Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

It looks like I’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year.  Two of my three kids will be home for Thanksgiving with their spouses (and my grandchild!), so my little house will be full of life! I can’t wait. Ha, yes, I can. There’s a lot of planning to do before then!

I’ll miss being at my in-laws’ though. Two years ago on Thanksgiving, we walked into their fragrant home, and into the kitchen, to see my (at that time) 87-year-old mother-in-law bending over and taking a huge turkey out of the oven! I’ll never forget that scene. God bless her! She also attempted climbing Mt. Madison in the White Mountains of New Hampshire two summers ago and made it pretty far up the trail before they had to turn around and come back down.

At one Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ a few years ago, I brought this soup that I made using regular milk and butternut squash, and the family loved it. Creamy and flavorful!  I recently made it with homemade almond milk, and it was just as delicious.

I have a basic cream of whatever-vegetable-you-desire soup recipe that I’ve been using for years. I’ve made it using butternut squash, green peas, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, and even that bag of frozen mixed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. They all work using the same recipe!

This recipe for Creamy Butternut Squash Soup can easily be adapted for gluten-free or vegan diets.

Try to find a squash with sweet, deep orange flesh. The best quality ingredients, of course, make all the difference! To cook the squash to be used in this recipe, cut it in half, scrape out and discard seeds, cut into pieces and place in baking pan with 1/4 cup water. Cover and steam in oven for 30-45 minutes. Let it cool, then remove flesh from rind with a spoon. Use two cups squash for this recipe. If your squash provides more than that, have it tomorrow night as a side dish with butter and pure maple syrup. Mmmm….!

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, Earth Balance or extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups cooked butternut squash (or broccoli, or cauliflower, etc.)

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup (or a little more if squash is not very sweet)

dash cayenne

1 cup regular milk or homemade almond milk

About 2 tablespoons roasted and salted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Parsley

Instructions:

1. Saute onion in butter or substitute until soft and sweet.

2. Add water, salt, cooked squash, maple syrup, and dash cayenne. Bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

3. Blend with stick blender until smooth.

4. Add almond milk, and stir well. Taste to adjust seasoning. Heat up again to serving temperature.

5. Ladle into soup bowls or mugs. Sprinkle with parsley and seeds.

This makes great leftovers for lunch the next day or pour into a thermos and take on a hike!

What vegetable will you make it with?

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Homemade Almond Milk

For those who would like an alternative to cow’s milk, this may be something you’d like to try. I have tried many brands of almond milk, and a few were okay, but when I read the ingredients, I thought, “Hmmm…homemade would be better.” And it is! (as usual)

These are the ingredients of a popular organic almond milk – “Organic almond base (filtered water, organic almonds), organic rice starch, organic vanilla, sea salt, natural flavor, carrageenan, riboflavin (B2), vitamin A palmitate and vitamin D2.”

Organic rice starch? Why would starch be in a milk product unless it’s to enable the manufacturer to reduce the expensive ingredient (almonds) and make it seem full-bodied by using a thickener? How many almonds might there actually be in this product? I did the math – 1/4 cup almonds has approximately 200 calories. The calorie count for 1 cup of the above-mentioned commercial almond milk is 40 calories. That would be the equivalent of 1/5 of 1/4 cup or less than 1 tablespoon of almonds. That’s about 7 almonds per cup of almond milk. But actually less, because we have to account for the starch calories.

And natural flavor? The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Section 101, part 22 is as follows:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Uh…all I know is “natural” flavor seems to be a highly processed food-like product.

And finally, carrageenan. The jury’s out on carrageenan. From an article on Stonyfield’s website, “Undegraded carrageenan is approved for use in all foods and infant formula in the U.S. In the EU, undegraded carrageenan is not approved for use in infant formula, but is allowed in all other foods that might be fed to children of any age.” There might be more to carrageenan than meets the eye, so if I don’t have to have it, I’d just as soon avoid it.

These are not ingredients that I have in my pantry, and I doubt that you do either. When was the last time you went to a neighbor and asked, “Um, could I borrow a teaspoon of carrageenan?” They’re just not what I would consider real food – whole foods created for us by a loving God to nourish our bodies and keep us healthy.

The ingredients in homemade almond milk? Raw organic almonds, filtered water, a tiny bit of sweetener (such as raw unprocessed honey), a pinch of salt, and pure vanilla extract, if desired. That’s it.

Homemade Almond Milk

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw organic almonds

1 cup filtered water

pinch sea salt

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup or other healthy sweetener

1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (if desired)

3 more cups filtered water

Instructions:

1. Put almonds into a cereal bowl. Pour water into bowl to cover almonds by 1 inch. Let sit overnight.

2. Drain and rinse almonds. Discard that water. Place almonds, salt, sweetener, vanilla and one cup of fresh water in high speed blender. Blend for about 1 minute, or until almonds are fully pulverized and liquid appears thick and creamy.

3. Add one more cup of water. Blend to mix.

4. Add as much of third cup of water as it takes to reach the 3 cup line. Blend to mix. Taste, adjust flavors, and strain if desired. (If you strain it, the pulp can be saved and slipped into recipes here and there – even cookies!) If you don’t strain it, shake or stir before pouring.

5. Refrigerate and use within 3-5 days.

One cup of this almond milk has about 132 calories, 5 grams protein, 11 grams good fat (monounsaturated), 57 mg calcium, and almost 3 grams of fiber. It can be poured over cereal, used in cream soups and casseroles, and flavored with veggie “bouillon” and/or mushrooms to make gravy, as well as many other uses. In the next post, I’ll be sharing my recipe for Vegan Creamy Butternut Squash Soup made with this almond milk.

Let me know what you find to use it in!

Vegan Creamy Cauli/Split Pea Soup

Last week, a few friends and I went to a retreat in California. Everything about it was wonderful, including the food. The meals included an abundance of vegetables and a great use of whole foods. And whenever I needed to ask, there was a gluten-free substitute – including GF carrot cake and chocolate mousse!

I did, however, eat a lot more meat than I am used to, so when I got home, I couldn’t wait to make a vegan meal for supper.

Fortunately, a Whole Foods email had arrived suggesting “Warming Meals for Cooler Weather,” with a few recipes I wanted to try. I couldn’t decide between two of them – that’s where it began, and this is where it ended!

Vegan Creamy Cauli/Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

4 cups water

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup yellow split peas

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped carrot

1 rib celery, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

4 cups chopped cauliflower

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled apple

2-3 cups almond milk* (see below)

cayenne to taste

Garnish:

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 t salt

sprinkle of cayenne

Instructions:

1. Bring water to a boil. Add salt and split peas and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender.

2. While split peas are cooking, saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. After split peas have cooked and are tender, add sauteed veggies, cauliflower, curry powder, apple and 2 cups almond milk. Simmer until veggies and apple are tender. Add extra 1 cup almond milk as desired.

4. Prepare garnish: toss pumpkin seeds, oil, and seasonings until seeds are well coated. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for about 3-5 minutes, watching carefully, until crisp.

5. Taste soup and adjust seasonings. This can be served as is, or you can blend it with a stick blender till smooth. Top with seasoned pumpkin seeds.

*To make your own almond milk, soak 1/2 cup raw almonds overnight in water. Strain and rinse. Add to high speed blender with 2 cups water and blend until almond particles are fully pulverized and milk looks creamy. Use as is for this recipe. Or you could add a pinch of salt, a few drops of vanilla and a bit of pure maple syrup to taste if you’d like to use this for drinking or to pour over cereal. (In this case, you might also want to strain it, but that’s optional. Just shake well each time you use it.)