A Week of Meals

“So, what do you eat all week?”

This is a question that’s been asked of me by people who don’t cook.  For many people, the idea of creating dinner/lunch/breakfast seven days a week is daunting.  As I’ve mentioned before, I plan out a week in advance, shop for that week and do as much prep as I can motivate to do over the weekends.  As far as I can remember, my grandmother worked a different way- she decided on the day of or perhaps a day before, what she would make.  Then she’d shop that day and see what was available.  I know from reading, experience and talking with others, that in places where fresh produce and farmer’s markets are widely available, people tend to cook dinner based on what’s there that day.  When I’m on vacation or over the summer, I tend to do more of that since I have the time.  Grandma, when I cooked with her, had retired, had no children in the house (well, except me and my cousins when it was summer) and had many options for fresh meat, vegetables, baked goods and fish.  The neighborhood has changed a bit since then and many of the Jewish bakeries, produce and meat stores have closed.  There’s still a fishmongers, a farmer’s market once a week and a Jewish grocery which has a meat counter.  I use them sometimes and feel like I’m back with Grandma.

Anyway, rather than a long story and recipe today, I thought I’d let you in on what it is we eat all week.  Just in case you were curious or wanted some menu ideas.

Breakfast around here tends to be a hurried affair on work days.  I’ll give the toddler some toast and a scrambled egg or just a banana, depending on what she wants.  Hey, sometimes it’s “ack-ers”.  I figure she eats well at daycare and at dinner so I can afford being  more lax around breakfast.  We eat early- maybe her stomach just isn’t ready.  I tend to have an egg white omelette with Munster cheese.  Protein, baby.  The husband eats cold cereal (the same one.  Every day.  Which always makes me think of this scene in City Slickers).

Today, however, I didn’t have to work  so breakfast wasn’t rushed.  We had french toast made with the challah I’d taken out of the freezer for Friday night.

Lunch is usually salad- I make a big one on Sunday and use it all week.  I’ll cook some chicken breasts as well and slice them, leaving them in the fridge for the week.  If there are good leftovers from dinners, I’ll take that to work as well  Packing your lunch definitely saves money and makes good use of the leftovers.  Plus, as I am “eating for two”, I am constantly either hungry or dissatisfied with what I have.  Good times.

Dinner is where the money is, so to speak.  I plan Saturday or Sunday through Friday.  By Friday I’m often beat and if it’s a paycheck week, might treat us to Chinese or Thai or some other easy take-out.  If it’s not, it might be leftovers or sort of a catch-as-catch can kind of thing.  In a perfect world, I’d cook a good, special, sit-down meal to celebrate Shabbat but I’m not there yet.  Challah and candles are the best I can do right now.

So, our meal plan for the week:

Sunday:  Lettuce Wraps(so good, check out the Hippo for the recipe) and Vegetable Fried Rice.  I don’t really have a recipe for fried rice.  I use leftover rice and whatever veggies I can find in the house.

garlic, celery, onion, carrots, green pepper, red pepper and broccoli

I’ll also throw in chicken or other meat if I have it.And sometimes, for decadence, cashew nuts.  If they’re on hand.  I saute all the veggies in some sesame oil, add the rice, add some soy sauce, siracha or whatever else seems tasty at the time.  I stir it all together and then throw in the nuts at the last minute. If you can find the dark soy sauce, that’s what makes it take like “real” fried rice.  What comes out is different every time, not always pretty but generally pretty tasty.Monday- Tonight I’m going to make a ricotta frittata and salad.  We’ll have been home all day and nibbling on leftovers and snacks so I won’t be that hungry and I’ll want something easy.  Plus, I have some ricotta to use up.  If I were doing it “right”- I’d make the ricotta itself.  But not today.  Today is for catching up on work, spending time outside with my daughter and napping.

Tuesday- It’s just me and the toddler as the husband is in class so we’ll try this soup I’ve read about but have never made, Avgolemono.  I’ll add some chicken for more protein and call it a day.

Wednesday- It’s supposed to be a bit more chilly so I’m making broccoli and cheddar soup, based on this recipe, and will serve it with salad or good bread (If I can remember the night before to throw it in the bowl).

