Life update + stuffed squash recipe

One of my floormates ran into me in the kitchen recently and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you put a lot of effort into your cooking.” Since I mostly live on re-heated leftovers, my immediate thought was, “No, I don’t!” But after last weekend, I have to admit she was right. I don’t cook terribly often, really just once or twice a week, but when I do…well, things get elaborate. Case in point: stuffed acorn squash! (Recipe at bottom of post.)

I also made some pumpkin spice granola on Halloween…but I didn’t take any pictures. Then I had some leftover pumpkin puree, so of course I had to make pumpkin oatmeal cookies (I halved this recipe, swapped pumpkin puree for half the remaining butter, and added chocolate pieces), of which there are also no pictures. And then, when I went grocery shopping the day afterward, sugar pumpkins were only 49 cents per pound. I obviously had no choice but to buy one and making dinner for the week by roasting it with Brussels sprouts, an onion, chicken sausage, rosemary, and sage. The funny thing is, I knew I wouldn’t have time to cook on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, (problem set deadline, chorus rehearsal/midterm the next day, and evening seminar, respectively), and I already had plans to eat out Sunday evening, so I ended up cooking that on Sunday at lunchtime, letting it cool, and shoving it all into Tupperware, to be consumed as leftovers. Having eaten that all week, I’m mostly cured of my pumpkin-mania, but still, bring on the squash! (It’s spaghetti squash this week, at least.)

Delicious dinner...and less elaborate than it looks!
Delicious dinner…and less elaborate than it looks!

Despite my floormate’s impression of me, I actually spend most of my time doing things other than cooking! Much of it involves physics problem sets, seminars, and group meetings, the details of which I suspect are not particularly interesting to the average reader. Also, they don’t come with pretty pictures. Suffice it to say that classes and figuring out what research I want to do take up most of my time.

Booths at the Boston Book Festival.
Booths at the Boston Book Festival.

When I’m not working, though, there’s plenty to do in the Cambridge/Boston area! I went to the Boston Book Festival two weeks ago, which was fun. I hadn’t been to the Boston Public Library before; it’s a very impressive building, and seems like a nice place to hang out. I particularly enjoyed a speedy stroll through their map room between a talk by scientists (including Harvard physicist Lisa Randall) about their latest books and the nonfiction keynote (which I failed to actually get a seat for) by Atul Gawande (he has a book discussing end-of-life medical care, which sounded interesting). In nearby Copley Square, there were booths set up for bookstores, literary magazines, writing centers, and more bibliophile-targeted organizations.

Out in front of the BPL.
Out in front of the BPL.
 Maps of Middle Earth in the BPL map room.
Maps of Middle Earth and the Discworld in the BPL map room.

I’m disappointed that I learned about the BBF too late to get tickets for the evening events (Margaret Atwood one night, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer the next…so jealous of people who were able to attend!), but I came away with a couple of free books for the cost of a round trip on the T, so not a bad deal.

Lisa Randall talks about science inside a great big church.
Lisa Randall talks about science inside a great big church.
Also, the 10th Doctor was in attendance. (Seriously, this guy was a dead ringer for David Tennant in full Doctor Who costume. I was very impressed.)
Also, the 10th Doctor was in attendance. (Seriously, this guy was a dead ringer for David Tennant in full Doctor Who costume. I was very impressed.)

I also had another fun meet-up with past/present/possibly-future Cantabridgians! Morgan, Amanda, David and I got together for dinner at Punjabi Dhaba with Constance (all former Churchill College people), who was here for medical school interviews. Best of luck to her and all my other friends applying to med school this year!

Morgan and Constance after dinner. Things got...silly.
Morgan and Constance after dinner. Things got…silly.

For Halloween, I did virtually nothing, thanks to two problem set deadlines and a midterm the following week. The night wasn’t entirely  devoid of fun, though; I strolled up to Crescent Street, a few blocks north of my dorm, which apparently goes nuts with themed Halloween decorations every year. This year, the theme was “outer space,” so I was greeted by the sight of a life-size model of Jabba the Hutt surrounded by screaming (delighted! Because there was a person inside throwing them candy) children. Even though I wasn’t in costume, it was nice to see a little bit of community spirit, and I enjoyed some small talk with the locals and got a few pieces of candy before heading back to work.

Jabba!
Jabba!
Minions! (I still haven't seen Despicable Me, but yes, they're very cute.)
Minions! (I still haven’t seen Despicable Me, but yes, they’re very cute.)
Not exactly sure what this is supposed to be, but I thought it was cool.
Not exactly sure what this is supposed to be, but I thought it was cool.
Oh yeah, and there was a marching band/parade at one point.
Oh yeah, and there was a marching band/parade at one point.
I didn't see the Doctor leave the BBF, but I assume this is how he actually travels.
I didn’t see the Doctor leave the BBF, but I assume this is how he actually travels.

After a busy last week, I’ve enjoyed a little bit of down time this weekend, but now it’s time to get back to my problem sets so I can have them (mostly) done before my mom visits next Saturday. Happy November! Go bake some squash.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Yield: 4 moderate servings.

Adapted from: The Kitchn, Gluten Free Goddess, and The Healthy Foodie.

2 small/medium acorn squash, halved from stem to tip
1 tsp olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1-2 jalapenos, minced
~1/2 lb mushrooms chopped
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c frozen chopped spinach
Shredded cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to XXX degrees. Place squash halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and add about 1/4 inch of water. Roast for 20-30 min, until tender but still firm.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, ground beef, and jalapenos, breaking up the beef into small chunks. When the beef is about halfway to browning, add mushrooms, spices (feel free to vary these to your liking), and spinach and stir to combine.

When the squash are done, leave the oven on. Remove squash from sheet pan and scoop out some of the flesh of each (leaving at least 1/4 inch of flesh in the rind). Add this to skillet and continue cooking until spinach has warmed through, the mushrooms have reduced and mostly cooked, the beef has mostly browned, and the squash chunks have lightly browned. Taste as you go and season additionally as needed.

Pour off water from sheet pan (now “squash juice”) into a small bowl. Place squash, cut side up, on baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper. If they won’t stay upright, you can cut a small slice off the bottom to create a flat spot, or press down on the squash until it forms its own flat spot (this works best when they’re still warm).

Fill the squash hollows with a heaping helping of the beef and vegetable mixture. Pour a bit of the squash juice into each hollow, over the filling. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and, optionally, cheese) and roast for an additional 15-20 minutes, until tops have browned slightly and squash is tender.

Serving suggestion: with a side salad or additional seasonal vegetables, preceding a nice cup of hot chocolate or tea.

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