Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Fresh Ginger & Homemade Croutons

I make this soup often during the colder months. This is the perfect soup to serve as a first course, appetizer, side dish, or small evening meal on Thanksgiving Day. It’s also great served with disposable cups and spoons around your Fire Pit or Campfire, or at your Halloween or Christmas Party. It warms the body and the soul!

One amazing aspect of this soup is that it is exceptionally creamy without the addition of dairy, and naturally sweet without the addition of refined sugar. Heavy cream and brown sugar can be added in small amounts to enhance creaminess and sweetness (and I often do), but they’re not necessary to make this a delicious soup.

This is also a perfect soup to serve to your vegan or vegetarian friends. It’s a great option to serve along with a meat dish made for your carnivorous friends! I use chicken broth or chicken stock when I make this (because I believe it is the most flavorful), but vegetable broth or water can also be used.

This nutrient-dense delight is still delectable when enjoyed without toppings or additions, but there are many flavorful garnishes that can enhance this soup.

I often make homemade croutons. You can also add shredded cheese, nuts & seeds, candied nuts, crumbled bacon, candied bacon, dried cranberries, crackers, or fresh herbs. Think Autumn! Think Winter! Think Holidays!

Note: The idea for this recipe was taken from a NY Times recipe by Martha Rose Shulman.

INGREDIENTS:

Note: This recipe makes a very large pot of soup. It can be halved or reduced to serve less people.

-2-4 Tbsp Oil ( I used Organic EVOO)

-2 Med- Large Onions- chopped

-1/2 cup Fresh Ginger- minced

-2 Large Butternut Squash- peeled and diced

-2 Large Sweet Potatoes- peeled and diced

-2 Medium Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes- peeled and diced

-Chicken Broth or Stock to cover 1-2 inches above vegetables in the pot. I used approx. 2.5  (32 oz) boxes of Chicken Broth. You can also use boxes of Vegetable Broth/ Stock, or water. *Chicken broth/stock imparts the most flavor.*

-Salt and Pepper to taste

 

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Heavy Cream and Brown Sugar to taste – OPTIONAL

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PREPARATION:

EASY Butternut Squash Peeling and Dicing Instructions

(1) Poke holes all over the squash using a fork.

(2) Cut off both ends of the squash.

(3) Place in microwave for 5-10 minutes, until warm and somewhat tender. I did 10 minutes for two large butternut squash.

(6) Peel as soon as the squash is cool enough to handle, but warm enough to work with. The warmth and tenderness of the squash make it much easier to peel and dice.

(6) Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and dice.

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Heat oil in large soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes or until tender.

Add Ginger and stir until fragrant, approx. 1 minute.

Add squash, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes.

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Mix everything together in the pot.

Add broth, stock, or water until it covers the mixture with about 1-2 inches above mixture in the pot. About 2.5-3 (32 oz.) boxes of broth will do this. *The thickness of the soup can be altered (by adding more liquid) later if you think it is too thick. Therefore, it’s best to be on the conservative side when it comes to adding the liquid at first.*

Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to low/simmer. Add Salt to taste.

Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until tender.

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Puree the Soup using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender and work in batches to blend the soup.

Add pepper and more salt to taste. Adjust to your liking.

Optional ingredients: Add heavy cream and brown sugar at this point, beginning with small amounts, and adjusting from there. I used about a 1/4-1/2 cup of heavy cream and 4-5 Tbsp of Brown Sugar. Blend.

Adjust thickness to your liking. If you think the soup is too thick, add more liquid.

Blend and allow to heat through before serving, about 10 minutes.

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Add croutons, shredded cheese, nuts & seeds, candied nuts, crumbled bacon, candied bacon, dried cranberries, crackers, fresh herbs, or serve with generous pieces of a fresh baguette.

I added homemade croutons to mine, and it was delicious.

Here is my recipe…

HOMEMADE CROUTONS:

Heat Oven to 400 degrees.

Cut up a loaf (or part of a loaf) of hearty, crusty bakery bread into crouton pieces. Using stale or partially stale bread works well. I used sour dough bread, but you can use other kinds.

