Category: How To

How To Peel a Butternut Squash

 

Butternut squash is a versatile ingredient. Peel, seed and cut into slices or cubes and boil for a quick and easy mashed side dish. Add a little salt and pepper. Here’s a primer on how to peel a butternut squash. Don’t be intimated by the tough skin; a good, sharp vegetable peeler does the job.

Look for a squash with the stem end still attached and one that is firm and weighty. The outer skin is tough and inedible, but provides a protective coat that allows the squash to be stored in cool, dry spots for weeks, and as a side benefit, it becomes sweeter with storage time. The pear-shaped squash is solid through the neck and the bulbous portion contains a pocket of seeds, which are edible after cleaning and roasting, similar to pumpkin seeds. The flesh color is a vibrant golden yellow, rich in carotene, vitamins A and C and the squash is high in fiber.

Use peeled, cubed butternut squash in soups, added to stews or tossed with other cut up vegetables, such as red potatoes, shallots, Brussels sprouts, and/or turnips. Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper and a herb blend such as herbs de Provence, and roast at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes or until fork tender. Timing varies depending on size of cubed vegetables.

See other posts on butternut squash: Roasted Butternut Squash, Curried Butternut Squash Soup, and Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Chicken, Rice and Spinach.

Step by Step Instructions on Peeling a Butternut Squash

Wash the Squash

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Wash and dry the squash, then cut off the top and bottom. Notice the moisture beads on the bottom of the squash; it makes the squash a little slippery

Peel the SquashIMG_0670

Lay the squash on its side. Peel the bulb first, using the neck to hold onto to prevent slipping. Peel the bottom skin off by cutting away the rim with a vegetable peeler. Keep going around and around until you get to the neck.

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Peel the neck in long, straight lines and then go over the whole squash to remove any green lines. The squash should be bright yellow; if not you have not peeled enough away. Use a paper towel to hold the bulb if it’s too slippery.

Slice the Squash in Half Lengthwise

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Stand the squash up on its wide bottom and with a sharp chef’s knife slice the squash in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds

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Lie the squash flat with the cut side up and use a soup spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Small Pieces for Boiling and Puréeing

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Flip the squash over onto the cut side. Thinly slice crosswise into approximately 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick slices.

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Then cut lengthwise into similar-sized cubes.

Larger Pieces for Roasting

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Slice crosswise into one-inch slices.

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Then cut each slice three or four times to get similar-sized pieces.

 

 

 

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How To: Peel a Butternut Squash

Follow these step-by-step instructions to peel and seed a butternut squash.

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 1 squash 1x
  • Category: Knife Skills
Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 two and one-half pound butternut squash

Instructions

Wash and dry the squash, then cut off the top and bottom. Notice the moisture beads on the bottom of the squash? That’s why we’ll start by removing the bottom skin first; holding onto the neck with the skin intact is less slippery.

Lay the squash on its side, hold it by the neck and peel the bottom skin off by cutting away the rim with a vegetable peeler. Keep going around and around until you get to the neck.

Peel the neck in long, straight lines and then go over the whole squash to remove any green lines. The squash should be bright yellow; if not you have not peeled enough away. Use a paper towel to hold the bulb if it’s too slippery.

Stand the squash up on its wide bottom and with a sharp chef’s knife slice the squash in half lengthwise.

Lie the squash flat with the cut side up and use a soupspoon to scoop out the seeds.

Cut small pieces for boiling and puréeing: Flip the squash over onto the cut side. Thinly slice crosswise into approximately 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick slices. Then cut lengthwise into similar-sized cubes.

Cut larger pieces for roasting: Slice crosswise into one-inch slices. Then cut each slice three or four times to get similar-sized pieces.

Notes

Use peeled, cubed butternut squash in soups, added to stews or tossed with other cut up vegetables, such as red potatoes, shallots, Brussels sprouts, and/or turnips. Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper and a herb blend such as herbs de Provence, and roast at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes or until fork tender. Timing varies depending on size of cubed vegetables.

How to Peel and Cut a Pineapple

Here’s a primer on How to Peel and Cut a Pineapple. A pineapple ripens from the stem end up. Look for one that has a golden color; the more golden top to bottom, the more even the flavor. The leaves on top should be green and firm and the pineapple should be firm, but yield slightly to a little pressure. The aroma coming from the base of the fruit should be sweet. If you detect a vinegary odor and/or the pineapple is very soft, it’s overripe.

Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Peel and Cut a Pineapple

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Place the pineapple on a cutting board on its side. Slice off the top and the bottom. Reserve the top to use as decoration on a fruit platter.