Thursday- Is my night to work so on Wednesday night, I’ll do some prep work (browning meat and onions) and Thursday morning before I leave, I’ll throw everything into the crock pot for this pasta and beef recipe.  Pasta and meat are never turned down in my house and since I won’t be eating it, I’ll even use real beef (Recently I’ve developed a revulsion to ground beef).

Friday- I’m planning dinner with a good friend/adopted brother and so will probably go with take-out of some sort.  Asian probably, ’cause that’s how we roll.

Meanwhile, in the fridge, along with the leftovers from Sunday night, I also have a yummy carrot and parsnip soup that I created on Saturday.  A friend of mine mentioned it a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to try it.  Again, I didn’t really have a recipe but here’s how I made it:

I peeled some carrots and parsnips and chopped them into chunks.  I chunked up  half and onion and a few tomatoes I had to use up.  I throw in a handful of peeled garlic as well.  It all went into a roasting pan and was salted and tossed in some olive oil.  They roasted at 425 for about 40 minutes- until things were tender and roast-y, if you know what I mean.

I put all of them into a pot, including all the veggie juices from the pan, and added enough chicken broth to cover.  I let it simmer for a while probably about an hour- I was busy!

I used my stick blender to puree all of it and added some chicken broth to thin it out a bit.

Then, because I needed to use it up and because I’m decadent like that, I added some heavy cream.

A little salt and pepper to taste and it was done.  It was really quite good and didn’t really need the cream.  I’m not sure I’d have missed it.  The carrots and parsnips were just sweet enough and the tomato gave it a nice little bit of acid.  I’m looking forward to eating it for lunch today and a few more days this week.

So, there you have it.  The answer to, “So what do you eat all week?”

What Every Jewish Mother Knows Is….

how to make chicken soup, of course!  It’s a law.

Of course, you have my grandmother, who knew how to make chicken soup from scratch, and then you have my mother, who knew how to open a can of Campbell’s. You know, both work when you’re sick.  One is a whole lot more effort than the other.  But if they’re both served by a Jewish mother, than the magical medicinal properties remain.  If you’re not a Jewish mother, well, you should probably still know how to make homemade chicken soup.  It may not be quite as magical but I bet it’ll do the trick the next time you or someone you love is sick.

The problem is, of course, like any good passed-down recipe, there is no hard and fast recipe with measurements.  So I’ll give you the ballpark and you’ll experiment.  Really, it’s hard to go wrong.  Soup is very forgiving.  Plus, I’ll even give you a bonus sandwich recipe since you’ll have a lot of chicken once you’ve made the soup.

Homemade Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken or 1 whole chicken cut into parts

Several carrots, peeled and chopped (I’d say 6 large)

1 whole onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Several stalks of celery, washed and chopped (Again, maybe 6 stalks?)

2 large tomatoes, cut into quarters

Pasta, if you’d like

About ten billion cups of water.  Okay, how about 14 cups?  I use the same stockpot when I make soup and I just eyeball it.

Directions:

Wash and pat dry your chicken.  If you’re using a whole chicken, make sure to remove the gizzards and neck package that’s usually stuffed inside the cavity.  You can use this in the broth if you like but don’t forget to unwrap it.  No plastic in the soup!   Place your chicken in a big soup or stockpot and cover with the water.  Add 3 of the celery stalks, 3 of the carrots, all of the onion, all of the garlic and one of the tomatoes.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat and let it cook for, well, forever.  At least an hour.  I generally cook it for a few hours, adding water when the level gets below the chicken.  You’ll know you’re done when the meat of the chicken is coming off the bones.

Set it all aside to let it cool.  In fact, I often put it in the fridge and leave it overnight.  The chicken fat (that’s schmaltz to you Jews) will sort of (gross) congeal and it will make it easier to remove it.

Using a large spoon, skim the congealed fat off the soup.  Or at least as much of it as you can.  If you’re really intrepid, you can save it and use it when you’re making matzo balls.  If you’re like me (and unlikely to make matzo balls in the near future), put it in a bowl and then toss it in the garbage.  It’s not really good for your garbage disposal or your sink drain.