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Put the pieces in a bowl and toss in a generous amount of EVOO or oil of your choice. Make sure pieces are coated and a little bit saturated. Add salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Adjust seasonings according to your taste. Toss croutons in seasoning until throughly coated.

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Place croutons on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. If you find that your croutons are not crispy enough after this amount of time, you can heat a little bit longer (at 400), or you can broil them (in a few short minutes & monitored), but be VERY careful broiling as the croutons can burn faster than you can say “dammit all to hell”.

Some people like their croutons very hard and crispy. I enjoy them crispy on the outside with a slightly softer texture on the inside. “Texture-control” is the advantage of making your own croutons. Your texture preference determines your cooking time.

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Now dump a handful of these on your soup and enjoy!

 

 

“Be Our Guest” Croque Madame

A few days ago I returned from a magnificent trip to Walt Disney World in which we were able to experience the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and our Port Orleans-Riverside Resort hotel.

The rides and attractions were phenomenal, but the variety and caliber of many of the foods there were not to be overlooked. If you’re lucky enough to fit some unique table feasting, quick service delights, and simple park munchies into your schedule and budget you will most likely appreciate the flavors and experience.

As a “foodie” venturing through a world of both International cuisine and a variety of regional-specific American food I was delighted. With delectable smells around every corner, superb customer service, and the urging of others to try “this or that” I was inspired to savor whenever possible. My “taste-testing” did need to be limited due to the trip being more about my daughter than me, which is how it was meant to be. Incorporating Character Dining into our schedule was pleasing to both of us, however, so it worked out well.

I returned from my trip with a handful of foods in mind that I’d like to attempt to recreate. I believe that some foods were overrated (which is not an uncommon phenomenon in Disney), but there are many more outstanding (and even underrated foods) than there are overrated ones! Moreover, I did not even experience one fourth of the remarkable foods that Disney resorts and parks have to offer!

The first recipe I attempted to recreate is the “Croque Madame” from the breakfast menu at “Be Our Guest” Restaurant in Magic Kingdom. I was wary that this restaurant was outrageously popular simply because it intricately and gorgeously replicates the Beast’s castle and not because of the quality of the food. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The Croque Madame I enjoyed was one of the most delicious foods I experienced at Disney World.

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Description of Croque Madame from the “Be Our Guest” Menu:

“Open-faced Ham Sandwich topped with a Fried Egg, Gruyere Cheese, and Béchamel”

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Bechamel Ingredients:

-1.5 Tbsp Butter

-1/8 Cup Flour

-2 Cups Whole Milk

-1/4 tsp Salt

-1 tsp Onion Powder

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Directions for Béchamel:

-Melt Butter over Med-Low Heat

-Add Flour and stir frequently, until the mixture is pale golden and has a subtle nutty scent

-Pour in Milk and whisk constantly, until smooth, about 5-7 minutes. Keep whisking to prevent sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil.

-Turn heat to low and add Salt and Onion Powder. Simmer gently and stir periodically, until thickened. This should take about 10 minutes. Bechamel should be smooth (not grainy) and thickened when complete.

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Sandwich Ingredients:

-2 thick slices (bakery-fresh) Sour Dough or Brioche Bread

-1/4 lb sliced Gruyere Cheese

-1/4 cup shredded Swiss Cheese

-1/4 lb sliced (high quality) Deli Ham

-1/4 cup softened Butter

-2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise

-2 Eggs

-Salt and Pepper

– Dried Chives (Optional)

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Directions for Sandwich:

-Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

-Spread some butter on Baking Pan

-Spread some butter on both sides of slices of bread

-Place on baking pan and bake for 3 minutes.

-Remove from oven and spread 1 Tbsp Mayonnaise on each bread slice

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Fry 2 eggs in a buttered pan, keeping yolk runny. Keep warm.

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-Put 2-3 slices Gruyere on top of mayo-covered bread

-Put 2-3 slices Ham on top of gruyere

-Sprinkle shredded Swiss cheese on top of Ham

-Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until all of the cheese is melted

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-Gently place an egg onto each slice of bread, being careful not to break yolk

-Top each open-faced sandwich with warm béchamel

-Sprinkle with dried chives (optional)

Last steps

Voila! Bon Appetit! 

