Heavenly Slow Cooker Meals: Swiss Chard and Butternut Squash

Once again, I will repeat: I love the snow.

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There are a few basic, undeniable truths about New England life between November and April.

1. It gets cold.

2. It will probably snow.

3. It will probably snow more than once. And be really windy.

4. It will stay this way for so long, you’ll begin to forget four seasons exist.

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People get really annoyed about the snow and how long this whole season drags on for. Give me a snow day, a glass of wine and a good meal, and I’m good to go. I’m pretty sure winter in New England is why crock pots were invented.  After a long day of shoveling, maneuvering cars that were not built for blizzard conditions through snow banks, and uncomfortably trying to get work done on my slow home computer, nothing beats wandering into the kitchen and discovering that dinner is just…ready. Just like that.

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What You Need: 

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  • 4 cups cubes butternut squash
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and diced (substitute potatoes here if desired)
  • 1 can chickpeas (15.5 oz)
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp oriental seasoning OR 1 tsp each of onion and garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 4 cups shredded swiss chard (leaves only – remove from stems)

What You Do:

In your crock pot bowl, add the squash through vegetable broth and cook on high for 4 hours.

Once the time is up, keep warm and add the coconut milk, stirring well to combine.

Add swiss chard leaves, stirring well until the leaves become limp and reduced.

Now it’s ready to serve!

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Ratatouille with Coconut Curry Sauce

I feel bad calling myself a cooking enthusiast since I had not even heard of ratatouille until I saw the Disney movie. After seeing a rat prepare it, I thought, “I could do that.”

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But then, a lot of time went by. (A LOT of time. I just checked, and that movie was released in 2007 – yikes!)

So seven years later, I got my act together and made a decision to prepare this undoubtedly delicious meal for my in-laws, who were visiting from New York. I learned the basic gist of the recipe, and I was only feeling a little apprehensive about being able to pull it off.

But then, I was totally sidelined. The power of suggestion is absurdly effective. One second, I am happily going about my day thinking about trees and flowers (not really, just trying to make a point here), and the next, I see a commercial for pizza and suddenly, that is ALL I WANT.

As I was preparing for ratatouille-making, a friend happened to mention having had a delicious coconut curry dish at lunch.

Well. I’ll be damned. I LOVE coconut curry.

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So, since I was already feeling overwhelmed by the recipe, I made an effortless decision to swap out the sauce for a coconut curry tomato sauce.

I’ll tell you – it was an amazing decision. This dish does not disappoint, and was a hit with my in-laws (at least that’s what they told me) 🙂

Quick Disclaimer: If you don’t own a mandolin, this recipe is still possible to make – it just might drive you crazy. Make sure you have a sharp knife, at the very least!

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What You Need for the Ratatouille:

  • 1 medium zucchini squash, ends cut off
  • 1 medium summer squash, ends cut off
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 each red bell pepper, green bell pepper and yellow bell pepper, tops cut off and de-seeded but still bell-shaped
  • 2 cups dry Jasmine or white rice

What You Need for the Coconut Curry Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 jalepeno, minced (seeded if desired)
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced (powdered ginger will also work fine)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices (this is equal to 3 1/2 cups diced tomatoes if you wish to stay away from canned foods)
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

In a large wok or skillet, pour in the olive oil and lightly simmer the onion, garlic, jalepeno and fresh ginger until soft. (If you only have powdered ginger, add it later).

Add the tomatoes and curry powder (also add ginger powder if using).  Turn heat up to bring to a slight boil and stir well.

Add the coconut milk and sugar, stirring well. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.

Set aside, but keep warm on low heat.

Using a mandolin, thinly slice all of your vegetables. As I said, if you don’t have a mandolin, you can get away with cutting everything by hand. Try to make very thinly-sliced pieces. Thicker pieces really only impact how long the dish will take to cook.

Layer the vegetables in alternating order along the bottom of a large baking dish or dutch oven. Each time you complete a layer, spoon about 1 cup of the still-hot coconut curry tomato sauce over the veggies.

Continue layering and alternately pouring with sauce until the veggies have been used up. Depending on the size of your baking dish, you may find you have vegetables left over. This is ok! They make great snacks, after all!

Pour remaining sauce over the top, gently poking apart the vegetables to let it seep through.

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Cover, and place the whole concoction into the oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened and are easily pierced with a fork. You may find it takes slightly longer depending, again, on the size of your baking dish and thickness of your layers.

While the dish is baking, cook your rice according to package directions.

When everything is ready, serve the ratatouille over the rice and enjoy! It’s where French cuisine meets Indian cuisine, right? Bon’ appetite!

