Thanksgiving, in my family, is like musical chairs. Every year part of the clan seems to migrate across the country, so choosing the most convenient place to gather is sort of a moot point. Sometime in the middle of each summer, someone announces they’ll be hosting in November. We all scramble to find seats on airplanes before things get too pricey. Invariably, someone can’t make it, but the excitement of bringing the same traditions to a new place each year makes up for the disappointment of one or two people not showing up every now and then.
In the last four years, we’ve been in San Francisco, New Orleans, Cape Cod, and Park City. This year, we’ll be in Boise, at my parents’ home. My mom has shifted into high cooking gear, baking the challah that will go into our stuffing, freezing pie crusts, shopping for the best cheese prices. . . and in Seattle, I’ve started in on accessories.
This year, my job is easy. I’m making a big lasagna for the night before, and bringing a couple quickbreads for the morning, plus the turkey stock left from. . . well, when, I’m not exactly sure. (But it’s homemade, and there’s no freezer burn involved, so it should work.)
A few weeks ago, I invested in another kabocha squash. It was one of those market moments I’d prefer to forget. I plunked a big orange orb down on the farmer’s scale. Seven dollars, please, he said. I sort of squeaked in protest, a high-pitched hee-haw that would have made any donkey mama proud. But I paid, because my sister was standing next to me and I wanted to set an example of spending good money on good food, grown by good people, and it was worth it.
The first half went into Pranee’s gaeng leang. I meant to make Matthew’s chicken-ified version of my stir-fried kabocha for dinner, but instead the squash just sat there for another week. Finally, when the insides threatened to dim their shade from a bright, fiery tangerine (dare I call it Firefox orange?) to something more like burnt sienna, I shoved it into the oven with bread on the brain.
This kabocha, it thought outside the box. For some reason I couldn’t get it to sit upright; it was so top-heavy that it kept cartwheeling over onto its stem. Sure, I could have roasted it cut side-down (or up, for that matter), but it seemed happy hanging upside-down.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how you roast it. In fact, I roasted mine for the prescribed hour, heard the timer, and plum forgot to take it out of the oven. Fifteen minutes later, the smell of burning squash skin sent me screaming back into the kitchen. The squash was torched – skin and flesh, black as night. But I let it cool, and instead of throwing it away, decided to try to pick the burned part off. The entire exterior peeled off in two or three pieces, leaving me with just a bit over two cups of soft, sweet, squash, absent of any smokey or off flavor, for my quickbread. Perfect.
I mashed and stirred and melted and plopped, and half an hour later, slid two loaves of whole wheat kabocha-cranberry bread into the oven. Out came the ultimate Thanksgiving season bread: it was moist and tender but still robust enough for the toaster, bursting with tart cranberry flavor, buttery without being heavy, and not nearly as sweet (believe it or not) as your average pie-in-loaf-form pumpkin bread.
Only, my timing was off. See, we had people over for dinner that night, and though I’d finished making the bread well before they arrived, it sat on the counter cooling when they walked in. No human deserves to walk into a house that smells like pumpkin pie, eat salad and Thai food, and leave without anything pumpkiny – especially not one who’s just given birth. So off went half a loaf.
Then Jim left to stay with a colleague in Victoria, and it really didn’t make sense for him to arrive empty-handed, so another loaf accompanied him to SeaTac.
Which left me with half a loaf, which is now, obviously, gone. Which means that on Saturday, I need to buy another $7 squash. Dammit.
Kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. To roast it, slice a kabocha roughly in half and remove the seeds. Roast on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400 degrees until the flesh is good and soft, about an hour. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash the squash like you would potatoes, until smooth.
If you can’t find kabocha squash, substitute a 15-ounce can of pumpkin. But if you’re using the real thing, don’t hesitate to roast the whole squash – you can always reheat the extra for dinner, served with a pat of butter and a drizzle of real maple syrup.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal (optional)
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 packed cups mashed kabocha squash (or one 15-ounce can pumpkin)
1 pint (2 heaping cups, or half a bag) fresh cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pans, and set aside.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flaxseed meal in a mixing bowl, whisk to blend, and set aside.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the eggs and sugar on medium speed until quite light, about 2 minutes. Stir the buttermilk into the melted butter, then alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the sugar/egg mixture, mixing on low speed between each addition until the ingredients are incorporated. Add the squash, and mix until uniform in color. Stir in the cranberries.
Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, and bake on the middle rack for one hour, or until the tops just begin to crack and a skewer inserted into the center of one loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool. Enjoy warm, or let cool to room temperature and wrap in foil to keep moist.