Monday, November 23, 2009

squash apple soup

Five years ago, I had just moved to New York. I was fresh out of college, working at my first real job, and living in a makeshift two bedroom apartment on the east side. Every evening when I left work, I'd walk across Houston Street, take the bus up First Avenue, and stroll through a tiny gourmet grocery on my way home. I was just learning to cook and didn't have much money for tools or ingredients, but I felt like such a grown up walking into the lobby of my apartment building carrying my grocery bags, riding the elevator up to my floor keys in hand, and watching the evening news while I made myself dinner. I cooked simple, cost effective recipes that I found in books or magazines, and made the same dishes over and over again, following the directions to the letter the first two, three, or even four times before I finally gained the confidence to make changes to suit my tastes. I must have made this butternut squash soup fifteen times that first fall in New York, adding extra apple to one batch, more spices to the next, and less cream to the next.

When I returned home to Minnesota for Thanksgiving I couldn't wait to share my recipe, and my new-found culinary know-how, with my family. I prepped the soup as I'd adapted it in my tiny New York kitchen, and proudly presented it at our holiday meal. My family smiled, tasted....and then sputtered, coughed and tried not to choke. It seems that cooking was not the only thing I'd learned in New York--I'd also developed a heavy hand with seasoning (in this case ginger and black pepper), which blasted the taste buds of my spice-phobic Midwestern relatives into oblivion.

Last week I found myself just out of law school, making my way across Houston Street to another tiny Manhattan kitchen in another east side apartment. I remembered how I felt those first few months in New York, and how much I love fall, this city, and cooking. So I made this soup. And it was just as good as I remembered. I just used less pepper this time.

Squash Apple Soup
Adapted from William Sonoma

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup shallots, diced
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sage
2 tablespoons white wine
32 oz butternut squash puree*
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons cream, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in a large stockpot until melted. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the apples and cook another 4-5 minutes. Add the cinnamon, ginger and sage and stir to coat. De-glaze the pan using the white wine, and then stir in the squash puree and the chicken stock. Boil until apples are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until desired consistency. If you removed the soup from the stockpot, return it to the pan and stir in up to 2 tablespoons of cream and up to 2 teaspoons of brown sugar (optional). Check for seasoning and add salt, pepper and more spices as desired. Drizzle with more cream and serve warm.

*Note: This soup is best when it's made from butternut squash that you've roasted and pureed yourself, but if you don't have the time (I rarely do) I recommend canned over frozen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

real world pumpkin lasagna

It finally happened. My days of strolling through the Greenmarket in the morning, making a loaf of bread at 2pm on a Tuesday or starting a batch of cookies after midnight are over. Now I carry a monthly metro card, wear a suit to work, and eat salads at my desk.

It's a sad state of affairs indeed. Thankfully, I still have Sundays. On Sundays I can sleep late, drink a whole pot of coffee, and spend the entire afternoon cooking.

Cooking things like this lasagna. Lasagna is just the kind of thing I want to make on a Sunday--it has multiple components, is easy to play around with, and makes for a satisfying weekend project. Even better? The leftovers are quickly reheated to make easy weeknight dinners. The perfect kind of dinners for my new life in the real world. Wish me luck.


Pumpkin Lasagna
Adapted from Taste of Home

Recipe Notes:
I increased the amount of half and half, added some nutmeg to the pumpkin and replaced about a third of the mushroom and onion mixture with sauteed kale.