My Holiday was awesome.
It snowed, we had dinner on the table at a reasonable hour even though we had to trim nearly 16 pounds of beef tenderloin with dull steak knives, there was miraculously enough food for every single person present and there were a lot of us. We had dessert by candlelight and Straus Creamery whipped cream. There was a Buche de Noel and Tiramisu and upside down dark, damp black-cherry gingerbread cake, pecan caramel bars and I found a Fran's Gold Bar in my stocking that morning. And there was a six-month old baby who would press her damp hand against your chest and lean in cheek-to-cheek if you whispered in her ear, and if she caught your eye from across the room, would begin to flap her arms and clasp her hands together, smiling like a tiny imp. It was really incredible, and in so many ways I was more thankful than I was at Thanksgiving -- thankful that my long-divorced parents are such good friends that each is welcome in the others home with their fiances, that my mom's family still sees my Dad as son and brother, that my family always seems to repair any busted seams or stitches, that we like each other and that it is pleasure to see and be with one another, that my youngest sister's friends always show up and bring a shot of teenage energy with them, that my cousins are so great and we see each other so much more than we used to, that everyone is growing up and turning into good people. It was so good that I've been a little mournful, for the first time in a long time, that Christmas is over and wishing we could do it all over again -- but for different reasons then when I was eight.
My pants don't agree, however.
I've never been one to gripe about how Holiday Food wreaks havoc on my diet, because I think that life wreaks havoc on my food choices. But goddamn, if this year didn't fully convert me. It isn't so much the amount of food, it's what kind -- butter, lots of it, on everything. Lots of bread, and bread products, and then the candy and sweets -- sugar was a huge problem. I don't eat it often, despite the evidence presented here, but I ate it like CRAZY. I ate chocolate just to eat it, and there were boxes of it (I will talk about this more in-depth very soon). I don't know what kind of person I come across as on this site, but let me tell you about the kind of person I was three or four days ago. The kind who stood in the doorway of a room, holding a wedge of tiramisu in her bare hand, casually eating it and talking to a small group of horrified people. No, I didn't know it was possible to eat a dessert normally served in bowls, with a spoon, as though it were a solid, either. Have a very merry feral holiday.
So now that we're done with the I-MAX presentation of "December: NO LIMITS" and I am enjoying my new winter coat of backfat, it is time to start talking about real food again. This soup was one of the first things I made that felt good to eat, you know, and even though it had bacon and a little cream in it it was so much lighter than anything I'd eaten prior that I felt angelic and heavenly, like a country singer or someone related to the Osmonds.
Heavy with pepper and savory from the thyme, smoky bacon and garlic, this isn't the normal sweet squash soup you may have had. While I did use cider in it, the sweetness is not the main player, meaning if you find yourself a little grossed out by the idea of a sweet soup, you're fine here. Let's hide in the basement and hope Tim Robbins doesn't out us to the aliens.
So Happy New Year -- I hope you enjoy this soup. And I hope I enjoy my new wardrobe, comprised mainly of caftans.
Butternut Squash soup with Bacon and Thyme
1 large peeled, seeded/de-stringed and cubed butternut squash (equal to a little over five heaping cups -- you could substitute pumpkin)
4 strips of bacon
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
16 ounces of chicken stock, either homemade or your favorite brand
1 bottle of hard cider (or 1 1/4 cups apple juice, or more stock)
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 heaping teaspoon kosher salt (less, depending on how salty your bacon is)
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Juice from half of a lemon
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon until fat has rendered and meat has crisped. Set bacon aside, and drain off all of the liquid fat. Add back 1-2 teaspoons.
Add the onions, garlic cloves and thyme, cracked black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes and sage -- saute until onions are soft, then add the cider to de-glaze the pan. Scrape up all the brown sticky bits from the bottom of the pot, and simmer for three or four minutes. Dump in the squash, add the chicken stock and simmer over medium until squash is fork-tender and liquids have reduced by a bit. Turn heat to low, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, stirring and tasting -- add salt (by the shake) if you feel it needs a little more.
Now, if you have a hand blender, just whizz everything up in the pot. If you don't, puree in batches in your food processor, blender or food-mill. Depending on how chunky you like your soup, use your best judgment when it comes to texture and time. I like a velvety puree, which is further enhanced when you (and post-puree, now is the time to do it) add the lemon juice (stir well), and cream. Stir, heat on low if needed, and pour into bowls. Garnish with crisped bacon, a little heavy cream or creme fraiche, thyme or some Parmesan and fried crispy sage leaves if you like.