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How to: Squash

posted in Food, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

Can you spot the buttercup squash? If not, read on!

As autumn arrives, grocery stores and markets fill up with winter squash in all shapes and sizes. Acorn, butternut, buttercup, spaghetti … which one is which? And what do you do with them? This post will introduce you to some of the more popular members of the gourd family. Even if you don’t end up cooking with them, you can use them as seasonal decorations!

How to Choose Squash

Winter squash have tough, inedible skins. When buying winter squash, look for ones that are heavy and have smooth, un-dented skins with the stems still on. These are indications that the squash was harvested when ripe and will have more flavor. Winter squash contain lots of healthy nutrients, like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Whole squash can be kept for up to a month, unrefrigerated, in a cool dry location.

Preparing Winter Squash

Most squash varieties can be baked, boiled, steamed and sautéed, but they each have different tastes and textures. Particular cooking techniques are better suited to some than others – don’t try making butternut squash soup with spaghetti squash!

To prepare squash, start by washing it off and drying it. The next step will depend on how you want to use the squash and whether you have a good, sharp knife.

Option 1. Cut the Squash Before Cooking: Peeling squash is not easy, which is why some people roast squash unpeeled. You can peel the squash with a vegetable peeler (as shown it this video) or with a knife. Then you can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and cut the flesh into whatever size pieces you need. Or, you can simply cook the two peeled/scooped-out halves in the oven (at 400F for about 40 minutes) or the microwave (calculating two minutes of cooking time per pound of squash).

Option 2. Partially Cook the Squash Before Cutting: If the squash is too hard to cut, try microwaving it for a minute or two, or boiling it for five minutes. You’ll have to let it cool and then try to cut it.

Option 3. Cut the Squash After Cooking: Another way to avoid cutting a raw squash is to bake it whole. Pierce the squash in several places (using a fork or sharp knife) to let air escape, then bake it at 400F for about an hour. (If you do not pierce the squash it may EXPLODE in the oven!) Once it has cooled, you can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and either cut the skin off or scoop out the flesh. This is a great method to use if the squash is going to be pureed for a side dish or soup.

Option 4. Roasting squash: Once you have cut the squash in half and scooped out the seeds you can roast it. Preheat the oven to 400F and drizzle the squash halves with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Put them cut-side down on a baking sheet, and roast for about 40 minutes.

Kathy roasted all the squash she photographed, shown below cut-side down…

…then turned each piece over to check that it was done.

Now, let’s find out who’s who in the squash family!

Butternut Squash (shown below)

Butternut squash is one of the most popular varieties because of its sweet, rich taste and beautiful orange color. These creamy-skinned squashes have a bulb-shaped end that contains the seeds. Butternut squash can be served pureed with apples or as the made into butternut squash soup. Here’s a video that demonstrates maple-glazed butternut squash, a delicious and simple side-dish that calls for a quarter cup of rum. You can also use plain baked butternut squash as a side dish, salad or pasta topping.

Buttercup Squash (shown below)

Buttercup squashes are round and flat in shape and often have dark green skins. Although their flavor is similar to that of butternut squash, they’re not as sweet and they have a drier texture. They work well in many of the same recipes as butternut squash. Here’s a recipe for Brandy-Laced Squash Soup with Cinnamon and Bay Leaves.

Spaghetti Squash (shown below)

These oval-shaped squash produce stringy flesh that can actually substitute for pasta. (It looks like pasta but tastes like watery summer squash!) The flavor is mild, so you can serve it with a pasta sauce or parmesan cheese, or even just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Kathy explains how to cook and serve basic spaghetti squash, or try this Mediterranean version.

Acorn Squash (shown below)

Shaped like (you guessed it!) acorns, and typically dark green on the outside, this type of squash tastes great baked. Its nutty flesh is a bit drier than that of other squash varieties. You’ll often see recipes for stuffed acorn squash, because an acorn squash half makes an attractive, edible bowl.

