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Butternut squash on the side, but what's the main dish?

I am cooking for my mother-in-law tonight. We don't want a big, fancy meal because she'll have just flown in from overseas and I'll just be home from work, so we're looking for something quick to prepare and relatively healthy. I've got a bunch of butternut and tahitian squash cubed and ready to be roasted with some maple syrup and some sage or rosemary. I love that and she loves that. Now, the question is what I should serve as the main dish. Here are the ground rules:

1. I need to be able to prepare it in less than 20 minutes
2. It needs to be relatively healthy (i.e. not too heavy)
3. It cannot be too spicy (mother-in-law can't handle spicy food)
4. Ingredients need to be readily available

We'll probably start with a spinach salad with some blue cheese, pears, and walnuts, if that's any help.

Any ideas out there?

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  1. Pork tenderloin, flavoured with rosemary, garlic and balsamic vinegar. Brown on all sides in a hot skillet - then finish in the oven (high heat). Nothing could be easier and it goes beautifully with squash. Serve with a green salad, preferably with some bitter greens in it.

    1. add some cooked shredded chicken or prosciutto to the salad and be done with it. maybe a small plate of cookies or fruit for afterwards. i'm never hungry when i get off a plane.

        1. Pork tenderloin would work wonderfully. Likewise, a simple grilled breast of chicken would also work.

          It's ridiculously out of fashion, but what I'd do with those side dishes is salisbury steak, ie. hamburger patty fried as main course. That was originally done to be easily digestible, not to be cheap, and the flavors would meld well with the side courses, especially for winter.

          Of course, you're having a guest and would want to dress it up. Our local supermarket carries buffalo meat, ground, and if done with that treatment is both something special and also something that can be spiced to individual tastes. For your mother-in-law, just grill or fry that with a sprinkle of onion salt. It's super-lean and would go well. Same case with ostrich meat.

          1. A simple but perfectly roasted chicken would be pleasing and soothing. Make a bit of pan gravy while the chicken rests. I think I would serve some buttered green beans along with the squash and chicken.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Candy

              You're not going to be able to roast a chicken in 20 minutes, but if you're not already sold on the pork tenderloin suggestion, you could do cornish hens. Just tuck a clementine and a shallot in the cavity and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and sage.

              1. re: Kater

                OP did not say cook in 20 minutes, but prepare. It does not take 20 minutes to get a chicken ready to go into the oven.

                1. re: Candy

                  It is possible that she's referring to prep time only, however when coupled with the explanation about wanting a quick meal because she'll be just coming home from work the suggestions for faster dishes will probably be more useful.

                  1. re: Kater

                    Well there is always the supermarket roasated chickens in the deli. Only need to be taken out of their wrappers. No prep involved.

                    1. re: Candy

                      True and I've certainly used them for any number of dishes, but at that point we're pretty far afield of the perfectly roasted chicken! : )

                      1. re: Kater

                        Guess it depends on where you shop.

                        1. re: Candy

                          I'd be very interested to know what supermarket offers a simple but perfectly roasted chicken.

                          We have a nice selection of markets and specialty retailers. The best of the specialty retailers offers a nice roasted chicken that I will serve to my family or to add to other dishes but I would not serve it 'as is' to company.

            2. I vote the pork tenderloin too. My favorite way to do it up fast is wrap it in proscuitto and set it on top of sliced apples and cook it at 400.

              1. Toss with mild cheese tortellini (TJ's or Barilla or Pastene) and a light cream sauce or a mild garlic and oil sauce to which you've added sauteed scallions. Serve with a very simple frisee salad topped with vinagrette, candied walnuts and romano cheese.

                1. got any salmon steaks laying around?

                  those'd be done in 20 minutes and go nicely with the squash

                  1. How about rice? Maybe with peas and garlic in chicken stock? Light, easy, quick and healthy. Add parmesean cheese if you want more calories. Hope mom has a good flight.

                    1. Chicken saltimbocca w/ prosciutto and sage

                        1. re: Sherri

                          Great idea! Because we enjoy it so much, I tend to forget that rack of lamb is easy and quick!

                          1. re: Kater

                            Easy, quick, delicious and both roasted butternut squash and rack of lamb need the same hot oven. Start to finish, 20 minutes unless you split the rack of lamb. Then the time is even less.

                            Adding a great salad, this a favorite quick supper at our house when the cooktop is newly pristine and I don't want to clean up a saute mess.