Showing posts with label Soup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Soup. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Homemade Chicken Soup

Running in the cold with a cold wasn't exactly what I thought I signed up for or what being a Winter Warrior was supposed to mean. To say I was miserable during a run this past weekend would be an understatement. Descending further into a state of delirium along with having an encouraging, understanding running partner were the two things enabling me to get through the five mile run. Funny things happen to your perceptions when you are in a cold-induced delirious state. Any bump in the road feels like a steady incline and steady inclines feel like steep hills. So while I was running 'uphill' I wondered whatever possessed me to willingly put myself through such torture. Apparently I took the word 'warrior' a little too literally when I signed up for a 10k training program. And clearly I either get some perverse pleasure out of being a glutton for punishment or am beginning to remember what the addiction to running felt like all of those years ago. But as E. L. James once wrote 'There's a very fine line between pleasure and pain. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other."

Nothing really cures the common cold, but that doesn't mean we just let it run its' course (no pun intended). From claims going back as far as the 12th century along with new research studies in the 21st century, there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the claim that a bowl of chicken soup is the nutritional elixir to soothe all of a cold's symptoms. Even if you still think this is nothing more than a myth (although it has lasted more than nine centuries), at the very least, this 'miracle-cure-in-a-bowl', this 'liquid healing gold' is good for one's soul. Not only was I in desperate need to have this cold come to an end, I needed to feel better.

Sure it would have been easier to buy a few cans of chicken soup, but by now you should have figured out I don't really do 'easy' that often. If there is real scientific truth to the powers of chicken soup having the ability to improve one's health, well then homemade certainly has to be more powerful (and more delicious) than anything available on a grocery store's shelf.

The broth for the Chicken Soup is made with a whole fresh chicken, two yellow onions (skins on) halved, a parsnip (halved), two garlic cloves (peeled), two stalks of celery, a very large carrot (skin on), a bay leaf, kosher salt, tomato paste, aleppo pepper, dried thyme, and four quarts of water. Keeping the skins on the onions as well as the other vegetables helps to give the broth a deep golden color.

Smitten Kitchen's recipe for chicken soup, my source of inspiration, called for the use of either four pounds of leftover chicken carcass bones or four pounds of a combination of fresh chicken wings, necks, backs, and feet. I opted for a whole almost four pound fresh chicken.

Once the broth comes to a boil, the heat is reduced to a simmer and the lid placed on top of the pot. Over the course of approximately 2 1/2 hours, the magic begins to happen. I would like to tell you about the incredible aroma coming from this simmering broth, but my sense of smell wasn't working while I was making this soup.

After the 2 1/2 hours, three bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (approximately 2 pounds) are added to the simmering stock. The breasts will cook in approximately 20-25 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them because the meat from the chicken will be going back into the 'soup'. Allow the chicken breasts to cool enough so you can remove the skin and bones and either shred or cut into pieces. If you are wondering what to do with all of the meat on the whole chicken you had poached in the broth, I would suggest you use it to make chicken salad rather than shred it to use in the soup. Note: The pieces of chicken breast are returned to the stock after the chopped vegetables and egg noodles have been added and cooked.

After straining and returning the broth to the pot, the chopped carrots, celery, and leeks are added. Cooking time will range from 6-10 minutes (you want them firm-tender) depending on how small/large you cut/dice the vegetables.

The most common noodle used in chicken soup is the egg noodle. Of all of the egg noodles available, the most frequently used are the German short, corkscrew shaped noodles. The other prevailing option is the shorter, straighter noodles. These usually come in thin, medium, and wide thicknesses. Not only do I like my chicken soup noodles to have a little substance, I like to be able to get them on the spoon without making a big splashy mess. For that reason, I prefer the medium-width over the thinner egg noodles. Once the chopped vegetables have simmered in the broth, the egg noodles are added (allow to cook for 7-10 minutes or in accordance with package directions).

