Tag Archives: Butternut squash

Queso Cheese Dip (with a secret ingredient)

I love queso, but I am not a big fan of the “processed cheese product” that is typically used to give this dip its creamy consistency.  Besides being high in sodium, many processed cheeses are made with hormone-laden dairy and lots of preservatives.  I avoid these pitfalls in my recipe by creating a creamy organic cheese blend from scratch, using locally-grown organic peppers, spices and cheeses, sans the chemicals.

Like the velveeta version, this queso recipe will stand up to hours of heat in the crock pot without separating, and it’s a snap to put together. I kept this recipe of queso covered on warm in the slow cooker for four hours yesterday before serving, and it held steady the whole time!

The secret ingredient that makes it so creamy and low maintenance is butternut squash puree.  The squash adds a lovely golden color to the cheese and enhances the texture, keeping it from getting stringy as it melts. A basic roux in the early part of the recipe also helps to stabilize the cheese.

As you can see, I added venison taco meat, guacamole made with local avocados, and sour cream to my queso just before serving yesterday.  The resulting appetizer was similar to the Bob Armstrong dip served at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin and Dallas.

I probably would have ended up with Kerbey Queso (cheese dip topped with guac and pico de gallo) if tomatoes had been in season at the market this weekend.  Since butternut squash is so easy to find here in Austin, I suspect I’ll get a chance to make this fabulous queso again for some Texas Longhorn tailgates, when fresh tomatoes are a plenty.

Butternut Squash Queso Cheese Dip (serves 6)
1/2 large onion, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butternut squash puree
2 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. roasted peppers (I used organic canned, chopped hatch green chiles; fresh roasted would probably taste better, but they’re not in season right now)
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute minced onions in butter over medium heat until onions begin to soften.  Add flour to the pan and stir constantly for about 5 minutes, until flour is golden brown.  Add milk 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly.  Cook until milk is warmed through and turns light brown. Next, add the squash puree, stirring until combined, followed by the cheeses, peppers, and spices. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes until all the cheeses are completely melted and the mixture is creamy.  Remove queso from the stove and serve immediately or transfer to a slow cooker, covered and set to “warm” until ready to serve.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe.


Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday I picked all the meat off our leftover Thanksgiving turkey and boiled the bones to make turkey stock.  I felt a little like Ma Ingalls making my own broth, but the whole process was just too easy for me to forgo. I followed Kalyn Denny’s instructions for making broth with turkey bones and it turned out great.  In the end, I netted 12 free cups of turkey stock for my troubles!  That much low-sodium, organic broth would cost at least $10 at the grocery store.

Besides saving money, it felt really good not to waste any parts of our Thanksgiving turkey. I had previously portioned out the leftover meat and froze it for use it for dinners in the next few weeks.  Of course, the bones went into the soup pot.  And the skin, tendons, and other leftover boiled meat bits?  I whizzed those in the food processor along with a few tablespoons of wheat flour and made 3 cups of meat Kong filling for Barclay. (We’re trying to help him gain some weight and free treats make this much easier!) The only downside to all this thrify fun is that I have 12 cups of turkey stock sitting in my refrigerator, needing my attention!

This butternut squash soup recipe is adapted from a vegan version published on Allrecipes.com, and it is one of Rami’s and my favorite winter comfort foods.  Its spicy-sweet flavors are very forgiving, and I’ve made it with mashed  sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, and roasted butternut squash, depending on what’s handy.  To save time, I always roast the squash or potatoes ahead of time and add them to the broth cooked and mashed.  However, another option would be to peel and chop raw squash or potatoes and cook them in the boiling broth until tender. Since the soup goes through the blender at the end, either way would work just fine.