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Pro Tip: If you have leftovers and want to re-purpose the meal to try and pull a fast one on your family, simply pulse the ratatouille (without the rice) in a food processor with a small amount of vegetable broth to turn it into soup! Make it as chunky or pureed as you desire, and add the rice after for some additional texture.

Carnival Squash Stuffed with Quinoa and Sugar-Baked Apples

Ok. I know I have some explaining to do.

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I’m making a somewhat sheepish return to this blog with my tail between my legs; this newest post clouded by the undeniable fact that it has been LITERALLY MONTHS since my last post, which is not only unfair to those who actually read and like my blog (thank you!) but is also really sad because I’m letting the entire fall season virtually pass by without posting any of the great fall vegetable recipes that make this time of year a true delight.

I’m sorry. I have no excuse. You should know that I have still been cooking, so you will finally get to take part in that experience. I hope these next recipes will be at least marginally useful to you, even though fall is half over.

Some exciting news though! It was my birthday the other day, which means I’ve been blogging steadily (don’t say it) for about a year! I find this to be among my top accomplishments as a person, and to celebrate, I bestow upon you this quintessentially fall dish, which I owe to the wonderful people at Barker’s Farm in Stratham, NH for hooking me up with some of the coolest must-have squashes of the season (You know how I feel about squashes – **swoon**)

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What You Need:

  • Two medium or large carnival squashes (or four smaller ones if you’re feeding several people or prefer smaller portions) If you don’t have or can’t find a carnival squash, acorn squash is the most similar, and delicata would also be delicious.
  • 2 medium or large apples, any type (I used Cortland) peeled and cut into apple pie-type chunks
  • 1 tbsp butter, very soft or melted
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 habanero or hot pepper of choice, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked according to package directions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used goat cheese because that is what we had in the fridge)

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

Cut the squash lengthwise from stem to bottom and scoop out the seeded insides.

Lightly brush the squash’s insides with butter, lay skin-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet, and place in the oven to bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until it appears to be caramelizing and easily lets a fork through.

While the squash is baking, cook the quinoa.

Squash (12)While the quinoa is cooking, place the garlic, onion and hot pepper in a frying pan over low-medium heat with 1 tbsp oil.

When they become soft and translucent, add the apple pieces and stir until well-mixed.

Add the brown sugar and chili powder, salt and pepper and continue stirring until the apples become warm and juicy (but still maintain their shape and don’t get mushy) and are well-mixed with the sugar and spices.

Once the quinoa is cooked, add it to the apple mixture in spoonfuls to gauge how much you need to make a nice balanced mix of quinoa and apple mixture. I found 2 cups of quinoa was enough to create a decent amount for stuffing the squash.

When the squash has cooked, place them skin-side-down in a baking dish.

Gently scoop the apple and quinoa mixture into each squash.

Sprinkle your cheese of choice over the top of each (optional) and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. (If you choose not to use cheese you can skip this step. It’s plenty hot at this point!)

Pro Tip: Add shredded chicken instead of or in addition to the quinoa to make it a non-vegetarian dish. If you’re a fan of raisins (I’m not), sprinkle some into the apple mixture while it’s cooking to add a new texture and flavor.

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Zucchini, Tomato and Corn Gratin

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Ah zucchini.

I like squash a lot. I really do. But I’m at that point in the summer when, to be honest, the level of squash present in my life is getting to be slightly overwhelming. Not only am I harvesting a small bumper crop in my backyard, but I for some reason keep thinking that purchasing additional summer squash at the farmer’s market is a good idea.

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One of my zucchini plants, going strong.

So the chain of events is as follows: Buy fresh squash at the FM –> feel compelled to use said fresh squash before it goes bad  –> neglect picking the actively-growing squash in my garden –> end up with giant backyard squash.

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This isn’t even the biggest one. My latest monster creation is at LEAST 3 Hershey’s bars long, and probably half of one in width.

So Mike has been subjected to an onslaught of zucchini recipes lately, which have included zucchini bread, zucchini pizza boats, and zucchini-topped pizza, and this is basically fine as he doesn’t mind squash. (But he might after this summer!) I’m still fine with it too, but the ongoing challenge is cooking it in different ways so we don’t get sick of it.

You don’t have to love squash to like this dish, though. It is really very good. This recipe post reflects a few changes that I would most certainly employ if I cook this again, which I will, so don’t lose faith in me if you feel the photos don’t quite do it justice.