Yucky fat skimmed. And some tomatoes that got throw in there as well.

 

Once you’ve skimmed all the fat, you can reheat if your broth has sort of jellied or, if your broth is just broth, you can skip the reheating.  Remove all the chicken and as many of the vegetables as you can and put them in a bowl to cool.

The chicken and vegetables I removed before I strained my soup.

Then strain the broth through a mesh sieve and into another pot or bowl.

What was left in my sieve.

If there’s any visible fat in your broth, skim it out now.  There will be some left but that’s ok.  You just don’t want a whole lot.  Ick.

Return the broth to the heat and add the other 3 carrots, celery, and the tomato.  Return it to the heat on medium and let it slowly come to a boil.  Meanwhile, go back to your bowl of chicken and veggies.  Pick out the chicken and start to shred the meat with your fingers.  Don’t use the skin or the cartilage or the bones, just find the meat and shred it into small, soup size pieces.  Add this to the soup.  Unless you want lots and lots of chicken in your soup, you will likely have some leftover.  That’s ok, use it for the bonus chicken salad recipe below.

Let this cook for another good while- at least an hour.  Add more water if it gets too low- more than halfway down the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and maybe a little bit of thyme.  Remember not to over-salt because as it cooks, it will get more salty.  The soup will be done when the veggies are tender but not mushy.

If you want to add pasta to your soup, cook it separately.  Trust me on this one.  Cook it according to the package directions and add it to the soup bowls as you serve.

I used little tiny pasta "ears"

 

Bonus Curry Chicken Salad Recipe

Ingredients

Leftover chicken from the soup

mayonnaise

red onion (to taste, I only used about 1 teaspoon)

Curry power (to taste, I used between 1 and 2 teaspoons)

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped

salt, pepper

bread, for making the sandwich

Directions
Shred the chicken and put it into a large bowl.

Slice your red onion very thinly and add to the bowl.

I didn't even use all of this onion.

Add the celery and the curry powder. 

Add mayo to taste (I think I used maybe 3-5 tablespoons), it will depend on both your taste buds and how much chicken you have.  Sometimes I’ll add some sliced grapes and walnuts or cranberries.  But it’s tasty even without those additions.

Spread on toast and serve with the soup.  Yum.

My Week Away

I had a wonderful five days, taking my daughter to visit one of my very best friends and my cousin.  It was fantastic.  We laughed, relaxed, played, saw and touched some unique animals at a nature center (including a chinchilla (soft!), a toad (bumpy!), a snake (smooth!)  and a hedgehog (spiky!)) and ate well.  SO well.

First, we visited with The Hippo, one of my best friends. She served us leftover strata which was so good as leftovers, I can’t even begin to imagine how good it was as breakfast. Then she made us meatball subs with provolone, so cheesy, gooey and delicious. Finally, we had a bread salad and garlicky romano beans.  I can’t even begin to tell you how good it was but I will say that it’s on the menu for tomorrow night here.  It was that good.

Bread Salad with white beans and the garlicky romano beans. So good.

Then, we bid a sad farewell to the Hippo and made our way to my cousin’s house. She, her husband and two boys entertained my darling daughter to no end.  Baby G. adores both her cousins, A. and M., and she had a great time trying to keep up with A. and playing with M.  We ate well there, too, including a lovely dinner out at an Asian place and fabulous homemade chicken soup and curry chicken salad sandwiches.  Remember?  I’ve been craving soup?  There’s nothing like homemade chicken soup.  For dessert?  An amazing cake from a place in their town, Susan Lawrence.   Very yummy.

So yummy. So decadant. So chocolate.

As a result, I’m making homemade chicken soup tonight and will make curry chicken salad and bread salad over the next two days.  Nothing like a repeat of meals that were good.  Of course, without the company, it’s not the same.  But it’s close.

Soup in progress

Stay tuned for the recipes over the next few days.

Oh?  And some great news came my way this week as well.  I promise to post about it soon because, of course, there will be a food celebration!

