Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cooking, and how it saved me... plus my Roasted and stuffed Acorn Squash!

Since I became a Mother, November tends to be a much harder time of year for me. I always look forward to fall, the changing colors of the trees, the crunch beneath your feet as you take a walk out to the mailbox and the cool crisp scent of the changing air, making you want to rush back inside for a hot cup of apple cider. Then as the weeks go on, the trees become gray and leaves left dead on the ground lose their color. All the world becomes a bit monochromatic to me... and I find myself low on energy, wanting to sleep longer, and having less motivation to get projects done.
After my first child was born in November of 2009, he had really bad colic for about the first 4 months of his life. We would rock and swing and drive and try everything possible to stop the screaming. I realized after many weeks of this routine that things weren't going to change anytime soon, and I shouldn't expect to get much of anything done in the evenings. This made my days extremely short, and nights very very long. At that time my husband worked and was a full time student and although I wanted to beg him to stay up late with me so I would have someone to talk to, I thought it best that at least one of us get some sleep, especially if he was the one providing for our family.
 So there I was, alone, night after night holding a very unhappy baby. I would just get him to sleep and feel like if I moved an inch, he would wake up and scream again. Many nights I tried to sleep with him in my arms, sitting up on the couch.... waking up in a panic thinking he was going to roll off my lap. I found after a little while that he slept better with the soft sound of the TV on in the background. This was more entertaining for me, so it worked in my favor... or so I thought. I found myself wasting my brain away to pointless and silly reality TV shows and poor actresses getting paid to show off their dramatic lifestyle. "you want to see drama? Come to my house and see what I go through every night! Ill give you some drama..." I thought to myself.
All the brain draining TV was doing me no good. Finally I found The Food Network channel. I thought at least I would be learning something if I had to stay up late anyway. I started watching Giada De laurentiis, Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Rachel Ray and The Barefoot Contessa ... Soon I was hooked and I was learning different skills from all of them. I learned that liver is best prepared by pre soaking it in milk, and room temperature ingredients make for a much better baked dessert because the ingredients are more easily incorporated at room temp. I started watching chopped and learned about people who had struggled through drug and crime addictions, depression or loosing a loved one and finding joy and success through cooking. Cooking had pulled them out of a dark place, and helped them become motivated again.
THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED. I starting doing a little more cooking and experimenting during the day, and trying new recipes (with baby in one arm of course). I even learned to make scrambled eggs while holding the baby, finding a way to crack the eggs, and add them to the pan one handed. I found that it rebuilt my self confidence in a new way. Cooking helped me though my post partum depression and made me feel like myself again. I wanted to have family dinners around the table, and if that was the only thing I could accomplish that day, well then it was ok because I did something great for my family.
I am so thankful for cooking and being able to enjoy spending time in my kitchen. Since all of this started in 2009 there have most certainly been many other trials that cooking has helped me though. It has become a passion and obsession. It makes me happy and brings me and my family so much joy. It helps me feel confident and secure because I know how to be self reliant by cooking and being able to store things away in my freezer for a rainy day.
So, on gray November days like this one when I feel the blues start sneaking back, I find some time to create something... a recipe that brings me happiness and makes me feel like myself again. A reminder that I can get though hard times and create my own happiness.
Todays recipe is another product of experimentation, and frankly cleaning out the fridge and panty. Sometimes I don't have everything I need to make a recipe, so I challenge myself by making up something new. Do they turn out bad? Sometimes yes! And then once in a while I get lucky a recipe will be really good. Here is what I made today from a few fridge, pantry and left over garden ingredients.
Roasted and stuffed Acorn Squash
This healthy recipe comes in handy if you are cleaning out your fridge or pantry because you can swap out something I did for something you have at home. The tasty hash stuffing is full of garlic and chicken flavor, with a crunch from the walnuts and a tiny bite of sweet from the craisins.
This dish serves 2 adults or can be cut in half or quarters and served to children. The hash can be doubled or tripled for larger quantities.
First, take an acorn squash and slice it down the middle. Gut the seeds and add them to a baking dish. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Let them bake about 40 minutes or until fork tested tender.
Next, chop half a yellow onion and add in an 8 oz container of mini bella mushrooms (or whatever you have on hand). I chose to use mushrooms as a healthy alternative to meat. These are very hearty mushrooms and they are like mini sponges that soak up all surrounding flavors.
 I also added 1 clove chopped garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and a dash of pepper.
Let them sauté in oil or butter until tender.

Prepare 1 box of chicken flavored rice a roni. This will add texture, flavor and creaminess to the stuffing. FOR A GLUTEN FREE OPTION ADD QUINOA PREPARED IN CHICKEN STOCK.

Once the rice is done cooking, remove about 1/3 of it and store it in the fridge for later. Add your mushroom and onion mixture to the rice. Add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, and a small handful of craisins.
After your  squash is cooked through, remove them from the oven and add the filling. Fill them over the top.

I chose to add some of this fabulous cheese I had on hand. It is a cheddar onion cheese that has incredible flavor. I added it on top of my squash, but for more flavor you could add a slice half way through the filling as well.

Then I added them back inside the oven on Vari broil Lo to melt the cheese for a few minutes.
I love the roasted look of the squash but if you want to add them back into a warm oven to melt the cheese and avoid the dark spots that is great too!
Not only did this sweet little recipe help clean out my fridge and pantry, but it added a little color to my gray November day. I hope you enjoy it!
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