Monday, December 29, 2008

A Tale of Two (Potato) Pancakes

Some people wait all year for sweet spring asparagus. Some for the fruits of summer. I wait for potato pancakes.

Now granted, I am aware the potatoes are available much longer than a few precious weeks - heck, you can buy a 20 pound bag of them at the grocery store anytime you want. But growing up in a healthy home where 'frying' was pretty much a dirty word, the holiday season was always our small, indulgent window for such decadent preparations.

Being lucky enough to grow up Jewish and Italian, that means I have not one, but two different potato pancakes to look forward to each winter. Of course, there are those deliciously light and crispy latkes, the requisite shredded potato pancakes doused in sour cream and applesauce that grace our table come candle lighting time (though being a good red-blooded Midwesterner, I always preferred mine with ketchup). But in addition to this jewel of the Jewish culinary landscape, my mother also continues her family's post-Thanksgiving tradition, Italian potato pancakes (pictured above). Packed densley with leftover mashed potatoes and lots of parmesan and parsley, these cheesy, emerald-specked beauties couldn't be more different than my father's version. And yet, I love them every bit as much. What a nice little metaphor.

The holiday season may be over, but that's no reason that potato pancake season should be. I hope you try both. Ketchup is permitted. Just don't pick sides.

Italian Potato Pancakes
Leftover mashed potatoes (about 6 cups worth)
2 eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dried basil leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-4 tbsp flour, depending on how firm your mashed potatoes are

Flour, for dredging
Olive oil, for frying

Mix all ingredients by hand in a large bowl, adding less flour if your potatoes are stiff, more if they're creamier. (FYI, this dish is best with stiffer mashers, ones made with starchy potatoes and less milk). Form poatoes into patties, about 4 inches in diameter. Fill a large saute pan or an electric skillet with olive oil, at least 1 inch deep. Heat oil over medium high heat, 375 degrees for the electric fryer. As the oil is getting hot, dredge the pancakes in flour to coat; dust off excess. (It is best to do this right before frying, because if they sit too long the flour soaks into the potatoes). When the oil is hot, add the pancakes in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes, then flip and repeat. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Potato Latkes
6 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp matzoh meal or breadcrumbs
½ tsp baking powder

Wash, peel and grate potatoes, then squeeze dry with paper or regular towels. Grate and add onion to potato, then add salt and egg and mix well. Mix in remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil that is deep enough to almost cover the latkes. Brown on both sides, drain and serve with applesauce and sour cream (or ketchup).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Love Dish: Citrus-Rosemary Roasted Chicken

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful, relaxing, food-filled vacation. I spent the majority of my holiday sitting around my parents' kitchen making some of our favorite family recipes (and taking meticulous notes), and I'm excited to share them all with you soon. In the meantime, though, here's a simple dish that I made last night. After all the feasting of Christmas was behind us, we wanted a dinner that required very little effort. A few chickens in the freezer, some oranges in the fridge, and the hardy rosemary bush in the backyard were all we needed.

Citrus-Rosemary Roasted Chicken
2 5-lb roasting chickens
2 oranges
6 rosemary sprigs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degree.

Remove the giblets from the chickens and either save for another use or discard. Wash the chickens inside and out and pat dry. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and pepper. Cut each orange in half; squeeze the juice of both halves over the skin of one chicken and stuff the cavity with the rinds. Repeat with the other chicken. Place one rosemary sprig in each cavity. Pull the leaves off the remaining sprigs and chop finely. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, rosemary, and salt and pepper. Spread evenly over both chickens, rubbing with your hands to coat evenly.

Place both chickens in a large roaster and place in oven. Immediately lower the heat to 350 and roast for 1 1/2 hours, or until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of one of the chicken's thighs reaches 175. Remove from oven; tent with foil and let rest for ten minutes. Carve and serve.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Love Dish: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe some of the very best fall/winter desserts are made with some very humble vegetables. After all, who can think of a more season-appropriate dessert than carrot cake? Moist, crumbly, and full of holiday spice, you have to actually make it yourself to believe that a whole pound of healthy, crunchy carrots are in there. And honestly, this version is so perfect on its own, you could almost skip that fluffy, decadent layer of cream cheese frosting on top...almost.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from January 2009 issue of Food and Wine magazine.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Butter two 9 inch cake pans. Line with parchment paper and butter again.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, milk and vanilla. In your stand mixer (or in a large bowl using an electric mixer) beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients, then beat in the dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in the carrots. Divide the batter between the pans and bake the cakes for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until springy and golden. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely.

