Butternut and Beyond: A Winter Squash Primer

I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who are intimidated by winter squash. The first barrier they site is the impenetrable shell of skin: Whereas summer squash can be eaten skin, seed and all, only the flesh is edible on winter squash. The second is the daunting variety. Which are edible, what do they taste like, what can you substitute and how do you cook them?

We’ve got answers here in our winter squash guide … to butternut and beyond.


Choosing a squash: In general, you want a squash that is firm and heavy for its size. If you feel any soft spots or mold, take a pass.

What’s inside? Winter squash are nutritional powerhouses loaded with beta carotene, potassium, folate, lutein and fiber, with very few calories. Their flesh is both filling and satisfying enough to make a meal in and of itself.


Butternut squash is a lovely buff-colored squash that’s shaped like an oblong gourd with a bubble at one end. Of all the winter squash, Butternut has some of the softest skin (along with Delicata and Acorn); you can easily peel it off with a Y-peeler. Its flesh ranges from pale Dreamsicle to deep orange and is creamy and nutty when cooked. And there’s a good amount of it; the entire neck is seedless.

How to use it: Butternut is a super-flexible squash and my favorite for cubing and roasting. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh side down at 400 for 50-60 minutes; or peel, cube, toss with olive oil and seasonings and roast at 450 for 40-50 minutes, turning occasionally. Use roasted squash in risotto, soup or as a spread for sandwiches or pizza.

Substitute: acorn or Buttercup.

It used to be acorn squash were dark green with an occasional orange mottle, but nowadays this squash comes in all sorts of colors and patterns, like the spotted Carnival variety above. Although acorn’s skin is even thinner than butternut, its deep grooves make it more difficult to peel. Its flesh is sweet, but stringier than the rest.

How to use it: I like to cut this squash into wide slices or wedges and roast them with a sticky-sweet glaze. Halve, seed and brush with oil. Then slice or roast halves at 425 for 20-40 minutes.

Substitute: butternut or delicata.

Most kabocha squash are somewhat squat, with lumpy, shiny, dark green skin. Although I’ve also been finding kabochas with pale blue skin (above) which look a bit like miniature Hubbards. Regardless of the external color, the flesh of a kabocha is deep reddish-orange and dense in both texture and flavor when cooked.

How to use it: Kabocha makes a wonderful roasting squash and I find it melds well with Eastern-leaning flavors. Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.

Substitute: Buttercup.

Sweet Dumpling
Shaped like a miniature pumpkin with pale yellow, green-striped skin, Sweet Dumplings have deep orange flesh that’s mild, dry and sweet—almost like a sweet potato.

How to use it: The main draw of Sweet Dumplings is that they’re so darned cute. Stuff and roast them whole or ladle in soup for serving. Seed and roast at 400 F for 50-60 minutes.

Substitute: kabocha or buttercup.

Delicata are beautiful oblong squash with gently-ridged, butter-colored skin and dark green stripes. It’s the most perishable squash of the bunch because its skin is so thin (so thin, in fact, it’s edible). The flesh is light, sweet and kind of cakey-moist in a good way.

How to use it: Halve and seed the squash, brush with oil, cut into slices and roast at 400 F for 20-30 minutes.

Substitute: acorn squash.

Similar in appearance to a kabocha squash, but with slightly smoother, lighter green skin that grows a “turban” as it ages. Buttercup’s flesh is bright orange, smooth and creamy with voluptuous flavor and hazelnut overtones when cooked.

How to use it: Halve, seed, brush with oil and roast flesh down at 400 F for 60-75 minutes. Scrape out flesh and use in soups, pasta or a mash. Or seed, stuff and roast whole.

Substitute: butternut or kabocha.

Millet-Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Indian Spices

Millet is a gluten-free whole grain that soaks up flavors something fierce — in this case, the heady mix of Indian spices that pair so beautifully with Kabocha squash.


Time to Test Your Baking Powder and Baking Soda!

File this one under: live and learn. It was Thanksgiving afternoon and time to bust out a batch of biscuits. All went well as I cut the fat into the flour and rolled out the dough (taking care to do the trifold that ensures high-rise biscuits).

But when I pulled them out of the oven, I couldn’t help noticing they hadn’t risen as high as they have in the past. The culprit, I suspected, was past-its-prime baking powder. So I did what I should have done before the holiday and tested its effectiveness. The verdict: dead leavener.

