Pandora’s Box?

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I had chosen not to look at it until it was time to actually work on it, so I was a bit nervous. I won’t go in to details/requirements of this assignment in case you are thinking about taking the course, or are taking the course, and want it to be a surprise but I chose to make savory butternut squash soup because after looking in my cupboard, I was inspired by the squash I saw. Normally, I find butternut squash soup to be a bit on the sweet side, but felt that I might be able to offset that sweetness with some slightly bitter kale and salty bacon. In addition, I love Asian flavors so was hoping to blend the classic pairing of butternut squash and sage with Eastern spices. More…

Nope, just my first Black Box assignment!

I had chosen not to look at it until it was time to actually work on it, so I was a bit nervous. I won’t go in to details/requirements of this assignment in case you are thinking about taking the course, or are taking the course, and want it to be a surprise but I chose to make savory butternut squash soup because after looking in my cupboard, I was inspired by the squash I saw. Normally, I find butternut squash soup to be a bit on the sweet side, but felt that I might be able to offset that sweetness with some slightly bitter kale and salty bacon. In addition, I love Asian flavors so was hoping to blend the classic pairing of butternut squash and sage with Eastern spices.

To start, I prepared my mise en place which consisted of 4 slices of smoked bacon cut in a small dice, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, 1 onion cut in a small dice, 3 carrots cut in a medium dice, 1 teaspoon red chile pepper flake, 1 teaspoon coriander powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg; freshly ground, 2 garlic cloves; minced, 10 fresh sage leaves cut in a chiffonade, ¼ cup white wine, 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 1 medium butternut squash cut in a large dice, 4 cups chicken stock, ½ a bunch of kale cut into bite-sized pieces, and 1 can of coconut milk for the soup. And a potato cut into a small dice (which is not pictured below as I did not need it for some time) and shallot (which I did not use in the end) for the garnish.

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In the process of making the soup, I used the following techniques: sweating of mirepoix, reducing of wine, skimming of impurities, simmering of soup, blanching of kale, pureeing of soup, sautéing of sage.

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To start the soup, I fried off the bacon and removed from pan. I left a small amount of the bacon grease and added the coconut oil. Once melted, I added the onions and sweat for approximately 3 minutes without browning (any brownness you might see is just from the leftover bacon grease). I then added the carrots and continued cooking until slightly tender. I added the spices and sage and continued cooking for about a minute. I added the wine at this point and cooked until most of the wine evaporated in order to intensify the flavors. I added the salt, squash, and stock at this point. As the soup was coming up to temp, I had to skim off some impurities. I brought the soup to a simmer and cooked for about 15 minutes until the squash was tender. At this point, I pureed the soup in three batches in the blender; at which time I then added to a new pot to bring back to a simmer for about 10 minutes. While the soup was simmering away, I brought a pot of water to a boil to blanch the kale so that the color would be a vibrant color contrast to the ultimate color of the soup. I blanched the kale for 2 minutes before submerging into an ice bath. I then removed from the ice bath quickly, squeezed it out, and added to the puree along with most of the crisped-up bacon. I also cut up some potato into a small dice and fried until crisp as a textural accoutrement to the soup. In addition, at some point during the cooking process, I decided not to crisp up some shallot as a garnish. I decided that crispy sage would be a better choice as it tied into the soup base and tastes amazing. So I ran out to the garden to get more.

The decision to make a savory butternut squash soup was multi-pronged. I wanted to use a butternut squash that I had in the cupboard and I also wanted a warm soup as it was a dreary day and wanted to warm my body. I wanted to use some familiar flavors of home that warm my heart. And I was inspired to make a savory soup with Eastern flavors as those spices warm my soul. And let’s face it; there is nothing as comforting as a soup simmering away on the stove!

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The final dish looked inviting and smelled slightly exotic. I added the potatoes to the dish at the end and sprinkled a bit of the leftover bacon bits as well as the crispy sage. The spice level was perfect with one caveat; I used Vietnamese cinnamon and it was tad strong, but a more demure cinnamon or less of that type would have been perfect.  The potatoes and sage added wonderful texture that I think the soup needed.

