choose your own adventure.

The first weekend of fall was spectacular and right on point with blue skies, perfectly mild temperatures, pumpkins,


and leaves falling off their branches, gliding on the breeze, making quick piles on the ground.

I was super thankful to be at the market and in the safety of the weekend.  The whole week prior, I felt like the Universe was playing some sort of evil trick on me.

My computer started smoking on Monday- literally smoking.  Whose computer smokes!?!?!?!  Mine.  Yup.  And of course, my bank account was just filled to the brim, waiting eagerly to shell out lots of dollar bills to buy a replacement.  (Insert maniacal laugh.)  I totally need my computer for my livelihood, so waiting was not an option.  That was beginning of the loss of sanity… I proceeded to slice my thumb open on a paper plate (how??) and grate the skin right off my middle finger with my new serrated peeler.  My, that thing is sharp.  The tub was clogged and apparently, a whole bottle of Drano didn’t help one bit.  I was caught in a torrential downpour with three families’ groceries for the week without any manner of protection.  My car was/ is making a knocking sound every time I turn left and needs some TLC.  And on Friday I found out that a kitchen deal I was working toward would probably be a bust.  I momentarily felt like the sky was falling- just like the acorns that are pummeling the roof of my porch at raging speeds, scaring the bejeezus out of me, as they do every year about this time.

Thankfully, I have a very calming, positive, nurturing husband who helped to turn all of my frowns upside down.  And really, in the scope of things, I am healthy, rich in love and friendship, and my struggles are incredibly small, compared to those of many folks on our planet.  My new computer is thoroughly amazing and wasn’t exorbitant, my wounds are healing, and a little quality time in the kitchen with Adam and a trip to the Grant Park Market with a girlfriend and her cute baby did my heart a world of good.

Something about the bright colors

and endless possibilities for creation

fills my soul with joy.

A shoeless, smiling musician or two

doesn’t hurt either.

I indulged in one of The Little Tart’s creamy quiches

with the most delightful crust, and I got to feast my eyes on one of Doggy Dogg’s larger-than-life hotdog concoctions.

Holy cow.  I grabbed a full bag of apples from Mercier Orchards- half Jonagolds and half Granny Smiths.

‘Tis the season after all!  This week, I’ve incorporated those crisp lovelies into barbecue sauce, collard greens, and slaws.  Keep your eyes peeled for an apple cider rum cocktail from me in the near future.  I feel it coming- with a cinnamon sugar rim.  Yup.  It’s fall, y’all.

Rejuvenated and back in my happy place, Adam and I made a fun and yummy dinner spotlighting the season’s gems.

I share with you Acorn Squash and Kale Stuffed Dumplings with Chicken Sausage, Green Beans, and Shallots.  I call this post “Choose Your Own Adventure”, because you could go a million different ways with this meal.  I’ll show you what we did and give you suggestions for variations too.

I was originally inspired by the acorn squash and knew I wanted to pair it with kale to make a scrumptious dumpling filling.  So, we preheated the oven to 400° and cut our squash in half.

We scooped out the seeds and dressed the squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg.

I used a brush to even out the seasonings and then placed the squash, cut side up, on a sheet pan and roasted her until she was nice and tender, about 30 – 45 minutes.

You could easily use butternut squash instead.  Actually, you can make a dumpling filling out of just about anything you like.  I wanted to keep ours super simple, so the flavors of the squash and kale would shine.

While the squash was roasting, we browned our chicken sausage.

This is an amazingly aromatic chicken sausage from the Spotted Trotter that has parsley, lemon, and some kick to it.  Chicken sausage of all types are readily available in regular grocery stores, but you could employ any kind of sausage your heart desires.  You could crumble it into the pan instead of keeping it in links too.

Mmm.  Once the sausage is browned, remove it to a plate and let it cool enough to handle it.  Eventually, you will cut into into discs.

If I’m really honest here- which I am- we ate about 1/2 of one of those sausages as a snack.  It was torn from the start, so we felt obligated.  Soooo yummy.

Onto the kale.

Simply run your hand up the rib of the kale to separate the leaf from the rib.  Then, give the greens a good rinse.  Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a big ole pinch of salt to the water once it boils.  Add the kale leaves and boil for about 3 – 4 minutes, until the leaves are bright green.

If you have dinosaur kale, you can just blanch for one minute.  Stay close to the pot, as the kale likes to rise and you’ll need to stuff it gently back into the water.  Make an ice bath in a large bowl and transfer the bright green leaves to the bowl.

You can use a slotted spoon to pull the leaves out, keeping your pot of water in tact.

At this point, our squash was fork-tender, so we pulled it out of the oven

and let it cool.

Next, pull your kale leaves out of the water and squeeze fist-fulls of the greens over the sink to remove the liquid.  Lay your kale on your board and chop it pretty finely.

Scoop out the flesh of your acorn squash and place it in a large bowl with the kale.

