How to Freeze Butternut Squash Puree

Today was the last outdoor Dane County Farmers’ Market. It’s always a bittersweet day. The DCFM is the largest producer only farmers’ market in the nation. It’s a beautiful affair every saturday, as anyone who has been to it can attest. It stretches around the entire Capitol square in downtown Madison.

The “sweet” part of calling the last outdoor market of the season “bittersweet” is simply that we usually find some great deals. Today’s biggest score was an incredible bounty of winter squash. Twenty five pounds of squash for only $8 to be exact.

We already had the pie pumpkins and a couple of acorn squashes, but the rest we got today!

We’ve been eating quite a bit of acorn squash this fall. It’s such an easy, nutritious, comforting food. We just chop one in half and roast it in the oven. Sometimes we stuff it with something yummy, but we usually just eat them with butter and salt. Mmmm. Hard to beat after a long day at work, especially when it’s chilly outside.

But today, I want to tell you about a super-dee-duper easy and lovely way to use butternut squash. Most winter squashes will keep for a few to several months if stored properly in a cool, dry, dark space. That’s one of the many reasons I love them so. But it’s also nice to have some pureed squash ready to roll for using in pies, soups, baking, or just on its own as a side dish. You can buy canned butternut squash in the store, and it’s relatively okay tasting, but it has nothing on the complex flavor of homemade puree. No contest. And the store-bought kind is more expensive. And you have more waste. And did I mention it’s not as good? The only thing it has going for it is convenience, but it truly is not that hard to make you own. So. Maybe I will convert you today.

HOMEMADE OVEN ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH PUREE

This same basic recipe can be used for most winter squash, including pumpkins and acorn squashes (pictured above). Simply adjust roasting times as necessary.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Rinse butternut squash under cool water.

3.Cut the squash in half lengthwise. I do this by first cutting a small slice off of the top or bottom of the squash to give me a flat, stable bottom, and then I just carefully press my knife down the middle.

Like so.

4. Scoop out the seeds and scrape out the stringy membrane. DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY! Put it in a bowl off to the side so you can make awesome roasted squash seeds!

5. Place squash cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet or roasting pan.

Oh, and check out my apple butter that I didn’t tell you about because I took a little break from this little blog.

6. Put on center rack of oven for about 45 minutes to an hour. This really can vary, so I always start checking around 35 minutes. Stick a knife right into the squash. If it slides through the skin and into the flesh easily, you’re good to go. Also, it should look all golden and brown like this:

Yum!

7. Give it a good 10 minutes or so until the squash is cool enough to handle. The skin peels off quite easily, so you don’t even need to scoop out the squash. Just pull off the skin.

8. Put your delicious squash into a food processor or blender and puree it in batches until silky smooth. You could also use an immersion/stick blender here. Occasionally check in on the squash and push it down to ensure all the pieces get pureed well.

9. That’s it! You’re done. Just scoop the puree into freezer bags, label, and store flat. I portioned mine out into 3 bags of 2 cup portions and one larger bag with 4 cups of puree.

10. Don’t forget to let your good, patient dog lick the bowls and spoons (no knives or blades!).

Now, about those seeds. After you’ve scooped them into a bowl, give them a good rinse and pick off all of the membrane. Then, throw them on a baking sheet or pan with a bit of butter or oil and seasonings of your choice (garlic salt is easy and delicious, but curry type spices, assorted herbs, and cayenne pepper are also great options). Throw the pan in the oven with the squash, and you should be good to go in less than 20 minutes. Just keep them in there until they are golden and crispy. They will crisp up a bit more once they’ve cooled, but they should be fairly crunchy coming out of the oven. You can store them in an airtight container for a week or so, but ours never last much longer than an hour.

So that’s that. Now you have delicious, homemade squash puree and a great snack of roasted seeds. Don’t forget to put the skin in your compost. There is really no waste on this (except the foil if you use it). Feels good, looks good, tastes good, and makes the house smell yummy! And the best way to ensure you don’t ever “go back” to store-bought is to make sure you always have some ready to use in the freezer. Plan ahead, and you’ll be eating better and saving money in no time.

To close, here’s what’s going on in our freezer currently:

Sweet corn, butternut squash puree, WI cranberries, black & pinto beans,  and pear sauce– all homemade! The one store-bought item is that bag of soycutash from Trader Joe’s. Love that stuff.

Post by Amanda

Just a Simple Workbench: a Lesson in Home Renovation

What I originally thought would be a 30 minute project actually transformed into a 2 week long venture in the basement.  Thus illustrating the point: when you start a home project, be prepared to get more than you bargained for.

I received a vise to use for woodworking projects and set about to attach it to the countertop of the already existing workbench in the basement.  I quickly realized the countertop was actually a thin piece of particle board attached to a solid frame and would not stand up to the stress of long term use.

The before view of our shop.

The answer seemed simple enough.  Go down to the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and purchase an appropriately sized board that would be far more durable.  I found an old slab of butcher block that was a bit larger than needed, but I thought I could simply cut it down to size.  When I came home, I began to remove the old wood surface but then realized I would need to also remove the back pegboard to get to the last nails holding the surface down.  So, I was prying the pegboard back when mouse droppings began to roll out from behind it.  I opened it up to reveal this:

Ew.

