Squash & Pear Casserole Recipe

For Thanksgiving dinner, my mom made a lovely squash casserole as part of the main meal. (You can see it on the bottom right hand side of the table in the last picture in the post linked above.) It was so good that I asked her to share the recipe with me.


My stab at this delicious casserole.

Mom sent me the link to The Spruce’s Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole With Crumb Topping recipe, but then she sent me a list of the changes she’d made that turned it into a significantly different dish.

Last night I tried Mom’s version, which has pears instead of apples (’cause that was what she had on hand), and includes walnuts for crunch (the best part of the dish in my opinion). The topping stays pretty much the same, but it really wasn’t very crumby. The photo in the Spruce recipe was obviously taken before the dish was baked. Rather, as the butter melts it carries the spices and sugar to ingredients at the bottom of the casserole. This doesn’t make it any less tasty (I’d venture to say that it actually enhances the flavour), but I’d hesitate to call it a “crumb”.


Squash & Pear Casserole served with pork chops with an onion soup mix glaze.

Squash & Pear Casserole
Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
Peel, remove guts and seeds, and cut into bite-sized pieces:
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash (approx. 1 medium)*
Core and cut into bite-sized pieces:
3 green pears
Place squash and pear pieces in a casserole dish that fits these ingredients with a bit of room to spare. Stir to mix.
Sprinkle over the mixture:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts**
In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
To the sugar and spice mixture add:
1/4 cup chilled butter***
Using two knives or a pastry knife, cut the butter into the sugar and spice mixture until the pieces of butter are a roughly even size, about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle butter and spice mixture over the contents of the casserole dish.
Bake, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes****, or until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Serve using a slotted spoon so that the cooking juices are left behind in the casserole dish.

*This casserole would work equally well with squash of a similar texture such as acorn squash or pumpkin.
**Chopped pecans may be substituted for chopped walnuts.
***Margarine may be substituted to make this dish vegan/vegetarian. However, the margarine has to be the kind that is hard when cold, or it will not cut into the sugar & spice mixture properly.
****This dish may be prepped ahead of time, refrigerated overnight, and then baked just prior to serving. If the dish is still cold from the refrigerator, allow for an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.

Harvest Garden Bread Recipe

Last week Thing 1 and I tried our hands at making Confetti Bread (page 67 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). While in general I really like this book and I have found its recipes to be quite reliable, this loaf did not turn out as planned. It looked like this:


Failed Confetti Bread

The poor, sad thing just didn’t rise. The loaf was much too dense and wasn’t even baked the whole way through. The cookbook even warns that you might have to add additional flour to the dough after the first knead (which I did), and it still fell flat. I think that this is because a bread machine recipe just can’t predict the moisture content of the vegetables, and bread machines need very precise measurements because they just can’t compensate for change on the fly.

However, the loaf smelled absolutely delicious when it was baking, and the flavour of the bread backed up that smell. Well, except for the red pepper part, but that’s probably just my preference (I’m not a real fan of sweet peppers). I was inspired to try to create a similar loaf by hand to get all of those flavours that I liked, but I wanted it to be a nice fluffy loaf with a crisp crust. As a bonus, this recipe includes both zucchini and carrots, which many gardeners have an overabundance of this time of year. (If you don’t garden, these veggies are also cheap in stores in the fall.) I was very happy with the result.


Successful Harvest Garden Bread

So here’s the recipe:

Harvest Garden Bread
Yields one loaf

Line two small bowls with paper towel or clean dish towels.
Grate separately:
3/4 cups carrots
2/3 cups zucchini
Place the carrots into one bowl and the zucchini into the other. Leave them in the bowls so that the towels absorb excess moisture while you perform the next steps.
In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions OR chives
In another large bowl, mix together:
4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme OR 2 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
2 tsp quick-rise instant yeast
Squeeze the zucchini and the carrots in their towels to remove excess moisture. Add the vegetables to the bowl containing the liquids and stir.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. When mixture becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to incorporate the ingredients by kneading.

