Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Mid-Winter Night Puree
Butternut Squash, Carrot, and Red Pepper Puree
w/Coconut Green Apple Cream Drop

The Diet Direction: Balancing Diet (w/Low-Protein and Higher-Fat)

  • % Calories from Fat = 42%
  • % Calories from Carbohydrates = 52%
  • % Calories from Protein = 6%
    (Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A = Lots!!!!!)

Some Background:

Well, I'm almost half-way through culinary school -- hard to believe! We recently had our mid-terms, and it was quite an experience indeed. Think of it as "iron chef" meets "nutrition". Each person arrived on their set mid-term day, and was handed a basket with various categories (appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert). You picked a category, and you were then given a brown-bag with three (3) secret ingredients. You were then given about 2 hours to create a healthy recipe using those ingredients. Thankfully, you had access to the "common table" which contained items that you could use (but you had to share with everyone else).

For more suspense, read on for what secret ingredients I received, and what I ended up doing with them ...

The Experience:

Nervous? Just a little. I was more nervous about what category I would get, as opposed to what ingredients. But then again, would I end up with something that I would be “uncomfortable” cooking with, due to my lack of experience? (i.e. chicken, fish.). When I got my ingredients, some people thought “oh dear”, but I was relieved. Even though butternut squash and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship (at times rather contemptuous), she was still a vegetable. I could deal with vegetables. Although, the last time I pureed a butternut squash for a soup, it was a commonly referred to as “complete disaster”. I should have cooked it first – sigh (maybe that’s why I ended up at Bauman?).

Next, I immediately knew that the sour granny smith apple should not be blended with the squash – how would those competing flavours “duke” themselves out in this dish? Shallots – easy. I would use them as a sauté base for the puree (then again, only afterwards, I wondered, what would have roasted shallots as a garnish tasted like? Too powerful maybe?).

So Butternut Squash, Granny Smith Apple, and Shallots were my three “secret” ingredients. I immediately sat down in a corner of the room and put pen-to-paper. I had to plan it out. I knew that if I just “started” I would get lost, and lose focus, and mess something up. I drew a diagram and wrote down each ingredient and added their complimentary one’s to it. I realized quickly that I needed to avoid the repeat of the last time, and something I remember reading in my Bauman text – roasting makes a puree much better! Yes, “cook it before” I thought. I also noted that carrots go well with squash, and so I knew that I needed to add those as well (but that they also don’t roast well). By the time I finished drawing and diagramming (I spent a good 5-10 minutes), I had a plan: Roast the squash in large dices; Roast the red pepper (yum!); and Blanch the carrots. For the sauté, butter, yes, lovely, tasty butter, because it’s really really nutritious and it also tastes good. This puree is going to have some might!

What to do with the apple? I thought of a garnish. That could have been interesting, but I didn’t want people to taste/bight the “sour” before they had the soup – it’s a winter vegetable (the squash) after all, so some warmth would be nice. What came to my mind was creating opposing textures, and opposing temperatures and complimentary tastes. So my plan was to “drop suspend” the apple in a chilli cream base (all blended together), so that the taster would get the warm slightly-sweet soup (natural) first, and then the cold creamy apple chilli cream next. To bring out the flavour, I decided to chop and roast that as well.

The rest was more or less straightforward: I would combine all the ingredients in the blender and puree. The sauté would be using butter, and include the shallots, and I would pour the puree in and simmer until serving. In the meantime, I would make the “drop suspend” with some lovely crème fraiche or some other dairy-based cream – mixing in some fresh chillies and the green apple – oh yum.

Well, “oh yum”, quickly turned into “oh dear!”. After looking left, right, up, and down, I realized that we had no cream! We had milk, but that would have made it too liquidy, and I didn’t have the time to try and reduce that into a creamy texture, and I didn’t want to use some thickener that would take away from the flavour, and not give me quite the texture. So I was in a bind. How can I create something that wouldn’t go badly with the puree, yet still give me the thick texture that I want? What could possibly be solid at room temperature so that I could accomplish this feat (there comes in my scientific mind – I knew it would be useful some day!). Of course – coconut milk! Coconut solidifies at room temperature (i.e. the oil), so if I could get rid of most of the water, I should be able to get something close to the texture and consistency that I want.

So that’s what I did! While the puree was simmering (and by the way, I also decided to keep it naturally flavoured, for the most part, but did a dry-saute of sea salt, cumin, and coriander seed and put it in the blender to bring out the complimentary flavours a little more), I sautéed some jalapeno chillies and lemongrass in coconut oil, and added in the minced and roasted green apple. I added in the coconut milk and reduced for some time. It got thick, but it was still warm. So I created an ice-bath and speed-chilled the coconut milk concoction until it was a very thick cream (almost solid).

When the puree was ready I bowled the soup. I took a melon scoup and created one tiny ball of “coconut chilli apple cream sensation” and dropped it carefully into the middle. I finished with a garnish of finely chopped cilantro, and a pinch of the dry sauté mixture (just a little).

In the end, I was very pleased with myself. I managed to stick to my original plan, albeit with a replacement strategy for the “drop suspension”, and created what I thought was the perfect thick puree soup for a cold mid-winter.

The one thing I would have changed is using a little less jalapeno in the cream. I used a little more jalapeno than I should have – it had a kick to it. But then, I thought to myself, you can’t have a winter without the “one day” of surprise sunshine – well, it was maybe a lot of sun. This mid-term, mid-winter night puree, was going to nudge you out of those winter blues, that’s for sure!!!

Health Benefits

Coriander Seeds

Most people don’t realize that when coriander seeds are planted in soil, they turn into cilantro. But the seed form of the cilantro has some great medicinal properties that cilantro does not (at least not to the same extent). Known for its aromatic properties in foods, it is used commonly in herbal remedies as an antidote for stomach ailments. It contains enzymes and anti-oxidants that prevent animal fats from going rancid by killing meat-spoiling bacteria and fungi. The same elements also prevent wounds from becoming infected. The Romans, as well as the Indians, used it to treat wounded soldiers. Next time you have a cut, sprinkle some grated coriander seed to prevent it from becoming worse and/or infected!

Butternut Squash

Is one of those vegetables that have an enormous amount of Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A – hence it’s beautiful yellow/orange color! Both beta-carotene and vitamin A contribute to healthy skin, bones, and teeth. It also contains a solid amount of Vitamin C and potassium. Both vitamins give the vegetable anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties when consumed. Recently, it’s also been known as an antidote for asthma, particularly in children.

Granny Smith Apple

Any type of apple is good for you – high in quercetin flavanoids that are known to help reduce heart-disease and certain forms of cancer. They also have a good combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as a good dose of vitamin C and potassium. Certain phytochemicals found in Apples, have been known to reduce tumours in laboratory experiments. What was also amazing that just 100g of apple and skins (one small apple) had the impact of taking 1500 mg of vitamin C capsules. This is highly illustrative of the fact that live, natural foods, can have a greater impact on the body than even natural-chemically produced vitamins. Truly, eating an apple day, can keep even more than the doctor away!!