Friday, December 6, 2013

It's Better With Butternut

(This post was published in the December 2 Tasty Tuesday section of The News Review.)

With one feast behind us and more holiday treats ahead, I thought I'd offer a few recipes packed with nutrition to balance the candy, fudge, cookies, and other goodies we'll likely indulge in this month. I've recently become quite fond of butternut squash. It's inexpensive, locally grown, and easy to prepare. It's also low in calories, high in fiber and vitamins A and C, and a good source of magnesium and potassium. You can store whole butternut squashes in your garage all winter long, so why not head out to your local farmers market or fruit stand and stock up?

From soup to pie to a raw squash salad, you won't get bored with this versatile vegetable. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, roasted butternut squash is delicious straight from the oven. I recently made lunch for two dozen people and received as many compliments on the roasted squash side dish as I did on the double chocolate raspberry brownies I served for dessert. Roasting squash is a simple procedure and it's the first step in several of the recipes that follow.

My dear friend and baking buddy, Laura Smith, has generously shared her recipe for Butternut Squash Pie. Pumpkin pie devotees are often skeptical, so Laura doesn't let on that it's not pumpkin until they have tasted it and begin to rave. She's won many converts over the years, including my son.

Raw squash salad is a delight. I'd never thought about eating butternut squash raw until I saw a recipe in Clean Eating magazine. I use the same dressing I make for a carrot salad, but I now prefer it made with squash.

The soup is my version of a classic. The sweetness of the vegetables is intensified by roasting the squash and the onions until they begin to caramelize before pureeing with the broth. It's perfect as a first course for dinner or a light lunch.

Tools of the Trade
(Hint: these make great gifts!)

I'm not a big fan of kitchen gadgets, but I'll mention two tools that I don't use often, but love having on hand when I need them. The first is a Microplane zester/grater. It's razor-sharp and looks like a wood rasp. It's perfect for zesting citrus fruits or grating fresh nutmeg. (Once you try fresh nutmeg, you'll be hooked. The most economical way to buy fresh nutmeg is from the spice section in the bulk foods aisle. A few whole nutmegs will last all year and cost less than a dollar.) The Microplane also works on Parmesan cheese. It's so much fun to use that I've been known to wander around the kitchen just looking for new things to grate.

The second tool I'm crazy about is my Titan julienne cutter. I would never have bought it on it's own; it came in a set with a vegetable peeler I wanted for shaving hard cheeses and chocolate.

Now I can make lovely julienne strips of carrot, zucchini, and butternut squash quickly and easily to use in salads and side dishes or to add a professional-looking garnish.

Simple Roasted Butternut Squash

This is my current favorite way to eat butternut squash. So simple, but oh so delicious. I'm constantly picking cubes of roasted squash off the pan before I even get it to the table.

Roasted Butternut Squash

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half. (To make this easier, first cut a 3-inch lengthwise slit in one side of the squash and microwave it for 5 minutes, then cut all the way in half.) Scoop out the seeds and remove the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler. Cut the peeled squash into 1-inch cubes. Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to gently toss and coat the squash evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt and a grating of fresh nutmeg if desired. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring once or twice. The squash should be tender and have some browned edges. Serve warm.

My Titan peeler works well for this job.

Roasting squash or pumpkins for puree (to use in pies, bread, muffins, pancakes, etc.)

Follow instructions above but don't peel the squash. Place the halves cut side down on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender and pierced easily with a fork. Let cool, then remove the peel. Puree in a blender or food processor or mash with a potato masher until smooth. Use within a few days or freeze in heavy-duty freezer bags.

Raw Butternut Squash Salad

 Lovely long julienne strips of raw squash and dried 
cranberries in a citrus vinaigrette. You'll be using the zest, 
so look for organic limes and oranges.

