My friend T wants to know about my best tips for the kitchen. It took me a whole day to get up the nerve to write a post of kitchen advice, because for the past three months my kitchen has looked a lot like the planet from Wall-E, and I’ve fed my family Chick Fil A so much that we’re in danger of beginning to look like, well, the people from Wall-E. (Wow, two Wall-E references in one post! I did not see that coming.)
Anyway, all that to say that reading kitchen tips from me right now is like getting marriage advice from Lord Grantham, so take a these tips with a grain of salt. If you need one, there are plenty on the kitchen floor where Abby was “helping” me season the potatoes last night.
1. How to cook a butternut or spaghetti squash
These are some of the foods that make me wonder how people even first discovered they were edible. Anyway, the first trick for the big hard squashes is getting into them in the first place. You want to use a small knife, contrary to your instincts. Make small, deep stabs around the perimeter of the squash like perforations. When you’ve made it all the way around, you can pry your way in with that same knife and the squash will crack right open.
Now take the two halves and lay them face down on some parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Splash some water around on the paper (4 T or so) and then bake at 375. About 30 minutes for a spaghetti squash, 50 or so for a bigger one like a butternut. When they’re all soft inside, you can scrape the insides out with a spoon or a fork.
2. Meet My New Friend: The Food Processor
I don’t mind rich, complex flavor a in my soups and sauces, but I don’t like chunks of vegetables. So when a recipe calls for a bunch of veggie add-ins, I chop them into tiny bits with a food processor or my mini- chopster. That way, I get flavor, but no chunks.
On a similar note, I have discovered crushed tomatoes can be a marvelous substitute for almost any other canned tomato product. Crushed pieces are a little more textured than a purée, so they make sauces look rustic and homemade. And in soups and casseroles, crushed tomatoes add lots of flavor without adding chunks. Yes, I know, I have the palate of a child. Pass me some Oreos and get over it.
3. Butternut Squash Cottage Pie
You know I’m not the type to eat healthy food just for the fun of it, so believe me when I tell you this recipe is delicious. And it’s an opportunity to put tips 1-2 into practice. For the bottom layer, brown ground meat and onions, and add in peas, carrots, and mushrooms. Add a bit of beef broth, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. For the top layer, mash up your baked butternut squash with some milk (the fattier the better–I actually used heavy cream that I had in my fridge) and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Layer the squash over the meat and veggies in a baking dish (a whole butternut squash will cover a 9×13 pan, or you can do two square dishes and freeze one) and cook at 425 for about 20 minutes or until everything is hot and the squash is bubbly around the edges. Here’s a very similar version of this recipe, if you like measurements and more specific instructions.
4. Magic Cookie Bars
Since you ate such a healthy dinner, you can enjoy these guilt-free. This is my current go-to dessert because it’s easy to keep the ingredients on hand, it whips up in no time, AND my toddler sous-chef can actually help.
Melt a stick of butter and mix into 1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs. Press into a 9×13 baking dish or small foil-lined cookie sheet. Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the crust, top with semisweet chocolate chips and butterscotch chips, and bake 20 minutes at 350. Obviously, the customization options for this recipe are endless. You’ll notice people start inviting you over more often when the word gets out that you can make these. Again, here’s a link in case you like real recipes.