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Who's Cooking: Margie Allen makes squash rolls

Margie Allen with her Squash Rolls, at her

Margie Allen with her Squash Rolls, at her Stony Brook home. Credit: Johnny Milano

Margie Allen is a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook and lives nearby with her wife, Linda Anderson.

Do you have a cooking philosophy?

Whenever people gather for religious services, I think the way they interact with each other changes when sharing food. It’s the liberal religion’s version of communion. It’s very informal but everyone knows it’s a way of connecting and recognizing the bounty around us and how good it feels to be partaking in that bounty together.

How have you incorporated cooking into your ministry?

For our orientation sessions, I bring food appropriate to the time of day. For Saturday morning sessions, I make either lemon streusel, blueberry mini muffins or a coffee cake like blueberry buckle or a New York crumb cake, plus fresh fruit. For the evening session, I usually make a pecan pie, a carrot or zucchini cake or a Breton chocolate pound cake, a cake my mom used to make for potluck dinners, and fruit or cheese or nuts. For the lunch session on Sundays, I’ll generally make a loaf of Italian bread, my mom’s honey oatmeal bread, squash rolls or a country sourdough. With the bread, I serve a vegetarian or vegan soup like a leek and potato or a Thai-style butternut squash or a veggie and cashew chili. I also throw together a green salad of some sort or a grain salad. Some of my favorite grain salads are a couscous salad with green beans, sweet pepper, carrots, red onions and currants; a wheat berry-barley with smoked mozzarella; or a black bean with corn and red peppers.

Where did you get your start with cooking?

I grew up on a college campus in southwest Virginia. My mom was a very steady but uninventive cook, not adventurous. When Dad stepped up to chair the English department, my mom broadened her hospitality and stepped up her cooking skills. My sister and I were recruited as sous chefs. We shelled the chestnuts at Thanksgiving and fried bananas for a condiment when curry meals became popular. We pressed cookies and mixed garlic butter. I began baking oatmeal molasses bread when I was a freshman. I would ask neighbors what their favorite bread was and then go and make it. In my late 20s and early 30s I lived on a farm and had a 625-square- foot organic garden. I grew herbs, flowers and vegetables and learned to cook with fresh produce and wild food. One year, I grew wheat and harvested it, threshed it, winnowed it, ground it and made bread. To this day I have a KitchenAid grain mill and grind my own whole wheat flour.

What are a few meals you cook for dinner?

During half the year, my cooking has to make use of our fabulous veggie share from the community supported agriculture at the Golden Earthworm. Some examples are pulled pork butt with tacu-tacu (Peruvian rice and lentils) and Swiss chard with pine nuts and raisins. Another example is a pineapple-cucumber salad with chili and mint; fresh corn on the cob; fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil and homemade crusty bread. Or broiled swordfish with roasted miso eggplant.

Where do you like to go out to eat?

The Istanbul Café in Centereach, Domo Sushi in East Setauket, Diwan in Hicksville, H Mart in Jericho or these in Stony Brook: , 1089 Noodle House and O Sole Mio.

Squash Rolls

2 packages active yeast

4 tablespoons sugar, divided

1/2 cup warm water

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup mashed, cooked butternut squash (or sweet potato)

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Combine yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and warm water in large bowl to proof. Add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, melted butter, salt, eggs and mashed squash or sweet potatoes (butter can be melted by stirring it into the hot mash). Stir vigorously to blend. Add flour 1 cup at a time. The dough will be very soft, but not sticky.

2. Knead about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Form into a round. Place in a greased bowl. Turn dough to grease completely. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

3. Punch down and shape into a ball. Let rest 2 minutes. Divide ball of dough in half and each half into 12 equal-sized pieces. Shape pieces into golf ball-sized rounds and place in 2 greased round cake or pie pans 1/4 inch apart, 12 to a pan. Cover and let rise until doubled.

4. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven, about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 24 rolls.

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