Egg noodles usually come in a bag versus a box (usually in a 12 ounce size). If you like a very noodle rich soup, use 11-12 ounces. If you still like a soup with a noodle presence, use 9-10 ounces. If the entire package of the noodles is used, please know they will continue to absorb the chicken broth if leftovers are refrigerated overnight. That isn't necessary a bad thing, but this broth has such incredible flavor it would be somewhat of a waste to have it all absorbed into the egg noodles (trust me on this).

Before serving the soup you will need to taste to determine how much additional salt is needed (remember only 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt was used in the broth).  I added an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons to the pot of chicken soup, but then added a tiny bit more after it was ladled into a bowl. Two tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley can be added to the pot of soup or lightly sprinkled on the bowls of soup.

After tasting this Homemade Chicken Soup, I will never buy a can of chicken soup ever again. Never ever. Regardless if I have a cold or not. The medicinal and nutritional values of this 'liquid healing gold' are increased exponentially when homemade. Eating a bowl of hot, homemade soup is incredibly satisfying, even slightly intoxicating. Especially one having such a great depth of flavor. January just happens to be National Soup Month (hmmm....I wonder why). You still have some time to make a pot of homemade soup. Why not make this Homemade Chicken Soup? You will make everyone deliriously happy!

Homemade Chicken Soup (inspired by SmittenKitchen's Ultimate Chicken Soup Recipe)

2 medium-large yellow onions, unpeeled and cut in half
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1 large carrot, unpeeled
1 large parsnip, unpeeled
1 large celery rib
4 quarts water
3 1/2-4 pound chicken (or 4 pounds of chicken wings)
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme)
1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf

To Finish
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (approximately 3 large chicken breasts)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 large leek, trimmed, thinly slicing green and white parts
2 large celery ribs, diced or chopped
9-12 ounces egg noodles (medium or fine noodles) Recommend Gia Russa egg noodles. I used the medium sized noodles.
2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Kosher salt to taste

1. Combine all broth ingredients in a large stock pot (6-8 quart). Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to gentle simmer, skim any foam, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. Add whole chicken breasts to simmering broth, simmer for 20-25 minutes until they are cooked through (do not overcook). Remove cooked breasts and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Either shred or chop into small chunks. 
3. Strain broth. Return strained broth to stock pot and turn heat to simmer.
4. Add diced vegetables and cook for 7-10 minutes, or until vegetables are firm-tender.
5. Add egg noodles to the broth and cook for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Note: For a very, very noodle-y soup use 11-12 ounces of the egg noodles, for a less noodle-y soup use 9-10 ounces. 
6. Add shredded/chopped chicken breasts to broth, simmer for 2-3 minutes until heated through.
7. Add chopped parsley to the finished soup or add chopped parsley to soup after it has been ladled into bowls.
Note: If using a full 12 ounce bag of the medium egg noodles, a significant amount of the broth will be absorbed by the noodles if any leftovers have been refrigerated overnight. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter

As soon as chilly mornings and nights return, so it seems does our (my) craving for a warm or hot bowl of soup. With no undue disrespect to minestrone or any other broth based soup, there is nothing more satisfying than one having a rich, thick, creamy texture. Especially when the soup's thickness comes as a result of pureeing slowly roasted or sautéed vegetables and not from a roux or heavy cream. The moment I came across the recipe for Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter in the recently released cookbook, Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland's The Country Cat (Adam and Jackie Sappington with Ashley Gartland), I had a feeling it would be one of those soups having a velvety, flavorful richness to it. What I didn't know was how insanely, want to lick the bowl in public, hope there is enough for a second helping, delicious it would be. In just one spoonful, it went onto my 'last meal' worthy shortlist. Only I have no intention of waiting until that last meal to make this soup again.

"You can't eat this soup standing up, your knees buckle." (Jerry Seinfeld in "The Soup Nazi"). This Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter is not just a knee-buckling soup. It is the kind of soup that could create world peace. Yes, it is that good. 

The flavors of the kabocha squash, honey crisp apple, onion, fennel, garlic, sage, thyme, fresh apple cider and maple syrup are deepened by one simple ingredient. Browned butter. Whether you are making something sweet or savory, the magical qualities of browned butter take any dish to new levels of taste and complexity. If it hasn't already, it should be given Holy Grail status in the food world.

