Kevin’s Grandma’s Soup

Lately, Lilli has been crawling over to her book chest – a soft cloth toy chest that I filled with books instead of toys – pulling herself up, pushing the cover aside, and taking out book after book. Sometimes we read the books, sometimes she eats them. It’s a mix, really. Watching her with her books reminds me of the books I used to love to read when I was a little girl. One in particular I was reminded of lately, and it’s because of a recipe.

Lilli and her books

Kevin’s Grandma, by Barbara Williams, sounds like a pretty cool lady. She’s been a performer in the circus – riding a unicycle on a tightrope, no less. She knows judo, and goes sky diving. She is also quite the chef, because, according to Kevin, she makes a mean peanut butter soup. But Kevin’s friend, the narrator, has a hard time believing Kevin, and doubts about the peanut butter soup most of all.

This summer I was sent The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible. It’s not a vegetarian cookbook, so I haven’t checked out every recipe. Kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, and collards are some of the greens with recipes in here. I tested the Dijon mustard greens salad with capers and eggs on Rich this summer and he really enjoyed it. (I’m not a mustard person, so it was all him, and he licked the plate clean.) But it was the African Peanut Stew that caught my eye. Just like Kevin’s grandma, I thought.

This week, when both a bunch of kale and a bag of sweet potatoes came in the CSA I thought of the recipe immediately. Turns out I had everything else already in the house, including the fresh ginger I keep in the freezer. The only slight change is that I had a hot red pepper and not a habanero chile pepper in the fridge. Like all recipes, use your best judgment with how spicy you want your dish to be.

Anible suggests serving this over rice or another grain; I cooked up a cup of barley in the pressure cooker in 20 minutes while I was cooking this on another burner. I’m not going to use the times of how long each step took, because, like with most recipes, it’s a lie. I’ve never met an onion that becomes soft and translucent in 3 minutes, and sweet potatoes and carrots take more than 10 minutes of simmering to soften, but you’ll get the idea. Rich and I each had a serving the night it was made, and I had enough for 3 more Tupperware containers for lunches for the rest of the week. Of course, just like with the apple cake, I failed at taking a photo of the stew. It was very good, though. That’s the truth.

African Peanut Stew


1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion (I just used an onion and was done with it.)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 chile pepper, seeded and minced

4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth or water

1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 large carrot, peeled and diced into ½ -inch cube

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups packed chopped spinach or packed de-stemmed chopped kale

¼ cup packed and chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper

¼ cup chopped unsalted peanuts


In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chile pepper, cooking for another 30 seconds. Add the broth or water, tomatoes, carrot, sweet potato, and peanut butter. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the coriander, cayenne, spinach or kale, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes, until the spinach or kale is wilted, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over rice or another grain. Top each serving with chopped peanuts. This stew can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


We May Never Know

I’m not sure why my Food & Wine ran a recipe for Escarole with Pickled Butternut Squash back in July. Of course, I only had a chance to read the magazine this past September, but I made a mental note to make the salad once the produce became available. (For the record, I am current with my Ladies Home Journal subscription; how to pose my cat for optimal cuteness? Tell me more!) So when a butternut squash, so large it towered over my cat came in the CSA last week, I thought it was time to make the salad.

Lilli at Honk!

But I still had to find the escarole. I walked to the Copley’s Farmers’ Market during my lunch break last Friday and chatted about the recipe with every farmer there. “I’m not sure why the magazine printed this recipe in July,” I would say to each as I explained my search for escarole. The last farmer scoffed, “You’re not sure why they printed the recipe in July? Well, I’m not sure why they’d write a recipe with produce that doesn’t grow at the same time!” It turns out the escarole will come once the butternut squash have all been roasted and eaten.

Deterred but not defeated, I regrouped. I still desperately wanted to make this salad. And then it occurred to me, why not use the arugula that came in the CSA alongside the butternut squash? The peppery bite of the dark lettuce would be strong like the escarole. Although I was still a little concerned about how the creamy dressing would cling to the sharp leaves, I pressed onward.

pickled squash and arugula

Well, it turns out that arugula makes a great substitute. Apparently this recipe is from all-star chef Gabriel Rucker, featured in the magazine in 2007. Sounds like a reservation at his Portland, Oregon restaurant Le Pigeon is the toughest one in town to make, but not as hard it is to find escarole at a farmers’ market in October, since that is apparently impossible.