It seemed the little fella passed away some time ago, so I wasn’t worried about an ongoing problem, but I still had to clean it all out.  Buried under the rubbish was also an x-rated 8mm film reel and a flyer for it, a relic from the early 70s it seemed.  It too was discarded among all the other mouse droppings and nest scraps.  But not before Amanda ran upstairs to get us these “sanitation masks.”

Dad supervised.

Once I had swept up the area, it was clear that some deeper sanitation was required.  I cut and threw away sections of the old wood frame and applied vinegar and KilZ to areas that were obviously nasty.

At this point, it was clear to me that the frame would have to be rebuilt as well.  After a long dismantling period, I salvaged the bulk of the wood and nails from the existing bench.  At this point, I decided to rebuild the frame larger to accomodate the larger sized butcher block surface. But not before accidentally breaking a light bulb, adding broken glass to the list of clean up duties.

Exactly like the old frame only slightly bigger

The completed bench minus the vise

So, all of this over two weeks was for this:

And that’s why when you start a simple thirty minute project, don’t be shocked when two weeks of your life fly by before it’s finished.

Post by Lanny

Living Room Transformation, Part 1 of Many

Ahh, the living room.  The gathering room.  The conversations.  The movies.  The winter snuggling.  The reading.  The playing.  With so many good memories about to be made in this room, we placed a lot of our initial energy on whipping it into shape. 

It really wasn’t a pretty sight at the beginning.  I mean, you saw the horrific before photo of the living room, right?  Here’s a refresher if you missed it:

EEGADS, am I right?  (Again, please remember, this photo is from the listing of our house–that is not our furniture or stuff!!)

One of the things on our required list (we really should post that full list sometime!) was wood floors in most of the house.  The listing for our house boasted wood floors throughout the main floor (except kitchen & bathroom); however, the living room, hallway, and one bedroom were covered in hideous carpet when we were looking at the house.  And we couldn’t pull it back to check out the condition of the floors, so we were really anxious to do just that once the place was ours.  (Side note: this stressed me out to no end.  I had nightmares of pulling back the carpet only to find no floor at all– just a deep hellish pit). 

Immediately after closing on the house, we went to our apartment to scoop up Ms. Willa and then drove her to her new house for the first time.  After enjoying her first run in the yard (video of that rompus event here), we went inside and started thrashing at the carpet (aka the scourge of our 1960’s ranch).  I mean, my heavens.  Look again at that carpet.  You have to wonder.

Mr. hubby had bought me a prybar weeks prior to get me pumped about ripping up the scourge, and boy did we whip that sucker out right away!  And…we found….

SHINY WOOD FLOORS!

SUCCESS!

The only real problem was, for goodness sake, the installers of the carpet went way overboard with stapling the carpet pad STRAIGHT INTO THE FLOOR.  First of all, I’ve never even seen staples in the pad like that.  The weight of the carpet which is secured by the tack strips around the perimeter of the room ought to suffice, right?  And if you would want a little more reinforcement, I could understand putting one modest staple in each corner or something.  Maybe even a few sporadic staples.  But these people?  They stapled just about every inch all the way around the perimeter AND down the middle of the floor wherever they had strips of pad.  Did I mention they stapled right into the floor?

Please note Willa’s look of shock and horror.

It really was hard work.  Lanny pulled up the tack strips with the prybar and hammer as I yanked out the staples with a flathead screwdriver and pliers.  Word to the wise: if you ever face the task of ripping out tack strips, do take the time to put something (cardboard, wood, rubber) under the prybar or whatever you’re using to protect the floor from dents when leveraging.  As for the staples, my preferred method was grabbing on with the pliers and pulling up.  You’ll find a rhythm to the madness.  Also, I think technically it’s advised to pull out the carpet and pad entirely before getting into the hard work, but we just rolled it back as we went. 

Lunchy break.

The good news is, when there is the promise of hardwood floors, you really can’t keep the ZH fam down, so we powered through until every last blasted staple was pulled and all the tacks were trashed. With blistered hands and excitement, we took some moments to revel in the fruits of our labor.

Mmm…wood floors.

Do my muscles look bigger?

The end result is definitely less impressive than the initial corner we had pulled back as there are scratches and dull spots basically everywhere.  But, we polished ‘er up with some olive oil and lemon juice, and she’ll do just fine until we can refinish it later on (way, way later on).  Even with all the scratches, I will never understand why anyone would’ve covered up that floor.  Incomprehensible.

Now, moving along, let me call your attention to the second bane of the living room’s existence.  AKA, these guys:

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Those, in fact, are blue seashell blinds.  I know!!

I swear to you, these shook me to my core so deeply that, again, nightmares ensued.  And as it turns out, getting decent blinds custom fitted is pricey.  And so are curtains.  As I am wont to do, I agonized over the decision for weeks, but, finally mostly out of desperation, we together decided to go for curtains for now.  After having lived in the house for 2 months with those blinds, I think I may have been even more excited about getting rid of them than the carpet. 

This post is getting long, so without further ado, let me show you where we’re at today with the living room.  We’ll do a full post on hanging curtains, our paint colors, and other designy things at some point as well, but I wanted to get an “after” pic (which is actually an “in progress” pic) up since it’s been requested.

An honest picture of where we’re currently at with the living room (complete with clutter on the surfaces!).

Enjoy!  We’re still not finished, but at least the nightmares about floor pits and armies of devious seashells have stopped!  And really, can you believe that is the same room?  More pictures & tales to come!

Post by Amanda