Once all ingredients have been kneaded in, the dough may be too moist, sticking to both your hands and the kneading surface. If so, you may need to gradually add:
up to 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
This additional flour will compensate for the moisture of your vegetables. If the dough is still too sticky once the additional flour has been kneaded in, continue to add flour one tablespoonful at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a 9.5″ X 5.5″ loaf pan. (A slightly smaller loaf pan may be used, but you will end up with a more mushroom-shaped loaf.) Shape the dough into a loaf to fit the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF (204ºC).
While oven is preheating, mix together:
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cold water
Brush the top of the dough evenly with the egg & water mixture to create a glaze.
Bake loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, until top of loaf is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped on the bottom.

If you try out this recipe, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know what you think! And if you make any changes or if you find any errors, I’d love to know that too.

Autumn Produce & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks Recipe

A friend came by this past weekend to hang out and chat, and also to gift me with some of the excessive produce from his family’s garden. Apparently zucchini has really liked this year’s rainy summer, and tomatoes weren’t far behind in the production department.


Zucchinis and tomatoes in cardboard boxes from my friend’s garden; tomatoes and cherry tomatoes from my garden in the green bowls.

I didn’t try to grow zucchinis this year, but my tomatoes are ripening up nicely as well, so I ended up with much more fresh garden produce this weekend than we could eat before it went bad. So I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last few days in the kitchen, cooking as much of these fruits and veggies as I can.

Since my freezer is getting pretty full so I wanted something shelf-stable, and my husband (the main salsa consumer in our house) really likes the Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), making another big batch was a no-brainer. Once my hubby had snacked on some of the lovely cherry tomatoes, I cooked up the remainder into about four liters of salsa. That’s not nearly enough to get us through the winter, but there are still more tomatoes on the vine to ripen, after all.

I baked a loaf of Chocolate Zucchini Bread (page 104 of 125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002)). This is a heavy, rich bread that is satisfying either as a dessert or as a snack. I opted for semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which makes this dish almost bitter, since it doesn’t include all that much added sugar. You can also use dark chocolate chips for an even deeper flavour, or switch it up with butterscotch, raspberry, or white chocolate chips. I was a little worried about the texture that the grated zucchini might have created, so I used the same technique as when I rebaked the chocolate fudge zucchini cookies and precooked the zucchini, then ran it through the blender. This added a bit of extra moisture to the bread, so I omitted the vegetable oil entirely. I was quite happy with how it turned out, both in flavour and in texture.

For dinner yesterday I also made baked chicken with my usual sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and salt as topping. As a side I made baked zucchini sticks, which my kids couldn’t get enough of, so I think I’ll be making them a few more times until I use up all of this zucchini (there’s still lots left). Instead of the more common (around here) seasoned bread crumbs, I went with panko, which is a much lighter style of Japanese bread crumb. I also baked the sticks instead of the more traditional deep-frying, for health reasons and because I just don’t particularly enjoy deep-frying. Here’s the very simple recipe that I used:

Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and slice into thick sticks, leaving peel on:
400g zucchini
In a small mixing bowl, beat:
1 large egg
In a second small mixing bowl, combine:
3/4 cup panko
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp Kraft 100% Parmesan grated cheese*
Grease a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
Dry the zucchini on paper towel, then dip it into the egg until coated, then into the panko mixture until coated. Place the coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the greased cookie sheet. Sticks will cook most evenly and be most crunchy if they are not touching.
Bake the zucchini sticks for 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Serve plain, or with ranch dressing or marinara sauce as a dipping sauce.

*Parmesan cheese may be omitted, but if so, double the amount of salt.

Oven-Baked Oatmeal Wheat Bread Recipe

Out of sheer curiosity, back in May I tried out the recipe for Microwave Oatmeal Wheat Bread (page 128, Basic Microwaving by Barbara Methven, 1978). The loaf ended up having a heavy, hard, and, chewy without actually being crunchy. It wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t see myself ever cooking it in the microwave again.

I did promise myself that eventually I’d try to recreate this dish in the oven, and this week I finally got around to it. As I had suspected, the issue with the texture had nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with the cooking method. When I prepared this loaf the standard way for an oven, it was still dense — but that is to be expected when you use ingredients like whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and molasses. However, it was not chewy at all; it was lighter in the middle with a thin, crisp crust. The dark flavour of the bread went well with roast meats, deli meats, and cheeses — or just on its own with butter.