Baking powder and baking soda are leaveners that help give baked goods height. And they tend to hang out for a long time in your pantry, but they don’t last forever, even if you store them correctly–in a cool, dry place. According to the website Joy of Baking (a great reference to bookmark), baking powder only lasts 6-12 months. (Mine had been around, oh, going on two years and, when I checked, was two months past its “best by” date. Oops.) Baking soda lasts longer, but it, too, can lose its leavening power.

Here’s how to test ’em:

Baking powder: Combine 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/3 cup hot water. If it starts bubbling immediately, you’re good to go. If not, time to replace it. And be sure to double-check the “best by” date on the new can.

Baking soda: Mix 1/4 teaspoon soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar. It, too, should start foaming right away. Mine did.

Our Sunday Night Light Menu!

Whew! What it’s been quite a week of cooking and eating! By the time Sunday night rolls around, you’ll appreciate our nourishing Asian-flavored soup-and-salad menu.

sunday-night-menuTo start:

A touch of white miso paste adds heft to the dressing for our Fennel, Red Onion and Blood Orange Salad with Miso-Orange Vinaigrette. Blood oranges are just starting to come into season here in California. If you can’t find them yet, substitute regular oranges. It’ll be just as delicious!

Main event:

From the dashi base to the bok choy and udon noodles, everything about Lia’s Simple Udon Soup will make you sigh, “Ahhhh.” Even better, it comes together in about 20 minutes, and you can add the last of that leftover Thanksgiving turkey to the pot.

Sweet treat:

This supper is all about keepin’ it light, so you don’t want anything too heavy for dessert. Earlier in the afternoon, pop a batch of our Blood Orange Granita in the freezer. Here, too, you can sub regular oranges or even tangerine juice if you can’t find blood oranges.

Thanksgiving Extras: 5 Ways to Play with Leftovers

I rolled home from our over-the-top Thanksgiving feast with friends last night bearing a hefty supply of planned-for leftovers. Now, we’d never diss a next-day classic like a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches with reheated sides, especially if you make that sandwich with hearty artisan bread, arugula and a sprinkling of blue cheese. But there are other things you can do with all that culinary loot. Here are 5 ideas:

thanksgiving leftovers

  • Make stock. Save that turkey carcass, which you can use in place of chicken to make our Most Versatile Chicken Stock. OK, so technically it then becomes Most Versatile Turkey Stock…
  • Go Mexican. The components of Thanksgiving leftovers play beautifully with Latin fare. In the Southwest, where I live, our version of the turkey sandwich is turkey and cranberry quesadillas. Stir a little chipotle or ancho chile powder into cranberry sauce to transform it into a spicy salsa that you can dollop over turkey tacos–or serve with our Turkey Enchilada Verde Casserole.
  • Make soup or salad. Add shredded turkey to our Simple Udon Soup. Or make it the centerpiece of our Asian Turkey Salad. Roast turkey would also be delicious in place of duck in our Frisee Salad with Lentils.
  • Top a pizza. Pick up some whole wheat pizza dough or even a prebaked whole wheat pizza crust, then use your imagination. Spread a thin base layer of mashed potatoes (or even sweet potatoes, if you didn’t go the candied route), then top it with diced turkey and chopped up leftover veggies (shredded roasted Brussels sprouts would be terrific on this). Finish with a sprinkling of fontina cheese for a pizza that’s redolent with hearty fall flavor.
  • Reinterpret. The components of Thanksgiving leftovers invite you to play with your food. My cache included about a cup and a half of the decadent marshmallow-topped bourbon sweet potatoes our friends made for our feast. I used this treasure to feed a craving for sweet potato pie by simply pureeing the mixture (sweet potatoes, marshmallows and all) with an egg and 2 tablespoons flour. I divided this mixture between two 4-ounce ramekins, topped it with a little streusel (1 teaspoon each of flour, brown sugar, butter and minced pecans) and baked it at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes to make a cute dessert for two tonight.

Except I’ve already gobbled one of them.

What are your tasty ways with Thanksgiving leftovers? Share ‘em here!

