Soup no more

This last Thursday was the official first day of spring. In my head, I like to think that this is some magical day where as soon as the rosy faced sun comes up a’whistling and a’dancing, the dark clouds run away shrieking, with their skirts hiked up over their white ankles, and the newly sprouted flowers bop and flail about in celebration as if in a Steamboat Willie cartoon. Sadly this day isn’t as cute and conclusive as all that. The clouds remain and so does the chill. However, this day is still a lovely turning point in the season that can be used as an opportunity to air out the literal and figurative mothballs in your home and life. To me this means stowing away the heavy boots and coats, opening the windows to let in the fresh air, dusting the dusty the things, updating my short and long terms goals lists (as well as my shopping list to accommodate the changing produce selections), and preparing my final pot of winter soup.

I had picked up a butternut squash on my last trip to the grocery store, intending to roast it along with a few other root vegetables and serve it as a side dish. But after looking at the calendar and browsing my cupboards I opted to make a soup instead so that I could give a proper and delicious farewell to the winter season. I’ve had butternut squash soups before and they tend to be on the sweet side. While this type of squash does contain some good natural sugars (and roasting it really brings out the caramelized nuttiness locked inside) the addition of salty bacon and spicy chili oil help to balance out the sweet notes.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas, Bacon and Chili Oil
Serves about 6

1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into large cubes
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 quart of chicken stock
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup cream (optional)
2 T plus 1 T of olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
6 strips of bacon, fried until crisp and chopped
*Chili oil

Heat the oven to 400F. Spread cubed squash onto a sheet pan (lined with foil for easy cleanup, if you like). Drizzle the squash with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss it around to coat the pieces evenly with the oil and then roast for about 30 minutes. At around 15 minutes, give the squash a stir to keep one side from getting too dark. At around 20 minutes, feel free to poke your squash with a fork to see how tender it is. If it’s soft and caramelized, take it out. You can either use the squash right away, or, if planning ahead, simply let cool off and store in a container in the fridge until you want to make your soup.

Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add the stock and give the pot a stir. Bring the liquid up to a boil then turn the temp down to medium-low so that it remains at a steady simmer. Add the cooked squash, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, a good pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir and cover, letting simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the soup to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return to the pot. At this point you can either stir in the cream or leave it out for a more low-fat dish. It’s great either way.

Dish soup into bowls. Spoon about a tablespoon of bacon into the center of the bowl. Sprinkle on some pepitas and drizzle the top with a little chili oil.

Eat up and say a prayer of thanks that winter is finally over. It will only get sunny from here on out, right? RIGHT?!**

*I made my chili oil by infusing olive oil with dried chili flakes. You can either buy an infuser or simply combine a spoonful of chili flakes and some olive oil in a mason jar and let it steep for a about a week before using. It keeps for a very long time.

** Along with this being the last bowl of winter soup that I make until the next season, I promise this will also be the last time I passively complain about the weather.

Po’ Me Po’ Boys

This last bout of chilly weather got me feeling quite restless. While I accept my fate as a northwesterner, obliged to walk the drizzly streets in sandals and a raincoat, willing the weather to be warmer and drier, knowing full well that it won’t comply until it darn well feels like it, I can’t help but let my mind wander to places not-quite-here.

On a particularly cold, drizzly “poor me”-inducing sort of evening, I resolved that the only immediate cure to the gray day blues would be to bring a little bit of the south into my home. I’ve never made a New Orleans Po’ Boy in my life, nor am I experienced in the arts of the deep fry, but desperation sent me scanning my brain for something with a little spice. Po’ boys popped into my head as I already had the basics: Shrimp and a good baguette. I reviewed a few recipes and saw that the whole concept of the po’ boy is ingeniously no fuss, really – Meat, bread, mayonnaise or a remoulade. I took some tips from Bon Appétit on frying my shrimp and went from there. Traditionally the shrimp might be a bit larger but I happened to have some smaller “baby” shrimp in my freezer. I thawed and drained those well. I also wanted some heat, so instead of just dousing the sandwich in hot sauce I decided to make a spicy cabbage Sriracha slaw instead. The crunch from the hot fried shrimp and the cold creaminess of the slaw made for a euphoric finger-licking experience. Po’ boys are a little messy. I’ll just warn you in advance.

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Shrimp Po’Boys with Spicy Sriracha Slaw

Fried Shrimp
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, pre-cleaned/peeled.
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal

Sriracha Slaw
1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

1 Baguette, split, cut into 4 pieces.
1 Tomato, cut in half then sliced

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl to blend and set aside. Add about 2” oil to heavy bottomed pot (dutch ovens work well). Heat oil over medium heat to 350°. A deep fry thermometer would be best, but I just estimated the temp by using a regular meat thermometer as well as the sizzle factor of the oil when I dropped in a piece of shrimp.

While the oil is heating up, place shrimp and 2 Tbsp. spice mix in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Pour buttermilk into another medium bowl. Whisk flour and cornmeal in another medium bowl.

Dip seasoned shrimp briefly in buttermilk, then coat with flour mixture. Working in batches, fry shrimp, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

In another bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, Sriracha, vinegar and salt/pepper, then add the shredded cabbage and incorporate well.

Open the baguette and line one side with tomato slices. Add a line of slaw on the other and fill the center of the sandwich with shrimp. Be generous! More is better when it comes to fried shrimp and po’boys. May this sandwich whisk you away to someplace hot like it did for me.

Frozen

I just wanted to share a bit of loveliness from the weather up here in the PNW. Last Sunday I spent half the day ducking in and out of the rain, running errands here and there around town. It had been snowing off and on in the morning, but by the afternoon it was just wet wet wet. It felt like it had warmed up a bit and the rain kept coming, but by the time I got back home I saw that the temperature was actually reading below freezing. I thought, “Nah, couldn’t be, not with all this rain.” But once I stepped outside my car I realized it was true. The driveway was quite literally an ice rink, and every bit of greenery looked as if it had been dipped in glass. After dropping the groceries off in the kitchen I couldn’t resist heading right back outside to snap a few shots with my phone (excuse the poor quality). My hands were numb from the cold, and I almost fell on my bum twice as I shuffled around the driveway in my wedges; but it was worth it. I honestly hadn’t seen ice like this before! It was so beautiful to me I had to share it with you too.

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It just reminds me that even in the bleak chill-you-to-the-bone rain there is beauty to be seen.