Thursday, October 23, 2008

Soup and Salad - Food and Friends for Fall

One of the best things about having friends for dinner is it inspires me to clean the WHOLE house. So for a couple of hours, the house is all clean. Then I tear apart and create happy havoc the kitchen. The kids bring the toys back out. Spills begin to occur. And once again we are back to where we started. Ahhhh well it was fun while it lasted.

The other thing I love about guests is trying out new recipes. I know a lot of people who only make tried and true dishes. Things they know turn out well every time. Not me! Fool that I am, I usually tend to see this as an opportunity to try something new or experiment. Luckily, most of the time, the food turns out pretty well if not very good! (Can you tell I typed that while knocking on my wooden desk and my head?)

The weather was cool again and I was still in the mood for soup. I also wanted to practice that amazing French bread again. That decided, I thought I'd add some green salad. Paul doesn't eat any soup at all so I wanted to do a salad he would like. He loves Caesar salad and I have admit, when it is a good one, it is one of my favorites too.

Caesar salad and I are no strangers. I have made this recipe and that for years. Most of the time the ingredients are all the same or similar. In fact really it has been quite a while since I followed a recipe. I was getting lazy and sloppy and the dressing hadn't been coming out quite as well as in days of old. Hence my decision to find a new recipe again. Where did I go? To whom did I seek advice? A fellow blogger of course. Peter at Kalofagas has never let me down so far. His Caesar had all the ingredients I have been using but the portions were actually laid out. This is where I had been lacking. Peter's recipe was well balanced and creamy. I probably added an extra clove of garlic as I am obsessed with garlic and can never have enough. And let me tell you, I can find nothing wrong with this recipe. It is simple and so delicious.... In fact... I am hungry. It is dinner time. I must retreat to make it again, NOW! I see no reason to really mess with any other set of ingredients. Go for this one! Thanks Peter.

I wanted a soup that just sang fall. As I had never made butternut squash soup, I searched for a good recipe. After a glance at this and that, I came across a very simple recipe that sounded just right at June's site Thyme for Food. It was my first time on June's blog and I am so glad I found it. She has really got some good looking recipes there. I might just try her No-Knead Bread this weekend! The only modification I really did was to add a leek. I have been so into leeks lately and had a bunch here. I also topped it with one of the homemade croutons I made for the salad and some sage fried in butter. I wanted whole sage leaves but the market was out. Go figure! So I had some nice Greek sage that I just sauteed in butter on the stove for a few minutes. Here is June's recipe with my changes.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 leek chopped
1/2 onion chopped
2 gloves galic chopped
1 3lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into even small chunks
6 cups chicken broth (48 oz)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
pinch or two of fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the squash, chicken broth, dried thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and cover. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, or in the stockpot with an immersion blender until smooth.

Return the pureed soup the heat. Stir in the heavy cream. Bring to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with additional broth or water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and more nutmeg if desired.

Top with fried sage and homemade crouton.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main meal

Did I like the soup? Oh yes! My guests just loved it too. I even served it the following day again to my sister and her husband. They inhaled it! It was smooth and subtle and very festively fall.

Now soup and salad with homemade bread are certainly enough for me. But I like to fatten up my guests and spoil them as best I can. I also need to give Paul something with more substance than just salad. So I marinated some flank steak which he threw on the grill. When I say it was a cool day, I am talking 60's and our grill is just about 5 feet from the kitchen so I grill year round! I thought another earthy vegetable would be nice. And what goes better with some steak than mushrooms. I based my recipe off of a recipe I had done before from Bon Appetit December 1999. It is Creamy Sautéed Mushrooms with Toast. When I made it for my aunts 60th birthday, the crowd inhaled it. Now this recipe is for 30 appetizer servings so for a side to dinner, I simply used one box/carton of button mushrooms and just splashed in the Marsala and heavy cream until it felt right. Any way you do it, you just can't go wrong with mushrooms, marsala and cream! So very very good.

So here's to good friends, good food, good wine and cooking and sharing! Cheers!


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

That was quite a spread! Everything looks wonderful! It looks like you had some very happy diners too!

Robin Sue said...

Nicole- Great post! I always enjoy how you find recipes and tweak them to your likes and guest's likes. Funny how you try new recipes on your guests. We teased my Ma for years because that is the only time she tried something new- risky but she pulled it off every time- I think it comes to knowing good recipes from bad ones and you have that down pat!! Loved the mushroom recipe, sadly my hubby hates them but I think I am worth it enough to make them for just me! Great menu, looks like you had a lot of fun!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Nicole, Everything looks so good! I love butternut squash soup and that salad looks terrific! Lucky friends to have enjoyed a great dinner by you!

