How to cut a squash

No chainsaw required.

I love squash, but I have always disliked cooking any but a soft-skinned zucchini or yellow crook-neck.  The starchy, potato-like texture of Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) is one of my very favorites, along with Delicata, a long, striped, impossibly sweet squash I only discovered this year.  Squash, including butternut, acorn, pumpkin and other varieties, have the additional benefits of being extremely cheap for the bounty they provide, low in calories, and rich in carotenoids and vitamins.

But you probably already know this. It’s likely that you’ve arrived here after standing over a squash pondering the lie you were told when you witnessed a disembodied hand effortlessly wielding a 10” chef’s knife cutting through the stem of a squash, followed by peeling or halving it for roasting.  Perhaps after that you did battle with a squash, wielding the sharp end of the knife toward the stem and ending up trying to prove your worth by extracting the Excalibur, now firmly stuck in the stony gourd.  And then, panting, you Googled.

Me too. Then I searched for solutions. It’s tempting, but I don’t like the microwave for this.  Microwaving squash can lead to mushy, oddly textured squash, because a microwave cooks from the center.  Pressure cooking will give you an even worse result.  I wanted to soften the hard exterior of the squash while preserving the interior texture for roasting (which can deliciously caramelize it).

Here is the easy solution:

  • Put the whole squash in the center of the oven on a baking sheet (I have cheap, dedicated baking sheets for roasting, as it will kill your nice cookie pans.  At a Target, these pans are $4.)
  • Set the oven to 400 degrees (204° C, gas mark 6)
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes and walk away. This is for a small squash, approximately 6 inches (15 cm) across.  For a larger squash, wait an additional 5 minutes.

Yes, you can set the oven once the squash is in and not the other way around, because why would you want to stand around waiting for it to heat up? 

A chef’s knife, a pair of tongs for hot squash, ice cream scoop, and a delicata, freshly seeded.

Once you remove the squash, which will now be quite hot on the outside, let it cool for about five minutes.  NOW try inserting the tip of your knife near the stem and bear down.  I don’t even take off the stem, I just cut the squash in half, preserving curvature at the top so the oven doesn’t dry it out during the roasting process. 

Oof, look at that clean line! Now the squash will like flat on the pan.

At this point, if you are cubing, you can peel, take of the stem, etc.  For spaghetti squash, roasting is a must for the correct texture. Still too difficult?  Put it back for five more minutes. 

I prefer to roast squash:

  • Cut in half
  • Scoop out the seeds with an ice-cream scoop
  • Lightly oil the pan and the insides of each half
  • Roast face-down for 45 more minutes (same temperatures as above)
Before roasting
After roasting. See that nice caramelization at the bottom right? Sweetness!

While I was at it, I remember the peppers and onions I wanted to roast for fajitas the following day.  So on they all went.  (if you roast peppers, just halve them, roast away, let them cool and peel away the outer skin).  The resulting squash can be easily scraped from the skin.

For Kabocha, we eat it as-is, or I like to mash it with a little butter and milk like mashed potatoes (or butter-replacement and soy milk – just as good).  Add butternut or Delicata to pasta, or eat as a side.  You can even make Kabocha fries. Spaghetti squash, which is itself a little miracle, goes really well with marinara sauce and other mixed vegetables.

Our child would like you to know that no one should eat squash under any circumstances.  This is also the kid who will have extra hot sauce, those roasted onions and peppers, but can be chased down with a sweet potato like it’s a weapon. More for me!

How do you make egg salad, and how do you know if an egg is still safe to eat?

So let’s start with egg safety.  As I’ve said before, you can use eggs after the expiration date.  But there are limits that depend on how fresh the eggs really were when you first bought them, and how well they were stored after that (inside the fridge, not on the door, in the original package).  As eggs age, the space inside (the air cell) enlarges and the egg white degrades in quality.  If you’ve ever made a very fresh sunny-side up egg, you’ll notice a very firm, sturdy egg white surrounding the yolk.  An aging egg will look less firm around the yolk, and the egg white will spread thinly around the pan.  Still perfectly safe to eat, but if you were making a cake, you would notice differences since eggs lend structure.

