• deborahreinhardt

Roasted squash, homemade croutons, delicate greens, and blue cheese make a perfect salad for Thanksgiving.

roasted butternut squash, sliced almonds, homemade croutons, blue cheese on a bed of mixed greens
Easy Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad

This goes against most experts’ advice, but I like breaking the rules for Thanksgiving, including the cardinal command: Thou shalt not try anything new for the big feast day. I understand the logic behind this, but this can lead to boring holiday spreads. Especially when it comes to the side dishes, what’s wrong with mixing things up?

There’s space in the kitchen for experimentation; I once cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner from new recipes taken out of a magazine. Mom, who was in camp traditional for Thanksgiving, supported my efforts, and stayed close should I need some help. In the end, I stretched my family’s comfort zone (along with their pants) and we had a lovely Thanksgiving.

However, many cooks might grow anxious with change on the biggest feasting day of the year, so let’s take a baby step together. Let’s start with a new salad.

The queen of Thanksgiving, Martha Stewart, says only 1 percent of Americans serve salad on Thanksgiving, so the fact you’d consider such a thing marks you as a culinary rebel. Why not make something special? Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad, I think, would make an ideal first course (or a side) to your Thanksgiving. Each bite says “autumn” to me, plus it’s a cinch to make. You could even start it the day before to save some of that precious oven real estate on the big day.

Now, I’m not hating on sweet potatoes—65 percent of you serve these spuds on Thanksgiving—but roasted butternut squash has a similarly sweet and tender bite that’s comforting but just different enough to wake up your table mates. The salad is perfectly balanced; soft squash, roasted mushrooms, and blue cheese are offset with the chew of giant homemade croutons, fresh mixed greens, and crisp sliced almonds.

Traditional Panzanella is an ancient Italian dish that first surfaced in the 16th century. It uses the best from our summer gardens—tomato, cucumber, basil—plus stale bread. The rustic dish works because of its versatility, and we're bringing a mix of autumn flavors into its story.

To make Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad, which yields eight servings, you’ll need these ingredients:


  • 4 cups day-old French bread cut into large cubes

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • ½ teaspoon chili powder

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Salad and dressing

  • 4 cups peeled and cubed (1½-inch size) butternut squash

  • 1½ cups fresh sliced white button mushrooms

  • ½ cup olive oil, divided

  • ½ teaspoon salt, divided

  • 6 cups mixed salad greens of your choice, washed and dried

  • 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced

  • ½ cup sliced almonds

  • 6 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

mixed bread cubes in a pan, roasted butternut squash and mushrooms on a baking sheet
Let toasted croutons rest in a pan while the squash and mushrooms roast. Bring the vegetables out to cool before adding to delicate salad greens.

Directions to make Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the bread cubes with oil, chili powder and salt. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake 5 minutes or until golden. Transfer to another pan or bowl to cool. (I didn't have chili powder in the pantry—guess I used the last in my chili last month—so I substituted with classic Tajin, a spice blend of chili peppers, salt and lime.

  2. In a large bowl, combine cubed squash and sliced mushrooms; don’t go too thin on the mushrooms or they'll shrivel to nothing. Add 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes, at 400 degrees F. Cool on a plate and set aside.

  3. Add salad greens, squash, mushrooms, and croutons in large serving dish.

  4. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, shallots, and remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you don’t have shallots, finely slice half a small yellow onion. Drizzle over salad and toss gently. Top with almonds and blue cheese and serve immediately.

If you prefer another cheese (goat cheese works) or different nuts, substitute per your taste. It's an easy and versatile recipe for a winner of a salad.

This is a large salad. Can it be eaten the next day?

I don’t recommend it. The greens in my leftovers were soggy and kind of gross the next day, probably due to the moisture in the mushrooms. If you think it’s more salad than you or your family can eat at one meal, I suggest not tossing everything together, but keep the ingredients separate until you’re ready to enjoy the salad.

Comment below if you’d try this for your Thanksgiving meal. It would also brighten up those turkey sandwiches for the next day.



Looking for more recipes to compliment your Thanksgiving table?

Jalapeño and Cheddar Cornbread Dressing was one of the dishes I made years ago when I shook up my family's Thanksgiving menu. I've gone back to it a number of times since. Want a slight twist for your cranberries? Try Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples for Thanksgiving. The leftovers are wonderful the next morning on French toast or oatmeal, too.

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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  • deborahreinhardt

Luscious coconut-pecan frosting and moist chocolate cake are the perfect match for a classic American dessert.

German Chocolate cake, pecans, coconut frosting, canva.com
Classic German chocolate cake

Every October, my grandma, Dorothy, demonstrated a visible act of love for her baby boy, my dad, Bob. For his birthday, she’d bake from scratch a three-layer German Chocolate Cake, a gift from her heart that all of us enjoyed.

