Spaghetti Squash FTW!

I knew spaghetti squash tasted okay. I’d had it before with some turkey meatball marinara–someone else prepared, of course. But I’d never worked up the courage to try it. For some reason, though, I’m now totally into trying new foods. (Because hey–blog fodder!)

I must’ve been fasting (since pregnancy I’ve accumulated about 70 days I need to make up! yikes!) when I was at Safeway and bought several kinds of squash. Why else would I wander through the produce section lovingly handling veggies I’d never cooked before? Anyway, I came home and placed them on the counter (something perfectly acceptable for winter squash) so inspire me one day. It took a week or so, once Thanksgiving had fully wrapped up, and all the leftovers had been consumed, before that inspiration came, but at last it did.

I thought I’d try to make a spaghetti variant, replacing the pasta with squash. I also decided to make tomato sauce from scratch, since I’ve recently realized that canned tomatoes seem to give my hubby heartburn. Unfortunately it’s not the season for tomatoes, but I had some in my fridge anyway since my son and I like to munch on them raw. Can’t beat fresh summer tomatoes from the south, though. The ones up here in Seattle just don’t get as sweet as the North Carolina tomatoes I’m used to. But now that it’s December, who knows where the tomatoes are coming from?

Anyway, I had learned how to make a basic tomato sauce in a MOOC which I would recommend for every parent concerned about feeding their kids. It was on coursera.org, and is called Child Nutrition and Cooking. Self-paced, you can probably enroll any time. It’s really high quality, nicely edited videos (unlike some MOOCs which are just a professor and a webcam), with Khan Academy style blackboards as well as live demonstrations.

The meat I thought I’d go with was chicken breast, so I defrosted it (since I suck at coordinating meals with thawing meat.) Then it was onions, garlic, tomatoes–into the pot with some olive oil. Then some sugar, some salt, and some oregano. (How much? Yeah, I didn’t measure… that might bite me later…) Then I learned how to cut and cook a spaghetti squash. Turns out, I did it in reverse order (cook first, then cut.) For that I can thank YouTube and Dani Spies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPFErHz6zOM), the same channel where I learned how to cut butternut squash.

So once the chicken had thawed, I popped the squash into the microwave, then grilled the chicken on the stove (just to cook it quickly… there’s nothing great about this way of cooking chicken, so I might replace the chicken with some other meat, but it was fine this time.) Once the squash was done, I cut it, seeded it, then scraped out the flesh and put it in the bottom of a dish, covered it with the chicken, poured over the tomato sauce, and dumped some parmesan cheese on it.

And it worked great. Cooking the squash was almost as easy as cooking pasta, and it had a great flavor. It was satisfying but not heavy–and overall a real win. Except with my toddler, who would only eat the chicken with ketchup.

My Homemaking Baby Step

Just a few years ago, my mind boggled at all the “simple” homemaking tasks that I couldn’t do. My drawers and closets were bursting with improperly stashed linens–I didn’t even know how to fold a fitted sheet! I’m still astonished I never learned how, since I definitely remember folding flat sheets at home before. But the internet is pretty nice about things like that… Buzzfeed abounds with lists of “hacks” for the home. That’s where I first saw the pictures for folding a fitted sheet. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what they meant, how to get from the first picture (hands at the elastic) to the second (all folded over).

And basically I didn’t care… I would just ball up the sheet and stuff it in the closet or on the shelf until it stayed put. That’s what I did until my son was born, and my mom and sister-in-law came to stay with me for a week. They were amazing, and helped clean and organize almost every room of my house! And when they were gone, I realized that… the fitted sheets had been folded! Seeing how convenient it now was to have them that way, and knowing it must be possible because someone in my own house had just done it, I decided to finally learn how.

A google search of “how to fold a fitted sheet” yields plenty of illustrations… but I still couldn’t make heads or tails of it. So I tried another route–the best way to learn anything, in my opinion. That’s youtube. I found a short video with a full demonstration, and voila! I knew how to fold a fitted sheet.

It was a simple task like that which made me feel like I couldn’t really be a homemaker, because I didn’t know how to do even simple tasks to take care of my home. But armed only with my resolve to learn, plus the internet, I mastered it in a cinch! (Okay, ‘mastered’ may be a bit of an exaggeration.) That was one of my first baby steps into homemaking, into realizing that I had what it takes.

I also learned that I could count on youtube for just about anything I needed to learn how to do.

When Recipes Aren’t Enough

My husband has told me many times how much he wants me to ‘get into cooking.’ When I first got married, I could barely cook only a handful of dishes. And most of what I could easily cook already or from a recipe was not healthy–cookies, cakes, etc. I really had very little experience cooking–and it’s taken a long time before I’ve been able to make any real progress toward being a better cook.

I really feel cooking is a responsibility I should be able to cover, most of the time. And especially recently, I’ve wanted to be able to prepare meals at home because they are healthy. And it works well with the recent healthy eating mantra, to “Eat real food,” because if I’m cooking myself I can control the ingredients. Thus I can avoid processed foods, added sugars, artificial ingredients, and even GMOs if I wish.

The challenge is learning how to cook. It seems like it should be simple, because cookbooks are everywhere. Cooking blogs are everywhere. There are blogs devoted to cooking, TV shows–entire channels!–and now even movies (Julie & Julia, anyone?) on the subject. But the abundance of recipes does not make it simple, not for a beginner. I need a bit more help.

For instance, I have wanted to learn how to cook a butternut squash soup. I’ve tried it a few times, different places, and have always enjoyed it. So I look up a recipe, like this fairly simple one, and set about collecting the ingredients. But for even such a simple recipe as this soup, I had two big problems on the ingredients list: (1) cubed butternut squash, and (2) chicken stock.

For the butternut squash, I obviously expected this to be an ingredient–but having never cooked it before myself, I didn’t know anything about it. Specifically, I didn’t know how to pick it, peel it, cut it, or even what to do with the seeds. That’s where Youtube came in very handy. I don’t always like to learn an entire recipe from Youtube, but something when it comes to something specific like how to cut a butternut squash, it’s the perfect solution. And sure enough, I found a short video explaining just that!

The other problematic ingredient was the chicken stock. As a beginner cook, I have never made chicken stock. I still don’t know how to do it. Now, chicken stock is one of those things you can buy already made, as is chicken broth. But since all the food I cook for my family is halal, I wasn’t comfortable buying pre-made chicken stock. So I looked up a few instructional videos and guides, but didn’t feel ready to give it a go yet. I decided to go ahead with the soup by substituting a vegetarian vegetable broth.

Unfortunately, I added a bit too much pepper, which overwhelms the flavor of the squash, but otherwise the dish turned out alright. I’d like to try again with proper chicken stock, once I’m ready to learn that lesson. One thing at a time. But if a recipe alone isn’t enough–a youtube instructional might fill in the gaps.

Any recommendations for youtube channels good for beginner cooks, looking to learn some basic skills? Share in the comments!