Turkey Enchilada Verde Casserole

I made a batch of Lia’s Roasted Tomatillo and Chile Sauce to use in this enchilada casserole (OK, a Mexican lasagna, really), though you could substitute your favorite jarred salsa verde. We call for cooked, shredded or diced turkey as a way to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers, but this would also work wonderfully with chicken, shredded pork or even diced firm tofu. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro.

turkey enchilada verde casserole1 recipe Roasted Tomatillo and Chile Sauce OR 2 cups jarred salsa verde
Nonstick cooking spray
12-15 (6-inch) corn tortillas
3/4 pound finely shredded or diced cooked turkey (about 3 cups)
1 cup fresh corn (about 1 ear)
1-1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded queso panela OR Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Top with 4 tortillas, and trim 1 tortilla as needed to fill in any gaps. Top with 1/2 cup sauce, half the turkey, half the corn and 1/3 cup cheese. Top with 4 tortillas, and trim 1 tortilla as needed to fill in any gaps. Top with 1/2 cup sauce, remaining turkey, remaining corn and 1/3 cup cheese. Top with  4 tortillas, trimming an extra tortilla as needed to fill any gaps. Top with remaining sauce and cheese.  Cover and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until hot and tortillas are golden brown around the edges. Let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Serves 6-8

Win a Free Copy of “100 Perfect Pairings”!

Earlier this week, Lia introduced us to wine expert, cookbook author and culinary instructor Jill Silverman Hough, who shared her tips for choosing the best wine for the Thanksgiving feast, along with her recipe for easy, yet impressive Coppa-Wrapped Dates with Blue Cheese. We love Jill’s unfussy approach to wine and food, so we’re thrilled to give away a free copy of her latest cookbook, 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Pates to Enjoy with Wines You Love (Wiley).

Win a free copy of Jill’s book, 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love!

What I love about this book is the way it’s set up: Jill starts with the wines, describing the characteristics of each varietal, then offering general tips for the best foods to serve with it and small-plate recipes for each. For example, the German white wine Gewurztraminer has a spicy quality, “like cinnamon, anise, allspice and nutmeg. Baking spices. Warming spices.” Those qualities make it a great match for rich winter fare–like her recipe for Ham, Apple and Cheddar Monte Cristo Sandwiches recipe. Mmm, doesn’t that sound wonderful with a salad for a light supper after a long day of holiday preparations?

But you have to play to win.

So here’s the deal. Only NOURISH Evolution members are eligible to win, so now’s the time to join if you haven’t already! Then, head on over to the Thursday Giveaway group in our community area and leave a comment to be entered to win (important: be sure you’re signed in to NOURISH Evolution so we can find you).

Lia will announce the winner in next week’s Friday Digest!


This Thanksgiving, Slow Down and Savor the Feast

My Thanksgiving planning started a few weeks ago with an email from our friend, John, asking if we wanted to join him and his wife for dinner. We could eat out, he suggested, or stay in. “My preference is hosting here so we can drink a bunch of wine and enjoy some leftovers,” he noted.

slow-down-savor-thanksgivingMine, too, but I knew I’d have to bring my A game to the kitchen. John makes every gathering special, and as a certified wine pro studying to become a master sommelier, he has a particular knack for matching wine and food. So we spent some time putting together a menu of a dozen dishes for which he’ll be opening seven bottles of wine. To add to the fun, he’s even printed a menu for our “event.” By design, ours will be a long, leisurely Thanksgiving feast.

And that’s just as it should be.

I recently wrote a freelance piece about making the Thanksgiving meal a healthy one. I interviewed dietitians and chefs who all had great ideas for how to trim calories and fat without sacrificing flavor. One of my favorite tips, though, doesn’t require changing a thing about how you cook: Slow down the pace of the meal.

One of my favorite tips for creating a nourishing Thanksgiving doesn’t require changing a thing about how you cook: Simply slow down the pace of the meal.

You know how it goes: You spend weeks planning, shopping and cooking, set everything out on the buffet, and everyone loads up their plates and gobbles it all down in 20 minutes. “People tend to shovel it in, and then they’re in that turkey coma,” NOURISH Evolution advisor Rebecca Katz, M.S., told me.

Slowing the pace is good for the cook and for the guests. People will take time to really savor the meal you’ve spent so much time preparing and cooking. And they’ll probably eat less, since it takes at least 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that you’re getting full. “The longer the meal lasts, the more time there is for digestion,” Katz reminded me. Everyone will leave the table satisfied but not stuffed.

Slowing down the meal is easy. Here are three strategies you can employ tomorrow.

  • Don’t serve everything at once. Offer appetizer items first and let people nibble, then move on to the turkey and trimmings, followed by dessert.
  • Use smaller plates. Oversize dinner plates just invite people to overload. Instead, use smaller plates; guests can take seconds of what they really want. There has been intriguing research finding that plate (or bowl or glass) size really does influence how much we eat.
  • Offer visual cues for smart portion sizes. You can prepare individual-size servings of items like desserts. For dishes like mashed potatoes or stuffing, put out an ice cream scooper instead of giant spoon so people can easily serve themselves moderate-sized portions.

