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.