Thursday, October 31, 2013

Roasted Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Autumn Mist by Pianissimo Brothers
Last year I really got the urge early to start listening to Christmas music and it frustrated me!  I'm definitely one of those who don't like to shortchange the Thanksgiving season.  And I didn't want to tire of my Christmas music before it even got to Christmas!  So I took my frustration to the iTunes store and  looked to see if maybe there was some Thanksgiving music out there, too!  And, oh happy day!  There was!  I downloaded a few albums of mostly instrumental music that brilliantly matched that autumn feel - the feeling of winding down - the feeling of reflection - the feeling of taking stock of your blessings.  And the feeling of wanting to cozy up to a bowl of really good soup!  This song does all those things!  If you're wanting some holiday music of a non-Jingle Bell persuasion - at least for now - check out the album that this song is on.  And make some soup!

My great group of girlfriends and I have been holding these Jumble Sales this past year.
We have a theme of reusing, repurposing, and recycling.
We call our little boutique "Twice Is Nice" and send out flyers and 
invite all our friends to come see what we've been up to and maybe buy some of it!
We held the first sale in the spring and then the second one just last week.
We have so much fun doing it.

For me, though, it has become something more.
It has become a place to funnel all my creative energy - and 
I have lots of it running around inside my head - keeping me up at night.
The thrill and buzz I get from looking at something and 
imagining it in a new way is indescribable.
It is a high for me.
It is euphoric even.

We were given a gorgeous weekend in which to hold the sale.
However, Saturday morning I woke up to the most mystical fog!
The sun was trying to burn through it - and eventually won!
As I drove down the road, the song for today, Autumn Mist,
was a perfect soundtrack to what it was like!
Beautiful and slightly haunting - and a pre-warning
that changes were a-coming!

And those changes have been clear and sunny days but with a chill.
We're getting below freezing at night now.
I've pulled out the glove and scarf bin.
This is when I tap into those special summer days that I store up
in my memory bank to be enjoyed until they roll around again and 
become replaced with new ones.

And this is when I have soup.
Warming, nourishing, delicious soup!
I particularly like this one because it's packed with 
all sorts of nutrition and very little fat.
The flavor profile is Asian - with the butternut 
squash cubes tossed with Chinese Five-Spice Powder.
Red lentils add body to the broth along with some coconut milk.
Yeah - you're going to want to make this soon!

Roasted Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
makes 5 servings
1 - 1 1/2 lb. butternut squash
1 t. five-spice powder
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 t. kosher salt
pinch of black pepper
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 lg. carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 white onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. cumin
1 qt. chicken stock
1 c. light coconut milk
1 c. red lentils
1" fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 stalks baby bok choy, chopped
2 green onions, sliced thin
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy clean up.)

Peel the butternut squash and cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Cut into 1/2" small cubes and place in a large bowl.  Toss the squash cubes with the five-spice powder, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.  Toss until you get a nice even coating.  Spread out evenly on the lined baking sheet.
Roast for 30 minutes, giving the cubes a stir halfway through the roasting time.  Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the squash and caramelizes it, giving it lots of flavor.
When it's finished, remove from the oven and set aside.
While the squash is roasting, you can prep the other vegetables and start the soup.  Heat the remaining olive oil in a pot and add the celery, carrot, and onion.  Stir to coat with the oil and season with a couple pinches of salt and pepper and the cumin.  Saute over medium heat until the vegetables start to become soft and onions are translucent - about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant - about 1 minute.  

Add the chicken stock and scrape up any bits off the bottom of the pan, if any.  Stir in the coconut milk and the lentils.  Using a microplane or grater, zest the fresh ginger into the liquid.  Reserve about a half cup of the roasted squash cubes for garnish and then stir the remaining cubes into the pot.  Bring to a simmer and then cover and continue to simmer for 20 - 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender.

When the lentils are tender, stir the baby bok choy into the pot as well.  Stir and watch as the leafy parts soften and fold into the delicious pool of broth!  Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl and top with the sliced green onions, a few reserved roasted squash cubes, and some fresh cilantro.  If you're tempted to write off the cilantro as eye candy, please don't!  It's flavor really takes this soup to the next level.  It's just a delicate herb - that's why we leave it out for the end!

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