Butternut Squash Soup…

Now that January has settled in and the holidays are firmly behind us, I began looking at various soup recipes so I could break in my new immersion blender. Honestly that was not the only reason. There’s nothing like a bowl of piping hot soup to melt the January chills away.

Last year I discovered the joy and ease of making homemade soups, and I can equivocally say if you haven’t tried making homemade soup you’re missing out on something special. And over the past several years I’ve grown to love making roasted butternut squash, so I decided that butternut squash soup would be my next venture.

Ingredients

I poured over a wide variety of recipes and then decided, as usual, to take the best concepts of several and create a recipe of my own. As with any soup I’ve made so far, the bulk of the work is in the preparation. Once you’ve got the ingredients prepared the process couldn’t be simpler. And if you’ve been following me for a while you know I find it very cathartic to chop, mince, dice and slice so this soup was absolutely perfect for how I like to cook.

So let’s talk about making butternut squash soup…

Lesson Learned 1 – You can prepare the squash in a couple of ways: Most recipes I read either called for the squash to be roasted in the oven first or merely just chopped and added to the pot to cook with the stock. I chose the latter and the soup was delicious. The next time I make this I’ll try roasting the squash first and see if that adds any additional dimension to the flavor of the soup. My base for the soup was the “trinity” of onions, celery and carrots along with garlic and that provided great depth of flavor.

Lesson Learned 2 – Be careful when adding the seasonings: This recipe calls for adding nutmeg, cinnamon and cayenne pepper along with salt and pepper. Nutmeg especially has a very strong flavor so just add a pinch to start. I recommend the same for the cayenne pepper. After I added a pinch of each at the end and tasted the soup, I added a second pinch of all of them. Both the nutmeg and cayenne provided a nice warmth and the cinnamon a touch of sweetness. Just remember the old tried and true rule – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out once you put it in.

Lesson Learned 3 – Be very careful when preparing the squash: I’ll be totally upfront with you – preparing the squash can be an arduous task. I recommend cutting the squash in half at the center and then with the flat edge down using a very sharp knife to remove the outer core. Start at the top and slide your knife downwards to peel the core to the bottom. Continue rotating around the squash using this process until the entire core has been removed.

The outer core is very hard, so if you try to cut it with a dull knife you can easily hurt yourself. Be careful and watch your fingers the entire time. When initially cutting the squash in half to create the flat bottoms, if your knife gets stuck mid way through, do what I do and pick up the knife with the squash stuck to it and pound it down hard on a strong cutting board or butcher block. The force of the blow(s) will get the knife completely through and your fingers are totally out of the way.

IMG_9244

If you’ve never peeled a butternut squash before, I recommend you take a few minutes and find a video on YouTube that shows you how. The key thing to remember is keeping your fingers away from the knife at all times. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m just trying to stress the importance of being safe during this process.

And if you don’t want to bother doing the cutting yourself, many grocery stores have prepared butternut squash that you can buy. The only thing I don’t like about the prepared squash is often I get some of the tough pith in with the squash pieces. I guarantee you the tough pith (any of the light orange colored part of the outer core) will not get tender. You only want to use the deep orange part of the squash.

The "Trinity" - onions, celery and carrrots

The “Trinity” – onions, celery and carrrots

Lesson Learned 4 – Using an immersion blender: One thing to remember when using an immersion blender is not to pull it up to high to the surface when you’re blending in the pot – you’ll have soup flying all around your kitchen if you do! Keep the base of the blender down low and only move it up half way through the liquid when blending. 

I personally guarantee that the work making this soup is totally worth it. This is a great soup for a cold January night and one you will make for years to come.

Butternut Squash Soup…

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 1 Hour Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

1 medium onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

3/4 cup carrots chopped small

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 Tbs. butter

1 large or 2 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped with seeds removed

1 medium granny smith apple, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken stock (one 32 oz. box)

1 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

Pinches of cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg (to taste – err on the side of less is more)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a 7 quart dutch oven melt the butter and add the onions, celery and carrots. Salt and pepper the mixture. Cook until the onions look translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute.

