"Comfort Me with..." Butternut Squash Soup

A lot of my food entries evoke good family memories, as well they should! But, recently, trying to "lighten up" my diet from the holidays plus wanting to get back to eating healthier PERIOD, I pulled out my recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.

But, I shouldn't say it is my recipe, nor is it a family secret recipe. Rather it comes from the LA Times. But, everytime I make it, everytime I pull the recipe out, I am reminded of my grandmother, Bevey.

A few years back, my sister, Meag, and I made it a point to have dinner once every two weeks and play an addicting card game called Shanghai with Bevey and Dickie (see my entry http://fiveoclockfood.blogspot.com/2009/08/margarita-por-favor-but-hold-that-mix.html for more info about Dickie). It was great for all of us, but so amazingly important and special to spend quality time with our grandparents doing two things we loved to enjoy together: card games and eating.

Bevey is an amazing cook (as is my other grandmother, Gigi), and I will be posting more recipes and stories about her in the future. She is famous for many things, including her infamous Posole, World's Best Cookies, and her addictive pickles (to which I have the guarded recipes to all, and I am not about to give out...yet...). And, with anything she cooks, we were thrilled to have another one of her dishes.

When we first took a slurp of this soup, Meag and I took one look at each other, directed our gazes to Bevey, and both proclaimed that this was one of the best soups we had ever had. I can still hear Bevey saying, "Oh, stop it...", half joking and, I know, half flattered. See, Meag, my Mom, and I have a tendency to say "this is the best..." whenever we are eating something. But, I can honestly say, this recipe is fantastically delicious, and healthy.

So, here is the recipe.
  • 1/2 stick (2oz) butter
  • 2 medium leeks, washed and white parts only used/roughly chopped (can sub 2 med to large onions)
  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp (teaspoon) dried thyme (the fresher the better, not one that has been sitting on your spice shelf for YEARS) or leaves from 10 fresh thyme sprigs, removed from wooden stem
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lb) peeled, seeded and cut into rough cubes (can use precut squash, just make sure it is about 2 lb)
  • 4C chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock (preferrably homemade)
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper (preferrably sea salt and fresh ground pepper, white or black)
  • creme fraiche and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as garnish
  • NEEDED: blender or imersion blender

Of course there is wine being consumed! And, pardon the garlic, it wasn't used.

I never throw any pics of me in here, so I figured I would while I was chopping up all the veggies.

First I melt the butter in a large stock pot

After the butter is melted, add all of the chopped veggies (onion or leek, celery, carrot, ginger, and thyme

Sweat the vegetables (heat on medium low) until slightly soft; the point is to sweat the veg over lower heat to not add any color. Make sure to season with salt and pepper as you go.

Add the choppped butternut squash to the pot, and stir around as well.

Add stock to pot, bring to a boil, and reduce to a rolling simmer to cook the vegetables.


After about 30 minutes of simmering, check to see if squash fork tender. If it is, you are almost done!

Either in batches with a blender or using an immersion blender, blend soup until completely smooth. Add cream and season with salt and pepper again.

This soup can be eaten immediately, but I truly think that it is better the next day, and the following, and the following. As with all soups, they are most often enjoyed more the following day by letting all of the flavors "marry".

I like to garnish my soup with some creme fraiche or sour cream and some toasted pepitas.

I have made this soup plenty of times in the last few years and have also received comments such as "this is the best soup...". It's creamy, full of vitamins, fiber and minerals, and the 1/2 cup of heavy cream really isn't going to hurt your waistline but rather enhances the flavors of this fantastic soup. It will warm you to the bone, and, as it does for me, takes me back to enjoying the simple pleasures of spending time with loved ones. Thanks, Bevey, for evoking great memories of our dinners.

The Incredible, Edible Egg - the Supermarket vs. Farmer's Market Test

Call it culinary curiosity, but recently I set out to do a simple test on a VERY commonly used food in both sweet and savory dishes: the EGG.

I mean, really, eggs are present everywhere: cookies, cakes, baked goods, custards, ice cream, sauces, breads, pasta, salad dressings, mayonnaise/aioli, garnishes in salads...scrambled, poached, sunny side up, hard boiled...they are what help to bind your meatloaf or meatballs, adhere breadcrumbs to your proteins, and add thickness and body to your pasta carbonara.

