Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Week 43 - Hit for the Cycle

Week 43's theme, hit for the cycle, was a lot of fun. By "hit for the cycle," they meant to pick 4 consecutive weeks from any previous year's challenges. I came up with 3 possible sets of challenges, but the one I immediately clicked with was from 2012 - baking, squash, comfort food, and casseroles. Those seemed pretty easy to work together into a single dish. After a (very) little bit of searching, I found this recipe for a Chilean butternut squash casserole on food.com, and knew I had to try it.

So glad Trader Joe's sells butternut squash by the piece and not by the pound

I've been wanting to branch out and push myself in the challenges a little bit more, so to try something new, I bought a whole butternut squash instead of the more convenient, pre-cut squash that I've bought in the past. For one thing, it was so much cheaper buying it whole. But the other was that I had never worked with it whole, and I wanted to cross that off the list.

The non-squash ingredients for the casserole

I adapted the ingredients a little bit from the original recipe and used:

- 1 large butternut squash ($1.99)
- 1 large onion, chopped ($0.54)
- 5 garlic cloves, minced ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp olive oil ($0.20)
- ground cumin, a few tsp ($0.05)
- chili powder, a few tsp ($0.15)
- cayenne, a few dashes ($0.05)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- garlic powder, a few tsp ($0.05)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped ($0.64)
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped ($0.38)
- 4 eggs, beaten ($1.33)
- 2 cans of corn ($1.78)
- 2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese ($2.05)

The cost of the casserole was around $9.36. It was enough food for a filling dinner for both of us, as well as 2 days of lunch for me, so that was pretty cost-efficient. Using the whole butternut squash was probably about half the price of using the pre-cut stuff, so that will definitely be the way to go in the future.

Butternut squash "halved"

The steps for making the casserole (slightly adapted from the original recipe) were:

1. Wash butternut squash and then cut in half. (My halves were a little uneven. Oh well.) Use a spoon to scoop out all the seeds and stringy stuff.

2. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and place the butternut squash halves cut side down. Bake at 425 degrees until soft. I baked it for 50 minutes, and it seemed soft enough when I was testing it with a fork, but I think next time I'll bake it for at least 60 so it gets even softer and easier to mash.

3. Remove squash from oven when soft, and allow to cool.

Onions, garlic, spices

4. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Saute until onions have started to soften and are translucent.

5. Add red and green peppers, and reduce heat to medium low.

6. Scrape the squash out of its "shell" and into a baking pan that was sprayed with cooking spray. (For some parts of the squash, this was more peeling the skin off the squash than scooping the squash out of the shell.) Mash it up in the baking pan. (While a spoon was helpful, I found mashing and kneading it with my hands was even more effective.)

Squash comfort food casserole, pre-baking

7. Mix the beaten eggs into the mashed squash until all the squash is coated in egg.

8. Add the corn, cheese, and some more cumin, chili powder, and salt. Also add freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder.

9. Add the pepper-onion sauteed mixture, and then stir everything together to mix really well. Try to level out the mixture so that it's the same height throughout the pan. (In the future, I'll add some cheese on the top after this step, before putting it in the oven.)

Finished casserole

10. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

11. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Eat!

Not the most attractive dish, but very tasty

This casserole was really good. It reminded me a little bit of a Chilean pastel de choclo (but a vegetarian version) and a little bit of a Paraguayan chipa guazu. It was filling and hearty and 100% comfort food. While the flavor was good, in the future, we would increase the amount of cheese, garlic/garlic powder, and cumin, and also add some cheese to the top of the casserole. We would definitely make this again, especially now that cooler weather is on its way.

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