Without further ado, here’s how I made this bread in the oven:

Oven-Baked Oatmeal Wheat Bread
Yields one loaf

In a large mixing bowl, stir together:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 package (7g) quick-rise instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Add to dry ingredients:
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup cooking molasses*
1/4 cup lard, melted
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until they are evenly mixed. Gradually mix in:
1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
After the majority of the flour is added, transfer the dough to a floured surface and start kneading. Gradually knead in the remainder of the flour. If the dough starts to become difficult to knead, stop adding flour. When flour is fully incorporated, dough should be smooth and elastic, but not sticky. If dough is sticky, add all-purpose flour 1 Tbsp at a time until stickiness abates.

Knead for an additional five minutes, until dough is smooth. Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a cookie sheet. Shape the dough into a ball, then flatten it into a thick, circular loaf. Put the dough on the center of the greased pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Bake loaf for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350ºF (177ºC) and bake for about 15-20 minutes more. Check to see if the bread is done by removing it from the cookie sheet and tapping it on the bottom. When cooked through, it should make a hollow sound. Remove the bread from the pan immediately and place it on a wire cooling rack. Slice and serve immediately, or allow to cool thoroughly before wrapping in plastic to be eaten later.

*Fancy molasses may be substituted for cooking molasses, but if you do so, omit the sugar.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce Recipe

Back in February I made a massive batch of Kerryann’s hidden vegetable pasta sauce, most of which I stuck in the freezer and thawed periodically to make spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza. We ran out near the start of the summer, at which point I decided to try to perfect my own tomato sauce recipe.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored the flavour of Kerryann’s, but I never got over the weird brownish-green that my attempts at the recipe ended up. I think that my previous suspicious were correct and that’s just because the proportions of fruits and vegetables are different here in Canada than they are in Britain, from whence the recipe originates.


Right now my little garden is yielding about 6lbs of tomatoes (mostly cherry tomatoes) every four or five days, so I need to keep up with the harvest.

For example, Kerryann’s recipe calls for eggplants (or rather, aubergines), among other ingredients. In my local grocery store, which does not specialize in particular kinds of produce, I was able to find four kinds of eggplant, all of which are extremely different sizes. So what is considered a “medium aubergine” in Britain? The video helps narrow the criteria down a bit, but I think that the produce here is just bigger. (I know that our leeks are freaking enormous.) Canada is a country that is very driven by agriculture, after all.


Top left — Indian eggplant (max 3″ long); top right — Thai eggplant (max 2″ long); bottom left — Chinese eggplant (about 12″ long); bottom right — American/globe eggplant (14″+ long, very wide at one end)

There were some other problems with importing this recipe. I’ve never found tomato puree in tubes here, although canned tomato paste is commonplace. I’m not sure if substituting the latter for the former would effect the colour or flavour, as I can’t get my hands on the kind in tubes to compare. I also had a hard time finding sieved tomatoes (passata), although it’s possible to find cans with tomatoes that have been crushed, small cut, diced, diced with herbs, left whole, stewed, or preserved without added salt.

So I’ve made my own tomato sauce recipe with added vegetables. I’ve measured everything out by weight, which should mean that this recipe will come out more or less the same no matter how big your local vegetables grow. I’ve left out the leeks and the celery, as well as peeled the eggplant and the zucchini, which should correct the colour of the sauce. Last but not least, I run my sauce through a blender after it is all cooked so that it is all the same consistency, which is perfect for sneaking veggies into the diets of picky eaters (a lot of people have problems with textures more than they do with flavours).


Tomato sauce simmering on the stove.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce
Yields about 5Kg (11lbs), or about 22 cups sauce

In deep, heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan, preheat:
4 Tbsp olive oil
Add to pan:
225g yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Cook on medium heat until onions have started to turn clear. Do not brown.
Add to the pan:
550g cremini mushrooms, sliced
400g zucchini*, peeled & chopped
400g globe eggplant, peeled & chopped
400g orange carrots, peeled & diced
Cover and cook on medium heat until carrots are softened. Stir often to avoid browning.
While this mixture is cooking, prepare tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, cut each one in half. If using larger tomatoes, remove the piths and quarter them.
Pour cooked mixture into a deep pot, such as a stock pot. A heavy-bottomed pot is best, but if one isn’t available, any large pot will do. If a thinner-bottomed pot is used, it will have to be stirred more frequently to prevent sticking & scorching.
To the pot, add:
1L low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2.75Kg fresh tomatoes, cut as per above instructions
2 cans tomato paste, 156mL each
8 Tbsp fresh oregano (or 2 Tbsp dried oregano)
3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground bay leaves
2 Tbsp sugar
Slowly bring mixture up to a boil, then turn the burner down until it is just simmering. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Sauce is cooked once all of the ingredients are soft, the last of which should be the tomato skins.
Turn off the heat under the pot. Carefully ladle the hot sauce mixture into a blender to at most 3/4 full, put the lid on the blender, put a towel over the lid, and blend until smooth. Be careful, as the mixture is very hot! Pour the blended sauce into a large bowl or pot, then repeat until all of the sauce is blended.
At this point the sauce may be completely done, or it may be a little bit too liquid, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes used. If the sauce is watery, return it to the deep pot and simmer gently until it has reached the preferred consistency, stirring often.

*Yellow zucchini is preferred to contribute to the colour of the sauce, but green zucchini will taste the same if that is what’s available.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne.

Healthy veggie tomato sauce can be served as-is over pasta; spaghetti is most commonly used, although in our house we prefer penne. If you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth when you make the sauce, this results in a vegetarian/vegan dish. However, I like to freeze it in dinner-sized portions, then thaw it while I fry up and drain a 500g package of lean ground beef, turkey, meatballs, or sausage. I stir the sauce in with the meat and simmer together while the pasta boils for an easy weeknight dinner. This tomato sauce is also great for making homemade lasagna, pizza, or Sloppy Joes.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Mom’s Potato Salad

Back when I started writing this blog, I set a personal goal to record the recipes that I had grown up with. I didn’t want my descendants to encounter the same issues that I’d had when my grandmother passed away and took her knowledge of family favourites with her.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

To this end, I asked my mother the other day for her potato salad recipe so that I could post in online (it’s one of my favourite summer dishes). Much to my dismay, she explained to me that she had no real recipe and added ingredients until it “looked right”. After telling me this, she laughed a bit, because she used to get frustrated with my Nan and her approach of “a little bit of this, a touch of that” dishes that were downright impossible for her to recreate.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

So Mom and I set aside some time at the cottage this summer to measure all her ingredients and record everything that she did to make her potato salad. This one of her most often-requested potluck or barbecue dinner dishes, and indeed, it got rave reviews when I made her recipe for the most recent potluck. As a bonus, it is both simple and a great make-ahead dish. Actually, it’s easier to prepare the ingredients a day ahead, then combine them into the final dish on the day it will be served. It takes the pressure off of hosting when you know that at least one dish is ready and waiting in the fridge.


Mom’s potato salad made fancier by leaving the potato skins on and including bacon bits.

Mom’s Potato Salad
Makes about 7 cups of salad

You will need:
6 cups potatoes (any variety) cut into bite-sized pieces
This recipe works well with both older and new potatoes. With older potatoes, peel before cutting. With new, thin-skinned potatoes, wash them and leave the skins on before cutting.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Boil potatoes until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not yet mushy. Drain and refrigerate in a covered container until cool (this can be done overnight).
While the potatoes are cooking, hard-boil:
6 large or extra-large eggs
Place eggs into cold water until they are cool to the touch. If assembling the salad the next day, the eggs can be left in their shells in the fridge overnight.
Place the cooled potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Peel the eggs. Cut up 4 of the 6 eggs into bite-sized pieces (usually eighths or smaller), setting the two most aesthetically pleasing eggs aside as topping.
To the potatoes and eggs add:
1 cup mayonnaise*
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp yellow mustard
3 Tbsp finely chopped green onion or chives
Optionally, you may add:
(375g package of low-salt bacon, cooked and chopped into bits)**
Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated.
Scoop the salad into a serving dish, or simply serve in the mixing bowl for informal gatherings. Optionally, you may lightly sprinkle over the salad for looks:
(a dash of paprika)
Cut into quarters the 2 eggs you set aside. Arrange the eggs at the center of the salad in a sunburst pattern.
Serve.
This recipe may easily be multiplied in order to serve a larger number of people.