But, with "farm fresh" brown eggs becoming a huge buying fad in the past few years and the movements of organic, sustainable, and "farm-to-table" products being more readily available at farmers markets and now some super market chains, I got to wondering WHAT the difference was, beyond how the chickens are fed and how they live their lives, between a conventional super market egg and a farm-fresh egg. And by difference, I referred to simply taste, appearance, smell, and texture.

I am one of the biggest supporters of all things organic and from sustainable sources, and I am always trying to educate my family and friends about the importance of not only eating this way but also supporting the local farmer. In the last few years, I have bought only organic, free range eggs from the super markets and farm-fresh eggs from farmers markets. But, I have never done a taste test side by side with either. Until recently when the opportunity knocked.

I had just come back from the Corona del Mar Farmers Market here in Orange County and bought a dozen farm-fresh eggs (about $6.00 a dozen). I was staying at my parents house and remembered my mom had bought a dozen eggs from the super market the day earlier (Eggland's Best for those who really are paying attention to this). It dawned on me to boil off a few and take notes on the differences I suspected and any similarities I would see.

I decided to take three eggs each (and make some deviled eggs at the end....)

The farm-fresh eggs on the left (brown), the Eggland's Best (white) on the right

(May I take a moment to say that, though I am not an expert on the subject, I have been informed through qualified sources, that most eggs sold under a super market brand's label ARE eggs produced by Eggland's Best. So whether or not you are buying a premium label like Eggland's or just buying the super market brand, most likely they are coming from the same "source".)

And here is my version of hard boiled eggs:
  • Bring eggs to room temperature and bring water to a boil in a pot; add eggs, carefully to boiling water and set timer for 10 minutes.
  • After 10 minutes passes, shut off heat and set timer for eggs to sit in hot, un-boiling water for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  • Transfer eggs to an ice bath filled with water to cool down completely.


Drained and ready to go!

So, on to my little side-by-side comparison, and from here on out, the Eggland's Best egg is on the left, the farmer's market farm-fresh egg is on the right:

First things first, cracking the shells. Nothing too important.

But, immediately, I could tell there was a difference in the color of the solidified white as well as the egg's smaell.

 You can't EXACTLY tell by this photo, but the Eggland's egg white was bluish white/yellow in color and the farm egg was more of a soft white.

I picked up and smelled both eggs, and while the Eggland's egg reminded me of that sulfuric smell we associate with cooked or boiled eggs, I was surprised that the farm egg was less sulfuric in initial smell but rather slightly, sweet? Not like sugar sweet, but it was just not as offensive. It made me start to think, does that sulfuric smell come from the diet that these chickens eat???

While picking up both eggs, I found that the Eggland's egg white was very smooth in texture while the farm egg had some slight texture.

And while slicing into each egg to halve them, I was NOT surprised at all at the results seen in this next photo.

Yep, the yolk is obviously different in color. The Eggland's yolk is lighter, pale yellow in color in contrast to the farm yolk's deep yellow to almost orange in color.

When I took a bite of each one, the Eggland's egg white and yolk were firm in texture with the egg flavor we normally associate with hard boiled eggs. But, the farm egg's white was creamy, firm but creamy, and the yolk was not dry but rather also creamy, slightly sweet with a very soft egg "aftertaste".

Where all of this may seem "obvious" to any foodies out there, as I too suspected a lot of what I discovered doing this little test, I still found myself satisfied that I now had seen, smelled, and tasted the differences side by side. And why some criticize that farm eggs are "more expensive", wake up, people, there is a REASON they are. They aren't mass produced, and the chickens (most likely) have led a better life, feasting of the grasses and bugs and insects of the farmland they live on rather than being cooped up in chicken farms where they may never see the light of day, let alone have a choice in what they eat. And, granted, I would rather spend $6 on a dozen eggs from a reputable farmer who KNOWS his birds and the lifestyle they have had rather than the $1.99 to $3.99 we spend on eggs in the supermarket that we have no idea where they originated from.

But, enough about pontificating about eggs and such - it was a fun little test to do!

And, what did I do with all these eggs? Deviled them...

Green onions from the garden, egg yolks, mayonnaise, Lawry's seasoning salt, Garlic salt, and a little mustard...