Kitchen Focus

December brings us cooler weather and occasions to celebrate. So this month, I'm bringing the two together with some festive soups that are perfect for your holiday entertaining.

The two soups featured in this month's column have a few things in common. Both are creamy soups that get some of their velvety texture from mashed vegetables and evaporated skim milk. In addition, they adopt the fragrance offered by thyme -- a favorite in a great many chowders, stews and soups. Finally, despite their special appeal, both recipes can be made in about an hour and can be easily doubled or even tripled for extra company or anticipated leftovers! One word of caution: do not try to freeze these soups. They are both best enjoyed within a few days of being made and, at my home, never last more than that!

We begin with a rich, creamy Butternut & Leek Soup that's the perfect blend of comfort food and elegance. If you'd like you can swirl a little sour cream on the top of each soup bowl you ladle out and then sprinkle some bias-sliced green onions over the top. This soup is so addicting, that I've been known to sneak some leftovers for breakfast with buttered toast!

Butternut & Leek Soup

This delightful soup is perfect when served in a roasted pumpkin. Choose a smallish one and remove the seeds, spray lightly with cooking spray and roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or until the flesh is softened but the pumpkin still holds its shape. When serving, scrape a little of the pumpkin into each bowl.
  • 4-5 lbs. butternut squash, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 c. butter or margarine
  • 4 leeks, chopped (use the white and tender green parts)
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 c. evaporated skim milk
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the squash halves cut side down on a cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the flesh can be easily pierced with a fork. Cool slightly and, using a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds. Scrape the remaining flesh from the skin and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the leeks and thyme and cook until the leeks are soft and lightly browned.

Stir in the broth and the reserved squash. Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender, food processor or by using a stick blender (my preference). Pour the soup back in the pan and add the evaporated skim milk. Mix to combine and add the seasonings. Serve warm.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

My second holiday soup is actually my traditional star of the show on New Year's Day. I've taken to using a frozen seafood medley that I get at my grocery store, but I've also used everything from tender chunks of cod to buttery bits of lobster -- depending on what's available and will suit my wallet!

Seafood Chowder

The holidays make me think of seafood chowder, my dish of choice for New Year's Day. Add an elegant salad and some crispy cheesy breadsticks and you've got something to celebrate!
  • 4 slices thick bacon
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 shallots, diced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 c. clam juice
  • 4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 c. assorted seafood (I use a medley of shrimp, clams and squid that's available frozen at my market)
  • 1 1/2 c. evaporated skim milk
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

In a large stockpot, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, crumble it and set it aside.

Add the potatoes, onion and shallots to the bacon drippings and fry until the onion and shallots are softened but not brown. Add the thyme and stir to combine. Add the clam juice and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are softened.

Using the back of a spoon, mash the potatoes against the side of the stockpot until no large chunks remain. (You could also use a stick blender, but I think it makes it too smooth.) Add the seafood, evaporated skim milk and seasonings and return to a simmer. Remove from the heat and serve with the bacon crumbled over the top.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes
If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .