Autumn Appetites: Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup

“Grandma’s wisdom….”

Last week I read that the folks at America’s Test Kitchen learned something which my grandmother had taught me 30 years ago and which she had known for many more years than that before she taught me. Not for the first time, I was surprised that those culinary “experts” hadn’t known something which I had figured was known by many.

As I thought more about it, though, I realized that there’s a difference between folks who have culinary jobs and people who have years and years of cooking experience. My grandmother raised eleven children and had to find ways to stretch food as much as she could, and she learned the best ways to make food and how to keep things as simple as possible whenever she could.

What I had learned from my grandmother, which America’s Test Kitchen apparently just learned this month according to their magazine, is that you never boil corn on the cob. You bring water to a boil and then you let the ears of corn sit in the hot water for a set time, depending on the amount of corn. This is how I’ve made corn on the cob ever since my grandmother showed me as a teenager. I had taken it for granted that others knew, too.

I figured my grandmother had learned it from someone before her, but she may also have simply figured it out on her own after cooking for so many for so long. I started thinking about the many other tips my grandmother had given me over the years when I was younger before she passed away, and I realized a lot of my cooking depends on things I learned from her. Just this past weekend, I made one of my family’s favorite soups, which uses tips I learned specifically from my grandmother.

My grandmother rarely had “fresh” food in the house. Dependent on food from local farms, which tended to be seasonal, certain foods simply weren’t accessible year round. So, she always had meat and vegetables frozen in a big freezer and jars of canned beans, jellies, sauces, and fruits in the “pantry” which was the walk-through area between the garage and their double-wide trailer. From her, I learned how to create foods which use staples from the freezer and pantry and which can be quickly put together to feed a lot of people.

The winter squash, kale and bean soup I made uses frozen squash, which I roasted last year, pureed, and froze; frozen kale which I always keep on hand, purchasing them by the bagfuls at the grocery store when they’re in season (early Spring and then again in the Fall); canned, unsalted, no sugar added beans, which I keep in my pantry; and no salt, fat free vegetable broth which I also keep in my pantry. I mixed everything together in my crock pot with some herbs and let it cook all day. When evening came, we had a hearty soup for dinner which warmed both the heart and the tummy.

Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup


9 cups thawed, frozen pureed cooked winter squash (equivalent to 6 of those 12 oz packages you can purchase in the freezer section of the grocery store)

1 cup frozen chopped kale (equivalent to half a 16 oz bag you can purchase in the frozen section of the grocery store)

One 16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added white or northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed between your fingers before putting in

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 to 1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

No salt, fat free vegetable broth (amount will depend on how thick or think you like your soup, between 1 to 3 cups)

Cooking Instructions:

In a crock pot (4 1/2 quart will work), mix the thawed squash with the frozen kale, the can of beans, the thyme, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Add the desired amount of vegetable broth and let it cook in the crock pot on low all day (6-8 hrs) or on high for half the day (3-4 hrs).



Menu Suggestion: Reusable Rice

website rice

“Do you want to learn?”

I was 22 when my husband decided to teach me how to ski. He bought me the perfect ski bunny suit in my favorite color – purple – and made sure I had lessons before attempting any hill of substance. Unfortunately, the lessons I learned didn’t transfer well once I took to the bunny slope and started going faster than I was able to control.

Within a few minutes I was careening past children and their parents, unable to recall any of the lessons about how to slow myself down. I tried to turn my skis, which caused me to tumbled head over heels and landed in a heap off to the side. Fortunately, no bones were broken in my fall, and all might not have been lost if it weren’t for that one young man….

As I laid there on the snow, wondering whether I would even be able to get myself up without any help, a young gentleman, I think about my age, came to a stop next to me, pushed up his ski goggles and laughed. Truly. He laughed at my plight, and then he sped off down the hill.

