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Versatile vegetable side dish can be dressed up or down

Recipe: Baked butternut squash casserole, plain or fancy

Orange casserole in a white dish on oven rack
Who needs marshmallows? Butternut squash is sweet enough. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Butternut squash subs for sweet potatoes in this lighter (and potentially healthier) version of a classic fall casserole. I say “potentially” because, like sweet potato casserole, it depends on what you put on top. Loaded with a layer of toasted mini marshmallows, it’s hard to describe a casserole as “healthier.”
But that’s the beauty of this butternut dish; it doesn’t need a fancy topping to be appealing. It’s tasty plain and golden brown.
If you like pumpkin pie spice, add more than a half teaspoon, which gives just a hint of seasonal spiciness. Or use one or more of this handy spice mixture’s ingredients: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.

Baked butternut squash casserole

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Ingredients:
Peeled and cubed butternut squash
Butternut squash is peeled, seeded and cubed.
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
¼ cup cream
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup (½ stick) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or more if desired)
Instructions:
Steam squash until tender. Mash. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a 2-quart casserole dish; set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together cream and beaten egg.
Mix together sugar and cornstarch. Add to cream mixture.
In a large bowl, combine mashed squash with melted butter. Fold in cream-cornstarch mixture.
Season to taste with salt and pumpkin pie spice.
Pour squash mixture into prepared casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes, until top is golden brown and, when inserted, a thin-bladed knife comes out clean.
Serve warm.
Note: Add to the sweetness, texture or crunch with something extra on top. Possible toppings: Graham cracker crumbs, chopped walnuts or pecans, mini marshmallows. Sprinkle topping over casserole before baking with the exception of marshmallows. Add marshmallows in final 20 minutes of baking to avoid over-browning.

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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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