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Stand the pineapple up and slice down the sides with a sharp knife all the way around. Look at the first cut to make sure you’re slicing thick enough to remove the eyes. Remove remaining eyes with a paring knife.

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Slice the pineapple into quarters lengthwise and then remove the hard cord slicing straight down each quarter.

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To dice the pineapple, cut each quarter into thin slices lengthwise and cut the slices into thin strips.

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Turn and cut the strips into a dice.

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A whole pineapple makes about four cups diced pineapple.

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To cut bit-size pieces for a fruit platter, cut each quarter in half lengthwise and slice across.

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See our recipe for Grilled Shrimp Bites with Pineapple Salsa.

Swine Butchery Class

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, located in Westport, CT holds classes in butchery, sausage making and knife skills. Last Thursday I attended a swine butchery class.

When I arrived, half a pig was spread across the large wooden butcher’s table, all its parts labeled. The class started with a thorough discussion of sourcing, anatomy and a butchering demonstration. They cleared away the butchered pig and I was a little disappointed. I thought it was more hands on. Next thing I know, two new pig halves came out of the meat locker to the table and there were only seven students – WOW! What an opportunity.

Fat surrounding the kidneys is made into leaf lard for pastry making.

Fat surrounding the kidneys is made into leaf lard for pastry making.

We butchered the pigs exactly as the instructor had. It was an amazing experience. I got to remove the tenderloin and clean it “case ready.”

Next I got to remove the hock from the ham. That’s difficult. The skin is tough and no matter how sharp your knife, you need strength. The butchers make beautiful sweeping cuts, mine were hacks. Getting through that skin is challenging and then finding the joint and separating is problematic – I had to stick my fingers in a few times and feel around to find the joint.  I couldn’t see anything until it was completely apart. Once you see how it’s joined together, it makes sense and you can visualize where the knife should go – next time!

Untrimmed pork tenderloin from the demo. My hands were too slick to take pictures of mine.

Untrimmed pork tenderloin from the demo. My hands were too slick to take pictures of mine.

My last task was to use a hand saw on the rib cage separating the loin chops from the spare ribs. I kept bringing the saw too far back at first. Overall, I think everyone in the group had as much fun as I did and we learned a lot. There’s great finesse to butchering; it’s an art to disassemble an animal and not waste or destroy the flesh in the process.

Separating the rib chops from the spareribs with a hand saw.

Separating the rib chops from the spareribs with a hand saw. All the excess fat is made into lard.  This is also bacon.

All scraps go into making a variety of sausages, which we tasted before the class. The kielbasa was my favorite. They make their own bacon and lard as well. Pig’s ears are turned into dog treats – they don’t waste anything.

These guys really like what they do, are friendly and knowledgeable; I look forward to sourcing my meat from them regularly.

French Meringue Kisses

I’m not a huge fan of meringues, but I think they’re beautiful to look at. These French Meringue Kisses are particularly pretty. They kind of remind me of cotton candy – airy, sweet and not much else. But other love them and I love pleasing others with their favorite foods.

To Make Meringue

Crack a couple of eggs and gently transfer the egg yolk of each between eggshell halves letting the gloppy whites fall into a bowl below. Save the yolks for another purpose – cream anglaise or a French custard base. Let them sit for 30 minutes to come to room temperature.

Beat either by hand with a whisk if you have stamina, a good arm and wrist action; or use a hand beater,  portable beater, or electric mixer with a whisk attachment. The translucent whites begin to foam. That’s good. They begin to rise, that’s good, too. Keep on beating – harder and faster – if you’re doing this by hand, wipe your brow and keep beating.

Once the egg whites are foamy and high, it’s time to add flavor, such as vanilla extract, and stabilize the foam with sugar. Tip the measuring cup filled with sugar and let a thin stream flow continuously as you beat. For those of you beating by hand, a helper is needed for 30 seconds or add in small batches between beatings.

Watch the transformation as the foam stiffens and rises to a silky white mountain. The meringue is done once the foam stands high and straight, called the stiff peak stage, when you pull your whisk or beater straight up.  The meringue is ready to be piped or spooned onto a parchment-lined tray at this point or fold in additional ingredients, such as chopped chocolate or nuts.

Pipe or spoon onto the baking and bake at low-heat (200ºF) for one and one-half hours. The meringue sets during this time but needs extra hours in the oven with no heat to dry throughout.

A properly cooked meringue is feathery light. Slice one open and the interior is porous. Pop one in your mouth and it dissolves instantly. Store in an airtight container; meringues quickly absorb any moisture in the air, which softens them.

