Brian McLachlan wants to show how food-savvy families can eat healthy on a budget
Many people see winter squash as just a decoration. Even more see overripe bulbs as waste. Carver Brewing Co. chef Brian McLachlan sees these things as an opportunity to make soup.
In an effort to teach skills and highlight resources for families who may be food insecure, McLachlan toured Durango Food Bank to make a meal that could feed a family of four using only items available in the food bank.
“Cooking is not as scary as some people might think,” he said. “With a few basic tools, you can create something beautiful. It just takes a little practice.”
McLachlan took immediate action against the food bank’s selection of squash. Before deciding on a soup, he knew he would use winter squash as an ingredient. He said it’s in season and that he thinks people are sometimes scared to cook them.
“Squash comes in all different varieties and you don’t always know what they are,” he said. They are a bit big and scary, and they do not always have names. ”
When McLachlan came across a basket of soft, brown, overripe pears, he knew he was making soup. He wanted to use the pears’ natural sugars to bring out the taste of squash.
“On the outside, they look like garbage, but they are fine. As soon as we get below the surface, I want a really good bite bulb, ”he said. “These are going to have the highest sugar content and the most pear flavor.”
To thicken his soup, McLachlan chose a large can of pinto beans from the food bank.
Other canned ingredients included a can of condensed milk and a can of coconut cream to garnish the soup. He also snatched a liter of chicken stock.
“I use beans as a base to increase the protein and health content of the soup,” he said.
A good alternative to beans as a soup thickener would be potatoes, he said.
Part of the reason McLachlan chose to make a soup was to make a simple meal to emphasize simplicity and ease of cleaning.
According to the Food Bank, an estimated 6,420 people in La Plata County miss out on at least one meal a day.
Durango Food Bank CEO Sarah Smith said there are between 80 and 125 households using the food bank on a weekly basis.
“Most of our customers are family units or senior households and they are struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “They just fall short for whatever reason.”
Families in La Plata County who may need help from the food bank can schedule an appointment on the Durango Food Bank website.
Smith said a major barrier to healthier meals for many families using the food bank is a lack of knowledge when it comes to fresh produce.
“They’re primarily focused on products that are canned, boxed and pre-packaged. So not necessarily healthier stuff,” she said. that is missing. “
To promote the use of fresh ingredients, the food bank sets no limits on the amount of products families can take when they come to shop.
McLachlan said cost should not be a barrier for those considering refining their cooking skills.
“Good food is not about caviar and truffle oil,” he said. “Cooking is essential for every home and every family, and it usually takes place with the most basic ingredients.”
A donation from Carver’s was made to replace the items that McLachlan used for his recipe.
To make the soup
McLachlan began making his soup by halving his three squash and putting them with the peel side up in an oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Your squash is done when it is soft to the touch,” he said. “When you can stick it through with your finger, it’s ready.”
Once the squash was in the oven, McLachlan began making a sautéed mixture of onion and garlic. Onions activate people’s noses, he said.
“No matter what you cook, as soon as you add the onions, someone comes over and asks, ‘What are you cooking? It smells good,'” he said.
While the garlic and onions were cooking, he began to peel the brown pears and cut out anything that did not look quite right under the skin.
While setting his peeled pears aside for now, McLachlan dumped a 40-ounce can of pinto beans into the pan with his onions and garlic. After finishing his soup base, he also added a liter of chicken stock.
After about 40 minutes in the oven, he let the squash cool a bit, and scooped the meat off the peel with a spoon.
The cleaned pears and squash then went directly into the broth pot. McLachlan then used a stick blender to puree everything.
“Stick blenders have become really affordable in the last few years, but if you can’t puree it, you don’t have to,” he said. “Just let it be thick.”
McLachlan stressed that it is important for home cooks to taste while they go. The best advice he said he could offer a home cook was to add salt and vinegar and be patient and persistent.
“When you cook and you think, ‘What does it need,’ the answer is usually salt or vinegar,” he said. “If you miss the little bite on the front of your mouth, those are the two things you look at right away.”
McLachlan then poured the soup into bowls and garnished the top with a can of coconut milk, ground black pepper and fresh green onions.
Designed for the kitchen
McLachlan grew up in Durango. His first job with food was in Subway when he was 16. He continued to work at various eateries through college while studying to be an engineer.
After three days working as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Golden, he said he decided he was in love with the kitchen scene.
“When I first got into a big professional kitchen with all the cool stuff going on and all the good smells, it struck me as something I could make a living from,” he said.
From there, McLachlan moved to Breckenridge and worked his way up to a deputy manager position at a restaurant.
For a short period of time, he decided he wanted to use his engineering education, but found that he did not have to sit behind a desk.
“It turns out I really do not like technology,” he said. “I had a hard time working at a desk, and working at it day after day did not give me joy.”
With his dreams fully realized, McLachlan moved to Denver and worked in a variety of professional kitchens to improve his cooking skills.
After moving around a bit more and returning to Durango for a year, he settled in Santa Fe for three years with his wife.
He came back to the Durango area to be near his family a few years ago. He said he’s happy as head chef at Carver’s and plans to be there for a while.
“As long as I’m going to be here, this will be my permanent thing in Durango. I really love this at Carver’s,” he said.
What McLachlan enjoys most about being a chef is making people happy, he said.
“Being able to turn a raw ingredient into a meal is a really beautiful process for me,” he said. “So at the end of what we do, I get to make a ton of people happy and present our love work to the guest.”
He said that cooking for strangers is not that different from cooking at home, it’s just on a much larger scale.
“If you’ve ever made a dish that made your mom really happy, it’s the same moment I chase every day,” he said.
Chef Brian McLachlan’s pear and squash soup
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- Place three large winter pumpkins that have been tossed clean of seeds with the peel side up on a baking sheet and fry for 40 minutes, or until the meat is soft to the touch.
- Cut 2 yellow onions
- Chop 5 cloves of garlic
- Melt half a stick of butter over medium heat until the garlic and onion are soft and begin to smell.
- Meanwhile, peel and scrape the seeds from 3 pears. Soft pears give more sweetness and pear flavor
- When garlic and onion are soft and aromatic, add a 40-ounce can of cooked pinto beans to the pan
- Add to the pan 1 liter of chicken stock and 1 liter of water
- Add a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- Season with a quarter cup of cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons salt
- When the squash is cooked through and cool enough to handle, scrape the cooked meat out with a large spoon. Add squash meat and pears to the soup pot and bring to a boil.
- The soup can be pureed with a hand blender or food processor. Or it can be left thick. Just stirring until the beans, squash and pears break is another option.
- Adjust the taste to your liking. Suggested spices include more salt, more cider vinegar, chili powder, granulated garlic, ginger, cilantro or oregano.
- Garnish the soup with condensed coconut milk, ground black pepper and freshly chopped green onions. Other suggested garnishes include bacon or other cooked meats or nuts.