To make the frosting: Beat together the butter and cream cheese on high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners' sugar; beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and continue mixing for another 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Peel the parchment paper off each cake. Place one layer, upside down, onto a plate. Spread a rounded cupful of the frosting on the top, then sandwich the second cake on the icing, right side up, . Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour. Slice and serve.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Love Dish: Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookie Bars

Hello, my name is Lisa and I'm a recovering Starbucks addict. I'm proud to say that the siren call of the cafe mocha rarely has even a weekly pull for me, much less the daily one it used to command. However, come wintertime, sneaking away from work for a warm shot of comfort and caffeine is ever present in the back of my mind. And, thanks to a delicious treat this fancy shmancy coffee chain features each holiday season, it's even harder for me to resist right now.

The cranberry bliss bar beckons to me from behind the glass display. I don't even notice its espresso and toffee crunch cousins sitting nearby who used to tempt me so. A blondie brownie base, topped with a snowy drift of creamy icing and a festive sprinkling of tart really is just that - bliss in a little brown bag.
Come January, it's always so sad to see them go; as if the end of the holidays isn't depressing enough. So, I figured, why not recreate this divine concoction at home so I can enjoy them anytime I want? (And, of course, what sweet creation couldn't be improved upon by adding a little chocolate?) The result: definitely blissful, and the perfect holiday treat - no $4 coffee required.

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookie Bars
For the cookie base:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
6 oz (half a bag) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the icing:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add each egg one at a time, beating well after each. Add the flour in three shifts, mixing fully after each addition. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray. Spread the cookie mixture evenly across the sheet, about 1/2 inch thick, leaving an even amount of space around the edges (the cookie with expand when cooked). Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the cookie/bar is firm and cooked through, but not too brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes. Loosen from the pan using a rubber spatula and transfer cookie bar to large cutting board (you can cut in in half to transfer it if that makes things easier).

For the icing: Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Sift the powdered sugar and add it to the bowl, beating for about 3 minutes until shiny and smooth. Spread the icing over the cookie bars, sprinkle with the cranberries and refrigerate for about an hour. Cut into squares.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Love Dish: Meatballs from the Motherland

Is there anything more supremely comforting than the sight of a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs greeting you after a long winter day? If you're Italian (or Italian at heart) the answer is most likely no.

There are many levels of commitment you can choose from when making this bastion of Italian comfort food. You could make your own meatballs, buy a can of of sauce and a box of pasta, and call it a day. Or, for all you Barbara Kingsolvers-in-training out there, with space and time for such things, you can use that tomato sauce you canned last summer. (Lucky ducks). OR, and here's where things get serious, you could go all out and make your own pasta, too. I should point out that this third, industrious option should be reserved only for lazy weekend days, not hungry weekday nights, and I freely admit that late on a cold, rainy Tuesday I went with the first choice. (However, stay tuned for many upcoming posts on homemade pasta - mommy just got a new KitchenAid attachment).

Whatever level of commitment you choose to devote to this dish of love, making the meatballs yourself is the baseline. And to be sure, though every Italian family has their own cherished recipe, my version - or, more accurately, my great grandmother's - though supremely simple, is pretty tough to beat.

Motherland Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (90 percent lean)
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh,* but from the can is fine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 jars (28 oz) of your favorite spaghetti sauce

In a large bowl, combine everything but the sauce. It is best to mix with your hands to make sure everything is full mixed together, but not overworked.

In a large stockpot, add one of the jars of spaghetti sauce. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the jar, swish around to get the last bit of sauce, and add to the pan. Mix together.

With your hands, roll the meat mixture into uniformly shaped balls. Do this by cupping the meat, a little less than a 1/4 cup's worth, between your palms and quickly moving your hands in opposing concentric circles while applying gentle pressure (it sounds harder than it is). Add the meatballs one by one to the pot of sauce.