Enticed by some incredible photographs posted by a friend (and one who I have yet to meet), I have been longing to travel to the Northwest, Washington in particular. Other than attending a conference in  Seattle a lifetime ago, I have never really explored the beauty in that part of the country. And now after reading through the recipes in Heartlandia, I need to, no I have to, I absolutely must, add Portland to my list of must-go sooner rather than later places. So I asked the person who shall remain nameless if he would be willing to give up some of his miles so I could head out there sometime next month. He was. But then I thought, I should wait until late spring and maybe I could convince one of my close friends (the one causing me to drool from just the photos of an amazing brown butter cookie bakery she discovered recently in California) to meet me there for an adventure. If I bring her some of this soup on my next trip out to visit her I am thinking she won't be able to say no. I'll make sure to bring along some great wine from either Oregon or Washington just in case.

There was always baked acorn squash on my childhood Thanksgiving dinner table.  Despite my father's best efforts and the enticement of a butter and brown sugar topping, we could not be swayed into eating it. In retrospect this would have been one of his 'father knows best' about food moments.  One completely unappreciated at the time. Years had passed but those squash seeds planted at the Thanksgiving table finally took root.

The more common varieties of squash gracing our dinner tables, or at least my table, include acorn and butternut. Only recently (like in this past week) have I discovered the versatile kabocha squash, described by some as a sweet potato crossed with a pumpkin. With a deep green skin and intense orange-yellow flesh, it has a strong, yet sweet, moist and fluffy texture. Much like other hard winter squashes or pumpkins, this Asian or Japanese variety of winter squash can be roasted or steamed. Had my father made and forced us to eat kabocha squash when we were little, I would have been politely asking for seconds.

At this time of year the herbs and vegetables in this soup can be found at the grocery store and/or the farmer's market. Before I made this soup I had to 'google' kabocha squash on my phone while walking through the farmer's market as I didn't even know what it looked like. Thankfully the internet kept me from revealing some of my cluelessness to a total stranger.

The kabocha squash is baked in a preheated 400 degree (F) oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Baking time will vary slightly based on the size of the squash. My baking time was 50 minutes.

Two and a half cups of cooked squash flesh is needed for this soup recipe. Whatever you do, don't let any of the remaining cooked squash go to waste. Mix it with a little bit of butter (or browned butter), season with salt and pepper, and enjoy it. If you thought eating any leftover cookie dough batter was a bonus for making cookies, wait until you eat this cooked squash. You won't want anyone near the kitchen when you are making this soup.

In a Dutch oven or deep cast iron pot, six tablespoons of unsalted butter are melted and browned. If you have never browned butter before, foodblogger, Joy the Baker wrote a great little instructional post.

Thin slices of onion and fennel; a peeled and quartered apple; chopped garlic, thyme and sage are added to the browned butter along with fresh apple cider, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup (the real stuff), salt and pepper. On low heat, this mixture simmers until the apple, fennel and onion have softened (approximately 30 minutes). 

Two and a half cups of the cooked kabocha squash flesh are added to the soup base. In order for the flavors to meld, the entire mixture is cooked on low for an additional ten minutes. 

Working in batches, the soup is pureed in a food processor until smooth and returned to the pan to rewarm. (Note: If you have an immersion blender, you can puree the soup in the pan. Lucky you!) The recipe suggests water can be added if it is 'too thick'. I so loved how thick and velvety the soup was, I couldn't bring myself to 'thinning' it with a little bit of water. My soup palate said the texture was perfect.

You can make this soup early in the day or the day before you plan on serving it. However, if it thickens too much after refrigeration, you may need to add a little water to return it to its' initial consistency.

Depending on the size of your soup bowl or whether you are serving this soup as a meal or first course, the recipe yields enough for 4 to 6 servings. The soup can be garnished with pumpkin seeds, thin slices of a honey crisp apple, roasted mushrooms, homemade buttered croutons, or left unadorned. 

Based only on the recipe for Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter, I can hardly wait to work my way through Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland's The Country Cat. If there was ever a reason to lift a self-imposed cookbook buying moratorium, this book would be it. Next up for me will be their Brioche Cinnamon Rolls. But I probably need to make another batch of this soup first. 

