Bowling Green's Gail Nader cooks like a Pennsylvania Dutch farm wife overlaid with a layer of northern California sophistication.
|Gail Nader poses with her Thai Butternut Squash Soup. (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
That's because at heart, she's a blend of both.
"My grandmother was a fabulous cook. She was one of these Pennsylvania Dutch people who came out of Germany," with a family whose Philadelphia roots extend back to the 1600s.
It was a special treat when - as a little girl - Nader got to stay overnight at her grandparents' house. "She taught me how to cook, she taught me how to kill and dress a chicken, how to garden."
Nader, who entered one of the most popular of the soups in this year's Bowling Green Winterfest Chili and Soup Cook-Off, describes herself as "an intuitive cook" who doesn't bother following written recipes. "I just throw stuff together and see what it tastes like."
If she can find a way to combine international influences and a complex mix of flavors in a single dish, so much the better.
That's true of her cook-off entry, Thai Butternut Squash Bisque, which is today's Cook's Corner recipe.
She grew up in northeast Ohio but as an adult moved to Clear Lake, Calif., 100 miles north of San Francisco, where she met her husband.
"It was a Chamber of Commerce mixer. He owned a radio station and I owned an answering service."
After 20 years in California, Nader's husband decided it was time for him to return to Bowling Green "when his mom decided she was too old to keep up this house," Nader said of their gorgeous West Wooster Street Victorian with a wraparound-verandah. It was inherited from his mother Virginia Uhlman Nader, whose forebears owned two historic Bowling Green businesses, the Milligan Hotel and Uhlman's department store.
They made the move in 1998 and for a time she worked for her husband's employer, SIOP (the Center for Industiral and Organizational Psychology).
It was at a SIOP conference in Toronto about 15 years ago that "I fell in love with Thai food" when the employees went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant one night.
"I was immediately enamored," says Nader. "I just love all things Thai - the mix of sweet and salty, the layers of flavor.
"I've never been real big on that slimy, salty flavor that is Chinese, although I like Japanese."
But Thai cuisine truly captured her imagination.
Now to bring the practical "German farm wife" back into the equation.
"Larry does not like squash and I do. We have lots of squash in the garden - squash grows very well in BG," she said with a smile.
"We eat a lot of soup in the winter. It's cheap and easy when you don't feel like anything else. Just go to the freezer and get soup.
"So I had the issue of what can I come up with that we'll all like?"
Two winters ago she developed her now-signature Thai Butternut Squash Bisque.
"I made it last year for the soup cook-off, but I wasn't registered." At her husband's suggestion, "I snuck it in on the Kiwanis table.
"A lot of people asked me for the recipe there."
|Gail Nader's Thai Butternut Squash Soup. (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
This year, with the Feb. 16 Winterfest approaching, Larry reminded Gail and this time she formally registered her soup. She even printed up and brought along copies of the recipe - after she forced herself to commit it to paper for the first time.
She believes the soup is popular because of the multiple layers of flavor.
"You start out with an onion, then add the coconut milk, which is sweet, then add the chili paste which adds heat."
Nader's recipe assumes the cook has some familiarity with higher-level preparation methods.
Here are simple definitions of two techniques you'll be using: • The onions are carmelized, which means "you fry them in oil until they're brown. With carmelization, you cook it at low temperature for a long time. You want to bring the sugar out of the onions." • Deglazing involves putting a small amount of the stock liquid into the cooking pan while it's still warm. "There's a lot of flavor in the stuff that's stuck to the pan" and deglazing is a way to pick up that delicious flavor. She recommends using an immersion blender, which is a small blender on a stick. It makes life easy for the cook, who doesn't have to pour the heavy pot full of liquid into a full-size blender.
The Naders are huge Bowling Green boosters and she keeps several local irons in the fire simultaneously, including managing rental property, and spending the last five years doing project grants for a university professor.
Nader says her "next adventure is, I've entered into an arrangement with Becky Laabs" to provide art for, and help with the operation of, Laabs' Main Street business, Art-A-Site.
Along with her tasty soups, she'll get her creative juices flowing creating mixed-media collage art, polymer clay dolls and Santas. "I do junk art, or 'found art' as it's called."
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 2-inch chunks
1 large sweet onion
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-inch section of ginger, minced
1 qt. chicken stock
4 T. Thai Kitchen red chili paste
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup cream
Caramelize the onion in the olive oil. I like the flavor of the well-caramelized onions in my soups.
Deglaze the onion pan with some of the stock, then place onions, squash, stock, garlic and ginger in large soup pot. Cook until squash is very tender, about half an hour. Using an immersion blender, puree soup. Add chili paste, cayenne pepper and coconut; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add cream and stir well.
Garnish with toasted coconut and enjoy.