Velvety Butternut Squash Soup

“The house was very quiet, and the fog—we are in November now—pressed against the windows like an excluded ghost.”
E.M. Forster, Howards End

The last of our beautiful leaves – the trees are naked now and everything is white. I need updated photos.

November in Upper Michigan arrives with a fierce and energetic gust. The color has already been torn from the trees, so November gales stir up Lake Superior and remind us that whether you are Finnish or not – Yoopers have sisu. It is one of the reasons that we live here. Surviving a UP winter gives one stamina and a keen sense of perseverance. When traveling, our snow totals give us bragging rights and the wild beauty keeps us stimulated and inspired during long tedious months of frigid weather.

During November, social media, advertisements, and news outlets remind us that we should be thankful. Therefore, we tick off our blessings: health, family, friends, careers, pets, and all the stable factors in our lives.

While I try to be thankful year round, November naturally makes me focus on the abundance I have been given.

With my husband and I both possessing demanding jobs, both kids in hockey, and everyday household chores that include farm duties – simplifying our meals is essential. It is my obsession to make sure that our nutritional needs are met and that the majority of our meals are homemade. Therefore, in the coming months a variety of hot and nourishing soups will be a mainstay in our kitchen. This recipe for butternut squash soup is simple, satisfying, and healthy. The texture is velvety and so smooth you will not believe that it does not contain cream.

 

VELVETY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

*Butternut squash (three small, two medium, or one large)
*1 cup of chopped onion
*1 cup of celery
*1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
*1 Tablespoon of finely chopped ginger
*3 chopped Granny Smith apples (I left the peelings on)
*4 cups of stock/broth (vegetable or chicken stock)
*1 teaspoon nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon cinnamon
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – sweetener to taste (maple syrup or brown sugar). I like the soup without sweetener but my husband likes it sweet.
*Optional – I like to add a large bunch of sage from my garden (remove before pureeing)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2. Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3. Peel squash and remove seeds.
  4. Sauté onion, garlic, celery, and ginger until soft.
  5. Add the stock along with apples and squash.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool a bit and puree in blender.
  8. Serve with a dash of cinnamon on top and/or a sprinkling of walnuts, pecans, or croutons.

This soup freezes well and is a wonderful way to round out a meal. Add a simple salad and it is a great lunch and it is elegant enough to serve to guests.

Make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

Thank you for reading my blog. As I reflect over the things that I am thankful for, you are part of that list. I love being able to encourage others to enjoy cooking and share my healthy recipes. May your November be full of warmth and laughter around your kitchen table.

Our driveway looks so magical in the fall. John had to plow this weekend – which doesn’t make it look quite as pretty!

 

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Seasonal Simplicity – Squash

We do not have to look at the calendar to be reminded that the winter holiday season is upon us. Christmas displays started popping up in stores right along with jack-o- lanterns, while television commercials repeat a dizzying array of gift ideas. Not to mention that we all have that one friend on social media who has their Christmas shopping finished at the end of September. Unfortunately, I am not that friend. Though every year I want to be.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” As my husband and I try to become more self-sufficient in our food production, I have embraced the idea of rustic elegance when it comes to meals. Not only does it suit the farm-to-table lifestyle, but it can be an efficient way to cook.

I welcome food prep that can carry over into a variety of meals. Cooking in bulk can
serve a busy schedule well – especially during the hustle and the bustle of the holidays. For example, a large pan of roasted Brussels sprouts can be a healthy holiday side dish and the leftovers can hearty up a breakfast quiche, add flavor to a spinach salad, or be an unexpected addition to a pasta dish (and with the time you save you can wrap up those last minute gifts).

One of the foods that has come a long way from the bad rap that many of us gave it as kids, is squash. Not only does it grow easily in a garden, but it will keep a long time (several months) when stored in a cool place. If you do not have a green thumb, you can find a wide array of squash in the supermarket.

While I am known to use spaghetti squash as a healthy alternative to pasta, I enjoy preparing butternut and acorn squash. Both can be served whole (or more accurately halved) and they can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients (think rice, quinoa, or farro. Nuts, dried fruit, and even sausage). The squash can also be cubed and roasted, or even mashed. Since it can be prepared ahead of time, you can warm it up or serve cold as a salad. As long as you have the oven turned on, you might as well prepare a few extra squash and puree the leftovers with broth (and cream if you’re feeling indulgent) for soup (I also like to add apples to butternut squash soup).

Since both butternut and acorn squash are quite hard and difficult to cut, I prepare them whole: Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)

Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400 degrees.

Peel squash and remove seeds. If you want to cube the squash and roast it, you could prepare using the above technique for a shorter amount of time until it is soft enough to cut easily. Once you have the squash cut, drizzle with olive oil and spices and roast until slightly caramelized and soft.

I recommend serving squash on a large serving platter. For a real rustic feel, do not peel but “scoop” the squash to serve.

A great accompaniment to squash is roasted cranberries, walnuts, and a homemade
Pumpkin Vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also makes a fantastic dressing for a green salad and it will keep over a month in the refrigerator.