When an egg begins to stand up a bit, it’s sign that the air cell has grown — and it’s perfectly fine for use, but when that sucker floats, it’s old, and therefore too much of a risk.  The USDA disagrees:

 What does it mean when an egg floats in water?
An egg can float in water when its air cell has enlarged sufficiently to keep it buoyant. This means the egg is old, but it may be perfectly safe to use. Crack the egg into a bowl and examine it for an off-odor or unusual appearance before deciding to use or discard it. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell, either when raw or cooked.

Egg floating in pyrex measuring cup

Another view of the floater. Again, don’t consume this one.

Eggs in pan with floating egg

See that egg floating at the top of the photo?

Clearly the USDA hasn’t spent time holding its tummy with Salmonella.  So with the remaining eggs, let’s make hard-boiled eggs.  It’s pretty simple.

Basic Hard Boiled Eggs:

  • Place eggs gently into the bottom of a saucepan and fill about 1″ above eggs with water.
  • Place heat on high and wait until eggs just reach a boil (and by this I mean that a large bubble or two comes to the surface). (I usually do 8 eggs at a time and it takes about 8-10 minutes to reach a boil)
  • Turn off the heat and cover the pan.  Set a timer for 15 minutes.
  • Fill a mixing bowl with water and ice, or refreezable ice as below.
  • Immediately after the timer goes off, use a slotted spoon to remove each egg and place into the ice water.  This is the crucial step, my friends.  Do. Not. Skip. This. Step.* 
  • After a few minutes, peel, rinse, and split each egg in half in the bowl if you intend to make egg salad.  This will cool the center.  Newer eggs are more difficult to peel than older ones…
  • Mash with a masher or fork, add Veganaise or Mayo to taste (start with a tablespoon, then add), throw in some green onions and a bit o’ salt — egg salad!

*The key to good egg salad is avoiding the green ring around the eggs, which is caused by (sulfur in the egg whites and iron in the yolks) overcooking.  The ice draws the heat away from the yolk, avoiding the problem of an off-tasting egg with the texture of a rubber ball.   Instead you’re left with beautiful yellow yolks and eggs that have a clean taste and tender texture.

Eggs hiding under refreezable ice

Keep that water COLD. I put refreezable ice in water while the eggs boil, and replace with two fresh ices after they come out of the pot. However you do it, keep the water cold!

Eggs chilling in water

Eggs, chillin’. I usually make no more than 9 to keep the cooking temperature where it needs to be.

Hard boiled eggs with yellow yolks

After peeling each egg and rinsing it under water to be sure no shell makes it into the mix, I split each egg in two to help cool it down. Yeah! No green rings around these yolks = better flavor. Also, not overcooking = better texture.

Egg salad sandwich and potato salad with peas

Slap that egg salad onto the finest bread money can buy. I also made a potato salad with red potatoes and peas.  Not the best picture, but you know, it was time to eat.

Brunch: Herbed over easy eggs on toast

Eggs on toast with herbs and cheese

Gluten Free brunch that’s as good as a restaurant, and fills ya up, too.

Every Saturday we have a long day because of the teenager and her never-ending youth orchestra practice.  So we like to start out with a good hearty breakfast.  While we were out one day, I was accidentally delivered over easy eggs with my order.  They looked really good so I tucked in anyway and they were unexpectedly awesome.  I asked around about that last minute flip and got varied answers (grab the egg whites by the crusty part with your finger tips and quickly flip, jerk the pan forward and back until they somehow magically work their way onto their yolk-belly…).  Yeah, none of that really worked for me, and I don’t like crusty-bottomed eggs much either.  The trick seems to be using a bit of butter, practicing, and exerting some serious confidence with the spatula.  Also, pick up the pan and meet the eggs as they come down like a gentle, if insane, hand clap using a spatula and pan.

So here we go.  Get yourself:

  • A Non-stick small skillet and non-stick spatula
  • Little Northern Bakehouse bread if you’re gluten free, or favorite bread
  • Three, yes, three organic, cage free, totally expensive brown eggs
  • Shredded, reduced fat Mexican cheese (cheap is fine, you only need a little and it’s still tasty)
  • about a half teaspoon to teaspoon of organic butter
  • Herbes de Provence, perhaps organic

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Yeah. About this much butter. Just enough to cover the bottom and a bit of the sides and to add flavor.

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Heat the pan lightly crack the eggs, opening the first two with the yolk and ending with just one white only.  Have a place to put them prepared, and then WASH YOUR HANDS. Start the toast, turn the heat on the eggs to low medium, and once whites show, turn it to low. Toast and eggs both take about three minutes.