That Girl said...

I love having friends for dinner to ensure cleanliness also!

Peter M said...

Nicole, finding my Uncle Angelo's Caesar salad dressing here was a wonderful surprise. I know it's a winner but many people just buy ready made dressing.

This dressing rocks and I'm delighted everyone enjoyed it.

Nicole said...

Susan- Thank you. My guests seemed quite pleased.

Robin Sue- Make the mushrooms for yourself. I do. We ARE worth it. My husband doesn't any any cooked vegetables and very little raw ones. I have to cook just for me or I would be so limited!

Marie- The soup was great. Simple and easy and delicious.

Kate- I do need motivation to do unpleasant tasks myself.

Peter- Oh the dressing was fabulous. Made it again for just myself on Friday! MMMMMMmmmmmm good. I HATE ready made dressing. I DO NOT buy it. I have NEVER bought it except for the occasional ranch for the kids. It is soooo easy to make your own. Thanks again for the recipe.

Darius T. Williams said...

Well - it looks like someone had a great time. I know how that feels though with all the cleaning. I'm hosting Soul Food Sunday at my place next week. I think the e-vite had about 35 poeple on it. Let's just say that even though it's not until this coming Sunday, I started cleaning this past weekend!


melissa said...

I hear you on the dressing, and on Peter's wonderful resources. He's a great find.

I'm making acorn squash soup this week - and with leeks! How funny. I hope mine turns out as good as your butternut one looks.

And I agree that you can't go wrong with mushrooms, cream and Marsala. Funny enough, that's my next post. :P

taste memory said...

what a fun get together with friends! don't you just love butternut squash?!! that soup looks silky smooth ;-)

Robin Sue said...

Nicole- I had trouble with my comments last week for about 2 days, there was a glich in blogger. I had hacked my code to have the embedded comments box a few months ago then they just went live with the embedded box last week which crashed my hack job. Oh well I tried!! I lost so many comments. Sad. I am so glad you came back to tell me about the jalapeno popper recipe!! I appreciate that and I am so happy it turned out well. Can't wait to see the pictures of the costumes and the dip. I think I may go out as a "Freudian Slip" That is if I can find a slip big enough to go over my clothes!! Then I just need to write Freudian on it! Over heard that one at a store while standing in line!

Nicole said...

Darius- Good luck with Soul Food Day. Sounds fun!

Melissa- That is funny. I have found several times in which I have a dish all done and photographed and prepared to post and I find someone else just did it. You know... Great minds! ;-)

TasteMemory- I am just now getting into the squash. I didn't eat it much before. Not really sure why though.

Robin- I have had some trouble with comments on other sites once or twice too. I think it is just internet glitches. Your costume sounds fun!!!! And you will figure something out. If I could make a whole Dopey costume for my husband! I don't even know how to sew.

Kristen said...

Too funny - we had company in town this weekend as well. As I was preparing for them to arrive (aka scrubbing the wood floors) I thought I should have guests over each week, that way I'd be inspired to clean my house :)

What a great looking menu! Yum!

bren@Flanboyant Eats said...

butternut, butternut, butternut!! love love love it! i had a carrot soup today that reminded me of how bad i need to make bn soup this week!!! nice job Nikki!

Betty C. said...

This looks like a delicious meal! Your soup is so lovely. I like the idea of a little vegetarian main course after the soup and salad, even though the soup and salad would be enough (not for the French, though, lol!)

Joie de vivre said...

Mmmmm....I can't believe you actually can get the whole house clean for a couple hours without shipping the kiddos out. It seems if I'm cleaning the bathroom, they are tearing apart the living room. If I put them outside, they come in and get the freshly vacuumed carpet full of sand. It's a vicious cycle but one that I've grown accustomed to. At least I have 3/4 of the house clean all the time. That's how I justify it in my head at least. Kudos to you for the great looking meal.

Nicole said...

Kristen- I know what you mean! I think the same way. But at the same time, the house is in near shambles again afterward as I am a messy cook and the kids start pulling out everything.

Bren- Butternut is so perfect right now. I am sure you made a delicious one!

Betty- The French do like multiple courses. But that keeps the table interesting.

Joie de Vivre- Oh when I say I had the house clean, I mean it was clean for ME... aka somewhat presentable at least downstairs. Which is less than 1/2 the house really. I would be so happy if 3/4 the house were clean for more than an hour. Even folding laundry I might walk away for a second and it is all kicked and undone. I can soooo relate to all you said!

Lori Lynn said...

Sounds like a lovely evening. I am liking that Mushroom & Marsala side dish. That Italian parsley really makes it look pretty too.

Nicole said...

Lori Lynn- The mushrooms are great. You should try them.