‘Bargain Basement’ Acorn Squash with Dates and Thyme

I’m a bargain shopper, and when it comes to food, I like to score deals that maximize nutritional value while keeping my checking account flush. This frugality was ingrained in me from an early age. A coupon queen by age eight, I took inordinate pride in organizing my mother’s coupon basket and slipping all the best deals on Froot Loops cereal, Mop n’ Glo, and Ham n’ Cheese Hot Pockets into our shopping cart each week.

These days I prepare most meals from scratch and spend the majority of my food budget on produce and bulk bin items, which means the Sunday paper’s coupon section, with its focus on brand names and processed food, is dead to me. It also means that when affordable, fresh food is in season, I go into hoarding mode and you get subjected to recipes featuring winter gourds.

Today’s winter gourd recipe showcases the acorn squash, small in size but big on flavor and texture. Usually I only eat the flesh of acorn squash, sending its seeds to the trash bin and its skin to the compost pile. This Bon Appetit recipe breaks rank and instructs us to roast the wedges with thin skin intact and then to chow down. More akin to potato skin than pumpkin skin when properly roasted, acorn squash skin goes down without a fight.

If you decide to eat the skin, be sure to scrub the squash well before roasting. Even organic produce accumulates crud in the field and en route to the grocery store.

Roasted Acorn Squash

Image by author.

Acorn Squash with Dates and Thyme
(a Bon Appétit recipe)
Serves 10-12 as a side

Ingredients
– 3 small acorn squash (about 3 lb.), scrubbed, cut into ½” wedges

- ½ bunch thyme

- 4 garlic cloves, crushed

- ¼ cup olive oil

- 2 TBS virgin coconut oil

- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 12 dates, pitted, quartered

- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, though I used regular sea salt and the world didn’t collapse.)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss squash, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and coconut oil in a large baking dish; season with kosher salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender, 30–35 minutes. Add dates; toss to coat. Roast until squash are very tender and dates are soft, 12–15 minutes.

2. Arrange squash, dates, garlic, and thyme on a platter, spoon any oil in dish over squash, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Pumpkin, Coconut, and Lentil Soup

In my quest to weasel more winter squash into my diet (they’re very inexpensive at the supermarket right now), I managed to buy one too many pie pumpkins last week. Yes, I’m the cherished friend who impulse-buys winter squash. Aren’t you glad to have me around?

There are only so many sweets I can whip up before the diabetic coma sets in, so I rooted through a stack of savory recipes incorporating America’s trendiest autumn gourd to bring you today’s recipe, a flavorful lentil soup that’s going on dinner rotation at our house for the wintry days ahead.

Cameron and I eat plenty of Asian-influenced meals at home, but until last weekend we hadn’t considered marrying the ubiquitous pie pumpkin to Thai and Indian ingredients. Fortunately, Jenny Chandler’s The Better Bean Cookbook enlightened us with her take on creamy pumpkin, coconut, and lentil soup.

The original recipe calls for you to peel the pumpkin, but after peeling half a pumpkin the week before for the penne dish I shared on the blog, I wasn’t in the mood to do battle with another pumpkin. Don’t let me stop you from peeling a pumpkin, though. It’s a fine upper body workout, but after fifteen minutes of wrestling the pumpkin on the counter as I tried to remove its skin, I was on the verge of dashing that gourd to our old wood floor. Reason overtook me in the end, which is probably for the best. I didn’t have to explain to a repair person how the floor ended up with a pumpkin-sized hole in it.

So, if you, too, aren’t up for the pumpkin-peeling workout, lightly roast the pumpkin, skin intact, and save your elbow grease for finely dicing the lemongrass. And if you want to keep the recipe vegan, substitute the fish sauce with umami-rich soy sauce.

Pumpkin Coconut Lentil Soup

Image by author.

Pumpkin, Coconut, and Lentil Soup
(adapted from The Better Bean Cookbook recipe)
Serves 4

Ingredients
– 2 TBS vegetable oil

- 1 small bunch of spring onions, finely diced

- 2 garlic cloves, crushed

- 2-inch piece of ginger, chopped

- 1 to 2 fiery chilis, finely chopped

- 2 stalks of lemongrass, outer leaves removed and remainder finely sliced

Pumpkin Coconut Lentil Soup

Finely Diced Lemongrass. Image by author.

- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed

- 1 lb 2 oz pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes/pieces (or for less headache, roast a halved pumpkin until just tender, and then remove from oven, cool, and cut into chunks)

- 5 cups vegetable stock

- 14 oz can of coconut milk

- 1 TBS tamarind paste (I couldn’t find the paste at our local Asian market, so I added a few extra squeezes of lime and few extra pinches of brown sugar to compensate.)

- 2 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro

- Thai fish sauce (Use soy sauce to keep the recipe vegan.)

- Juice of 1 to 2 limes

- Pinch of brown sugar or palm sugar

Directions
1. If you’d like to save yourself a headache from peeling the skin from the pumpkin, preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and place the pumpkin half (or halves, depending on size) flat side down, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the flesh is slightly tender. Remove, cool, and then carefully cube the pumpkin flesh before setting aside for the recipe.

2. Heat the oil in a soup pot, and add most of the spring onions (setting aside a TBS to garnish). Add the garlic, ginger, chili, and lemongrass, and stir for a minute or two, until this powerhouse flavor combo becomes very aromatic.

3. Add the lentils, pumpkin, and the stock, and simmer until the lentils are soft and the pumpkin flesh as collapsed.

4. Stir in the coconut milk, tamarind, and most of the cilantro. Now, taste and balance the soup with fish sauce or soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar.

5. Serve hot, sprinkled with the remaining spring onions and cilantro. We warmed a few naan and sopped up the soup that way.

‘The X-Files Files’ Whole-Wheat Penne with Pumpkin, Rosemary, and Pine Nuts

This fall I’ve been doing my best to get out for short runs a few times a week to clear my head and relish the vivid colors of the season before Colorado’s cold forces me into snow yeti running gear.

Denver Autumn 2014

Cheesman Park, Denver. Image by author.

And while some folks need driving bass or intense guitar noodling to stayed pump on runs, this month I’ve become more of an X-Files Files podcast athlete. After downloading an episode, I tie on my trainers, and as soon as the opening notes of the show’s theme sounds in my ears, I know I’m ready to dodge cars and count twitchy-tailed squirrels at the nearby city park.

Kumail Nanjiani

Retrieved from MyTeeVee’s Guide to the Best Podcasts.

For those unfamiliar with the creator of The X-Files Files, Kumail Nanjiani is a talented comedian and actor whose love for all things X-Files rivals my own. His weekly podcast features him and a guest as they deconstruct favorite episodes and share thoughtful and humorous anecdotes about the show and its rabid fan base. For those unfamiliar with The X-Files (come on, really?), it’s the 90s TV series that redefined science fiction writing for the small screen and paved the way for sci-fi and speculative fiction to move from “nerd” to mainstream.

It’s been more than 20 years since The X-Files aired on network TV, and still scenes from its many Monster of the Week and alien myth arc episodes occupy an unhealthy amount of space in my mind. Sure, some of the more dated episodes make me cringe now, but its overarching theme of rooting out false truths to reach a greater Truth about life and our meaning on this planet captivated an angst teen obsessed with British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. And the show’s gritty realism (in the form of police procedural) juxtaposed against its investigation of the supernatural and more-than-human is the kind of storytelling I gravitate toward as a reader and writer. Despite Fox Mulder and Dana Scully’s self-seriousness in the midst of what their peers deem quackery, the writers drop in enough comic relief to make the characters real and lovable as they seek out cryptozoological beasts and uncover top-secret human-alien alliances. Did I mention the lead actors were easy on the eyes, too?

In order to obsess over the show without familial chitchat drowning out the actors’ dialogue, I’d hightail it to my bedroom with a huge glass of Coke and viewing snacks and pray I wasn’t called to do chores during showtime. For the record, I lived in a world before internet TV and before I owned a personal color TV (at least for the first two seasons), so if I was forced into my room for The X-Files then, I was in for a particularly moody and hard-to-see episode. No matter. I had a ritual, and I followed it religiously. Ten minutes before showtime, I’d turn the channel dial on my black-and-white 13″ and maneuver its rabbit-ear antenna so I wouldn’t miss the show’s cold open. Even now when X-Files incidental music plays on Nanjiani’s podcast, the same giddiness I felt when the cold open flicked to the show’s opening credits bubbles up and I’m catapulted back to the days of bracing orthodontics, college admission essays, and high-school dreams of adulthood. Not a bad feeling to inhabit when I’m racking up mileage on my running shoes. Thanks, Mr. Nanjiani!

And now, back to our regularly schedule autumn and good eats blog post.

Below you’ll find an unusual winter squash pasta pairing. When I think pumpkin, I’m more likely to imagine butter-, cream, or olive oil-based recipes, but Sarah Copeland features this one-bowl pasta dish in her cookbook Feast, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, so I decided to give it a try on Tuesday.

