Buttercup Squash Soup with Candied Walnuts

Now is the time of year for soup. Toasted, candied walnuts add crunch, sweetness, and a luscious nutty flavor to this creamy potage of buttercup squash lightly spiced with cinnamon and tumeric. I recommend making extra candied walnuts. They can be added to salad, yogurt, oatmeal, or eaten straight up by the handful. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

Buttercup Squash Soup

• 1 buttercup squash (about 3lbs) • 3 medium onions, chopped • 1 medium potato, cut in 1" cubes • 3 garlic cloves, chopped • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I made mine with water and it still tasted really good. I just added a little more salt.) • 2 tablespoons heavy cream • 1/2 teaspoon tumeric • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon • pinch ground cayenne pepper • salt + ground black pepper

Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds and cut in in 1 inch cubes. In a soup pot, cook the onions and garlic on medium heat for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the squash and potato. Continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add the stock and spices and simmer for 30 minutes, until the squash is cooked. Blend the soup in a blender until smooth and transfer back to pot. Add the cream and season to taste.

Candied Walnuts

• 1 cup walnuts • 1/4 cup sugar (preferably organic cane sugar)

Dry-pan toast the walnuts for 3-4 minutes on medium heat, shaking the pan often. Add the sugar, lower the heat and stir until the sugar melts and coats the walnuts. Lay them to cool on a plate or parchement.

Three Easy Sides

For some reason, the side is often treated like some kind of random bonus or extra on a plate. Something to help ensure that when you finish everything there, you are full. In restaurants I prefer it when each main course has its own accompaniment. Usually, though, whatever you order comes with the same thing - steamed veg, baked potato or rice; boring. It's all about combining ingredients that go well together and taking advantage of different flavors and textures to create a dish. A lemony fish benefits from a garlicky side, a spicy chicken from a sweet sauce and a tender steak from crunchy french fries. I highly recommend the book The Flavor Bible, it'll get your brains going on the subject.

I came up with these three easy side dishes without making a trip to the food store.

Each serves 4-6

Sweet Potato Wedges, Herbed Sour Cream These works with a steak or a burger and are also a great appetizer.

-3 medium-sized sweet potatoes -4 tablespoons sunflower oil -1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional) -salt + black pepper

Preheat the oven at 425F. Cut the potatoes in wedges, fairly thin. In a large bowl mix them with the oil and seasoning. Put on a baking sheet. Throw a few sprigs of thyme on top. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Herbed Sour Cream -1 cup sour cream -small handful of chives -small handful of parsley -juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix all ingredients together.

Asparagus Amandine This is great with fish and a roasted tomato sauce.

-1 bunch of asparagus -1/2 cup sliced almonds -3 tablespoons butter -juice of 1/2 lemon -salt

Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the asparagus in water for about 2-3 minutes. Don't overcook, they must stay crunchy. Remove and put them in ice-cold water. Put the butter in a sautée pan and heat until it's sizzling. Sauté the asparagus for 1 minute then add the almonds and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt.

Garlicky Squash Purée

I'd serve this with braised meats. You can pretty much use any type of winter squash. I used a sweet lightning squash and a spaghetti squash.

-2 medium-sized or 1 large squash -2 cloves garlic, finely chopped -2 tablespoons of butter -1 tablespoon cream -salt + black pepper

Cut each squash in half, empty them, and trim off the skin with a knife. Cut the flesh in 1" cubes and put it in a large pot. Fill the pot with water until the cubes are completely covered. Cook on medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until you can cut through them easily with a knife. Drain with a colander. Then return the squash to the pot. Add the garlic, butter and cream. Mix with a hand mixer until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.