Easy Butternut Squash Soup with Whiskey Ginger Cream

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When I got back from my book tour, all I wanted to do was cook cook cook. Comfort foods, mostly. That first night it was my ultimate comfort food dish of fusilli with homemade tomato sauce and a Caesar salad to start. The next night, though, I wanted a different sort of comfort food. I was thinking: “Butternut Squash Soup.” I’d serve it with a salad made with radicchio, fennel, apples, toasted walnuts–olive oil and lemon juice for dressing–a hunk of blue cheese on the side and maybe a hunk of bread to round things out. No recipes were used in the making of this dinner. I just winged it. And the results totally hit the spot.

How do you wing a butternut squash soup? Easy….

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How To Turn Leftover Chicken Into A Tasty Soup

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One benefit of making a complicated, classic dish like bouillabaisse, as I did last week, is that the process of making it becomes its own version of cooking school. You follow the steps but as you do so, you learn things. For example: making a fumet (or fish stock) may be labor-intensive but your efforts pay off later when that highly flavored broth is poured in with the tomatoes and onions and fish and takes your bouillabaisse over the moon. Why couldn’t I apply a similar strategy with leftover chicken and leftover chicken carcasses? Last week, that’s precisely what I did.

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Ribollita (Italian Cabbage and Bean Soup)

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I’m kind of digging this L.A. winter. I was worried it’d be too hot and that I wouldn’t be able to cook my cold weather comfort food. Instead, it’s just cold enough to make a big pot of soup–like this Italian cabbage soup called Ribollita–and to feel good about it. Served up with lots of Parmesan cheese and toasted bread rubbed with garlic, this makes for a cozy, cheap and relatively healthy weeknight dinner regardless of your coast, east or west.

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Roasted Squash & Fennel Soup

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Dealing with expectations is a tricky endeavor for every cook, whether at home or at a four-star restaurant.

Granted, the four-star chef has a harder time: diners at a four-star restaurant expect impeccable service, pristine surroundings, and food at the cutting edge of what food can be. At home, things are a little different. You don’t have to make a streak of sauce on the plate with the back of a spoon, you don’t have to scrape crumbs off the table with a crumb-scraper, but if you’re going to serve something familiar, as I did recently with Butternut Squash Soup, it better be the comfortingly sweet version that everyone knows and loves. Sad to say that this one, which comes from one of my favorite cookbooks ever, Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques,” isn’t.

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Gazpacho and Blue Cheese Toasts

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I know there are curmudgeonly food people out there who are down on Food TV, specifically the high-octane food competition shows that command such a large audience on Bravo and Food Network. But this is a story of how one of those shows inspired me to turn an ordinary weeknight dinner (one of my killer salads) into something totally new and unexpected.

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French Onion Soup

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The idea of a secret ingredient is a funny one. I think it’s based on a modern American notion of shortcuts; the idea that instead of working hard to be successful, you can win the lottery or appear on a reality show or read the Cliff’s Notes and still pass your A.P. English exam (I did that actually: sorry, Hester Prynne). This American obsession with getting everywhere as quickly as possible, to FastPass your way to accomplishment, doesn’t translate well to cooking. Which is why, I think, so many Americans don’t cook. They’d rather fast food it, or frozen dinner it, than stand over a stove. And when they do stand over the stove, they want “quick tips” and “30 minute meals” and the magical, secret ingredient that’ll propel their dinner to greatness. But the truth is no one ingredient can propel your dinner to greatness; greatness comes with patience and practice, over time.

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Made-Up Minestrone

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My proudest culinary achievements aren’t the ones where I followed a recipe really well or repeated a specific technique demonstrated by a chef, they’re the ones where on a freezing cold night, instead of ordering a pizza or Thai food (side-note: we still haven’t found good take-out in the West Village; anyone?) I whip up something delicious with what I have on hand.

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The Great Soup Battle of 2010 (Pasta Fagioli, Cabbage Soup & Szechwan Carrot Soup)

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Hear those distant drums? A great battle is about to begin: the Great Soup Battle of 2010.

As readers may remember, last week I announced a big contest on my blog. Submit your favorite soup recipe–it didn’t have to be original, just a soup recipe that you love–and the best one would win a $450 VitaMix blender. Then 325 of you, that’s right 325 of you, submitted recipes. And little old me had to wade through them to pick the best. It was hard work, not for the faint of heart, but I wound up choosing the three most intriguing; recipes that, for whatever reason, grabbed my attention and made me hungry to try them. Then I invited my friends Diana Fithian (an enthusiastic home cook) and Leland Scruby (who works at the French Culinary Institute) over to help me make them. The three of us, plus Craig, would sample these soups and carefully choose the winner.

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