Cover with the remaining jar of sauce. DO NOT STIR. Raise the heat to medium. When the sauce begins to bubble, cover the pot, lower heat to medium low, and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, giving the pot a few good twists now and then to "stir" the meatballs. (To check for doneness, remove a meatball and slice in half).

Boil a pot of water for your spaghetti. When the spaghetti is al dente, remove from heat, drain, and add some of your sauce to coat the noodles. Serve with the meatballs and lots of freshly grated Parmesan. Manga!

*To make fresh breadcrumbs, cut the crusts of a few slices of white bread and pulse in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shrimp and Two Potato Chowder

This quick dish is an easy twist on a classic winter soup. I originally had a hankering for New England clam chowder, but 1) I had no clams, 2) I can't really eat cream - well I can, but I suffer dearly for it - and 3) I had an overabundance of multi-hued potatoes that needed eating. So, no, it's not clam chowder - not a thing like it really, except that I'm calling it a chowder - but it is delicious, and that's what matters.

Shrimp and Two Potato Chowder
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garam masala, optional
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut in large cubes
3 or 4 small red or new potatoes, or 1 large russet or Idaho potato, cut into large cubes
Salt and pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 quart vegetable stock (Kitchen Basics is my favorite)
2 cups whole milk (or cream, or 2 percent, whatever you have on hand - just don't use skim)
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, heat the olive oil. When shimmering, add the onion and saute, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and all the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and the garam masala, if desired. (It's not necessary, but it gives the soup a certain something - a special depth of spicy, earthy flavor. A little curry powder would also work well). After a few minutes, add the vegetable stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits; add the milk, thyme, give the whole thing a stir, and then simmer on medium heat, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Just before serving, add the shrimp - they'll cook through in 1-2 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Great Dish: Lamb Sliders at Zola

To be sure, there is many a delicious little burger gracing the ‘starters’ and bar menus of DC restaurants these days – the Matchbox’s minis, The Source’s kobe beef concoctions, the tuna tartare sliders at PS7. I love this trend, not just because I love burgers in general, but because they're an economical and judicious app choice when dining with friends (everyone gets their own)! After dining at Zola in Penn Quarter this week, I have a new addiction to add to the list. Zola's seasonal slider offering features juicy lamb meatballs on house made sticky buns, each topped with grilled romaine, a fiery pepper slaw, and a dollop of creamy goat cheese aioli. Savory, spicy, crunchy, sweet – what else could you ask for in a first bite?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Quick Dish: Calzone with Swiss Chard and Mozzarella

Remember that beautiful pizza dough I told you about a few posts back? Remember how I said it takes a little time to make, but then you'll have extra dough ready at a moment's notice for a delicious dinner? This is that delicious dinner.

Calzones are uber Italian comfort food. Warm, puffy dough folded around your choice of hearty filling, with the requisite ooey, gooey, melted mozzarella spilling out...Hot Pockets have nothing on these babies. I took the dough out of the freezer last night, it was ready for me when I got home from work today, and we were eating calzones in 20 minutes flat. Faster than Pizza Hut, and waaay better.

Calzone with Swiss Chard and Mozzarella
1 ball of pizza dough, preferably homemade, but store bought is fine
1 bunch of swiss chard, washed and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 small balls fresh mozzarella, sliced
Olive oil, for brushing
Cornmeal, for dusting

Place a baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat it to 450 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil; when hot, add the swiss chard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, until wilted and tender. Remove from heat.

Rub a pizza peel with cornmeal. Separate the dough into two pieces and stretch each to form a uniform circle, about 6 inches across. Place each disk on the peel and brush each with a little olive oil. Divide the swiss chard and the mozzarella between the two calzones, arranging them on the top half of each circle. Fold the bottom half of the dough over the filling. With a fork, crimp the edges together to seal. Lower the heat in the oven to 400 degrees. Slide the calzones onto the baking stone and bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden and firm. Remove from the oven and serve warm, dipped in the tomato sauce you preserved this summer (or the can of Prego you have in the cupboard).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quick Dish: Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Ah, lunch.

