Convenience food? And how: I’ll never have to cook again! 😀 This afternoon I whipped up enough fancy frozen dinners to feed me for fourteen days.
Okay, that’s not exactly “never cook again.” But it’s close.
After a visit to the neighborhood from one of those organizations that collect excess supermarket produce, I ended up with a mountain of acorn squash, a small part of a 60-pound haul that cost me all of ten bucks. Seven of the little guys have been lurking around the kitchen, waiting for me to cook them.
Stuffing a cooked squash is a great way to wrap a lot of nutrition into one package. Freezing the finished product provides you with a handy meal that you can heat in the microwave and eat in front of the television — like a TV dinner, only it tastes good.
I favor a Caribbean style that has you stuff squash or pumpkin with a mix of meat, nuts, fruits, and veggies flavored with sweet-tasting spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. You finish it off with as much or as little honey or maple syrup as you like — and it is so good.
The recipe is easy. But it’s a little time-consuming. So plan to spend part of an afternoon preparing enough food to spare you from having to cook for a month of Sundays.
First, cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds — do not put them down the garbage disposal, unless you relish RotoRooter bills. If you have a garden, save them to plant in the ground. If not, toss them in a garbage bag. Preheat the oven to 350 or 400 degrees.
Cover the bottom of a cookie sheet or two with strips of aluminum foil. Spread a thin film of vegetable or olive oil over the tinfoil, so as to keep the squash from sticking. Then set the squash halves, cut-side down, on the foil-lined pans. Place these in the preheated oven and allow to cook 40 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. When done, they should be tender all the way through.
While the squash bakes, prepare the stuffing. Scrounge together the following:
• A pound or two of ground meat (it can be any variety of meat, or a mix thereof)
• An onion
• A clove or two of garlic
• A stick of celery; you could add carrot, too, if you like
• Some nuts (walnuts? pecans? pistachios? whatever is around the house?)
• An apple
• Spices to your taste — cinnamon, clove, cumin, nutmeg, mustard seeds, whatever
• Honey or maple syrup (the real stuff!) or agave syrup
• Olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter as cooking shortening(See ideas for alternatives at the bottom of this post.)
Coarsely chop the onion, celery, carrot, and apple; cut up the garlic more finely. Remove the core from the apple (cutting it in quarters and slicing out the seedy part is the easy way). Don’t bother to peel the apple; chop it coarsely and set it aside.
Heat the shortening in the bottom of a large frying pan. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery. Allow to cook gently over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chopped apple. Continue cooking for another ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
When the veggies and apple are cooked, take a big spoon and lift them out of the frying plan onto a plate. Set this aside.
Add a little more shortening to the bottom of the pan (do not clean out the pan: you want to get the oniony flavor into the meat). Add the meat and cook, stirring, until the meat is done. Now add the veggies back into the pan, and add whatever nuts you’ve selected (if indeed you have selected any). Stir well. Then and a generous squeeze or three of honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup. Stir this in and then turn off the heat.
When the squash are cooked, remove them and set them in their pans on a countertop or cold stove top. Allow them to cool thoroughly — wander off and do something else for awhile.
When the squash and the stuffing have cooled down enough to handle them, spoon a little stuffing into each squash. Set the stuffed squash back onto the greased aluminum foil in the baking pan, pushing the pieces together to they hold each other upright.
Now place the pan in the freezer, making sure it stays level.
Allow the stuffed squash to rest in the freezer until each one is frozen through. Then take them out wrap them individually, and store them back in the freezer. If you’ve wrapped them well in, say, waxed paper, you should be able to put a number of them in a large Ziplock-style bag, where they will keep for a long time.
Your microwave will defrost one of these in about two minutes. Half a stuffed acorn squash makes a great meal with a salad, a bowl of soup, or even some crunchy-crusted French-style bread.
If you don’t have a lot of hamburger: You can extend the meat or even replace it altogether with some cooked rice, quinoa, or beans.
Want more veggies? It’s a very adaptable recipe: you can add any number of other items. Try stirring some fresh or frozen spinach or kale into the vegetable mix. A handful or two of peas is good. Cut-up asparagus, corn, bok choy, broccoli florets — whatever. It’s hard to miss.
If honey on beef, lamb, or pork is a little exotic for you: You’re not required to make it sweet. Try some tomato sauce instead of the honey or maple syrup. Even bottled spaghetti sauce might work. Or leftover gravy. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Don’t miss another 100 recipes made from fresh whole foods — good to eat and good for you! Special sale on the 30 Pounds/4 Months diet cookbook starts July 21.