Finally, a note about the light coconut milk in this recipe: it’s a must-include.  In a pinch, you could substitute heavy cream, but the coconut milk’s sweetness enhances the buttery squash and spicy red pepper flakes.  I used half a can of coconut milk in a red lentil sweet potato soup recipe I made last week. I froze the leftover coconut milk right in the can and it kept just fine until I needed the remainder for today’s recipe.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry
2 cups mashed roasted butternut squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato
3 cups turkey stock (recipe is vegan if you use veggie stock)
1 cup light coconut milk (1/2 of a 14 oz. can)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro for garnish

Saute onions and garlic in oil in a heavy bottomed soup pan over medium high heat.  Once onions are soft, add pepper flakes, turmeric, curry, squash, and stock.  Stir to combine.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer soup, covered, for half an hour.  Add coconut milk in the last five minutes of cooking.  Blend the soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or allow it to cool some and blend carefully in small batches in a conventional blender.  Season finished soup with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.  This soup doubles easily and freezes exceptionally well.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Thanksgiving: Butternut Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

My family doesn’t traditionally include macaroni and cheese on the Thanksgiving table, so I feel like a bit of a rebel putting it on my menu this year. When I was planning our meal, though, I just couldn’t resist the rich, creamy texture and slightly spicy flavor of this recipe.  It gets bonus points for ease of preparation and kid appeal: the orange hue of the butternut squash makes this look just like the blue-box macaroni and cheese that kids love.  Plus, with whole wheat pasta, this is about as healthy as macaroni and cheese gets.

This recipe tastes great when reheated, but it doesn’t look very pretty on the second day.  For Thanksgiving, I plan to prep all the raw ingredients ahead of time, and then assemble and cook the macaroni and cheese in the 20 minutes while the turkey’s resting.  I’ll probably delegate stirring of the cheese sauce to my husband or a guest; though the sauce is really easy, it does require constant whisking so the dairy doesn’t scorch.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6)
1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta, your choice of shape; we like shells & spirals
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup butternut squash puree
1-1/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.  While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan.  Whisk flour and melted butter together for about 4 minutes over medium heat; until mixture thickens and turns golden brown. Add milk 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly.  Continue whisking until liquid is warmed through and light brown. Next, add the squash puree and whisk until combined, followed by the cheeses.  Remove sauce from heat and continue to whisk until everything is smooth and creamy.  Whisk in seasonings, adding cayenne to taste.  By now the pasta will be done; drain and shake off excess water.  Stir pasta and cheese sauce together in a serving dish. Garnish with paprika and black pepper.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.


Red Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup with Cilantro

I’m ready to eat. Ready for turkey. Ready to cook two kinds of bread for homemade stuffing from scratch on Thursday.  (What was I thinking with the homemade stuffing???)  One thing I’m not really ready for is all the other dinners this week. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

Enter red lentil soup.  This recipe is healthy, tasty, and it only takes about 10 minutes of hands-on work to prepare.  It’s also inexpensive and easily adaptable to whatever fall produce you have on hand: sweet potatoes, leeks, onions, winter squash, whatever.  Best part is, while it’s bubbling away on the stove, there’s plenty of time to whip up some stuffing.

Red Lentil Sweet Potato Soup with Cilantro (serves 4)
adapted from “Vegan Red Lentil Soup” published on Allrecipes.com

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup peeled, chopped sweet potato, pumpkin, or butternut squash
1 cup dry red lentils
2 cups water
1/2, 15 oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided
1 lime, cut into wedges

Chop onion and garlic.  Saute them in oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Meanwhile, peel and chop sweet potato or squash. Once onion is translucent, add all remaining ingredients except for half the cilantro and all the lime wedges.  Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for half an hour, until potatoes/squash and lentils are tender. Taste soup and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish each bowl of finished soup with fresh cilantro and a lime wedge.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Thanksgiving: Butternut Squash Kugel

This kugel is my answer to that icky-sticky sweet potato casserole that is so popular in some Thanksgiving circles.  I prefer this dish mainly because it does not have marshmallow cream along the top. However, there are other advantages: this kugel has a firmer texture than sweet potato casserole, it is much easier to prepare, and it’s healthier.

I adapted this recipe from one published on Allrecipes.com, using fresh squash puree instead of frozen cubes, substituting wheat flour for all-purpose, and reducing the sugar.  On Thursday I plan to serve this as a side dish during the main meal, garnished with fresh sage chiffonade.  I’ll cut the cinnamon in that version of the recipe down to one teaspoon sprinkled on top.