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Buffalo Cauliflower

It’s no surprise that there is a “cauliflower craze” right now. Cauliflower is a mashable, fryable, bakeable, low carb, nutrient-dense veggie that can be seasoned, texturized, and molded into low-carb versions of some of your favorite high-carb dishes. Eating low- carbohydrate foods and dishes are all the rage due to current research which promises weight loss and increased energy… among other things.

Although I’ve attempted the cauliflower replacement technique with several dishes, there are very few that I’ve actually enjoyed. The best cauliflower recipe I made (before this one) was a mashed cauliflower bake, and that’s because I loaded it with butter, heavy cream, and cheese. If you told me a few days ago that Buffalo Cauliflower is damn delicious I wouldn’t have believed you, but America’s Test Kitchen made me a believer (as it often does for many people).

In short- if you’re looking for a tried and true recipe “A.T.K.” is where to find it.

The Buffalo Cauliflower I made is almost the same as America’s Test Kitchen’s “Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower Bites” but I added some heavy cream, extra cornstarch & corn meal to the batter, used a deep fryer, and a store-bought Greek Yogurt Blue Cheese dip.  I also increased ingredient measurements but maintained the correct ratios. This recipe can easily be made vegan by leaving out the heavy cream and making (or buying) a vegan ranch or blue cheese dip.

Ingredients 

  • Head of Cauliflower – chopped into pieces
  • ½ Cup Coconut Oil
  • ¾ Cup + 2 Tbsp. Hot Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 4 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  •  1 ½ Cups Cornstarch
  • 1 Cup Corn Meal
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Pepper
  • 13.5 oz. can of Coconut Milk
  • ¼ Cup Heavy Cream
  • Vegetable Oil (or another oil) for Deep Frying

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Melt coconut oil in saucepan on low heat. Add 3/4 Cup hot sauce. Stir. Add 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Stir. Add 4 tsp. apple cider vinegar. Stir the mixture together. Leave on low heat, stirring occasionally.

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Heat vegetable oil (or other frying oil) in a deep fryer (according to directions). You can also heat oil in a pot to 400 degrees. Make sure oil is at 400 degrees before each batch of cauliflower is placed in pot.

In a bowl mix 13.5 oz. coconut milk, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 2 Tbsp. hot sauce. Put cauliflower pieces into this wet mixture.

In another bowl mix 1.5 cups cornstarch, 1 cup corn meal, salt, and pepper.

Add dry mixture to the wet mixture & cauliflower pieces. Gently stir/fold everything together. Make sure the cauliflower is coated well & all the crevices are filled. This should create a thick batter around each cauliflower piece.

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Place coated cauliflower pieces gently into deep fryer or pot. Do not crowd deep fryer or pot with too many pieces at once. Pieces often stick together. Gently stir and break them up while frying.

They are done when they are golden brown and float to the top.

Remove and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil. Lightly salt pieces.

Toss in hot sauce mixture.

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Serve with Blue Cheese or Ranch Dressing/Dipping Sauce. It’s easy to make your own! However, I used a delicious store-bought Greek Yogurt Blue Cheese Dip. It’s natural, healthy, and is refrigerated at the grocery store.

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Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gordon Ramsay’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Quick Sweet Pickled Celery

I interpreted these recipes from the show, “Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking”, which I discovered on Hulu. The ingredient measurements and cooking procedures may vary from his. If you enjoy these recipes and prefer more precision in crafting an amazing “Gordon meal”, the cookbook, “Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking”, encompasses all of the recipes from this show.

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 GR’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Ingredients

-4-6 Chicken Thighs and/or Chicken Legs

-Approx. 3 Cups Buttermilk

-2 Cups Flour

-2 Tbsp. Smoked Paprika

-1 Tbsp. Salt

-2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

-1 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper

-2 tsp. Black Pepper

-2-4 centimeters Cooking Oil that can handle high temps for frying (to put in bottom of frying vessel on stove) OR use your DEEP FRYER by following frying instructions for your deep fryer.

