Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cooking for my father: a recipe for butternut squash curry

My father's visit, October 2009.

I'm a little late with posting because we had a visitor recently: my father. He was here for one very short, but lovely week. I don't see my family very often so, whenever it happens, I try to spend every minute that I can with them.

My father is the most emotionally collected person I know. He brings a sense of reason to every situation; nothing seems to faze him. And he always seems to be content with whatever he has and wherever he is at any given moment. Consequently, he is not the most adventurous type, preferring instead to keep his life simple and the way he has known it for years, in such ways as vacationing close to home, buying the same make of vehicle, and in his choice of clothing. It is the same with food. Trying to cook for him has always been a nervous endeavor on my part. My siblings and I think of him as a picky eater partly because he has always preferred the foods he grew up on. I think my mother and grandmother were the only people who got it right in his opinion. Or maybe he was just all too cautious about my sister's and my kitchen experiments. During my last trip to Trinidad, I remember preparing him a cup of tea the way he likes it: with sugar and milk (a legacy of the British) and yet, it wasn't good enough. And this was only tea, for crying out loud. Who gets tea wrong?

Needless to say, he took everyone by surprise with his recent interest in travel. Even more surprising was his changing attitude towards non-Caribbean food. His favorites are now Malaysian and Egyptian. Didn't see that coming. So, when he called to say that he would be visiting us this month, I was less nervous about cooking for him and more excited about having him try some of my new recipes and for him to understand and hopefully appreciate, my new approach to food. I had a couple recipes in mind - one I've made before (Maple Anise Braised Country Ribs) and a new one.

During the radio interview I had a couple weeks ago, Susan Berkson asked, "What would you cook with the vegetables available at the farmers' market this week?" I didn't hesitate for a second because I already had a plan for the season's most popular vegetable: squash. In particular, butternut squash - my favorite. Last year, I made Butternut Squash Creme Brulee practically every weekend for about two months. It has a smooth texture and is sweeter than most other squashes which worked well in that preparation. But this time, I was planning to make it into a curry, incorporating the flavors of onions, chili peppers and low fat coconut milk. More than that, however, I was planning to serve it to my father! Brave girl, that's me. I was thrilled that he enjoyed it and now that I know he is broadening his culinary horizons, I can't wait for his next visit to make some new recipes for him.

Butternut Squash Curry
Serves 4 to 5

1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into chunks)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp curry powder*
1 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup low fat coconut milk
4 -5 jalepenos, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped

1. Place a large dutch oven or other deep pot over medium heat and add the olive oil, followed by onion, garlic, and half of the jalepenos. Cook for about five minutes until the vegetables soften. Stir often to prevent burning. Add the curry powder, stir to combine, and cook for an additional minute.
2. Add the chunks of butternut squash and turn to coat thoroughly with curry mixture. Add the vegetable broth and coconut milk, cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until the squash is soft but not mushy and the broth and coconut milk have made a thick sauce. Top with any leftover jalepenos and the green onions before serving.

*I use a curry powder blend common to the Caribbean, called Madras Curry. Other curry powders can also be used, such as the yellow curry blend sold in most spice or grocery stores.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My radio interview and cooking presentation

With Susan Berkson (center) and Bonnie Dehn (right.)

My interview with Susan Berskon and her co-host Bonnie Dehn on "Fresh and Local" on AM950 The Voice of Minnesota was scheduled to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning, but I woke up at 4:30 am even though it going to make me only fifteen minutes to get there. Such was my anxiety. Thankfully, all of that anxiety was unfounded as they were extremely welcoming and made me feel quite comfortable. "Just like a bunch of friends talking about something they like: food, " Susan said, before going on air. And so it was. After the initial couple minutes of nerves, I could have continued for maybe an hour talking about my approach to cooking, my attempts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle, my journey to Minnesota, my Trinidadian roots, and the farmers' market. Although the broadcast was live, you can still listen to it by clicking here; scroll down on the left, my segments are in parts three and four on October 3rd.

Preparing jalepenos and onions for cumin potatoes.

The following day, I was the featured cook at the live cooking show "Sunday Cooks" produced by Sandy Hill in the Farmers' Market. "Sunday Cooks" is an hour long presentation featuring local cooks who create a couple of relatively simple dishes utilizing mostly local and seasonal foods. I opted to make Cumin Potatoes, and Caramelized Apples with Almond Topping.

Once again, my day began in a bundle of nerves, not knowing what to expect, how well my dishes would be received and worried about the rapidly plummeting temperature. But once I met Sandy, all of my worries were allayed. Just like Susan and Bonnie the day before, she assured me that this would be similar to cooking for my friends at home. The format was informal, allowing the audience members to approach the cooking station, look at the prep work and ask questions. There were some questions. About the cumin potatoes: can any type of potato be used (yes), and why use whole cumin as opposed to ground cumin (whole cumin stays fresher for longer but ground cumin can also be used); about the caramelized apples: what apples would be recommended here (any variety) and what is almond powder (simply, ground almonds with a small amounts of sugar mixed in to prevent caking.)

The entire show went by so quickly and smoothly. Sharing my thoughts on food and cooking, and actually cooking for a crowd are the two experiences I am thrilled to have had. Afterwards, I was able to meet and chat with Tou Vang and his wife who are known throughout the market for their garlic and shallots. I learned that the Vangs are exceptionally receptive to the needs of their customers and are happy to try to grow a new vegetable if asked. This is part of the beauty of the market: farmers listen and respond to the needs of the community. And as the days get colder, I am grateful for those farmers who come out in spite of the weather; such is their commitment to what they do. This was the first year that I got to truly appreciate the market; more than that however, I was privileged to meet some of the people that make the market the attraction and Minneapolis establishment that it is.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm going to be on the radio.

I have some exciting news: local food advocate Susan Berkson, host of the show "Fresh and Local" on AM950 The Voice of Minnesota, will be interviewing me on Saturday at 8 am. (Actually, my segment will start some time after 8:30) Every week, Berkson and her co-host Bonnie Dehn (a.k.a. the Minnesota Herb Lady) explore the lcoal food scene and culinary culture of Minnesota. And this week I am the guest!! What an honor! And a thrill!

I must admit, though, that in spite of my excitement, I am extremely nervous. It's not everyday I get to be on the radio, and not everyday I get to converse with such well informed advocates of Minnesota foods. Berkson and Dehn are passionate about food, cooking and fresh ingredients in general. I am most looking forward to talking about my journey towards healthy living and explaining the ways in which I approach cooking.

On another note, here is a simple yogurt dressing made with some of that greek yogurt I got from Stonyfield Farms. I added tons of scallions for a little kick mellowed out by small amounts of honey and balsamic vinegar. It is served here with cucumbers but last night, we had it on oven-baked fish in pita bread.

Scallion Yogurt Dressing

1 cup plain fat free greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped scallion (green and white ends)
2 tsp honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients, mix well, and serve with fresh vegetables or in sandwiches.