Friends forging a course together through the unexpected

Party Platter December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve to all!  I have a super quick post tonight because it’s a late night and I have to be up early for more festivities in the morning.  Have to leave time for Santa to come by too!  Around this time of year there are a lot of parties and get-togethers.  You’ll ask someone what to bring and some people tell you to bring whatever you’d like and others assign you something.  This year for Christmas Eve I was assigned a veggie tray.  Although veggies can be standard and a bit boring, I was actual excited for this because I had pinned a pin on Pinterest long ago with a clever layout for veggies and dip.

Go to the store and collect a variety of vegetables.  You could do any kind you’d like, but to duplicate my tray you’ll need:

Baby carrots
Cherry Tomatoes
Dip of some type

I also picked up a red and a green bell pepper.  These weren’t actually for eating, but rather for containers for dip!  Here are all the materials for you to see:

ingred I cut up all the veggies that needed to be cut. Even though it can be a pain to cut everything up, one bonus idea is to save all the scraps for making veggie broth.  I have more than enough now to make some.  Click on the link to see how I’ve made it in the past.  I placed the peppers in the middle (this will be easier if you choose peppers with four sides rather than three) and started with one type of vegetable and worked my way around.  I plastic wrapped the whole thing before taking it to the party.


Once I was there, I cut open the peppers, pulled out the insides and filled one with hummus and one with French onion dip.  Then you have a nice pretty veggie tray and when the dip’s all gone, people can even eat the peppers!  Try it out for your next party.  Have a Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope all your Christmas wishes come true.

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Butternut Squash Soup & Homemade Vegetable Stock February 5, 2013

Chicago has decided that it wanted to prove that it really is winter and it means it.  Last week we went from 60 degrees on Monday to a wind-chill of -20 on Thursday.  Totally messed up!  The sudden dip in temperature made me nostalgic for warm food and I’ve had a butternut squash sitting near the fruit bowl for quite some time.  I decided it was time to make some soup!

I looked around on the internet for some recipes and in the end I landed on one from Whole Foods Market.  I liked it because it was very simple.  The only problem was I did not have any chicken stock on hand.  Peering outside and seeing ice coating the tree branches outside my window I decided to alter the recipe to use vegetable stock instead.  I didn’t have any of this either, but then I found a do it yourself veggie stock recipe on The Kitchn’s website.

This involved more than just pouring stock from a box, but it saved me from going out in an ice storm so I decided it was worth it.  All I had to do was gather some veggies from the fridge, roughly cut them up and simmer them in a pot with water!  It was very simple and made me feel like I was a real cook.  I never thought to make my own stock, but it was so simple I’ll probably do it again.  Here are a few tips I have for you:

  • Add more flavor to the stock by ‘sweating the vegetables’ first.  It just means heat the vegetables in the pot without water for a few minutes first.  I did this for 10 minutes- you’ll hear a sizzling sound and know it’s working.

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  • Beware- you lose a lot of water while it boils and simmers on the stove.  I started with 12 cups of water and ended with 8.  That is a 1/3 evaporated! My point is to start with plenty of water.
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  • For straining I used a strainer and coffee filters.  It worked okay, but my friend recommended cheese cloth so you can squeeze the vegetables.  This probably would have been easier and yielded even more stock.

Here are the ingredients for the Butternut Squash Soup with my alterations:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

While that broth was cooking I took the time to cut up my onion, carrot, celery and prepare my squash.  This is probably the most laborious part.  Squash is hard to cut.  I researched a bit and decided the easiest way to prepare it is to bake it first.  This means cutting the squash in half, removing strings and seeds:

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Then put the squash in a jellyroll pan (baking sheet with edges) and baking it for about half an hour at 400 degrees.  Remove it from the oven and start peeling off the rind with a knife:

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When all the rind is gone you can cut the squash into cubes:

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 After my stock was prepared I cooked the cut up onion, carrot, and celery with some olive oil for 4 minutes:

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Then add in the cubes of squash, thyme, vegetable stock, salt and pepper:

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I cooked the mixture for about half an hour, turned off the heat, and placed my immersion blender in the pot and started puréeing:

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    In about a minute the mixture was smooth and my soup was ready!

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I ate mine with a dash of nutmeg on top and put it in my new handy-dandy bowl with a cracker holder.  Does anyone else think this is as cool as I do?  No need to put the soup bowl on a plate so you can have crackers too!  I saw it in Real Simple magazine and went online straight away to buy myself a set.  if you are interested, I found mine on this website.

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