Monday, November 22, 2010

Here's the dish

Thanksgiving is this week and even though the family is not getting together this year I still want to go ahead and make a special meal.  Sometimes I break tradition, like last year when I made crab and chicken enchiladas for Christmas dinner.  I've also been known to frequent the always open Chinese food restaurants on Christmas Eve - much to my sister's dismay!  But as much as I love the traditional turkey dinner, occasionally I want to do something else with my day besides spend it in the kitchen  - or spend it in a non-stop eating extravaganza, from the onset of the appetizers, to the colossal early dinner, the decadent pies, cookies and cheesecakes which are served shortly thereafter and then the late night requisite turkey sandwich.  You know the one, it’s on white bread (or you could get away with a really wimpy wheat) with mayonnaise and a hefty dashing of salt.  Plain and simple perfection.  If you have any stuffing left over and can still manage to fit it in, all the better.
So I thought about having crab again this year.  Some beautiful Dungeness crab, a Caesar salad, and a crusty loaf of french bread.  Now that is a meal worthy of many thanks. But the crab season just got started and I heard that the fisherman in the San Francisco Bay have been throwing them back to give them a bit more time to grow. Too small this year. So it looks like we will have to wait for Christmas or New Years to have the crab. My daughter has never been one for turkey, I don't eat pork, wouldn't eat a goose, don't want a rack of lamb and prime rib is too ordinary. It is usually the side dishes most of us crave anyway.  Our family has a pretty simple and traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The star turkey of course, sometimes bread dressing or if we are lucky our Mom will make her Lebanese dressing, which is a rice and lamb mixture, delicately seasoned with a little cinnamon, her kibbe or cabbage rolls.  It is a lot of work and over the years all of us in the family have at one time or another been vegetarian, which wreaks havoc at holiday time and can make menu planning a bit of a challenge. But we can always count on the sweet potatoes, the mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, vegetables and rolls to make the majority happy.

I've tried to bring a little change to the table once in a while.  One year I thought a nice succotash would be fun – it went over like a lead tomahawk and I must admit it didn’t taste that great. But I’d read that the Indians had made it and I thought it important to give them some recognition for this particular celebration.  I have read that squash was one of the foods actually served at the first Thanksgiving meal, whereas cranberries, potatoes, and maybe even turkey was not.  So I think squash should be at the table.  In one form or another. Maybe even hold its own place of honor.  I think it was last year a friend of mine made this delicious and equally colorful baked squash dish that was worth the recipe, proving to be both a visual and taste delight.  It was a simple and hearty dish of baked butternut squash, layered like a lasagna with lots of leeks, chopped tomatoes and cheese.  I believe she used Gruyere (she is Swiss and always seems to be partial to that cheese) but I have made it with Jack.  The secret to this dish though is to be very generous with the leeks, and equally so with the cheese.

So off I went to Whole Foods to pick up a few items for my upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.  The squash were on display right out front.  As I picked one up, holding the curvy and smooth butternut squash in hand, having something like a 60's flashback, I remembered my last attempt of cutting, peeling and cubing this stubborn vegetable. I was tempted to go inside and purchase the already cubed squash that was available for $6.99 for what amounted to about two cups, but I wavered for only a matter of seconds before I decided to get the whole squash, as guilt got the better of me.

So home with my groceries, I decided to check YouTube for a video on “how to peel a butternut squash” – do you know there are 86 videos on this subject alone? After watching a few and thinking I had it mastered, I still managed to make this task a bit of a challenge and I have a nice cut on my finger to prove it.

But any butternut squash dish is worth the pain or suffering you might endure, and like our forefathers who celebrated the harvest and gave thanks for surviving their difficult voyage, I guess I can’t complain about a little cut finger.  So with much gratitude and thanks, I share this recipe with you in hopes that when you sit down to celebrate on Thanksgiving you will take a few minutes and really count your blessings  -  I know I have many and hope that you do too.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Maple Syrup
(Maple syrup was used by the Ojibwa tribe for roasting wild game. Here it goes into a terrific side dish that includes squash, another Native American staple)


  • 2 medium butternut squash, peeled, quartered lengthwise, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)
  • 2 1/4 pounds medium-size tart green apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, quartered, cored, but crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)
  • 3/4 cup dried currants or cranberries
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook squash in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Combine squash, apples and cranberries in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Season generously with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Combine maple syrup, butter and lemon juice in heavy small saucepan. Whisk over low heat until butter melts. Pour syrup over squash mixture and toss to coat evenly.
Bake until squash and apples are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with foil; chill. Re-warm covered in 350°F. oven about 30 minutes.)

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