Delicata Squash (shown below)

These long, cylindrical squash are also known as sweet potato squash because their creamy flesh resembles that of a sweet potato. They can be used in many recipes that call for butternut or buttercup squashes or sweet potato. Here’s a recipe for Delicata Squash and Gruyere Dip.

Pumpkin (shown below)

While these bright orange globes are the most sought after of the squash family, they get carved for Halloween more often than eaten. The size of pumpkins makes them a bit difficult to handle in the kitchen, which is why there’s a marvelous invention called canned pumpkin. Kathy makes use of pumpkin puree in her Pumpkin Soup Without the Fuss and in her Pumpkin Pie for Beginners.

Summer Squash (shown below)

Yellow summer squash (shown above) and green zucchini (shown below) are also part of the gourd family. We have already covered how to prepare zucchini and yellow-skinned summer squash can be prepared in many of the same ways. Here’s a recipe specifically for summer squash.

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9 Healthy Halloween Treats

posted in Lists and Leftovers by Jessica Howard

pumpkin patch

It was still summer when giant bags of Halloween candy started appearing on store shelves. Then, the bakeries and cafes upped the ante, pushing the fluorescent-orange-frosted cupcakes and cookies. You’re conflicted: the adult in you hates Halloween hype, but the 10-year-old still salivates at the sight of all that sweet stuff. The good news is that you and your kids can enjoy plenty of Halloween goodies without going into sugar shock. Here are some ideas for Halloween treats with a healthy twist.

  1. The Kitchn has a delightful and colorful Vegetable Skeleton that takes veggies and dip to a new level!
  2. Easy, queasy appetizer: For an eyeball-ish appetizer, follow startcooking’s recipe for Deviled Eggs. They can be topped with either green or black slided olive “irises”. Better Homes and Gardens took it one step further in the photo below by adding asparagus eyebrows and using really great shaped plates!  Photo: Better Homes and Gardens                                                    http://images.meredith.com/bhg/images/recipe/l_R136435.jpg
  3. Forget the Candy: We all love candy but there are so many Healthy Trick or Treat Alternatives. Including: Cereal barsSnack packets of dried fruit, baked pretzels, nut and seedsTrail mixAnimal crackers100 calorie packs of various productsSingle serve boxes of ready-to-eat cerealRaisins and chocolate covered raisins

    Fig cookies

    Mini boxes of raisins

    Individual juice drinks (100% juice)

    Single-serve packets of low-fat microwave popcorn

    Sugar-free hot chocolate or apple cider packets

  4. SOS (Save Our Seeds): If you are planning on carving a pumpkin, hang on to the seeds and roast them for a savory snack.
  5. Make Jell-O even spookier: If you whip up a package of orange Jell-O following the package directions and set some plastic spiders or other creepy crawlies on top, you’ve got a simple, non-fat Halloween dessert. If you are feeling more adventurous, try some Spooky Jell-o Jigglers!http://www.kraftfoods.com/assets/recipe_images/Spooky_JELL-O_JIGGLERS.jpg
    Photo: Kraft Foods
  6. Calling all cookie monsters: Instead of going for store-bought, try the Skinny Chef’s pumpkin-shaped peanut butter cookies.
  7. Hot spider! Ooops, that’s cider: Hot apple cider, which consists of apple juice, a few spices and orange peel, takes just a few minutes to make. For the “over 21″ crowd try one of these Creepy Halloween Cocktails.
  8. Spiced up popcorn: Rather than making the traditional popcorn balls, why not try some of Macheesmo’s Five Spice Popcorn for a real flavor explosion! Simply Recipe’s Perfect Popcorn Recipe will guarantee no seeds on the bottom of the bowl.
  9. Pumpkins, pumpkins and MORE pumpkins: Carving a pumpkin is great fun but when it comes to cooking with pumpkins, it is a lot easier to just buy a can of pumpkin puree. Startcooking’s Pumpkin Soup Without the Fuss is a snap to make using pumpkin puree. Or you might want to try Pumpkin Pie for Beginners which comes out perfect every time!http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_9327.JPG

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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How to: Potatoes

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

There is an incredible variety of potatoes from around the world – literally thousands of them. Different varieties of potatoes vary in texture. They can be starchy, waxy, or somewhere in-between. Some potatoes are great for mashing while others work best if baked or roasted.