-Extra salt & Pepper for seasoning chicken

Directions

Lightly season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Place in large bowl. Pour buttermilk onto chicken. Gently rub into chicken and make sure chicken is immersed in the buttermilk. Cover. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – overnight. The buttermilk relaxes & tenderizes the chicken. The longer it soaks in the buttermilk, the better.

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Throughly mix flour, smoked paprika, salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper in a bowl.

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Put oil in Pot. I prefer to use an Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven when frying on the stove. If you have a deep fryer I recommend this method over stove frying.

Heat oil to 350-375 degrees F.

While oil is heating, thoroughly coat chicken pieces in flour mixture.

Gently place chicken pieces in the oil, but be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

Oil temperature should reduce to 300-325 F after chicken is placed in pot. Maintain oil temp at 300-325 F.

It’s easy to burn food when frying on the stove (especially with the shallow frying method used in this recipe), so it’s important to monitor oil temp. This is why I recommend using a deep fryer. It is much easier to maintain ideal frying temps when using a deep fryer.

Cook chicken about 25-30 minutes or until cooked through. Flip the chicken half way through cooking to ensure thorough cooking and equal crisping on both sides.

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Place chicken on a paper towel to soak up excess oil. Very lightly salt and pepper if preferred, but be careful not to over season as the chicken coating is already very seasoned.

GR’s Quick Sweet Pickled Celery

Ingredients

-5-8  Celery stalks (about 2.5 cups) chopped into pieces that are cut on an angle

-1.5 Cups Water

-1.5 Cups Granulated Sugar

– 3/4 -1 cup white wine vinegar (or to taste)

-2 Tbsp. Mustard Seeds

-2 Tbsp. Peppercorns

-1 Tbsp. Cloves

-1 Tbsp Salt

  • Note:  You’ll need a 28-32 Oz. Mason Jar with lid. GR used a Mason Jar with an attached glass suction lid. I used a Mason Jar with a separate metal lid. *

Directions

Put raw chopped celery into a 28- 32 oz Mason Jar. It should fill the jar to approx. 2.5 cups. Room must be left in the jar for the liquid.

Create a simple syrup by heating water and sugar in a saucepan on the stove until sugar is completed dissolved into the water.  You can do this by bringing water to a boil and then immediately reducing the heat to low/simmer, and stirring the liquid.

While simmering put white wine vinegar, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, and salt into the simple syrup. Stir.

Bring to a boil again and then reduce the heat to a low/simmer. Stir.

If you’d like to infuse flavors into the liquid for a longer period of time, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes before pouring into jar, but since this is a very “quick pickling” recipe, you can pour hot liquid over celery into mason jar right away.

Put lid on jar and make sure it’s sealed. Cool it down. Put in fridge if you’d like to speed up the cooling process.

According to GR this quick sweet pickling method can be used for pickling other veggies as well!

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TIP: Serve as a side with the buttermilk fried chicken. The cool sweet pickled celery pairs nicely with the hot savory chicken!

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Fun Fact: Fritters were the first known dish to ever be deep fried, and were popular in the Middle Ages. (Wikipedia)

Food Fact: A few ideal oils for deep frying are peanut oil, vegetable oil and canola oil. This is because these refined oils have a higher smoke point and can withstand higher cooking temps. They’re not necessarily healthy though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking like my UK Blokes

My favorite chefs are Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. I also adore Ming Tsai and Lidia Bastianich. Although Lidia tends to focus mostly on Italian cuisine and Ming focuses on East-West Fusion, my UK blokes span out even more by creating dishes of numerous origins and dietary preferences. They embrace my “variety is the spice of life” approach to cooking.

I am currently absorbed in “Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking” show on Hulu (which aired in 2013). He introduces budding chefs and home cooks to a variety of cuisine, creating dishes that are simple and flavorful in his distinctive straightforward manner. Not without his “Gordon Ramsay flare” he brings his children into the kitchen during demonstrations, and as he teaches them cooking skills he is also teaching his viewers cooking skills. Due to his direct and simple nature the recipes he introduces are often presented without cues on specific ingredient measurements. He’ll even throw an ingredient or two into the mixture without a single comment to the camera, and when specific measurements are given, they’re sometimes given in metric system format, leaving Americans the task of translation.