Roux the Day

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The next lesson in the Soup unit provided insight on roux-based soups. Roux-based soups are often referred to as cream soups and have a silky-smooth and cream-like consistency. But here is an interesting fact: Roux-based soups are actually based on a thin velouté sauce or a thin béchamel sauce. The practice assignments consisted of cream of broccoli, cream of asparagus, and cream of cauliflower soup. My favorite was the cream of cauliflower. It was very good and I am going to try roasting the cauliflower first the next time I make it for some added depth and smokiness. More…

The next lesson in the Soup unit provided insight on roux-based soups. Roux-based soups are often referred to as cream soups and have a silky-smooth and cream-like consistency. But here is an interesting fact: Roux-based soups are actually based on a thin velouté sauce or a thin béchamel sauce.  The practice assignments consisted of cream of broccoli, cream of asparagus, and cream of cauliflower soup. My favorite was the cream of cauliflower. It was very good and I am going to try roasting the cauliflower first the next time I make it for some added depth and smokiness.

The next lesson was on starch-based thick soups that are made by cooking starchy vegetables, legumes or grains together with a liquid. This was graded assignment of which I chose to make Leek & Potato soup. The other two options, I printed out to make later.To make this soup (after mise en place). I melted the butter over medium heat. Once completely melted, I added the onions and sweat them about 5 minutes to soften. I added the garlic and cooked for an additional minute. I then added the leeks and salt, stirred, and covered to sweat until softened; for about 7 minutes. At this point, I added the potatoes, stirred to combine, and then added the stock. I ended up having to add all 4 cups of stock to just cover the ingredients. I brought the soup to a simmer and then put a lid on and cooked for 10 minutes. I tested to see of the potatoes were ready, but they were not, so I continued simmering over medium-low heat for an additional 5 minutes; checking each minute for doneness. Once the soup was done, I turned off the heat and ladled in enough soup to fill a 1/3 of my blender; taking care to only add enough stock/liquid to blend well. I then poured the blended mixture through a fine mess colander for added smoothness into a sauce pan. I repeated this process 2 more times. I heated the soup back up. In the end, I did not have any leftover liquid as the soup needed it to come out the right consistency. I also added a bit of cream and pepper. It did not need any additional salt.

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To serve the soup, I heated back up to temperature; tasting one last time for seasoning. In the end, I had already added enough seasoning but added just a bit more cream. I warmed the bowls and grilled some bread. I then ladled the soup into the bowls, sprinkled some chives on top and placed the grilled bread. The soup was well balanced with a velvety feel in the mouth. I found this activity especially satisfying as the onions and leeks came from my very own garden! The next time I make this, the potatoes and garlic will come from my own garden as well.

Smooth, Silky, Thick, or Chunky

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Unit Eight takes the base of making stock and broth and runs with it in an entire unit on soup! I learned how to make four basic soup bases: broth-based clear, stock-based clear, roux-based, and starch-base and builds on previous skills, such as stocks, broths, knife skills, and seasoning. The unit starts with a lesson on clear broth soup and then a lesson and graded assignment in which you choose one of two clear stock soups. I chose to make the Caldo Verde soup. I started by making my stock. I then set up my mise en place by finely dicing a yellow onion and mincing some garlic cloves. I shredded kale and savoy cabbage. I thinly sliced sausages and peeled and diced potatoes. More…

The choice is yours.

Unit Eight takes the base of making stock and broth and runs with it in an entire unit on soup! I learned how to make four basic soup bases: broth-based clear, stock-based clear, roux-based, and starch-base and builds on previous skills, such as stocks, broths, knife skills, and seasoning.

The unit starts with a lesson on clear broth soup and then a lesson and graded assignment in which you choose one of two clear stock soups. I chose to make the Caldo Verde soup. I started by making my stock. I then set up my mise en place by finely dicing a yellow onion and mincing some garlic cloves. I shredded kale and savoy cabbage. I thinly sliced sausages and peeled and diced potatoes.

To begin cooking, I heated a stock pot to medium-low and added olive oil. I then added the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt; sweating for about 8 minutes until translucent. At this point, I added the potatoes and another pinch of salt and cooked for another 5 minutes until slightly softened. From here, I increased the heat to medium-high, added the stock and a bit more salt; bringing the soup to a simmer. I know this may seem like a lot of salt, but it really wasn’t as I was using a pinch at a time. I let simmer for approximately 10 minutes while I cooked the sausage. Once the sausage was browned on both sides, I transferred to a cooling tray lined with paper towel. I made sure to set aside some of the rendered fat for later.

