After years of making mistakes and rushing I've started to iron out the kinks of making a truly stupendous Thanksgiving dinner without (most of) the stress. I love cooking and I love cooking for a big crowd even more but that doesn't come without it's problems. The most important thing I've learned about cooking for the big day is it shouldn't be just the one BIG DAY. Spreading out the things you've got to get done throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving isn't as hard as it seems and will in the end allow you to have a much more simple and enjoyable Thanksgiving Day.
I usually start the planning process a week before the actual day. Start by making sure everyone is confirmed and the time is set in stone so you can begin the planning. Write out your grocery list and see what dishes can be done in advance. This is the best way to avoid taking on too much on the day of.
Two days before the actual event is when I start most of my cooking and one of the easiest things to make in advance (even 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving if you want) is your soups. My favorite is Butternut Squash soup. There is something about this rich and velvety starter that simply screams Autumn. And by starting with you a soup, you can put this out on the table for your guests to enjoy while you finish up any last minute sides or turkey craving you want to get done seconds before it steps out onto the table.
Cut butternut squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut inside small 1/2" pieces, this way each piece will cook with a roasted shell adding to the flavour of your dish. Covered pieces with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on cookie sheet or in roasting pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until squash is tender.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter and add finely diced onion. Cook until onion is softened. Remove from heat until squash is cooked.
When squash is cooked, remove from oven and spoon out the softened squash into the saucepan with the butter and onion, discarding the squash skin. Add enough chicken stock to the saucepan to cover the squash by about an inch. Return to heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add maple syrup, salt, black pepper, a pinch of cinnamon, the cinnamon stick and the rosemary sprig. Once simmered removed the stick and the sprig since they will have already infused the soup and do not need to be blended. At this point if you wish to add a bit of heat to the soup ad 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper for a touch of heat that also helps reduce any over sweet aspects of the dish.
I prefer my soup with a smooth finish to I puree it with an immersion blender or a bit at a time in a regular blender.
(Note: You can freeze the soup at this point, prior to adding the cream or just refrigerate to serve later. Simply re-warm then add cream before serving. Thin with a bit more chicken stock, if needed).
Now, add as much or as little 10% (will make a thinner, not so rich soup) or 35% (will make a thicker, richer soup) cream as you like to the soup. Cook over low heat just until warmed through (do not boil).
Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds for that extra gourmet touch.
INGREDIENTS 1 large butternut squash (or 2 small) 2 Tbsp. olive oil 1/2-3/4 cup onion, very finely diced 1 Tbsp. butter 2-3 cups chicken stock 1/2 – 1 cup 10% or 35% cream Cinnamon, to taste (about 1/4-1/2 tsp. 1/4 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1/4 cup maple syrup 1 Sprig Rosemary 1 Stick Cinnamon 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Prep time: 15 min | Cook time: 1 hour 15 min | Total time: 1 hour 30 min
Number of servings (yield): 6