Also?  I left with many gifts (all of them “belated” birthday ones), including cool grow-them-yourself-marbles, a tablecloth and a new fry pan.

Oooh, so pretty! I'm lucky.

Hot. Hot. And Did I Mention Hot?

It is hot, as you may have guessed by the post title.  100+ degrees and humidity.  It’s too hot to sit by the pool- it’s almost too hot to sit IN the pool. Sadly, despite the heat, all I want is soup.  Go figure.

So what do you make when it’s this hot?  When what you want is soup?

Cold soup.  Head over to The Hungry Hippo for some no-stove soup ideas and other no-heat or minimal heat suggestions.

I chose to make both the gazpacho and the cucumber avocado soup.  I didn’t document the gazpacho but here’s my finished product (the Hippo’s was much prettier).

I did document (sort of) the cucumber soup.  Start by peeling and seeing the cucumbers.  I do this by peeling and then cutting the cucumber in half and then down the middle of each half.

Then I use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.  Kind of like you scrape out the seeds of a melon when you’re breaking it down.

Chop up everything and put it in the blender.

Add the liquids (oil, yogurt, etc) and blend. 

Pour into a container so that you can chill it.

I will admit that cold soup is not really what I had in mind AND that whenever I use a blender I always think milkshake or smoothie so it’s odd to have something savory as a result.  However, both these soups are delicious!  I’m hoping the husband thinks so as well since we’ll be eating them for the next few days.

OK, back to melting.

Please Hold

I know I keep saying this but, I promise, promise, promise to be more regular about posting in just another week or two. Currently I’m finishing up the school year, searching for a more full-time job, moving furniture around our house and assorted other things, both major and minor, that are taking up time.

So we’re eating salad. Or falafel. Or frozen soup. By which, I don’t mean that we eat it frozen.  We heat it first.

So please hang in with me- in about 13 short weekdays I’ll have a more free schedule which I hope will lead back to Grandma’s recipe box and more family stories.  Until then, remember, you are very important to me.  Please hold. 

Eat This Soup. NOW.

Two of my favorite bloggers have recently blogged about this soup.  It was the creation of Lady Gouda and then the Hippo put her twist on it.  I’ve been meaning to make it and I finally did last week. 

Oh. My. God.

It is so good.  SO good!!!

I did a few twists on the recipe myself which leads me to believe that it’s a soup recipe that can handle lots of changes and which can be tweaked to fit everyone’s tastes. Seriously, it was so good.  We ate it all within two days.  So good.

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients

1-2″ piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup onion diced finely
3-4 chopped carrots (I used baby carrots so more like 5-10)
2 cups cooked chicken- I chopped up two chicken breasts I’d made earlier
5 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons  sriracha
1-2 heads baby bok choy, washed and chopped (not the very bottom)
3-4 oz lo-mein noodles, cooked

Directions:

Heat the sesame oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic and carrots and let them soften.  Add the chicken, soy sauce and sriracha.  Let these sort of soak up and then pour the chicken broth over it.  Let it simmer together.  Cook the lo-mein noodles for 3-4 minutes.  Add the noodles and bok choy to the soup.  Taste and season as needed.

I think this soup could also stand up to celery, fish sauce (which I bought especially for this and then forgot to add it!) and maybe even some egg (like egg drop soup).  Maybe even some tofu or pork. Crunchy bean sprouts on top maybe?  I think the possibilities are limitless!

The Best Soup Ever

In the winter, when it’s cold, all I want is soup or stew.  I think it comes from my grandmother but sadly, I have no soup recipes from her.  Someday when I have more time (when will that be exactly? I’m not sure!), I’ll experiment and see if I can make her bean soup or her fish chowder.  Until then, I’ll keep making my standbys- squash soup and chicken stew and Italian Wedding soup.

I am officially in love with Italian Wedding soup.  It has everything.  Broth, meatballs, pasta, greens….  It’s a complete meal within a soup in a bowl!  Just the thing for a winter’s night.  I’ve mentioned this soup several times to the Hippo and she has demanded I post it.  Since she was here this weekend, I roped her into helping me make it.  It’s easier with two sets of hands (because then at least one set can hold the baby!).

