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Friday, December 11, 2009

butternut squash soup with apple confit


O Christmas Tree

My birthday was yesterday, so since today is officially no longer birthday season, we could go out and cut down our Christmas tree! I know, many of you have probably already had your Christmas trees up for at least a week now, but not us!

My mom’s birthday was December 11th, the day after mine, so she always insisted on a moratorium on Christmas decorations until AFTER the birthday festivities were complete. (Also, she never wrapped my birthday presents in Christmas paper.) We December babies have to stick together—we have a hard road!

So—the Christmas tree expedition! We’ve had fog and misty snow the last couple of days, so the trees are all covered in a luscious frosting of ice. When the sun comes out, it’ll be breathtaking with sparkly rainbows! But in the meantime, we focused on which tree would end its life prematurely.

We considered a few different trees before deciding on the perfect one. We only have one species from which to choose: white spruce. While not known for its fullness, the advantage of a white spruce Christmas tree is the abundance of space between its branches in which to hang ornaments. I’ve always wondered about those trees with luxuriant, dense branches…  where do you hang the ornaments?

Anyway, our criteria were:

1. Proximity to another tree (Remember my past with the Division of Forestry? I’m doing a little thinning of our little backyard forest—one tree per year!)
2. Proximity to the house (Meredith’s condition)
3. Not too tall to fit in the house (Dan’s suggestion)
4. Not too scraggly (We all could agree on this one.)

The first tree was too short, the next one wasn’t close enough to another tree. But finally we found the perfect tree! Now it’s in the garage, the ice melting off its needles…  and it will be the longest 24 hours ever recorded, to hear Meredith anxiously awaiting the hour for decorating it. At least her birthday is in August, not December.

Happy Birthday to all you December babies out there!!





butternut squash soup & apple confit

This is one of my very favorite soups, and it’s one of my favorite things to do with squash! It’s based on a recipe in Annie Sommerville’s Fields of Greens.  Make the stock with the vegetable trimmings the day before you make the soup, or just before you make the soup.

And here’s another option, which I did this week. Instead of peeling the squash first and then cooking the peels in the stock, you can also just halve and scoop the seeds out of the squash, then roast it in the oven until it’s soft (at 350 to 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour), and then scoop the squash out into the stock and cook the soup until everything softens and melds. Whatever fits your schedule best!

The Easy Vegetable Stock

squash seeds and peels
1 large onion
3 large carrots
3 celery ribs
8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 bay leaves
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Scrub the vegetables and chop them roughly into 1-inch chunks. Toss them in a soup pot with 1 teaspoon salt, and add 2 quarts of water.
2. Bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain.

The Soup

4-5 cups easy vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
sea salt or kosher salt
¼ cup white wine
3-4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sweet red apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
½ cup apple juice

1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and add the onion, ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Deglaze the pan with most of the white wine.
2. Add the squash and 1 teaspoon of salt to the onions. Add just enough stock to barely cover the squash (about 2 cups); the squash breaks down quickly and releases its own liquid as it cooks.  Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until the squash is very soft. Puree the soup in a blender and thin it with stock to reach the desired consistency. Return the pureed soup to the pot, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 more minutes. Taste for salt.
3. While the soup is cooking, make the apple confit. Warm the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the apples; sauté over medium-high heat, stirring to coat them with the oil. When they are heated through, add the remaining wine and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the pan is almost dry. Add the apple juice, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until soft; cook uncovered for a bit if you need to reduce the liquid.
4. Stir half the confit into the soup, saving the rest for garnish. Season with salt and pepper as needed, and to serve, top each bowl of soup with a spoonful of apple confit.


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