Thanksgiving with a Kick

I knew it was happening, but I didn’t want to believe it. Last week, I caught “the funk.” Whatever it is that floats around this time of year found its way to me.

Whenever I get sick, I love spicy things to clear my head. And since we’re close to Thanksgiving, I wanted something seasonal that would also wake up my tastebuds. It seems every time I have had butternut squash dishes in the past, they’re bland and frankly just plain boring. This soup, which I found on FoodNetwork.com, won me over and may have sparked a newfound appreciation for butternut squash. If you have family members who don’t like spicy food, you can easily omit the chipotle pepper from the recipe and serve the adobo sour cream to your more adventurous friends at the table. As with most blended soups, use a high quality blender or an immersion blender to achieve the best texture.

On one final note, if you’re like me and never know how to use an entire can of chipotle peppers, feel free to freeze whatever you don’t use and save them for later.

Butternut Squash Soup with Chipotle Cream

Ingredients:
1 medium butternut squash
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups vegetable broth
1 canned chipotle chili, seeds removed and minced

Chipotle Cream:
1 teaspoon adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
½ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

First things first, you need to roast your butternut squash. Preheat your oven to 375. While your oven is preheating, get your muscles ready and pull out your best knife (I personally love my bread knife because it saws into the squash easily). Halve the squash. Then, remove the skin and take out the seeds with a spoon.

Cut the squash into medium sized cubes. The smaller the cubes, the faster they will cook.

Drizzle a little olive oil on a baking sheet. Coat the squash in salt, pepper and the oil and bake on the baking sheet for 35-45 minutes.

When the squash is near done, begin the rest of the soup. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, celery and carrots and season with a pinch of salt. After about 10 minutes, add the garlic. After 2 minutes or so, add the squash and about 4 cups of the vegetable broth. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until vegetables are very tender (about 20-30 minutes).

Turn off the heat and using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup. You can also transfer the soup to a blender in batches and puree, but use extra caution when blending a hot liquid. If you’re not satisfied with the consistency of the soup, you can add more of the broth at this point. At this point, I added the chipotle pepper and pureed it as well. If you want to keep the soup mild, you can omit this step.

In a small bowl, mix together the teaspoon of adobo sauce and the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the soup to bowls and top each with a dollop of the sour cream.

Fall Favorites: Part 2

Nothing warms up a home like a pot of soup simmering on the stove. Soup was almost always the comfort food my mom made for my dad whenever he came home from a long trip. It’s a food I associate with family and sharing. No matter how hard I try, I’m incapable of making a small batch of the stuff. I always wind up with tons leftover, and find myself giving it away to friends willing to take it off my hands (and by that, I mean Marianne, who has been my designated soup-taker for the last two weeks).

When an overnight frost came through over the weekend, I made a quick pesto out of my wilted basil leaves. As I looked through a magazine planning my meals for the week, a vegetable soup seemed like the perfect way to put my pesto into action.

Vegetable Soup with Pesto

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 to 2 stalks celery
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 russet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 32oz carton of vegetable broth or home-made vegetable stock
1/4 pound green or yellow wax beans
1 small zucchini, cubed
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup macaroni noodles or other small pasta
3/4 cup pesto (store-bought or home-made)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots and salt and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, stock and about 1 cup water. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat and add the potatoes. Continue to simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly cooked.
2. Stir the zucchini and green beans into the prepared broth along with the white beans and the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.
3. When ready to serve, whisk the pesto into the soup. Ladle into bowls and top with any remaining pesto. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan or Gruyere and serve with bread.

The Things We Learn From Strangers

Communication is such a funny thing. Sometimes it’s easier to say the things we can’t normally say when we’re talking to people we hardly know. I read an amazing post today by Girl’s Gone Child. I was humbled by the honesty of her words and the beauty of her metaphor. It was easy to tell a stranger that I fear for my own relationship sometimes, that I, too, have felt the foundation slipping, and I felt comforted by the words of a woman I have never met.

Relationships are exhausting. We keep score, we hold grudges, we reveal our greatest weaknesses. It’s such a relief to know that I am not alone.

It can be so easy to overlook all the good things. We find faults in favors, and we lose patience even though most often our only real pressure comes from within ourselves. “You cooked dinner, but you made a mess.” “You put your clothes away, but your left your shoes everywhere.” We focus on the “you did nots” versus the “you dids.”

We are human and we take the things we love for granted. But sometimes, if we’re lucky, we pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes. The truth is that love doesn’t need to make a grandiose entrance. Love just needs little coos of appreciation from time to time to nurture it. It is a shared popsicle, it is driving and letting the other one sleep, it is running at a slower pace so your partner can keep up, it is letting one more stray cat stay.

In a way, I’m glad it isn’t easy. It’s like a good soup. What fun would plain onions be or boiled lentils or a spoonful of salt? You’ve gotta give it time to simmer until one flavor makes another one better.

One More Stray Cat