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

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A Late September Madison Saturday in Photos

Today’s delicious finds at the Dane County Farmers’ Market: last round of sweet corn, white thai eggplants, purple carrots, bountiful hot & sweet peppers, green onions, leeks, beets (with greens!).

Pretty, pretty peppers.

Beautiful veggies, beautiful pit bull, beautiful weather. Everything I ever wanted.

Smile

And Kiss!

Our tomato plants are still full of goods. We’re hoping they ripen up quickly this week while it’s a little warmer!

Thyme’s still standing tall.

Our precious elephant ear is finally back on the mend.  And it’s lovely.

Zinnia Love

Zinnia Love Forever.

Relaxin’

And strikin’ poses.

Time for lunch.

Post by Amanda

Why I do it.

There are so many reasons why I can & preserve food.  The list is actually quite long.  But there is one reason that outdoes the rest.  And tonight, I felt it strongly and it gave me just the shot in the arm I needed to keep me going.

This weekend, Lanny and I bought 26 ears of corn at the farmers’ market that I shucked, blanched, cut, and froze while he was at work on Saturday.

We also bought 6 pounds of beans ($1.50/lb. at the end of season-wahoo!!) which we canned on Sunday–dilly beans for days & days!  I had some brine left over and room in the canner, so I threw in a couple of pints of super spicy aji peppers as well.

Like I’ve said, I have a long list of reasons why I’ve committed to doing this, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s tiring work.  After spending so many hours of my weekend in the kitchen, I came home after a long day of work tonight to a pile of pears that needed tending to ASAP and a bucket of tomatoes that need to be canned by tomorrow at the latest.

After devouring a delicious meal of garden kale, pinto beans, red potatoes, and fresh tomatoes (courtesy of my wonderful partner), Lanny and I dug deep for energy, and cooked down about 5 pounds of pears from our tree into pearsauce (like applesauce, but with pears).  As the smell filled the house, and we cranked away using my mom’s old food mill, I started to feel the feeling I chase in all my hours of canning: I felt my Grandma Swartzentruber nearby.

One of my grandma’s specialties was her most delicious applesauce which she made from good ol’ Ohio Yellow Transparent apples.  She canned and froze it– but everyone’s favorite was always the frozen version.  It’s impossible for me to eat applesauce without thinking of her, and comparing it to hers.  For as long as I live, one of my all time favorite meals will always be warm Grandma Noodles with a plop of frozen Grandma Applesauce on top.  Makes my stomach growl just thinking of it even after that hearty meal.

Tonight, after a long session of standing over the stove sampling and mmming and sampling and mmming, I grabbed a few of my Grandma’s old freezer containers that I selected out of her basement storage after she passed away, and spooned the pearsauce into them. As I went to secure the lid, I looked down to see “baked corn” in her handwriting  inscribed in sharpie on the upper right hand of the yellow plastic. My eyes swelled up, and I just lost it.  I stood there with my hands where hers had once been, and just howled.

Labelled: 83, Baked Corn, 95.

I miss her so, so much.  I hate that I didn’t learn the art of food preservation from her.  I will never get over my regret of that.  And it breaks my heart that she can’t see my house, our garden, my stores of food in the basement and the freezer.  Just rips me right up. But I also know that she’d be so proud of me for carrying on this labor-intensive practice.  And one thing is for sure– I will continue to spend hours upon hours every summer prepping food, washing jars & lids, burning my hands on my canner lid (will I never learn?), waiting, labeling, etc. for as long as I am physically able, and if I only feel her presence once every dozen times, it will always be worth it.  I love her.  I miss her.  I hope to be like her.

And that’s really why I do it.

Post by Amanda

Pear Hopes, Dreams, Failures

Other than the sliding of the keys across the table from previous owners to us, the happiest moment of closing on our house to me was when the previous owners told us that the beautiful flowering tree in the backyard was a pear tree.

Such a stunning tree.

I love pears.  LOVE them.

Oh, the plans I had for my juicy pears the moment I found out they were mine!  Thoughts of fresh pear juice dripping down my hands while chomping down on pear after pear, thoughts of freezing pear sauce and canning pear butter, thoughts of pear brandy, pears in my salads, pear tarts, pear cobbler, poached pears, pears with ice cream, pears in my oatmeal, pears and gorgonzola, ginger-pear this, pear-walnut that….my heart leaps & flips & breakdances at the thoughts.

The most adorable little pear babies started popping up all over that gorgeous tree of hope &  dreams.