I then lightly mashed some of the potatoes, added the kale and savoy cabbage and brought the soup back to a simmer and let cook for a little over 5 minutes. I mashed the potatoes a bit more, but not too much, as I wanted enough chunky potatoes in the soup to provide some textural diversity. I added the cooked sausage and added a bit more salt and some pepper.

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To serve, I simply ladled the soup into the warmed bowls and added a drizzle of the reserved fat over each. I brought the rest of the rendered fat the table for dipping bread in as it had a great flavor and color. The combination of the bread dipped in the soup after being dipped in the oil was my favorite part of the meal. The soup was hearty, but not heavy. The combination of the kale and cabbage was perfect, providing slight bitterness with sweetness and additional textures. The sausage was slightly overcooked and tasted much better the next day when it had time to soak up some of the stock.

I can see clearly now!

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For me, soup is a comfort food. It provides a warm hug while filling your tummy with a nourishing, hearty meal all in one pot. So, understanding the base of all good soup is important to me and I took Unit Seven to heart. I learned about both white and dark stock as well as the differences between short stock and regular stock, and broth and stock. I gained detailed knowledge about the importance of stock in cooking, the ingredients that generally go in to making stock, how to make stock, and how not to, and how to make broth–all the while learning ways to incorporate stock and broth into recipes. More…

For me, soup is a comfort food. It provides a warm hug while filling your tummy with a nourishing, hearty meal all in one pot. So, understanding the base of all good soup is important to me and I took Unit Seven to heart. I learned about both white and dark stock as well as the differences between short stock and regular stock, and broth and stock. I gained detailed knowledge about the importance of stock in cooking, the ingredients that generally go in to making stock, how to make stock, and how not to, and how to make broth–all the while learning ways to incorporate stock and broth into recipes.

It turns out that not only does good stock make good soup, it makes good food as well. It is at the foundation of good sauces, gravies, grains, and more. At the heart of stock is a simple clear stock, and our first graded assignment in this unit.

To set up my mise en place, I rinsed 6 pounds of chicken bones thigh bones, cut up my mirepoix which consisted of two onions and one leek, along with three carrots and three celery ribs. This resulted in a three-to-one ratio. My bouquet garni included ten sprigs of flat leaf parsley, five sprigs of thyme, a few celery leafs, two bay leafs, which I set aside to be tucked into stock during the last hour of simmering along with a tsp of salt and two tsp of black peppercorn. I added four liters of cold water to the chicken bones (enough to cover bones by one to two inches), heating over medium heat.

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As the water came to a simmer, impurities started to come to the surface. At this point, I turned down the heat to low as to make sure that the liquid did not come to boil. With a gentle hand and large spoon, I skimmed the top of the water’s surface to remove the scum. I continued skimming quite consistently for the first half hour to 45 minutes (and periodically over the next four hours). I added the mirepoix after about 45 minutes of simmering but not before skimming the surface with great detail for impurities as it is much easier to do before the veg is added. After a little over three hours, I added the herbs, salt, and pepper to the simmering stock. In total, the liquid simmered for a little over four hours. Once done, using a spider, I removed all the bones, veg, and herbs. I strained the liquid and then strained it again with cheesecloth as well. I put the stock into an ice bath in my sink to cool it down so that I could put it in the fridge for storage. I stirred the stock in its container as well to aid in the cooling down process.

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After straining and cooling down the stock, I put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I removed a fat layer that had formed. The completed stock, when warmed up, had a comforting aroma and seemed pretty clear. The cold stock was quite gelatinous and giggly. After taking the picture below, I sipped on the liquid gold while writing this post. While I can see many applications for adding this stock to, it was really good all on its own!

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The rest of the unit was helpful in learning all types of stock and broth and how to utilize them in the best way. There was a graded essay, reorder assignment, in addition to many practice lessons. I have been remiss in saying, but I have been doing quite well on my graded assignments, quizzes, and exams. My instructor has been helpful, encouraging, and insightful in regards to my work. I am really starting to feel like I can not only do this, but do this well 🙂