One you make and taste this soup, you will never again make soup from a can, container, or frozen pouch. Even if you are starving and it is the only thing in the house to eat. This Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter will permanently spoil you. Finally you will believe and understand why you deserve better than good enough in your life.

Autumn Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Brown Butter (from Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland's The Country Cat by Adam and Jackie Sappington with Ashley Gartland)

A 2 1/2-3 pound kabocha squash, halved and seeded (for a yield of 2 1/2 cups of cooked squash flesh)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 cups unsweetened apple cider
1 firm, crisp, medium-sized Honey Crisp apple, peeled, cored and quartered
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup 
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Set rack in center of the oven.
2. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place the squash, cut-side down, on pan. Roast for approximately 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly, then peel away and discard skin or any other tough pieces. Measure out 2 1/2 cups of squash flesh.
3. In a medium Dutch oven set over medium heat, melt butter. Cook, whisking frequently, until the butter solids are brown and start to smell nutty (approximately 5 minutes).
4. Add the apple cider, apple, onion, fennel, apple cider vinegar, garlic, sage, thyme and maple syrup. Bring mixture to a simmer. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
5. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until apples, fennel and onions are soft and tender (approximately 30 minutes).
6. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree soup until smooth (Note: Work in batches). The pureed soup should coat the back of a spoon.
7.  Return soup to the pan. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add water until it reaches the desired consistency. Season with additional kosher salt and pepper (and additional cider vinegar if desired). Reheat until warm.
8. Serve in four to six soup bowls.
Optional: Garnish soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted mushrooms, thinly sliced apples or brioche croutons.

Early morning sunrise and mist on a farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

French Onion Soup

I don't know about you but I remember 'firsts'. I may momentarily forget the name of an author of a book I just read or not remember if there is brown sugar in the pantry, but firsts, well they seem to be permanently etched in my memory. However, truth me told there are a few firsts I would like to permanently forget. But definitely not on the first forget list was my first taste of French Onion Soup. It could not have been in a more memorable location, the restaurant on the breath taking grounds of the Domaine Chandon Vineyard in Yountville, California on a beautiful sunny November day more than twenty-five years ago (I could probably be specific as to the actual year but I like being in a state of semi-denial with regard to my age). The experience the tastes of French Onion Soup covered in melted gruyere cheese and a glass of Champagne on my palate could only be described as pure bliss.

What is not to love about a soup originating in the kitchens of 18th century France? For some reason many of us don't think of French Onion Soup as peasant food (it was). Maybe because caramelized onions, a rich beef or chicken stock and gruyere cheese don't seem anything like common ingredients. Yet, indeed onions, beef stock and cheese easily and magically transform into something extraordinary. A timeless, classic dish. If you have been reluctant to make this classic soup, it is time to get over your hesitation and trepidation. And if making French Onion Soup for the 'first' time, it should prove to be a memorable not forgettable experience. Or in other words a first worth repeating.

In the compilation of Julia Child's 100 most beloved recipes, French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignon) ranked 88. Not that one needs a reason to make any one of Julia Child's 3,700 recipes, but why make anyone else's version of French Onion Soup?

One and a half pounds or about 5 cups of yellow onions (not enough to bring tears to your eyes as you cut them) are thinly sliced. Four relatively large yellow onions yielded a little more than 1.5 pounds of sliced onions. I decided to go with the weighing on the scale versus the measuring in the measuring cup method.

In a deep heavy saucepan melt three tablespoons of unsalted butter with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the sliced onions. Cover the pan and on a low heat cook for 15 minutes. The onions will have wilted beautifully but will not yet begin to take on any color. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (Julia recommended 1/4 teaspoon of sugar), raise the heat to moderate and cook for 35 to 45 minutes or until the onions have turned an even, golden brown color. You will need to stir these onions frequently to ensure they do not burn. I found the caramelization process was a little easier if the pan was partially covered with the lid. Just remember, you cannot walk away from this phase of the cooking process. The caramelization of the onions is where the depth of flavor is developed. Be patient, you will be rewarded.