Raw Butternut Squash Salad
(inspired by a recipe in the October 2011 issue of Clean Eating magazine)

1 small butternut squash
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 orange, organic if possible
1 lime, organic if possible
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Remove peel with a sharp vegetable peeler. Cut into thin strips using a julienne tool, the julienne blade of a food processor, or grate the squash on a box grater. You will need 3 cups. (Roast any remaining squash for another recipe.) Place squash strips in a serving bowl and add the dried cranberries.

For the dressing, remove the zest from the orange and the lime (only the colored part!) and place in a small bowl. Cut the orange in half and use one half to squeeze ¼ cup of orange juice. Peel, separate, and slice the remaining half into bite-sized pieces and add to the squash. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice from both halves. Add the juices to the small dressing bowl and whisk in the honey, olive oil, and salt. Pour over the squash mixture and toss to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes about four cups.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

My version of a classic. I served this soup at a dinner for fifty women last month and it was a big hit.

Jennifer's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 4 to 6

1 medium butternut squash, about 8 inches long

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion

4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup half & half
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half. (To make this easier, first cut a 3-inch lengthwise slit in one side of the squash and microwave it for 5 minutes, then cut all the way in half.) Scoop out the seeds and remove the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler. Cut the peeled squash into 1-inch cubes to make 6 cups. Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Peel and slice the onion and separate it into rings. Add it to the squash and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Use your hands to gently toss it all together, coating the vegetables evenly. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once or twice. The squash should be tender, the onions translucent, and both should have some browned edges.

Ready for roasting

Scraping up all the browned bits after roasting

Heat the chicken broth in a large pot and add the roasted squash and onions, scraping up all the browned bits that stuck to the pan. Using a hand blender, purée the broth and vegetables right in the pot. (Or puree in batches in a regular blender.) For the very smoothest soup, after blending press through a sieve or colander with a rubber spatula. Return to the pot.
I love my Cuisinart hand blender!

Stir in the half & half and nutmeg. Heat gently and season with additional sea salt to taste. Serve in warmed bowls garnished with additional nutmeg, if desired.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Baking Bliss

Sour Cream & Chive Potato Bread
ready to slide onto a hot baking stone.

I got to put my baking skills to the test last week. I started off Tuesday making a batch of cornbread for cornbread dressing and pizza dough for my husband's birthday dinner that night. 

On Wednesday I mixed the dinner roll dough and refrigerated it so it would be ready to shape and bake the next day, just before our Thanksgiving feast. I mixed a batch of dough for Whole Grain Pecan Sticky Buns (my son-in-law's favorite) and refrigerated that, too. 

 Dinner roll dough. These containers are available at 
restaurant supply stores. They come in all different 
sizes and are perfect for yeast doughs.


My daughter, Christine, requested Sour Cream & Chive Potato Bread for leftover turkey sandwiches so I mixed and baked that next. My husband prefers whole grains, so I also made a batch of Whole Wheat Potato Bread. (Those are both straight dough breads, meaning they are mixed and baked on the same day.)

Then came the Butternut Squash Pie.

Not the prettiest pie I have ever baked, but it was delicious! 
(I should have added a bit more water to the pastry dough. It was crumbly and difficult to work with.)

First thing Thursday morning, it was time to get the apple pie into the oven. 

  I like to spray the top crust with water and sprinkle with coarse demerara or turbinado sugar before baking. 
The foil keeps the buttery crust from 
dripping on my baking stone.

About noon, Christine and I shaped the dinner rolls and set them to rise. I baked them just before we sat down to eat.

Oma's Featherlight Rolls fully proofed.

(My mom brought the turkey and Christine and I had fun working together to prepare the rest of the dinner: Cornbread dressing, Donna's dressing, macaroni & cheese, candied sweet potatoes, buttered peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, black olives, sweet pickles, sparkling cider.)

Friday morning I got up early to shape and bake the sticky buns. They came out of the oven just in time for a leisurely breakfast.

 Sticky Bun work station.


And after all those carbs, we headed out to North Bank Habitat for an eight-mile hike.

 Breakfast of champion hikers!