Leek and Squash Soup

I’m still here! It’s been a busy time. Shall I fill you in? For starters, after two years in a job that didn’t inspire me, I made the switch. The old job happened to come with a short commute and hours that afforded me a generous amount of free time to cook and clean and socialize. Now, I’m commuting from the suburbs to the city, a hub of activity and excitement. It requires a bit more time and energy, but I was ready for it. While I’m still young, I’m going to go where things are happening!

September is a special month, filled with birthdays and wedding anniversaries (such as my own, for both), including a new anniversary established by one of my sisters, who married at a lovely ceremony on September 6. September also has the unique feature of containing two of the most pleasant seasons, summer and fall.

Along with all the events and occasions and changes, it’s harvest time. Tomatoes and zucchini and peppers continue to stream in from the farm share, plus new crops of potatoes and squash. It’s a good time to stay home and cook!

Yet Matt and I also took an overdue trip to visit some of my family in Vermont. We enjoyed a lovely September weekend that included exploring a number of farms in the region by bicycle. (Almost 30 miles of biking…I was almost too exhausted to fully appreciate the agricultural wonders!) During the visit, I made a casual comment about how much I like leeks. I noted that because my farm share so rarely includes them in the weekly offering, and I never buy them because I have plenty of vegetables, I don’t enjoy them at home as much as I think I would. My sister proceeded to pull a bunch out of her garden and send them home with us. So exciting! First I grilled a couple along with zucchini and added walnuts and a lemon dressing with parsley as per this recipe. I knew I wanted to use a bunch of them in a soup. Then the acorn squashes on the counter called my name.
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As usual, I sought out a recipe for validation. Like many soups, however, this is one that you could totally wing. I realized well after the fact that it was especially appropriate to make a squash soup at the end of September around my anniversary, because we served little cups of butternut squash soup for one of the courses at our wedding four(!) years ago!
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Acorn Squash and Leek Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine

3 1/2 pounds acorn squash (about two small) or similar, halved
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large leeks
, white and tender green parts, roughly chopped
5 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried
4 Cups chicken stock or low sodium broth
1 teaspoons salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Optional toppings:
About 5 Tablespoons sour cream
About 2 Tablespoons chives
, chopped
2-4 slices of bacon (to taste), cooked and crumbled

Set the oven to 350°. Prepare the squash by slicing in half.
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The recipe I followed said to scrape out seeds AFTER the halves are cooked, but I would recommend scraping them out at this point. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
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Roast until tender, checking at 30 minutes. Allow to cool so that you can handle the squash.

In the meantime, prep your leeks by washing thoroughly in a few changes of water. I took my green parts and tossed them in my freezer bag of vegetable scraps; I recently read that they contribute nicely to well-flavored vegetable stock.
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Chop up the white and light green parts.
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Set your large heavy saucepan or Dutch Oven over low heat. Add the butter and melt. Toss in the leeks and thyme and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned, about 40 minutes.

Before...

Before…


After!

After!


Discard the thyme sprigs.

When your squash is ready to handle, separate the flesh from the skin. If you waited until this point to scoop out and discard the seeds, do this now, taking care not to toss out too much of the delicious roasted flesh.
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Then scrape the squash from the skin. Get all the good stuff!
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Stir the stock and squash into the leek butter mixture.

Simmer for about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor, puree the soup until smooth.
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Season with the salt and pepper.

Spoon the soup into bowls and top each with 1 Tablespoon sour cream, a sprinkling of the bacon, and 1 teaspoon fresh chives if you have them, for garnish. Serve with toast to round out the dish.
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Harvest Muffins

Time to get grating.
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Last week was as big one for the CSA harvest, plus I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of things at a farmer’s market I was passing, so it has been a busy time of cooking and eating and trying to keep up. No ordering lunch for this gal! It has been delicious though. There was a modified sweet potato shepherd’s pie made using leftover barbecue pulled pork my sister made for a family function and sent me home with. I made scallion pancakes, butternut squash parsley penne, and slightly spicy coconut chicken bok choy soup, the latter of which went really well with an ice cold lager beer home alone watching Dancing with the Stars (I’ve accepted my occasional loneliness while my husband has volunteer fire department responsibilities).

When it looked like my meals were already covered for the rest of the week, I knew I had to take precautions against food spoilage. Fortunately Melissa Clark came to my aid. Well, SHE didn’t actually COME to my side and counsel me, but how cool would it be for her make a video in my kitchen? I came across her harvest muffin recipe.

This recipe reminds me a little bit of the sourdough carrot cake recipe from August, which led me to King Arthur Flour’s “Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake” recipe. Muffins are easier, since they can be individually frozen and thawed as desired.
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Harvest Muffins
From The New York Times

1 1/8 Cups (140 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 Cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 Cup (70 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 small apple
, grated, and juices reserved (1/2 cup)
1/2 Cup grated carrots (or butternut squash or parsnips)
1/2 Cup grated beets (or zucchini)
1/3 Cup (55 grams) raisins
1/2 Cup (40 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut

A note on the inclusion of grams on the ingredient list above–it is a true a time saver to be able to use the kitchen scale instead of pulling out the different measuring cups and leveling them off.
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins, either mini or regular. Prepare ingredients:

I ended up using a little more than 1/2 Cup of the carrots and beets.

I ended up using a little more than 1/2 Cup of the carrots and beets.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

To a large bowl, add the grated apple and juices and grated vegetables, eggs, olive oil, honey, and brown sugar.
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Combine.

Lovely!

Lovely!


Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the raisins and coconut.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way up.

It is hard to tell what is 3/4 of the way filled. These muffins aren't huge risers, so it wasn't a problem.

It is hard to tell what is 3/4 of the way filled. These muffins aren’t huge risers, so it wasn’t a problem.


Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes for mini-muffins and about 20 to 22 minutes for regular muffins.
8 minutes in--we're halfway there!

8 minutes in–we’re halfway there!


When an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the muffins are ready to be enjoyed.
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I know you’re wondering–the answer is yes, the muffins do taste a little like beets. You get the beet flavor when you first take a bite, but then it fades into the straightforward sweet taste you would find in any zucchini, apple, or banana bread. I will be enjoying these now until Thanksgiving!