a favorite spice of mine, same with curry powders of many sorts. Thyme as an herb is just enticing along with rosemary. Plating dishes with freshly minced chives. Basil is beautiful on a plate and fragrant in the mouth.

The earthy scent of shiitake and chantrelles on my cutting board transports me to a walk among trees and damp soil, sauté pans full of butter on a warm stove, fragrant.

Butternut squash in olive oil, butter, sherry, thyme, red onion, Herbs de Provence.

It is a sunny kind of happiness that comes from the color of butternut squash. Adding turmeric and curry spices enhances the beauty of its bright orange saffron-colored magnificence. Curry warms my soul. It doesn't have to be the hot and spicy kind. Coriander, cardamom, and nutmeg are spices that are known aphrodisiacs. Add them in!

The aphrodisiac qualities of my Cashew Curry Butternut Squash Soup may stir up some deliciousness in your pot.

Turmeric is an aphrodisiac as well, and quite a potent spice to add to your pot. It is a rhizome of the ginger family, and in Chinese medicine it has been used to treat a variety of ailments--- blood and gastrointestinal disorders mainly--- it helps with digestion and inspires the body for lovemaking due to its "warming" effects, if you know what I mean.

Turmeric "Indian ginger"--- Turmeric is pungent in flavor. You can find fresh roots in Southeast Asian and Indian markets. Dried ground turmeric is far more commonly used. Remember it stains your hands and clothes.

Cashew Curry Butternut Squash Soup is one of my most favorite things to make.

It's my version of love in a clay pot.

I have varied this recipe so many times according to my mood or whatever has inspired me, so all I ask of you is to think of things that make you happy and people that you love when making this soup. The warm and loving thoughts will transform this soup into everything you wanted in a warm bowl.

Here is the recipe:

Cashew Curry Butternut Squash Soup

You need:

  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • Several twigs of thyme
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 butternut squash, cut into cubes
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed with skin left on
  • 5 cups chicken/vegetable stock (or more if needed)
  • Sea salt and curry spices (cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric)
  • Several generous splashes of sherry
  • Heavy cream, to taste
  • raw unsalted cashews, soaked in broth for 20 minutes
  • honey

How to seduce with a pot of soup:

Get a large sheet pan and cover it with heavy foil. Pour olive oil generously on the sheet of foil. Spread your cubes of butternut squash, sweet potato, chopped red onion, shallot, and garlic cloves out on the foil, and splash the mixture with some sherry. Add some pats of butter throughout the mixture. Sprinkle with some freshly chopped thyme and Herbs de Provence. You can toss the mixture as well if you'd like.

Place the sheet pan into the oven at 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the vegetables to roast and fill your house with a wonderful aroma.

Soak the cashews in broth. They need to soften so that when the soup is blended, you have a creamy texture from the cashews, and a delicious flavor.

  • In a large pot (clay pot preferably), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the butter. When melted, add a pinch of ground curry spices, and also some coriander, thyme, onion and shallot. Saute for a few minutes.
  • Add the broth and warm it to a gentle simmer.
  • Add the roasted vegetables to the pot and stir until warmed with the broth.
  • Add the cashews--- this adds body and a nice flavor to the soup.
  • Get ready to blend your soup in batches---- have another pot to transfer the blended soup into.
  • Puree your soup in batches until creamy.
  • Add cream and honey to taste--- and more sea salt, if needed.
  • Season to taste with your own selection of curry spices and other spices that might compliment your soup. Here are some suggested spices I like: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, garam masala blends, Hepp's "spicy curry" salt.

I also love making egg tartines of various kinds.

The one pictured (above) is using a whole grain bread, homemade fig jam, rosemary ham, gouda cheese, broccolini quickly pan warmed in olive oil and shallots, egg, drizzled with balsamic cream glaze.

You can create many variations--- perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner--- and lovely with a bowl of soup.