Meandering down a path of Creativity

I don’t think that I mentioned this in my previous post, but we’ve got some food allergies/sensitivities in this house. The list is too long to include here, but the main reason I’m mentioning it is this- any recipes that I include on this blog are most likely going to be gluten-free & yeast-free, and are unlikely to contain much cane sugar, egg, garlic or dairy. That being said, I’ll move on to discuss tonight’s dinner…

I tend to cook a lot more food than we’re likely to eat in one sitting- honestly, we could, on many nights, have a half dozen unexpected visitors show up and still have enough food left over to send everyone home with a care package. I’ve gotten better about cooking to scale, but that just means I now tend to cook enough to feed 5-10 people instead of 12-20.

Anyway, my propensity to cook more food than will be eaten has served me well in one way- I have learned to get creative with the leftovers. Tonight’s dinner is the result of that.

Stuffed vegetables- peppers, winter squash, summer squash, tomatoes, etc- are a great way to use up leftovers! Tonight I’ll be using up some leftover brown rice, sweet italian sausage (browned and crumbled), a bit of leftover homemade broth, some diced up onion, carrots, and celery and whatever other add-ins & seasonings strike me as being a good idea (I’m typing this as I go so I don’t forget anything). That will all get mounded into a halved and cleaned acorn squash and then baked until it’s done.

So, here’s what I’m doing…

Take one large acorn squash & poke lots of holes in it- I used a heavy duty carving fork, since my squash is huge and I want to make sure I get good depth. Put the squash in a bowl with some water in the bottom and microwave it for about 5 minutes on high. Let it sit for a half hour or so, flip it over, and give it another 5 minutes on high. Let it sit for a bit, until it’s cooled & you’re ready to mess with it. (If you’re not a fan of the microwave, you can cut, clean and par-cook it in the oven.)

Put a large skillet on over medium high heat. Take a few links of sweet sausage, cut the casing open longways and pull the meat out & drop it in the heated pan. Break the meat up and allow it to continue cooking while you cut up the onion, celery & carrot. When the meat is almost cooked through, add in the chopped veg trio. Make sure the meat is broken into crumble sized bits, and allow to cook for 2-5 minutes longer. The veg should start to get soft and the meat should be browned, with crispy bits sticking to the pan.

Turn pan up to high, move the meat & veg off to the side and deglaze with around 2 cups of your preferred cooking liquid- for this, I’m using a squash soup broth type base- you could use any broth or a combination of water and wine (I think straight wine might overwhelm the rest of the flavors, so I wouldn’t use more than 1/2 to 3/4 cup wine). Allow to simmer for a few minutes, just to allow the flavors to come together.

If you like to taste as you go, this is the time to give it a taste. I just tasted mine, and decided to add a healthy shake of thyme (probably around 1/2 teaspoon) and a pinch of sage. Other possibilities would be garlic & parsley; or cilantro, cumin and chipotle powder; herbes de provence…

If you’re not sure of what to add, use your nose. Take a jar or tin of a seasoning over to the simmering pot, open the jar next to the pot and get a good smell of them combined. If they smell like they might be good together, give it a try. Don’t overdo it on the seasoning- you can always add more, but once it’s in, you can’t really take it back out!

Let it simmer for a few more minutes, and if you want, give it another taste. Add more seasonings, if you want. Add in any other ingredients you want- I added about 3/4 cup of left over cooked spinach. You can add pretty much any leftover veggies to it. Other good add ins are chopped mushrooms, pine nuts or other chopped nuts, chopped sun dried tomatoes… get creative!

Add a tablespoon or 2 of balsamic vinegar. If you don’t have balsamic, you can use a wine or cider vinegar. If you used wine to deglaze, I’d skip the vinegar. Give it a good stir and turn off the heat.

Stir in the rice. I’ve got about 3 cups of leftover brown rice, but you could use white rice, or another cooked grain (barley, couscous, etc).

Cut out the stem of the squash, cut it in half (from stem to point) and scoop out the seeds and strings.

Turn on your oven to around 325F/ 160-170 C/ gas mark 3

Line a baking sheet with greased or non-stick foil (if you want easy clean-up), place the squash halves, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Fill the halves evenly, mounding the filling so it covers most of the squash flesh, if you have enough filling. Don’t pack it in too firmly, or it will heat unevenly and the flavors won’t mingle properly. Excess filling can be cooked on the floor of the pan. Add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water to the pan and place in the oven.

Bake until it’s heated through, about 30-45 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

**Note- This is one of those recipes that’s great for a make ahead meal. If you have enough filling, you can freeze the filling in muffin cups and have it on hand for an easy future dinner with a fresh squash, or you can freeze it already assembled. You can also do the prep work (everything up to cutting the squash) a day or 2 before you plan to have it and refrigerate the squash and filling, so you just need to assemble it and pop it in the oven the night you want to have it.

Please let me know what you think!

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