butternut squash soup

A “cold front” this weekend brought our temperatures from the 100-degree range down to the mid-90s. Although the term generally connotes jackets, mugs of hot coffee, and crisp breezes, I’ll take what I can get. It’s fall here, even if the Austin weather refuses to acknowledge it.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been easing into fall, waiting for it to be cool enough to warrant the mood I’ve been in. I got a taste of fall when I spent a weekend in San Francisco; their warm, balmy 74 is my blanket-and-jacket weather. (Do you know they don’t even need air conditioning there?) When I got back, I was in full-on autumn mode. I put cinnamon sticks and cloves in water on the stove, on a low simmer, to make my apartment smell festive. The down comforter is back on the bed, justified by the fan that blows on me all night. I made lasagna for some friends, a food that’s hardly appropriate for Texas summer. I even wore a completely superfluous cardigan to work one day.

Although I suspect this soup would be best enjoyed in slightly cooler climes, my optimism that this summer weather will soon pass and my desire for below-80 temperatures prompted me to make this simple, basic, savory soup a few weeks too soon. It tasted wonderful, but I can’t wait to try it when the weather matches the hot, silky richness.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Food Network
Note: I did not strain the soup before I served it, but I think I should have, as it had a grittier texture than I prefer. An easy way to do this would be to hold your strainer over the bowl and ladle the soup into the bowl through the strainer as you serve it. To make this dish vegetarian, use vegetable stock.

 You will need:
1 medium butternut squash, diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. butter
Chicken stock
Cinnamon, sage, and nutmeg, to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Toss squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread in one layer on roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender.

Melt butter in pot on medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender and transparent. Add squash and cover with chicken broth. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup directly in the pot until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add more chicken stock to achieve desired consistency. Heat soup thoroughly and add spices to taste. Strain if desired.

Serve immediately, garnished with crème fraiche, fried sage leaves, or other desired garnish.

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tomato soup, made with fresh tomatoes

I know I’ve already posted a tomato soup recipe, but that one used canned tomatoes. This one uses fresh tomatoes.

It’s completely different.

Actually, it’s not, but it’s nice to think it would be. And currently, my garden is bursting with fresh tomatoes. I may post about my first foray into canning in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, my every meal revolves around tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are halved and sauteed to go into tomato-basil pasta, or diced, mixed with olive oil and basil, and spooned onto toast for cool bruschetta. Larger tomatoes are sliced and eaten raw or roasted to top a pizza. Green tomatoes are chopped fine and mixed into guacamole. Several pounds of tomatoes were exported to Mississippi and dropped with my grandparents, where they were sliced onto homemade doughburgers. And last week, 5 or 6 ripe tomatoes were sliced, diced, tossed in a pot, and blended into spicy tomato soup.

I know soup isn’t a summer food, but it had rained for the first time in months so it was an unseasonably cool 87 degrees outside! Bookmark this and make it in November, ok?

Tomato Soup with Fresh Tomatoes
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Note: The original recipe called for processing the soup in a food mill. If you own one, do that. I don’t, so I used an immersion blender. Some of the reviewers strained the soup through a fine-mesh strainer for a smoother texture. I don’t mind my soup a little chunky, so I also skipped this step, but feel free to go for it!

You will need:
4 c. diced tomatoes
1 quarter onion, diced
1/2 celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine the tomatoes, onion, celery, garlic, and chicken broth in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.

In a separate saucepan of similar size, melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a roux. When the roux is medium-brown, add a small amount of the soup and stir constantly to avoid lumps. Add the soup in small batches to the roux, stirring constantly. Add the salt, sugar, and pepper. (I was unable to avoid lumps, so I just gave the soup another shot of the immersion blender. It was fine.)

Serve immediately garnished with basil, chives, grated cheese, or croutons, and alongside a grilled cheese sandwich or some cheddar-scallion biscuits.

spicy italian sandwich

Some days, I enter my car to discover it littered with the detritus of meals-on-the-go. Just yesterday, battling a headache and facing a 45-minute bumper-to-bumper commute, I spent $2.50 on a Dr. Pepper and a package of chocolate sandwich cookies to get me through the drive home. The Dr. Pepper made it into the apartment, but the wrapper from the cookies (which tasted, as one might expect, like so much cardboard and sour frosting) hides in the door pocket. Most days, the white paper straw wrappers in the seats and the receipts bearing the restaurant logos we all love to hate go ignored. 

