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 ( 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)

The challenge here (aside from 30 minutes) was to make something creative and unusual. With the squash as the focal point, I thought I could make chips out of it, then the nacho idea fell into place. In the last Pantry Kitchen Challenge, many of the items I made were interesting but didn’t always taste great. Butternuchos were delish and would go great during the next Seahawks win.

— Paul Shapiro

Autumn doughnut holes with nutmeg cream soda icing (30 minutes flat)

Darci Rogojin used the squash and apple as part of a filling for these fall-flavored doughnut holes, and paired it with a cream soda glaze. (Courtesy of Darci Rogojin)

I’ve never in my life made doughnuts, and although I used premade biscuit dough, these weren’t as scary as I thought they’d be. Hot oil has always made me nervous but these were very easy and quick to make and turned out delicious. Perfect to eat during autumn with the flavors we all love this time of year. Husband approved so I’ll be making them again. 

— Darci Rogojin

Tamarind stir-fry (30 minutes flat)

Beth Cavalli’s secret ingredient was Jarritos tamarind soda — it transformed her dish into one of Asian flavors that went beyond what you’d normally think possible with apples and squash. (Courtesy of Beth Cavalli)

With this ingredients list, I thought we would get a lot of soups and baked items.  I have always liked spaghetti squash. Microwaving it for 15 minutes and then stir-frying kept it al dente. Adding the apple at the end before the sauce prevented the apple from getting mushy. Tamarind and fish sauce added some big funky taste. Be generous with the garlic. It turned out great!

— Beth Cavalli

Filled with Goodness (30 minutes prep; 120 minutes cook time)

Joan and Keri Segna used the challenge as an opportunity to take a mother-daughter day. They stuffed a pumpkin with all matter of fall ingredients to make a savory delight. (Courtesy of The Segnas)

It was the first time since Christmas that we (mother and daughter) spent a weekend together, thank you COVID. … We tossed around several ideas, settled on a stuffed pumpkin or squash because of a fond memory of a family Halloween dinner from years ago of a stuffed pumpkin. But what to stuff it with and keep within the 30 minute prep time? Two women who love to cook can spend a lot of time discussing food! We settled on ingredients and next up was a trip to a farmers market. The riot of fall produce and colors as we started shopping convinced us that we were on the right path! So here is our take on the squash, apple, soda and spice challenge.  

— Keri and Joan Segna

Chicken curry with squash and apples (30 minutes prep; 40 minutes cook time)

Tom Finnegan was going to make a galette, but he decided on a curry instead — and the flavors worked surprisingly well together, he said. (Courtesy of Tom Finnega)

I decided to make curry, which my wife and daughter both thoroughly enjoyed. … It seems like a lot of steps, but it all goes together pretty quickly. Feel free to add additional veggies or additional hot peppers if you would like a little more heat. I only used part of the large butternut squash we had. … I added some ham, because, why not, and omitted the egg white and added 1/4 cup ginger beer.

Thomas Finnegan

Pumpkin and apple English pudding with root beer glaze (30 minutes prep; 90 minutes cook time)

Jeff Abrams made a sweet stuffed pumpkin, figuring out a way to essentially bake a loaf of pumpkin bread within a pumpkin. It was quite the sight to behold. (Courtesy of Jeff Abrams)

I’m a nut for seeds, so we always have a few pumpkins around the house as soon as fall arrives. … The thought occurred to me, what would happen if I took pumpkin bread ingredients and baked them inside an actual pumpkin? The result is tasty but more puddinglike in consistency than bread, thus the name. Soda was a bit of a twist, but in my mind, I thought root beer flavors would pair well with nutmeg, cinnamon and apples. They really do. 

