squash for Mexican Squash Soup

I’m always amazed how people come in and out of your life. Sometimes they are there for the long haul, other times they just seem to pop in and out and then there are those in the middle that you expect will endure, but surprisingly fade away. I used to mourn the idea of losing touch with a friend, but I’ve come to realize there is a better way by enjoying the time you have, finding personal growth in the relationship and learning about yourself and the type of friend you are and strive to be. Hopefully, both your life and theirs will be enhanced having spent time together….no matter the duration.  Moving half-way across our country has made me appreciate this sentiment, but I don’t do it with a heavy heart, rather with the awareness of how fortunate I’ve been to have cared for so many who reciprocated with matched affection.

squash and serrano for Mexican Squash Soup

Funny how life works out, but just before I arrived in Texas a special friend also relocated here from NC. I crossed paths with Sarah through the club industry and was quickly impressed by her professionalism and desire to excel and master her field.  It’s almost second nature to her to consider the impact of decisions and policies far beyond the immediate result but rather for the vision of the organization. Impressively her ambitions don’t preclude her from a willingness to seek alternate perspectives nor does she shirk any chore or request as something “outside of her area”. The flip side (there’s always a yang) is that her dedication at work often conflicts with a commitment to self….which leaves going to the market, let alone cooking, a dismal priority. Needless to say, I worry…her poor taste buds need a little week day ooolala!

red pepper for Mexican Squash Soup

I’ve not been to Rancho La Puerta (sniff sniff), but this creamy, spicy and yes, healthy squash soup hails from the famed spa. On a good day, if I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine so hard that billows of steam practically puff from my ears, I’m transported there in one delicious spoonful….albeit only for a few brief whiffs of wellness heaven. Obviously I didn’t come by the recipe firsthand (ahem), I came across it 5 years ago in Bon Appétit and have been making it ever since- for me, as well as my close friends  Eileen and Catherine who evidently endorse it because I’ve never seen one remaining speck  in either of their bowls. Sorry ladies! I figure if I make Sarah a pot of this soup she’ll have a dinner waiting for her each night that is tasty, nourishing and perhaps a bit inspiring. It’s the least I can do to express how having her in Texas makes my husband and I less disconnected from our previous life and more like being home…..a sense of family in this vast state.

Mexican Squash Soup

Mexican Squash Soup

Adapted from Rancho La Puerta's Azteca Squash Soup.

I go crazy for homemade chicken broth and you can make this soup with it, but you really don't need to as there are so many bold flavors going on already.


  • 3 lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for squash
  • 2 cups yellow onion, medium chop (about 1 large)
  • 4 celery stalks, medium chop
  • 2 TBSP chopped garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 5 cups homemade vegetable broth
  • 15 oz can black beans (low or no sodium)
  • 10 oz bag frozen sweet corn, thawed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and medium chop
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 serrano chile, minced (cored and seeded if you want to reduce heat)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up.
  2. Rub the cut side of the squash with some olive oil, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper and place cut side down on prepared baking sheet. Roast for 45-50 minutes until fork tender. Let cool until comfortable to handle and scoop the flesh out and reserve for later.
  3. While the squash is roasting, heat the 3 TBSP of olive oil over medium-high heat (I used a 9 quart Dutch oven, but a 6 quart pot will do the trick). Add the onions, turn the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and slightly browned.
  4. Add the garlic and celery and cook for another minute.
  5. Pour in 1 cup of broth, bring to a simmer and cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir once.
  6. Add the squash, cumin, remaining 4 cups of broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly (about 5 minutes).
  8. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup.
  9. Add the beans, corn, both peppers, cilantro, thyme and salt. Cover and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  10. Enjoy as is or with some sinfully delicious toppings! Like cool sour cream and crushed tortilla chips. Fresh chopped cilantro is also a nice contrast.



Amber Anne

My dear, now pregnant, Amber is one of the most beautiful people I know. Within minutes of making her acquaintance you realize that her outward beauty pales to what’s inside her heart. She has a kindness that radiates, bathing those around her like sunrays warming the earth. It’s just so cuddly you never want her to leave! Aside from her warmth, Amber Anne is in intoxicated with life. Eager to exhaust every waking moment engrossed in living, learning and bettering her person. She so desperately wants to do it all that I’ve never known her to be well-rested- although you would never know it. What’s unique about this drive is her motivation.  Unlike many, it’s not a bucket list, rather a billowing excitement that can only be contained for so long. She’s curious. And has the audacity to ignore the notion that you can’t do it all. This palpable, inspiring energy will soon be directed into uncharted territory….motherhood.