Add the squash, apple, broth and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the squash and carrots are tender.

With an immersion blender (or you can puree this in batches in a stand blender) puree the soup to your desired thickness (the more you puree the thinner the soup).

Add the cayenne, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir and taste. Add more if desired. Salt and pepper to taste.

Once you’ve finished adding the seasoning, turn the heat off the soup and stir in one cup of heavy cream. Serve with croutons or with a dollop of sour cream.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

 

Mom’s Chicken Soup With Dumplings…

Most of you know by now that my mom wasn’t much of a cook. She led a busy life raising two kids and working (and you have to remember, at that time women were staying home when they had children) and so her meals were pretty rudimentary – meat, potatoes, peas or corn – that was about it. But there was one meal she made that was over the top fabulous and that was chicken soup and kugelis. I’m sharing the chicken soup recipe today. As for the kugelis recipe (kugelis is a Lithuanian dish and basically a baked potato pudding) I’ll share another time. Whenever my mom would visit us I would always ask that she make this meal. No one could make it like my mom – but she did pass down those secrets to me.

For years this was the only homemade soup I made. This year I ventured into making some others (broccoli cheddar and creamy tomato soups) and I now find it hard to believe why anyone would not make homemade soup. It’s so easy and most of the work, besides the chopping and dicing, is done in the pot.

I guarantee you this recipe is a keeper. It’s not rocket science but it is so-o-o good – it was and still is a tradition in my family. So let’s talk mom’s chicken soup with dumplings…

Chicken in a large enameled cast iron potLesson Learned 1 – Use a very large stock pot: I have a 6 1/2 quart LeCreuset stock pot that I use whenever I make soup and there’s a reason why. You need a big enough pot to put in a whole chicken and still have plenty of room for liquid. I make this recipe using a 5-6 pound chicken and it can take up a lot of room.

I also like using an enameled cast iron pot when I make soup because of it’s ability to hold heat and provide even heat. There is no better way to cook than to use cast iron, but it has its drawbacks. Mainly it’s very heavy and it takes a little more time for it to heat up. But when you’re cooking something for a substantial amount of time, I find the way to get the best results is to use cast iron.

DumplingsLesson Learned 2 – Don’t be afraid to make dumplings: Some people say they have no luck making dumplings. There is a trick to making them that basically ensures success all the time. Once you’ve spooned the dumpling batter in the pot, put the lid on and keep it on for at least 20 minutes – NO PEEKING. The dumplings need time to solidify and they only way they do is if you keep that lid on and let the steam cook them through. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to view your dumpling prowess after they’ve fully cooked. If you don’t do this, they will fall apart. So don’t be like my husband who likes to lift the lid of the crock pot mid through the cooking time to see how things are going. Keep the lid on and you will be successful!

texture of dumpling doughThe texture of the dumpling batter should resemble a slightly moist sticky dough. I apologize in advance but this is a skill you learn with trial and error. Just remember that you don’t want the dough too runny nor do you want it to lack some moisture. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds.  The picture on the left shows the dough just a little too moist but almost the desired consistency. I think added another tablespoon of flour at this point and it turned out perfectly. Once you have combined all the ingredients in the recipe, if it looks a little dry add a little more buttermilk and if it looks a little too wet add a little more flour. The trick is to add the buttermilk or flour a little at a time at that point, so you don’t over mix but get the right consistency.

One more great dumpling making secret: Before you start spooning in the dough, place your teaspoon into the boiling soup. That way when you drop in the dough it will easily release from the teaspoon. Do that every time and you’ll never have to worry about a lot of dough sticking to your spoon.

That’s it. The rest is assembling and preparing the ingredients and letting the chicken and dutch oven do all of the work. This is a great recipe especially for this time of year. I hope you enjoy it!

