2015 was the year of hospitality for me. I don’t usually make any sort of resolutions at the beginning of a year, but when we finally bought this house I knew entertaining was going to be a big part of our story. As the year has progressed, we’ve done a lot of hosting, and I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’m learning to relax a bit more, stress a bit less, and not worry about the dog hair and dust to an obsessive level truth be told I gave that worry up the minute the pool opened and haven’t looked back since.
I’m still no Merrily Jackson, but it’s a process I’m feeling more comfortable with and enjoying. Yet there’s one element that continues to give me major anxiety: the food. I’ve been pretty honest from the get-go about my lack of cooking. My tagline is “making anything and everything…except dinner.” It’s a joke of course, my family has to eat. But why must they need to eat every night???
The process of cooking is something I actually enjoy when it feels creative – no recipe, no prep, no rush – just pulling a bunch of things from the fridge and pantry and chopping, sautéing and stirring them into a meal. But I struggle to do this consistency, and the thought of planning and executing dinner for a big group is panic-inducing.
2016 is going to be the year of food. I see glimpses here and there of enjoyment in cooking and I’m determined to figure out how to bring those out. For starters, I’m hoping we’ll be tackling our kitchen, and I know that a more beautiful space to work in will make a difference. Atmosphere affects my mood more than I’d like to admit. But at the end of the day a pretty kitchen doesn’t make a cook, so I’m trying to figure out some other ways to immerse myself into a positive relationship with food.
For last week’s Thanksgiving post I called in one of my sweet friends who happens to be a wonderful cook. Practice makes perfect, and Adrienne has a passion for food that I really admire. She loves to cook for others, and not only does her food taste amazing, it looks beautiful too. She’s very conscious of colors and textures along with flavors, and I think that learning about the visual side of food might help me become more interested in the preparation.
Theres a process to planning a menu, just like planning a room or an outfit, and it was insightful to work with Adrienne on that. After discussing the feel I wanted: updated traditional with a bit of rustic to keep things somewhat casual, she put together the spread, and it tasted as delicious as it was pretty.
The idea of several different courses is totally overwhelming at this point, but I like the look of stacked dishes and thought one course before the meal was doable. So we started off with spiced butternut soup. This soup was sooo good and the toasted pumpkin seeds were incredible.
The main course involved a blue cheese and pomegranate kale salad, turkey breast with homemade cranberry sauce and big loaves of handmade breads pumpernickel with some soft butter can’t be beat.
We also used half of that beautiful tray to create a little fruit and cheese plate.
And set out some nuts and a vintage cracker for some nostalgia and snacking.
Since the soup was probably my favorite, I thought I’d share the recipe with you today. No, this won’t be turning into a food blog anytime soon, but let’s face it, we all have to cook and some of us love it. If you’re like me and struggling to find joy in it, this soup doesn’t disappoint and is fairly easy to execute. Plus Costco usually has butternut squash pre-cut, so that can shave lots of time off the prep work. I also love that it’s a dish you can make ahead of time and just warm up before guests arrive.
SPICED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
1 med sized Butternut Squash peeled and cubed
2-3Tbls olive oil
1 med yellow onion diced
1 Fresno chili seeded, veined and diced
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1&1/2tsp dried thyme or two branches fresh thyme
3 cups organic chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste.
Peel and cube (1/2in size) butternut squash and set aside.
In a Dutch oven (or a large pot that can hold 6 cups), add 2 Tbls olive oil and heat on med-high heat.
Dice onion, Fresno pepper, and garlic and add to the hot oil. Sauté for three to four minutes or until the onion has become translucent and is starting to caramelize.
Add squash. Stir to coat the squash with onion and oil, add additional oil if needed.
Sauté until squash starts to caramelize.
Add spices to the sautéing squash and cook till fragrant (1-3second). Add chicken stock while scraping the caramelized bits off of the bottom of the pan. Let soup cook at a low boil for 10-15min or until the squash is very soft.
Once soft ladle two cups at a time into your standard blender and add a Tbls of Butter each time (make sure to cover the blender lid vent with a towel, DON’T SEAL THE BLENDER LID, the steam will make the lid fly off). Transfer the blended soup to your serving dish and add more soup to the blender, two cups and one Tbls of butter at a time until all of the soup is smooth.
Adrienne topped the soup with cranberry sauce, walnut oil, a bit of fresh thyme and toasted pumpkin seeds. I said the soup was my favorite, but these might have been my favorite. The mix of flavors was so interesting and while she made them as a garnish I was caught eating them by the handfuls.
TOASTED SHELL PUMPKIN SEEDS
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds raw
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar in the raw
1/2 tsp Salt
Mix all ingredients and add to a dry hot pan. Toast in the pan for 5 min or until the seeds start to change color. Let cool on a paper towel and then serve on top of squash soup. Or just eat plain. Because they are just that good…
This experience helped me have a deeper appreciation for food and the process of cooking. I’m hoping to make the soup for Thanksgiving in a few weeks and definitely plan to try the pumpkin seeds as holiday gifts for neighbors and friends. So where are you on the spectrum of cooking? Do you love it? Do you loathe it? Or are you somewhere in between? I’d love your thoughts on how to love it!