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When there’s bubbling afoot, move the edges away with the spatula and let the egg white drip over the edge and underneath so you aren’t waiting for the whole business on top to cook while the bottoms get crusty.  Unless you like crusty, chewy-bottomed eggs.  And trust me, you don’t.

sunny side up eggs with loose whites

See how the eggs look like a confused emoticon, but the bottom right there is getting filled up with the extra egg white? This will give you the confidence, strength, and extra protein for the perfect flip.

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Once the dripping egg whites have settled underneath and all that remains is the firmer stuff around the yolk, sprinkle those Herbes de Provence.  Flavor!

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See how those whites have firmed up but they’re not quite there?  Turn off the heat (and leave it off), because it’s flipping time.  

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Well, this was difficult to capture.  Try to get the spatula under the yolks for the flip.  As you can see, it’ looks momentarily hideous, and as if disaster is only a moment away.  But no, onward I press, wrinkling the now hardy egg whites with confidence!  As you pick up the eggs and flip them, bring the pan upward to meet the yolks so the flip takes less distance to fall.  This will preserve those egg yolks.

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Just about thirty seconds face down ought to do it for over easy, and about a minute for over medium to well.  See how the bottom isn’t over done?  Muah, I love that.  During this thirty seconds, run over and grab that toast, place two pieces beside each other on a plate.  Place the spatula over the eggs as you gently flip the pan back over, over the plate, and if you’re really good, with each yolk spaced so that the spatula will lay the whole thing down with a yolk over each piece of toast.  And I am that good now, but I also used to take the spatula and divide the eggs either in the pan or on the plate.  Ya know, do you’re thing….then sprinkle cheese.  We used to put the cheese underneath, but the heat of the eggs made too much like plastic for me…reduced fat cheese (which melts less easily) over the top keeps this from happening while still adding flavor.

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Over easy for me, baby.

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Enough energy for yoga and kid schlepping to carry us til tea time!

 

Avoiding Pumpkin Pie mistakes: To avoid cooking up a foamy disaster, mix in the right order.

Ask me how I know.  It’s not the food science education, but it should have been.

Last Thanksgiving I made two pies.  The first one was the Official Pie for Thanksgiving dinner, and it was a damned good thing that I took my time and followed the directions (for once).  It was a thing of beauty, and tasted like one too (thanks, back of the can and crushed Mi-Del gluten free ginger snaps mixed with butter and ripped apart in the Cuisinart).  Not very tall, because I used a glass pie plate, but still awesome.

This post is not about that awesome pie, but about the second pie.  Ever have a pie come out like this?

Well.  I was in a mighty big hurry the second time I made pie, which was in the middle of the holiday rush.  I bake cookies a lot, and I’m used adding eggs and sugar first.  Whipping those together creates bubbles — helpful in rising cookies and cakes using steam, but absolutely NOT what you want when making a pumpkin custard, which is at the heart of pumpkin pie.  The bubbles probably held together because of the egg whites, and as they rose they made that hideous foam that, though still kind of edible, destroyed the texture and look of the pie.

Beating the eggs allows the yolks to properly work as binders between water and fat, and it also prevents some of the bubbles from forming when you add in the pumpkin along with the sugar.  Lesson learned.

I dislike following directions, but there’s a reason why Libby’s has had a well-used pumpkin pie recipe for so long.  It works. So read the can each time, and with any recipe you use, don’t add the eggs first.   Also, low heat and patience, my friends.

Using Liquid Egg Whites Past the Expiration Date

Don’t.  That’s my advice.  Unlike eggs in the shell (shelled eggs), liquid egg whites are an egg product that has eggs that have been opened from their protective shell and pasteurized.  They are ONLY good until the expiration date.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s your friends at Egg Beaters:

egg beaters

And the USDA:

Safe Handling and Storage of Egg Products
Safe handling and storage is necessary for all egg products to prevent bacterial contamination. Here are recommendations from USDA:

