When I hear the word “beauty,” the first thing that comes to my mind is hot, melted cheese over spiced ground meat. Okay, maybe I think of my ladybugs, Hazel and Juliette, first, but cheese is a tight second for sure. When I was younger, I spent years as a vegetarian, but never could maintain vegan for long, just because it meant avoiding my beloved cheese.
I have no regrets.
I’ve heard recently that food banks around here are having a hard time moving acorn squash, and I think that’s a tragedy because they are SO versatile. It’s like a jack-o-lantern you can fill with meat and cheese. And then instead of putting it on your porch, you just eat it. So I guess the similarities are somewhat limited…. But I can tell you that with its soft, sweet flesh and edible, nutrient-dense skin, this underestimate little squash offers options abound, and tonight I decided to go Mexican. So, happy Cinco de Mayo!! And by that I mean, Seis de Enero!
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 Tbs oil
- 1/4 yellow onion
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped (You can reduce this to three… ya know, if you’re afraid to truly live.)
- 1 T dark red chili powder
- 1 T paprika
- 2 T brown sugar (or, if you’re on a low carb kick like me, 3/4 T stevia powder)
- 1/8-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I like to live dangerously and just add a generous pinch.)
- 1/4 c crushed tomato
- 2 c chicken stock
- salt to taste
- 1/2 c cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 partially seeded jalapeno (opt’l)
- 2 Tbs green onions, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Preparing the Squash: Since you’re going to be eating the nutritious green skin of the squash, you want to scrub that puppy to make sure you’re not eating any nasty pesticides or dirt or deer pee or whatever. Then, place it on the counter, flat, stem part down. Make sure it’s stable, and trim down the stem if necessary. (Please do not stab a wobbly squash, and, if you do, have a friend with a phone nearby who can dial 9-1-1 if you miss and cut off your finger because that’s extremely unsafe.) Brain the squash with a large chef’s knife right in the top and make sure you get all the way into the hollow core. If you’re unsure whether you’ve actually reached the core, stab it again (and if you’re angry, AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN! ….Then buy a new squash and start over. Maybe phone a qualified counselor.). Zap it on high for 3 minutes or so, just enough to soften it so that you can work with it. Cut a circle out of the top that’s about 4″ or so in diameter like you would a Jack-o-Lantern, and scrape and scoop the inside of all seeds and stringy, nasty squash guts. Place the whole, hollowed-out squash on a parchment lined cookie sheet and par-bake at 400 for about 30 mins.
- In a large, heavy bottom skillet, heat oil on medium-high. When it shimmers, add the onion. Saute until the onion starts getting translucent and has little flecks of char goin’ on (but not to the point where you’re sauteing little pieces of onion remains), then toss in the garlic and cook about 30-45 more seconds until fragrant. Add the ground beef and brown. When I say brown, I’m talking about a technique very similar to the sear that I talk about in my other recipes, but as it pertains to ground beef, which won’t have the same spacing that chicken, steak, pork chops, or fish would. How do you adapt to that? As it cooks, it’s going to steam. With any other cut, this would be the antithesis of what you want to achieve, but it’s pretty unavoidable with ground meats, so just use this time to achieve the level of crumble you like. I like lots of small crumbles with some bigger hunks in there. When it’s half cooked, add about 1/2 tsp kosher salt, the sugar or stevia, and the spices and combine.
- Crank up the heat to high to evaporate all that excess moisture, then, once you can hear it crackling and it’s dried up for the most part drop the heat back down to medium high, scoot it around with a spatula, then let it sit for a few minutes to get brown. Scoot it again, let it brown more. Then, add the crushed tomato and mix. Let that sit for a minute or two, scoot, repeat, then add stock. Use the spatula to scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan and integrate them into this saucy deliciousness, a technique called “deglazing,” which serves to heighten the flavor of caramelized meat in the finished product. You. Want. That. Just trust me. Let the sauce reduce in volume by about 1/2, so that the meat has a thick sauce but doesn’t look like soup. Remove from heat and allow to cool somewhat, just so it’s not scalding.
At this point, your squash will be ready to rejoin the party. Take it out of the oven (if you haven’t already) and let it and the finished meat sit for a few minutes. While you wait, mix together the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, the cheddar cheese, and the green onions. If you’re feeling crazy, add a chopped and partially seeded jalapeno and mix that on up in there, too. It’s your life, go nuts.
- Once you can handle all these components without burning your fingers to the bone, begin filling the squash with meat. Fill it about 1/2 way up, then use a spoon to dig a well in the center and spread the displaced meat up the sides. Put the cheese mix in the well, then bury with the rest of the meat. Top with any remaining shredded cheese just for kicks. Place that whole, stuffed hotness back on that parchment lined cookie sheet, and bake for about 30-35 minutes.
- Remove and allow to stand for about 20 minutes or so to let everything set so it doesn’t all just topple out when you cut into it. Slice into 6 pieces (or live
dangerously and cut it into 4) and serve with your choice of toppings. I recommend some kinda salsa/guac/shredded lettuce/sour cream, or a drizzle of chimichurri sauce with a side of sliced avocado (as shown), and maybe some refried beans and rice or something.
LEFT-OVER SERVING SUGGESTION:
Hazel and I had some this morning that I chopped up and microwaved with a little chicken broth, and I served that with a fried egg on top (okay, 2 eggs for mommy because only God can judge me). Highly, HIGHLY recommend!!!
Cost Breakdown: (Prices according to Aldi in Marlton)
- Ground Beef: $3.37
- Squash: $1.49
- Garlic: $0.17
- Onion: $0.50
- Cheese: $0.37
- Scallions: $0.13
- Chicken stock: $1.00
- Crushed Tomato: $0.30
Time: Appx 1 hour, plus 20 mins to rest the finished product.