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How I make butternut squash soup…

January 20, 2011

Originally posted at Firedoglake.com for “Pull Up A Chair” on November 13, 2010.

This is how I make butternut squash soup…

First, I turn on the oven to preheat to 350 or so. You could use a higher temperature, if you like, and if you want to save time. Next, I cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil so that the squash doesn’t stick, and to make cleaning up easier. I pour some olive oil on the baking sheet and spread it around.

Then I cut the butternut squash up into slices and put them on the baking sheet. Those that have two cut sides, I turn over, so that both sides are coated with oil. Be careful when trying to cut up the squash, so that you don’t hurt yourself. You could roast some other vegetables to include in the soup… I don’t, because I just love the taste of the butternut squash when it is solo.

I roast the squash until it smells too good to leave in the oven any longer. Giving a definite time here is complicated, but I would estimate 45 minutes to an hour, perhaps longer if you’re roasting more squash, or if you have cut it into larger pieces. Frankly, I think the nose is often overlooked as a primary tool for knowing when something is done. Of course, using a fork to test for tenderness would not be amiss, but clearly my nose knows when the caramelizing process is completed.

After the squash comes out of the oven, I let it cool a little bit, so that I don’t blister my fingers when I’m scooping out the flesh. Usually, I’ll use a knife and a spoon, the knife for cutting the skin and the spoon for removing the flesh, but usually my fingers get involved, too. One could peel the squash first, but this way seems to save time. Still, this is the step that takes the longest, but probably not more than ten minutes or so.

Next, I put all of the butternut squash flesh into a pot, add a cup or so of chicken or vegetable broth… depending on who I’ll be sharing it with, vegetarians or meat-eaters. Over low to medium heat, I heat it up and use my immersion blender to blend it all together. Then I add a good portion of almond milk and a smaller amount of coconut milk, both unsweetened, if possible, since they add fewer calories that way. Combined, they give the soup a velvety finish that I don’t think you could get with ordinary dairy milk, unless you use cream. Besides, coconut milk is very good for you, and your digestive and immune systems. Coconut milk contains medium-chain fatty acids, which are not stored as fat, but used for energy. For what it’s worth, I don’t buy it in a can. I either buy the unrefrigerated variety or the refrigerated version, both of which come in cartons. Finally, I add a small dash of cinnamon, a small dash of allspice, and a larger amount of nutmeg. The nutmeg is the real secret ingredient. (I’ve also made it with curry, which adds a bit of heat for those who prefer that warmth at the back of the throat.)

Then, I store it in those plastic containers with the screw-on lids, since they hold an appropriate amount for a single serving, and are less likely to pop off on the way to work. It’s easy to heat up in the micro-wave at work, in a large soup mug, though I don’t heat it up on full power. I know we already had a soup thread, but I didn’t get to include this one in the comments.

What do you like for comfort food on these cold, autumn days? Or, if you live in a warmer clime, what do you prepare instead?

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Ages ago, I promised to write about coconut milk and coconut yogurt

January 15, 2011

Coconut Milk from So DeliciousWell, that day has finally arrived. I’ve been busy writing weekly posts at Firedoglake for “Pull Up A Chair,” and they’ve been taking up my time of late. However, I wish to keep this blog going, too.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to eat dairy, i.e, milk products. Eggs are okay, though many people often think of them as “dairy.” They’re not.

A couple of years ago, I had a lot of dental work done, mostly replacing the silver amalgams in my mouth (read mercury!) and I got pretty sick, lost weight, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t digest my food.

Then, I discovered the coconut milk yogurt made by So Delicious. It really put me back on the track to good health. It contains probiotics and because it is non-dairy, I can actually eat it. Most of my friends prefer the Greek-style yogurt, but I doubt I could eat that successfully.

The coconut yogurt and the milk, too, have some great nutritional advantages. Both are good for your digestive and immune systems. And both contain medium-chain fatty acids, which you use for energy, rather than storing as fat, like the long-chain fatty acids.

If you don’t care for the yogurt, you can still use the milk in soups and such. I always use both almond and coconut milk when I make a butternut squash soup. They give it a real velvety texture.

And I use both milks when I make cocoa with some fare trade cocoa powder. I just add some honey and heat it all up in the micro-wave. Make sure the cup  or bowl is large enough that it won’t boil over while you’re heating it.

So Delicious also makes a non-refrigerated version of its milk, in a box like Almond Breeze, as well as various flavors of coffee creamer and ice creams and novelties.

