A Winter Squash Challenge

A few weeks ago, I entered and was chosen to participate in Joanne’s Marx Foods Recipe Impossible Challenge, with the main ingredient being winter squash.

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Not one to turn down a food challenge, I was excited to see what showed up on my doorstep a week later.

As part of the challenge, we had three rules:

  • The recipe must use winter squash
  • The recipe must use at least 2 of the secret ingredients
  • The recipe must be posted by October 27th

This recipe challenge was put on by Marx Foods, so each participant was sent a box of “secret ingredients” to use in our final recipes.

The box had such a great mix of ingredients, and (except for the maple sugar), they were all items I had never used before!

  • fennel pollen
  • espresso salt
  • ginger salt
  • maple sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • vanilla beans
  • pasilla negro chiles
  • aji panca chiles

Honestly, this mix of ingredients had me torn.

Do I make a sweet or savory dish? Sweet or savory?

I brainstormed for a few days and decided to just do one of each! I had two great ideas that I really wanted to try with the ingredients I received.

Thankfully, I fought the squash and I won.

Winter Squash Challenge Recipe 1: Savory

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My first dish is one you’ve already seen in pictures.

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Chunky Mocha Mole Chili

  • 1 acorn squash, halved and sliced
  • 2 pasilla negro chiles, rehydrated
  • 2 aji panca chiles, rehydrated
  • 1 lb. ground buffalo
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans kidney beans, drained rinsed
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp espresso salt
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Halve acorn squash and remove seeds. Slice into 1” slices. Lay on baking sheet and roast at 400 for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through until soft and browned.
  3. Cut tops off all chiles and remove seeds.
  4. Place chiles in bowl of warm water and let sit about 5 minutes.
  5. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat.
  6. Add onion, garlic, and carrot and cook 2-3 minutes until softened.
  7. Stir in black beans, 1 can of kidney beans, and crushed tomatoes.
  8. Once mixture is combined, put mixture in blender/food processor and let sit.
  9. In same pot, add in ground buffalo. Brown meat.
  10. Once meat is cooked, add tomato paste, cocoa powder, espresso salt, and cumin.
  11. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  12. Drain chiles and add them to the blender/food processor with the bean mixture. Blend together.
  13. Pour bean and chile mixture into meat.
  14. Add remaining can of beans.
  15. Once squash is roasted, cut peel away and slice into bite size chunks. Stir squash into chili.
  16. Serve in halved acorn squash, if possible, and top with avocado.

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Honestly. I’ve always though that I made pretty good chili.

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But this recipe was incredible. I don’t think I can make chili without dried chiles now! There was such a deep and rich flavor in this dish – maybe it was the combination of chiles, espresso salt, and cocoa – but whatever it was, I want it in every chili I have from now on.

I was so surprised that this chili had such a great flavor because I didn’t let it cook for hours or simmer in the crockpot all day long. And that makes me happy. Because now I know – with dried chiles, coffee, and cocoa powder, I can make an amazing chili in 30 minutes, if needed.

And while you don’t have to serve this in a squash bowl, it’s a fun way to eat it.

Winter Squash Challenge Recipe 2: Sweet

For my second recipe…I had a very hard time deciding what to make.

I honestly had a list of about five recipes I wanted to try with these ingredients, but I finally put together a recipe I thought would work and that was something I thought Nick and I would both enjoy.

See…I like winter squash more than Nick. So I wanted to make sure I chose recipes that we would both want to eat.

Challenge accepted, challenge completed.

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My sweet creation included 4 of the “secret ingredients”.

  • Vanilla bean
  • Ginger salt
  • Maple sugar
  • Coconut sugar

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Going sweet in this recipe meant one thing: Butternut.

Bright orange.

Smooth and creamy.

A sign of fall.

Enough sweetness to carry a sweet dish or contrast spicy heat.

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Can you believe this was my first time to ever use fresh vanilla?

I’m not sure I can ever go back to vanilla extract.

This stuff is like black gold. My house smelled amazing for hours.

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Butternut Streusel Casserole

Base:

  • 1 2-2 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp agave
  • 2 tsp ginger salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean
  • 2 tsp fresh orange zest
  • 1/4 cup milk

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1 Tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp maple sugar
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped pecans
  • 1 Tbsp coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Steam squash on stovetop or in microwave. Let sit and cool 5 minutes.
  3. Mix all topping ingredients in bowl and set aside.
  4. Once squash has cooled 5 minutes, mash with potato masher or forks until smooth.
  5. Beat in eggs, agave, ginger salt, vanilla, orange zest, and milk.
  6. Pour squash mixture into 4 6 oz. ramekins or 1 8×8 or oval baking dish.
  7. Top with streusel mixture.
  8. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until topping is golden and squash filling is set.
  9. Let cool 5 minutes and serve.