Once the onions have caramelized, stir in three tablespoons of flour and stir for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add in the half cup of white wine. The wine helps to deglaze the pan and removes all of those wonderful bits of flavor from the bottom of the pan. Add in the 7-8 cups (Julia recommended the full 8 cups) of boiling beef stock and season to taste. Go easy on the salt as you will increase the saltiness of the soup when you add the cheese later on. With the pan partially cover, return the pan to the stove and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

The perfect time to make the croutons is while the soup is simmering. In a 325 degree preheated oven, place 1/4 to 1 inch slices of french bread on a baking sheet and roast for up to 30 minutes or until they have completely dried out and lightly browned.

Julia's recipe calls for 1 to 2 cups of grated swiss cheese. I love the nuttiness of gruyere cheese so this is what I used. You can also use a combination of swiss and parmesan cheeses or a combination of gruyere and comte cheeses.

Before ladling the soup into bowls, add the three tablespoons of Cognac (you will not be sorry, actually you will be sorry if you don't). If you don't have Cognac you can use French Brandy. And if you don't have either, well this would be a reason to buy some.

Once the soup is ladled into the bowls add a tablespoon of grated cheese to each one and stir until it has melted.

Top each bowl of soup with three or four croutons. Top each crouton with the a small dab of butter before sprinkling on the grated cheese. Place the soup filled oven proof bowls in a 325 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. Set the bowls under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes in order to lightly brown the top. Serve and enjoy. 

This French Onion Soup is a first course or a meal all by itself (maybe along with a small salad, some wine and, of course, a little more bread). 

French Onion Soup (adaptation of Julia Child's Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee in Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions (about 4 to 5 large onions)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons all purpose flour

7-8 cups of beef stock 
1/2 cup dry white wine  (suggest a Sauvignon Blanc)

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons of Cognac or French Brandy (optional but highly recommend)

Rounds of a tasted baguette
1 to 2 cups finely grated swiss cheese (recommend Gruyere cheese) 
additional softened butter

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Place sliced onions in a heavy saucepan with three tablespoons of melted butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Cover pan and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.
3. Add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar to onions, increase heat to moderate and cook onions for 35 to 45 minutes (until onions are a deep golden brown).
4. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to onion mixture and continue cooking for 3 minutes.
5. Remove pan from heat and add 1/2 cup white wine slowly, stirring to scrap up the caramelized bits of onion on bottom of pan. Pour in 7 to 8 cups of boiling beef stock. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Return soup mixture to stove and simmer for another 30-40 minutes.
7. Add three tablespoons of cognac (or French Brandy) to soup. Ladle soup into four to six soup bowls.
8. Add one tablespoon of grated cheese in each bowl, stir until cheese has melted.
9. Top each bowl with three to four croutons. Top each crouton with a small pad of butter and grated cheese.
10. Place soup bowls on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes in a 325 degree preheated oven.
11. Add another tablespoon of grated cheese to soup bowls and place under broiler for 1-2 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Serve and enjoy.

I have been in the (ugh) learning curve in the last week, more specifically a (double ugh) physical learning curve, which for me is much more challenging than an intellectual one. Not to infer that I consider myself smart (yes I have the doctorate book smarts, yet the jury is still out on the common sense smarts), however I would with a rather high degree of confidence characterize myself as a bit of a wimp (in my world wimp means my head convinces my body to give up sometimes more often or sooner than it should). But the time finally came for me to change my wimp status, thus explaining why I got myself into this initially difficult (hard on my ego) learning curve status.