Mom’s fancy potato salad.

*Regular, olive oil, reduced-fat, or reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise are all acceptable. However, do NOT use salad dressing or Miracle Whip, the flavour is all wrong in this dish.

**If you add reduced-salt bacon, halve the amount of salt in the recipe. I prefer the reduced-salt kind, but if you have to use regular bacon, don’t add any salt at all.

Blueberry Bran Muffins Recipe

Recently I came across a copy of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together — the September 1988 version, though, not the current one. I love cookbooks that are comprised of favourite recipes contributed by members of the organization. I mean, where else can you find quality recipes like this one:

Jokes aside, I have learned how to make some really great dishes from books like these. I have also contributed to a few; off the top of my head I know some of my recipes have ended up in books published by my high school, the local chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada, and my kids’ preschool. Not only are these cookbooks great fundraisers, they’re also a nice way to bring the community together by introducing neighbours to the flavours and dishes that are important to them.

All that being said, these cookbooks are not written — and as importantly, are not edited by — professionals. These days it’s not as bad, what with spell check and the ability to digitally track changes when a document is being sent around for review. But you have to be very, very careful to fully read a recipe from start to finish with pre-2000 cookbooks. Well, I mean, you should probably do that anyway with any recipe, but at least in professional cookbooks they’ll generally include all of the ingredients in the ingredient list, and a general expectation of yield, and have fairly clear instructions.

I’ll use the blueberry bran muffins recipe on page 86 of Let’s Break Bread Together as an example. It specified All-Bran Cereal — but what kind? Right now, in Canada, there’s All-Bran Flakes, All-Bran Buds, All-Bran Multigrain Crunch, and All-Bran Granola. Now, I understand that in some cases with older recipes, there was only one variety of an ingredient even though now the company may have branched out. In this case, though, a quick search of the Internet reveals that in the mid-’80’s there was the equivalent of Flakes and Buds, so it should have been specified.

Also, the blueberries in the muffins, which were so clearly stated in the title, were not in the ingredient list. Instead, the kind and quantity of berry were buried in the baking instructions. As you can see from the recipe above, the formatting of this books is such that the ingredients are supposed to be in bold and indented from the rest of the text; they are most often found at the start of the recipe as well. It can be really confusing when ingredients are not where you expect them to be.

Now, please don’t think I’m angry about all this. I’m really not. This book was put together by volunteers (in this case, the United Church in Meadowood, Winnipeg, Manitoba) in their free time before the general use of the home computer. However, what it does for me is it makes me aware of how important precise instructions are to the ease of success of a recipe. It definitely makes me want to give another go-over of the recipes I’ve written, that’s for sure. And if anyone else uses one of my recipes and notices something that should be changed, please let me know so I can fix it!

Here is my version of the blueberry bran muffins recipe, updated for accuracy and to make it a little bit healthier. I have tried out the changes and it resulted in the delectable muffins seen pictured above.

Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

In a large mixing bowl, beat:
2 large eggs
Mix in:
1 cup 2% milk*
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup All-Bran Buds
Let stand 15 minutes for Buds to hydrate.
Preheat oven to 400°F (175°C).
In a separate mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until blended.
Fold into batter:
2 cups fresh blueberries**
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, until done. You will be able to tell that the muffins are done when the tops turn golden-brown and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted at the center point comes out clean.
Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, until the tops are just cool enough to touch. Gently, with your fingertips, spin each muffin a quarter turn in the pan. This will dislodge the muffin from the pan and help keep it from sticking. Remove the muffins from the pan and finish cooling them on a wire rack. Once cool, they may be stored in a container for about five days. However, they are best eaten as fresh as possible.

*Alternately, a milk substitute such as almond milk or soy milk may be used. If you do so, reduce the volume of milk substitute by 1 Tbsp, and add 1 Tbsp light vegetable oil such as sunflower or canola.
**Alternately, you may use frozen blueberries. However, before using they should be thawed and the excess liquid drained.