Such an important meal of the day. And during the work week, "going out" for it saves you from a whole host of of bothersome things - hunger, boredom, a stuffy office, an annoying co-worker. But as fun as going out to lunch is, it definitely does not save you money, or time. If you're short on both, I'm guessing your brown bag it most days. And though in doing so you're being oh-so-good, I'm also guessing you open that bag feeling a wee bit grumpy about what a great meal you could be having. Hrmph.

Sufferers of lunch remorse, this quick dish is for you. When I brown bag it, I try to pack a meal that I would actually want to order somewhere, not just the usual hum drum home fare. So, whenever I make chicken for dinner, I cook extra so I can make this lovely salad the next day. (It's also a great use for the uneaten half of that store-bought roast chicken you couldn't resist). It couldn't be simpler to make, and this time of year, those lovely specks of celery green and cranberry red are very festive, no? I prefer it on hearty pumpernickel, but any old bread will do. So make chicken tonight and no more boring lunch tomorrow. Voila!

Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Makes enough for two sandwiches

One leftover chicken breast (about 6 ounces)
2 ribs of celery, diced, green leaves included
A handful of dried cranberries
3 tbsp mayo
2 tsp honey mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together ingredients. Make sandwiches. Pack sandwiches.

Eat at work. Ignore annoying coworker.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Muffins

Today is December 7 - a date which will live in infamy. It also happens to be my birthday. When I woke up this morning, Rory, my newly minted husband, asked what I wanted to do to start off my day. My first inclination was to go to the Dupont Farmers Market, like I do most Sundays, and then stop by Starbucks or Teaism for a cup of something warm and a delicious morning treat. But looking out the window I determined that I was entirely too wimpy to venture out into the frigid day. If I wanted a sweet treat, I was better off making it myself. The clear choice - muffins.

I am a life long muffin lover. I'm sure I get this predilection from my father, who not only would bring home batches every weekend from Perkins, our favorite local bakery in Cincinnati, but has also been known to do his fare share of muffin experimentation. I love them all - bright lemon poppies, tart cranberry-orange, nubby oat bran. But, if we're all being honest here, I think we can agree that nothing compares to a blueberry muffin, all crumbly golden and speckled with luscious pockets of purple-blue. My absolute favorite muffins are those treated to the added decadence of a shower of crunchy, sugary streusel. And seeing as it's my birthday, I figure I get a calorie pass today.

So, here's my little birthday present to myself, a combination of versions I've tried over the years. It doesn't have to be your birthday for you to enjoy them, too - just a day in need of a little sweetness.

Blueberry Muffins with Brown Sugar Streusel
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup butter) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup dried blueberries

Streusel Topping
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter

Note: this recipe makes 9 large or 18 regular muffins.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place paper liners in muffin tins.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla, sour cream and milk. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until just mixed. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the blueberries.

In a small bowl, mix together streusel ingredients with a fork or your fingers, until crumbly.

Scoop the batter into prepared muffins pans, filling each cup just to the top. Sprinkle streusel mixture evenly over muffins. Bake for 30 minutes for large muffins, 18 minutes for small muffins, or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Best Pizza in DC = Your Kitchen

Yes, DC has a lot of seriously good pizza parlors. And now there's even an outpost for buying fancy pies you can bake at home. But who needs all that when you can make your very own kitchen the best spot in town for a slice? While making your own pizza may sound like way too much work for a weeknight, trust me, with a little advance planning and some fun kitchen gadgets, you - yes, you! - can be turning out beautiful, crispy/chewy/bubbly vessels of Italian goodness. Talk about an ego trip. Here's all you need:

A Pizza Stone - Truly, the only way to get that deliciously crispy bottom crust.

A Pizza Peel - The only safe way to get your pizza onto said stone.

The Toppings - Right now I'm particularly fond of spicy sausage, olives, kale and mozzarella (pictured), but, of course, whatever your heart desires.

