This is one of my husband’s absolute favorite dinners, and it’s totally meatless, and absolutely delicious. The only problem is that it requires a pretty decent expenditure of time…
Baked Acorn Squash with Apples
For two people, cut one acorn squash in half long-ways, and scoop out the seeds and goop.
Line a baking dish with foil, or just be prepared to scrub a lot. Place squash halves, bowl-side-up, into baking dish.
- 1-2 cut up apples (depending on the size)
- a handful raisins, any color, or other dried fruit
- a handful walnuts or pecans
- a few shakes each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and maybe cloves
Fill each squash half with this mixture. Sprinkle a tbs. or so of brown sugar over each half (or drizzle with honey or maple syrup), place a small pat of butter on top of each half, and bake at 400 degrees (often I lightly cover it with foil if I’m afraid the apples will burn) for about 60-90 minutes or until the squash is squishy and perfect. Let cool a little and serve.
(And by the way, you know how yummy roasted pumpkin seeds are? Roasted acorn squash seeds are almost as good…salt ’em a little, and roast them in a single layer for about 25 minutes or so at maybe 325, or until they just turn light brown…delicious.)
With things like this, especially, it’s hard to predict how much apple-stuff you’ll need, as well as how long to cook it–because, doh, acorn squash come in all sizes and with different pulp amounts. But this will give you something to go on…It’s what we’re having tonight, first time this fall, and I can’t wait…
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My kids have been anticipating this day since about July. It’s our annual tradition, where on Columbus Day the family–all four of us, because it’s that rare thing: a holiday where the kids, the bank people, and the People Who Go To Church And Want Music all seem to take the day off and not require our presence–heads a couple hours away for the whole day to an Illinois apple orchard for a day of apple picking, hayrides, petting zoos, and other stereotypical but lovely autumn amusements. (Unfortunately, because of the meager and early apple season this year, it looks like we may not get to pick…I hope there are not tears…) Another thing it sounds like no one has are the windfall apples, ugly beat up ones they sell for cheap to people like me who make apple butter in large quantity…oh yeah, and it’s Monday, isn’t it?
Black Beans and Rice
Our Meatless Monday dinner tonight will be very simple–make about 1.5 cups of rice (i.e. half a cup of rice and 1 cup of water), add a can of drained black beans, add a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of your favorite chili powder and maybe 1/4 tsp cayenne or a few shakes of chili sauce, stir and eat. You could throw in a can of green chilis, or a jar of salsa, or you could saute some onions and peppers and throw them in, or you could dump in a can of diced tomatoes, or you could add a cup or two of broth and make it soup. Or some “all of the above” kind of thing…the possibilities are pretty endless. Bon appetit!
The other day I bought a small pie pumpkin from our local farm stand–I love the place, it’s just called The Farm and it sells local seasonal produce all summer and fall, and live plants in the spring. Their prices are excellent, and their produce is lovely, and they are a big part of why I haven’t frequented the farmers markets as much as I planned–the Farm is open every day, and they don’t have all the other stuff like donuts and coffee to entice me away from my true goal…
Anyway, the pumpkin. When I bought it I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I have actually never done anything with a whole pumpkin before and felt sort of at a loss. Uncharacteristically, I threw all caution to the winds and tried something I couldn’t find a recipe for anywhere: “baked” stuffed pumpkin, cooked in the crockpot. It was fabulous, if I do say so, and amazingly easy even by my standards.
Crockpot Baked Stuffed Pumpkin with Apples
First thing everyone should do who tries this recipe is make sure the pumpkin you bought fits into your crockpot, with at least an inch or so all around and the ability to close the lid! I had a few tense moments when I realized it wouldn’t close. I had to hack off a good bit of pumpkin top and could not bake it with the “lid” on the top the way I’d hoped, but I put foil over the opening and the effect was just fine.
- Microwave a small pie pumpkin (that fits into your crockpot!) for 3-4 minutes on high; this will soften the skin just enough that you won’t bust your knives trying to cut into it.