Mom's Chicken Soup With Dumplings

  • Servings: 10
  • Time: 90 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Soup:

1 five to six pound chicken, thawed

5-6 medium sized carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch logs (or you can use baby carrots as well)

4 celery heart stalks, diced

3 cloves of garlic peeled but left whole

2 bay leaves

2 thirty-two ounce boxes of unsalted chicken stock

2 tsp. instant bouillon chicken granules

water

chopped chives for garnish

salt and pepper

Dumplings:

1 cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 extra large egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/8 cup melted butter (2 Tbs)

2 Tbs. chopped chives

DIRECTIONS:

Wash chicken, remove any material inside the cavity and pat dry. (if the chicken has any innards such as a neck, liver and heart throw that in the pot as well). Put the chicken in a 6 1/2 quart stock pot. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaves. Pour in the chicken stock. Add the bouillon granules. Fill the remainder of the pot with water until the liquid is about an inch from the top of the pan. Cover the pot and cook for 30 – 40 minutes. (a six pound bird required 40 minutes on medium-high heat).

After 40 minutes, turn off the heat and carefully remove the chicken from the pot along with the bay leaves. The garlic cloves will basically disintegrate so you don’t need to worry about removing them. Allow chicken to cool slightly so that you can work with it. Remove all the meat from the chicken, being careful to discard any bones and skin. Chop the chicken meat into nice bite size pieces. Put the meat back in the pot, cover the pot and bring to a boil.

While the soup is coming back to a boil make the dumplings. Melt the butter and give it time to cool before adding it to the dumpling mixture. Combine all of the dry ingredients including the chives. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients (it is important for the melted butter to be cool so that it doesn’t scramble the egg). Stir until combined. If the mixture is too dry add a little more buttermilk, if too moist add a little more flour.

Remove the cover from the pan. If the broth is boiling quickly drop the dumpling dough into the pan by the teaspoonful. Once all the dough is in the dutch oven, put the lid back on, lower the heat to medium and do not take the lid off the pan for at least 20 minutes. The dumplings are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

All Ingredients With Stock

 Cook for at least 30-40 minutes

Cut up the chicken

Put dumpling dough into boiling soup

Mom's chicken soup with dumplings

Creamy Garden Tomato Soup…

I warned you about a plethora of tomato recipes as my tomato plants this year have been producing like they are on steroids. A co-work of mine suggested that the strains I’m growing, the indigo rose and tie-dye heirloom tomatoes (pictured below), would make a great tomato soup. I’ve never made home made tomato soup before, so I thought I would try. I really didn’t want to waste any of these great tomatoes and I knew making soup would use up a lot of them.

The Indigo Rose Heirloom Tomato

The Indigo Rose Heirloom Tomato

Tie-Die Heirloom Tomatoes

Tie-Die Heirloom Tomatoes

A while back I posted a recipe for home made Broccoli Cheddar Soup. That was only the second homemade soup I ever made. For years I have been making my mothers chicken and dumpling soup but never thought about trying other recipes. Now after having made this tomato soup I wonder why I waited so long to make a variety of different home made soups. I’m pretty sure I’ll be trying more soup recipes in the future. They are relatively easy to make and so much more flavorful than what you buy in a can. Plus you control the ingredients. And if you look at canned soup, they tend to have a lot of sodium. So take the extra time and try making home made soup. It’s truly worth it.

This recipe is based on a recipe by Ina Garten called Cream Of Fresh Tomato Soup. It’s a great recipe as is, but I made a few tweaks and loved what I got. I used less onion, more garlic, less sugar, more tomato paste, more basil and I finished it off with 1 Tbs. of butter to give it a nice shimmery, satiny look. Many of the reviews of her recipe said not to change a thing, that the soup was fabulous as is. But I know my tastes and I also can tell if I like how things are looking by eyeballing it. The changes that I made worked wonderfully, and I will chronicle in the recipe below what I did.