The Dough - As any pizza conouisseur worth her crust knows, when it comes to good pies, it's all about the dough. Nowadays, nearly every grocery store in the land offers ready-made pizza dough, and that's all well and good. However, if you've got a sturdy mixer, I urge you to make your own. The store-bought stuff really just can't compare, and the recipe below could give 2 Amy's a run for its pie-making money. This dough also freezes well, so one night of work equals multiple nights of pizza enjoyment.

Pizza Dough
Recipe from Baking with Julia

The Sponge
1 1/2 tsps active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups tepid water (about 80 degrees)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Place yeast in a medium bowl (you can use the bowl from your mixer) and add the water, stirring to dissolve the yeast. Allow the yeast to rest for about 5 minutes, until it turns creamy. Stir the oil into the mixture and then gradually stir in the flour, mixing until well incorporated.

First Rise: Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover, and let the sponge rest in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the sponge is very bubbly and has risen to about double its volume.

The Dough
The sponge (above)
2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 to 3 tsps salt, depending on your taste

If you didn't make the sponge in the mixer bowl, transfer it to that bowl now. User a rubber spatula to deflate the sponge, which will be sticky and loose, and fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add 2 cups of the flour and the salt to the sponge and mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and, if the dough isn't coming together nicely, sprinkle with a little more flour by spoonfuls. Continue to knead on medium speed for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Second Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl, turn the ball over so that its entire surface is coated with the oil, cover, and allow to rest in a warm place for another 1 1/2 hours, until is has doubled in bulk.

To Make the Pizza
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and fit the rack with a baking stone. Preheat the oven to 475. Rub a baker's peel with cornmeal and set aside.

Shaping the Dough: Turn the dough ont onto a lightly flour work surface and divide into two pieces. Keep one piece covered as you work with the other. (If you do not want to make both pizzas now, wrap one piece of dough tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for a day or two or freeze for up to a month. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight and bring chilled dough to room temperature before shaping). Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Turn and streth the dough, or roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to peel.

Topping and Baking: Top with the ingredients of your choice, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim, and slide the pizza into the oven. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until the topping is bubbling and the uncovered rim is puffed and golden.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Love Dish: Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole

Well, several cities and 1500 miles later, we have safely returned from our Great Midwest Thanksgiving Tour. And I can I safely say I am officially Thanksgivinged out.

Not that I didn’t enjoy all that intensive cooking and feasting – that’s what I live for. And it was great to see both sets of parents and extended family, not only because I honestly like them, but because the newlywed “why-we-should-visit-my-family-and-not-yours” game is not actually as fun as it sounds. It's just that re-entry into everyday life is a lot more jarring following a 14-hour, drizzly, trafficky return road trip. So I'm thinking maybe Thanksgiving can be at our house next year.

Whining now concluded, allow me to offset my crankiness by sharing a dish I am especially thankful for each Thanksgiving – my mother’s butternut squash and apple casserole. She’s been making this since I can remember, since the days it seemed exotic to me for anything labeled a vegetable to go into a something labeled a dessert. But, as many of us are well aware nowadays, butternut squash lends a wonderfully creamy, autumnal sweetness to anything it’s paired with, making it a fine addition for any stop along a meal – dessert included.

Note: there are many butternut squash and apple casserole recipes floating around that call for simply cubing the squash, cubing the apples and tossing some brown sugar on top before baking. Ignore those. Yes, this recipe's a little more involved, but I'm betting it's the best butternut squash dish you've ever had. Really.

Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise
3-4 large Granny Smiths, or other good variety of baking apple
2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup sugar
Dash of pure vanilla extract, optional

For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the two squash halves, cut side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven until a fork passes easily through the flesh, about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the squash is cooking, peel the apples, core them, and cut into smallish cubes. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When melted, add the apples and the sugar and saute, tossing occasionally, until the apples are softened, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

When the squash is done, remove from the oven and lower the heat to 350. Let the squash cool slightly before peeling off the skin. Mash flesh in a small bowl, adding a tablespoon or two of brown sugar if you think it needs to be a little sweeter. If you're a vanilla fan, add a dash of vanilla to the squash. Fold the apples into the squash and pour into a 9x9 buttered casserole dish.

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients together, using your fingers or a fork to incorporate the butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle evenly over the squash and apples. Bake the casserole uncovered in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, until heated through.