Smitten with a passion for food, Paa’s cookbook focuses on recipes for squash

ST. PAUL – Amanda Paa was born and raised in New Ulm. A few years ago, she decided to move to the Twin Cities where her passion for food found the perfect outlet.

She discovered the Farmers Market and started a blog on her experiments with fruits and vegetables she had never prepared before. Last week, her first cookbook, “Smitten with Squash,” was released. On Tuesday, she presented it on a Twin Cities television program.

“The presentation went really well,” said Paa.

She introduced the cookbook on KSTP Channel 5’s “Twin Cities Live.” She also shared two of her recipes using summer squash.

There have been several book reviews on her work already by other food bloggers and different outlets.

“It was my first time on TV, and I will also have a book signing on Friday in St. Paul. So it is a busy and exciting week for me,” Paa said.

The Farmers Market offered a new shopping experience for her.

“I loved the fact that you just know where your food comes from. Then I started a little game. I picked a fruit or vegetable every week that I didn’t know of before, took it home and just experimented.”

After doing a lot of academic work, she needed a different outlet and enjoyed the creativity in the kitchen. Additionally, she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance about a year after her move.

“It was nothing negative for me. When you buy all that whole food, it ends up being gluten free anyways. There are so many wonderful ways of cooking, you don’t need to get fancy. Just keep it simple,” Paa said.

She found lots of squash at the Farmers Market.

“The market was just closing up when I saw this lone farmer with a big bag of squash in his hands. I felt kind of bad for him, so I bought the whole thing. So the first squash meal I made was a risotto. Squash may not be the best looking on the outside, but inside it has so many possibilities, no matter if winter or summer. I’m also amazed by the list of cultural cuisines it expands to as well as its history,” she said.

In general, there is no vegetable that she does not like.

During her experiments with food, Paa wanted to keep her own personal journal, but she sought to share her culinary adventures with others. That is why she started her blog, www.heartbeetkitchen.com, dedicating the name to another one of her favorite vegetables to prepare – beets.

Paa was surprised when a publisher called her last spring, saying they had seen her ideas.

“They wanted me to be part of the “Our Northern Plate” book series that introduces one Midwest fruit or vegetable per issue and told me to come up with an idea. I had never had the intention to write a book, but I submitted an idea anyways. One and a half months later, they called me and approved of the squash theme,” Paa said.

She started writing in June 2013, tried many new recipes and ate what seemed to be tons of squash. Her inspirations were other food blogs on whole-food cooking as well as magazines and simply the things that were in her kitchen.

When Paa was growing up in New Ulm, her mom cooked in a more traditional style.

“What she did not show me is that you can have some of the best conversations and times with others over food. So after having been a successful golfer in New Ulm, I went on my own, different adventure, started a new journey and developed my very own style of cooking,”

What strikes her most about the Cities is the accessibility to all the great food, the unique restaurants, the creative people that come together as well as the food community as a whole and how supportive they are of each other.

Paa likes to call herself a “flexitarian,” 85 percent of the time, she won’t eat meat, despite the fact that she loves it. Knowing where the meat comes from is very important to her. If she knows the farmer or the story behind it, she eats it.

If there were one piece of advice she could give people in New Ulm, it would be to do the same experiment that she did and try a new vegetable every week.

“Don’t have any expectations and just experiment. You will be surprised what you can do,” Paa said.

“Smitten with Squash” is available at the book stores in the Twin Cities and online for $17.95. It is published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Because the ties to her hometown are still strong, there will be a book signing in New Ulm this fall. The date will be released on her blog www.heartbeetkitchen.com.

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