Katz recommends starting the meal with little cups of soup. Her advice inspired this creamy mushroom soup, which is rich and luscious and gets Thanksgiving off to a relaxed start.

This Thanksgiving, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a leisurely feast. They’ll be thankful for it!

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Chanterelles

This mushroom soup employs an old restaurant strategy of using affordable button or cremini mushrooms, for the base, then garnishing with more expensive fungi. You can cook the soup, cool to room temperature and refrigerate the base and mushrooms for garnish in separate containers. Gently warm it up over medium-low heat. Serve in little teacups, demitasse cups or even shooters. This is lovely with Manchego and Nutmeg Gougeres.

cream-of-mushroom-soup-chanterelles1 ounce dried mushrooms (such as chanterelles, porcini, oysters or a mix)
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
sea salt to taste
8 ounces fresh cremini or button mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped shallot
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl. Cover with 2 cups hot water, and let stand 30 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving soaking liquid. Combine soaking liquid and stock in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and keep warm (do not boil).

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons oil to pan. Add rehydrated mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and cook 2-4 minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring frequently. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Set aside approximately 1/2 cup of the prettiest specimens to use for garnish.

Heat remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons oil in pan. Add fresh mushrooms and shallot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook 2-4 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Increase heat to medium-high, and stir in the sherry. Simmer 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Whisk flour into stock mixture. Stir stock mixture into mushroom mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 minutes. Add reserved rehydrated mushrooms (except the ones you’re using for garnish). Puree soup in a blender or food processor until smooth (or use an immersion blender to puree it in the pot). Stir in cream and adjust seasoning as needed. Ladle soup into cups and garnish with reserved rehydrated mushrooms.

Yields about 4 cups; serves 6-8

What to Serve with the Thanksgiving Bird

When you live in wine country, there is no shortage of opinions on what wine to serve with the Thanksgiving bird. But I knew exactly who I wanted to turn to for advice: my friend and long-time colleague, encourager, and person you look forward to hanging out with at conferences, Jill Hough.

I remember standing in line with Jill at the airport four years ago talking about the projects we had brewing. When she told me about the book she had in the works, 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love, she said, “I just want people to be able to enjoy wine, not be intimidated by it.” I love that about her.

Here, Jill gives us down-to-earth, unintimidating advice on what to serve with the bird (and the sweet potatoes, and the green beans, and …).

LH: OK, let’s start with the biggie … white or red?

JH: It depends. (LH – Oh good, I was hoping you’d say that!). The main flavors in any dish are always more important than the main ingredient, and you want to pair for the main flavor. The other reason it depends is because turkey is one of those foods that is heavy for a white meat. It could really go with a heavy white or a light red.

The trickiest thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that there are often sweet things on the table, and sweet foods will always make a wine taste more sour. So if you tend towards the sweet—candied yams, sweet cranberry relish and such—you may want to go with a Gewürztraminer, which is heavy enough for the richness of the meal, but able to deal with the sweetness. If you lean more towards savory, then you could go two ways. One way is with a light red, like a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais (but not Nouveau). Or you could go Chardonnay, which is a “big” white in itself.

LH: You know how people tend to skip meals before Thanksgiving dinner, and then absolutely gorge? Any suggestions on preventing that?

JH: (laughs) I’d suggest some simple nibbles beforehand. Nuts are great, as are spreads and toasts. Cheese can run the gamut from light to heavy. I like to set out a couple of light cheeses, nuts, dried fruit and, bam, you’re done. It’s OK to put out a little bit, and then when it’s gone be done with it. It doesn’t make you a bad hostess if you don’t have food out constantly.

LH: How much wine should you plan on pouring?

JH: I would say plan at least a half bottle per person and if it’s an all day affair, another ¼ bottle per person.

LH: That can add up when you’ve got 12, 14, 18 people around your dining room table. Any tips on not busting the budget?

JH: I’d suggest asking people to bring a bottle. We often feel like we want to have complete control over the “Thanksgiving experience,” but if you let people bring things then they have a stake and feel more involved. Brining a bottle of wine is a great way to have people contribute.

Here’s my question for y’all: What are YOU drinking this Thanksgiving?