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Salt and Stone: Creamy Butternut Squash Bisque

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bisque

Instead of appetizers this Thanksgiving, start with this Creamy Butternut Squash Bisque.

I had plans to share a Thanksgiving dessert with you this week. My son has been asking for whoopee pies for a couple weeks. Do you remember the Little Debbie oatmeal cookie whoopee pies from forever ago? I thought a spin on pumpkin or molasses cookies turned into a decadent marshmallow fluff-stuffed cookie sandwich sounded downright dreamy and perfect for Thanksgiving.

Except in reality, my cookies were flat as a pancake and all three kids turned their noses up at my creation. Oh well, back to the drawing board. I’m going to give it another go, and hopefully by the actual holiday I’ll have a recipe for you.

In the meantime, my wheels are turning on Thanksgiving and all the delicious options for this year’s unique holiday season. Our own personal holiday is looking very different than in years past. Where we usually host or gather with about 20 to 30 extended family members, this year will be a very small group. No extra folding table necessary, no 20-pound turkey, no jostling for oven space to warm dishes while the turkey rests.

And that’s OK. I was a little sad about it for a few weeks but I’ve turned the corner. I’m genuinely excited for a simple, cozy, intimate holiday, and my plan is to make dishes that follow that exact same feeling.

Instead of a half dozen appetizers and an enormous charcuterie board as an appetizer, I think I’ll serve little cups of this flavorful and ridiculously easy creamy butternut squash bisque as the start of our feast. We typically play a little football in the yard or go for a long walk in the Cowiche Canyon while the turkey cooks, and nothing sounds better than a warm cup of soup after coming in from the cold.

I plan to lay out a few options for toppings: bacon bits, a drizzle of creme fraiche or sour cream, croutons and toasted pumpkin seeds. The soup itself is sweet and savory with a little peppery bite. The Yukon Gold potato and butternut squash make the soup silky smooth and creamy without actually having to add any cream (an added bonus, healthy!). A little hint of fresh thyme, cinnamon and allspice give the soup big flavor without overpowering the butternut squash.

• Andrea McCoy writes the column Kitchen Captivated for Yakima Magazine and at The Salt and Stone, a home cooking blog. She writes this column for Thursday’s SCENE section. The Salt and Stone is a nod not just to the essence of cooking, but also to the Yakima Valley. Read more at www.thesaltandstone.com.

Creamy Butternut Squash Bisque

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 large orange carrot, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 large Fuji apple, diced

1 Yukon Gold potato, cubed

5 cups butternut squash, cubed (2 10-ounce frozen bags)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 32-ounce box low-sodium chicken OR vegetable stock

2 stems fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Optional toppings: crumbled cooked bacon, croutons, sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, apple, potato and butternut squash to the pot. Stir and liberally salt and pepper. Add the thyme to the pot. Stir occasionally, reducing heat to low, cooking until the onion is translucent and the veggies begin to soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add chicken stock and spices to the pot and simmer for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Turn heat off to the soup when the vegetables are soft and easily break apart with a wooden spoon. Remove thyme leaf stems and ladle soup into a blender or food processor. Blend soup until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. Add a pinch of salt or a little more of the spices you enjoy.

Serve immediately, garnishing with preferred toppings.

Recipe serves 4 dinner-size portions or 8 small portions of soup.

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