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Healthy Bites: Recipe-ready squash is my new best friend

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Have any of you tried cutting through a raw butternut squash? I felt I needed a chain saw when I got into a recipe some time back that called for cutting the squash in half before any cooking softened it. What a wrestling match it was to get it divided.But no longer, because supermarkets have recipe-ready, 12-ounce bags of diced fresh butternut squash in the produce section. Hooray! That opened up a new door to cooking adventure, because after the first attempt, I tended to quickly look in the other direction when confronted with butternut squash recipes in any form.I hope the pear-shaped fruit (yep, it's a fruit, not a veggie) isn't feeling lonely now that I ignore it in favor of reaching for the small rectangle bag on the shelf.  I use it not only as the star of squash soup itself, but as a toss-in for a variety of other soups. There also isn't any law that says you can't arrange the diced squash beauties around the beef stew pot with the carrots and onions.The fruit that most often cozies up to butternut squash is the apple (which is really a vegetable -- no it isn't -- just seeing if you were paying attention) and this soup is no exception.The apple and carrot lend a certain sweetness that usually is boosted in other recipes by the addition of brown sugar, syrup or honey. Turn to a Fuji, Gala or Golden Delicious if a less tart apple is desired.Except for dicing the apple there isn't a lot of work to the soup. The seasoning mix and squash are already cubed.You may opt to leave the finished mixture chunky or process it in a blender, which will give you smooth and creamy without adding any dairy cream.Reach Judy Grigoraci at  Butternut Squash-Apple SoupMakes 8 servings.1/2   carrot, grated1 1/2  cups frozen seasoning mix (Pictsweet Seasoning Blend -- a bag of diced onion, red bell pepper, celery and parsley in frozen vegetables section)*
1     small Granny Smith apple, peeled, finely diced2     12-ounce bags cubed fresh butternut squash
1     32-ounce container reduced fat and sodium chicken or vegetable broth1/2  teaspoon saltSPRAY a 3-quart saucepot with cooking spray; sweat carrot on low heat a couple minutes; don't allow to brown or burn.ADD frozen seasoning mix; simmer uncovered 10 minutes, stirring occasionally; stir in apple and squash; cover and cook on low 5 minutes longer.STIR in broth; bring to boil on high; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until apples and squash are tender, stirring often.STIR in salt just before serving.
*If unable to locate the frozen seasoning blend, use 1/2 cup each chopped onion, bell pepper and celery with a couple tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.Nutrition information: (1/2 cup) 70 calories; 5 calories from fat; 0.5 grams fat; zero grams saturated fat; zero milligrams cholesterol; 640 milligrams sodium; 16 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 2 grams protein.    
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