Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bland Soup and a Sugar Rush

Giada's Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini (pg 52) was a huge disappointment. Blech. This recipe differs from any other butternut squash soup recipe I've made in a couple of ways, and now that I've tasted the result, I can confidently say that none of these differences are for the better.

First key variation: instead of cutting the squash in half and roasting it, which I think imparts a deeper, more caramelized flavor to it, she instructs you to peel, cube, and boil it in chicken stock with a carrot, an onion, and some garlic. Ever peel a squash? They're slippery little buggers. I don't know what the hell happened to my hand during this stage of the process--whether it's an allergic reaction or the wax adhered to it--but after I washed my hands, the one that had been holding the squash was shiny and tight. I spent the day rubbing at it, and now it's mostly off, so I guess it was from the wax, but no amount of washing would clean it. I looked like a burn victim. Mark 1 against Giada.

Instead of the standard nutmeg/clove/ginger type spices that are usually used in butternut squash soup, Giada uses a whole heap of fresh sage. I've never used fresh sage before, so I had no expectation of how it would turn out. The herb smelled pungent, so I worried that it would overwhelm the dish. I needn't have been concerned. This soup tastes like nothing. In a blind taste test, I doubt I could identify it as butternut squash. That's messed up.

It's meant to be served with fontina and sage topped crostini. I just shredded the fontina on top of my soup, because I didn't have crusty bread. Again, ew. I've never had fontina. B-L-A-N-D.
Conclusion: Dislike. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I froze some of it for Charlie, but the bulk, I'm sorry to say, set sail on a fateful voyage down the drain. What a waste.

To end the day on a better note, I decided to make Candied Cherries (pg 250) from Ready for Dessert. Lebovitz says that they keep for at least six months in the fridge, so I figured I could make them now, while cherries are in season, and have them through the Fall without actually having to eat much of it today. I've recently become fascinated with the idea of preserving food, so this was me dipping my toe in. I'm kind of confused as to how these keep for so long without boiling the filled jars, or any of the other botulism-prevention methods that people use for jelly. Anybody know the science of preserves? Would the boiling/vacuum seal action be for things that you intend to keep longer than six months? Am I going to die if I eat these in November?

I doubled the recipe, because two cups of cherries didn't look like much. I'm glad I did, because even though the original recipe says it will yield two cups of product, my four cups of cherries only yielded two cups of product. Not sure what happened there. It doesn't seem like the type of thing that could be so drastically off, unless cherries in France are the size of golf balls. 

Pit the cherries, then cook them with water, half a lemon, and sugar for 15-20 minutes. I wish he specified that it would take a lot longer if you were doubling the recipe. He gives advice on doubling elsewhere (ie to use a half a lemon instead of just a squirt), so there would have been a place for it. Fortunately, he provided a target temperature, so I relied on the candy thermometer to tell me when it was done. Before you pour it in your jar, you have the option of adding a touch of amaretto. Well, if I must.

Taking my aunt's advice about using turbinado sugar instead of granulated sugar in fruit recipes to tone down the sweetness, I used turbinado. Holy moly. I should have halved it. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but this was so sweet that I could feel my eyebrows vibrate. I was afraid to cut the sugar, because I didn't know if it would "candy" properly with less. I'd try it next time, though.
A little bit of these cherries and syrup goes a long way. It was more pleasant drizzled on a little scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt, rather than eaten straight. Lebovitz suggests a number of ways to use these cherries, including to spoon some over lemon desserts. I wouldn't have thought of that, but think it would work perfectly. Warm vanilla pudding would be good, too.

Conclusion: Liked it. I would definitely fiddle with the sugar next time, but it makes me happy to know that I have a lovely jar of cherries waiting patiently for me in the back of my fridge.


  1. boiling squash is totally gross and unnecessary, potentially skin slicing labor!!! I know you're testing all these recipes as written but.. you have to wonder where she is coming from when its so easy, and better, to roast it. Also fontina quality, like Swiss, varies SO widely- and in the US it is usually pretty bad.
    Don't know how much sugar you put in the dessert but
    I think a good ratio is one half cup sugar to one cup water you use to still get decent syrup if boiling.

  2. oh regarding the preserves I really think you do have to boil the jars and vacuum seal them, and I would always do the extra food safety step of refrigerating any sealed preserves, even though that is supposedly not necessary. If you didn't/boil seal the jars I don't think the cherries are going to be fresh for longer than a couple weeks in the fridge - unless they were also preserved in brandy!

  3. I'm glad you ended on a positive note with the jam because the soup doesn't look or sound appetizing at all. Fail, Giada!

  4. What a suckfest. So sorry about the soup. That's so disappointing At least the cherry dish was a bit better