Roasted Cranberries:


If you have never roasted cranberries before, you are missing out. Not only will your house smell amazing, but the sweet-tart flavor is astounding. Plus, you control how much sugar you want to use. You might want to make a triple batch (or more). Roasted cranberries are delightful as a topping for oatmeal (hot or refrigerator oats) and they make great appetizers (serve on toasted French bread or crackers with brie or goat cheese).

The sweet tart flavor of cranberries is incredible in refrigerator oatmeal.

*Bag(s) of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
*Juice and zest of one orange
*1 teaspoon of rosemary (more to taste)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (more to taste)
* ¼ cup of honey (to taste. You can also use maple syrup or brown sugar)

 Roast for 20-25 minutes at 375-400 degrees
 Serve warm or cold (as they cool they will thicken)

Pumpkin Vinaigrette:
(make sure you check out the recipe Apple-a- Day Mason Jar Salad that
incorporates this dressing)

* 1/2 cup of vinegar (I use raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of
vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time
and tasting the dressing as you go)
* 3/4 cup of pumpkin
* 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
* 1/4 cup of water (the dressing tends to be thick so I thin it out with water. You could add
extra vinegar.)
* 1 large clove of garlic
* 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
* 3 green onions (you can use a Tablespoon of regular onion)
* 1 inch of fresh ginger root
* 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could also use honey)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
* Salt and pepper to taste

Blend dressing until smooth. The combination of sweet, savory, tart, and spicy ingredients make it a pleasing combination.

This holiday season I hope you find many moments to make memories with your friends and family. If you are responsible for preparing a feast, remember that many foods can be made in bulk to serve many recipes and save precious time. Keeping our menus simple and rustic, does not mean that we have to sacrifice taste. Nature provides us with complex flavors and textures. One of the best gifts that you can give loved ones this year is a meal cooked with fresh and wholesome ingredients. From The Waldo family to yours – may your table be filled with holiday blessings!

The Antidote for Seasonal Amnesia ~ Soup

Butternut Squash Soup by Produce with Amy

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

“Take a little backache
Melt some snow from the year of your birth
Add the lump in your throat
And the fear of the dark

Instead of oil a pinch of chill
But let it be northern
Instead of parsley
Swear loudly into it…

…We’ll dive into the soup
With a grain of salt between our teeth
And won’t come up
Until we learn its song…

…We arouse the sun’s curiosity
By whistling for the soup
To be served…”
~Charles Simic (from “Soup”)

I have had amnesia for the past six months. When traveling, and asked to describe Upper Michigan, I tell people that the summers are so breathtaking that they have the capacity to give residents of the Upper Peninsula amnesia. Mike and I (and our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Phoebe) enjoy four fleeting months of gorgeous weather. (Sometimes longer depending on the temperament of May and October)   We love to pass our time hiking the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Negaunee, spending time on the Paint River in Crystal Falls with my brother Jamie and my dad Jim, and packing up healthy snacks for picnics and photo shoots along the glittering waters of Lake Superior and other local destinations. Our summers are drenched in beauty and by mid-July we forget how fierce of a punch our winters can wield.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

We have been fortunate in the U.P. and have experienced a very mild winter. That was until the past week. One step outside yesterday and my amnesia came to a screeching halt. Before I even went to bed last night I received an automated call from the school district that I teach in that we would be closed today due to inclement weather. Our local television station was reporting -16 with wind chills of -31 and classes at nearly every school in the U.P. was cancelled. I will not deny that not having to warm up my Jeep and brave the numbing cold was celebrated. The prospect of a day off was a glorious treat and I knew I would spend time in my robe with a hot cup of tea and a purring kitty on my lap before I hit the treadmill.

The plunging thermometer did not let our January Green Smoothie Challenge slip away. Our Day #22 Green Smoothie combination was red leaf lettuce, wheat grass juice powder, parsley, cucumber, avocado, mango, strawberry, chia seeds, lemon juice, and water. Not only are the green smoothies packed with nutrients but Mike and I both notice that they give us a burst of energy to fuel our mornings. It has now become part of my routine to make extra to pack with my lunch and drink on my commute home from work. Last week I picked up some Powdered Wheat Grass JuiceWheat Grass from our local food co-op to add to our smoothies. So far for the new year I am down 2.8 pounds and next week will be starting a 12 Week Challenge with my Weight Watchers members. One of my goals is to invest more time in planning my lunches and trying one new recipe a week. Often I am guilty of buying the ingredients for recipes that I spot in Vegetarian Times or on Pinterest, but rarely do I go through with actually making them. Last year when I made the commitment to follow plant-based eating I fell into a food rut and I am determined to not allow that to happen again.

Last weekend I was submerged in grading semester essay exams but still made time to cook for the week. Since Mike is still eating meat in moderation, I made a vegetable marina that we both could enjoy and meatballs on the side for him to add to his plate. I started Weight Watchers six years ago and ever since have been in the habit of making a pot of soup on Sundays to eat during the week. There is something poetic about the process of making soup. Chopping vegetables has a therapeutic magic to it and the house fills with magnificent aromas. A cup of broth based soup is satisfying and filling and allows Mike and I to eat a smaller amount of our main entrée.