Piped Meringue Kisses

Decorated Piped Meringue Kisses

Plated Meringue Kisses

How to Cook Protein

How to cook protein to a particular doneness and maintain moisture is an essential technique to master. But first you need to understand what happens when you manipulate protein in order to control the process.

Composition

Protein is made up of, among other things, 21 amino acids. These amino acids are grouped together in a variety of ways. Some are attracted to each other and some are not. It is the composition of and the attraction of these amino acids that affect the outcome of cooked proteins: meat, fish, poultry and eggs.

To demonstrate what happens to protein bonds, I’m using a beaded necklace in the photos. Each bead represents an amino acid. The bonds are looped together in a particular way when proteins are raw, whole, or never frozen. Keep in mind this is all microscopic and three-dimensional.

Loops are formed by amino acids that are attracted to each other and held captive inside each loop is bound water; it cannot escape until something happens to loosen the grip, such as cutting, chopping, grinding, pounding, cooking, freezing, brining, or marinating. Water is bound to amino acids on the outside loops as well. This is the liquid that leaks out, which is why raw meat is moist on top and liquid pools on the bottom of the package.

how to cook protein

How to Cook Protein

One of the ways we change protein at home is by cooking. Cooking  changes texture, color, moisture, and appearance. It doesn’t matter what cooking method is used, the same thing happens each time, only the speed of the change will vary and that depends on temperature.

Most cooking methods require high heat initially. We want to sear and create a crust or we want to stew and infuse flavor. But once high heat is achieved, temperature control is very important. Those bonds inside begin to change as a protein heats up. They denature or relax and unwind. Juices are free to escape, the appearance may change from translucent to opaque (egg whites), and texture firms. How much moisture you lose and how firm the meat becomes is dependent on temperature control and desired degree of doneness, rare, medium, well done.

how to cook protein

For rare to medium rare, the bonds will never completely unwind, preserving moisture and tenderness, with a lesser-cooked center; very rare meat is blue/red and has a cool center, medium rare has a pink-red warm center. Medium requires more cooking and a barely pink and hot center. It has less moisture and the meat is firmer – a result of the lost moisture and the tightening of protein bonds. Well done will have a completely colorless (grey/beige) hot center, very little moisture and is very firm and chewy.

As a protein coagulates, begins to recoil, those loops reform binding water inside and out. How much heat, how quickly and how long that heat was applied affects the tightness of the reformed loops. This determines moistness and tenderness.

how to cook protein

Resting

All meat should sit off heat after cooking. The residual heat continues to cook the meat and protein bonds coagulate or reform. Cutting immediately releases those juices that would otherwise be bound within. In the rare to medium rare meat, the cooling time may only be a minute or two and most of the reaction occurs on the outer edges. Anything cooked to medium will have a higher residual heat and cook for 3-4 minutes more. The well-done piece continues to cook for up to 5 or more minutes, depending on size and density. Waiting before cutting allows the bonds to reform and retain whatever moisture is left within the meat. This process is called resting.

Well Done Meat

Is it possible to have well-done meat and still have moisture? Yes. It requires proper temperature control. The initial high heat used to sear the outer crust can be lowered significantly to cook meat slowly for a longer time. This slows the unwinding process, but still allows the heat to penetrate throughout. If you continue to cook at high temperatures, the process of unwinding and reforming happens quickly; the resulting coagulation is very tight, which equals very little moisture and tough texture. A well-done piece of meat will never be as juicy as lesser-cooked meat, but with care, you can retain moisture.

Demonstration

Below are pictures of cooked eggs. Two fried eggs and two scrambled eggs. For this demonstration, I cooked the eggs for the same amount of time, in a preheated pan, with a light spray of cooking oil. The only difference was the temperature used.

how to cook protein

The eggs were both flipped at 2 minutes and removed from the pan after an additional minute. Notice the difference in color and texture. The one on the right was cooked on high. It has crispy edges (protein with no moisture left). I heard the water (egg whites are about 80% water) sizzling and the egg white jumped in the pan as the water instantly reached boiling point.

Thesescrambled eggs were each cooked for a minute and a half. The one pictured below, cooked over low heat, is plump and moist.

This egg, cooked over high heat, broke into pieces, has browned edges, and firmer texture and less moisture.

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Shown together.

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For more information on how heat affects moisture and texture, see our post on how to cook meat.

How to Cook Meat

There are many transformations that occur in meat, well all protein, during cooking. Here’s a primer on How to Cook Meat to help you understand the process and become a more competent and confident cook.