I was skeptical about mixing pumpkin with the acidic heft of tomato, but Ms. Copeland knows what she’s doing. Sautéing the pumpkin with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic before topping the pasta allows the squash to absorb oil and soften on the inside while browning enough on the outside to provide crispness to the dish. Topping the sauced pasta and pumpkin with toasted pine nuts amps up the savory even more and makes for a hearty dinner packed with vitamins A, C, and E. If you’re looking for a less conventional autumn pasta dish, give this recipe a try, and if prepping the fresh pumpkin is too much work, butternut squash is an excellent substitute for texture and flavor.

Autumn Penne with Pumpkin

Image by author.

Whole-wheat Penne with Pumpkin, Rosemary, and Pine Nuts
(adapted from a Sarah Copeland Feast recipe)

Ingredients
– 2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

- 3 or 4 garlic cloves, smashed

- 2 cups of pie pumpkin–peeled, seeded, and chopped

- Pinch of red pepper flakes

- 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary

- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 1/2 lb whole-wheat penne

- 2 cups marinara sauce (We used a flavorful jarred marinara sauce)

- Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese for grating or shaving

- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Directions
1. Bring a large pot three-quarters full of salted water to a boil over a high heat.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add the garlic, pumpkin, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, and cook until the pumpkin is tender, 7 to 10 minutes, adding the remaining 1 tbsp of oil if needed. After the pumpkin absorbs all the oil, add 2 tbsp boiling water and continue cooking. Season with salt and black pepper. If you like, chop up a few of the crispy rosemary sprigs for a garnish, or remove and discard them.

3. Add the penne to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup (60 ml) of the pasta cooking liquid for the sauce.

4. Warm the marinara sauce in a large pot over a low heat. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss gently to coat, adding the pasta cooking liquid as needed, 1 TBS at a time, to your desired consistency. (I used about 3 TBS total.)

5. Scoop the dressed pasta into shallow bowls and spoon the pumpkin mixture over the top. Grate or shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top with a vegetable peeler and sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve warm.

Second Draft Fisticuffs and Maple Spice Pumpkin Pie Bars

Hands down the worst part of a long writing project is wrestling a draft into shape only to realize the next draft needs further cutting and rewrites. Draft two is currently thumbing its textual nose at me as I retrieve the editor’s scissors to excise another chunk of writing I spent a few months revising. Ah, fiction writing. Aren’t you a gem of an obsession.

These revision principles applied to 350 draft pages = Gwynne needs a drink. Creative Commons image. Credit: Hard-working 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Thomas.

These revision principles applied to 350 draft pages = Gwynne needs a drink. Creative Commons image. Credit: Hard-working 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Thomas.

Fortunately, I’ve had a long weekend to mull over my draft three approach, and by the end of this week, I’m going to get back on the revision train and see where the heck it takes me. To prevent myself from doing harm to my computer, I spent much-needed time outside on walks to clear my head and enjoy the big, blue skies and crisp air before Denver turns into a deep freeze. During those long walks I talked myself down from deleting four years of writing work and also decided to update my blog appearance and started planning recipes to allow me to return to more regulated posting. Win-win.

If you’re visiting my blog for the first time in a while, then hopefully you notice I made some updates to its design and layout. I chose this design for its better readability. I like the font’s appearance, spacing, and size more than the previous design and am a fan of the overall cleaner look.

I’m still fiddling with its appearances and functionality, but the biggest frustration has been the loss of the search button at the top of blog. If you’ve used this widget at the Crafty Cook Nook, you can now find it located in the footer of each page. This design will not allow me to move it back to the top of the page, but as a result, I’ll be adding links for all of my recipes to an easy-to-access page called “Recipes” at the top of every post. You’ll also notice a new page called “Connect,” which includes other ways to connect with me via social media.

As for more regular posting, I’m returning to my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule now that I’ve finished the second draft of the life that is a novel. Below you’ll find evidence of this attempt in the form of pumpkin pie in bar form.

I was never a pumpkin pie eater as a kid. Despite the promise of sugar in each bite, pumpkin smelled weird to me and fell into the vegetable category, that no child’s land of food too gross to consume. Scroll through my recipes, and it’s clear I survived those years of veggie disdain and now prefer fresh vegetables over most of the processed food favorites from my youth.

