Michele makes… easy Thanksgiving side dishes

Michele’s Best Chunky Butternut Squash Soup. PHOTO COURTESY MICHELE E. BUTTELMAN

Thanksgiving dinner shouldn’t require long hours of slaving in the kitchen. I make easy side dishes that can be made ahead and reheated, or cooked in a slow cooker. I don’t have any room in the oven for anything more than the stars of the show — the turkey and stuffing. Breaking from tradition is hard, but try something new this year, it will give the family something dramatic to talk about. 

Michele’s Best Chunky Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing speaks to a “fall harvest celebration” than beautiful butternut squash. Surprise your family with this upscale starter to the traditional family meal. I like to serve it with brown bread or rolls. 

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1 lb. cubed butternut squash

1 large apple, peeled and chopped (Gala, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 32 oz. chicken broth

1 cup pumpkin purée

2 tbsp. maple syrup

2 oz. cream cheese

1 cup small dice butternut squash. 

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, squash, apple and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the squash and apples begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add curry powder, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon and stir, about 2 minutes.

Add broth and stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up the browned bits. Cover and simmer on low until the squash is tender and the soup is golden-brown, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, add pumpkin and blend. Stir in maple syrup and cream cheese. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth or blend in a Vitamix or in batches in a regular blender.

Cook 1 cup of small diced butternut squash cubes in the microwave until soft. Individual microwaves vary, but it shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes. Stir the squash into the soup to make a “chunky” version of the soup. 

Top the soup with a variety of garnishes which can include: A splash of heavy cream or half-and-half, a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon, croutons, shredded cheese, bacon bits, pecans, chives and/or deep-fried basil leaves. Offer a “topping bar” and let your family personalize their toppings.

Applesauce Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes

I long ago gave up trying to make pan gravy like the women in my family have done for generations. I just don’t have the “touch.” Instead, I prefer this “fancy” sweet potatoes recipe.

3 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 5 medium), peeled and sliced into discs

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

3 tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place sweet potatoes in a 4-qt. slow cooker. In a bowl mix applesauce, brown sugar, melted butter and nutmeg. Pour over potatoes. Cook, covered, on low 4-5 hours or until potatoes are tender. Add pecans and mix before serving. 

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