As noted elsewhere, kabocha is one of my favorite winter squashes. And see? As also noted elsewhere, it's called "winter" squash because though you harvest it in the fall, if you store it properly you can have it to eat "fresh" deep into winter. E.g., hey, it's January, and I just cut up and roasted my last one, which sat whole and raw in a cloth bag on the floor of my not especially well insulated pantry for months without rotting in any appreciable way.
Kabocha is one of your sweeter winter squashes, definitely closer in taste and texture to sweet potato than pumpkin on my personal scale of winter squash qualities (also described elsewhere). It's really nothing like a sweet potato, though. When you cut into one raw, a strong, almost floral fragrance also reminiscent of ripe cantaloupe embraces your nose, and even when deeply caramelized the squash retains a little of that flavor. It's good eating plain, it makes wonderful soup, and as I proved yesterday, it also makes a lovely muffin.
Here's a recipe I invented yesterday evening when I should have been doing something else but couldn't stop obsessing over that last foil-wrapped quarter of a baked kabocha sitting in my fridge.
Kabocha Muffins for Distracted Writers and Other Not Necessarily Shameless Procrastinators
1 tightly packed C well-roasted kabocha squash flesh (discard peel)
½ C melted butter
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 jumbo egg
1¾ C whole wheat flour
2 t cinnamon
2 t cardamom
½ t cloves
1 T baking powder
½ C nonfat, plain yogurt
1 t Grand Marnier
1 C raisins
½ C walnut pieces, hand-crumbled into small bits
1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
2. In one bowl, whisk together flour, spices, and baking powder. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, whisk together melted butter and brown sugar until well blended, then blend in egg.
4. With a sharp rubber spatula, blend flour mixture into brown sugar mixture.
5. Blend in kabocha, yogurt, Grand Marnier, then raisins and walnuts, until everything is evenly distributed.
6. Fill greased muffin cups and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.
One question I know will pop into many minds is, "Can I use another kind of winter squash?" Of course you can. If you do, though, I strongly recommend you rethink the seasonings.
When I invent a recipe, I devise the seasoning by smell. I pull a bunch of likely flavors together, and then I smell them together before I mix them. When devising this recipe, I had my brown sugar and butter mixed together in one bowl, I had the baked kabocha in a glass measuring cup, and I had a bunch of likely spices I'd pulled off the rack. I opened bottles. I put the kabocha up to one nostril, and each seasoning up to the other simultaneously, one seasoning at a time. I put the squash cup, the sugar/butter bowl, and various combinations of the open bottles together on the counter, and then I bent over them and smelled them together with deep breaths through the nose. (I did not put anything so close to my nose that it made me sneeze.) This is how I decided not to use ginger. This is how I decided not to use vanilla. This is also how I decided how much of everything to use. Nutmeg was nice with the kabocha, but not so nice that I wanted it to rule each bite of the finished cakes. There was an empty space in my mind's nose between the kabocha and the raisins that screamed out for liqueur of some sort, but not much, just enough to wrap them together, and that's how I ended up with just a teaspoonful of Grand Marnier.
And about that Grand Marnier, sure, it's optional, and yes, I do think a tiny splash of rum or cognac or even Irish whiskey might also do very nicely. There's an innate fruitiness to kabocha squash, though, and it becomes a very delicate fruitiness once the squash has been cooked. Whatever liqueur -- or liquor -- you choose, if any, should enhance but not overpower that. And if you use a different kind of squash, you may not want to use booze at all. Or you might want to use something utterly different.
For example, if I were making this with delicata squash, I would use far fewer spices, probably not clove (though I can't say without smelling), maybe not even cinnamon. I think I would put in a whole vanilla bean, but not any liqueur. Well, maybe a tiny splash of Frangelico. Or maybe not. I probably wouldn't use walnuts, but might use pecans chopped small but not ground. Currants would probably be a better choice than raisins, too. On the other hand, if I were using acorn squash, I think there'd have to be ginger, and possibly cranberries.
Without putting them together under my nose, I can't be sure, but do you see what I mean? Yes, structurally and chemically speaking, any winter squash can be used, and sure, any or no alcohol. However, if you do choose a different squash, smell your seasonings and other flavors and additions with it before you do any mixing and think carefully about whether this is really the best combination. I hate to say it, but --
-- the nose knows.