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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 27, 2022

MyCG Holiday Menu: The second side dish

Next up on MyCG’s holiday menu is a unique Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage, and Cranberry Stuffing from Chief Petty Officer Sonata Haley, a culinary specialist and special command aide (SCA) to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda L. Fagan. 

Haley’s love of cooking is grounded in her love of helping people. To her, preparing a delicious meal is a way to serve others. Haley is particularly fond of this stuffing recipe because it lends itself as an excellent choice for any friends or family with gluten allergies as feeding those with dietary restrictions brings her great joy.

How and why did you become a culinary specialist?

I have been in the Coast Guard for just over 11 years. While serving as a fireman aboard Coast Guard Cutter Rush, I found myself looking forward to each time I was assigned as mess attendant. I was tasked with the chiefs mess every time and spent much of my break time preparing tea and baking for them. The joy I brought the chiefs told me all I needed to know when it came to choosing my rating. Finding out about the SCA Program sealed the deal for me. Since then, I served aboard Cutter Boutwell, Cutter Blacktip, as Pacific Area (PACAREA) special command aide, as food service officer at Base Galveston, and vice commandant’s special command aide. I currently serve as the commandant’s special command aide. 

I’m passionate about taking care of people and cooking has been a great means to fulfill that passion. I had the opportunity early in my career to positively impact some crew members who had food allergies and dietary restrictions. I found joy in catering to these specific needs – and every meal, every day, I knew that what I did mattered. I have relished the jobs that afforded me the time and flexibility to pour my soul in to the meals I provided my crew. I have worked very hard, I have been very fortunate, and I have truly loved being a culinary specialist in the Coast Guard. 

Here's what you’ll need to make Haley’s signature Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage, and Cranberry Stuffing. Be sure to start step one of the recipe, she noted, before prepping rest of ingredients to save time.

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Your preferred oil, about 1-2 tbsp.
  • Salt and pepper (obviously)
  • 2 tbsp. butter (or oil if you’re going the dairy free route)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped, diced, sliced, or whatever feels right in your heart
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped (as in three ribs, not three full bunches)
  • 1 lb. pork sausage (I like the ground pork with sage)
  • 1 large apple, cored and chopped (granny smith for maintaining texture and not being too sweet)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced (chopped tiny)
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. fresh sage, minced (if you don’t have fresh herbs you can used dried, or the poultry seasoning blend in place of the three listed here)
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries (I don’t actually measure- just let it speak to me)
  • 1 whisked egg (to help bind the ingredients together, but this is optional)
  • Fresh parsley and shaved parmesan to make it pretty

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the butternut squash with oil, salt, and pepper, and spread in single layer on baking sheet (line with parchment or foil). Roast for 30-40 minutes, flipping halfway through until it has some nice color. Remove then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While squash is roasting, mise the rest of your ingredients. That’s fancy chef-speak for measure/cut/prep all ingredients. “Mise en place” is French for “everything in its place.” This just keeps you organized and efficient. 

Sauté onion and celery in butter (or oil) for about four minutes, until softened. Smell as you go, just for the pure enjoyment. Does anything (besides puppy breath) beat the smell of sautéed vegetables? 

Add the ground sausage to the same pan and break up, brown, then reduce heat to medium. Add apples and herbs and cook for just a minute or two. Then salt to taste. 

Lower the heat and simmer all ingredients for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat. Add roasted squash and carefully mix, along with dried cranberries and the whisked egg. The egg is optional but helps everything stick together to be more stuffing like. 

Pour the mixture into an oven-safe dish, like a cast iron skillet or bakeware. Spread out evenly and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is nice and toasty. 

No plate goes un-garnished! Sprinkle the fresh, chopped parsley and shaved parmesan and serve!

What is the story behind your recipe? Why did you choose it?

I chose this recipe because throughout my career and even before, some of my favorite people to cook for have had special dietary restrictions. Prior to joining the Coast Guard, I had a roommate with a long list of severe allergies, and I found joy in coming up with new dishes for her that fit within these restrictions. Being able to make a meal that was safe for them to consume, that was still appetizing, fresh, and homemade was incredibly fulfilling. No one is more grateful than someone who often can’t eat what’s typically served. This recipe is gluten free and very easily can be prepared dairy free, or vegan as well. 

Did you ever cook this recipe on a cutter or elsewhere in the field? 

I love cooking with butternut squash and have made many dishes starring it. It’s versatile; you can make it savory or sweet. Its natural sweetness plays well with a spicy element, too. I’ve made this dish and many like it both as a special command aide and a shipboard chef. 

How did you learn to cook? Who is your favorite chef? 

I taught myself to cook as a young adult. I used to barter for things, using baked goods in exchange for things like helping me change my headlight or change a flat tire. I’ve never been great at asking for help, so I used baking to get more comfortable with accepting help I really needed.

For me it’s never really been about the food, always about the people. And cooking with both care and compassion has given me the opportunity to positively impact someone’s day, night watch, duty, or entire patrol. It’s a big responsibility I’ve never taken lightly, but it’s not cooking that fills my soul, it’s feeding people.

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