For years I have heard other speak (in a somewhat zealous sort of way) of the benefits yoga has on one's mind, soul and body (aren't we sometimes just a little skeptical of those who speak with about anything with such intensity). But then again who does not want this holy trinity functioning at high levels? Getting my body to shift from being tight and inflexible to loose and flexible is temporarily getting in the way of experiencing that trifecta. I don't know where this 'first' exposure to and experience with yoga will ultimately take my mind, spirit or body (hopefully to a place of great balance). However, as much as I am looking forward to this journey, I can hardly to wait to forget what the initial 'first' exposure feels like.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sweet Potato Soup with Crème Fraiche and Lobster

At the New Year's Eve dinner with friends, one of the courses was a perfectly smooth and creamy parsnip soup. Considering the weather here on New Year's Eve was blizzard-like, nothing could have been more satisfying than having a bowl of soup that night (other than the martinis and champagne of course). Driving home I remembered I too had made a root vegetable based soup having a similar consistency to the parsnip soup for a large dinner party. Like the parsnip soup, the Sweet Potato soup was one having all of the appearances of a cream based soup, but without all of the calories usually contained in them (it's the new year, aren't we all a little more calorie conscious than usual?).

It had been awhile since I did the 'soup, salad, main course and dessert thing'. Being a bit of a glutton for punishment (in other words turning a simple dinner into the not so simple), I decided to make the Sweet Potato soup as a first course, but this time it would be for a smaller dinner party. With the weather being so cold (arctic frigid would be a better descriptor), beginning the meal with soup also sounded like a satisfying beginning to the meal. The soup on its' own is delicious, but topped with a dollop of homemade crème fraiche and a sautéed lobster medallion or just the creme fraiche, further ramps up its' deliciousness. But why stop there? Why not serve the Sweet Potato Soup with Crème fraiche and Lobster with a glass port too? If you have never had port as part of the soup course, particularly a root vegetable based soup course, you need to give yourself this experience.

We may have all had baked sweet potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, a sweet potato gratin, a sweet potato hash, and/or oh, my favorite sweet potato fries. But a sweet potato soup might be something you haven't had......yet. Maybe I can entice you into making it with or without the lobster medallions.

When I was in the grocery store gathering the ingredients for the soup, I think I spent more time in the produce section weighing sweet potatoes than it took to make the soup (okay a slight exaggeration). The recipe calls for 3 1/2 pounds of sweet potatoes and for some reason I was trying to eliminate having to weigh the sweet potatoes when I got home so I kept trying combinations of sweet potatoes to get to 3 1/2 pounds. After about eight (or maybe ten) different potato combinations, I thought 'well this is a futile endeavor'. No, if I am being honest, what I really thought was 'this is a (deleted expletive) colossal waste of time'. So I bagged up the 4 pounds of sweet potatoes and finished shopping.

The sweet potatoes are peeled and cut into half inch pieces (yes, I weighed them too), then added to a large saucepan having 4 Tablespoons of melted unsalted butter waiting to coat them. A tablespoon of light brown sugar is mixed in before the sweet potatoes are transferred to two parchment paper lined baking sheets and placed into a preheated 400 degree oven. The sweet potatoes are baked until tender and lightly browned which could take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Don't clean the pan you sautéed the sweet potatoes in as you will be using it again!

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, the sliced leeks, the finely chopped celery and 1 1/2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger are sautéed in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter until softened and tender (or for approximately 20 minutes).

The roasted sweet potatoes are added back into the saucepan with the leek/celery mixture and sautéed for another two minutes. When you add the orange juice and low-salt chicken broth, hold back a little on the chicken broth as you will have another opportunity to add more. I used only 7 cups of the low-salt chicken stock along with all of the orange juice called for in the recipe. The entire mixture is brought to a boil and then simmered for another 10 minutes.

I previously shared I did not need another kitchen tool. Well, it seems that was a bit of a short-lived, impulsive thought. I have now convinced myself that I need, want, would like to have an immersion blender. After using a food processor to puree the sweet potato soup, I thought 'there has to be a better way to do this'. And I think the answer to that musing is 'an immersion blender'. But not to worry, a food processor will puree the soup, you just have to do it in several batches. It will be after you puree the soup that you will decide how much more broth to add. Depending on how thick you want this soup you might add anywhere from 1 to 3 cups of additional chicken broth. Make sure to salt and pepper the soup to taste.

