Category Archives: soul food

Velvety Butternut Squash Soup


Looking for a soulful and soothing soup for cold winter nights? Look no further.

This Butternut Squash recipe is incredibly easy to make, not to mention satisfying for the taste buds. It is sure to win over any dinner guest and it’s a great way to feed a small group of friends given how few ingredients this dish requires. This Butternut Squash soup is a perfect recipe for a dinner party, or as a starter for Thanksgiving dinner.

Jacob and I go to the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market pretty much every Saturday without fail. When you buy local and cook seasonal, everything tastes better. If you go to any farmer’s market this season you will start to see butternut squash, pumpkins, broccoli rabe, pears, crab apples and more! I love fall don’t you?

In an effort to eat healthier, I’m now the Soup (Wo)man. Soup is very filling, and according to Runners Magazine it’s a great choice after a long run. Butternut Squash Soup’s name represents its flavor profile. This Butternut Squash recipe is velvety, creamy and contains no butter (unless you prefer to use butter instead of olive oil). Either way!

Jacob doesn’t generally like “sweet” food but he loved this soup. It’s not too salty and not too sweet. Indulge your senses!

Ingredients for Butternut Squash Soup:

3 butternut squash, sliced and cubed
1 small white onion, chopped
1/2 tablespoon garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon allspice
1 container chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 medium-sized carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced


4 small potatoes, cubed
1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
2 tablespoons Fage yogurt (plain)
1 piece Fennel


1. Put large soup pan on medium-high heat, and carmelize onions in olive oil and garlic.
2. Add in your butternut squash, and all other ingredients.
3. Cook on medium heat for about 45 minutes or until cubes of butternut squash are soft.
4. Allow soup to cool. Puree in blender or food chopper until smooth.
5. Serve with dollop of yogurt, and a small piece of fennel on top.


Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin


When you hear the term comfort food you probably think heavy, caloric, fatty….

But that’s simply not the full story. Eating comfort food on a cold winter day can be just what the doctor ordered–especially after a day of hiking, running or anything that’s appetite inducing.

Most of us like comfort food–what you might call a Gratin. And anything baked or crusted goes in the comfort food category in my book! Gratin is just what the French call putting a browned crust on a dish using breadcrumbs, grated cheese or egg and butter.

Last night–a pre-Halloween Saturday night meal–I got to cook for three wonderful people. I decided to use a recipe I grabbed from my favorite magazine Oprah. This one I took from the famous chef Wolfgang Puck who I mostly associate with the high-end version of “mall food” (thinking South Coast Plaza right now) but wins points with me for this deliciously cozy and easy to prepare recipe.

Ingredients for Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin:

4 Tbsp. light whipped butter
2 large Granny Smith apples peeled cored and cut into 1/3 inch slices
2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cut crosswise into 1/3 thick rounds
2 cups heavy cream (or half and half or milk)
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg (I used pumpkin spice instead)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used Panko- what I had in the cabinet)

I prefer things very crisp and browned as you can see.


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use either butter or spray to grease your 9 x 13 baking dish; set aside. In a large skillet over medium-heat, melt 2 tablespoons of your butter. Add your apples and cook stirring occasionally until caramelized. Let them cook for ten minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl mix sweet potatoes with heavy cream, nutmeg (or pumpkin spice, salt, cinnamon and pepper.

2. Transfer half of sweet potatoes to prepared dish, arranging them in an overlapping pattern like a layered lasagna. Cover with apples, then remaining yams, overlapping with apples and more yams. Pour any remaining cream over the top. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

3. Increase oven temp to 500 degrees. Uncover dish, scatter bread crumbs over the top and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake keeping a close eye on the grain in case bread crumbs burn. Cook until golden brown on top 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings. Active time 30 minutes. Total time 1 1/2 hours.

Good Ol’ American Dinner


It’s summer and during these cool Oakland nights I like to indulge in something spicy and cool. My mom was always great at making meals with contrast and texture. Her creativity as an artist came from the same place as her notion of food.

If I had one theme across all of my cooking-it would be “intuitive” cooking. Trusting your instincts, using your own senses and your palate as a guide.

My mom was a chef cognizant of heat. If she made salty baked potatoes they were topped with some cool dairy product (the 90’s were the decade of “margarine.”

anecdotal fun fact:

In 1870 margarine was created by a Frenchman from Provence, France — Hippolyte Mège-Mouriez — in response to an offer by the Emperor Louis Napoleon III for the production of a satisfactory substitute for butter. To formulate his entry, Mège-Mouriez used margaric acid, a fatty acid component … and named because of the lustrous pearly drops that reminded him of the Greek word for pearl — margarites. From this word, Mège-Mouriez coined the name margarine for his invention that claimed the Emperor’s prize.

While my margarine enthusiasm is tongue and cheek, I am still an enthusiast for replacements.

Tonight we had egg potato salad with egg, lemon, dill and Greek yogurt instead of mayo. It’s a nice cool side next to a hot and spicy chicken dish.

For this summer side dish you will need:

1 and 1/2 lemons
two potatoes
five eggs
one cup fage 0% yogurt (or any Greek yogurt)
1 tsp dillweed
1 tsp kosher salt (or more-to taste)
1 Tbsp Italian Parsley (fresh if you can get it)
1 Tbsp basil (fresh)
2 Tbsp brown grain mustard (and any other mustards you have such as honey mustard and/or Aioli–same amount)

Boil potatoes (or create holes with a fork and cook in microwave for 8 mins. on high). Boil eggs. When eggs are ready–dig them out of water with a large spoon and wash with cool water. Take off shells. Chop potatoes and eggs and put in large bowl. Mix in all ingredients (sprinkle dill on last) and put in fridge. Serve cold.