So let’s talk about making tomato soup…

Carrots and onionsLesson Learned 1 – Cut the carrots into small pieces: I think the carrots add a nice flavor to the soup, but recipes hardly ever tell you how to cut them. Carrots are dense and they take time to cook. And you are trying to soften them with chopped onions which by nature are less dense and can soften more quickly. So cut the carrots small. I cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then in half again lengthwise and then started chopping from there. The smaller pieces soften faster. Also remember to soften the onions and carrots on a medium heat. You’re not looking for the onions to caramelize, you just want them to soften. The carrots will soften slightly but not all the way. That’s perfectly fine as you will be simmering them for a long while and that will complete the softening process.

Lesson Learned 2 – To peel or not to peel the tomatoes: I did a lot of reading regarding whether you should peel your tomatoes when making the soup. I found a lot of different opinions but I chose to peel them. In Ina’s recipe, she tells you to cook the tomatoes with skin on. Later on in the process you take the soup mixture and process it through a food mill to remove any skin and seeds. I don’t have a food mill, so I decided to peel the tomatoes at the very beginning.

Peeled Tomatoes

Peeled Tomatoes

Lesson Learned 3 – How to peel a tomato: Peeling a tomato is really quite simple. All you need to do is to put it in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove it, and the skin will practically peel off by itself. I used this method and it worked like a charm.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using a blender to puree your soup: When using a blender to puree hot soup you need to do a few simple things to prevent having an explosion. First, never fill the blender completely full with hot liquid. Fill it up only to the half way point or even a little less. Second put a towel over the hole in the top of the blender to let steam escape while you’re pureeing your soup. Otherwise you may wind up with soup all over your walls. Or, an even easier way to puree your soup is to use an immersion blender. You stick it right into the hot pot and emulsify the soup right there. Currently I do not have an immersion blender but I am definitely going to invest in one. In the meantime, using a blender worked perfectly fine.

If you haven’t tried making homemade soup you really should. I was surprised at how easy and good it was. So go ahead, walk on the wild side and make some homemade soup…

[recipe: title=”Creamy Garden Tomato Soup…” time=”2 Hours Including Prep” Servings=”8-10″ difficulty=”Easy”]

INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium sized red onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, unpeeled and chopped

4 cloves minced, garlic

8-10 garden tomatoes, medium to large in size

1 tsp. sugar

2-3 Tbs. tomato paste

1/3 cup loosely packed and chopped fresh basil leaves

3 cups unsalted chicken stock

1 Tbs. salt (taste along the way and add more if desired)

1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 Tbs. butter

DIRECTIONS;

On the stove, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, place 2-3 tomatoes in the water and cover. After 30 seconds, take the tomatoes out of the water. Repeat this process with all the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes cool slightly, remove the skins with a paring knife. (the skins should come off easily).

Cut the tomatoes and remove and imperfections or gristle. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately one minute.

Put all the remaining ingredients in the pot except the heavy cream and butter. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer covered for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are very tender. Puree the mixture using an immersion blender, blender or food mill. If using something other than an immersion blender, pour the pureed mixture back into the dutch oven. Over low heat add the heavy cream and stir to combine. Drop a tablespoon of butter into the pot and melt in right before serving.

Serve hot.

[/recipe]

The Ingredients Before Adding Stock

The Ingredients Before Adding Stock

Cook Ingredients in Stock for 45 minutes

Cook Ingredients In Stock For 45 Minutes

Creamy Garden Tomato Soup

Creamy Garden Tomato Soup

Broccoli Cheddar Soup…

Soup Ingredients...

Soup Ingredients…

Even though we are in the midst of summer I still get cravings for soup. Now I have to admit I normally only make a home made chicken and dumpling soup (my mom’s recipe that I’ll post in the Fall) but this time I decided to venture into trying something different. I researched various versions of broccoli soups and decided I wanted to do a broccoli and cheddar combination.

