Curry-in-a-hurry Butternut Squash Soup

News Flash: when I get home from work I don’t go to the kitchen and cook myself a 3-course meal. Shocking, I know!

In fact, what I eat at home after cooking all day is probably pretty pathetic. Far too many nights I roll into my kitchen exhausted and smelling like lamb and much like your teenage kid, I stand at the fridge with the door wide open for 20 minutes thinking, there’s nothing to eat. When really, it’s just a disconnect between my brain and mouth because I’ve been cooking all day, tasting all day, but haven’t sat and eaten a proper meal.  And then I’ll graze on condiments – olives, cornichons, cherry tomatoes, a piece of chocolate – and call it a meal. Or, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll pour myself a bowl of cereal.

But when I’m not utterly exhausted and I do actually feel like cooking for myself, I can totally get into the challenge of making something from a supposed “empty fridge”. It’s like a challenge calling to me to create something really good from whatever paltry scraps I can pull together. But making a good something-from-nothing, for me, means having at least a good arsenal of condiments and spices to work with. Anything that adds a big burst of flavor with minimal effort can turn “nothing” ingredients into something spectacular.

I’m a spice-a-holic if there ever was one. I bring home spices and pastes and weird ingredients from everywhere I travel. Garam masala, 5-spice, dukkah, za’atar, yellow curry powder and myriad curry pastes are all staples in my pantry. Harissa, Sriracha, fish sauce, tapanade, truffle mustard, anchovies and a few quality vinegars are also really handy for big flavor, fast.

Today I had one of those “nothing in the fridge” moments where I figured I’d eat out because I was too lazy to shop or do dishes (I realize I’m crushing your fantasies about how chef’s eat when nobody is around). But I had a small butternut squash from a friend’s garden that had been staring at me from my kitchen window for well over a month, begging to be used. I only had an hour or so before I had to head out the door, but the squash beckoned. The produce in my fridge consisted of pretty much nothing: half an onion, a bulb of garlic, a nub of ginger (all with not much lifespan left in them), one sorry-looking carrot and a few stalks of celery. I gave it all a rough chop. Peeled and seeded the squash and sliced it thin, so it would cook quickly, and then tossed it in a pot with some curry powder a squirt of sriracha and some coconut milk and then pureed in the blender and in 20 minutes: voila! I had a great soup!

This is also where having quality appliances comes in handy. I’ll save my appliance and kitchen equipment rant for another blog rant but in the ongoing Vitamix vs. Blendtec blender wars, in my kitchen, Blendtec wins. The Blendtec has more horsepower than the Vitamix, more settings, costs about $100 less, and I’ve never had one break on me. I bought a new Vitamix recently for a client and the quality just didn’t feel the same as the older ones. It broke within a month so I sent it back. Where was I? Oh yes, when it comes to soup, a good quality blender will turn even raw ingredients into the silkiest soup imaginable. Hence, my partially-cooked-I’m-in-a-hurry butternut squash soup. Enjoy!

Curry-in-a-hurry Butternut Squash Soup
Cristina Topham: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite curry powder
  • 1 14oz can of coconut milk
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt to taste

  1. Over a medium flame and in a medium pot, add coconut oil. When it has melted and the pot is warm, add the onion, ginger and garlic. Cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes, until curry powder is fragrant.
  3. Add remaining ingredients. If coconut milk does not cover everything, add a little broth or water to cover (remember, you can always add but you can’t take away – so add a little liquid and then you can thin the soup as much as you’d like once it is pureed). Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes (unless, like me, you are in a hurry and have a good blender that can puree everything, in which case, simmer for 8 minutes).
  4. Puree the soup in small batches.
  5. Return to the heat and taste for seasoning.



When in Rome… Errrr, Sweden.

Life is so %&#*ing good, I can taste it in my spit.   ~ XXXX, Layer Cake

Being a non-Swede in Sweden, and being asked to make gravlax, is like a non-Catholic in Italy being asked to perform communion. So for two days I was on pins and needles as my gravlax cured in the refrigerator – hoping and praying that it would turn out well and that my experimentat with raw fish wouldn’t kill anyone. At the end of the two days, I removed the salmon from the fridge and unwrapped it. It smelled good, really good.  I began to slice long, thin, pink strips but before I could even put them on a platter for the morning breakfast spread, it was snatched from my cutting board. I waited with baited breath… “Mmmmmm”, The Swedes said. “Mmmmmm”, is always good to hear. I was told it was the best they’d ever had! And since gravlax is, un-officially, the national food of Sweden – I’ll wear that one like a badge of honor, thank you! I laid out of a big platter of my homemade lox alongside thin slices of cucumber and tomatoes, a basket of fresh bread, hard-boiled eggs and cheese and I am proud to announce that I have been unofficially crowned an honorary Swede. And nobody died from eating my raw fish. Yay!

