Sunday, November 20, 2016

So-Easy Sides for a Thanksgiving Marathon: Day 2
What’s cooking? Roasted Butternut Squash with Fried Apples and Spiced Pecans

We’re on a roll, people. Thanksgiving arrives in less than a week, no matter how hard you might wish it would wait just a few more days. And everyone’s got a few houseguests, so there are sheets to change, towels to wash, menus to plan. If only you didn’t love them so much...

Amid the flurry of shopping and cleaning and cooking, it’s really easy to forget about things like... the table setting. THE TABLE SETTING???!! OMG, I HAVE TO SET THE TABLE...

So I want you all to calm down. The Kitchen Goddess has your back. And while I won’t be coming over to your house to help, I do have links here to a couple of my favorite posts, with heartfelt recommendations about candles and napkins and table decor. Nothing brilliant, mind you, but some ideas, and God knows, we could all use someone else’s thoughts these days.

On the subject of table setting, I’m one of those people who think that – surely – something in the yard will work. Something free. And you’d be surprised at how a little of that cheap but sparkly leaf-shaped confetti from places like Party City will dress up the table and add a little fun. Take a look here: Table Settings & Napkin Folding

The second thing many people forget about are the candles. I’m a little over-zealous on this topic, but with good reasons:

1. Everyone looks better with a little candlelight.

2. Candlelight is prettier and more flattering than electric light.

3. Candles are a symbol of hospitality and hope, and we could all use a little hope.

Here’s a link to my full post on candles – with pointers on use and storage – which I hope will inspire you: Candles

* * *

And now on to the food. Yesterday, I wrote about cauliflower, a white vegetable. Today, we’re moving on to orange, and my favorite orange veggie, butternut squash.

The easy way
Last year, the Kitchen Goddess discovered – belatedly – that her grocery store stocks pre-cut butternut squash. I say belatedly because it was after chopping it herself. And while I don’t go for pre-cut stuff like celery and onions, I will make an exception for butternut squash, if only because it turns my hands orange. Now, whether or not you buy yours whole and chop it yourself or luck into the pre-cut stuff at your grocery store, butternut squash is a magnificent food.

The hard way -- but not that bad.

First off, it’s a great source of fiber and vitamins (A, C, and E) and minerals (manganese, magnesium, potassium). Roasted, puréed, or mashed, its sweet, nutty taste becomes even richer with cooking, and it pairs well with any number of spices and fruits. Like apples. Fried apples. Can’t you just taste the combo?

Today’s recipe is from Food & Wine magazine, whose writers assure you the whole thing can be done in an hour. But I’m pretty sure they’re assuming either that you bought the squash already diced or that you forgot to start the timer until after the squash was cut. Whatever. It’s well worth the little bit of trouble to cut it up yourself if you can’t buy it cut. Beyond that part, the dish can easily be completed in an hour. Once you have the squash in the oven, there’s plenty of time to peel, dice, and cook the apples.

And now, a confession. The Kitchen Goddess got hold of this recipe and thought how nice it would be with some sugared/spiced pecan bits as a garnish. And the rather large inventory of nuts in her fridge turned the thought into a mandate. So you don’t have to add them, but they do contribute texture and flavor. And while the KG made her own (see recipe below), you could easily grab some at your market or a fancy food shop.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Fried Apples and Spiced Pecans

Adapted from Robert Stehling in Food & Wine magazine, November 2002.

Serves 6-8.

2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice (If you buy it whole, get an extra few ounces to allow for the loss of skin and seeds.)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1¼ pounds Granny Smith apples (about 2 large), peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch dice
1½ tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Optional garnish: sugared/spiced pecans, chopped (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. In a large bowl, toss the diced squash with the butter and the chopped dill. Spread the squash in a large, rimmed baking pan and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Roast the squash 30 minutes, stirring once midway through the roasting time. It should be very tender and starting to brown.

While the squash is roasting, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter on high in a large skillet (preferably non-stick). Add the diced apples in a single layer and cook on a high setting, without disturbing them, for 2-2½ minutes, then turn them over as best you can and continue to cook them, undisturbed, another 2-2½ minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle it over the apples. Stir the apples another 2 minutes on medium-high heat, until lightly caramelized.

When the squash has finished roasting, toss it in a large bowl with the fried apples and serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with chopped sugared/spiced pecans.

Sugared/Spiced Pecans

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (2008).

Neutral oil for greasing the pan
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 pound pecan halves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground fennel or fennel pollen
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat the oven to 450º. Liberally grease a large, rimmed baking sheet with a neutral oil (peanut or grapeseed or canola).

In a deep skillet over high heat, stir together the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Bring the syrup to a boil and add the nuts and the spices. Stir well to combine.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook the nuts, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated and the syrup is very thick.

Turn the heat to its lowest setting (to keep the syrup from solidifying while you remove the nuts) and use a slotted spoon to transfer the nuts from the skillet and onto the oiled baking sheet. Let the excess syrup drip off the nuts while you’re still holding them over the skillet.

Roast the nuts in the oven for 10 minutes, turning them once or twice with a spatula. Let the nuts cool before handling. (You may have to use a spatula to scrape them off the baking sheet.) Store in an airtight container for a week or two.

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