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Fresh vanilla is the key in this! Although, the maple + coconut sugars made an amazing crust…you just can’t ignore the beautiful little black specks in the butternut base.

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We had this with our dinner last night.

Sort of side dish, but sort of dessert. It was the perfect item to have along with our Hearst Ranch flank steak and salad.

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Thanks to Joanne for offering this winter squash challenge and to Marx Foods for hosting it and sending the secret ingredients.

I felt like I was on Iron Chef opening up the box of samples, wondering what I had to work with.

I had a great time working with all the ingredients and learned so much about new flavors and textures.

And now that this one is over…I’m ready for a new challenge Smile

30 comments

  1. OH my gosh… both of these sound divine! Your bowl about looks EXACTLY like the bowl I have in my kitchen, those squash, 2 pie pumpkins, just add an acorn squash and its identical! I really want to try the Mocha Mole Chili. Holy yum!

  2. Wow you did a fabulous job with using your secret ingredients. You’re so creative–I love it! I am not sure which dish I’d make first being that they both sound great!

  3. I love butternut squash. The butternut strussel casserole looks delicious! You are so creative using those secret ingredients! :)

  4. That chili looks delicioussss! I’m salivating on my keyboard right now, and it’s not even 8 AM.

  5. Oh my. That butternut squash looks fantastic.

    And your picture of the vanilla bean is incredible! Awesome!

  6. this chili recipe looks AMAZING!! i adore using dried chilis, it gives such authentic flavor. this one is definitely getting starred in my reader, wow, excited to try this! :)

  7. ooh, i almost made a chili! that looks absolutely amazing, and i’m totally making both of those :)

  8. Everything looks amazing!! I am hosting BSI this week (well 2 weeks since Halloween in this weekend) – the secret ingredient . . . . chiles! :D

    You should enter :D

  9. I love a good recipe challenge as well. I love seeing what you came up with. I probably would have done a sweet and savory item as well because with those fun ingredients, how can you choose!

  10. Great job utilizing the ingredients, very creative recipes!

  11. That sounds amazing Brandi. I love imagining the house smelling like fresh vanilla. I would love that. Vanilla is one of my favorite scents.

  12. I have always wanted to make a Butternut Squash Crisp. This challenge sounds perfect!! :) Sign me up!

  13. I have the biggest sweet tooth – I can’t believe I’m actually totally drooling over the description (and pictures) of the chilli. I had an amazing mole in San Antonio earlier this year and this sounds even better! :)

  14. What a fun challenge! You came up with great recipes!

  15. Brandi!

    WOW!!! LOVE your blog! When did you start this? I had no idea you were SO UNBELIEVABLY talented in the kitchen! I MUST check this out. Bill LOVES Butternut squash…all the kids do actually. We are going to try this YUMMY dish!

    So glad to see you on here!

    Much love…from all us McCarthys

  16. WOW that challenge sounds like so much fun!!!! What a great way to be creative!

  17. Wow–amazing. The streusel is just inviting me to take a bite . . . like, right now . . .
    As a fellow participant in the challenge, I have yet to use the vanilla beans, but I can’t wait for the aromas that will spring forth. Mmmmm.

  18. mmm squash as a savory meal is just as lovely as a sweet meal!! i got my squash on last night with red kuri squash. gotta buy acorn squash again tho, looks LOVELY <3

  19. Two recipes! Look at you. They both look incredible. Fresh vanilla beans are so fragrant and so delicious. I’m sure you already know about putting the scraped beans in sugar and using them for vanilla sugar – yum!

  20. this sounds amazing! I was in the contest too and since I have leftover ingredients, I think I’ll use your ideas :)

  21. I had the same plan: a sweet and a savory! I only ended up with a sweet dish, though, so good for you for doing 2! They both look fabulous!

  22. Two great ideas! I can’t wait to try that casserole

  23. Pingback: BSI – Chiles Round Up! | My Bizzy Kitchen

  24. Wow, what great ingredients you got to work with!! I haven’t heard/nor used some of those ingredients either…espresso salt? I’ll have to look that one up.

    And, I too have NEVER used a fresh vanilla bean, that’s on my to-do list to!

    Great job!!!

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  26. Hey-that receipe looks great!

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