But seriously, how cute are those?

And then this awful summer weather came.  And everything struggled to survive.  Nonetheless, the stalwart pear tree laughed in the face of the drought and produced an overwhelming abundance of pears.  Though Willa did her darndest to chase them out, the squirrels flocked to the tree, and who could blame them?  It was HOT and DRY and they need food too.  And anyway, we’re down with sharing the wealth and could never–even with all of my drool-inducing pear plans–use up all that fruit (especially the ones at the top of the tree, out of reach even to Lanny on the ladder with our telescoping fruit picker pole!). So we waited with bated breath for them to ripen.

Before we knew it, at least 100 pears had fallen to the ground and a city of bees came to feast.  I was so discouraged.  Got stung on the bottom of my foot.  Became even more discouraged.

Then I read that pears often ripen better off the tree than on.  So I bucked up and started picking.  And picking.  And picking.

First harvest.

I stuck them in the fridge in paper bags.  And waited.  And waited.  And they didn’t ripen.

We lost another 100 (at the VERY least) to the ground and the bees.  And then went for a second round of picking.  At this point, we decided that the weather had thrown off the pears a bit this year–possibly stunted their growth– and also accepted the fact that we’re learning.  And we’ll do better next year.

The second harvest piled up on the table.

The pears are now hanging out outside of the fridge in paper bags accompanied by some apples and bananas to help speed up their ripening.  I’m worried we won’t get many to ripen properly, but there’s nothing I can do right now but incessantly read advice online and wait.

I really want that pear butter to happen.

As we wait and hope, does anyone have any helpful pear tips for us–for this year or the years to come?

Post by Amanda

Fed by Our Garden

A few of the lovely things we’ve been eating from our garden:

Chard

Arugula & Lettuces

Sunstart Tomato

Jalapenos &
Cherokee Chocolate, Sunstart, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes

Carolina Gold, Cherokee Chocolate, & Clear Pink Early Tomatoes
Mint & Basil

As you can see, the past few weeks have been delicious.

Post by Amanda

Hard-Boiled Eggs in the Oven: IT WORKS!

I know this is starting to look an awful lot like a food blog, but I just have to post this really quickly.  I promise we’ll get some other non-food posts up soon.

A bit of personal history:

I spent 3 months living & studying in Germany in the Summer of 2005.  It was definitely one of the greatest experiences in my life, and I think about it at least a couple of times a week, every week.  Something is always reminding me of my time there.  As a vegetarian in a country where the traditional food culture is centered a great deal around meats, I certainly “missed out” on a lot of food experiences that my fellow student travelers enjoyed, but I have no complaints at all.  Though I was eating mostly bread, cheese, tangy veggies, eggs, chocolate, fresh fruit, and beer(!), I somehow managed to lose weight on that trip which surprises me to this day.  Bread, butter, cheese, repeat.  Over & over.  My best guess is that the combination of fresh, not-so-processed ingredients and all the walking I did just ended up being fewer calories than what my body was used to.  But really, it still baffles me.  I mean, Kaffee und Kuchen!  I digress.

The point is, my brother and I spent 6 weeks living and working in Weimar in this lovely guest house.  And it was there that I first saw “hard-boiled eggs” prepared in an oven.  Hard & soft-boiled eggs are a staple in the German diet (at least in the state of Thuringia), and when there were lots of guests to feed, the amazing women who ran the former artist villa would prepare ooooodles of eggs in the oven.  I had never seen this before, and until recently when I ran across it again on pinterest, I had forgotten about it.

Riding on the coat tails of my rush of productivity after canning yesterday, I decided to try it out.  And guess what?  It’s awesome.

Here’s what you need:

  • A dozen (or more!) eggs
  • An oven, preheated to 325-350, depending on  your oven
  • Some sort of baking tray/pan.  I used a standard dozen cupcake tin.
  • A large bowl of ice water
  • A container with a lid

And it’s as simple as this:

1. Place your eggs on your tray.  I covered mine in tin foil because umm well, it’s a little rusty and I didn’t want you to see that, but now I’ve told you.  You definitely don’t have to waste the foil if you take better care of your baking equipment than I do.

Using a cupcake or muffin tin just prevents the eggs from rolling around, but I’m pretty sure you could just place the eggs right on the rack or in a pan for the same results.

2. Place in oven once it’s fully preheated.

3. Go do something else for 25-30 minutes!  And don’t worry!

4.Take out your eggies.  They will have little brown speckles on them.  This is normal.

