Seriously fun food: dinner-in-a-pumpkin

Seriously fun food: dinner-in-a-pumpkin
November 22, 2011 Betsy Stone

Maggie Erwin, registered dietitian, CARES, shows off the finished product

The Hunger Coalition introduced CARES and River City Food Bank to each other, but fun – and love of food – keeps them together.

Picture 25 people in a room enthusiastically taking turns to hollow out a small pumpkin, chop onions and shallots, shred cabbage, brown some beef and then mix the beef with tomato sauce, water and rice.  Mmmm… and then imagine the best part: sampling the dinner-in-a-pumpkin that had been prepared hours before.

Every month, Eileen Thomas presents the one-hour, free “Fun with Cooking” cooking class at CARES (a health clinic and community STD testing site) to people who are looking for tasty and affordable ways to improve the quality of their meals.  Showing people on tight budgets how to make crowd pleasing meals with food pantry staples is a highlight of Eileen’s month.  Participants come from both CARES and the food bank.

Margie Erwin, registered dietitian of CARES, explained that the cooking class is a great match between the two organizations’ missions:  “River City Food Bank clients benefit from CARES services and access to nutrition  information from CARES’ registered dietitian and dietetic interns, and RCFB clients benefit from knowing about CARES.”

Lisa Steele, guest teacher, and Jaclyn Goldsmith, UCD Dietetics program intern

Facing the impending move to the new building and extra work of the holidays, Eileen accepted an offer from a guest teacher, Lisa Steele, who trained as a registered dietitian and shares Eileen’s love of cooking.

Participants all received the makings for the recipe, which serves 4 to 6 — including the sugar pumpkins.  Their commitment?  To make the recipe at home.

This wasn’t your quiet, awestruck cooking class.  The participants actively cheered one another on, applauded the outcome and exchanged ideas about ways to switch up the easy recipe.  For example, the recipe could go vegetarian by substituting black beans for the ground beef.  Or Asian with some ginger and soy sauce.  Or Mexican with corn and chili. It’s so versatile that any grain can be used in place of rice.

The goal of the partnership is to improve people’s consumption of nutritious foods despite economic limitations and, ultimately, to improve their health and quality of life.

The class participants highly recommend garnishing with a little fresh nutmeg just as the dish is served!

Here’s the recipe, chosen by Eileen, and adapted from by Lisa:



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

[Prep time is approximately 20 minutes]

Wash pumpkin, cut off top, scrape out seeds and discard.  Salt & pepper inside of pumpkin.

Place hamburger in a large, deep skillet.

Crumble and cook over medium high heat until brown.

Drain fat, add onion and garlic; saute slightly.

Add sugar, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, tomato juice and rice; mix thoroughly.

Layer inside of pumpkin with 1/3 of cabbage, green beans and beef/rice mixture.

Repeat layers, replace lid and bake for 2 to 3 hours (check after the first hour).