How Do You Squish Your Squash?

squash

Piles of super-cheap gourds at the grocery, a morning chill in the air, and some delicious looking round-up posts can only mean one thing:  squash season is upon us. While my husband is partial to butternut (particularly as soup), I embrace all winter squash varieties, from spaghetti to acorn to pumpkin (read: not just for jack o’lanterns, eaters). Reading Snebbu’s post about ways to use butternut squash the other day got me thinking, though…squash is not always the easiest to cook with.  It requires more time and advanced planning than my other go-to produce items of the season, apples.  So I thought I’d share my tried and true squash preparation method, and then see if you all had any suggestions to add.

Now, you may be aware that it is possible, particularly in the case of butternut squash, to peel the raw squash, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into chunks, then cook.  I do not like this method for several reasons.  First, peeling a big, unwieldy, rock-hard vegetable is a slippery pain.  Secondly, I end up with this weird sticky sap on my hands.  Third, half the time I have to peel it a second time to remove the stringy green layer.  If I fail to plan ahead and absolutely must have cubes of squash in the next half-hour, I’ll suck it up and use this method, but I avoid it if I can.  Instead, I use a method introduced to me by my mom years ago.

What I prefer to do is this:

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Tricks of the Trade: Vanilla Bean Powdered Sugar

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My favorite vanilla to use when baking is from Penzeys. On top of having the best flavor of any vanilla I’ve used, I get the added bonus of an actual vanilla bean in the bottle. When the bottle runs out, I take the bean out and let it dry on parchment paper. I then pulse it with granulated sugar to make vanilla bean powdered sugar. The pods themselves have a ton of vanilla flavor, and there are still a good amount of vanilla seeds in the pods as well, creating a heavily vanilla-scented sugar, perfect for dusting on your french toast or adding to buttercream frosting.

You can also blend in coffee beans, lemon or orange zest, a pinch of cinnamon, etc. to add an extra layer of flavor to the sugar.

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Egg Separation Trick: Magic or Logic?

There’s a YouTube video making the rounds:

 

Lots of internet people are pretty excited about it, but commenter splendid696 asks, “Simple physics is now black magic? Are we going back to Dark Ages?” Ol’ splendid696, ever the realist. I mean, they have a point, but it’s still cool. Also I never took physics! So take that!

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the old-fashioned shell-to-shell maneuver, but I’ll admit my success rate isn’t quite 100%. Sometimes I just get overzealous about smashing the egg and then I get shards everywhere, you know? I think I’ll give this water bottle trick a shot sometime soon, just for the hell of it.

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What the Hell am I Supposed to Do With All These Egg Whites?

As I mention in the custard-based ice cream recipes, egg whites can be refrigerated or frozen and used later. If you refrigerate them they should be used within a couple days; in the freezer they will last for a couple weeks.

Now there are quite a few ways to use them up. One is to simply beat a couple into your omelet or scrambled eggs in the morning. Another is meringue topping for a pie, or light meringue cookies (like French macarons). Coconut macaroons are always delicious (and easily frozen for a make-ahead dessert). Egg whites are great for sealing homemade pierogies or raviolis. My favorite way to use up a good amount of egg whites is making these utterly awesome friands, or tea cakes, from Ottolenghi.

To say I’m obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi is a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. I love that man. The accessibility and ingenuity of his recipes never fails to surprise me. To date, I’ve easily made over 3 dozen of his recipes, and not one has been a flop. This is my favorite of his desserts.

Blackberry and Star Anise Friands

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Endless Bananas

I think it’s safe to say that at some point or another, we’ve all been faced with spotty bananas that we knew we just weren’t going to get to before they turned that final corner into banana heaven (the compost pile). Not due to lack of ideas, but due to lack of time. Luckily, there’s a quick and easy way to extend the life of your ripe bananas.

First, peel the bananas and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Put the sheet in the freezer for two or three hours, until the bananas are solid. This is called flash freezing. It will enable you to pull one banana at a time out of the freezer. If you just  put them all together in a bag they would freeze in one giant banana lump.

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How to Cut an Avocado

As you know, we here at Endless Simmer like to put avocado on everything.

I don’t know if everyone has this problem, but I’ve always been unsure about the best way to cut up an avocado. Some people like to cut it in half and slice up semi-circular pieces to place in salads or sandwiches. I find this method creates less-than-ideal pieces; there’s just something textural I don’t like about those long, thin slices of avo. Spoon it out works for guac, but not when you want whole pieces of green.

So I was pretty stoked when I recently spied a friend in a kitchen cutting an avocado up just like I cut mangos. Cut it half, slice crisscross patters into each half, and then just pop ’em out.

Apologies if this is not as revelatory for everyone else, but lately it has changed my life. It’s so much easier and quicker than other ways, and it results in perfect bite-sized pieces, ideal either for tossing in a salad or for mashing up into guacamole or another avocado dip.

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A Kitchen Carry-On

More often than not, when I cook it isn’t in my own kitchen. I cook with friends; it’s something I enjoy most. One of the biggest problems when cooking in a kitchen other than my own is the lack of equipment and supplies — not everyone has the counter space or the means to have a KitchenAid or Cuisinart at their disposal, or a cabinet full of spices. But who wants to spend $7 on a bottle of garam masala for a one-time use? I know I wouldn’t, but it is something I use and I’d never expect a host to buy a bottle for a one-off dinner party. Solution: over the past few years I’ve built up a kitchen travel bag of sorts, my own goodie bag of kitchen supplies that I don’t expect any of my friends to stock themselves, but I simply can’t cook without.

Keep reading for my must-have list of kitchen items to carry when cooking away from home.

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