Holiday Angst Alleviated

By CYNTHIA COWAN

If you are prone to anxiety, ‘tis the season for a full-blown attack, with Thanksgiving only weeks away and Christmas around the corner. Menus, grocery lists, hours in the kitchen, house guests — it all makes you want to leave the country or convert.

But some people can make the holiday scene look effortless and enjoyable. Freshly baked cookies are always on the counter, something savory is simmering on the stove, and a warm welcoming feeling settles in on all who enter. Too much time on their hands? Nope. The key is plan early, make ahead, eschew complicated, and embrace convenience.

The following is a recipe for a make-ahead winter squash soup with a low stress and high satisfaction rating. A few timesaving tricks will make you look like a calmer, gentler Martha Stewart.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash (pick one with the longest thickest neck)

1 large or 2 medium acorn squash

1 stick butter

2 sweet onions

2 cloves garlic

1 Tablespoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 quart chicken stock, or more

1 cup apple cider

1 cup apple sauce

1-2 cups light cream

This soup freezes beautifully, so you can make it up to a month ahead if you wish. Set your oven at 375 degrees. Without peeling, chopping, or doing a thing to them, throw the squash into the oven on a foil line baking sheet. Bake for at least an hour and a half until very tender, turning over once, halfway through baking time. Let cool until you can handle them comfortably. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds, then the flesh. Place the flesh in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat. Cook onions until translucent and golden, about 20 minutes or so. Add crushed garlic and cook several minutes. Sprinkle on curry powder, salt and pepper and continue cooking a few minutes more. Pour the seasoned onions into a stock pot. Add squash flesh and chicken stock , mashing with a spoon or potato masher. When manageable, puree soup at this stage, using a hand mixer which eliminates the need to pour the soup into another container and back again. Or, use a blender or food processor. Add apple sauce, cider, and additional stock until the desired soup consistenc y. Simmer for 20 minutes or more, stirring often. Cool and freeze at this point or continue with recipe. When ready to serve, bring soup to a gently boil, then stir in the cream. Heat through, garnish and serve.

This delicious garnish is optional. Start by making your own creme fraiche a day or so ahead by combining 1 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Spoon a dollop on soup just before serving, then top with a few sage leaves and/or some diced apple which you have sautéed in butter. Sublime. It’s worth the extra 5 minutes of effort.

Now, for that platter of cookies on the counter. The key is bar cookies. They are the way to go when you want decadent in a dash and quantity quickly. Bar cookies recipes will follow in the Gazette Holiday Gift Guide on newsstands Nov. 28!