The soup itself is pretty easy- as most soups are- the meatballs are what take time.  But they are so worth it.  Plus, then you have extra, if you’d like, for things like sandwiches or pasta or just plain snacking.  The recipe I’m giving you is a combination of Ina Garten’s and Giada De Laurentiis’.  You can find them here.

Italian Wedding Soup

Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

1 lb. ground chicken (I use dark meat)

2 sweet Italian chicken sausages

1/3-2/3 cup plain bread crumbs (I use store bought)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 egg

salt and pepper

For The Soup:

8-10 cups chicken broth (or homemade stock)

1/2 large sweet onion, chopped small

2 ribs celery, chopped small

1/2-3/4 cup carrots, diced

1 cup small pasta (like orzo or stars or tubetini)

12 oz of baby spinach, washed and stems removed (if you have the patience to remove the stems- I don’t always)

Directions:

Make the meatballs.  Combine all ingredients into a bowl.  In order to use the sausage, you’ll need to remove the casings (if you can buy the sausage without the casings, more power to you).  Do this by sort of squeezing them over the bowl.  Try to ignore all the phallic and/or scatological thoughts that might occur during this process.  Or alternately, make lots of lewd jokes about it, loudly.  The Hippo demonstrates here:

 

 

(Now, really, if you can look at that and NOT think lewd thoughts, you’re an angel!) Combine the chicken meat and then add the rest of the ingredients and mix.  I use my hands.

Once it’s all mixed, roll out small meatballs (walnut size or so) and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes or until golden and cooked through.  My oven, as I’ve said here many times, cooks unevenly. I end up doing a lot of rotating of sheets in order to get everything cooked at once without burning.  Make the soup:

Chop the carrots, onion and celery.  Put about two tablespoons of olive oil into a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery and onion and cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the chicken stock/broth and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the pasta is cooked.  While the pasta is cooking, beat two eggs and two tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Set aside.

Egg and Cheese, prior to mixing

Egg and Cheese, Mixed

 

 

Once the pasta is cooked, add the meatballs.

Prep the Spinach.  Wash it and, if you like, remove the stems.  I never do but I can’t tell the difference.

Washed and ready

Add it to the pot.  It will look like a lot but it will wilt down to almost nothing.  Trust me (and Ina and Giada!).

Making sure that the soup is boiling, add the egg/cheese mixture, stirring while you pour it in- it will make little strands as it cooks- it will be kind of like egg drop soup (which is basically egg and chicken broth- look two recipes for the price of one!).  The starch of the pasta may make the soup thick, especially after standing for a bit. You can always add more chicken broth (or even water in a pinch) to thin it out.  Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.  Yum!  Best. Soup. Ever.

New Year’s Eve, 2010

I disappeared there for a bit, huh?  This vacation week has sped by and I kept meaning to post and then just…. didn’t.

But I will make up for that tonight.  It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m home and snuggled in with my baby girl and it’s only 7:12pm.  Yup.  I am THAT old.  That’s ok- I’ve had New Year’s Eves before- drunken ones, wild ones, quiet ones, fancy ones….  I’m ok with this being a quiet, snuggly one.  Before snuggling in, though, I made a fantastic soup.  It’s a recipe from (of all places!) Disney World.  If you go there, please eat at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Really good food.  This soup is exotic but warm, slightly spicy but also sweet.  It’s simply delicious.  I’ve made it many times and am so glad the folks at Disney weren’t stingy about their recipe.  They were, however, a bit stingy with the instructions so I’ll do my best to clarify.

Also?  If you happen to have a small dinosaur with you in the kitchen, be sure to give her snacks of her own, lest she be tempted to eat your soup before it’s done.

Happy new year to you all- may the coming year be full of joy, laughter and good food.

