Jaye Beeler regularly profiles Grand Rapids-area chefs and restaurants for Grand Rapids Magazine and has been covering the food and beverage scene for even longer — formerly as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press.
“When I was a lifestyle writer at The Grand Rapids Press, the then food editor, Ann Wells, encouraged me to seek out the culinary stories in West Michigan and write about all the delicious wonders,” she recalled. “I loved, loved, loved telling people’s stories with the food and drink they put on the table. When Ann Wells retired, I happily became the food editor at The GR Press for 10 years.”
In addition to eating at all these wonderful restaurants and hearing the stories behind the menus, Beeler also enjoys cooking at home.
“Celebrating with food is my absolute favorite thing in the world,” she said. “I’m fascinated by my whole foods — not processed into something else — but the beauty of pure ingredients, just waiting for me to transform them into a feast. I cook dinners most nights from scratch and the rhythm of that kitchen dance makes my heart happy. I’m vibing on Indian, Chinese, rustic American and the Moosewood restaurant’s vegetarian bent.”
That love of cooking goes back to her childhood growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, where she said, “cooking and eating together was my family’s No. 1 way to show love.”
Her father was a chef for many years and her grandmother retired as a cook at Sullivan University’s main cafeteria.
“As a kid, our backyard’s peach trees and blackberry brambles along with my grandparents’ amazing garden in Russellville, Kentucky, delivered ‘local and seasonal ingredients’ long before it was even a buzzword in today’s terminology. My granny’s Sunday dinners after church were legendary and one and all were welcome — how she managed to stretch that roast chicken and dressing, mixed greens, macaroni and cheese, buttermilk biscuits and sweet, sweet tea to feed so many was literally an act of God.”
For fall, Beeler enjoys making butternut squash soup with Italian sausage, northern beans, corn and tomatoes — especially because she gets to use many of the vegetables she spent time tending to in her garden. “My husband Rich and I grow a wonderful garden full of herbs, tomatoes, hearty greens and winter squash that blossoms into these enormous beauties.”
She suggests making the recipe your own. “Try roasting all the vegetables — onions, bell pepper and garlic — to deepen the gorgeousness of this soup. A recipe is a starting point, so remember that whenever you cook anything.”
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
1 pound Italian sausage
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 red (or orange) bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 package (16 to 20 ounces) frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon chicken base
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 (about 15-ounce) cans fire-roasted tomatoes (or an equal amount of oven-roasted Roma
2 (about 15-ounce) cans northern beans, drained and rinsed
A good dribble of heavy cream, half-and-half or creamline milk
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Rub the flesh of the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and place squash halves cut side down. Roast in the oven until tender, 45- to 55-minutes depending on the squash’s size.
About 15 minutes before the squash is out of the oven, start your sautéing. In a sturdy stockpot, heat olive oil. Add Italian sausage; brown and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Leave grease to sauté onions. If necessary, add another dollop of olive oil. Sauté onions until translucent. Add diced peppers and minced garlic for a couple of minutes.
When the squash is tender, scoop out the roasted squash and add to the soup pot. Add half of the corn, 8 to 10 ounces. Cover with water, about 6 cups, depending on how thick you want your soup to be. Add chicken base, more or less, depending on taste. Add thyme. Bring to a gentle boil to cook the corn and dissolve the chicken base.
Let cool a few minutes and, in batches, purée in a blender until velvety smooth. (Alternately, use your immersion blender but blend thoroughly to make sure the corn purees into ultra-creaminess.) If using the blender, return to stockpot and add remaining corn, tomatoes, northern beans and Italian sausage. Bring to a simmer and stir in heavy cream. If desired, garnish with chopped fresh parsley.