- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I have come to the conclusion, as I reach the midcentury mark, that it’s best not to mess with tradition. I have also come to the conclusion that a little variety, a little spice, keeps everyone interested and on their toes. How to merge the two on the Thanksgiving table this year? Offer tradition and variety.

Roast the turkey and cook the dressing or stuffing the way you like it (you are the host, and the host should decide such important matters), but offer choices when it comes to the side dishes.

Brother-in-law turns green at the sight of broccoli? Offer carrots or peas cooked with a little onion. Some like sweet potatoes, some like white potatoes? Roast them both on the same baking pan.

When it comes to dessert, you must offer pumpkin pie, but you can certainly offer cake, as well, especially if it’s in keeping with the autumn theme. This butternut squash layer cake with maple cream cheese frosting is delicious from Thanksgiving through the winter holidays. It’s based on a spice cake mix, to which you add a thawed package of frozen butternut squash and a little maple flavoring.

The cream cheese frosting is just the right touch rich, but not overwhelming after the large turkey feast. To make the cake easier to slice, chill it first, especially since Thanksgiving kitchens tend to be warm with food and fellowship.

Five time-shaving ideas for Thanksgiving dinner:

Don’t change your family’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Just present them in a new way.

• Add a favorite soup recipe to the holiday menu.

• Tired of jellied cranberry sauce? Buy the whole berry sauce for a change, cook your own fresh cranberries in sugar and water (following package directions), or make a cranberry gelatin salad.

• Peel those potatoes and other root vegetables for roasting ahead of time and keep them submerged in cool water. When ready to cook, drain, pat dry, season and roast.

• Serve your favorite pumpkin pie topped with spoonfuls of freshly whipped cream seasoned with sugar and grated fresh nutmeg.

• Or, for another dessert quickie, heat up a good-quality frozen apple pie and serve it with an assortment of toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream or shavings of sharp cheddar cheese.

Butternut squash layer cake with maple cream cheese frosting

CAKE:

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pans

Flour for dusting the pans

1 18.25-ounce package plain spice cake mix

1 12-ounce — 11/3 cups — package frozen butternut squash puree, thawed but not drained

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon maple flavoring

FROSTING:

1 8-ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon maple flavoring

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup chopped toasted pecans, for garnish

Lightly grease 2 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening, then dust them with flour. Shake out excess flour. Set pans aside.

Place cake mix, squash puree, oil, eggs and maple flavoring in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are moistened, 30 seconds.

Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes longer, scraping down side again, if necessary. The batter should be well blended.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Place pans side by side on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven. Bake until they are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cakes from oven and place on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each cake onto a rack, then invert them again onto another rack so that cakes are right side up. Allow cakes to cool completely, 20 minutes more.

Meanwhile, make frosting. Place cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, 30 seconds. Add confectioners’ sugar, maple flavoring and vanilla, and beat on low until combined, 30 to 45 seconds. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until frosting is fluffy, 30 seconds longer.

To assemble cake, place one cake layer, right side up, on cake plate and spread some frosting over top. Place second layer, right side up, on the first, then frost the top and side of cake with remaining frosting, using smooth, clean strokes.

Sprinkle pecans over. Refrigerate cake, uncovered, until frosting sets, 20 minutes, before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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