in lieu of sunshine, apply soup

Today was our first genuinely grim cold weather day. The sun shone for about ten seconds early this morning, then it vanished and didn’t come back, and the temperature barely rose above freezing. Clearly the only solution to a day like this is soup. Jalapeño-ginger butternut squash soup, to be exact, because it’s rich and spicy and a beautiful yellow color, all things that help me pretend it’s not such a gray day.

I found this recipe in Sunset Magazine some years ago. It’s pretty straightforward. I imagine it works just as well with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version. The only annoying bit is peeling the butternut squash, which is always more difficult than it looks like it should be. It’s also wise to avoid getting too grabby with the jalapeño, because “I chopped up a jalapeño and then I touched my _________!” stories are only funny when they happen to somebody else.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-in. cubes
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream (I always use milk instead)

Instructions:

1. Heat olive oil in a 4- to 5-qt. pot over high heat. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeño, and salt. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not yet browned. Stir in cayenne for 30 seconds.

2. Add squash, broth, brown sugar, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth, then pour back into the pot. The garlic tends to settle to the bottom while cooking, so make sure to stir the puréed soup well after all the batches are mixed back together. Stir in cream (or milk) and adjust seasonings to taste.

4. Serve hot. The original recipe suggests a swirl of crème fraîche on top, but I prefer to garnish it with a few slices of jalapeño and a sprinkle of cayenne for extra spice.

I am also the only person in the house who will eat something with this much flavor and spice, so I end up freezing about 2/3 of it for future gray winter days. We don’t actually have very many of those in Colorado, where the sun always shines even when it’s so cold your face might freeze off, but it never hurts to be prepared.

season of mists and pumpkins

Autumn always makes me want to cook. I love autumn foods, the spicy, hearty flavors and the shades of red and orange, and I had a bit of a cooking fit today.

I made applesauce, which is the easiest thing in the world to make. I hate the taste and texture of store-bought applesauce from a jar–or, worse, a tube. There is something suspiciously unnatural and disconcerting about all that pasty yellow sogginess, but fresh, homemade applesauce is wonderful. The most time-consuming part is peeling the apples, but peeling apples is like kneading bread or caramelizing onions: The time and patience required are part of why the process is enjoyable, as well as a perfect opportunity to spend some productive time daydreaming. Use a small, sharp knife. That’s the only trick you need to know.

I don’t know that I’ve ever used a recipe to make applesauce. Peel and core some apples, and chop them up. Put them in a pot on the stove with a little bit of water. Add a bit of sugar if they’re too tart; it depends on what kind of apples you use. Toss in some cinnamon in stick or powder form, whatever you have on hand. Today I used four big, somewhat tart Gala apples, about 2/3 cup of water, about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, two sticks of cinnamon.

Bring it to a boil, turn the temperature down, cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the apples are soft enough to squish with a fork. Remove the cinnamon sticks and mash up the apples with a fork, or a potato masher, or any mashing-capable kitchen utensil of your choice. That’s it. Now you get to eat it!

I also made pumpkin cream cheese muffins, from this recipe at the food blog Two Tarts, with small modifications because our spice selection is somewhat lacking (I used only cinnamon and nutmeg) and because we live at about 6,500 feet above sea level and therefore have to adjust all chemically leavened baked goods. (In this recipe, I used 3/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda instead of 1/2, no change in the amount of flour, and it worked fine.) I stuck the cream cheese in the freezer while I was mixing up the rest because it’s a warm day today.

My taste test tells me the muffins are delicious and will be perfect with coffee for breakfast in the morning, and now that I have baked something with pumpkin and spices, the season has properly begun.