I can’t really relate (although I imagine a lot!), but I do want to share and celebrate what will undoubtedly be Amber’s biggest life altering experience. Her favorite soup is butternut squash, specifically from a bastion of Raleigh’s culinary greats, the Angus Barn. Which reminds me……every holiday season they offer Opus One BY THE GLASS!!!! Time to put on my dancing shoes!

Trying to mimic this soup would ridiculous, besides I wanted to create something special for the new mom-to-be. Initially I researched all the things a pregnant woman should eat, which nutrients were most important and of course what to stay clear of. After pages and pages of Google returns I’m convinced being pregnant should be a full-time job. Growing a human being is complicated! I switched gears, rather ingredients, and combined another of her favorites, shrimp, into a luscious, Babymoon qualifying kind of decadent, Roasted Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque. I expect Angus Barn to calling any day.

By the way, her name is actually not Amber Anne, its Amber Dawn. Years ago we renamed each other (I went from Ericka Marie to Ericka Anne) as a way to forever link our kindred bond. I have a feeling this soup will do the same.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque

Roasted Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque

Inspired by Ina Garten's Shrimp Bisque.....and a pregnat woman.

This is one of those unusual combinations that just works. The squash and the shrimp are equally represented and the addition of warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg bridge the two offering a familiar, comforting surprise.


  • 1 2lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 4 TBSP olive oil, divided
  • 1 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 2 TBSP freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups chopped leeks
  • 2 TBSP fresh chopped sage
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • A few dashes of cayenne pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Rub the cut side of the squash with 1 TBSP olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the squash, cut side down (to keep it moist), until tender (45 minutes to an hour).
  4. When cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl.
  5. While the squash is roasting, trim the leeks so that you have only the white and light green parts, and then thinly slice. Rinse like crazy in a colander using your fingers to move them around and around to ensure all the dirt is removed.
  6. Heat 3 TBSP of olive oil and 1 TBSP butter over medium heat (I use a 6.75 quart Dutch oven). Add the leeks and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10 minutes until the leeks are wilted and tender. Stir occasionally. Be sure not to brown them or this will change the flavor of your bisque.
  7. Add the shrimp and cayenne pepper and cook for 3 minutes stirring and turning the shrimp a few times. The shrimp will not be completely cooked.
  8. Add chopped sage and freshly squeezed orange juice and stir for 1 minute.
  9. Add the sherry and cook for 4 minutes; stir frequently. Try to stay focused…the amazing aroma in your kitchen will be distracting! The liquid should not have all evaporated and the shrimp will be brilliantly pink (cooked).
  10. Put the shrimp mixture in the food processor, and coarsely puree, scraping down the sides as needed. Wipe out the Dutch oven with a paper towel and return the shrimp to the pot.
  11. Puree the roasted squash in the processor and add to the shrimp mixture.
  12. Return to medium heat and stir in 2 cups of chicken stock along with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer.
  13. Reduce heat to low and add the cream and salt. Slowly reheat. DO NOT BOIL.


How to buy shrimp:

Consider “count” and always buy frozen. For obvious reasons, shrimp is generally frozen at sea, which means what you are purchasing from the counter has most likely been previously frozen and is now thawing in the case (getting chewy), therefore making the frozen shrimp a fresher option. “Count” refers to the number of shrimp it takes to achieve a pound. So, the lower the count, the larger the shrimp and the fewer you need to make a pound. Generally, larger shrimp are tastier. “21-25 count” is a good choice for this bisque and is pretty standard.

There are few things to look for when selecting a butternut squash:

  1.  Organic- I just learned from Sara Britton of the food blog My New Roots that butternut squash is like a sponge. It soaks up any impurities (a.k.a. pesticides) in the soil in which it is grown. So if you don’t want to contaminate your body, opt for organic.
  2. You want your squash to be firm, feel heavy and have a matte rind and a muted tan orange skin. The more orange the rind, the sweeter the squash. Don’t take it home if it has any soft spots, signs of decay or if it is wrinkly.
  3. Look for a smooth squash that doesn’t have any marks on it. Gauges, scratches, etc. are prone to bacteria growth.
  4. Make sure the stem is still present. It helps retain moisture.

