It’s amazing how quickly my mind goes from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas this time of year. The excitement might as well start mid-September because that’s when I have to start using my self-control (of which I have very little) to not listen to Christmas music just yet. It’s been this way for my entire life. My sister and I have both been fans of starting to listen to/sing/play Christmas music together very early in the season. I think we could probably get away with it when we were younger. It’s probably less cute now that we’re all grown up. These days, after Halloween, I allow myself to relax a bit and begin listening to Christmas music that isn’t really Christmas music. You know, the newer releases that are not as traditional as Bing Crosby, for example. Bing should be reserved for falling snowflakes and tree decorating.
It’s a little harder lately to avoid having Christmas music playing in the background because I’m trying to get a number of holiday posts completed before our Little Man arrives at Tokyo Terrace. With only 3 weeks left until the due date, I have to use my time wisely and a little holiday music seems to help the creative flow. So yes, that’s how I’m justifying my ridiculously early listening pleasures.
In an effort to spread the early holiday joy, and with Thanksgiving coming up very quickly (check your calendar- it’s nearly NOVEMBER!) I thought it would be nice to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. This is not exactly what graced our table in years past as my family gathered to enjoy a massive, delicious meal together, but its roots stem from Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. Every year of my life, until moving to Tokyo, the entire extended family would come over and everyone brought their signature contributions. My Aunt Joanne’s pumpkin and apple pies, my grandma’s fruit salad (a shade of mint green and filled with mini-marshmallows) and my mom’s sweet potato casserole, to name a few.
We have hosted Thanksgiving for the past 3 years in Tokyo, which I must say has proven to be the most difficult but also rewarding experience. The logistics of putting together a traditional Thanksgiving meal in Tokyo make for some interesting stories. And the creativity of using the ingredients that are available (no canned yams or pumpkin around here, folks!) can result in both discoveries that are frustrating and entirely satisfying. Recreating my mom’s sweet potato casserole was just such an experience.
Our first year in Tokyo I knew only of the white-fleshed, purple-skinned sweet potatoes that I saw in every grocery store. But I also knew that I couldn’t have white potatoes as the main ingredient in the casserole. Aesthetically it would not be as pleasing. So, I decided to experiment with Japanese kabocha squash. I’ve tried several different methods for cooking the kabocha before putting it in the casserole dish- steaming, roasting and boiling. While each method worked well, I have found that roasting leads to the most satisfying flavor in the squash.
This year, since I’m a little too pregnant to host Thanksgiving (OK, my due date is the day before), I decided to make personal sized casseroles with these mini-kabocha that I found the other day. They are the perfect personal size! You can use orange sweet potatoes (or yams) that have been cut in half in place of the kabocha, but if you’re in Japan I recommend giving this a try. If you don’t have an oven, you can simply steam the squash halves in a bamboo steamer until a knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. To brown the top, simply pop them in the fish oven but keep a close eye on them so you don’t end up with a black, charcoal topping.
What are some of your favorite twists on traditional holiday dishes? I’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments below!
Individual Kabocha Casserole
Makes 2 servings
*This recipe is written specifically for individual servings but it is quite simple to multiply. If you are using a larger squash or sweet potatoes/yams, you will need about 2 cups diced to serve approximately 6 people. Prepare the squash/potatoes/yams as desired- steamed or roasted- before adding them to a casserole dish. For the brown sugar-cinnamon topping, you will need about 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons cinnamon (or to taste- I’m a big fan of cinnamon) and 1/4 cup flour. Otherwise, just follow the cooking steps below!
1 small kabocha or other squash, or a medium sweet potato or yam
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon (or to taste- I’m a big cinnamon fan so I am generous)
1/4 cup course chopped pecans
2 tablespoons flour
1-2 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut the squash in half along the equator and scoop out the seeds. Place it cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the flesh can be pierced with a knife with little resistance. Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and pecans in a small bowl.
Turn the squash halves cut side up and sprinkle with the brown sugar/cinnamon/pecan topping. Top with small pieces of butter. Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the topping is beginning to bubble slightly. Be careful not to leave them unattended for too long, or the nuts will burn.
Top with the mini marshmallows (they expand slightly, so don’t go too overboard or they will ooze over the edges- not necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t look as pretty). Return to the oven for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the marshmallows are a beautiful golden brown.