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Home-made Vegetable Soup

September 13, 2010

soup ingredients

I used to start off with onions in olive oil in a big soup pot, but this past weekend, I learned on America’s Test Kitchen, that onions should be cooked in butter, so they don’t become bitter. So… I started off melting some butter in my largest pot, while I chopped up the onion. Once I added the chopped onions, I added some salt, too, and then a single shallot.

sweating the vegetables

Next, I added the root vegetables… three parsnips, a rutabaga and four carrots. These quantities are just what I happened to have on hand. Usually, I add turnips, too, but didn’t see any that I liked this week; nor did I have any leeks. With each addition, I added a bit more salt, and I added some olive oil, too. Then I put the lid on them and let them sweat… the combination of heat, salt, oil and the vegetables’ own moisture makes them sweat, drawing out their flavors. Next went in part of the soup herb blend, some thyme, oregano and rosemary. Later on, I removed the herbs’ stems. Sometimes, I’ll use just parsley and dill, but I add those later, since they are more tender. I order as much of the produce as I can online, from a local supplier who buys all of their products from local and regional farms, and as much as possible, I try to buy organic. I have never heard of anyone dying due to lack of enough pesticides in their diet.

Potatoes are next. I always peel them carefully, partly because I don’t like an earthy taste to my soup, but also because potatoes always seem to have that greenish cast beneath their skins and I’ve read that green substance is not good for us. So, I remove all of it.

Once the potatoes are in the pot, it’s time to add some liquid. I start with that entire container of vegetable broth, then add some bottled water. I like Deer Park, but you can use whatever you prefer. Our tap water doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t use it for soup.

Usually two cans of canellini beans are next, but I only had one, and usually a small can of diced tomatoes, but this time I didn’t have any, so I used a couple of fresh tomatoes, instead. Not quite as good, but good enough.

frozen vegetables

Then, I add some frozen vegetables. I like a hearty soup and I can’t always get everything I want fresh. So, I usually add some frozen shoepeg corn, some petite peas and lima beans. The corn adds a bit of sweetness, the peas some fiber and the lima beans some additional substance and structure. I added some frozen spinach to this soup, too, but it was not available for the photo shoot.

Time for the soup to come up to a boil, before I turn it down to a simmer. The frozen vegetables cool it down considerably, so I turn the heat up quite a bit.

Generally, I spend about an hour and a half to two hours making a pot of soup, from start to finish. Then I let it cool down a bit before I put it into those plastic containers with the screw-on lids, and I let it cool again, before I put the containers into the refrigerator.

I have a soup following at work. Usually, I’m carrying three or four servings of soup to work each day.

This past weekend, I also made some butternut squash soup, but, alas, I have no photos of that soup. I plan to make some more next weekend, though, and will try to get some photos.

Photos courtesy of Paul Del Rossi

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How to stay well during the Fall, Winter & Spring months…

September 10, 2010

a simple dry brush

Now that Fall is approaching and Winter will be just around the corner… it’s time to talk about how to stay healthy.

Some of you may get a flu shot… I never do, because I am particularly sensitive to medications. Mostly, they just don’t agree with me. I don’t even use the over-the-counter painkillers.

But, I do use a number of alternative means to stay healthy.

First, get thee to a health food store or to a Whole Foods and purchase a long-handled brush with natural bristles. You may use this to assist your lymphatic system, since it needs help, because it does not have a pump, as your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems do.

Then, use Google to search for the “benefits of dry skin brushing.” Don’t read just one link. You’ll find lots of duplication among various links, but sometimes a link may have a different emphasis, or a hint that another link does not have. Using a dry brush before you shower or bathe every day is one of the least expensive things you can do for your overall health. A brush with natural bristles (no plastic or anything synthetic, because they are not good for your skin) will cost between $10 and $15 dollars.

Most places, that’s even cheaper than a flu shot. (If you still wish to get a flu shot, I won’t try to dissuade you. We each know our own body better than anyone else possibly could.) Besides the benefits to your immune system, dry brushing also helps you to wake up and get the blood circulating to  your skin. It also makes your skin softer, and since your skin is your “third kidney,” keeping it soft means it will be easier for toxins in your system to leave your body through your skin.

Dry brushing is not quite like a cup of coffee… more like a cup of tea.

Always, always remember to work from your extremities toward your heart… in order not to put any strain on your blood vessels. Of course, you can just brush down your back. It’s worth noting, too, that lymph fluid moves toward your heart before it leaves your body.  There are lots of lymph nodes under your arms, in the neck and in your thighs, too, of all places. I also brush the bottoms of my feet, just because I like the way it feels; my feet are sometimes a bit stiff in the morning. 

Take as much time as you like. A few minutes each day is probably enough, but if you still get sick, you might wish to do this twice a day. Just consider the extra hot water to be cheaper — in many ways — than antibiotics, especially when you consider what antibiotics do to your digestive system. (That will be a topic for a future post.) Of  course, if you have a bacterial infection, you will need a course of antibiotcs, followed by some yogurt with probiotics to restore the flora in your digestive tract.

