Archives for posts with tag: winter

Even though the snow hasn’t really hit in full force yet, the long, cold, gray winter is upon us. But don’t despair, vegephiles! There are still treasures to be found, they just grow hidden beneath the Earth’s surface. Take it away, Leo.

Y U NO GET THE JOKE?!

If you haven't seen Inception or don't troll the Internets, I'm sorry for you.

The answer isn’t a dream within a dream within a dream (you brought your totem, right?), but instead the root vegetables that come to harvest during the winter months. For most specimens, the cold weather actually concentrates the natural sugars, giving a sweeter flavor. Taking a stroll to see what I could get locally, I landed some carrots, parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes.

Phallic? Yeah, I can admit that.

Mother Nature's bounty during the winter months.

The tap roots and tubers spanned a decent spectrum of texture and flavor, from the hard and sweet carrots to the softer and spicy turnips, which I figured would do well mixed and cooked together. Vegetables, you say? Yeah, it’s a safe bet I’m going to roast the little bastards.

Getting a tan in a non-stick pan.

Tiny size, big flavor.

Given the freezing temperatures, though, I wanted to add some additional warmth (and not an insubstantial amount of flavor) to my vegetables as well. To meet and exceed all of my needs, I went for whole cumin. The whole seed retains the deep warmth and smokiness of the spice, and just like coarsely-ground black pepper, pieces of cumin release their flavor when you bite down in a pleasantly intense way.

CRUSH THEM AND THEY WILL THANK YOU.

Sometimes it's good to have kitchen toys. Sometimes, though, you don't really need them.

In order to get the most out of whole spices, a simple dry toasting is all it takes. Any small pan over medium heat for 5 minutes or so will not only release all of the flavor of the cumin seed, but it will also perfume your kitchen. TAKE THAT, YANKEE CANDLE. NO MORE $27 HOUSEWARMER JARS FOR ME. Afterwards, many recipes suggest you crush whole toasted spices with a mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Don’t have either of those? Neither do I. A bowl and a small glass (or Ball jar, in my case, being a country boy) work just fine.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Peel, dice, toss with the standard olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, and sprinkle with the crushed and toasted cumin seed. Roast hot (400 degrees for 20-30 minutes) until tender and enjoy.

Do you really need step-by-step instructions? I just gave them to you above anyway. I have faith in you, just try it.

– Max.

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It fucking snowed on Saturday. Like, on purpose, too. Not some bullshit “wintry mix” or a momentary squall. Proper fucking snow. I love the cold, but this was too much, too fast.

Ok. Rant over. I spent most of the day sleeping. The rest of the day, I made soup.

Most people immediately think butternut squash when they think squash soup, but the truth is that the variations between most hard winter squashes that are suitable for cooking are relatively small. For this recipe, you can use pumpkin, kobocha squash (which look like the bastard child of a pumpkin and a watermelon), butternut squash, acorn squash, or any combination thereof.  I went for butternut and acorn, which are widely available, but whatever is available to you locally is definitely best.

For all of my previous squash soup endeavors, I would just dice the raw squash and then add it to my stockpot with the broth and boil until tender. And the results were admittedly pretty good. However, with age comes wisdom, and a proper roasting gives the squash incredible flavor. The parts list is relatively short for this recipe, and like a lot of my cooking, it the process is just as important as the ingredients. Plus, in all honesty, it’s much easier to let the hard squash roast and soften for an hour than to spend any amount of time hacking and peeling the damn things raw. 

Sometimes phallic, always delicious.

Isn't that acorn squash a beaut? Hot damn.

Set your oven to 400 degrees. Bifurcate your squashes with the largest and sturdiest knife you have, trying to be as even as possible. Use a spoon to scoop out the guts, making sure to save them, of course, and put them onto a baking sheet and into the oven. Don’t start poking them for at least 45 minutes, and don’t take them out until the flesh is soft and very scoopable.

I just fucking stabbed them for fun. I knew they were done cooking. I'm just a cold-blooded motherfucker.

Tender and delicious.