I also love the freedom that cooking soup offers. It is one of those dishes where a recipe is optional and I enjoy flinging whatever vegetables I have on hand into the pot. Though, of course, as a veteran Weight Watchers member, when adding ingredients that are not 0 Points Plus vegetables, I am careful to keep track and run the recipe through eTools.

When I buy organic vegetables I made sure to save the scraps in a bag in the freezer to make my own vegetable stock. This works especially well with onion and garlic skins and cuttings, celery, carrots, parsley and other herbs. A friend also taught me the trick of adding extra water when I cook dried garbanzo beans for hummus. Once the beans are finished cooking you can drain the water and use for soup stock. I cook garbanzo beans in bulk and freeze both the beans and the stock.

Last week I knew that the end of the semester would find me in a time pinch so I tried an alternative route for my weekly soup ritual. The Marquette Food Co-op carries soup mixes in the bulk section and I decided to try the Spicy Southwestern which consists of a medley of beans, corn, peppers, and spices. Since I did not have any stock in the freezer I picked up a carton of that as well and used it along with water. The co-op prefers that owners bring their bags or jars but it had been an impromptu trip. I like to save my bread bags for bulk items and made sure that I tucked some into my shopping totes for next time.
Spicy Southwestern Soup

I think the first "mix" is a typo and should read "water"

I think the first “mix” is a typo and should read “water”

I ladled us each a cup and added diced raw onions and campari tomatoes, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, a squeeze of lime juice, 1 tsp of olive oil, and Himalayan pink salt. Mike opted to leave off the toppings and he had leftover shredded chicken. The soup was spicy and warm addition to the blowing snow outside.  The next time I make the Spicy Southwestern Soup I think that I will add a jar of my mom’s canned garden tomatoes to the pot. My friend Lisa said that the Curry Lentil mix is very good and I will be trying it next weekend.

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Today after my smoothie I was in the soup mood but wanted to try something different. I wanted to come up with a single serving recipe that would have all of the convenience of opening up a can of soup but without the sodium and additives.

Spontaneous Soup

I started off by sautéing minced garlic, chopped onions and celery, and chunks of red bell pepper in 2 teaspoon of coconut oil for a couple of minutes (I wanted them to retain their crunch). I turned off the burner and folded in a handful of spinach and transferred to a bowl and added a dash of rice vinegar.

Vegetables Sauteed in Coconut Oil

Vegetables sautéed in Coconut Oil

To the same pot I added one cup of vegetable stock and added rice noodles and brought to a boil. Once the noodles were done (only takes a few minutes) I added the broth and noodles to the vegetables. The soup was finished with a dash of soy sauce and fresh cilantro. Simple and satisfying.

Final Project SoupClose up of finished product

Rice noodles are great  for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.

Rice noodles are great for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.


After this morning I am imagining all sorts of single serving soup combinations.  I think that the onion, garlic, and celery gave the soup a lot of body and a rich stock is also essential for flavor. Instead of spinach one could add kale or other greens or cabbage.
How about tomatoes with fennel, and lemon juice? Or ginger with lemon grass and carrots? Basil and tomatoes would make a terrific combination and if you are so inclined you could even add meat or shrimp. Though, of course, I would recommend a 100% plant-based version.

Since the weather is blustery and I am in the soup mood I thought that I would also share my healthy version of Butternut Squash Soup. I made a couple batches this fall and found it hearty and it froze well for future meals. A friend tried the recipe and said it was so creamy she was shocked that the recipe did not contain cream.

I  used two fairly large butternut squash for this recipe and it rendered 18 cups.

  1.  Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2.  Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3.  Peel squash and remove seeds. The two squash that I roasted rendered 4 pounds of squash.
  4. Saute 1 cup of onion 2 Tablespoons of garlic, 2 cups of celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger, 3 Granny Smith Apples (I kept the peels on).
  5. Add five cups of water and the four pounds of squash and simmer for 30 minutes.  The water could be swapped out for vegetable stock.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste..
  7. Puree in blender
  8. *Optional. Sage (When I made in the fall I added a large bunch of sage from my garden. I removed the sage before pureeing.)
    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily removed

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily remove

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    While winter lingers I will make countless pots of soup to help us warm up. Today when I looked out the window I could not help dreaming of being outside tending to my flowers and tomato plants. This time of year I really miss fresh garden produce. Since I eat a lot of salads, I especially miss fragrant tomatoes still warm from the vine. Nothing can compare to a tomato from one’s own backyard, but I have found a fairly decent tomato that can really perk up a winter salad. They are rather expensive but when sprinkled with sea salt they give off an essence and hint of summer that is priceless.
    CompariIt appears as if the cold snap is going to continue in the U.P. and we are under both a wind chill and snow advisory. Tonight I will drink hot tea and nurse my amnesia with fantasies about what I will grow this summer in my garden. Tomorrow is Day #23 of our Green Smoothie Challenge and maybe I will concoct something with a tropical flair.  It may be only January, but so far 2013 has been both nutritious and productive.

    Summer Garden

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.