So, seeing as I am delighted by all twenty episodes, I would like to share some of these recipes on my blog. There is a cookbook to accompany this show, but I won’t be purchasing this $35 hardcover. My goal is to record my favorites from the show, approximate missing measurements, and translate anything from the metric system to make the recipes easier to follow. With some I will need to make ingredient substitutions for components that are not easily accessible to my region or too expensive for the common home cook. Furthermore, they will not be posted on my blog unless the dishes turn out well!

Stay tuned!

Fun Fact: Gordon Ramsay has a British Shorthair named “Ernie” who appears in his “Ultimate Home Cooking” show.

Food Fact: Coriander is another name for Cilantro. The English usually call it Coriander, while people in the States call it Cilantro.

 

 

How My Love of Cooking Began

People often ask me where my love of cooking originated by using the question, “did your mother or another family member inspire you with their own cooking,” and my answer is always “no.”

We were that American family… always on the road to practice our sports…. eating burgers in the car.

On Sundays my paternal Welsh-American grandmother did create delicious meals for our extended family, but she did it silently and excellently until it just became an extension of her. To me the meals just appeared and we devoured them gratefully. She rotated through several favorites throughout the year, and always the same specialties arrived on holidays. Chicken Tetrazzini at Christmas and Pork & Sauer Kraut on New Year’s Day. She received the Tetrazzini recipe from my maternal grandmother when she tasted it at my parents’ wedding reception, but I don’t think either of them knew that tetrazzini was named after the Italian opera singer, Luisa Tetrazzini.

When we were with my grandmother on weekdays (which was always an exciting treat) she’d use the drive-thru at multiple fast food restaurants to satisfy our salivating palates, and would graciously deliver our greasy, fragrant food to us on a beanbag chair in front of the television. We were the quintessential American family. Although I know many American families would disagree with that.

If my sister and I were with my parents on weekends (when they weren’t busting their butts as full time school teachers) my mother would always whip up something good. It was always good, always simple, always satisfying, and often started from a box or a can. With her level of busyness I still can’t believe she managed these meals. My mother is the most amazing human being I know, but my love of cooking did not originate from her, or from my grandmother, or from anyone else that I know…

It just happened. Some where. Some day. In college I think I saw a recipe. I read it. I became excited to create it. So, I did it, and it turned out well. Hence, I cooked more… sporadically… between track meets and exams… between college and real life… between real life and real life.

Real life hit me the hardest when I had a beautiful daughter with my husband and he divorced me two years later. She was only TWO. TWO! His reasoning was weak. My reasoning would have been much stronger, but I am a fighter, so I begged him to fight with me to save our family. He said “no” without a valid explanation…

The divorce papers arrived. I could live without seeing him, but the thought of not being able to spend everyday with my daughter during her childhood was unbearable. What about Christmas mornings? What about her birthdays? What about every day, after school, with her circle time stories and her artwork?

He was awarded joint custody. 50/50. I would see her 50% of the time. From the day she was born I wanted and expected 100% for BOTH of us. Now I needed to accept 50% and I would never deny her a relationship with her father. She loves us both, and I love her more.

So, how did my love of cooking begin? When my daughter’s father would take her away I would head to the kitchen and cook. At first, cooking became my refuge. It became something to indulge in to keep the tears from approaching and to keep the sadness of separation from flooding my heart. Then it became a true joy. It wasn’t just a hobby to hide within when I felt like diverting my attention. I loved it. I love it. There are endless possibilities in cooking. There is so much to learn and relearn. Cooking began as a solace and ended as a passion, and I am forever grateful.

 

-Lauren Bechtel

The Spice of Life Cook

About Me

I’m a mother, writer, fitness fan, and home cook who is excited to share my culinary experiences with you. I love cooking a variety of dishes… from international cuisine to party foods to the healthiest “fit foods” you can find. I’m a “moody foodie” and I cherish every moment in the kitchen!