I like this recipe for a variety of reasons. First it is absolutely delicious – second, it’s so easy to make, and third it freezes well so you can have some now and save some for later. So let’s talk about making broccoli cheddar soup…

Slice VegetablesLesson Learned 1 – Use all of the broccoli but cut the pieces small: Most often people tend to discard the broccoli stalks and they actually provide great flavor especially when making the soup. So when you are cutting up the broccoli cut up the stalks as well. Be careful to cut the stalk into small pieces. They are obviously more dense than the florets and will take longer to cook if you leave them in large pieces. The smaller you cut them the less time you will have to cook them.

The same goes for the carrot. I took a pretty big thick carrot, halved it and then quartered it before slicing it. Carrots are also pretty dense and the smaller you cut them the faster they’ll cook. The nice thing about this recipe is you can chop everything up and put it in one big potl. You sauté everything at the same time and that makes it easy.

Lesson Learned 2 – You may have to use both flour and cornstarch to thicken the soup: I know it sounds strange – but it worked. Once the vegetables sautéed in butter for about 5 minutes I added the flour and cooked it down with the vegetables for about a minute. You need to do this for two reasons: 1 – so you remove the “floury” taste from the flour, and 2 – So you won’t have any lumps when you add the liquid.

Before Adding Cornstarch...

Before Adding Cornstarch…

After I cooked the flour with the vegetables I added the chicken broth (this was before I added the stock). As I was simmering everything the liquid seemed a little too light and runny as you can see from the picture on the right. So I added the stock and then systematically added some cornstarch mixed with stock to the soup to thicken it. I wound up using 3 tablespoons of each but added them in three separated batches. That way I could control how thick the soup was getting. You may find you are happy with the consistency you get by just using the flour. But if not, you can always added the cornstarch in small doses until you get your desire consistency. I would make sure to add some stock. I found that by adding one cup it gave the soup a richer color and enhanced the flavor.

A couple of tips: Give the first cornstarch and stock mixture a little time to thicken the soup before you add more. The heat of the soup activates the cornstarch, but it takes a couple of minutes. Be patient. If after a couple of minutes you are not happy with the thickness add a little more. And, just remember, do not add cornstarch to the pot all by itself. You have to mix it with liquid and then add it in liquid form. Otherwise you’ll get lumps. I found a 1:1 ratio of cornstarch to liquid works best. Just make sure the cornstarch is completely mixed into the liquid before you add it (I stick my finger in and swish it around to make sure there’s not a pile of cornstarch on the bottom of the measuring cup). I could have mixed the cornstarch with water but since I had the stock, why not continue to add more flavor.

After Adding Cornstarch...

After Adding Stock And Cornstarch…

Lesson Learned 3 – Use an immersion blender to puree the soup: Unfortunately I do not have an immersion blender (but I think it will be on my shopping list), so I used my blender to puree the soup. You can also use a food processor as well. I had to puree the soup in several batches using the blender. An immersion blender allows you to puree in the pot you’re cooking in and that’s much more convenient. But if you don’t have one, a blender or food processor will do the trick. They just require a little more effort.

So here’s the recipe. I hope you enjoy it!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup…

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1 Hour Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 Tbs. Butter

1 1/2 – 2 pounds fresh broccoli, cut into small pieces including the stems

1 large onion chopped

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 carrot, diced

4 Tbs. flour

3 cups of chicken broth

1 cup of chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 Tbs. cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbs. stock, used as needed or not at all

DIRECTIONS:

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the broccoli, onion, and carrot. Add some salt and pepper. While vegetables are cooking mince the garlic over the pot using a zester and combine with the vegetables. Cook until the onions start to look translucent, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Add the flour to the vegetables and stir for about a minute or until the flour begins to look blonde in color. Add the broth and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Check the consistency of the soup during this time. If it appears too runny pour in 1 Tbs. of cornstarch thoroughly mixed with 1 Tbs. of stock. Add more if needed. It should take no more than 3 Tbs. of each to reach a nice thick consistency. Simmer until all the vegetables are tender.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the cream and cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese has completely melted.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup