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On her blog, Amanda shares food stories and recipes with the hope to inspire us to realize that the best meals are those made with fresh seasonal and simple ingredients. She believes that food doesn’t have to be fancy nor does it require expensive equipment. Amanda is also the author of Smitten with Squash, her cookbook with 80 original recipes on the squash family.
I am so excited to have Amanda Paa of Heartbeet Kitchen with me on the show today.
(*All photos below are Amanda’s.)
On Learning How to Cook:
There were some things that I just watched Grandma do, like my Grandma made the best loaves of bread. I never rolled them out with her, or kneaded, or anything like that. But I always ate what came from it and it was always the same and it was always so good. I could smell the yeast coming from her oven and things like that. So I think it was definitely a little bit of both. Some watching, some helping. With my other Grandma, she makes lefse every year, which is a Norwegian specialty, and I did help her, from rolling the balls to then putting it on the hot iron to getting it real thin, all of those little things, I did do with her.
It wasn’t really until about six years ago, I was living in Wisconsin and I moved back to Minnesota because I did grow up here. But moving into the Twin Cities, there were so many more farmers markets, so much more of a farm to table movement and just interesting food. I had never really taken the time to learn about or experience and so, I had this thing where I’d go to the market and every time, I would pick a new fruit or a new vegetable or even a cut of meat that I had never cooked with before. And I said, “We’re going to experiment. There is no judgment here. Just let the creativity flow,” and that is really kind of how my blog started too. It really forged this passion for telling the real story behind real food and real food recipes and it never gets boring. Because there is always something new to learn.
On Her Food Heroes:
There is so much inspiration that we are so fortunate to have because of the Internet. Years ago, it was just cookbooks which I still am inspired by today. But there is so much content out there and beautiful work being done all across the world. It’s eye opening every single day, and so when I think of my own cooking and who has inspired it a lot, I think of some of my favorite blogs like Lindsey of Dolly and Oatmeal, and Sherrie from With Food and Love, and Sarah Kieffer from The Vanilla Bean Blog.The way she is with baking and her precision and her beauty, you can’t look at it and not be inspired.
And then I think, even just typical sites like The Kitchn and Food52 have, whether it’s new ways of doing things or new ingredients that they are coming up with ideas for, and just the way that they look at food really inspires me.
I also have to say too, like even traditional people, I mean, I think Martha Stewart is phenomenal and she has gone through how many decades and not only evolved with but kept her brand. I only wish that I could throw a dinner party like her. Every little touch she does is really something special. And she takes the time to do it. I think that that’s part of what I love too and the change in me is that, cooking is an experience and I wrote about this on my blog. It’s much more than just for your health or for just putting it on the table. It evokes emotion, it can change mood, it can bring conversation. It’s just a beautiful thing.
On How Her Gluten Allergy Impacted Her Cooking:
So I have had quite a few autoimmune issues since I was young and still kind of battle it. But we finally figured out that one of the main stressors and causes was an intolerance to gluten. It was causing severe headaches and rashes and different things like shingles that I got when I was in eighth grade. I mean just very odd things, and finally, one doctor suggested that I stop eating gluten and it was basically like a miracle. Within three weeks, I was much, much better.
And at first, it was daunting. It was like, “What? You’re telling me I have to give up all of these foods that I love and I have to kind of relearn how to cook? How am I going to eat out?” All that type of stuff. And I can say today, that I would not probably be here sitting and talking to you if that had not happened, because what it did was inspire me to say, “Okay, here is what I can have. Let’s embrace this,” and what happened was it opened my eyes to all these new foods that I had never tasted or nothing that I grew up with, whether it be gluten-free grains like millet and sorghum, or teaching myself how to make flat bread that’s made from chickpea flour known as socca.
And to really too start to look at different cultures because, a lot of other cultures don’t use as much wheat or they use it in different ways, and so there are a lot of cultural things too that really were like, “Wow, this is good. I’ve been missing this for all these years?” And what I also started to realize was that most real food, that’s grown from the ground, plants, lean proteins and meats that are grown in a humane way, fruits, nuts, seeds, all those things are naturally gluten-free anyways.
It’s most of the processed food where the problem comes in. It made me feel good to get that burst of energy in the kitchen. And I wanted to share that with other people. Because as I was going along, I was meeting all these farmers or these artisans that were doing this really cool stuff that it didn’t matter if you were gluten-free or not. It was just really good stuff.
On Some Good Sources for Learning How to Cook with a Gluten Allergy:
It’s funny you ask that, because I had someone message me the other day. Their friend had just found that she was gluten-free. She was like, “Where do they start? How did that work?” And my first resource and still someone that I truly love and really think is such a benefit for the gluten-free community is Shauna from Gluten Free Girl, and her and her husband started a blog before gluten-free had really even been talked about. He was a chef and I read her book which was called, Gluten-Free Girl. It was more of almost a documentary but then also education on her whole transition, and it made me feel so much better. Like, “Okay, my world is not coming to an end. A, I feel so much better and now there is this whole new world of food that I get to explore,” and that was super, super helpful for me.
The other one, I don’t know if she blogs anymore. But her site is still very active. But Gluten-Free Goddess. There are so many beginner, basic recipes that will make you feel less intimidated, and that was really powerful for me too.
On Her Book, Smitten with Squash:
Smitten with Squash was published in July of last year. I was approached by the publisher who, they kind of do these, one book a year basically on a Midwestern fruit or vegetables that you love or that you’re very passionate about and the growing of it and history, because it is a historical publisher that publishes the cookbook. It’s the Minnesota Historical Society Press. They contacted me and were like, “You know, give us a few of your ideas, write a proposal around it. We’ve got a few others in mind.”
And I had always liked squash but what was interesting to me about squash, a couple of things is that, living here in Minnesota, our growing season is rather short. And squash, the family of squash between winter squash and summer squash, you can eat locally almost all year round here. Because summer squash is so abundant and then winter squash, you can store it for up to six months, and that will last you almost until summer squash is starting to arrive again. I thought that that was really neat because I do try to base my recipes off seasonal eating, because I feel like that’s when food tastes the best and you can become creative with what looks good at the market and things like that.
The other part that was really cool to me was that squash really is a part of every culture in one way or another and there aren’t very many foods that are like that. And so I just started formulating this idea about doing my whole book on squash and they accepted the idea.
There is 80 original recipes. There are about 40 summer squash recipes and then 40 winter squash recipes. And you’ll see everything from sweets to appetizers to pickles to main dishes, vegetarian to Paleo to kind of everything in there because it is so versatile.
The other real passion behind it is, you know how there are those foods that you had when you were young and you think like, “Oh my gosh, I do not like this because, this is probably the only way you can make it or this is the way I always see it served and I can’t stand this.” And when people talk about it, they are like, “Oh, yeah, well my mom made it, acorn squash. She baked it in a pan with some water and then when it came out she put butter and brown sugar on it. It’s just not good.” And I wanted to change that. I wanted to give people new ideas for what to do with summer squash in stuff like brownies or cake or things like that.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Well, the ones that I mentioned before. So The Vanilla Bean Blog, Dolly and Oatmeal, With Food and Love, Sara from Cake Over Steak has such an interesting food blog that has beautiful recipes but she also illustrates her recipes, and I know she’s been on your show, and she is fantastic.
If you’re looking for a wonderful vegan site, Abby from The Frosted Vegan has just a great way with words and she is one of those people that makes things very easy to understand. I love too, if you’ve never glanced over the blog, Green Kitchen Stories, just beautiful photography and wonderful, nourishing, healthy food that never loses flavor and is exactly what I love to do, which is cooking seasonally.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
Well, on Instagram, I love following The Fauxmartha. She has her little girl that she posts pictures of, but her food scenes are just so incredible and simple yet they just make me want to start cooking. That is something that is obviously what we all aspire to do. Another friend, her blog, it’s called Sunshine and Sea Salt. And she is just a real good friend and is an amazing recipe developer as well, but her words that she writes on Instagram are almost like sometimes blog posts. They are just beautiful. Oh, Ladycakes too is a really fun one to follow along with, and I love following her. Those are a few of my biggest inspirations.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
My most treasured, the one that I use the most that like, if you could only keep three things from your kitchen, would be my Le Creuset dutch oven because they are just workhorses. They do everything that you could ever want, and then I used to think it was strange that my mom gave me my grandma’s silverware and now, I love it and I use it in so many of my photographs, and it really means a lot to me when I see it. And then, thirdly, are some of my thrift finds that I find while I’m out. One of those is this real old baker’s scale. You’ll see it in a couple of my posts and on my Instagram but they just don’t make things like that anymore.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Ricotta cheese. I used to not like the texture. I only really had it in lasagna and I prefer cottage cheese over it in lasagna and that’s what formulated this dislike. Now, I think it is so great whether that’s baked with lemon and olive oil and herbs for an easy appetizer, or on salads. My favorite thing too is to put it into desserts where typically, you might use yogurt or something like that. It creates such a soft texture and moist, rich, just kind of like cake and it’s really a fabulous ingredient. But I thought I hated it. Now, I love it.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy is, I mean, that should definitely be in your kitchen because it’s all about cooking with families of plants and how they all go together. It’s just really simple but interesting recipes and I use that as not only a reference guide but something every week in my kitchen.
Another one that I think you just should have it is Joy of Cooking, because every single technique or question you ever had about food is in there. There are also vintage recipes and modern new ways of doing things which I think is really cool.
One of my newest cookbooks that I use a lot and that I love is Sheet Pan Suppers and it’s all different recipes and it’s not just suppers but things that you can make on a sheet pan and have so little clean up. Very little clean up, like a sheet pan is just another workhorse too. And it creates delicious meals.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I wouldn’t say it’s any particular album or anything, but 50s and 60s music, some of those classic kind of blues but like, pop hits too. They’re all so upbeat and all have such a happy tone. They don’t make you think too hard and that’s kind of what I always have on in my kitchen.
On Keeping Posted with Amanda:
I am on Facebook and Instagram as heartbeetkitchen and beet is spelled like the vegetable, just for my blog too. And I am also on Pinterest and I am also on Twitter.