How to Prep Butternut Squash

Update: The beautiful bisque I made with this squash is now up for viewing!

I grew up with parents who thought a can of Pringles was dinner. Fresh vegetables were unheard of, and as a child, I thought soup always came from a can! The first time I chopped a bell pepper was when I had moved away from home, and it took me forty-five minutes. Each vegetable I have peeled, chopped, puréed, diced, and minced since then has represented another stage of personal growth: Spiritual blossoming through kitchen prepwork.

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about making butternut squash bisque for months now (stubborn bee), and so I set out to learn how to prepare butternut squash. It seemed so much more ambitious than a simple bell pepper: The rind on that oddly-shaped fruit is dauntingly hard, a mocking challenge to a pusillanimous knife-wielder like me. But people far and wide manage to do it anyway – rumor has it that Oprah chops squash as a hobby – and being able to confidently prepare a butternut squash, that squat-based member of the genus Cucurbita, would put me ever further away from my childhood meals of Little Debbie snack cakes, Pringles, and Campbell’s soup.

I mention my prep-less upbringing to illustrate that even if you’re new to the kitchen, you can do this! One of my favorite quotes says, in part, “Remember the magic of boldness.” Seize that butternut squash (or any vegetable you’ve been eyeing) and attack! Attack without mercy!

I attacked without mercy, and I document below the process of preparing a butternut squash. It’s surprisingly simple, easily done in minutes by those with a practised hand. My hand isn’t practised, but it took me under fifteen minutes from start to finish. I’ve broken it down into steps for those who, like me, prefer a methodical approach to their investigations of something new.

You will need:
1 butternut squash
1 very sharp knife
1 cutting board
1 vegetable peeler
The sort of determination that powers political upheavals (I kid, I kid)

Step 1. Wash the squash and dry it. (I have never bothered rhyming anything with the word ‘squash’ before, and here I have rhymed ‘wash’ and ‘squash’ without even trying to do so! Life is a banquet.)

Step 2. Slice about 1/2″ off the narrow end of the squash:

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The beheaded butternut squash. Viva la revolution!

Step 3. Slice about 1″ – 1.5″ off the wide end of the squash. This end contains a hollow compartment, which in turn contains the squash’s seeds – its progeny! Slicing off the end allows an element of stability while you peel the squash (more on that later). Make sure your knife is well-sharpened (inexpensive sharpeners are available on Amazon – mine cost $5, and works like a champ). The rind of the squash is tough, and you’ll need to proceed with caution. Some bloggers recommend getting the knife started through the squash, and then hammering it with a mallet. I didn’t feel the need to do that, but like Chris Rock, I understand.

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The subtext on this photo is hard to miss. I intended to show how the rind, while firm, can be nonetheless easily sliced by a knife, and… Never mind.

Slicing off this end of the squash will reveal a compartment that I, having never prepped squash before, was startled to find!

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The seeds and flesh revealed!

Step 4. Scoop out the innards of the squash’s little hidden compartment. I used a normal spoon, though apparently a melon baller or ice cream scoop would also work. The flesh is surprisingly pliable, very similar to the inside of a pumpkin. Scraping out the flesh and seeds is easy.

You can clean and dry the seeds, and then bake them on a pan (line pan with aluminum foil) for 15 minutes at 275°F (or until they pop). Baked winter squash seeds are a Thing which I have never tried, though they seem as though they would be oddly satisfying.

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Step 5. Peel the squash with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Other people recommend a peeler with a carbon steel blade, but that strikes me as driving Howitzer to the grocery store. My little garden-variety KitchenAid peeler performed swimmingly at this task.

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The squash well on its way to nudity!

Step 6. Slice the squash into 1/2″ – 3/4″ rounds along its length. The larger you slice it, the larger the eventual cubes will be, and the longer it will take to cook the squash. The rounds at the wide end will be hollow.

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Step 7. Chop rounds into squares of roughly the same size.

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This is for all the anal-retentives out there. You know who you are.

And you will eventually wind up with this:

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Cubes at your service, ready for anything: roasting, turning into soup, throwing at squirrels. You dream it, they can achieve it.

You can store the cubes in an airtight container in the refrigerator, to make prepping future dishes faster and easier. Go forth and do amazing things with your freshly prepped squash! 🙂

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Gordon Ramsay’s Banana Ice Cream

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A silver hammock, upon which the banana ice cream delicately rests.

This is the banana ice cream I’ve been meaning to blog about for nearly three years. I saw it in Gordon Ramsay’s book Just Desserts (2001), and Hubbles and I had to try it. It’s phenomenal. We’ve made it a dozen times now; it’s a household favourite. The texture is perfection, and the banana flavour is… well, very banana-esque. Commercial banana ice creams now taste like chemicals, because this one has spoiled us for life.