Prep time: 
Total time: 

  • 1 cup fine sea salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 bunch basil, stems and all
  • 2 bunches dill, stems and all
  • 1 salmon filet, approx 3-4 lbs. Scaled, and pin bones removed (Since the salmon is not cooked, use the freshest possible salmon. Fortunately for me, fresh salmon is not in short supply here in Sweden!)

  1. In a small bowl combine salt and sugar.
  2. Rinse and pat salmon dry and lay on cutting board, flesh side up.
  3. Slice salmon in half widthwise. S
  4. prinkle salmon halves with dill seeds and then coat both halves of salmon heavily with salt mixture.
  5. Layer fresh herbs on one side of the salmon, starting with the basil and then the dill.
  6. Sandwich both pieces of salmon together with herbs in between. Sprinkle any remaining salt mixture on salmon skin and around exposed flesh.
  7. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
  8. Place salmon sandwich in glass baking dish and place a plate or baking dish on top of it. Weigh the plate down with either two large cans of tomatoes, a few bricks or free-weights between 2 and 4 pounds and place in refrigerator.
  9. Flip the salmon over every 12-hours and replace the weights. The salmon will be ready to eat after 48 hours, but can cure for up to a week. The longer the salmon cures, the texture will become more dense and drier. I usually cure my salmon for 2 to 3 days.
  10. Remove the gravlax from the fridge, unwrap and remove the herbs and slice. If you’re a New Yorker, pile it on a bagel with cream cheese, red onion and capers. But, if you want to enjoy it the Scandinavian way, eat it with cucumbers and tomatoes on fresh brown bread with butter!
SLICING:The rule of thumb with knives is: the thinner the blade, the thinner the slice. When it comes to slicing gravlax, the best knife to use is a long, thin slicer. Make thin slices at a 45 degree angle, against the grain of the flesh of the fish.

Sweden’s National Sweet Tooth

candyThere are a few things that have taken me by surprise in my study of Sweden’s culinary landscape. First: the candy. Every grocery store that I’ve visited has an isle of bulk candy bins that would put Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to shame. The biggest grocery store, ICA MAX Stormarknad (say that 10 times fast!), must have over 100 bins of candy. The bins contain every flavor and shape of gummy candy – from sweet and sour fruit chews (or winegums, as they’re called here), salted licorice, Swedish fish and coke bottles (coke flavored winegums shaped like bottles) and so on. And, all manner of chocolate: nuts, caramels, chocolate coated marshmallow bears, chocolate coated gummy candies, chocolate drops, hey stacks, etc. Add to that, another smaller isle of “premium” candy bins where premium chocolates come wrapped in pretty jeweled colored foils that remind me of some long lost childhood I never had! It’s a wonder Sweden doesn’t suffer from a national toothache or a severe case of hyperactivity. But maybe that’s why Swedes so often go to Thailand (a nation known for its inexpensive dental care) in the wintertime, to get all of their cavities filled!

Next: ice cream. While I haven’t yet noticed a frozen yogurt epidemic on the same scale as that which is sweeping the United States at the moment, Swedes certainly do love their frozen treats. Store bought ice creams in Sweden come in flavors normally limited to high-end restaurants in the States – rhubarb with cardamom and cinnamon, nougat, lemon-mint sorbet, cactus fruit. And their ice creams are ethereally light and yet still incredibly creamy – a texture I’ve only ever experienced before with ice cream made from a PacoJet. But, my research is not yet complete. I think the Swedish ice cream phenomenon will require more a bit more field-testing.

And finally, the bread and butter. Seriously, what country steals all the thunder for having the best bread? France, no? Baguette, baguette, baguette. You’d think that baguette was the only decent bread available in all of Europe. Well, to hell with the baguette, I say, and to hell with the French, for that matter! The best breads I’ve ever eaten have been in Norway and now, Sweden. Dense, dark, chewy whole grain breads flecked with caraway, flax and sunflower seeds, spiced syrup breads and breads loaded with dried fruits and nuts. Spread with creamy, rich salted or extra-salted butter – it’s like a bite of heaven!

A new addiction, or three, has been born in me. Needless to say, I will not be able to fit into my pants by the end of this trip. Good thing there’s an H&M on every street corner!

Can’t Keep a Good Girl Down…

I’ve tried sitting still. It really doesn’t work for me. I don’t even know why I fight it anymore. My feet start to itch when I get too comfortable. Then, this insatiable case of wanderlust kicks in and I have to hit the road, or the sky, or the ocean. That’s what happened a few months back, right after I started my new (and already defunct DharmaKitchen) blog with a grand announcement that I was going to stay put and start writing about healthy cooking. I went six months without getting on an airplane! That’s a record for me!