By the time my husband caught up to me, I had worked myself into a rather fine tizzy, and I’m sorry to say that I refused to go back on the slope and try again. My pride had been bruised, and at the young age of 22, I hadn’t learned yet that I might regret making decisions in haste for the wrong reasons.

When I received an email today from a woman who was tired of making mistakes in her cooking, I thought about my skiing experience. I was quick to give up, and as a result I lost out on the opportunity to join my husband in an activity he really enjoyed. More than that, my husband eventually lost out on something he really liked doing, too, because as the years went on, he would want to do something with me as opposed to without, which resulted in him skiing less and less.

This particular woman wanted to give up cooking because she felt she was wasting food every time it came out wrong. In this case, she’d made mushy and overcooked rice which her children refused to eat as it was. As I thought about how to respond, it occurred to me that she needed more than me simply giving her instructions on how to cook the rice correctly. She needed ideas which could “redeem” the “failure”. So I told her that she hadn’t failed but that she now had perfect rice for dishes she could make later in the week for the family to eat.

For example:

1. Rice Parmigiana: If you have rice which is overcooked or even simply leftover from another meal, it’s perfect for making a parmigiana. Simply whisk a couple of eggs or egg whites with a little bit of milk and herbs like oregano and basil and mix in your leftover rice with real or vegan parmesan cheese. In a greased deep dish layer the rice alternately with thinly slice tomatoes and real or vegan mozzarella, ending with the tomatoes and mozzarella. Put the dish into a larger dish and pour hot water halfway up the casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour or so until the cheese is melted and browned and the casserole is hot and bubbly.

2. Rice Pudding: If you’re looking for something warm and creamy on a cold night, chocolate rice pudding is just the dish. If you’ve overcooked your rice, so much the better. For six cups of cooked rice, I mix in a shallow pan 2 cups of “milk” (cow, soy, flax, rice, etc… all work) with 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 tbsp cornstarch. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Usually only about five minutes. Stir in 1 cup mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life allergen free ones.) Stir in the rice and mix until the milk mixture is fully soaked into the rice.

3. Rice cakes: If you want a side dish which is slightly different, take your overcooked rice, mix it with green onions or leeks, garlic powder, black pepper, and ground ginger. Finely chop veggies like peppers, zucchini, carrots, squash, etc… and add them to the rice. Whisk together a couple of eggs or egg whites and add them to the rice mixture, and make little rice patties. Cook them in a shallow pan in some olive oil until they’re browned on both sides.

If you want to make the cakes with protein, mix in canned crabmeat or tuna or salmon or chopped up pieces of ham, chicken or beef.

4. Chicken Rice Soup: When making soup with rice, the problem you normally run into is that your rice is too hard because it didn’t cook long enough in the soup or it becomes more and more overcooked as the soup is reheated. If you have overcooked rice, freeze it in batches of 1/2 to 1 cup, and then when you make your famous chicken soup, before you’re about to serve it, drop in the frozen rice and let it warm up in the soup. The rice will be just right.

5. Rice crusts: Overcooked rice is perfect for making a rice crust. I often make a rice crust for quiche. Simply mix your rice with a beaten egg or egg whites and herbs and, if you like, real or vegan cheese. Pat the rice mixture into the grease bottom of your pan and pour your quiche mixture over the top and bake as you normally would.

Rice crusts are also good for meat dishes. I will make a rice crust and fill it with the filling I normally use for chicken pot pie or shepherd’s pie and bake it in the oven until bubbly.

In addition, rice crusts are great for tomato tarts. Mix real or vegan ricotta with eggs or egg whites and herbs to the consistency you like. Spread the cheese mixture over your rice crust, top with fresh tomatoes and fresh basil and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 or 375 degree oven.

6. Stuffing: Overcooked rice is wonderful as a stuffing for your favorite veggies. Mix the rice with chopped up veggies and/or meat and/or cheese with herbs of your choice and stuff into zucchini or squash or peppers or pumpkin or eggplant or artichokes or tomatoes or cabbage or mushrooms or kale or etc….