Jeff Abrams

Pork and apple ravioli with pumpkin cream sauce (30 minutes flat)

Kathy Hunt had the innovative idea to use wonton wrappers to make this pumpkin and apple ravioli. (Courtesy of Kathy Hunt)

Quick and delicious! It was my first time trying wonton wrapper ravioli and I’m excited to expand on new fillings. They were so easy and fast. I used Cock & Bull ginger beer, which is extra gingery. You could probably use a ginger ale if you don’t want so much spice. But then of course the extra ginger beer makes for a nice Moscow Mule along the way … I cook for one, sometimes two, and I am always looking for speed, ease and fewer pots and pans. The wonton skins and canned pumpkin helped with this challenge’s “wild card” rule of 30 minutes of prep.

Kathy Hunt

Apple ginger waffles, with butternut squash and ginger ale compote (30 minutes flat)

Breakfast for dinner is sometimes the best kind of dinner. Especially when you make waffles with a squash apple compote that comes complete with ginger orange glaze. (Courtesy of Kevin Rochlin)

This challenge was tricky because I am neither a fan of sugary soda nor nutmeg. I considered a braise with chicken or pork but could not figure out how to make it in a half-hour even with a pressure cooker. I decided to make waffles with squash compote. Honestly, breakfast is one of my favorite dinners.

Kevin Rochlin

Vegan roasted acorn squash with lentil apple stuffing and Coca-Cola gravy (30 minutes flat)

Toni Hudson made a roasted acorn squash with lentil apple stuffing. But the star of the show was the Coca-Cola gravy — and by the way, it’s all vegan. (Courtesy of Toni Hudson)

I love these fall flavors and have to say that I’ve never attempted a Coca-Cola gravy, but I am now HOOKED. Roasted, nutmeg-cinnamon-spiced acorn squash complements a sweet, buttery stuffing with lentils, apples, cranberry, herbs and spices. Topped with fried sage leaves and that Coca-Cola gravy. … What a great way to kick off the fall season! This dish is vegan, but I doubt carnivores would even miss the meat and dairy!

— Toni Hudson

Pork medallions with apple compote and fall harvest hash (30 minutes flat)

Sada Adams incorporated some pork medallions to complement the apples and maximize the fall-themed ingredients in this dish. (Courtesy of Sada Adams)

I loved this challenge! Fall squash are so fun and versatile. It was hard to decide what to make. I did end up using two different sodas, two kinds of apples and two different squash though. Overachiever or indecisive? I chose the pork medallions because they cook up in minutes and roasted veggies are always a go-to for an easy, simple side. Only thing I would have changed was bigger apple and Brussels sprouts chunks for more even cooking. Overall, it was a delicious, quick and easy weeknight meal.

— Sada Adams

Squash and apple lasagna (30 minutes prep; 45 minutes cook time)

This squash-and-apple take on lasagna is a little sweet and a little savory thanks to the inclusion of some cheese. (Courtesy of Erin Hickey)

The savory dish I made is a squash and apple lasagna. I simmered the squash in ginger beer to soften it before baking the whole thing in the oven. It is a little sweet, but the cheesy filling makes it more of a savory dish. We ate ours with some ground sausage too, which would also be a good addition to the lasagna itself. I was skeptical of how the lasagna would be at first, but the cheese and nutmeg balanced well with the squash and apple, and it had a nice consistency. The only thing lacking was some color. If the prep time was a little longer, I might have also added some sautéed kale or spinach and caramelized onions.

Erin Hickey

Detroit “swavory” fall pizza (15 minutes prep; 25 minutes cook time)

Vicki Schuman made what she calls a “swavory” pizza — sweet and savory. It combines delicata squash with sweet tango apples atop pizza crust. And the special ingredient: a Persian spice blend called Advieh. (Courtesy of Vicki Schuman)

This sweet and savory — swavory — pizza is a taste blast for fall! I used delicata squash because [then I] didn’t need to cut rind. You can eat the delicata squash rind and it gives the pizza a nice texture. The sweet tango apple and delicata squash complement each other nicely. I added rosemary to the crust to give an extra fall flavor. The cheesy nutmeg sauce is a nice change to cheese and elevates the squash.

— Vicki Schuman

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