There Aren’t Enough Orange Foods: The Making of Pumpkin Soup

I’ve been one hell of a Betty Crocker this weekend! It used to be that I did the majority of my most creative cooking when I was upset; it seems that I’ve turned a page and now can try some creative stuff just when I feel curious. Not only did I can seven more jars of hot pepper jelly (leaving seeds in this time around to make a jelly with more kick as requested by a couple of people), I also baked two loaves of zucchini bread (a first for me, made with a huge garden grown zucchini) and made a soup that harks to the coming of fall.

Ain’t that a purdy punkin’?

We grew a large pumpkin in the garden, so I asked a very creative culinary friend of mine the burning question: What can I make with pumpkin? The looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said very simply, “Pumpkin soup.” Being as I’ve never had pumpkin soup, or butternut squash soup for that matter, I found this both intriguing and a bit of a challenge. I asked how one goes about making such a soup; he told me to roast the pumpkin with olive oil and salt and when finished, purée it to prep it.  I figured this would be a long process, but once I had cut and removed all of the pumpkin’s guts, it was very simple: drizzle and roast. The roasted pumpkin came out of the oven sizzling with an earthy aroma and a rich orange color.

Pumpkin Drizzled with Olive Oil and Sprinkled with Salt Prior to Roasting

I allowed it to cool a few minutes and scooped the soft pumpkin flesh (ew, flesh) with a spoon into a bowl, leaving only the skin to dispose of.  Then, I scooped the soft, roasted pumpkin into a food processor and blended until it was puréed.

Pureed Pumpkin

I turned the pumpkin soup experiment into a two-day event because I waited until fairly late Saturday night to roast and after my second glass of Perrin Nature Cotes Du Rhone I was in no frame of mind to finish making soup.  Today, my mind clear and unaffected by copious amounts of deliciously rich Cotes Du Rhone, I completed the task.

After scooping the puréed pumpkin into a big, cast iron dutch oven I added half a cup of water and about two cups of chicken broth, stirring to dilute the pumpkin.  My friend had said all I really needed for this to work was chicken stock or broth, cream and spices, so I figured even if this experiment went awry, I could say I’d made the attempt.  I relied heavily on my taste buds and after adding cream ( I have no idea how much, because I just poured until the consistency was smooth and somewhat thin), I added cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, salt and sugar (again, I failed to measure) and stirred until all spices were well mixed.

Addin’ the Flavor

I chose to thinly slice a few baby carrots and finely dice a medium sized white onion from the garden and saute with a large pad of butter and chicken broth until the carrots were soft to the touch and the onions were translucent, and then added both to the pumpkin and spices. I remembered a friend making and incredible tomato bisque for me, and him using a blender to combine herbs and spices thoroughly while giving the soup a tremendously smooth texture, so I employed the same technique to introduce my sautéed vegetables. After tasting, I was thrilled at the outcome! It was rich and smooth and the blended carrots and onions added a fantastic earthy flavor to the hearty soup.

The Finished Product

After this experiment, I fully intend to try my hand at more soups this fall and winter and now I know that while soup making is slightly labor intensive, it’s totally worth it.

Since I seem to be turning into a regular culinary queen, there will be more to come!

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Adding to My Goddess List: I’m A Jelly Makin’ Fool

jelly makin’ fool

This Saturday, I took the opportunity to add something new to my “Goddess List” (the list of all of my abilities and talents and named affectionately by a very sweet friend of mine who continually reminds me that I am indeed a goddess and deserve only the best).  Because the garden has been so very fruitful this season we have a plethora of jalapeno peppers; the fridge is overflowing and the peppers have been slowly but surely wilting. My dad and I were discussing what we should do with the harvest one day and it dawned on me: hot pepper jelly.

This condiment is something my family enjoys with unabashed joy during the Christmas season. For some reason, there is nothing better than spicy green jelly and cream cheese spread on a cracker when it’s cold outside.  I should interject here that while I’ve made a good many dishes and experimented in the kitchen, I have never, I repeat NEVER tried my hand at canning. And never before have had I had the urge.

I planned on joining my Aunt Mary, a seasoned canner, for a lesson, but plans fell through.  Being as I’m hard headed and had canning on my schedule for the day, I decided that I would try it out myself. After all, how hard could it be? I took to the web for a recipe and got some tips over the phone.  Forty dollars, two dozen jars and lids, two boxes of pectin and several sweet peppers later, I was ready!

cannin’ supplies

I was excited! I had a recipe and decided I’d follow it to a T and go from there. Washing the jars, lids and rims and putting everything into pots to boil on the stove to sanitize was annoying and tedious. After I finished that chore, I began to doubt the decision to delve into this venture alone.

big ol’ steamy pot of jars

Chopping up a cup and a half of sweet green peppers was easy. Chopping a quarter of a cup of jalapeno peppers, however, was an ordeal and experience in and of itself. By the time I even got to this part, I was sweaty and nervous as I glanced to a huge pot filled with steamy water to sanitize my jars and a separate sauce pan bubbling over and sizzling on the stove to sanitize the lids and rims. Then, things got a whole lot worse: I think I inhaled a seed because all of a sudden my nose started burning, my eyes started watering, I started coughing uncontrollably like something was caught in my throat and I began sneezing like a son of a bitch.  At this point, I cursed the peppers (I mean really REALLY cursed them), nibbled on some bread and threw the chopped sweet peppers and chopped and seeded jalapenos into the food processor to turn them into tiny slivers.  Then, I dumped both kinds of peppers into a big pot, added six and a half cups of sugar, a cup and a half of vinegar, stirred it all up so it looked a little like this:

jelly fixins’