And fresh winter squash is no exception. They’re now one of my favorite kinds of seasonal vegetables, and while I prefer them in savory rather than sweet recipes, today’s pumpkin-themed recipe offers pie in bar form and exchanges condensed milk for mineral-rich Grade B maple syrup. Maple syrup goes excellently with pumpkin and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, so if you’re looking for a new take on pumpkin pie, give this recipe a try. I roasted a small pie pumpkin, but if you’re short on time, pick up a can of pumpkin purée, and you’ll be on your way to a tasty new autumn dessert.

Maple Spice Pumpkin Pie Bars

Image by author.

Maple Spice Pumpkin Pie Bars
(adapted from a Uni Homemaker recipe)
Makes One 8-inch by 8-inch pan

Ingredients
Crust:
– 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs

- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

- 2 tablespoons of dark muscovado sugar

- 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
– 1 (15 ounce) can of pumpkin purée (or homemade pumpkin purée)

- 3/4 cup of pure maple syrup

- 3/4 cup of whipping cream

- 3 eggs

- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

- 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves

- 1/4 teaspoon of salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick baking spray. Line it with a sheet of parchment paper leaving a generous overhang for easy removal; set aside.

In a medium bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, muscovado sugar and butter. Use a fork to mix everything together and then pour the mixture into the baking pan. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until crust is lightly brown. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow it to cool while you prepare the filling. Do not turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, using a stand or electric mixer (or mix by hand), whisk together pumpkin purée, maple syrup, whipping cream, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt in a large bowl until combined. Pour pumpkin filling over the crust and spread it evenly with a spatula, if needed.

Return pan to the oven; bake for 60-70 minutes or until filling is just set in center. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover pie bars and refrigerate until cold. Serve pie bars cold or at room temperature (I prefer it cold). Note: This can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.

‘Cool Weather’ Savory Thyme Onion Muffins

Last week Cameron and I began our lifelong collection of Halloween decorations. We’re starting small, but no doubt in ten years’ time we’ll be that old married couple who covers every square inch of our property with ghosts and goblins and styrofoam gravestones in the vain attempt to be the spookiest house in the neighborhood.

Image by author.

Image by author.

I’m not sure that our friends who came over Friday night for pizza and board game night were particularly scared by the hooded skeleton dangling from our porch, but hopefully by the time kids come for treats on the 31st, we’ll have amped up the creepy enough to keep the rat-tailed neighbor boys from egging our house. A gal’s gotta dream.

Below you’ll find the recipe for a batch of savory muffins I made last week to go along with the curried carrot soup I shared in a previous post. I’d been eying this recipe in Rebecca Katz’s The Longevity Kitchen for the past few months but held off on making them until autumn since they’re the kind of side I like with soup on a chilly night.

While the original recipe notes that these muffins keep for a few days in an air-tight container, they were already going stale by the next day, so if you make these, plan to serve them all at one meal or else halve the recipe so you lessen the chance of leftovers. But don’t let their short shelf life deter you from baking a batch. The umami-rich caramelized muffins and fresh herbs are a great combination for an autumn meal, and each muffin is like a handheld helping of Thanksgiving dressing, so if you don’t have time to make them now, save the recipe for your big November dinner. It’s a nice twist on the traditional stuffing served at most Thanksgiving meals.

Image by author.

Image by author.

Thyme Onion Muffins
(a Longevity Kitchen recipe)
Makes 14 muffins or 24 mini-muffins

Ingredients
– 4 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 cups finely diced onions

- 3/4 tsp sea salt

- 2 TBS fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried

- 2 tsp grated lemon zest

- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

- 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

- 1/3 cup teff or brown rice flour (I used brown rice flour.)

- 1/3 cup spelt flour

- 2 tsp baking powder

- 1/2 tsp baking soda

- 1/2 tsp sea salt

- 2 organic eggs, beaten

- 2/3 cup organic buttermilk or plain yogurt (I used buttermilk.)

- 1/4 cup water

- 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 TBS Grade B maple syrup

- 1 TBS Dijon mustard

- 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare one 24-cup mini muffin tin (or a 12-cup and a 6-cup muffin tin), or line each cup with a paper muffin liner.

2. Heat 2 TBS of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and just starting to turn golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the thyme, lemon zest, and pepper, and remove from the heat.

3. Put the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl, and stir with a whack to combine.

4. In separate bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, water, olive oil, maple syrup, and mustard, and whisk to combine. Pour into the flour mixture, and stir gently. Before the flour is completely moistened, gently fold in the onion mixture and walnuts. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, dividing it evenly among them.

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 842 other followers

%d bloggers like this: