Monday, March 28, 2011

top chef mommy

It all began watching Nana in her kitchen. I learned many important techniques from her and her confidence helped me to develop my own. It's the lessons she taught me that I'm most eager to teach Baby in the kitchen. (And Baby doesn't even know that she can hardly wait to gift Jimbo with some of her first frozen cornbread!)

On top of all of those early Nana lessons in following recipes and setting timers I haven't really branched off from following a recipe. For me, mixing it up was adding my own spices to a recipe - maybe adding celery or onion to something that didn't call for it. I wasn't very adventurous.

We haven't been able to cook as much since Baby was born. Supper now has to be something that one of us mostly does while the other person plays/reads/entertains. However, supper is always a meal we enjoy as a family at the table (with the tv off). For us that's important - more important than how long we may have spent trying to get it to the table.

Some day we know we'll get back to more complicated suppers, but for now we do what works for us. Frozen veggies, canned beans - we make them work. I think even the most artsy-fartsy chefs would appreciate the effort, even if our knife skills aren't up to par.

We're not huge fans of reality tv, but we like reality cooking shows set in this country. We're especially big fans of Top Chef and have looked up several recipes of things made on that show and recreated for ourselves (the best by far being bacon-wrapped shrimp with cheese grits). I'm always amazed at their palates and their ability to just pull recipes out of thin air. They taste something, run to the pantry and grab three ingredients, and then don't even measure with spoons or cups and it comes out great. I've learned a lot from these shows, but have always been scared of just walking over to the pantry and throwing something together on my own.

And then came the butternut squash.

Last fall I made a soup that called for some butternut squash. I wrestled and cut it and ended up freezing what wasn't used in the soup. I figured that at some point we'd make some kind of soup and I'd just dice it with onion as secret ingredients to see how it would fly. Except we never made any soup from scratch, so it's just been looking at me in the freezer, calling me ugly names like "food waster" and "scaredy cat".

Our plan for tonight was some leftover almond-crusted chicken breasts and some kind of veggie. Yesterday I moved the frozen butternut squash into the fridge and decided that I would do something with it for supper, and if it didn't turn out I'd nuke something else.

I wasn't ready for the texture when I pulled it out of the fridge. It was like over-ripe cantaloupe, bendy and mushy; nothing like the stiff butternut squash that I'd put into the freezer. So I immediately summoned my inner Nana and everything I've learned from watching cooking shows on tv -- I was going to wing it. I couldn't count on the texture, but I knew I could turn it into something like mashed potatoes.

I boiled water and threw them into the steamer with a doubtful prayer. As it was steaming I reached over for our masher, except I couldn't find it. We don't have a huge kitchen, but I couldn't find it anywhere. I pulled a fork out of the drawer and immediately doubted my fork-mashing abilities. Glancing at the clock and imagining my quick-fire challenge, I reached for the food processor. I wanted the texture to be more mashed than baby-food-applesauce, but I was going to make it work.

Steamy in the food processor - with a little milk and a little butter and a little salt

I tasted it and thought it needed something else, but what? My instinct was brown sugar and cinnamon, but I made The Hater taste it to see. He's gotten on to me in the past for adding cinnamon to things... and sure enough.... he suggested cinnamon.

Incidentally, Baby was excited to stand in line and taste it, too.

I thought it was good, but the real test would be how it fared on the table.

Halfway through supper - Baby loves it!

The Hater gobbled his down and declared that we would have it again, and that he hoped I would remember exactly how I did it so we could recreate it. I, too, was pleased and excited that my sans-recipe side dish wasn't a complete disaster.

Baby took a hesitant bite, scowled, followed by an, "Mmmm", and ate the whole thing. My child who doesn't eat vegetables asked for more squash and cleaned her plate.

Today, butternut squash - tomorrow, the world...


Anonymous said...

That sounds like one large step for mankind...

Marian Parkes said...


Cerulean Bill said...

Well, of course, when I hear 'butternut', I think the candy bar....but yours is good too!