Last updated: November 02. 2013 1:47PM - 1125 Views
Mary R. Ehret, M.S.,R.D.,L.D.N. Contributing Columnist

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Fall vegetables are plentiful at the markets. The displays are eye appealing and give us that crisp autumn feeling when we first see them in the grocery stores. If you are not familiar with winter squashes, they might be a little overwhelming. Winter squashes have thick skins and aren’t too easy to peel, cut and cook. Here is help

There are two types of squash - winter and summer. Summer squashes are zucchini and then yellow and green summer squash. They can be cooked with the skins on. Winter squashes are deeper in orange and yellow color and need the skin removed.

Winter squashes make the perfect sides for your fall meals. Like potatoes, they are considered a starchy vegetable. Some popular winter squashes are Acorn, Butternut, and Hubbard.

Like the familiar pumpkin, winter squashes are a great source of beta carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance, as well as many other functions. The deeper the yellow/orange color, the higher the concentration of the beta carotene in the squash. Some types of squash contain enough beta carotene to supply more than 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for vitamin A in a 3 ½ - ounce (1 cup cubed) serving.

It’s tough to know how to select a fresh, good quality squash. Signs of a good quality squash include a smooth, dry skin that is dull in appearance. A shiny skin occurs when the squash was picked immaturely. Test for maturity by pressing against the skin with a thumbnail; the skin should be hard and not easily punctured. Another sign to look for is the development of a cream or yellow spot where the pumpkin or squash has rested on the ground. In addition, choose those heavy for their size.

Winter squash should be stored in a cool, dry spot until ready to use. They will keep for a month or two. It is not recommended to store whole, uncut squash in the refrigerator since chilling will change the flavor. However, once the squash has been cut, then it must be stored in refrigeration. To save time cooking squash, cook it in the microwave. It takes one-third less time than in a conventional oven. Here is how.

Cutting winter squashes can be tough. Because they are round and hard, at times they might slide on the cutting board and leave even the most experienced cook frustrated. Use this microwave two-step method to first cut and clean the squash and second, to cook the squash.

First, wash the squash with water. Next, cut the squash in half using this method. The safest way to cut a winter squash is to first prick the outside of the winter squash in a couple of places with a fork, much like you would for baking potatoes in the microwave. Next, place the squash on a paper towel in the microwave. Microwave a 2-pound squash on high for 6 minutes. Let it sit for a few minutes to cool before cutting in half. Then cut and remove the seeds and strings. This first step will help soften the squash so that it can be easily cut.

Next, place the cut and cleaned squash in a glass microwave safe pan cut side down. Microwave the squash on high for 8-10 minutes. Check for doneness by pricking with a fork. Let stand 5 minutes to finish cooking. Scrape the pulp from the skin and mash with a fork or a potato masher. To freeze winter squash, simply cook and pack into containers, label, date and freeze.

Baked Winter Squash

1 cup of mashed squash (may use Hubbard, acorn or butternut)

1 Tablespoon margarine

1 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 to 4 Tablespoons Skim milk

Directions: Wash and cook the squash according to the directions above. Mash the cooked squash. Mix in the margarine, brown sugar, milk and cinnamon. If you would like it a bit thinner, add more milk. Serves 2

Thanks to an avid reader who called to let me know that last week’ recipe needed the amount of oil to use in the pumpkin squares recipe - here is the recipe again. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Squares

16 ounce can pumpkin

4 eggs

3/4 cup of canola oil

1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour or regular flour

1 TBS ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1 ½ cups brown sugar

¾ cups rolled oats

2 tsp baking powder

In a mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs and oil until well mixed. Combine flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Pour into sprayed 13 X 9 baking pan. Bake at 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Makes 24 bars.

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