At the grocery store there are usually signs above the potatoes that will tell you which ones are great for baking versus which ones are better for mashing. Some potatoes are described as “all-purpose” which means you can cook them any way you want.

What’s common to all potatoes is that they’re incredibly versatile and nutritious. They contain iron, Vitamin C, potassium and starch. Sweet potatoes – which are actually a very distant relative of regular potatoes – are loaded with Vitamin A, C and B6. In general, potatoes can be boiled, baked, steamed, microwaved, and used in salads, soups and stews.

Starchy, Waxy or All-Purpose?

Russet or Idaho potatoes have a starchy texture that works well for baking.

Starchy Potatoes (aka baking potatoes) are good to use for baking, French fries and mashing. They tend to come apart when cooked, so they’re not great for dishes like Potato Hash.
Some examples: Russet (aka Idaho), Norchip, Goldrush, Norkotah, Long white, Jewel Yam, Japanese Sweet potato, Hannah Sweet Potato

Small, round new potatoes taste great boiled.

Waxy Potatoes (aka boiling potatoes, round white, round red) keep their shape when cooked, so these are the best options for boiling, roasting or steaming. They’re also the best to use in dishes like potato salad or scalloped potatoes
Some examples: Warba, Rose Finn, Pontiac, Russian Banana, Red Thumb, French Fingerling, LaRette, Austrian Crescent, New potatoes

All-purpose

These potatoes fall somewhere between starchy and waxy, so they work in most recipes.
Some examples: Viking, All blue, Kennebec, Carlton, Yukon Gold, Norland Red, Purple Majesty.

Sweet Potatoes


Sweet potatoes are often referred to as “yams” in the United States. Strictly speaking, they are not the same thing (not even related!). True yams are typically grown in parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – they are often brown or black, and can grow to be several feet long.

Follow the same guidelines for buying and storing sweet potatoes as you would other potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are often baked in their skins, or used to make sweet potato fries. There’s also the Thanksgiving classic, Sweet Potato Casserole (shown below), which is often topped with marshmallows!

http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_6231.jpg
startcooking.com’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Buying and Storing

  • Look for potatoes that are unblemished and don’t have a green tinge. A greenish skin color signals that the potato has had too much exposure to light. These potatoes may actually taste bitter and cause digestive (and other) problems. If the potato is only partially green, you can remove the green part and use the rest.
  • The worst place to store potatoes is in the fridge – this affects their taste and color. They should be kept in a cool, dark and dry place (not under the kitchen sink), and away from onions.
  • If stored at room temperature, they’ll last about a week. If stored between 45 and 50F (7 to 10C), they’ll last several weeks.
  • It’s better to store potatoes in a paper bag or cardboard box than in a plastic bag.
  • Pre-washed potatoes will spoil more quickly than unwashed.
  • If you’ve had some potatoes around for a while, you may notice that they start to sprout. According to the National Potato Council, this means that they’re being stored at too high a temperature. You can still use them – just cut the sprouts off.

How to Wash Potatoes

Wash them under running water, scrubbing the surface of the skin with a brush, or vigorously with your hands. Don’t use soap, though.

How to Peel Potatoes

Depending on how you’re using potatoes, you may want to peel them. If you want to remove the skin before cooking, simply use a vegetable peeler and peel from one end of the potato to the other.

If you don’t like peeling, you can also remove the skin of a potato after boiling it. In this method, cut a shallow slit around the middle of the uncooked potato, and then boil it. After boiling, dunk the potato in ice water for a few seconds. When it’s cool enough to touch, it will be very easy to pull the skin off. The potato is then ready for mashing or using in a recipe.

When it Comes to Cooking Potatoes, Startcooking.com has Covered:

Here are More Basic Potato Recipes:

Enjoy!

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