The farmer’s market/my garden ingredients used in this meal are:

  • Zucchini and Summer Squash
  • Corn on the cob
  • Onion
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic

What You Need:

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  • About a pound of zucchini and summer squash sliced into thin rounds (I used a mandolin for this)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko or your favorite bread ground up to make breadcrumbs
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 corn on the cob, with corn sliced off the cob
  • 1 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced thin (I also used a mandolin for this)
  • Salt
  • Olive or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

 

What You Do:

The Squash

Preheat oven to 350F

Here’s an important step you should never, ever ignore when cooking squash, but I always do anyways. Salt your squash to help remove moisture. This will help it cook better and faster, and overall just taste better.

So, toss your squash rounds with 1-2 tsp salt and set aside in a colander to let it drain (about 10 minutes).

After, lay the slices out on a VERY LIGHTLY oiled baking sheet, and place in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the slices look slightly translucent and soft.

Leave the oven on since the whole dish needs about 10 minutes in there at the end.

The Filling

Warm a tbsp of olive or coconut oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, place onion slices in and cover, letting the onions caramelize. Remove them when they smell sweet and look translucent with just a touch of brown.

Gently toss your corn with a tiny bit of salt, black pepper and olive or coconut oil, and mix with the caramelized onions.

The Topping

Melt the 2 tbsp of butter over low heat.

In a small bowl, mix your grated cheese and panko, adding a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

Pour the melted butter into the panko mixture, add the minced garlic and stir it up.

The Finale

Line a baking dish with the cooked squash and raw tomato slices, alternating as you go. After you have one layer down, sprinkle some of your onion and corn mixture over it.

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Add more squash and tomato slices, covering them with onions and corn each time you have a new layer, until both toppings are gone.

Top the entire dish with the panko mix.

Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the topping starts to brown and the tomato juices are bubbling. Then – enjoy!

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Pro-Tip: I would recommend making this a wild rice gratin to replace the panko and make it a gluten-free meal. Cook up some wild rice, mix it with an egg and the onions and corn and cheese. Put it on the bottom of the pan and line the tomato and squash on top. Sprinkle with some additional cheese. There ya go!

Buttery Farro-Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

For day 2 of my Five Days of Farmer’s Market Meals, I’m bringing in the squash. You just don’t have summer without squash! A couple of summers ago, I bought my first patty pan squash at – per usual – the advice of the farmer who sold it to me.

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I couldn’t get over how cute these squashes are. I just envisioned Mike and myself sitting down with our individual squashes for a nice little personalized squash dinner.

Anyways, I can’t resist buying them as soon as they’re available and serving up personal patty pan squashes. They’re perfect.

The farmer’s market ingredients used in this dish are:

  • Patty pan squashes
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Yellow onion
  • Green bell peppers
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Garlic

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Preheat oven to 350F

What You Need:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (or cooking oil of your choice)
  • 1 cup farro seeds
  • 2 large or 4 small patty pan squashes
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (green, yellow, red–doesn’t matter)
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper, finely chopped (or hot pepper or your choice) – Optional
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh parm
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 or 1 tbsp butter for each squash you’re making (amount depends on the size of the squashes) – Optional but highly recommended!

What You Do:

Rinse the cup of farro seeds and drain cloudy water. In a medium saucepan, bring the farro and 3 cups of water to a boil. Keep covered and lower heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the seeds have fully expanded and taste slightly chewy (but not hard!)

At the same time, boil about an inch of water in a large pot. Add whole patty pan squashes and cover. The squashes will steam cook this way, and are ready when you can easily pierce them with a fork.

While the farro and squashes are cooking, heat coconut oil in a large skillet and add the minced garlic.

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After about 1 minute, add onion and gently stir until translucent. Then add green pepper and cayenne pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.

Once farro is done, combine with the onion mixture and stir thoroughly. Add cherry tomatoes and stir. Then add the walnuts or pecans and stir.

When the squashes are done, gently slice off just the tops. Then, use a spoon, melon baller or – like me – an ice cream scoop, to gently carve out the insides, being careful to remove all the seeds but not too much of the squash. It’ll be pretty watery, so feel free to just hold them upside down over the sink to drain them out.

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Now comes the fun part. Place the squashes in a baking dish and fill each squash with the farro mix, packing each spoonful down to fit as much as you can. I just let them overflow over the sides.

Next, top each squash with a butter patty, and then cover each squash with the diced tomatoes, and sprinkle the shredded parm on top.

Bake for about 10 minutes in the oven to get it hot and melt the cheese.

Then, just scoop out the squashes for everyone’s individual serving! It’ll be a hit!

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Pro Tip: Make this with quinoa! Coucous! Risotto! Other rices! Add meat! You can make it any way you want.