The Pantry Kitchen’s ‘Weeknight Challenge’ yields stuffed squash recipes and many unexpected gems

The goal with the first challenge of Season 2 of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge was to get everyone in an autumnal mood, and to introduce the new “wild card” rule designed to throw a different wrinkle into each round. Wellll …. perhaps we should have been more specific?

Round 1 was “The Weeknight Challenge” with a 30-minute prep time limit, and squash, apples, nutmeg and soda as the ingredients. We didn’t foresee that folks would interpret the 30-minute limit in two different ways: 30 minutes to prep the dish and get it ready for cooking or 30 minutes from prep to plating.


So to be fair, we selected the top three finishers in both categories. (And props to those of you who saw “30-minute prep” and decided this meant 30 minutes total!) You hustled and came up with some pretty impressive stuff. This challenge garnered 45 entries! Many of you saw the ingredients list and thought stuffed squash or butternut squash soup. So bonus points for those who went above and beyond those two staples.

In the “30-minutes from prep to plating” category, Paul Shapiro wins for butternutchos, turning butternut squash into tortilla chips for a unique plate of nachos. Runners-up: Darci Rogojin, whose autumn doughnut holes with nutmeg cream soda icing looked delectable, and Beth Cavalli, who combined Western ingredients with Mexican and Asian flavors — tamarind soda! — to create a tamarind stir-fry!

In the “30-minutes prep, then cook to your heart’s content” category, the mother-daughter tandem of Joan and Keri Segna wowed us with this gorgeous stuffed pumpkin dinner called Filled with Goodness. Runners-up: Thomas Finnegan transformed the ingredients into an interesting chicken curry with squash and apples, while Jeff Abrams also stuffed a pumpkin in spectacular fashion to produce pumpkin and apple English pudding with root beer glaze.

Here are the top 12 submissions! Thanks for playing. See below for details on Round 2.

Season 2 Round 2 “The Entreé Challenge”



  • You have to use all four ingredients, but you can use as many additional ingredients as you desire. 
  • Wild card rule for Round 2: You have to make an entrée. Defined as: more substantial than appetizers. You cannot make dessert for this round. Sorry dessert lovers!
  • Deadline: Create a dish, tell us how successful you were and email photos (JPG files!), your recipe and a description of your dish to food editor Stefanie Loh ([email protected]) by Friday, Oct. 16. 
  • Judging will be based on creativity, how well you incorporated the four ingredients, presentation and adherence to the wild card rule. We’ll name the top three entries and select several of the most interesting submissions to be published in a future edition of The Mix.

Pantry Kitchen Challenge Season 2 Round 1 Best Reader Submissions

*To download a PDF of recipes from this round, click here.

Butternuchos (30 minutes flat)

Paul Shapiro turned slices of butternut squash into tortilla chips for this plate of “butternuchos.”  (Courtesy of Paul Shapiro)
Paul Shapiro turned slices of butternut squash into tortilla chips for this plate of “butternuchos.” (Courtesy of Paul Shapiro)


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A few perennial gems to help brighten up the fall garden

No matter how many times I visit the garden center, I always seem to find a plant that looks interesting and is calling to me to take it home and add it to the landscape. You would think that I would run out of space eventually, but any gardener worth his or her salt can always find a spot for a new introduction.

Here are a few treasures that caught my eye this week as I toured the nursery.

Euphorbia “Ascot Rainbow”: Euphorbias are tough, drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant, evergreen perennials that thrive in sunny, well-drained locations and require very little maintenance to keep them happy. Admittedly, some of them can be problematic, but the vast majority found in garden centers are trouble free. For the most part, they come in blue, gray and dark purple foliar colors, but “Ascot” is an exception. Its generous yellow edges give it a warm feeling, perfect for this time of year when we are looking for fall-ish kinds of plants to mix into our containers or the landscape. While I grow euphorbias mostly for their foliage, they do bloom starting in the late winter and the “flowers” — they are actually bracts — will last several months. Note: Euphorbias have a milky sap that can cause skin irritation for some sensitive gardeners.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides: I know that is a mouthful, so let’s just call it plumbago or leadwort for short. I have a patch of this growing out of a retaining wall that emerges in late spring with glossy 2-inch leaves and, in late summer and throughout the fall, it is covered with gentian-blue flowers — a color coveted by many gardeners, especially ladies. The foliage turns a rich reddish-purple in the fall before going dormant for the winter. While it is a little hard to find, it is a great low-growing perennial for a sunny to part shady spot in your garden. If you can find it, grab it.

Lamb’s ears “Primrose Heron”: This is a twist on the ever-popular lamb’s ears whose leaves are soft, felt-like and perfect for petting. “Primrose Heron” sports chartreuse foliage in early spring, turning to the typical gray color in summer. It makes a great groundcover or edging for the perennial border, and works well in fall containers. The flowers are anti-climactic, so I usually remove them to encourage more foliar growth. This plant is easy to propagate and can be divided and spread around the garden or shared with friends.

“Prince” calico aster: Fall-blooming asters, sometimes known as Michaelmas daisies, are great additions to the perennial border and come in a range of colors from white to pink to blue or purple. Think of them as bullet-proof mums. Frikartii “Monch” is probably my favorite with the largest blue flowers of the aster family. On the other hand, “Prince” has dark purple foliage all summer and is covered with a profusion of starry white flowers blushed with pink and purple this time of

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