Cooks Exchange

Put winter squash at head of the table this fall

Winter squash varieties rank as heavyweights in the squash family. It wasn't until recently that scientists recognize its potential in human health.

One cup of winter squash provides 59.4 percent of vitamin A, more than 26 percent of vitamin C and 23 percent of fiber in daily required nutrition, according to the World's Healthiest Foods newsletter.

Winter squash is one of the richest sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega 3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system to help protect against colds and flu.

"I don't think anybody really knows all the good substances there are in squash," said Dr. Dexter L. Morris, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in the book "New Foods for Healing" by Selene Yeager (no relation) and Prevention Health Books.

Known for rich, deep colors, winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, hubbard and pumpkins, have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.

While these squash are healthy and tasty, they take work to prepare. They have thick, hard skins that require a sharp knife, strong grip and vegetable peeler. I love butternut squash; it and pumpkin are my favorite varieties. Both are tough to cut and peel.

I peel these squash with a peeler from top to bottom, then cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and fibrous strings and cook the halves in a microwave for 14 to 18 minutes, depending on the size. After the squash has been cooked in the microwave, it is soft enough to use in stews, soups and vegetable dishes.

Lately, I have been experimenting with butternut squash and created an apple-butternut squash side dish that my husband said we need to have for Thanksgiving and a creamy soup that was full of fall spices, nutmeg and cinnamon with just a hint of sweetness.

I took a basic butternut squash soup recipe from chow.com and added my own touches. Today, I share my version.

Since winter squash are plentiful now, I want to share these recipes.

Pumpkin, too, has more

uses than just a jack-o'-lantern. A spicy pumpkin soup is rich, flavorful and filling. Pumpkin also makes a good risotto and the seeds, a good snack. Yes, it takes time to peel and scoop out the flesh, but it is worth the trouble. Pies also are better if fresh pumpkin is used.

APPLE-BUTTERNUT SQUASH SAUTÉ

1 large butternut squash, peeled and split in half

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped fine

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 cup onion, chopped fine

2-3 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup apple juice

Peel squash and cut in half. Scoop out seeds and fibrous strands. Place in microwave on paper towel for 14-15 minutes or until tender. Remove from microwave and scoop out the flesh.

Add chopped onion to a skillet of melted butter. Saute, then add squash flesh, chopped apple and apple juice. Cook until all juice is absorbed. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey. Cook until heated through.

Serve with chicken, turkey or pork.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

3 whole small to medium-size butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeds removed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium Granny Smith apple

1/2 medium yellow onion

1/4 teaspoon sage

2- 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2- 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

1/3 cup heavy cream

Place halved squash in microwave for about 18 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper and a pat of butter on each half.

Peel and core apple and dice. Chop onion. Melt remaining butter in Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add the apple, onion, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When the squash is ready, let cool before scooping out the flesh. Be sure to throw away squash skin after removing the flesh. Add the flesh to Dutch oven with apple-onion mixture. Add the broth, water and, if needed, more salt and pepper, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth, removing the small cap (the pour lid) from the blender lid and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the blender lid from popping off). To avoid a kitchen disaster of soup sloshing out of the pan while pouring, I used a ladle to remove soup from the Dutch oven to my blender. You could use an immersion blender. Adjust seasonings to your taste.

Puppy Chow snack

John Brown asked for a recipe for puppy chow -- not the dog food, the snack mix. Reader Jeri Allen shares her recipe.

PUPPY CHOW

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup butter

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

9 cups crispy cereal (any flavor)

3 cups confectioners' sugar

Combine peanut butter, butter and chocolate chips and microwave for 1 minute; stir; add vanilla and stir well. Place cereal in a bowl, pour peanut butter mixture over and coat evenly; put confectioners' sugar in a large plastic bag, add cereal mixture and shake to coat.

-- Submitted by Jeri Allen

I created this recipe for my daughter's seventh birthday. At that time, she was in love with Scooby Doo, so we had a Scooby Doo party.

The guests cooked this recipe and their meal and even decorated the birthday cake for the party. It sure kept 7-year-olds busy and entertained.

Of course, I supervised all the cooking chores to make sure no one was hurt.

PUPPY CHOW

1 stick butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 large bag Nestle's milk chocolate bits

8 cups rice and corn square-shaped cereal

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Melt together butter, peanut butter and chocolate bits in microwave, stirring every 20 seconds or so.

Add cereal and stir to coat.

Put powdered sugar in large brown paper bag. Add cereal mixture and shake well. Pour into large serving bowl.

Squash au gratin recipe

"I lost my favorite recipe for squash, a summer squash au gratin," said Frances Saucier. "If you have this recipe, please share."

Readers, do you have a summer squash or yellow squash au gratin recipe? If so, please send it my way for Saucier.

Andrea Yeager, can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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