My friend, Tom, says Lady Fortuna loves it when we make “grand” announcements. HA! I have to agree…

I was actually trying really, really hard to stay in one place, in Oregon. I thought I could keep my wanderlust at bay. I’ve tried this before. It never works. I have to be able to run free, to take off, to be somewhere new: to smell the smells, hear the sounds (even cars sound different in a foreign country!), peruse the isles of the grocery stores and take in all the wonderful, weird goodies people eat in these strange, exotic places. It’s like an addiction, almost as expensive, but without the side effects (except weight-gain and the occasional sting of loneliness). It’s part of the fabric of my being. Best not to fight it.

And so that’s how it happened. How I ended up where I am now: on an island, in Stockholm, Sweden where I’ll be cooking for a family for the next six weeks!

It’s 3:30am right now. From where I sit, I can see a pale blue sky, tinged with pink as the sun works it’s way up. Birds are chirping.

Sun, you are really messing with my head! My body keeps telling me that it’s 3am and I need to get some sleep. But my body thinks it’s breakfast time and is craving coffee and a bullar, the Swedish cardamom buns that my new employer taught me how to make last week. They’re made from a sweat, yeasted dough that is smeared with butter, sprinkled with sugar and cardamom (or cinnamon, or pistachio paste, or fruit – but cardamom is my favorite), cut into strips, twisted, rolled and sprinkled with parlsocker (pronounced: pearl-soaker or pearled sugar) and then baked. They’re soft and chewy, sweetly spiced, with a little crunch from the pearled sugar. And nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is better than one of those hot from the oven with a cup of tea!


Bullers: Swedish Cardamom Buns
Cristina Topham: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Swedish

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoon active-dry yeast
  • 5 – 7 cups flour, plus additional for kneading
  • ½ Cup sugar
  • 5 oz. butter
  • 4 oz. softened butter
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon cardamom or cinnamon
  • Cupcake liners (about 20)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Pearl Sugar

  1. Place butter and milk in a small pot and warm until butter is melted.
  2. In large bowl of a standing mixer (or using the dough hook attachment to a hand mixer) combine sugar and yeast.
  3. When milk is just warm to the touch (not too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast!), add to sugar-yeast mixture and combine.
  4. Add 4-5 cups of flour and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Mix until dough is smooth. The dough should be smooth and stretchy, very soft and pliable, but not tacky. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rise until almost doubled in volume.
  5. Once dough has risen, scrape out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Kneed by hand for 2-3 minutes until all the air bubbles are worked out of the dough.
  6. Cut the ball of dough in half (it’s easier to work with this way). Working with half at a time, roll dough into a large rectangle, ¼ inch thick.
  7. Smear the dough with the softened butter, then sprinkle over the cardamom sugar mixture.
  8. Roll the rectangle lengthwise into a tight tube (as when rolling cinnamon rolls). Cut the tube into 24 (1-inch) slices, using thread if possible (the thread will slice more easily and cleanly than a knife). Roll the tube one-quarter turn after each slice to keep the tube round; otherwise, it will flatten from all the slicing.
  9. *If you want to follow a more Swedish tradition, fold the dough in thirds, lengthwise. Cut the dough into 1 inch wide strips. Then, slice each strip three quarters up the length of the strip (lengthwise, as if you were cutting the strip into two thinner strips – but only cutting ¾ long). Holding the strip from the top (the uncut part), twist into a loose knot and place on cupcake liner.
  10. Place each of the slices into a paper cupcake liner and place on baking sheet (with lots of space in between!).
  11. Cover loosely and let rise 10-15 minutes.
  12. After rolls have risen, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a little more sugar-cardamom mixture and the pearly sugar. Bake until the rolls are puffed and golden brown, about 9 to 11 minutes.
  13. Rotate the trays halfway through for even baking.
  14. Cool the rolls slightly. Serve warm.



And the winner is…

Yeah! Andrea from the great food blog HighLowFoodDrink (which seriously makes miss New York City!) has submitted a great story about how she won her man over with food! And now Andrea has won her very own copy of Forking Fantastic!

Free food and free beer – that’s how my husband and I met when he crashed a grad school party at my school.  Though this is how we met, I thought a photo of Bud light wouldn’t really be a great recipe submission.  So, how did I win his heart?  By making congee when he was sick as a dog and couldn’t get out of bed.  Congee is a traditional Chinese peasant breakfast and my mom would always make a bowl for me when I was sick.  It’s a really easy dish and it did help him feel better.  It must have worked because we’re now married and he always requests this dish whenever he’s feeling ill.

9 cups water
3/4 cup long grain rice
additional ingredients:  frozen corn, broccoli, eggs, Chinese mushrooms, etc
additional seasonings:  salt and pepper

In a large pot, bring the water and rice to a boil.  When the rice is boiling, turn the heat down to medium low. Place the lid on the pot, tilting it to allow steam to escape. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice has the thick, creamy texture of porridge for about 2 hours.  Add  other ingredients and let them cook.  Serve in bowl.


Andrea’s congee may just surpass Congee Village, the best congee joint in Manhattan. Maybe we should be lining up at Andrea’s door at 3am instead?!
Thanks Andrea!