- Cut around the stem and pull out the “lid”. Clean stringy goop and seeds out of the insides of the pumpkin; save the seeds for roasting and snacking. (Guess what I’m munching on right now, as I type this?)
- Core and cut up one or two apples–you’ll have to eyeball this, depending on how big a cavity is inyour pumpkin. Better to overestimate than under; the extras can just be baked or munched or whatever. A 3/4-inch dice seems about right.
- In a bowl, mix apples, a small (or not so small) handful of raisins, 2-3 tbs brown sugar or maple syrup, 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon and/or other pie-ish spices, and a dash of salt. (You could throw in a splash of rum or orange juice or cream sherry if you wanted, too.) A handful of nuts of your choice might be nice too, but of course they won’t get crunchy.
- Place pumpkin in crockpot. Fill pumpkin with apple mixture. (Check now, one more time, to make sure you can close the crockpot lid; if you discover it later, you’ll have a big mess to deal with.)
- If possible, replace “lid” on pumpkin; if not, cover pumpkin opening with foil.
- Pour an inch or two of water or apple juice around base of pumpkin in crockpot. Close lid.
- Cook on low heat 8-9 hours or till pumpkin is tender and cooked through.
- To serve: carefully remove pumpkin from crockpot and put on a plate. Remove lid or foil; scoop out pumpkin flesh with baked apples and raisins.
That’s IT. So easy, so absolutely delicious.
A note about cooking times: It’s really tricky,with a crockpot recipe, to give exact cooking times; they are all so unpredictable, which is why we cook stuff where half an hour in either direction doesn’t make much difference. I actually overcooked mine a little bit–I put it on high for a couple of hours first to get it going since I didn’t start until later in the day than I planned, and I left it on till I got home from work, which was probably an hour past where the apples would have kept their shape a little better. (Umm…2 hours on high, 5 hours on low, that was. In my crockpot, 8 on low would probably be perfect.) It was still incredibly good, but not all that pretty to look at. The other thing to be wary of is the liquid level in the bottom of the crock…mine loses moisture way too fast, and I should have put a towel on top but I forgot, and the apple juice was all burned onto the bottom of the crock by the time I got home. Again, not a big deal at all–didn’t change the pumpkin’s flavor, didn’t hurt anything, just made the crock a pain in the tail to clean.
A note about getting the pumpkin out of the crockpot: Okay, if your pumpkin is really beautifully tender, it won’t be as easy to get out in one piece as it was to get in. This was probably the only sort of challenging part of the process (or would have been if I hadn’t had to deal with the challenge of my pumpkin being too tall for my crockpot). I used a large flat spatula in one hand and an oven mitt in the other, to keep concentrated areas of pressure from landing on any particular part of the pumpkin as I removed it. If you’re not serving it for company, just leave it in the crockpot and scoop as you go, and then retrieve the shell and leftovers after they are partly eaten.
With this one I’m already thinking THANKSGIVING DINNER!–when the oven seems to have way too many things needing it, this would be a classy and festive autumn side dish that could take its place on the table right there with the turkey and be something you could shove into the crockpot in the morning and not even think about till the gravy was almost done.
My husband and I ate the whole pumpkin in two sittings. Absolutely delicious…
(UPDATE: a couple of weeks later I got a couple more pie pumpkins, but they were too big to fit in the crockpot, so with one of them I tried the exact same recipe only in the oven. I put the pumpkin in a casserole dish with sides and about half an inch of water in the bottom, on the lowest oven shelf at 300 degrees for about 3 hours. I didn’t like it quite as well as the crockpot version, but it could have been that these pumpkins just weren’t as nice as the first one was. It’s easily just as painless a recipe in the oven, though, despite not being able to put it in the crockpot before work and come home to a lovely cooked pumpkin…With the other one I cooked it the same way only without the apples inside, and scooped out and blended the pulp, and now I have about 7 cups of pumpkin puree…)