Hot & spicy summer chicken breasts

This chicken is sumptuous and will melt in your mouth. It isn’t technical and is a crowd pleaser especially if you are cooking for men who sometimes prefer savory or tangy food. I used Lawry’s taco seasoning–something generally used on tacos but perfectly suitable for chicken.

Here is what you will need:

1 package free range chicken breast (about 5 breasts)
1 packet Lawry’s taco seasoning

1 tsp hot pepper sauce
olive oil spray for your foil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lemon

Spray foil with olive oil spray. Put chicken breasts on foil (spread out so none are touching). Squeeze lemon over chickens. Rub chickens with Lawry’s seasoning. Sprinkle with hot pepper sauce and salt. Put in oven (smaller oven preferred) and broil so the top becomes crispy similar to a skin. Cook chicken for around 30 minutes and check chicken every eight minutes or so until chicken loses pink color on the inside (cut with knife to check).

Feed to someone you want to win over (even if that’s yourself)!

Gooey Polenta Stuffed Bell Peppers and Lemon Panko Chicken


Jacob and I are both people who love to eat, and are always trying to cheat by eating healthier renditions of things we love. We definitely enjoy good food, and I enjoy the puzzle of making “good soul food” healthy and guilt-free.

My running magazine had a recipe for stuffed bell peppers involving veggies and feta. acob will sometimes see an image in a magazine and he’ll ask me to “make that.” So that is exactly what I did (well a variation of it). As Bethenny Frankel says “use what you’ve got” so I did just that–managing to pull together the meal with what we had in the house. I had no feta in the house but I was inspired to make my own rendition of their “runner pepper.”

Though I don’t think anyone will feel like running after eating my gooey polenta stuffed pepper, it sure does taste good. The damage to your skinny jeans are minimal.

We have some good staples at home now including this tool below–an amazing mini Cuisinart oven. You can do almost anything with this little guy. The broiler is my best friend allowing me to make a rendition of any fried soul food I want. If you don’t have a mini-oven I recommend you check this one out. It heats food faster than a large oven, and wastes less energy. It’s also easier to clean. Win win win!

Panko Crusted Lemon Chicken

This chicken recipe is highly kid-friendly. It’s finger food! The pieces tend to look like chicken fingers–but much more fancier (wink wink).

Here’s what you will need

2 servings chicken breast (very lean)
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2 lemons
1 tablespoon brown grain mustard
1 tablespoon garlic aioli mustard (trader joe’s brand)
1/2 cup egg whites
olive oil spray

I like to marinate the meat beforehand so you are making up for the fatty-less flavor. Anywhere between three hours to thirty minutes prior to cooking–before put your chicken in the fridge with the marinade. I use the juice of one lemon along with the brown grain and aioli garlic mustard. I coat the chicken and let it sit in the fridge in a tightly sealed container.

When I’m ready to make the chicken, I get out one low flat dish to pour egg whites in (egg beaters will do). I then prepare a second low flat dish with panko bread crumbs. I then dip the chicken breast in the egg white covering both sides, and then lay the chicken in the panko bread crumbs on both sides. I put a touch of salt (garlic salt fine too) and pepper and repeat for all of the chicken. I put all the chicken on a piece of olive oil sprayed (or pam) foil and put it into the oven on “broil.” Broil makes the chicken crispy on top. When the chicken is nice and brown I take it out. One adjustment you might make is only putting bread crumbs on the side not facing the foil. It doesn’t take away from the chicken and will prevent sogginess underneath the chicken on the foil. I juice the chicken with one half a lemon–all over–when finished for a little more zest. I serve these with mustard or even ketchup. They are delicious and replace chicken fingers any day.

Gooey Polenta Stuffed Bell Peppers

This dish is pure comfort food. It’s very filling, healthy and even Vegetarian friendly. Here’s what you will need:

polenta (cooked)
1/3 cup skim milk
Light parmesan cheese
lentils (cooked)
Italian Parsley (2 tablespoons chopped)
Basil (2 tablespoons chopped)
Mexican mixed cheese (light shredded)
2 bell peppers (yellow or red)
light margarine, butter or olive oil (1 tablespoon)

First thing you will do is to chop your herbs and pair them with your lentils. Set aside on a cutting board. Second take your polenta, break it down into a pan and cook it in some light margarine, butter or olive oil (we use Smart Balance Light). Then pour in your milk and stir over medium heat. Make sure not to burn your pan. If you like cheesy polenta add some light parmesan cheese. Cut your peppers in halves and clean out any seeds or insides. Add the polenta until the cup (pepper) is 2/3 full. Then add one layer of lentils + herbs. Lastly add one more layer of the gooey polenta, and top with your Mexican cheese. Broil in the oven if you want the cheese on top to be crisp. Let cool and serve.

Blake’s Five Pieces of Soul Food She Wishes She Knew At A Younger Age


1. Being attractive has nothing to do with mainstream beauty standards. It has to do with your energy. The essence of you. Ladies we are bringing the judgement on ourselves. It’s time to stop the self-flagellation.

2. Stop trying to be liked by everyone. It’s not ever gonna happen. People will respect you more if you have back bone.

3. You need to have faith and confidence that you will be able to manage whatever situation may come your way. This will help you with future uncertainty, something that’s part of life. Your ability to handle this kind of stress, and how you deal with it, will determine your success.

4. Don’t take finance advice from someone who is broke, relationship advice from someone who is single, or nutrition advice from someone who is unhealthy.

5. Don’t settle for what others told you reality can be. You can be happy now. Eliminate roadblocks and excuses. Stop saying “I can’t” and start saying “I can.” Because, it’s simply the truth.