While the squashes roast, there will be plenty of time to prepare both the supporting players for the stockpot and the seeds for baking. Besides some butter, the base of the soup is just apple (yes, again!) and onion. I took two medium Granny Smiths, peeled, and chopped them into relatively large pieces, and tossed them into the pot over lot heat with a few tablespoons of butter. Follow that with a big ass sweet onion and a heavy pinch of kosher salt / freshly-ground black pepper and sweat (no browning!) over low heat for 15-20 minutes. As I mentioned before, a lot of my cooking comes down to the process, and you need to take the time to develop as much flavor as possible if you want the most delicious soup as possible! Also, the apples need to soften. After the aromatics have had time to cook down, increase the heat to medium high and give the onions some color, stirring frequently.

This alone makes the kitchen smell like love.

Large pieces are just fine, as they will cook long enough to get plenty soft. And what the cooking starts, the blending will finish.

You should time putting the apples and onions on the heat with the removal of the squash from the oven. Like I said, don’t pull the squash too soon. Test every 5 minutes or so once you think they’re getting close, but don’t worry about overcooking the squash — it’s just going to end up being soup!  Just make sure to let them cool for a while before you attempt to scoop out the flesh. Those mahfuckers are hot.

SQUASH MASSACRE.

Chances are it won't be pretty, but it's all going into the soup.

For the seeds, I find the easiest way to remove the yummy entrails from the seeds is to float the collected guts in a large bowl of water and separate the seeds underwater. No matter what you do, the innards are going to be very slippery, and manipulating them underwater helps to not fling stringy bits all over the counter / drop them on the floor. And definitely don’t worry about getting every single seed, because it’s both unnecessary and would take hours.

Definitely the messiest part of the project. Definitely worth it, though.

Most of the seeds should float, so the larger the bowl of water, the better.

As long as you have a couple of handfuls of seeds and they are mostly devoid of squash guts, they’re good for roasting. Line the same baking sheet, now sans squash, with some aluminum foil and toss the seeds with some olive oil, kosher salt, and for a different hit of flavor, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and roast for 15-18 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

The flavor these little bitches have is astounding. I wouldn't eat my soup without them.

Good for out of hand eating, but better in the soup.

Once you’ve harvested the squash, add it to the now-browned aromatics and fill the pot with the full compliment of chicken broth. Boost the heat, and allow everything to cook for a good 10 minutes or so. Most of the squash will break down , but the apples should keep their shape for the most part. Test a big chunk of apple for softness — once it’s tender, kill the heat, and blend everything with a stick blender into a smooth puree.

A baby soup starting to grow up. I'm so proud!

Is it delicious yet? I can't tell. Sometimes the in-progress photos are a bit gross.

At this point, it should still be a bit thick. Add the cinnamon and curry powder, in very conservative amounts, and blend again. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and then add about 1.5 cups of dairy with the blender running. I went for half and half, as I wanted a bit of richness, but you could certainly go up or down the scale with whole milk or cream. I wouldn’t use anything lower in fat than 2% milk, though, as the milk fat will add body and round out the flavors. And you don’t want to miss out on that.

Ingredients

  • 6 to 7 pounds of hard winter squash, whichever type you like
  • 2 medium or 1 large firm-fleshed apple (granny smith, mutzu, braeburn, etc)
  • 2 medium or 1 large sweet onion
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter
  • One carton(4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups of dairy (2% milk up to heavy cream, your choice)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Set oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Split the squash in half, making sure to be as even as possible.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and stringy innards, reserving them for later
  4. Roast squash on a baking sheet, cut side up, for approximately 1 hour, testing after 45 minutes for tenderness.
  5. Separate seeds from squash guts in a large bowl of water. Perfection is not required or encouraged! Dry seeds with a paper towel.
  6. Toss seeds with olive oil, kosher salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper.
  7. Peel the apple(s) and dice apple(s) and onion(s) into large chunks.
  8. Remove squash from oven once very tender and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before handling.
  9. Lower oven to 300 degrees and roast seeds for 15-18 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  10. Sweat aromatics, with the butter, over low heat in a large stockpot for 15-20 minutes.
  11. Scoop out the softened squash flesh from the hard skins, being careful to remove any skin that may cling to the flesh. Again, perfection is not required.
  12. Brown aromatics over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  13. Add harvested squash and all of the chicken broth to the pot and boost heat to high.
  14. Boil for about 10 minutes or until chunks of apple are very tender.
  15. Blend with stick blender until a smooth puree forms, about 3-4 minutes.
  16. Season with cinnamon and curry powder.
  17. Finish with the dairy and blend again. Adjust seasonings if desired.

 

– Max.

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