Sunday, January 13, 2013


We had a heat wave last week in Minnesota. Blue skies and a hint of warmth surprised me each morning I headed out to the bus stop, tethered in my wool scarf and hat, puffy down jacket. I even heard a little chickadee singing that sweet little two-note, high-low song while I was waiting outside. I pictured the little guy as a lone fluff on the tree branch, standing his ground against winter, stretching his feet in the warm day. I always forget how much I miss the little birds by the time the dead of winter rolls around! He was back for a few mornings - I think he showed up three days in a row. Just the tease of spring I needed as January pushes on through.

On Friday, we had a high somewhere around 40 degrees - and rain, rain, rain. I swear the clouds were touching the ground for most of the day.

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff. A day of dreariness and gray just lights me up sometimes. Maybe it's nostalgia for the two years I lived in Seattle. Or maybe I'm just lazy! But I love the feeling that there's nothing more for me to do than be inside, in blankets, with a pile of movies or books at my side. Or a baking project to futz with, or a pot of soup to be stirred.

It's been a soupy month for us so far. I worked through my first attempt at borscht (pretty good, but needs work; also, kitchen looked like a scene from Dexter after grating the raw beets). And, I finally perfected my recipe for butternut squash soup. I've been making this soup for quite some time - I love it because it's a savory, not sweet, version of butternut squash soup. There are no apples or ciders or sweeteners of any kind here. Instead, the sweetness comes only from the squash, which is mellowed with the earthy taste of rosemary and thyme. A touch of cream rounds it all out, giving you soft, silky spoonfuls.

What's even better - butternut squash and blue cheese pair like a match made in funky heaven. I always serve this soup with toasted baguette slices spread with a soft blue cheese. And any dish that serves as a reason to pull out the blue cheese is a winner to me.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Rosemary
2 lbs butternut squash
2 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp dried rosemary (crush with mortar and pestle if you have one)
3-4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

To roast the squash:
Preheat oven to 375. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Set the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for approx 45 minutes, until the squash is very soft when poked with a fork (the peel may start to blister). Remove from oven and let cool until you can scoop out the flesh. Set aside.

To make soup:
In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh and dried rosemary, cook for a minute more. Add the butternut squash, stir to incorporate with the other ingredients; cook a minute or two. Add 3 cups of the chicken stock (reserve one cup) and salt and stir. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Blend the soup in small batches until it is very, very smooth; add additional chicken stock if needed. Be careful not to fill the blender more than 1/3 full when working with hot liquids. A trick I like - remove the plastic cap part of the blender lid, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to relieve the pressure and let steam escape a bit when you turn the blender on.

Return the blended soup to a pot over low heat; stir in the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed - you may want to add more rosemary or thyme.

To serve: Pair with a sliced baguette, lightly toasted, spread with blue cheese.

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