  • For best quality, store frozen egg products up to one year. Check to be sure your freezer is set at 0 °F or lower. After thawing, do not refreeze.
  • Thaw frozen egg products in the refrigerator or under cold running water. DO NOT THAW ON THE COUNTER.
  • If the container for liquid products bears a “use-by” date, observe it. Follow the storage and handling instructions provided by the manufacturer.
  • For liquid products without an expiration date, store unopened containers at 40 °F or below for up to 7 days (not to exceed 3 days after opening). Do not freeze opened cartons of liquid egg products.
  • Unopened dried egg products and egg white solids can be stored at room temperature as long as they are kept cool and dry. After opening, store in the refrigerator.
  • Reconstituted egg products should be used immediately or refrigerated and used that day.
  • USDA Commodity Dried Egg Mix should be stored at less than 50 °F, preferably in the refrigerator (at 40 °F or below). After opening, use within 7 to 10 days. Reconstitute only the amount needed at one time. Use reconstituted egg mix immediately or refrigerate and use within 1 hour.

Even more info about eggs. Because I’m nuts.

Erin McKenna’s Bakery

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Erin McKenna’s Bakery

A splurge, but delicious.  Ask for ingredient list if you have FODMAP issues, because there is a lot of agave syrup in some items.  The good news is that you can look up the ingredients beforehand.  I wish this place had a public bathroom or we would have stayed for the coffee or tea.  They also have vegan soft serve with optional gluten free cone.  The atmosphere is very friendly (a discussion about Wow Airlines eventually involved the lady behind the counter, the gent talking about it, us, and a couple of bystanders) and there is a lot of foot traffic.  Refrigerate within 1.5 hours of leaving and keep the stuff there to retain the freshness.  (Unlike other baked goods, which tend to stale from being tossed into the fridge).  Also in New York and Orlando.

https://www.erinmckennasbakery.com/

  • Gluten Free, Vegan & Kosher
  • 236 North Larchmont Blvd,
  • Los Angeles, CA 90004
  • 855-GO-BABYCAKES
    855.462.2292
  • larchmont@erinmckennasbakery.com
  • Hours of Operation
  • Sunday-Thursday: 9am-9pm
  • Friday-Saturday: 9am-10pm
  • Kosher Certificate

Groundwork Coffee, North Hollywood Station

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Groundwork 

11275 Chandler Blvd.,

North Hollywood, CA 91601

Hours: Mon – Sun: 6:00 am – 8:00 pm

Kitchen Hours: Mon – Sun: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm

Contact: (818) 423-2626 | northhollywood@groundworkcoffee.com

Oh, and if you buy a bag of coffee or a box of whole leaf tea, you get a free drink with that.  The atmosphere is hipster-rich and completely friendly; includes gluten-free options like chocolate chip cookies and some iffy looking gluten-free granola bars.  Plugs for devices abound, and people sit with complete strangers often when the seat across from some lady or chap happens to be open.

Parking on the weekend is best about a block away near the park (across from the fire station) — free on Sundays.  Don’t park in the Metro lot unless you have a Tap card and feel like spending $3.  If you take the Orange line, it’s RIGHT THERE before you have to run down the stairs to catch your train to Hollywood or downtown.  Let everyone else run and take a minute to catch some liquid joy.

Three places to visit in Highland Park

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Order first while pondering the beauty (and I’m not just talking about that mustache). Also, get the baked goods for later first. You’ll see later why (spoiler: long lines!)

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Buckwheat pancakes with coconut! Blackberries! You won’t need to eat for the rest of the day! Seriously.

Kitchen Mouse (gluten free)

Monday – Friday  •  8am – 4pm
Saturday & Sunday  •  7am – 4pm
5904 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90042  •  MAP
323.259.9555

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Mr. Holmes. Looks too fancy for you and me, but they’re NICE NICE NICE inside!!

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (not gluten free)

101 S AVE 59
LOS ANGELES, CA, UNITED STATES

HOURS

7AM – 2:30PM WEEKDAYS / 8AM – 3:00PM WEEKENDS

Shorthand

HOURS

Everyday – 11am – 7pm

5028 York Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90042 USA

 

 

Gluten free IKEA

Gluten free cake with tea? Yes please. Really good creamy with chocolate gluten free cake? Thanks very much indeed. I’m sure they have food too, like I think the vegetarian meatballs are gluten free… But I was a bit preoccupied.

Because:

Happy Fourth of July!!

We made a gluten-free chocolate cake using the Simple Truth gluten-free mix and homemade coffee buttercream frosting before piling on the M&Ms. 

Happy birthday, America! 

We’re enjoying the day off. And barbeque. And cake.
Hope you’re having a great day wherever you are.