Luscious coconut-pecan frosting topped each layer of moist chocolate cake. Bubba never frosted the sides but topped the cake with her homemade frosting and arranged pecan halves in the center.

Today, whenever I see chocolate frosting decorate the sides of German Chocolate Cake in commercial bakers’ cases, I envision Bubba rolling around in her grave while shaking her fist and screaming, “NO!” She knew the success to this cake was the balance between Baker’s chocolate, spongy cake layers, and the dense coconut frosting. Adding anything else was sacrilege.

I don’t know if Dad, like many of us, loved the cake simply because it’s a vessel for that addictive frosting, or because he believed, given its name, the cake was a German-inspired dessert (sorry, Dad; more on that in a minute).

Bubba made the cake using the ubiquitous recipe found inside the Baker’s German’s Chocolate packets. Knowing my grandma, she probably added a pinch of this or that to the recipe, but those secrets died with her. She’d spend a couple of hours in the kitchen crafting her boy’s favorite birthday cake.

I think one year, Mom purchased a Black Forest Cake from a local bakery to top off Dad’s birthday dinner (I don’t remember her reason), but it was weird. Dad didn’t say anything (his vast experience as a husband taught him proper table manners), although we had some reservations about the cake. It was as though a dinner guest showed up at our table as the “plus one” of a friend. That person’s a stranger and, at least at first, there’s an awkward acceptance. Is Black Forest Cake yummy? Yes. Should it be Dad's birthday cake. No.

But unlike Black Forest Cake that originated in Germany, German Chocolate Cake has no connection whatsoever with the fatherland.

Samuel German, a baker who came to America from England, in 1852 developed a dark chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. Thus, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate was born.

It’s believed the first recipe of the now-classic cake appeared more than 100 years later in a Dallas newspaper. In 1957, Mrs. George Clay, a Texas housewife, shared her recipe for German’s Chocolate Cake, which was later picked up by other newspapers. Eventually, the possessive (German’s) was dropped, and the cake became known as German Chocolate Cake, so it’s easy to see how the origin of this dessert was muddled.

To make Classic German Chocolate Cake, which yields 12 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 1 (4-ounce) package Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate

  • ½ cup water

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 2 sticks butter

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 4 eggs, separated

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1 cup buttermilk

How to prepare German Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with parchment paper. Bubba usually buttered the pans then placed the paper in the "tins."

Melt the chocolate and water in a large microwavable bowl on high for 1½

to 2 minutes, stirring halfway through the heating time. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together; set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each egg is added. Sitr in chocolate mixture and vanilla.

Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating after each addition, until batter is smooth and well incorporated.

Beat the egg whites in another large bowl with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the cake batter.

Pour into the prepared pans and bake 30 minutes. To test, poke center of cake with a toothpick; it should come out clean and the cake springs back to your touch.

Run a butter knife around the inside of pans upon removing from oven. Cool 15 minutes and remove cakes from the pans. Remove parchment paper and cool completely on wire racks.

German Chocolate two-layer cake, pecans, coconut frosting

To make coconut-pecan frosting, you'll need:

  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

  • 1½ cups sugar

  • 1½ sticks of butter

  • 4 egg yolks, slightly beaten

  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla

  • 1 package (7 ounces) flaked coconut

  • 1½ cups chopped pecans (save several pecan halves to decorate the top of cake)

Mix milk, sugar, margarine, egg yolks and vanilla in large saucepan. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly for 12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown. Remove from heat.

Stir in coconut and pecans. Beat using an electric mixer (Bubba started on low and slowly increased to medium speed) until cool and of spreading consistency. This will yield 4 cups.

Photos: My grandma on the left in her kitchen in the 1960s. That's Dad playing his drums at a church event. A jazz drummer, he played with various groups around St. Louis.

Like I said, this was a real time commitment. You may think, “I don’t have time to make this from scratch” (I hear and see you), but if I may suggest not taking the shortcuts for frosting. This doesn’t require a lot of time or measuring, so if you’re in a bit of a rush, doctor up a German chocolate cake box mix and crown the cake with your homemade frosting.

Most cake mixes call for 3 eggs, water, and oil. To elevate the mix, add an extra egg (4 total), and instead of water, use buttermilk (or plain milk if that’s what you have on hand). Don’t forget the 1 teaspoon of vanilla, too.

The big difference with the box mix is it will fill 2 (9-inch) round pans. I can live with that. Stretching with a cake extender is another option.

Sometimes, the classics are more than enough. America should be thankful for Samuel German of England and Mrs. George Clay of Texas for giving us Classic German Chocolate Cake. Why not bake one for your next special occasion? Drop your comments, questions or photos below; I’d love to hear from you!



