Without fail, every fall, I have the same flashback. It comes to me as I start dinner prep for our first meal of the season featuring butternut squash–usually roasted with red onions as a side to pork tenderloin or simmered on the stove with beef and pasta for this one-pan meal*. I set out a thick wooden cutting board, engraved with our married monogram, and a sharp chef’s knife. I slice the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a grapefruit spoon–one of my very few original kitchen hacks. I peel the skin from each side with a vegetable peeler and then easily dice each half.
And it all brings me back to my first encounter with a butternut squash in late 2010.
I was a junior in college, a few short months into my first time living in an apartment. I rode the city bus back and forth to class every day, drove across one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges a few times a week for my first magazine internship, and had just started deep-diving into these things on the internet called blogs. I had also begun fumbling my way around the kitchen, because you can only eat Lean Cuisine and cereal for so long.
One brisk evening, I picked up a butternut squash at the grocery store by my bus stop and headed home with the intent to make butternut squash soup. I had never had butternut squash soup before, as far as I could remember, but I found a recipe and gathered up (most) of the ingredients. I laid out my flimsy plastic cutting board in the galley kitchen (I could lay my hands flat against each wall if I stood in the middle and stretched out my arms), picked up my single steak knife, and…nothing. I could barely make a dent in it.
I spent the next hour-and-a-half all but battling this darn squash…trying not only to cut into it, but also to peel it and chop it with a knife that was just a degree or two sharper than a butter knife. I don’t even remember how I eventually got into it (I think it involved the microwave), but I was sweating enough to crack the window and let a little bit of the Pittsburgh winter air into the apartment. There were bits of butternut squash all over the counter and even on the wall. I finally boiled the squash, added the few other ingredients, and blended it, only to sit down and find that it was completely bland. I had apparently skipped over too many ingredients when deciding what was essential to this recipe–an unfortunate habit I’ve slowly been improving over the years. I scrapped the soup and poured a bowl of cereal.
Over ten years later, it almost feels as though knowing what to do with a butternut squash–and having the tools to do it within arm’s reach, in my own kitchen, in a house that I bought with my husband, where we live with our two kids–is a microcosm representation of my adulthood. The feeling of being that college girl in her first kitchen is still so easily within reach in my memory, even though almost everything about my life has changed since then. I’m grateful for that. There is so, so much I still have to learn, but how to prep a butternut squash is one thing I can confidently check off the list.
For anything I’m making in the kitchen nowadays, here are a few of my staple tools and gadgets:
Caraway pans: Almost seven years in, our everyday pans were looking a little worse for the wear, and we were eager to trade them for a non-toxic cookware option. We opted for the Caraway Sauté Pan and Fry Pan and have been thrilled with them. I’m intrigued by their new bakeware as well…that might be our next upgrade.
Cuisinart Air Fryer: Dave was the one who insisted we needed this, while I was still holding onto the toaster I got in college. We received one as a generous anniversary gift and wow, Dave was right…whether I’m toasting waffles for breakfast, roasting vegetables on the convection bake setting, or air frying chicken nuggets for the kids, I use this at least once a day.
Wusthof chef’s knife: We opted to register for a few key individual knives rather than a block, and this is the one that gets the most use, by far. It is also the knife I use on butternut squash ;)
Misen steak knives: Remember those Ikea steak knives? They stuck around longer than I care to admit. We finally upgraded them with these elegant Misen knives last year and haven’t looked back.
Immersion blender: Our cheap stand blender stays tucked away because this little gadget handles almost everything. I appreciate that the settings are adjustable, so it works on high for the ice in my daily smoothies as well as on low for hot tomato soup that I’m trying not to let splatter. A must-have!
Chemex coffee maker: I shared our at-home coffee tools and tips in-depth here. It does take a handful of the right tools to make at-home pourover coffee worth your while, but if savor your daily cups as much as Dave and I do, I promise it’s worth it.
KitchenAid mixer: Half the fun of baking is getting to use my beautiful mixer! Dave got it for me for my 30th birthday and not only does it bring me lots of joy, it also makes countless recipes infinitely easier to make (see: the number of times I tried and failed to make whipped cream or the cream for tiramisu without one).
Wood cutting boards: My brother-in-law makes the most beautiful cutting boards and treated us to one last Christmas. It very quickly became our favorite–it almost never gets put away because we use it so often.
Which tools and gadgets get the most use in your kitchen? I think I’m in the market for a mini food processor, so especially if you have one you love (or you have one and think it’s not worth it!), I’m all ears :)
*I pulled this recipe from the magazine and, thanks to the reviews, saw that there’s a typo in version published online. Use two teaspoons of salt, not tablespoons!