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Christmas Dinner in a Can

Linda Wertheimer spoons out baby food in preparing butternut squash and apple soup.
Photos by Cara Gerhard, NPR News /
Linda Wertheimer spoons out baby food in preparing butternut squash and apple soup.
Whisking the ingredients for the soup.
Whisking the ingredients for the soup.
Looking too good to eat, the soup is highlighted with a swirl of creme fraiche.
Looking too good to eat, the soup is highlighted with a swirl of creme fraiche.

If you read the food section of the glossy magazines, pay attention to Martha Stewart and have loving memories of Julia Child, you would think this is the era of free range and fresh. But in real life, there's a noticeable counter-trend: meals made simple, using ingredients found in baby food jars and soup cans.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Linda Wertheimer fires up the NPR test kitchen -- in her house -- to try three time-saving recipes. Two come from Laura Karr, author of The Can Opener Gourmet, and one is by Jane Kirby, food editor of Real Simple magazine and creator of its Fake It feature.

"I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of by using store products," Kirby says. "I cruise the aisles looking to see what's there and it's really quite astounding what wasn't available even five years ago."

For those of you who want to try making the dishes Wertheimer prepared, NPR Online offers the recipes for butternut squash and apple soup, peach sorbet, and eggnog crème brûlée:

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup


Five 4-ounce jars butternut squash baby food

One 4-ounce jar sweet potato baby food

One 15-ounce can chicken broth

1/2 cup applesauce (unsweetened)

3/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper (white or black)

Crème fraîche for garnish (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients except the crème fraîche in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring. You may also heat in a microwave, but Karr says it tastes better when pan-heated. When soup is just beginning to boil or steaming, remove it from heat.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: The Can Opener Gourmet by Laura Karr (Hyperion)


Peach Sorbet

Karr says she keeps a can of fruit in the freezer in case unexpected guests arrive. After the fruit is frozen, it takes only 5 minutes to make the sorbet, including thawing time.


One 15-ounce can peaches, frozen (flavored peaches are okay)

2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice

Freeze the canned peaches for 18 hours or more. When you're ready to make the sorbet, submerge the can in hot water for 1 to 2 minutes. (Karr uses the blender or a 2-cup measuring cup for this step.) Open can and pour syrup into container in which you will purée the fruit.

Slice frozen peaches into several chunks. Add to syrup. Add lemon juice and purée until smooth.

Serve immediately or cover and freeze until later, up to 8 hours.

Makes about six 1/2-cup servings.

Source: The Can Opener Gourmet by Laura Karr (Hyperion)


Eggnog Crème Brûlée

Hands on time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 1/4 hours

Time saved from scratch: 5 hours


1 quart prepared refrigerated eggnog

4 eggs

1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325º F. Combine eggnog with the eggs. Pour into eight small ramekins. Arrange ramekins in a baking pan and pour hot water around them. Place in oven and bake about 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of one, comes out clean. Remove from oven and from the baking pan. Cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerated until well chilled, about 2 hours. (Can be made to this point up to two days ahead.) Heat broiler to highest heat. Arrange chilled ramekins on a baking sheet and sprinkle with an even, thin layer of brown sugar. Broil (or, melt sugar with a small kitchen blowtorch) 5 inches from heat about 2 to 3 minutes or until sugar melts. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Source: Jane Kirby's "Fake It" column in Real Simple magazine

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As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.