Over time, dry brushing is also supposed to help minimize or eliminate cellulite… that is not an overnight process, but it is worth remembering.

Next, consider buying some powdered Vitamin C and Vitamin D3 in drops. I take a 1/4 tsp of the Vitamin C and 5,000 IU of the Vitamin D3 in a small glass of water. It’s only mildly tart. We all know the benefits of Vitamin C, but Vitamin D3’s benefits are less well-known. It is a wonderful aid to your immune system, can help you to prevent certain kinds of cancer, AND it can help you to keep from getting the flu. Both the method and the dose were recommended to me by an orthopedic surgeon, because women need more D than men do, and if we take enough D, we need less calcium. Those of us who live in the northern climes need Vitamin D even more, becauses we get little or no sun during the fall, winter and spring months… and Vitamin D is such an important factor in keeping well.

You might prefer to take the C in a chewable form and the D in a capsule, but that doesn’t work for me. The fillers upset my stomach. Besides, these forms are far cheaper and given the cost of health care insurance, who among us does not wish to save a little money where we can? Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask your doctor to check the levels of Vitamin D in your blood before you begin to take it.

Both of these vitamins are easily available at a Vitamin Shoppe or at many health food stores. So is the dry brush.

Finally, make a big pot of vegetable soup on the weekend and eat it during the week. Breakfast, lunch or dinner… it does not matter. Just eat it. There is nothing better for you during the fall/winter months than homemade vegetable soup, and if you can get local or regional vegetables (preferably organic), you’re way ahead of the game. Root vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and of vitamins and trace minerals, as well as other nutrients. Trace minerals are often overlooked when we think about the nutrients we need every day. And eating meals made with water and broth or stock also helps us to keep from becoming dehydrated… yes, even in the winter.

I make my soup with vegetable stock or broth, since I live with a vegetarian, but it’s fairly simple to add some protein to a serving, if you would prefer. Sometimes, I’ll add a little bit of chicken before I heat it up. When I add sardines — to make a poor woman’s chowder — I add them afterward, so that they don’t permeate the air flow at work or at home.

Next post, I’ll explain all about how to make soup. The most important thing to know is that you must allow the vegetables to sweat.

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some very random thoughts: political/medical, gastronomical, and astrological

September 15, 2009

A really good use of bioengineering or stem cell research would be to find a cure for the lack of Teh Irony [comprehension] gene that has affected so many members of the GOP, as well as their enablers in the LegacyMedia. And while the researchers (in my imagination) are at work on that, they might also look for a solution to that lack of a History gene, too, which seems to affect so many in that same subset of the GOP.

Perhaps if both of those often coexistent conditions may finally be treatable, we may find less projection and more self-reflection among the GOP, a party that was once inhabited by some honorable politicians, but is now dedicated merely to protecting its extremist and fringe elements.

* * * * *

I’m psyching myself up to make some soup tonight, to cook some ears of corn, and to do something with the peaches still languishing in my fridge.

I already have some plans for some Gingergold apples and some Bartlett pears… and apple-sauce… with pears. In the crockpot. But the pears are not yet ripe enough.

I still haven’t finished reading Julia Child’s book about her life in France. Her husband’s nephew, Alex Prud’ homme, collaborated with her on it. What a delightfully composed book. Written more or less chronologically, it is told episodically. Most surprising (to me) were some of the feathers/fur to plate descriptions of putting a meal on the table for just the two of them, or for a dinner party of esteemed guests.

And I especially appreciated her deep research into simple sauces, like a white sauce, or a simple mayonnaise, in order to have clear directions for American cooks who use different methods for measuring (volume) than do European cooks (weight).

What I need–in order to finish this book in a more timely manner–is a longer commute, and I should make a habit of riding in the “quiet” car where no talking is allowed. I’d be finished by now if I rode a half-hour each way in that car every day. A twelve-minute commute, distracted by conversation, is just not enough time for my “transit” reading.

Finally, I intend to learn to make pie again. (A challenge without wheat or butter, but I am determined.)

* * * * *

Postscript: Mercury is retrograde–again!–and has been since Labor Day weekend. Expect poor communications, snags in any plans you make during this phase, irritating computer issues, etc.

However, if you have any long-term projects that have been simmering, this is a good time for revising, revisiting, editing, rewriting etc., i.e., anything with a “re” quality to it.

* * * * *

Update: I have a more overtly political post up now at FDL’s The Seminal.