If you need to store your butternut squash do so away from heat and light in a dark, dry and cool place with plenty of ventilation. Not the refrigerator. Basements are preferable, but I don’t have one so I use a closet. I wouldn’t keep it more than a month.


Birthday Soup

22 years ago my cousin, Katrina Ericka, was born while I was running around a soccer field. When I learned the news and that she would share my name, I cried. I’d been close to her mother all my life, looked up to her, learned from her, craved our visits as if they were chocolate, or in our case marzipan. Discovering that she regarded me with the same depth of love and respect, so much so that she would have her first child share my name, was overwhelming.

Katrina Beana (sorry (kind of) for the public outing) joined us in North Carolina a few years ago when the smarty pants was awarded a remarkable college scholarship. She’s since graduated, but for now we are still lucky to have her right around the corner. Her first Thanksgiving here I made a squash soup that practically glowed on the table in an attempt to steal the show from Turkey Lurkey. Katrina eagerly proclaimed her fondness, no, she wasn’t just being polite. Over the years, I’ve loaded her up with homemade nibbles, yet this soup never enjoyed an encore….until now. Ina’s Winter Squash Soup quickly became the surprise first course on Katrina’s birthday menu, followed by creamy, flaky chicken pot pies and a rustic pear apple and cranberry crisp topped with a mound of vanilla whipped cream. Her birthday celebration quickly turned into a welcome home party for fall as well!

Soups are often enhanced with fabulous toppings and garnishes like infused oils, crumbly bacon, dollops of this or that and this straightforward, easy peasy soup is no different. We made finger-licking, thyme, sage and gruyere croutons for a salty crunch and a little earthiness. The soup itself is so striking and simple that it is poised to highlight fancier garnishes on its bright blank canvas.  I envision snow white swirls of crème fraiche….snipped emerald chives……toasted, spiced pecans………..and finished with a generous goblet of a crisp Chardonnay to balance the sweetness of the squash.

For me, meals, wine, foods, restaurant visits are as powerful for memory recollection as songs are for others (my husband can chronicle his life by George Michael’s musical career, again, sorry…kind of). Life’s reality whispers that our geography may shift, but our proximity to Katrina will forever be routedin Lilly’s Pizza, steak tacos at Dos Taquitos, crab pot pies in her campus apartment and of course in Winter Squash Soup.

Winter Squash Soup

Winter Squash Soup

Slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris cookbook.

This is a great soup to get sassy with. Experiment with other herbs and spices like cloves, ginger, curry, sage……’s easily personalized to your family’s liking. Also, repeat after me, “I will never, ever buy pre-chopped butternut squash”. The flavor is compromised and so will be your soup.


  • Soup
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped yellow onions (1 large usually does the trick)
  • 1 TBSP of minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 1 ½ lb of butternut squash, peeled seeded and chopped into large chunks
  • 15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 3 cups of homemade chicken stock
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly grated pepper
  • 1 cup of half & half
  • Croutons
  • 1 cup grated gruyere
  • 1 TBSP freshly chopped sage
  • 1 TBSP freshly chopped thyme
  • ½ loaf of Pane Bello bread or your favorite white bread
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Melt the butter and oil in a Dutch oven (I use a 6.75 quart) over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. About 10 minutes. Do not brown. Add the garlic the last remaining minute.
  3. Add the pumpkin puree, squash, stock, salt and pepper. Stir to loosen up the pumpkin.
  4. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. The squash should be tender at this point.
  5. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender.
  6. Add the half & half and slowly reheat. Do not bring to a boil or the dairy will curdle.
  7. Check for seasonings and enjoy.
  8. Croutons
  9. Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat the broiler on high. Position the baking rack in the middle of the oven.
  10. Cut the bread into bite-sized cubes and place in a large bowl. I don’t mind the crusts, but some find them too hard after they’ve been toasted.
  11. Grate the cheese and chop the herbs. Combine in a small bowl.
  12. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  13. Stir and dump on the baking sheet.
  14. Broil for 5 minutes and stir.
  15. Broil for another 2-3 minutes until just golden.
  16. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the cubes and broil for 1 minute.
  17. Serve immediately when they are warm and gooey….try to save some for the soup! They also make a tasty appetizer with wine or cocktails.