Butternut Squash and Cider Soup served with Rosemary and Sage Flatbread

soup and bread

The trouble with the butternut squash soup I make again and again every winter is that it takes so much time: 45 minutes to roast the squash, 30 minutes to simmer it with the stock, and 15 minutes here and there for prepping. Although much of the time is hands off, I never feel I can whip it up on a weeknight.

So when I saw this recipe for butternut squash soup with cider and sour cream, which apparently could be “made in a flash,” a few things caught my eye: In step 1, onion and garlic simmer in a small amount of water — not butter or oil — for about five minutes. In step 2, the squash cubes steam in stock for 20 minutes. In step 3, the soup is puréed with apple cider and sour cream, and then it’s done. Continue reading

Parsnip & Pear Soup | Also, How to be a Better/More Efficient Soup Maker This Winter

pear and parsnip soup

Let’s get right down to business: soup season has officially arrived, bringing with it bowls of warm, comforting goodness, smells that permeate the house, the nourishment we crave on chilly days, and blisters to our little, out-of-practice fingers.

Whenever I make soup, I immediately think back to my time at Fork, when I spent the better part of a year prepping carrots, parsnips, onions and celery, the four vegetables that went into every hot soup chef Thien made. Almost every other morning began with soup making, with the stovetop lined with cauldrons, with a constant sprint up and down the basement stairs, in and out of the walk-in, a large aluminum bowl in hand, hours of peeling and chopping before me. The blisters made haste, but soon calloused, making the work less painful, physically if not mentally.

So many soups require a lot of chopping, but the time dedicated to the process almost always pays off: quantities that feed a crowd often at little cost. Thien liked to remind me that soup was how restaurants made money.

OK, in an effort to make soup season go a little more smoothly, I’ve compiled a few thoughts below: Continue reading

Roasted Tomato and Bread Soup

roasted-tomato bread soup

In April of last year, Vince Vaughn hosted SNL, and delivered a hilarious, wise and insightful monologue. After acknowledging the importance of the audience’s role in the success of an SNL show, he ventured off stage, engaged a few of the audience members, and confiscated a cell phone, noting he “believe[s] sometimes it’s better to take the memories with our hearts and minds.” He then turned to the camera to say: “That’s for all you kids out there tonight. It’s OK to put down the phone and be a part of the memory. That lasts a lifetime as well.”

I’ve thought about this monologue often since seeing that SNL episode but never so much as last week, when three hours after arriving in Minneapolis en route to a cabin in Wisconsin, I realized I had left my camera on the plane and that all of the moments I had looked forward to capturing in billions of pixels during the week with friends and family would by necessity be cemented solely into my heart and mind. I know a camera is just a thing, and I shouldn’t fret — we have our health! and happiness! — but I still have a pit in my stomach. New camera arriving tomorrow. Yay.

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No-Stock French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

I have read over the years that good French onion soup can be made with little more than water, onions, bread and cheese.

But before last week, I had never read that good French onion soup should be made with little more than water, onions, bread and cheese, and that using chicken or beef stock in such a peasant dish not only betrays the soup’s economical roots but also muddles the soup’s pure onion flavor.

In his post on making traditional French onion soup, Michael Ruhlman describes the bistros of Lyon, France, also known as bouchons, which serve country-style fare and whose owners, often a husband and wife team, wouldn’t dare make onion soup with a costly and time-consuming stock. A “fine soup with a pure caramelized onion flavor,” he insists, requires nothing more than water, onions and a splash of wine for seasoning.

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White Bean, Escarole & Sausage Soup

white bean, escarole & sausage soup

There is a not-so-little known deli in my town called Gershon’s, and the first time Ben and I stopped in, we found ourselves in the to-go line staring up at the overwhelming menu board during the midday rush, the trail of hungry regulars growing behind us with every passing second, the decision of what to order becoming harder with every beep-beep-beep of the opening front door.

Fortunately, the man standing behind us offered us guidance, telling us to order the #1, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, the one he orders every week, the one he has ordered every week since discovering Gershon’s 21 years ago. It seemed like a safe bet.

Served on rye bread, this sandwich, buckling with meat, dripping with Russian dressing, spilling with slaw, couldn’t have been more delicious. And as we chomped on our pickles and picked at our chips, we wondered if we too might fall into the #1-for-life routine. But fortunately, something happened — the weather turned — and when we found ourselves at Gershon’s again, this time to dine-in on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to warm up with a cup of the daily soup, white bean with escarole and sausage.

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Cucumber & Green Grape Gazpacho | Quinoa Salad with Mango, Lime & Ginger

Cucumber and grape gazpacho

I arrived at the Albany airport to find my auntie Marcy waiting at baggage claim ready to snatch Wren from my arms and to feed me, as always, immediately.