Making the crème fraiche is really easy. Sour cream, whipping cream, the zest of an orange and 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger are mixed together and set out at room temperature for approximately 3 hours or until it thickens. Once thickened, cover and transfer to the refrigerator. When serving the hot soup, each bowl only needs to topped with a dollop of the creme fraiche. And while the lobster medallions make a wonderful addition to the soup eating experience, don't let that be a hurdle preventing you from making this soup. But definitely serve the soup with the crème fraiche.

January just happens to be National Soup month! It is a long month with plenty of days left to have soup. It happens to be one of those foods that isn't just one of the courses of a meal. No, soup is one of those those foods that can also be the main course. I hope your January is filled with many soup happy days. And hey, don't forget to have a glass or two of port.

Sweet Potato Soup with Crème Fraiche and Lobster (slight adaptation to a recipe printed in Bon Appetit)

Crème fraiche
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 /2 teaspoons grated, peeled ginger (fresh)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 1/2 pounds red skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated, peeled ginger (fresh)
2 leeks, white and green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/3 cups finely chopped celery
8 to 10 cups low salt chicken broth
1 1/3 cups orange juice
8-12 ounces cooked lobster tails, cut into 1/3 inch medallions
Kosher salt and pepper
Optional: 2 Tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley chopped

Crème fraiche
1. Mix whipping cream, sour cream, 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger, and orange zest in a medium sized bowl.
2. Let mixture stand until thickened (approximately 3 hours).
3. Cover and refrigerate (can be made up to 2 days ahead).

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Melt 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and add sweet potatoes and brown sugar tossing until potatoes are coated.
3. Arrange sweet potatoes on two baking sheets. Roast until potatoes are very tender and beginning to brown (approximately 30 to 45 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside.
4. Melt 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in the same saucepan used to coat the sweet potatoes. Add sliced leeks, chopped celery and 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger. 
5. Sauté leek and celery mixture until they have softened and are very tender (approximately 15-20 minutes).
6. Add roasted sweet potatoes to the saucepan and sauté for approximately 2 minutes.
7. Add the orange juice and 8 cups of chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
8. Working in batches, puree soup in a food processor. Or use an immersion blender to puree mixture. Note: If the mixture is too thick, add in additional chicken broth.
9. Return soup to saucepan to keep hot. Season with salt and pepper.
10. Before serving, melt 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter in smal saucepan. Add lobster medallians and sauté until heated through (approximately 1 minute).
11. Ladle soup into bowls, spoon small dollops of Crème fraiche in center of soup bowl, and place a lobster medallion on top of the Crème fraiche
12. If desired, sprinkle chopped flat leaf parsley over soup before serving.

Early on in my 'professional life', I once worked for someone whose response to a request or an idea was often 'Let me think about, I will get back to you'. We all learned rather quickly that this meant our request or idea was one not immediately seen as doable or great. We also learned that the answer had a very high probability of being 'no'. Some of us remained persistent, so after a waiting period where there was no response, we would go back to see if he had made a decision. Sometimes this decision making process dragged out a little longer because he would ask us to get 'more information' or 'put the idea in writing'. Depending on how important the request or idea was to us, we complied (we all understood chain of command and thought nothing would ever curb our enthusiasm or affect our persistent spirits).

We affectionately and sometimes not so affectionately called his requests for more information as 'the hurdles'. There were times we really did need to think through our requests and ideas so 'the hurdles' served everyone well. But then there were also times when they didn't. It was in those instances (regardless if the answer was yes or no), the hurdles and wait time for a response took a bit of the joy out of our enthusiasm. At the time I never understood was why he couldn't really see the impact he was having on us, our spirit. In retrospect, I think maybe he could. There were many takeaways from this experience, life lessons in both our professional and personal lives. Beyond learning how to put together a comprehensive proposal and thinking through all of the potential impacts and outcomes of an idea, I learned if someone really matters to us, we don't intentionally put up unnecessary hurdles, regardless if our answer ends up being yes or no to a request or an idea, especially if we want to make certain we never curb their enthusiasm.

And oh, you really, really don't need an immersion blender to make this soup and you really, really don't need to serve it with lobster medallions. I just don't want there to be an any unnecessary hurdles to curb your enthusiasm in the making of this soup.