Coconut Curry Chicken Soup (from Boma- Flavors of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge)


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (I actually have always used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about one pound)

salt

pepper

4 tablespoons of curry powder

1/2 cup oil (I use olive oil and use WAY less than a half cup, probably about 1/8 of a cup)

6 tablespoons of butter

8 tablespoons of flour

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup coconut milk (I have successfully used both regular and light)

1 cup onion, diced chunky (This is about a half of a large onion)

1 cup red bell pepper, diced chunky (This is roughly one medium sized pepper)

1 cup diced tomatos, drained (I used canned fire-roasted with success but have also used fresh)

1 jalapeno, sliced (I never use this but I’m sure it’s good)

1 cup potatos, diced chunky (This is about one and a half medium potatos I used 4 small (like fingerling size) potatos)

1 cup honey

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (I NEVER, EVER use cilantro.  Yuck.)

Directions

Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of curry powder. 

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Sear the chicken.  You want it to get nice and brown on each side but it’s ok if it doesn’t cook all the way through.  Remove the chicken from the pot (keep it on a plate nearby).  At this point I had lots of little chicken bits stuck to my pot because I’m never patient enough to wait to turn the chicken.  I added about 1/8 of a cup of chicken broth and used that to deglaze the pan (scrape up all of the brown bits).  I then poured those and the very little bit of broth over the plated chicken. 

Put the rest of the curry powder into the pan and stir it around so that it toasts- just for about 30 seconds or so. 

Then add the butter to the pan and let it melt while you stir it so that it mixes with the curry powder.  Don’t let it burn- turn down the heat if you think it’s too hot.  Once the butter is melted (you’ll have this strange sort of curry butter that smells good but….different.), add the flour and stir it around to let it cook a bit- about a minute or two. 

Then add some of the chicken stock and stir to break up the lumps- I always bust out the whisk at this point.  It will thicken up quickly so add a bit more chicken broth and get all the lumps out.  Once it’s smooth, add the rest of the stock and the coconut milk.  Keep that simmering over a low to medium heat and stir it once in a while, scraping up the bottom.  It’ll sort of thicken and get smooth.  As this is happening, it’s the perfect time to chop all the veggies. 

Once the soup base is smooth and warm, throw in all the veggies and the chicken.  Keep that simmering over low heat until the potatos and chicken are cooked through- it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how thick your chicken and/or potatos are.

Before you serve it, stir in the honey and the cilantro and let it sit on the stove for about two more minutes. 

Note:  If you taste as you go, like I do, I must warn you that it will taste somewhat bitter and not good right up until you add the honey.  The honey mellows out the curry powder and makes the soup smooth, sweet and warm.  So don’t worry if it doesn’t taste good until the end- trust in Disney.  Their chefs know of what they speak.

Gearing Up

So, tomorrow at sundown is the beginning of the Jewish New Year.  It’ll be the year 5771 for us.  And how will we celebrate?  With food, naturally.  I mean, my people like to eat.

Rosh Hashana and Passover are the two holidays that I remember my grandmother really “doing.”  She and my grandfather had both been raised in observant households and ran their own household slightly differently.  The holidays were observed but with much less strict-ness than they had known.  They didn’t keep kosher (kosher would mean no lobster and no Chinese food and that’s just, well, wrong) and while they did attend temple services, they didn’t have fifteen different sets of dishes.

So I follow suit.  We observe the holiday traditions, if not the religious teachings.  Every Rosh Hashana and Passover, I make a big meal and we open our home to our friends and family.  Some years it’s just a few of us.  Other years we have tables stretching into the living room.  There was one Passover that was upwards of 25 people.  It’s a nice way to ring in the new year, I think, surrounded by people we love.

Because the Jewish calendar isn’t a roman one, Rosh Hashana and Passover sort of “float”, meaning they’re never the same date.  I mean, they’re the same date on the Jewish calendar but not on the one we use.  It means that sometimes Rosh Hashana falls at the end of September when it’s starting to cool off and the fall foods that traditionally go with the holiday can be enjoyed and sometimes it falls at the beginning of September and the fall foods feel heavy and too hot for comfort.  That’s this year, sadly.