Here are two more classic desserts

Rhubarb and Pineapple Upside Down Cake is a throwback recipe that turns out a delicious moist cake that's not too sweet. Once known as Impossible Pie, Easy Buttermilk Pie uses Bisquick baking mix and is a comforting close to your meal.

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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  • deborahreinhardt

Updated: Oct 29

Authentic German flavors come forward in this easy stovetop autumn supper.

bratwurst, sauerkraut cooked with apple and onion, three  hot dog roll, canva photo

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess sauerkraut isn’t on your list of favorite comfort foods. The name literally translates in English as sour cabbage, so it’s not a big leap to assume a plate of this wouldn’t appeal to many of you.

But bratwurst, well, that’s another story. According to the website statista, more than 89 million Americans consumed fresh bratwurst in 2020, according to a 2022 study. I’m going to hazard another guess that many of you, while at a tailgate event or inside the ballpark, were served a grilled brat on a bun topped with sauerkraut right out of the jar or can. Thus, you’ve concluded that sauerkraut is gross, and in that instance, you’d be correct.

However, it takes little effort to cook brats and sauerkraut the correct way that enhances the flavors of both key ingredients while balancing the sour with a bit of sweet and savory. Granted, there are over half a million recipes for brats and kraut—some cooked on the stovetop, others in the oven, slow cooker, or instant pot—but my family did a slow braise after partially cooking the sausage in the same pot. Turns out perfect every time.

To make my Bratwurst Braised in Sauerkraut, which yields five servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 5 bratwurst links

  • 1 (16-ounce) can or jar of sauerkraut

  • 1 medium apple (recommend sweeter variety), chopped

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds

  • 1½ teaspoons nutmeg

Whenever I eat this dish, my mind goes to sauerkraut and sausage dinners my family church put on every October. I grew up attending Trinity United Church of Christ on South Grand Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. The congregation has since relocated to another part of town, but in the 1970s, its sausage suppers were huge, and my family worked the kitchen, dining room, and carryout station. Dad usually served on the carryout team, mom and grandma were in the kitchen prepping ahead of and cooking the day of the supper, and the youth group (of which I was a member) bussed tables. As I grew older, I joined the ranks of dining room servers and I loved doing that until my college days. Good times. Great memories. These are why (in part) I get warm and fuzzy about sauerkraut. My ancestral lineage also plays into my affinity for German sausages other foods.

And a pot of braised brats and sauerkraut includes wonderful autumn-friendly ingredients, including apples and nutmeg. Making this recipe in my grandma’s Dutch oven is even more special. This is the perfect season for braised meals, so let’s get cooking!

Directions to make Bratwurst Braised in Sauerkraut

five fresh bratwurst browning in a skillet
First, brown the sausage.

First, bring a Dutch oven up to medium-high head and brown the fresh bratwurst on both sides. Remove to a plate for now.

Add chopped onion to the fat rendered from sausage and cook until onions become translucent; if necessary, add a teaspoon of butter or canola oil. Add the apple and cook until onion and apple start to brown.

Add the caraway seeds and toast for about a minute to bring out their flavor.

Pour the sauerkraut and the juice into the Dutch oven. Add brown sugar and stir to incorporate all ingredients.

chopped apples, sliced onions browning in Dutch oven for Bratwurst Braised in Sauerkraut
After browning bratwurst, add onions and apples.

Nestle the bratwurst into the mixed sauerkraut, cover, and turn down to medium-low heat. Cover and cook for 1 hour. Sausage should reach 165 degrees F.

To serve, place bratwurst link inside a warmed hot dog bun and top with sauerkraut. If desired, include a side of kraut on plate. A small amount of mustard is allowed, but if you squirt a line of ketchup on that sausage, we cannot be friends. (Just kidding, but I can’t promise I won’t look askance at your plate.) You also could skip the buns and serve brats and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes as we often did.

If you’ve been a victim to plain canned kraut on your brat in the past, I hope you’ll try this recipe to experience how sauerkraut should taste. You may not feel warm and fuzzy about sour cabbage like me, but at least you won’t turn away in aversion. Happy Oktoberfest!

Can I make this in my slow cooker?

Yes, but I still recommend browning the sausage first to give it some appetizing color. Place the brat links in your slow cooker and top with sauerkraut, apple, onion, nutmeg, brown sugar and caraway seeds. Cover and cook on low for three to four hours.



Want more ideas for Octoberfest dinners?

You can’t miss with my Authentic German Sauerbraten. Pork Schnitzel with Sauerkraut is another winner that delivers on big flavors without a lot of effort. German Potato Salad is another idea to accompany bratwurst or your favorite sausage.

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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