Chipotle Braised Butternut Squash with Black Beans and Brown Rice, or My trip to Cleveland, Part 2

Of course the reason I went to Cleveland in September was because my recipe was chosen as a contender in the Aetna Healthy Food Fight. I was pretty excited to have my recipe chosen as it was my first time entering a recipe contest with an original dish. The guidelines for the contest were pretty stringent, for example the cost of whole dish couldn’t exceed $13.00 and the recipes received points for nutrition after each one was analyzed at the Culinary Institute of America. The final step for the competition was the cook-off. There are 10 cook-offs taking place around the country and the winners of each are invited to Los Angeles to cook a healthy Thanksgiving dinner for Bobby Flay!

To stay within the budget, I decided that using a local, seasonal vegetable would be an economic start and with fall upon us, the butternut squash was the best choice. Often people eat butternut squash on the sweet side, for example roasting it with brown sugar or maple syrup, but for my stew, I wanted to have a nice balance. I thought, “If this is being served as an entree, it should be savory and flavorful!” and having recently braised some short ribs with Chipotle peppers, I knew that this was going to be a really tasty way to prepare my squash. I wanted to add protein, and again due to budgetary reasons, I went with black beans. They are a great source of protein and fiber, not to mention delicious! I love to cook dried beans low and slow to develop their flavor, but for ease of preparation I went with canned beans. I tinkered with different additions and in the end, was very happy with the result. Because the use of whole grains was an important part of the nutritional analysis, I included the brown rice (which was almost the death of me during the competition!!)
When we got to the Ripe Festival where the Food Fight was happening we found out that they were already 2 hours behind schedule. Tami was supposed to cook at 2pm and I was to cook at 4 pm so it was a long day of waiting for our turns!

We watched a fellow personal chef at the noon time slot (which happened at 2 pm) so it was good to see the layout and some of the competition. The funny thing was the judges for that round! They were volunteers and employees of Aetna and the Botanical Gardens where the competition took place. There was one judge who tasted everything and made faces like she’d just eaten a bug. She was definitely NOT a foodie and Tami and I were glad that there was a change of the guard before we cooked. The new set of judges were very fun and excited to be judging the competition!

Tami finally got on stage at around 4. She made a great lettuce wrap with ground turkey, sweet potatoes, black beans and Chinese 5-spice. (Somehow I don’t have a picture of it though!) She was hands down the winner of her round!

At 6pm I finally got my turn! The staff in charge were a fun group of people, and there was an awesome R&B band playing across the lawn that got me dancing while I was cooking. I had a blast!
(Poor Tami had to cook with a very sad band trying to cover some awesome songs from the 70’s and 80’s but doing a really lame job of it!)

We were supplied with a convection oven and induction burners and pots and pans. They also provided the ingredients, and of course, mine were not what I asked for and I had to MacGuyver my way out of that fiasco, but it all worked out fine.

Cooking brown rice takes almost an hour on the stovetop and often it can get gummy if you aren’t careful, but cooking it in the oven is a brilliant way to make perfect brown rice every time. I use Alton Brown’s baked brown rice recipe from Foodnetwork which makes it easy, except…. working with a powerful, restaurant grade convection oven messed me up and at 30 minutes, the rice didn’t seem to be cooking (because I had reduced the temperature0 so I switched to the stovetop for some added excitement!
The stew came together really quickly but the darn rice kept me waiting and waiting.. I hate when that happens! But it all worked out and the final dish came together perfectly!
When preparing for the cook off, we were told to bring plating props for our dishes. Luckily, my friend Tami, the Dine in Diva has a signature color, green, and has many serving pieces in different shades of green which I knew would be a great way to show off my stew! I love the square bowl she had and as you can see the presentation was beautiful!

It took two weeks before we heard anything, and in the end my recipe wasn’t the winner of the Cleveland Food Fight, but my friend Tami’s was! That was almost as good as winning, and she’s invited me to travel with her to L.A. in November for the final round of the competition so I am really excited about that!

Even though it wasn’t the winner, I will share the recipe with you all anyway. It has been served to my family and friends with great success and I hope you’ll enjoy making it for yourselves! I also think adding a pound of ground turkey would be delicious! Enjoy!

Chipotle Braised Butternut Squash Stew with Black Beans and Brown Rice
Yield: 8 cups

1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia), diced (app. 2 cups)
1 large Poblano pepper, chopped (app. 1 c)
3 cloves garlic
3 Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (from a 7 oz. can), finely diced
1 15 oz. can no salt added black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup corn kernels from a fresh ear of corn, or frozen
1 15 oz. can low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 lb. fresh butternut squash, diced
¼ c. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
juice of one small lime

2 c. brown rice, cooked according to package directions, divided

1 c. nonfat Greek yogurt, optional
½ c. toasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)

Heat a deep sauté pan over medium, then add oil. Saute onions for 2-3 minutes, then add Poblano pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes until onions become translucent. Add the Chipotle peppers, garlic and black beans and sauté for another 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, corn and broth and bring to a simmer, add the butternut squash and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the squash is tender.
Add cilantro and lime juice just before serving.

In a large bowl, put ½ cup of the brown rice and ladle over 1 cup of stew.

Garnish each bowl with a tablespoon of yogurt if desired.