All we added here was 2 cloves of pressed garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and more nutmeg.  You can spin this any way you want.  You could add ginger, red chilies, and cilantro and go Asian.  You could add jalapenos, chorizo, and a little lime zest and go Mexican.  Honestly- the flavoring is all up to you.  We kept it very minimalistic, since we knew we’d be serving the dumplings with zesty sausage, and Parmesan.

Stir to combine the filling components well, and taste it.  Make sure your seasoning is spot on.

Next, we prepared our green beans.  I was sort of treating the dumplings like ravioli- stuffing inside, and tossed with another veggie.  I wanted some bright green on my final plate, and I had fresh, local beans to use.  You could skip the extra veg- or you could opt for peas or saute some zucchini or asparagus.

I blanched my beans in salted water for 5 minutes

and then placed them in an ice bath.

Easy and respectful of the ingredient.

Now, time for the fun part!  Dumplings!

Keep your wonton wrappers in the freezer until just about 15 minutes before you’re ready to wrap.  Grab yourself a bowl of water and a towel or plastic wrap to cover the stack of wonton squares while you work.  You’ll also need a pot of water (I used the same water I used to blanch my beans.) that is hanging out just below boiling.  My burner was on medium.  And, you’ll need a pan to brown the dumplings.  I chose nonstick to avoid any sticky situations.

Use your finger to moisten 2 adjacent sides of the square.  Then, place about a teaspoon of filling into the middle- no more than 2 teaspoons.

Trust me, if you overfill these babies, you will have a blow out.

Then, fold the dry sides over to meet the wet sides and create a triangle.

The key here is to press out the air bubbles.  So, work from the filling out to the perimeter, pressing the layers closed together as you go.  You want to really seal those edges.  It takes some  practice, but it’s not hard.  I promise.

Now, there are lots of tutorials on the web about how to fold, pleat, and create dumpling shapes.  As usual, I sort of made up my own method.  After I seal my triangle, I start from the point on the right side and fold it back, pressing.  Then, I kind of ripple the shell to make a few pleats up to the top.  I fold the top point down and press.  Then, I repeat the rippling on the left side.

They look like little purses.  They’re not perfectly symmetrical, but I like them!  The important part is the pressing and sealing all along the way.

Once you’ve got about 5 ready, you can start cooking.

Gently place your dumplings into the hot water one at a time, careful not to crowd the pot.  They will float after a couple of minutes- as you can barely see in this blurry photo.  That’s when you remove the dumpling from the water.

Place that dumpling in a hot pan with a nice coating of canola oil.  My burner was just below medium heat.  Be aware that the water will make the oil splatter a bit.

Brown the purses for a couple minutes on each side.

I like to set them up on their bottoms to crisp that side too.

As they brown, you can remove the dumplings to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with a touch of salt.

Trouble shooting: if you are having blow-outs in the water or lots of puffing in the pan, then you’re not getting all of the air out.  Like I said, practice will make this easier over time.

Keep on filling, blanching, and browning until your heart is content.  This is a playful activity to share with friends or your favorite cooking companion.  We had enough filling to make more than 20 dumplings.

Now, you could stop right here and serve these as appetizers.  They are insanely delicious.  The crispy outside is such a treat and the filling tastes just like fall!  They can stand on their own two feet, or you could serve them with a dipping sauce- maybe an herby Greek yogurt sauce or a peanut sauce.  Yum.

But, here’s how we turned them into a full meal…Keep dumplings warm in a 200° oven.

I sliced up one shallot and got it into my empty dumpling pan with a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Once the shallot had softened, I added my sliced sausage and green beans to the pan.

We tossed it all together and seasoned with a little salt and pepper.

Everything was already cooked at this point, so the goal was just to warm it all through.

As far as plating goes, you can set a few dumplings on a plate and then ladle some of your sausage, beans, and shallots on the side, topped with a little fresh Parmesan cheese and ribboned basil- like so.

Or you could go family style

and place a whole bunch of dumplings in a bowl, topped with sausage, green beans, cheese and basil.  Either way works!

This meal made me happy!

I could have eaten about a billion of those dumplings.  I love the combination of squash and kale, and inside of that wonderful wonton skin, each dumpling was like a little gift of deliciousness.  The green beans were also crisp-tender and juicy- a lovely contrast of texture.  That sausage is like a work of art, and I made sure to pair each little disc with a bite of dumpling.  The sweetness of the shallots really brought the acorn squash to the forefront.  And the sharp Parmesan and fresh basil tied it all together.

Dinner was a feast for the senses.  And well, breakfast was too.  Nothing like a cold, flavorful dumpling first thing in the morning.  I know that makes my mom shiver, but I think it’s fab!

I hope that this post finds you in a happy place.  I think the moon and stars have realigned, as it seems most of my peeps are having a much better week this time around.  My perspective is certainly renewed and strengthened.  I also hope that I’ve inspired you to try something new in your kitchen today.  Why not give dumplings a whirl?  Or, if you have a pasta maker, you can break it out and turn this recipe into authentic kale and squash raviolis.  Either way, have some fun, get cooking, and share the joy with your loves.  Let me know which adventure you choose!

Happy cooking and eating to you.




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