But there are foods I must make because they go with the holidays.  Mashed potatoes are one.  In fact, one year I didn’t make them and one of my guests was so disappointed that she blurted out, “But that’s why I came!  For your mashed potatoes!”  We had a grand old time teasing her about that one and to make up for it, I made mashed potatoes the next day and brought them to her house.  Another traditional food is squash soup.  Sadly, tomorrow will be something like 80 degrees and no one will really want to eat soup but make it I must.  If I don’t someone is likely to blurt out, “But that’s why I came!  For the soup!”

When I make big meals, it takes a few days to get ready.  I make several things in advance so that by the time the evening rolls around I’m mostly heating up and topping off dishes.  I made this soup on Sunday and tomorrow when I get home from work I’m going to pour it into the crock pot and get it going on high so that it’s warm enough to eat by 6pm and it’s not in my way as I cook other things on the stove.

There are several stories that go with this soup and at the risk of making this post far, far too long, I’m going to tell two of them.  The first is the origin of the soup recipe.  When I graduated from college I had a degree in theater and no idea what I wanted to do.  So I moved to Israel and lived on my family’s kibbutz.  I ended up working in the kitchen, making friends, drinking far too much and just having a generally wonderful time.  It was a fantastic year and there are times when I hear a certain song or smell a particular odor and I am immediately transported back to that time and place.  I wouldn’t have traded it for anything (and still keep in touch with several of the people I met there, despite being scattered all over the world- Denmark, South Africa, Australia).  At any rate, one of the other volunteers was Dan, a tall, lanky, flamboyantly gay South African guy.  Oh my goodness was he fabulous.  He had worked as a cook before coming to Israel and he taught me to make this soup- he called it “pumpkin” soup but we used butternut squash even then.  Each time I make it, I think of Dan and picture him with a towel wrapped around his head, sunglasses on, cigarette hanging from his mouth, wearing my bra.  Go ahead, I know you’re trying to picture it too.  Let’s just say it was late, we were all drunk and we had been on the beach in Eliat.  ‘Nuff said.

Edited to add:  Apparently lots of you need help picturing it. Ok, here you go (remember we’d been at the beach, Dan had not just peed his pants, he’d been swimming in his undies):

The second story of the soup has to do with my cousin.  She’s not a good cook but she had learned how to make this soup and was excited to have the Hippo over for dinner so she could really cook for her.  The cousin went through all the steps of making the soup but it just wasn’t right.  So she called me.  We talked it over, trying to problem solve it.  I offered suggestions- was the heat too high?  Had she not added enough butter?  Maybe it was the wrong kind of squash?  Nope, nope and nope.  She described it to me and said that it just seemed like squash, not soup.  So I asked, “Well, how much broth did you add?”

“……….”

Right, she’d forgotten to add the broth, you know, the thing that makes soup soupy.  So she added it and she and the Hippo enjoyed a lovely meal.  And a few good laughs.

Pumpkin (Butternut Squash) Soup

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1-2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks

1-2 containers of chicken broth or stock (or homemade if you’re into that kind of thing)

1/2-2 cups of milk or light cream (Optional)

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large stock or soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and let it cook until soft and almost translucent.  Don’t let the onions crisp up or brown, if they start to do so, turn down the heat.  Once the onions are soft, add the butternut squash and stir to sort of coat the chunks in the butter.  Let them cook for about three to five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour in enough broth or stock to cover the chunks and let it come to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat and let it simmer until the squash is soft and sort of melting into the broth.

If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it.  Blend the soup to the consistency you like- some people like to leave a few chunks of squash for texture.  I prefer it to be smooth.  If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender but it’s a pain in the ass to transfer all that soup.  You can also use a potato masher or fork but you will end up with very chunky soup (still delicious just a different texture).  If it seems too thick to be soup (and just seems to resemble mashed squash) you either forgot to add the broth like my cousin did or you just need to add more broth to thin it. If you want to be really decadent, you can add cream to it to help thin it out and to add some silkiness to it.  It’s really good with cream.  It’s almost as good with milk.  It’s still pretty good with just broth.  You make the call.  Whatever you add, make sure to salt and pepper to taste and to re-heat so that you don’t get lukewarm soup.  Nobody likes lukewarm soup.