What to do with a squash...

We were headed out of town for a week and I asked my neighbor to water my plants and enjoy the produce. We were looking at the soccer ball-sized Blue Hubbard squash. I said, "Pick it". She said she wouldn't know what to do with it. Hmmm. Would I know what to do with it? I'd probably peel it chop it into pieces and steam it. I might lose a finger or at least some skin in the process.

I've found an easier way. Chop it half. Scoop out the seeds. Slap the squash halves face down on a cookie sheet. I lined mine with one of those silicon baking liners. Next stick some cloves of garlic under the squash. Set the oven to 350°F and let it bake for 20-50 minutes until the outer shell is soft. Let it cool until you can handle it and then scoop out the flesh. Easy peasy. No need to peel the squash. No cut fingers. No trips to the ER.

So what did I do with this cooked squash? Well, I had one large helping with my dinner. Just salt and pepper it a bit and it's pretty good. You could add butter, cheese, nuts or anything. Right now, I'm baking some bread that used the rest of this squash. The recipe is from Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen, Sweet Potato Bread with Cranberries, Currants, and Pecans, page 88. Although I haven't tried it yet, I think almost any recipe for banana bread could be used. Just substitute the cooked squash for the bananas.

I can't seem to find fresh cranberries except around Thanksgiving and then they are incredibly expensive. I find that weird because some cranberries are grown here in Oregon. Instead I used dried cranberries. To entice the family to eat the bread, I added chocolate chips. Not so good on the waistline but hey they're eating squash!

So there it is...the first recipe from Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen. Maybe I won't cook through the whole cookbook but there are a lot of good recipes in here. I may just learn a bit more about cooking other unusual foods.

Update -- Bread is out of the oven. It looks and smells good. Waiting for it to cool down. Since the oven was hot, I decided to roast the other Blue Hubbard squash. About six beets were included in the food from Red Basket Farm yesterday. So I tossed those in...trimmed, scrubbed, and rubbed them with oil and tossed them on the baking sheet. Then I took a look in the cookbook for beets. Should have read the cookbook first. Seems you want to wrap beets in foil or half cover them with water and cover with foil. Sigh. My own fault. So I went and pulled the beets out of the oven. They were still cool enough to handle with bare hands. I compromised and a foil pouch for all of the beets. We'll see how that turns out.

Update to the Update -- The beets turned out beautifully. To peel them, I just held them under a small stream water and rubbed. The tough outer layer just came right off. Easy peasy.

The slow cooker project....maybe

I was at the library today and saw the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook -- Feasting with your Slow Cooker. So I checked it out. Now tonight, I'm looking at it to see if there is a chance to work my way through it. Pages 5-15 look like a primer on how to gain weight via application of cheese dip to hips, thighs and belly. I did see a bit of hope when I looked at the Breakfast Foods section. Any recipe (in this case Welsh Rarebit) that begins with 12-oz can beer can't be all that bad. Unless of course, you're looking to cut down on the calorie intake.

The more I look at the Fix-IT and Forget-It Cookbook, the more I think it's not the cookbook I want to cook from. The appetizer section has multiple versions of cheese dip. There's no calorie information in the book but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that eating a lot of these recipes isn't going to do wonders for my waistline.

Next stop, Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen. You may remember Kathleen Daelemans from her Cooking Thin television show. It's not a bad book. It does drive me a little crazy that there's no calorie information. She says she doesn't keep track of all the numbers and thus doesn't include that information on the recipes. But then on the other hand, she talks about her "calorie bank account" where she keeps a running track of her calorie range. Does she not realize that it would be much easier for ME to keep track of MY calorie range if calorie and nutritional information were included with the recipes? Sigh. I guess I can alway enter all the ingredients into FitDay or another website to get a rough calorie count for 20 servings of Crunchy Granola. Then hoping the calculator on my computer behaves, I should be able to get a rough idea of the calorie count on any given recipe. Thanks for the extra work, Kathleen.

Now are there 8 cups of rolled oats in the house? I keep eyeing that 25-lb bag of oats at WinCo. But I don't have any food safe buckets available for storage of the leftovers. Still, homemade granola is very, very yummy. I think I've found my first recipe.

A cooking project?

I just finished reading Julie & Julia. I haven't seen the movie yet. The book was good. I can relate to the obsession with wanting to finish this project. It's an interesting project. I'm tempted to try to repeat that project as I'm sure hundreds of people who have read the book or seen the movie are doing right now. But I have two children, not nearly enough budget and that much butter is just not in my dietary budget. I'm trying to lose weight.