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It’s a swirling maelstrom of silky banana-ness. Lingerie has nothing on this texture.

We tried it with a vanilla bean once, and that was the best ice cream either of us have ever had, before or since. You can omit the vanilla, and it will be closer to Gordon’s recipe, but I think the addition of vanilla really boosts the banana flavour, besides adding a delicate flavour of its own. I would like to try this at some point with a full dozen yolks, because yolks add silkiness to the texture. They make a rich ice cream even richer.

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It looks like the banana ice cream is rising from its silky-creamy maelstrom (see caption above), and maybe it is. I’m really not here to judge.

I normally add a lot of commentary to recipes, but I am going to let this one speak for itself. It’s one of my favourite recipes for any type of food. Period. There’s nothing quite so refreshing on a hot summer day as ice cream made with fresh fruit.

Gordon Ramsay’s Banana Ice Cream

Ingredients:

4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 TBS vanilla extract OR 2 vanilla beans
9 egg yolks
4 – 6 overripe bananas

Method:

Place cream, half the sugar, and vanilla (if using beans, slit them and scrape seeds into cream mixture; place beans in the mixture as well) in 5 quart saucepan. Peel bananas and add them to the cream mixture, mashing them with a potato masher until they are disintegrated. Heat on medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally. It’s okay if the mixture boils, but simmering is ideal.

Meanwhile, place yolks and the remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth, around 5 minutes.

Once cream mixture has reached a simmer, let it simmer for five to seven minutes. (You might be preparing the egg yolks at this point in time.) Strain mixture into a medium bowl, but do not try and get every last bit of the liquid out of the strainer. If you do this, the mixture will taste slightly bitter. If you get 90% of the liquid out, that will suffice. Discard the banana solids, or eat them separately. If you like, you can leave them in the ice cream (thus negating the need for straining), but I think they contribute a slight bitterness.

Slowly stream the hot banana mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking the yolks like mad the entire time. This is called tempering the egg yolks, and it is important you add the hot liquid slowly so that the yolks don’t cook into solids. Set aside.

Clean the 5 quart pot and transfer the yolk-banana mixture into the pot. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly (the “froth” on the liquid’s surface will thicken noticeably, making it more difficult to see the liquid itself).

Transfer to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Eat within 5 days of making.

Source: Adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Just Desserts (2001)

 

Moist Buttermilk Cornbread

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A close-up of that moist, tender crumb.

I recently had to admit to myself that I had a cornbread problem. That problem was a lack of delicious, moist, yummy-nummy cornbread. I was using Jiffy mixes and numbing myself to other possibilities.

Well, step 1 of my 12 step cornbread problem was complete.

At some point I’ll apologize to all my baking implements for making them interact with substandard cornbread mixes.

Jiffy is a fine boxed cornbread mix. If you’re in a pinch, do the Jiffy thing with a full heart and dew-bright eyes. But it isn’t anywhere close to cornbread made from scratch, which I have, finally, for the first time ever, wie noch nie zuvor, made.

This recipe is amazing. It is based on melted butter and uses buttermilk as its moistening liquid. The texture of the finished cornbread is both moist and meaty, with a crumb that manages to be both delicate and coarse – just as cornbread should be.

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The top of this cornbread is a perfect golden-brown, and smooth. You can see the anatomy of the texture from the cornbread’s top: the individual pieces of cornmeal, namely.

I cut the sugar called for in the original recipe, from 2/3 cup to a generous 1/4 cup. I found that to yield the perfect classic cornbread flavour – the same flavour that Jiffy whips up time and again. I also added 1/8 cup buttermilk to the recipe, which I am convinced helped achieve the moist texture in the baked cornbread. I was pleased with both of these things.

I am still pleased.

From-scratch cornbread, I have found thee. Thou art versatile, able to accommodate grated cheese, vegetables, and careworn weeping. Thou stayest moist and tender across three days of airtight, room temperature storage. Thou art divine.

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An old maid? Please! I’m snatching this baby right off the saucer (er, shelf) and making her my lady. For life.

Moist Buttermilk Cornbread

Ingredients:
1 stick butter (either unsalted or salted is fine; I used unsalted)
generous 1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 generous cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup all purpose flour

Method:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8×8″ pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Melt butter. Transfer melted butter to medium bowl. Whisk in sugar until thoroughly blended. Whisk in eggs, working quickly so that they do not start to cook, until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk buttermilk and baking soda. Add to butter/egg mixture and whisk to blend completely.

Sprinkle cornmeal evenly over surface of mixture; do not whisk yet. Sprinkle salt evenly atop surface; do not whisk yet. Sprinkle flour atop surface. Whisk to combine all ingredients, whisking just until a few lumps remain.

Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Cool somewhat before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com