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an afghan-in-progress

August 11, 2009

afghanintotebagIn the tote bag, you can more easily see the two colors of yarn that I’m blending by knitting with a strand of each. I love mixing colors this way, especially tweeds, which become even tweedier.

afghaninprogress

The pattern is from Plymouth Yarn.

Each afghan requires 10 skeins of Plymouth’s Encore tweed, knitted two strands at a time.

Supposedly, these patterns can be completed in a weekend. Cast on Friday, and be finished by Monday?!

I suppose it might be possible, but one does have other things to do on the weekend, too: shopping, laundry, cooking, etc. And how would my hands feel on Monday if spent the entire weekend only knitting? Sounds like a possible Olympic event to me… something that would require a bit of training first.

Plymouth Yarn: Done by Monday Aghans

Plymouth Yarn: Done by Monday Aghans

Mine is taking longer than one weekend, but I am going to finish it very soon. I’m planning to add buttons to the cast-on end, and button-holes to the cast-off end. My daughter (who is now a better knitter than I am) thinks they are not necessary. What happens will depend on whether I can decide upon a buttonhole scheme that I like.

I took the two photos with my cell phone, which is why the resolution is not very wonderful. The pattern is pretty simple: alternating squares (7 stitches each over 10 rows) of stockinette and seed stitch. If I were to knit this pattern again, however, I would try to make it more truly reversible by using both stockinette and reverse stockinette squares. The afghan is bordered on all four sides with garter stitch so that its edges will not curl.

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from my life on Twitter… and in the kitchen

August 11, 2009

from Twitter…

@EatingWell RT @julienegrin: Nat’l Gardening Assoc: 43 mill planted backyard garden or has share in community garden in ’09, up from 36 mil in ’08

To translate for those who do not use Twitter… @EatingWell is Re-tweeting @julienegrin’s orignal tweet about statistics from the National Gardening Association. Apparently, the number of backyard and community gardens has increased dramatically in the past year.
garden tote
We don’t have that kind of garden, and it would be difficult for us to have one, given the layout (we’re on a corner), the amazing number of old-growth trees, and the narrow strips of sloping lawn that we’d have to till, since raised beds might not be feasible. Still, I did plant some window boxes around the deck with a few flowering items and some herbs. Unfortunately, the weather was soooo bad this year that nothing is really flourishing as it should be in August. There are some blooms on the nasturtiums and the dianthus, but their foliage is sorely lacking. The herbs fared slightly better, but not very much. Too much rain!

However, I started doing something else more regularly this year: ordering produce online and then picking it up on Friday or Saturday at a nearby local & weekend storefront. Although it’s not quite the same as subscribing to a CSA farm (Community Sustained Agriculture), this is as close as I can come to buying from a CSA. And best of all, I can pay smaller amounts weekly, rather than a large amount yearly or seasonally, and order only what I want each week… or every other week, if I have been cooking less often during the previous week.

So far, this summer, my orders have included beets (both red and golden), carrots, corn, radishes, leeks, new potatoes, cippolini onions, spring onions, mushrooms, shallots, blueberries, zucchini, various lettuces, tomatoes, and even beef short ribs a couple of times.

My agricultural source has a friendly enough online site and ordering form that includes important information, such as whether an item is local or regional, organic or the result of integrated pest management. I am comforted by the fact that they try to accommodate so many possible positions on the organic/non-organic continuum. In fact, I learned a week or two ago that they will bring in some greens during the winter from farther away, for those folks who just cannot do without them.

Greens are all good and well for those who can digest them easily… but not I. However, I am really looking forward to the fall and all of those root vegetables that I can’t always find in very good shape in the supermarket when I want to make some hearty vegetable soup. Rutabagas and turnips, in particular.

I live with a vegetarian of Italian descent, who thrives on pasta and dairy products. However, I can no longer eat either wheat or dairy, and so our kitchen life has devolved over a number of years into many frozen single-serving-sized dinners. Mine, of course, are more expensive. Soup, really good vegetable soup, is one thing that we can both eat and that we both really enjoy.

Lately, we’ve been making soup in the crock pot, in order not to heat up the kitchen and the rest of the houses, but when fall and winter return, I’ll return to the stove top, so I can sweat each layer of vegetables in a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of Herba-mare, before I add the canned tomatoes, stock, water, wine or any other liquids and allow it to simmer a bit with a few herbs. The crock pot soup is good enough, but it is not up to the same standard as the soup that happens when I spend some time at the stove.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to purchase all of our produce from this local and regional source. After all, we do buy bananas and avocados, too, but I hope to make it the primary source of our produce and buy fewer and fewer such items in the supermarket.

In order to make that happen, I am beginning to cook more… which is another story. And another blog post.

Image: source

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