I'm thinking that maybe cooking my way through a slow-cooker cookbook might be more my speed. It would help with the crazy days of swim and soccer practice. My family might even eat what I've cooked. I know that my husband will never eat kidneys, brain or liver. The children like chicken hearts but the more exotic organs would just be wasted. Or maybe a trip through the Foods That Heal cookbook would be good. It's full of recipes using beans and other healthy foods. That would be useful. I want to be sure that I know lots of ways to use my stock of dried beans and grains. This would be the most useful project. I'm sure lots of beans will be wasted before the children decide that they are normal food.

So look for posts about those foods in the near future. I really do plan on doing more writing. Even if no one reads or comments on this blog, it's just good practice for me to write the words.

Today's cooking exercise was Ceviche. If you've never eaten ceviche, don't be afraid of it. It sounds like raw fish but tastes nothing like raw fish. It's simply fish that has been marinated or acid cooked in lime and lemon juice. From there, recipes vary widely. Today, I used a pound of sole for the fish, two small red jalapenos, half a red pepper, half a green pepper, about two tablespoons of chopped cilantro, a small red onion, and a few cherry tomatoes. It's marinating in the fridge now. The fish is already beginning to look cooked. When I get home from swim class it should be ready for me to have a small dish on the front porch. Such a simple dish and most of the ingredients came from my garden (or would have if the tomatoes would ripen). If I were a fisherman, I could even use my own fish but the whole gutting and cleaning fish just doesn't sound like fun. It's much more fun to use the filleted sole from the store.

I never would have tried making ceviche were it not for a sample table at the Japanese grocery. I tried ceviche and thought it was wonderful. I've made several batches now. I've used tilapia which works but seems to go a little soft. I'm trying the more expensive sole this time which seems to be firmer. Don't be afraid. Step out and try something new.

Canned Butter

Today I found a link for canning butter. We can peas, beans, tomatoes and now I've canned butter. The Indians have been canning butter for a long time. It's called ghee. Seems like a nice thing to have tucked away on the pantry shelf.

It's pretty simple actually. Start with butter. One pound of butter will fill a one pint jar with a table spoon or so left over. So decide how many pounds of butter you want to can and collect an equivalent number of jars with one extra for the extra butter.

Place sterilized jars in a roasting pan in the oven at 250° F for 20 minutes.

While the jars are heating, begin melting the butter. Use a pan that is a lot larger than the amount of butter you'll be melting. You'll be boiling the butter. Butter foams and pops as it boils so a lot of head space in the pot is a good thing. Also think about long sleeves, long pants, oven mitts, shoes and even safety glasses to keep hot, flying butter from sensitive body parts.

In a small pan, start some water heating. This is to sterilize the jar lids used to close the jars.

In another pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue heating until the butter begins to boil. Stir so that the butter doesn't scorch. This is boiled butter, not browned butter; so avoid scorching. Once the butter boils, turn down the heat and let the butter boil for five more minutes. For frozen butter, the melting, boiling and simmering will take the 20 minutes that it takes for the jars to heat in the oven. The jar lids will have reached a boil during this time period as well.

Remove the jars from the oven. Using a canning funnel, ladle or pour the butter into the jars. Leave 3/4 inch of head space (You'll be shaking the butter later). When the jar has been filled to the appropriate level, place a lid and ring on the jar. After tightening the ring, set the jar aside. Don't shake at this point...I tried. Bad idea. The butter comes flying out.

When you start to hear the ping of sealed jars, it's time to shake the butter. The butter separates into clarified butter and milk solids during the boiling process. Shaking while the butter is cooling will recombine these components. With no shaking, the butter will solidify into separate layers. If that happens, it's not the end of the world. After shaking for a bit, place the butter in the refrigerator, wait five minutes and then shake again. Keep doing this while the butter cools, until it achieves a consistent, single layer. But as I said, if you have to pick the kids up from school, or go to soccer, and the butter doesn't get shaken, it will still turn out ok.

I plan on canning more butter when I find it on sale. I've read that it will keep for three years when stored in a cool, dark pantry. I can't attest to that since I've only just canned my first batch of butter. Canned butter is also said to not need refrigeration after opening if used within a reasonable period of time. Although next time around, I think I'll use half-pint jars. Canned butter seems such a handy thing to have in the pantry. After all butter stored in the freezer isn't going to stay frozen if there's a long term power outage.

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