She led me to her car, and before I could even buckle my seatbelt, she had pulled a ball jar filled with cucumber and green grape gazpacho — one of my favorites — from a cooler and handed me a Lifefactory water bottle — I want one! — filled with ginger-mint-and-orange-flavored water.

Feeling nourished and ready to face the task of the day — find me a place to live — we zoomed off in Marcy’s mobile spa, equipped with coolers holding bowls of quinoa and mango salad, a brown paper bag sheathing a loaf of Shelburne Farms chili cheese ciabatta, and a little baggy holding rice crispy treats for dessert. My auntie spoils me.

I returned home to a heat wave craving nothing more than this cool summery meal. As I mentioned, this white gazpacho, loaded with dill, is one of my favorites. I find nothing more refreshing this time of year, and had I not been so worried about disappointing some of you, I would have shared this recipe ages ago. You see, some of you may be turned off by the zing of the raw garlic. One clove imparts an amazing amount of bite, and while you certainly could leave it out, I fear something would be lost without it. While variations of white gazpacho can be found all over Spain (so I’m told), raw garlic (along with the stale bread) seems to be a constant. This soup makes a wonderful first course, especially when every sip is accompanied by slivers of toasted almonds and sweet grapes.

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Paul Steindler’s Cabbage Soup and A Peasant Bread Follow-Up

cabbage soup

When I’m home in CT visiting my parents, my favorite pastime is poking around the two basement refrigerators, the home of all sorts of treats my mother has been preparing — soups, spanakopita, Grand Marnier chocolate truffles — and stocking up on — smoked mussels, white anchovies, enough cheeses to feed the neighborhood — for weeks. It’s a little gourmet paradise inside those boxes, and it’s impossible not to sneak a peak (and a truffle) with every trip down to the basement.

The only hard part about being home for the holidays is refraining from eating all day long. From the first bite of homemade cinnamon oatmeal bread in the morning to the last bite of flourless chocolate-almond torte in the evening, my stomach barely gets a rest. There is goodness at every turn, and none so much (if you ask me) as at lunch, which hasn’t changed (during the holidays at least) in about a decade: a bowl of soup, a square of spanakopita and a slice or two of homemade bread. On this most recent visit, we feasted on Vermont cheddar cheese soup — my favorite — and rosemary butternut squash bisque with slices of toasted buttered rye bread on the side. It was heaven.

Five days of this soup-and-bread routine made me miss it dearly upon returning home to my all-but-bare refrigerator. But when a large head of cabbage and a few carrots sitting in my vegetable drawer caught my eye, my spirits lifted. With the exception of fresh dill, I had everything on hand to make another favorite soup of my mother’s, one she has been making since the early 80’s: Paul Steindler’s cabbage soup with caraway seeds, a recipe Craig Claiborne wrote about many years ago in The New York Times Magazine and eventually published in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Loaded with vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage — a little bacon and a touch of cream, this is definitely a hearty soup, best served on a cold winter day with crusty bread and nothing more. For me, it’s the dill and caraway seeds that make it unlike any other I have tasted, the caraway seeds in particular imparting a lovely yet subtle flavor. Continue reading

Cauliflower and Apple Soup with Olive Oil-Fried Bread

cauliflower and apple soup with olive oil-fried bread

Cauliflower eluded my kitchen for far too long. I discovered it only about a year ago, in roasted form at high heat tossed with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt, a method which produces perfectly charred salty florets, addictive bites that lead me to eat heads of cauliflower in single sittings.

Today, while those crispy bits have lost none of their allure, I find myself most enjoying cauliflower in the form of a velvety smooth puréed soup. This recipe calls for simmering cauliflower in milk with an apple and a few strands of pasta, the milk and apple included to temper the cauliflower’s intensity, the pasta to provide just enough starch to ensure a creamy texture when the mixture is puréed. Interesting, right? Once again, I have Sally Schneider to thank for this recipe, which really is more of a method than anything, one that could be applied to a countless number of vegetables — turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celery root, to name a few.

This recipe begins as a purée — the cauliflower and apple are strained from the cooking liquid and blended until smooth — which is delicious on its own and would be a nice accompaniment to duck or roast chicken or any meat really. To make the soup, the reserved cooking liquid is simply whisked into the purée, heated, and garnished. Both the purée and the soup are silky smooth in texture, and for containing just a few teaspoons of butter, taste incredibly creamy.