I feel let down by the cookies. I know, as soon as a buy them, that they’ll taste terrible. Even the Dr. Pepper will fail me. I’ve slowly weaned myself off of caffeine, with the exception of a morning cup of coffee. So a soda this late in the day will do me no favors. But after a meeting that ran too long, a bristly customer, and facing a commute with a head that just won’t quit, I need something. I need sustenance.

Sustenance does not lie in cardboard cookies or delivered pizza, neither of which satisfy for any length of time. True sustenance lies in the salty, savory something I can put on the table without any trips to the store, any stress over instructions or ingredients, and without any guilt. Chopped garlic, swirls of olive oil, shavings of parmesan. Tonight, sustenance is a sandwich. Sustenance, that which sustains me, comes in the marrying of bakery bread (leave the Wonder alone on the shelf) with melted, tangy goat cheese, crispy-on-the-edges spicy salami, fresh arugula from my garden, and olive oil.  The spiciness of both the salami and the arugula go so nicely with the soft, fresh sourness of the goat cheese.

Spicy Italian Sandwich
Serves 2

You will need:
4 slices good-quality bread
Goat cheese

Parmesan cheese
Spicy salami or other Italian cold cut
Fresh arugula, or other leafy green
Olive oil 

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. While oil is heating, generously spread a slice of bread with goat cheese. When oil is hot (it will be particularly shiny), place a slice of bread on the oil. Top with cold cut, lettuce, parmesan cheese to taste, and another slice of bread. Brown the sandwich on one side, flip, brown on the other.

Serve with spicy mustard for dipping, and alongside sliced apples and olives for increased depth of flavor.

creamy from-scratch tomato soup

Austin recently suffered through Hurricane Hermine. (Nearly Kitty Hermione’s namesake!) Streets flooded, I got an extra day off work because my place of business flooded, schools closed, road signs under water, the whole nine yards. Hurricane Hermine was much kinder to Austin than she was to other parts of Texas, but her presence did put Austin in a tizzy. For example, some of Handsome’s coworkers couldn’t make it into work because of flooded roads. Some people lost power a few times. According to a friend’s Facebook status update, it seems everyone bought rubber rain boots from Target.

What did I do? I pretended that grey skies and 36 hours of rain meant it was cold outside, and I made soup.

There’s nothing more appropriate on a rainy day than grilled cheese and tomato soup. The iconic Campbell’s can has, Warhol-like, maintained a steady presence in my pantry for the last twenty or so years. It’s time, though, for something just as comforting, but a bit more sophisticated. You’ve all seen my post on grown-up grilled cheese. It’s time tomato soup grew up, too.

I turned to Cook’s Illustrated (as I always do) and was not disappointed. This recipe yields a creamy, rich, slightly spicy tomato soup with a deep, complex flavor. It’s just as satisfying as the stuff in the can, and just as good to dunk grilled cheese into, but it feels more adult. It’s ready for the boardroom, as opposed to the playroom.

A note: Cook’s Illustrated calls for blending the soup in a blender. I don’t have a blender, and my food processor a) is quite small and b) doesn’t process things too finely (as we found when attempting gazpacho). It’s great for salsa, but not so hot for soup. Instead, I broke out with my trusty immersion blender (mine is something like this) and it did the job beautifully.

Creamy Tomato Soup
Adapted from
Cook’s Illustrated

You will need:
1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes packed in juice (Their recipe calls for 2 cans, but I misread the recipe and used only one, with all other proportions the same, and it was delicious! A pretty big mistake, but it worked out fine and I didn’t even know my mistake until transcribing the recipe. Try it both ways!)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
3 large slices sandwich bread, crusts off, torn into small pieces
2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. chopped chives
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook until onions are softened, about three minutes.

Add tomatoes and juices. Use a potato masher to mash tomatoes until there are no large pieces left. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely absorbed, about five minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Use immersion blender, or blend soup in batches, until smooth, adding 1-2 tbsp. olive oil as you blend. Once soup is smooth, add chicken broth and bring soup to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, some chopped chives, and a grilled cheese sandwich.