It’s a quick pickle for the squash, and I loved the crunch and twang against the creamy, herbal dressing. For the arugula, I soaked the quarter pound that came in the CSA in three rounds of cold water. I used a quarter pound because that’s what I had on hand. For the record, I think the dressing would spread well with a half-pound of arugula, so let’s call that two bunches. I also pickled a cup’s worth of squash, rather than the half-cup the original recipe called for.  Just to have for munching.

Arugula with Pickled Butternut Squash


1 ¼ cups apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

6 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6 large sage leaves

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I just used a half a lemon)

1/3 cup canola oil

Freshly ground pepper

½ pound arugula


In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the apple cider vinegar with the sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and ¼ cup of water and bring to boil. Add the diced squash and let cool to room temperature. Drain the squash (I did this once my dressing and lettuce was ready and let the squash pickle a little bit longer.)

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the mayonnaise with the cheese, sage, garlic, lemon juice and the remaining ¼ cup of vinegar. With the machine on, drizzle in the oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. q

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the sage dressing. Arrange the greens on plates, top with the pickled squash and serve.

Make Ahead: The pickled squash and garlicky sage dressing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Apple Cake for Breakfast

Rich had an early morning meeting in Western Mass. last Thursday, so we decided to make a vacation of it. We stayed overnight at my parents the night before, had Vietnamese for lunch (my not-sosecret obsession) after his meeting, and then headed over the mountain to Monson to pick apples at Echo Hill Orchards, the same apple orchard Mom used to take us to when we were kids. Of course, Lilli slept through the entire adventure, foiling my plan to pose her for adorable autumnal photos. But Mom, Rich and I had a wonderful time picking a quarter peck each of apples, followed by cider and fresh cider doughnuts.

Fortunately we made it to a pumpkin patch this weekend. Autumnal photo shoot under control.

Fortunately we made it to a pumpkin patch this weekend. Autumnal photo shoot under control.

I first baked this apple cake before we went out to my parents, so they could enjoy it for breakfast. It was made with the first of the apples from the CSA box. (A good thing, since, as we learned last year, they are full of qi.) I couldn’t find the right pan for it, so I made it in a round cake pan, then put the excess in a loaf pan. I actually had heavy cream in the house because I had made the glorious stuffed cheesy pumpkin the night before, so I was able to make the sticky toffee topping to pour on top while the cake was still warm.

The recipe calls for walnuts, but Mom, Rich and I decided that one could substitute pecans for those, like Sylvie, with allergies. I did just that for the second time I baked this cake (in the right sized pan this time), but I didn’t have enough heavy cream for this second batch, this time using the apples we personally picked.


The recipe is from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters. I told Mom how that the original, 1930s recipe card the Brass sister found said the toffee topping was optional, prompting a scoff. “This might be the best apple cake I’ve ever had,” she said. “Although, it could use a scoop of vanilla ice cream.” Funny, because that’s exactly what the Brass sisters said about the cake as well.

I didn’t have the heavy cream for this second try, and in retrospect, I think a sprinkling of Turbinado sugar, or perhaps just some sugar mixed with some cinnamon, would be a quick and easy substitute topping. But please do aim to make it with the toffee topping. It takes it from apple cake to apple cake!

One tip: anywhere it says “sifted flour”, I just take a whisk to the bowl of flour and twirl it a few times. Works like a charm. And when it says to sift the sugar, I just turn on the mixer and have the paddle go around a few times. Easy peasy.

Chopped Apple Cake with Sticky Toffee Topping


For Cake

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups sugar

½ cup butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups raw apples, peeled, cored, and chopped by hand

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

For Toffee Topping

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream


Set oven rack in the middle position. Preheat oven to 350F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with foil, shiny side up, and coat with vegetable spray.

To make the cake: Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

Sift sugar into bowl of standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add butter and cream together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Add apples alternately with sifted dry ingredients, beating after each addition. Fold in walnuts.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 1 hour, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Cool on rack 25 minutes, or until just warm.

To make the toffee topping: Melt butter in a heavy metal saucepan over low heat. Add brown sugar and salt and whisk until blended. Add heavy cream, increase heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Mixture will thicken as it rests.

Make several slits in warm cake with a butter knife. Pour sauce over cake. Let rest until topping sets, about 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream of unsweetened whipped cream. Store loosely covered with wax paper at room temperature.