How to Cook Meat

Dry heat techniques, such as pan roasting, sautéing, or grilling, the exterior forms an eye appealing brown crust and imparts a mouth-watering aroma and savory flavor. The trick is how to get the degree
of doneness you want and the range is broad: rare with a black and blue center, medium-rare with a rosy warm center to well done or the proverbial hockey puck that’s dry and gray.

Demonstration

I did a little experiment to show the time, temperature and outcome for rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well done with five small ends of filet mignon, each seasoned with salt and pepper and dab of olive oil. I grilled them using a large Weber grill (Summit model) with 6 burners. The temperature reaches 600º F in 15 minutes.

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First, I weighed each raw filet and placed them on a lined tray with sticky notes strategically placed to record the data.

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Before:

Top Row (left to right):

  • 2.6 ounces
  • 2.4 ounces

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Bottom Row (left to right):

  • 3.3 ounces
  • 3.4 ounces
  • 2.8 ounces

After (I sliced each filet after resting it for five minutes):

Top Row (left to right):

  • well done -1.6 ounces, weight loss – 39%, total cooking time – 14.5 minutes
  • medium well – 1.8 ounces, weight loss – 25%, total cooking time 9 minutes

how to cook meat

Bottom Row (left to right):

  • rare (red warm center) – 3.0 ounces,  weight loss – 9%, total cooking time 3.5 minutes
  • medium rare – 2.9 ounces, weight loss – 15%,  total cooking time 4.5 minutes
  • medium – 2.1 ounces, weight loss – 25%, total cooking time 6 minutes

I put the filets on the grill at the same time and turned  them 90º after 60 seconds, and cooked for another 60 seconds to create crosshatch marks.

how to cook meat

how to cook meat

I flipped them and continued cooking another 60 seconds; turned each 90º and turned the heat to low (in colder months I would lower the heat to medium).

how to cook meat

The drop in temperature was gradual. Not a problem for the filets coming off quickly, but important for the more well done ones. The lower temperature prevents excessive loss of juices and allows more uniformity in texture.

how to cook meat

The rare filet came off first, after an extra 30 seconds. Notice the loose structure and red color.

how to cook meat

The medium-rare filet came off a minute after that. The structure is not as loose and the color is pinky red.

how to cook meat

The medium filet cooked another minute and a half and has firmer structure, a light pink center, and retains some moisture.

how to cook meat

The medium-well filet remained on the grill for another three minutes. The structure is  firm with a pink-gray center. The meat is still a little moist but getting chewy. Notice that the moisture loss is the same as the medium filet (25%). The reason for that is the lower temperature, which gently cooks the meat and allows for more retention of meat juices than high heat.

how to cook meat

The well-done filet cooked for five and a half minutes more. Colorless center, very firm, and chewy. Had I left the temp at 600º F, it would have cooked faster but would definitely be much drier and solid — get out the saw, the steak knife just won’t cut it!

how to cook meat
Searing Doesn’t Seal in Juices
Contrary to popular belief, searing meat does not form a “leak-proof” crust. Juices are not held in, they escape throughout the cooking process. Just look at your platter when you remove meat from a heat source, juices pool in the bottom of the dish. A seared crust is esthetically and palette pleasing and definitely worth the time and effort needed to achieve it.
 
Rest the Meat to Retain Juices
Rest meat for a few minutes after cooking. The internal temperature of the meat is still high, especially with more well-done items, and meat continues to cook off heat.  Waiting a few minutes before serving and/or cutting allows juices to become structurally bound within, resulting in more succulent meat.
Keep these principles in mind and you’ll know how to cook meat perfectly every time.
See also our post on how to cook proteins for a more scientific look at denaturation and coagulation.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

I always find myself chuckling when I watch a food show or read a recipe for grilled corn on the cob. So much effort for such a simple dish.

The typical procedure is to pull back the husk, remove the silk, return the husk to its original position, tie the cob to hold the husks in place, and then soak for some time. When it’s finally deemed ready, they put the corn on the grill and cook it to death. The soaking provides water for steam to cook the corn, and the extended length of time is to dry out the husk to get some grilled effect. I have always found corn grilled in this fashion overcooked and starchy. More importantly, it is totally unnecessary.

Serve with our Grilled Pork Chops with the grilled corn on the cob.

Method

The easy way is to take your shucked corn, toss with a teeny bit of olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Place ears on a preheated grill and cook, covered, on medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes, turning every 60 to 90 seconds.

Some kernels will caramelize, most desirable, and the rest just cook through. The natural water content in the corn is sufficient to aid in this process and the result is juicy, perfectly cooked, sweet corn.

Done – nice caramelization and fully cooked in only 5-6 minutes!