Sunday, October 28, 2007

Butternut squash soup

A few months ago my SO and I bought some butternut squash soup at Trader Joe's. We were impressed by the soup's smoothness and squashy flavor, and thus decided to try making a squash soup on our own. We just did that today, and the results were fantastic: the soup was thick and smooth, and filled with the flavors of sweet squash, spicy ginger, and savory onions. We roasted the squash's seeds along with the squash itself, and they made a great topping for the soup (they added concentrated bits of roasty flavor). This soup also has the benefit of being insanely healthy. Since we enjoyed this so much, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3 to 3 1/2 lb. butternut squash, whole
Enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the squash seeds and a roasting pan
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 medium onion, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (plus extra for salting the squash seeds, if desired)

To make this recipe you need to first roast the squash, and then let it cool before making the soup.

Roasting the squash:
0. Preheat your oven to 400F.
1. Wash the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Be careful while doing this, as winter squash skin can be extremely tough.
2. Using a spoon, scoop out the squash seeds (and the tissue holding them into the squash) and put them into a bowl.
3. Coat a baking pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil, place the squash cut-side down on this pan, and then bake at 400F until the squash is done (one hour or so; the skin should be browned and the flesh should be soft and easily pierced).

Roasting the squash seeds (optional):
1. Separate the squash seeds from the squash flesh; this is probably most easily done with your hands. After you've separated the seeds, put them into a bowl or strainer and wash until most of the squash goo is gone.
2. Mix the squash seeds with enough vegetable oil to coat, and put into a pan that's large enough to hold the seeds in a single layer.
3. Bake in a preheated 400F oven until lightly browned, approximately 5-10 minutes. We baked these along with the squash, though if your oven is too small for that, it would be fine to roast them after the squash is roasted.
4. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt, and stir.

Making the soup:
1. Once the squash has cooled, scoop the flesh of the squash out of the skin; set the flesh aside until needed.
2. Heat the butter in a large non-stick pot over medium-high heat.
3. Once the butter has melted, add the onions, scallions, and ginger, and cook until the onions are softened and just starting to brown (about 5-10 minutes).
4. Add the roasted squash flesh and four cups of the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
5. Add the salt and the remaining two cups of chicken stock and puree the soup until smooth. We did this using an immersion blender, but a standard blender should work fine. If your blender is volume limited, you might want to blend the soup before adding the final two cups of chicken stock.
6. Serve the soup (heating it on the stove if necessary to bring it to your preferred temperature). Garnish with the roasted squash seeds, if desired.


Radagast's SO enjoyed the soup with a sploosh of cream stirred into a bowlful, but Radagast preferred the soup without the cream. The cream made the soup creamier (who'd have guessed?), and seemed to mellow the flavor some.

The squash seeds make a tasty snack all on their own, so even if you don't think you'll like them in the soup, you may want to try roasting them anyway.

This recipe is modified from one Joy of Cooking (Rombauer et al. 1997). The original recipe used two leeks instead of the onions and scallions; we didn't have leeks on hand.

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Busy, yet not stressed

As regular readers can probably guess by my posting frequency, I've been busy lately. As I predicted at the start of the semester, my new online course has been consuming any time it can get its hands on: I'm easily spending at least 15-20 hours each week developing the content for it, and at least as much time in the course interacting with the students and grading their work. Add that to my regular in-person lecture and lab classes, and I'm one busy grasshopper.

I'm enjoying the new course tremendously, and even though I've been extremely busy, I haven't been overly stressed. The course is thankfully small, which means that I have enough time to get to know the students, and I can assign regular written assignments and give the students copious feedback on those. Creating material for the new course is a ton of fun; writing the material is much like blogging (all I'm doing is writing general summaries of basic biological content for a non-scientist audience), and finding artwork has been an enjoyable challenge (I'm attempting to build the course entirely from open-licensed artwork). I'm already looking forward to having time in future semesters to revise what I've created.

The biggest complaint I've gotten from students so far is that the course is too much work and that the exams are too hard. Since this is likely one of the first college-level science courses these students have taken, and these students have surely been exposed to the "online courses are easy" myth, this isn't surprising. It's hard to explain nicely that yes, this course is in fact challenging, and that no, I'm not going to make the tests easier.

Outside of work I'm not doing a whole lot other than taking another guitar class1. This class requires far less time than my summer course (thankfully), but it's been an enjoyable distraction, and has helped motivate me to keep playing. It's hard to believe that six months ago I didn't even have a guitar, but now I can (slowly) play a growing number of tunes (the most complex of which are probably Dust in the Wind and Vals by Calatuyud).

1 And attending a super-cool Genesis concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It was such a good concert that I didn't mind getting rained on for half of the concert, that they ended the concert a few songs early due to the rain (though I sorely missed hearing Carpet Crawlers), or that we got stuck in (non-concert) traffic on the freeway at 1:30am.