 5. Plunge eggs into the ice water bath with tongs and let cool for a bit.  I guess 10 minutes is the suggested time, but I did less and it was fine.

6. Peel your perfect little eggs, and store in a closed container in the fridge for easy access!

PERFECT.

I used a plastic freezer storage container to keep the rest of the eggs in the fridge. (Please excuse the blurry photo.)

This method of “hard boiling” eggs is awesome.  Yes, it technically takes longer than boiling them in water on the stove top.  But.  I always break at least one egg in that stupid boiling water.  I never know how long to keep them in there, or if it’s better to keep the water boiling or cover the pot and let the eggs simmer.  And they are always such a pain in the butt to peel which leaves me with ugly, gouged eggs. 

So this method definitely wins for our house.  Perfect eggs every time, no fussing with boiling water, easy peeling, and wonderful for making a bunch of eggs at once.  I think we’ll do this once a week or so, as Lanny loves hard-boiled eggs as a quick & easy protein-filled snack, and having a container of them ready in the fridge makes it really easy to bulk up sandwiches, wraps, rice dishes, and basically everything we make.  I’m not a huge fan of eggs in general (and yolks in particular), but especially right now when we’re trying to cut back on our intake of processed soy products, this is a great easy access go-to to have in the fridge.  Officially recommended.

Post by Amanda

Jalapeños en Escabeche

So!  With all of the lovely house things happening, I have yet to do one of my most beloved summer activities: canning.  Putting up the harvest for the winter months has become so dear to me.  I come from a long line of food preservers; however, I sadly learned precious little about food preservation from my Mennonite grandmothers.  My sadness over that missed opportunity kept me from canning for a while until I decided to just teach myself a few years back.  I’m still a newbie who gets scared and stressed about the whole process, but it has come to mean so much to me that I’m determined to stick with it, learn from my mistakes, and power through.  The connection I feel to my ancestors, the farm, and food when I’m canning is a feeling that is otherwise hard to come by in my modern American life, and I refuse to give that up just because canning takes time and is much less convenient than buying commercially canned goods.

Since our jalapeño plant was bursting with gorgeous dark green peppers, I decided to try my hand at a favorite Mexican condiment: Jalapeños en Escabeche.  A staple on the Mexican table, these pickled Jalepeños are usually joined by onions, carrots, garlic, and herbs in the jar.  Sometimes cauliflower.  And I LOVE cauliflower.  So after some recipe research, we settled on a game plan, harvested what we could from our garden, and made a quick trip to the farmers’ market for the rest.

Pretty, pretty plant!

Here’s the basics (slightly adapted from here):

Jalapeños en Escabeche 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb jalapeño peppers (we got 15.9 oz from the garden!  success!)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, thickly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced diagonally
  • florets from half a cauliflower
  • 1.5 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp pickling salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 springs fresh oregano
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

From our garden: jalapeños and herbs
From the Farmers’ Market: garlic, onions, carrots
From the grocery: vinegar, olive oil, pickling salt, sugar, bay leaves, cauliflower

Steps:

1 Wash peppers, leaving the stems intact. Cut an X into each pepper so the brine will penetrate and do its pickling magic.

I realize now that these X’s are usually cut in the tips of the peppers, but oh well…

2 Heat oil in a large pot. Add the peppers, onions, carrots, cauliflower, and garlic. Heat over medium for 10 minutes, occasionally turning.

3 Add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and herbs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Peppers need to be fully cooked for safety in this recipe.  They’re cooked when they are a dull, olive color like below.

4 Pack veggies into 5 pint-sized sterilized jars. Top with the brine, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace, and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Filling jars.

The aroma is invigorating.

Lanny always does the honors of making sure all the air bubbles are released before we put the lids on.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the counter to cool for 24 hours.

I’m a little less than excited about how mushy this recipe appears to be as I love a good toothy escabeche, but we’ll see how it goes.  There was about a half a pint extra which we sampled instead of canning.  It’s obviously not pickled yet, but Oh My Is it Delicious.  I also sampled a raw jalapeño when we were picking them this morning and WOWZA are these peppers ever spicy.  Jalapeños can vary greatly in spiciness levels, but usually tend to be a bit on the milder side.  Well with the crazy heat we’ve had this year, these suckers are HOT.  My lips are still tingling.

I’ll be sure to report back when we break open a jar of these this winter after coming in from shoveling piles of snow off the driveway!

Post by Amanda