And read the recipe. I was supposed to wait for things to boil for three minutes. It was weird to see this gloopy mess come to a rolling boil and thin out, creating a thin green film around the perimeter of the pot.  The timer sounded and it was time to squeeze in two pouches of thick, sticky pectin.  The liquid slowed its boil and strangely morphed into a sticky boiling mess. I stirred the concoction, set the timer for minute and waited. I’d reached the last part of the recipe that I’d been waiting for! I removed the heavy, cast iron Dutch oven from the burner and set it aside to cool for five minutes, and skimmed the pot, removing a thick gooey layer.  Beneath that disgusting layer lay a lovely green shade of sweet, sticky jelly! Made with my own to hands! I was so excited and broke out my canning funnel and sanitized jars, lids and rims and set to fill them all up. Sadly, I was introduced to one of the “joys” of canning: lots of work and sweat with a very little bit of product; my batch filled only six and a half jars.  No matter, I thought. This wasn’t so bad; I’ll do it again and fill the rest of them!  And then I realized how hot, sweaty and sticky everything was and had second thoughts.   I decided six and a half jars were good enough for a Saturday afternoon.

spicy, homemade yumminess

Today is Monday and the more I think back to the hassle that canning is, I really do get why people do it.  It harks back to the days when people were resourceful and used what they had in everyday life. Not to mention, anything homemade always tastes about a million times better than anything you’d get from a store, it’s much healthier and it’s not packed with preservatives and chemicals.  I’m really excited that I’m developing a new skill and would like to try my hand at other forms of canning.  I’m hoping that round two of jelly making’ is as successful as round one! I wonder what’ll be the next addition to my Goddess List?

I Knead It…I knead it bad!

I have always had respect for people who could not only make bread that wasn’t as heavy as a brick and hard to swallow, but that was pretty, too.  My oldest friend (who incidentally has a pretty kick ass blog called Nutsville in Norway) is an expert bread maker (among being an expert at making a variety of things, both food and textile wise).

I remember hanging out at her house before she moved a million miles away to be with her super intelligent, cancer researching, biophysicist boyfriend (now husband) and she would occasionally make bread that can be described in one very simple word. Heavenly.  The color was incredible; it was crusty but light and fluffy and not at all dense and cake-like as all of my failed attempts had been.  And best of all, it had flavor. I’d sit and watch her put smelly yeast into hot water and mix in a ton of flour and patiently knead the dough into a lovely, pale wad of bread-to-be. She’d knead and punch and wait, knead and punch and wait. So expertly and with the patience of a saint. Me on the other hand, I’d look at her after she sat down after kneading the pale mass for the second time and say, “What the HELL Jess! When can we EAT it?”

It would eventually get to the point that the dough had rested and risen and been massaged enough to happily be thrown into an oven. And then, we’d both impatiently wait for a loaf to be done and yank it out of the oven. I’d immediately grab the butter from the fridge and a knife from her drawer all the while salivating, only to be stopped by her the moment the knife’s tip hit the deliciously crusty top of the bread with a, “What are you doing?” I’d look at her and say, “What do you mean, ‘What am I doing?'” Lex, she’d patiently explain: we need to wait for it to cool for a little while.   I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to eat, damnit!

Every attempt I’d made at creating an edible bread had been a failure. I was looking through a collection of blogs the other day and ran across a recipe for Amish Country Bread. It looked easy enough, didn’t require countless sessions of kneading and resting. So, I decided to give it another try.

I pulled my hair up into a top knot, threw on my cutest apron (given to me by my aforementioned friend) and rummaged through the pantry until I had all of the ingredients that I needed: yeast, flour, salt, sugar. I measured and dumped, and waited for the yeast to “bubble”. I dumped in a few cups of flour and dove in, fingers first to pinch and rub and massage until the mass of what had been a powdery mess became a pliable, stretchy ball. It was beautiful. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.

I buttered the inside of a bowl, threw in my masterpiece and covered it with a towel all the while thinking to myself, “Ok…how the hell do I know how long I have to wait for this crap to double in size?” So, I did the wise thing. I opened a bottle of my favorite pear cider, poured myself a flute, sat down and waited, popping up every 15 minutes to monitor my creation’s growth.

I decided after about 40 minutes that it had rested enough, so I punched. I punched and this ball of goo expelled air and deflated. I separated the big ball into two small balls. I put them on a greased cookie sheet (per my now favorite bread recipe), pulled out the sharpest knife I have, made some pretty little slits in the top and again covered with a towel.  I then poured myself another flute of pear cider and waited.  Very impatiently, might I add.  I checked every 15 minutes to see if the two small dough balls had expanded enough to finally be put in the oven.  Old habits die-hard.

It was finally time! I lack a pastry brush, so I used my hands to slather the two pasty colored balls of dough with a simple egg wash and then I sprinkled with sea salt. I pushed them into the oven…and drank another flute of pear cider. And, I waited. But this time, I wasn’t impatient; I was excited and slightly giddy.  The buzzer on the oven sounded and I ran to the yank open the door. They. Were. Incredible.

I’m not too shabby in the kitchen. I can make some pretty mean meals, but I was particularly ecstatic about what I’d created. I’d made two incredibly crusty looking, browned and pretty loaves of bread. I immediately grabbed butter and my sharp knife and sliced one of the loaves. Holy hell, it was a taste explosion! It was warm and crusty on the outside and chewy and heavenly on the inside. It was perfect.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of something that I’d made.

I’ll definitely be making that recipe again and I intend to share it with friends. I actually conquered my fear of bread making by baking an edible masterpiece.

Hallelujah!