Butternut Squash Kugel (serves 4-6)
1 cup butternut squash puree
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 medium eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, divided

Need help preparing the squash puree? Step-by-step instructions are here.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 6×9 inch pan with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray. In a medium mixing bowl, combine squash puree, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, melted butter and about half the cinnamon. Stir until well combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes, until kugel is firm and golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature. I really like this cold for breakfast the next day, too.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Thanksgiving: How to puree butternut squash

Butternut squash can be an intimidating vegetable to cook with because of its ungainly shape and thick skin.  However, this classic harvest gourd is a must-have for many Thanksgiving recipes, like my macaroni and cheese or squash pudding. These step-by-step instructions with pictures should help demystify the delicious butternut and make pureeing the vegetable a breeze.

The only must-have for working with butternut squash is a large, sharp knife.  If you don’t have a good cleaver or butcher knife, a clean hand saw from the tool box works nicely for cutting hard squash and is much safer than trying to go at it with a too-small kitchen knife.  And at about $5, a small hand saw is a cheap way to go if you don’t cook often enough to drop $$ on a good kitchen knife.  A food processor is optional for this recipe; a potato masher is also an effective, albeit time consuming, way to puree the roasted squash. Finally, I like to process butternut squash in advance of using the puree in a recipe, mostly since this process can be time consuming if you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table.  The whole cut-roast-puree process takes about 90 minutes; only 15 of those minutes are hands-on. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon!

Here’s how to do it: first, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cover a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.  Place the squash on a cutting board and using the largest, sharpest knife you have, cut off the stem end of the squash and the cut the squash in half lengthwise. If your squash is large, the lengthwise cut will probably take two knife strokes: one lengthwise through the butt of the squash, and another cut down through the neck.  Whatever you do, keep your hands and fingers above the blade of the knife and cut with steady, controlled motions. Also rest assured that this, and all squash purees, will turn out A-OK if the squash isn’t cut perfectly.

Once the squash is cut in half (whew!) scoop out the seeds with a spoon and rub a little olive oil on the orange flesh.  Place squash flesh-side down on the prepared cookie sheet and cook for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until the skin is bubbly and brown, and the squash can be pierced easily with a fork. Take the squash out of the oven and carefully wrap the aluminum foil into a packet around the cooling squash; this will help make the skin very tender and easy to peel off once the squash cools.  Wait until the squash is lukewarm to the touch, then unwrap the foil and peel away the squash skin with your fingers.  The squash will probably break into pieces as your work with it; that’s good.  Put the peeled squash into the food processor and whiz away until it has the consistency of baby food.  Store the squash in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge, or about a month in the freezer.

Butternut Squash Dog Treats

Whenever we get a huge butternut squash in our Greenling local box I like to roast and purée it on the weekend, in preparation for the week ahead.  The entire process takes less than an hour, and I can use the ready-made squash purée in recipes like  Macaroni and Cheese and Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup on busy weeknights.  If there’s any leftover purée, I like to make these fast and easy treats for my dog Barclay.  That way none of my local produce goes to waste, and Barclay gets to enjoy the squash, too! Update 10/30/10: Tara over at Let’s Talk Cookies tried these and found that baking the treats at 250 degrees for 2 hours results in a crunchier biscuit.  I haven’t tried this myself, but it sounds like a good idea!

Tip: the process for roasting pumpkin, butternut, or delicata squash is the same.  These hard squash are interchangeable in most recipes, and you can even substitute sweet potatoes in a pinch. A great demonstration of how to cut, roast and purée a butternut squash is found here.

Butternut Squash Dog Treats
3/4 cup squash purée
2 eggs
2 Tbs. peanut butter
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix eggs, squash and peanut butter in a large bowl.  Incorporate flour until you have a stiff, dry dough. Knead with your hands if necessary.  (This dough is much drier than cookie dough for humans, about the consistency of pie crust.) Roll the dough out with a rolling-pin on a floured surface until it is 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with the cookie cutter of your choice, or just use a knife to cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares.  I found this one by one-half inch bone-shaped cookie cutter at Zinger hardware for 50 cents.

Bake the treats on greased cookie sheets until hard, about 25 minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool.

These treats make great Kong puzzlers and are much cheaper than commercially-packaged dog biscuits.  Barclay likes to give packages of these treats to his friends for birthdays and holidays.

Of course, you should check with your vet if you have any questions about your dog’s diet.  These treats are vet-approved for Barclay!

*This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and also appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the (Local) Box.”