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The Perfect Fall Weekend (Part 2 of 3)

October 20, 2008

Fall is absolutely the best time of the year for soup. Okay, granted, winter has a cuddle-up-with-a-hot-mug thing going for it, but, I love being able to use fresh vegetables picked right from my own garden in my soup. And, on weekend like this, with a chill in the air, there is no more perfect meal than one that has soup in it.

Winter squash is plentiful and beautiful in October, and they’re the centerpiece of Saturday’s dinner and dessert.

Pie pumpkins, butternut and acorn squash

Pie pumpkins, butternut and acorn squash

I saw a yummy recipe for winter squash soup recently (I don’t remember the source, though (d’oh!) – and honestly, I improvised the ingredient quantities because I couldn’t quite remember what they were. Seems to have worked out, though). I was intrigued with the concept of savory because I usually prepare butternut squash soup on the sweet and cinnamony side. There is sugar in this recipe, but it’s really to counterbalance the sage, which is a lovely flavor, but I was afraid the recipe might be on the road to tasting like Thanksgiving stuffing. The sugar helps caramelize the winter squash a bit, which nicely takes care of that issue. Next time I prepare this, I’m going to add some proscuitto before adding stock.

Savory Winter Squash Soup
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 each onion (large) peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic (large), peeled and finely chopped
32 oz Chicken stock (homemade or high-quality)
4 cups butternut squash*, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes or slices, seeds and pulp discarded (about 1 medium squash)
4 cups acorn squash*, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes or slices, seeds and pulp discarded (about 1 medium squash)
1 pinch white sugar (use more if desired)
1 tsp dried thyme, minced (if using fresh, use 1-1/2 tsp)
1 tsp dried sage, minced (if using fresh, use 1-1/2 tsp)
tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (plus additional, to taste)
1/2 tsp ground pepper (plus additional, to taste)
1/4 cup half and half

(*As you may have read in another of my posts, I’m not a fan of peeling raw winter squash. It is, in a word, dangerous. Raw squash flesh is very hard, and the peel is not eager to be separated from it. Some folks use a vegetable peeler, which I can’t begin to wrap my mind around (I would think that method would take forEVAH). I use two knives, one large chef’s knife and one paring, both super sharp. I use the chef’s knife to slice the neck into 1 inch disks, halving the disks (see photo below), and then the paring knife to carve the peel from the flesh of each disk half, using a rocking motion to control the progress of the knife. If peeling squash still makes you nervous (and it should), halve the squash lengthwise and roast in a 350° oven for 30-45 minutes. The peel will still be hard, but it will be very easy to carve or scoop out the softened flesh.)

1.  Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. When butter starts to sizzle, add onions and garlic, sauteeing until soft and translucent (but not brown) (about 5-8 minutes).

2.  Add butternut squash and acorn squash, stirring well to mix with the butter, onion and garlic. Sprinkle mixture with sugar and continuing stirring. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.

3.  Add stock, thyme, sage, cumin and ginger. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper, and continue to simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until squash is very tender (about 20 minutes).

4.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to your desired consistency. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.

5.  Stir in half-and-half just before serving.

Raw butternut, ready to peel

Raw butternut, ready to peel

Sweet and mild acorns

Sweet and mild acorns

Mmm ... garlic and onions ....

Mmm ... garlic and onions ....

Mmmmm ... garlic and onions in a buttery bath ....

Mmmmm ... garlic and onions in a buttery bath ....

From such simple beginnings...

From such simple beginnings...

... we get yummy ends.

... arrives yummy ends.

Every Fall, I tell myself I’m going to try some new pumpkin-based recipes, to mix things up from the usual pie repertoire (I’m pumpkin’d and apple’d out, at this point). Aside from a pumpkin cheesecake once, these new recipes fall the way of the New Year’s Resolution: “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow….” And then eventually I forgot completely, and pretty soon it’s Spring again.

This year, though, I was on the ball. I’ve tried a few pumpkin spicey things (including pumpkin spice aebleskivers), and thanks to that experimentation, I’ve found my new favorite Autumn dessert (new to me, I mean, not new to anyone else in the western world): The Pumpkin Spice Roll. I know why I’ve never made this before. That jellyroll always looked especially intimidating, as I know what happens when you try to roll up a sheet cake. A cracktastic disaster. But, I came across a video on the web that showed the process, and it looked simple enough that even a cake clutz like me could handle it. Wowsers. So good….

Pumpkin Spice Roll
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup canned pumpkin or fresh pumpkin pureé
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh preferred – it makes a huge difference!)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1.  Line a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with parchment paper, grease the paper lightly and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, flour, pumpkin, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, salt and nutmeg; mix well. Add lemon juice. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just more or less rectangular. Sprinkle evenly with pecans.

2.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. If you’re not sure whether your oven is calibrated properly, begin checking the cake after 12 minutes to ensure you don’t overbake it (that will cause the cake to crack when rolled). Remove cake from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

3.  Turn cake onto a kitchen towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel off parchment paper. Roll up cake in towel, jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Cool completely on a wire rack.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the filing ingredients; beat until smooth. Unroll cake; spread filling over cake to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up again; place seam side down on a serving platter. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Pecans add a lovely flavor

Pecans add a lovely flavor

The cake batter whips up easily

The cake batter whips up easily

Use parchment paper.  That's an order.

Use parchment paper. That's an order.

Mmmm ... fresh out of the oven.  Smell those spices.

Mmmm ... fresh out of the oven. Smell those spices.

Carefully roll the cake in a towel and allow to cool (that's the secret)

Carefully roll the cake in a towel and allow to cool (that's the secret)

Not the best picture, but wow, did this taste great.  I know what I'm bringing to Thanksgiving dinner....

Not the best picture, but wow, was this heavenly. I know what I'm bringing to Thanksgiving dinner....

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