While this recipe does call for milk, apparently, I am learning, the milk is optional. After reading Food52’s post about Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup, made with nothing but a head of cauliflower, an onion and water, I questioned the necessity of milk. My friend Darcy, too, confirmed that a creamy texture can indeed be achieved with no cream at all. But I couldn’t resist. I almost felt guilty pouring that quart of milk into the pot, PB’s recipe flashing into my mind, but I rationalized that a little 1% milk never hurt anybody and that I likely could use the calcium. That said, next up on my to-make list is PB’s soup, and for those of you looking for a vegan option for creamy cauliflower soup, know that it’s out there.

For fun, I topped the soup with some olive oil-fried bread cubes, one of Schneider’s many suggested garnishes. I took her up on another as well: a light drizzling of truffle oil. I know the economy is in the dumps, so please don’t feel this ingredient is a must, but if you happen to have a bottle on hand, perhaps on lockdown for a special occasion, maybe consider breaking it out. There’s never been a better time to open it.

cauliflower and apple

cauliflower

cauliflower and apples in soup pot

olive oil-fried bread

Cauliflower and Apple Soup
Source: Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook
Yield = 3 cups, 4 servings

For the Purée:
1 medium cauliflower (1.75 lbs – 2 lbs) (Mine actually was only 1.25 lbs and it worked just fine)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 quart 2% or whole milk (I used 1%)
1/2 oz. angel hair pasta (about 40 strands), broken into 2-inch pieces*
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional — I forgot to add this)
freshly ground white pepper (I never have white pepper on hand, and black pepper works just fine, though I didn’t add any pepper at all)

* I used spaghetti, not angel hair. Schneider notes that any other dry eggless pasta, broken into pieces if necessary, will work.

Make the purée:

1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and roughly chop. You should have 7 to 8 cups. (I didn’t measure and I didn’t even chop up the florets.)

2. Transfer the cauliflower to a medium saucepan and add the apple and milk. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is purée-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Strain the mixture reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the solids to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth, at least one minute, adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. (Alternatively, return the solids to the pan and purée them with an immersion blender.) Let the motor run for a minute or two, scraping down the sides several times until you have a fine purée. Add the butter and crème fraîche and season with a bit more salt if necessary, white pepper (optional) and another pinch of sugar (optional). Save the remaining cooking liquid for the soup (recipe below).

Note: You can prepare the purée several hours ahead of time and reheat it (or keep it warm for a shorter time), stirring occasionally, in a double boiler.

Cauliflower Soup with Many Garnishes
Serves 4

Schneider’s Notes: This soup lends itself to an endless number of garnishes such as crisp slivered or finely diced pancetta; diced olive oil-fried bread; a dusting of fennel pollen; crispy shallots; snipped fresh chives, chervil or flat-leafed parsley; a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil. White truffle oil, used sparingly, adds an astonishing flavor note.

1. Place cauliflower and apple purée in a medium saucepan, whisk in an equal amount of the reserved cooking liquid or chicken broth (Note: I made the soup one day with chicken stock and another with the reserved cooking liquid. Both ways are good, but I prefer the reserved cooking liquid.), and stir in a little cream. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and adjust the seasoning. Add any of the garnishes mentioned above to each serving.

cauliflower and apple soup

Lentil Soup + Mini Loaves = Complete Goodness

Lentil soup and homemade bread

I’ve blogged about this soup once before, but when I did, it was summer, and I doubt I inspired any of you to run off and buy lentils. But this is a soup I really want you all to make, and I’m hoping with the holidays in the past, a winter chill finally in the air, and the spirit of detox ever present, you’ll feel more inspired.

It’s a good one. I promise. For me, it’s the bite of the sherry vinegar that makes this soup, but the virtues of it are truly countless: It is completely vegetarian, vegan in fact. It cooks in one hour and takes only as long to prepare as it does to chop up some carrots, celery and onions. No vegetables are sautéed; no stock is simmered. It costs next to nothing to make and couldn’t be more healthy — lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories. This soup is complete goodness.

Have I sold you? I hope so. Lentil soup, homemade bread, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.

lentil soup

lentil soup ingredients

lentil soup, uncooked

dough, rising

mini loaves baked in ramekins

Lentil Soup

Yield=3 quarts or 8 generous servings

1 1/4 cups French green lentils (If you can’t find French — I couldn’t — regular lentils work just as well)
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce (12 oz total, about a scant 1 1/2 cups)*
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ cup red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar**
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced (about a heaping cup)
3 celery stalks, diced (about a cup)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

*I like Pomi brand for tomato sauce, but if you can’t find Pomi, Hunt’s is also good. Don’t buy a tomato sauce that has any sort of flavorings — not even a basil leaf.

** Don’t use a fancy bottle of vinegar here — for one, it’s unnecessary, and two, it might create a vinegar taste that is overpowering. Also, you might want to start with 1/4 cup on vinegar or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and then add more to taste. Some people have found the 1/2 cup of vinegar to be too overpowering.

1. Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total) and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread.

Note: On day two, much of the liquid will have been absorbed buy the lentils and veggies. Just add a little more water to the pot as you reheat and adjust the seasoning as necessary — a pinch more salt usually does the trick.

Mini Loaves

I’m afraid I’m going to have to report back on this bread recipe. These mini loaves were delectable and sort of a happy accident, a combination of recipes that yielded a very wet dough, one that needed the support of ramekins during the baking process. I don’t have a precise recipe at the moment, but just know that any simple bread recipe — this one contained just water, yeast, flour, sugar and salt — will likely bake off nicely in ramekins.

mini loaves

Lentil soup and homemade bread

Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup + Beer Bread = Yum Yum Yum

Vermont Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup

Vermont Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup

I should just rename my blog “Liza’s Daughter’s Blog.” These days, it seems, I only make dishes that my mother has fed me or told me about. When I was home in CT for my sister’s wedding last month, I was welcomed with a steaming bowl of this Vermont cheddar cheese soup, a slice of spanakopita, warm homemade bread, and yogurt cake for dessert. I devoured every morsel then fell into a several-hour-long food coma. It was heaven.

It’s hard to find fault in lots of extra sharp cheddar cheese, tons of fresh thyme, and vegetables sautéed in rendered pancetta fat, but several unexpected ingredients — beer, mustard, worcestershire and Tabasco — make this soup truly special. Oh, it is just wonderful!

I find the method for making this soup interesting. Now, I have never made a cheesy soup before, so perhaps this method is standard, but in this recipe, the grated cheese is tossed with flour before being stirred into the hot milk. This mixture thickens in its own pot before being added to the pot of sautéed vegetables, beer, stock and sauces. And while I wouldn’t think to err from my mother’s detailed instructions, my auntie Marcy reported that this step cannot be omitted — if the cheese and milk (with or without the four) are added directly to the vegetable stock pot, the soup will never come together — it will just curdle and separate into a mess. So, be warned.

And while any bread would go well with this soup, I have been enjoying beer bread with it for the past week. I used to make beer bread all the time. Not sure why I stopped because it is the SIMPLEST bread to prepare. No kneading or rising is required. If ever you want homemade bread with dinner and fear you have no time, consider this recipe — it literally takes five minutes to assemble and 40 minutes to bake. Simps.
 
For a light but comforting meal, serve this soup with bread (perhaps beer bread) and a wintery salad of arugula, candied pecans, diced pear and blue cheese. Yum yum.

beer bread

beer bread mise en place

soup mise en place

crispy pancetta

Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup

Source: Mother Liza and Auntie Marcy
Yield= a ton (about 14 cups)

½ cup small-diced pancetta (about 4 oz.)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (to yield about a cup)
2 ribs celery, diced (to yield about a cup)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 T. fresh thyme
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade*
12 oz. beer such as Otter Creek Copper Ale or Nut Brown Ale (I used an Amber ale)
3½ cups whole milk
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire
2 dashes (or more) hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about a pound)
2/3 cup flour
fresh Italian parsley, optional
*only homemade if you ask Liza and Marcy

1. In a large soup pot, sauté pancetta in olive oil until crisp and brown. (Alternatively, place the pancetta in the pan without any oil, cover the pan, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes. This should render out some of the fat . Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp.) Remove pancetta with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.

2. In the rendered fat, sweat the onions, carrots, celery and pepper over medium heat for 15 minutes until soft.

3. Add thyme, potato and chicken broth and simmer until potato is soft, about 10 minutes. Add beer.

4. Heat the milk in a separate pot until it just barely boils. Meanwhile, grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a grater and place it in a large Ziploc bag. Shake with the 2/3 cup flour. Add this cheese-flour mixture to the hot milk and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly.

5. Add the milk mixture to the pot with veggies and stock. Add mustard, sauces and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk for a few minutes to avoid curdling.

6. When serving, sprinkle some reserved pancetta in each bowl. Add more hot sauce to taste. Serve with bread.

Note: Soup is even better the next day.

beer bread

Beer Bread

Yield = 1 standard loaf pan or 3 mini pans

butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beer, I like Magic Hat #9 or any amber ale or Bass or whatever
4 tablespoons butter

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

2. Grease a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan (a standard loaf pan) with softened butter.

3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add beer, stir until combined and place in prepared pan.

4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 30 minutes longer (or less) or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack. Let bread sit in pan.

5. Meanwhile, melt butter. Pour the butter over bread. Let sit for five minutes then turn bread out onto a cutting board and serve immediately with more softened butter.