My Current Obsession: Winter Squash

     Autumn is arguably the best time of the year. Especially if you live in Louisiana. Here in the deep south, even at some points in the winter, we are forced to withstand a slightly uncomfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. There have been Christmas mornings that require flip-flops and sunglasses. Many natives don’t even know what snow looks like, much less ever experienced a full-blown snow day. And while many of you in colder parts of the world shake your heads in pity for us, I will say, that our constant warm weather makes us appreciate autumns all the more. You see around mid-June the temperature starts to get a little out of hand and by August the heat is absolutely smothering to the point where you fear that your brains are going to hard-boil inside of your own skull. Maybe that’s not very good imagery for a food blog, but play along. I personally play it safe and hardly ever leave the house during the summer. My electric company is obsessed with me because that air-conditioner never leaves 71 degrees for three whole months. So you can only imagine by the time that early October comes rolling around and the atmosphere starts producing those elusive cold fronts, it almost feels like the lessening of a vice grip. I can start leaving the house again, my thermostat gets to go on vacation…it’s a MUCH needed and much appreciated time of the year.

     I’d have to say that aside from the lovely cooler weather (I say cooler because it doesn’t really ever get COLD in Louisiana like some places do) the second best part about autumn is the harvest; the bounty of delicious fruits and vegetables that we come to affectionately associate with the fall and winter months. I think I first fell in love with autumn foods where most people do, at the Thanksgiving table. In childhood, Thanksgiving was probably the biggest day of the year for my immediate family in particular. My mother’s family has 6 children and most of those children each had a holiday or an event during the year that was to be celebrated at their house. So for one day out of the year, my whole extended family made the hour-long pilgrimage from the city to the suburbs to allow my small family unit to play host to them. Which in my mind was absolutely flipping enchanting. My mother had a flair for holiday decor, and she never missed a beat with fall-inspired napkins, table-settings, garlands, center pieces. She’d have to start preparing like a week in advance. On Thanksgiving morning I’d wake up early (which got increasingly harder well into my teens years) and plop myself in front of the big screen and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Pretty much halfway through I’d get bored and start poking around the kitchen hoping for a sampling of turkey or dressing. But the smells y’all. The smells coming from that kitchen as my mother prepared each individual dish (there must have been on the upward end of ten dishes each year) from scratch. I’d always hoot when the Hello Kitty balloon made her appearance or my favorite music group of the time got to ride on one of the floats. I’d get pissed when they’d do Christmas themed dance numbers because even today I feel like Thanksgiving should have its own identity. (I’m a big advocate for Thanksgiving rights and equality) Sadly, as time went on and I got older, mostly during the back end of my teen years, our Thanksgiving traditions sunk like a ship. People get divorced. Holidays inevitably become a source of tension. I can honestly say that these days, I’ve become something of a Thanksgiving orphan, usually not having a place to go for the special day. My family promptly decided to make every happy holiday known to man absolutely unbearable after my parents’ untimely divorce. I live in a well-crafted box of memories when it comes to the holidays. Don’t feel sorry for me, I have plans to revive the old ways once I am married and have popped out a few children of my own. I’m just in this weird transitional phase at the moment.

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    One of the finest food memories I have locked away in the “Thanksgiving Traditions” sector of my brain, is the Butternut Squash soup my mom used to make for an appetizer. It is seriously so delicious that I’ve been known to make it in the middle of summer despite what my thermostat tells me. This stuff is like liquid gold, the perfect balance of nuttiness from the squash and the cream. Top that with a healthy portion of cracked black pepper (because if you don’t you’re not doing it correctly) and you have yourself a little bowl of heaven. Strangely enough, we’re not talking about that today, although I won’t rule it out of future entries before the year is up. I discovered another winter squash recipe recently that could definitely contend with the butternut soup for best autumn dish. We’re not even going to bring spaghetti squash into this entry, although, I’m kind of obsessing over that one too. The acorn squash, is my new cute, oddly-shaped best friend. I have to come clean, until last week I had only ever seen acorn squashes in pictures and I was kind of imagining them to be the size of a pumpkin. No. Wrong. They’re actually adorably smaller. I’d say the ones I found were the size of a softball. I’m not exactly sure why they’re called acorn squashes. I’ve never eaten an actual acorn before (despite my many years of smashing them to bits on the playground. I had a lot of pent-up rage as a kid…) so I’m not sure if they taste similar. Or maybe it’s because the color of the outside is reminiscent of the color of actual acorns and when you break both open there’s a meaty orange center. Or maybe it’s because the actual shape of the squash is acorn-like. I’ll have to look into that more. All I know is, when roasted, these little friends become sweet and terribly tender. You start with a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees F and continue to roast the halves for 50 minutes (much to the wailing complaint of my smoke detector. It doesn’t like when I do anything that involves broiling or roasting. Not at all.) But I didn’t let that deter me. I find this recipe to be laborious so this is definitely not a quick meal. But I can totally see this becoming an autumn must-have for years to come.

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     Like 96% of the recipes I’ll post here, this one I found on Pinterest. If you’ve never been on Pinterest before (seriously, what are you doing with your life?) it’s basically a massive feed of pictures of everything in the whole world. Like the entire Internet condensed into thumbnail pictures. The idea is, when you see something you like, you “pin it” to one of your boards (I have 130 boards. Sorry/I’m not sorry.) Many of these pins have sources and so I feel it is my duty to credit those who in a sense “own” the content that I find on there. This particular recipe belongs to Ms. Nicole over at http://www.preventionrd.com which it seems was adapted from Food.com. Now this lovely little gem of a recipe has found its way to my kitchen and has become a two-thumbs up, boyfriend-approved, EVEN healthy autumn meal in my household. I might have added a little more sage than I was supposed to, I’m often heavy-handed with spices, but in this case, I feel that sage gives it such a fall flavor and I love how it’s baked right into the squash itself. I used ground regular (I believe pork) Italian sausage which was tasty as ever and paired so well with the sweet squash. Pop on over to Nicole’s site to get the skinny on the nutrition facts about this recipe! She is a registered dietician and knows science things that I don’t understand.

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Sausage and Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash from PreventionRD.com

2 large acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp ground sage, divided
3/4 lb Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
4 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 apple, cored and chopped
1 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the melted butter, garlic, and 1/4 tsp sage. Brush the inside and outside of each squash with the butter mix. Place the squash on a cookie sheet, cut side up, and roast for 50-60 minutes, or until fork tender.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate, set aside. To the skillet add the onions, celery, and mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the apples and cook for another 2 minutes.

Return the sausage to the skillet then remove from heat. Season with 1/4 tsp sage, salt, and pepper. Stir in the panko and Parmesan. Add the egg and stir to combine.

Divide the stuffing evenly among the four squash halves. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

I hope everyone is enjoying the fall season so far and please stay tuned for more recipe finds and many more entries to come.

Cheers,

Katie

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