Q: How are chestnuts roasted?
A: Oh yes, we're all familiar with the popular holiday song, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose," but you're not alone when you ask how to roast chestnuts. I get several calls during the holidays asking the same question.
The most popular method of cooking chestnuts is roasting. Do not roast a chestnut until one or two holes have been punctured in each shell with an ice pick or knife. Or use a sharp knife to cut a 1/2-inch "X" on the flat side of each nut, cutting down to the meat (go through the smooth outer skin and textured inner skin.) If the shell is not punctured, steam pressure will build up and cause the nuts to explode either before or after they come out of the oven.
To roast over fire: Prick each chestnut, as indicated above, before roasting. Using a long-handled, covered utensil with a perforated bottom - such as a popcorn popper or chestnut roaster - shake the utensil gently over the fire until the shells open and the nuts become toasty and brown, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Partially cool and peel while still warm. Grasp the curling skin and peel away both the outer shell and the thin, papery skin inside. (To make it easier to shell, wrap the hot chestnuts in a towel and squeeze to crush the shells. Keep nuts wrapped for 5 minutes before removing.)
To roast in the oven: Prick each chestnut, as indicated above, before roasting. Preheat the oven to 375 to 400 degrees. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the shells open and the nuts can be removed easily. Partially cool and peel while still warm.
Q: How should I store nuts?
A: Raw nuts should be kept cold, either in the refrigerator or freezer. Before storing, pack nuts in a clean, dry, airtight container; such as zip-closed freezer bag, a plastic carton with a tight fitting lids or a canning jar with a tight lid.
The secret of storing both in-shell nuts and nut meats is to keep them cold. The lower the temperature, the longer nuts keep. In the home refrigerator, nuts store satisfactorily for four to five months; in a zero-degree freezer, or lower, they remain in good condition for up to a year. Nuts in the shell can be held twice as long, at any given temperature, as shelled meats. Nut pieces may be held for about one-half as long as halves.
Toasted nuts keep as well in the freezer as raw nuts. When you want to use some, take the container out of the freezer. Open container and take out what you want. Close container and return to freezer. Let the nuts warm up to room temperature. When exposed to air, cold toasted nuts absorb moisture and may become limp. If this happens, freshen them in a 150-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool before serving.
Q: How do you prepare spaghetti squash?
A: Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the cut side down in a baking dish; add 1/4 cup of water. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until you can pierce the shell easily with a fork. Allow to cool slightly; using a fork, separate squash into strands that resemble spaghetti.
Spaghetti squash can also be cooked in the microwave. Cut in half, remove the seeds and place in a covered microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high 10 to 12 minutes.
Nutritional information for one cup cooked: 40 calories, 0 grams fat, 30 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates and 2 grams fiber.
Ideas to use spaghetti squash:
¢ Toss cooked spaghetti squash with ham and your favorite cheese sauce, then bake for a filling entree.
¢ For a simple side dish, saute the spaghetti squash in a small amount of vegetable oil and top with Parmesan cheese.
¢ Use the cooked spaghetti squash in place of pasta in main dishes, soups, salads or casseroles.
Q: What's the best way to mail nonperishable food gifts?
A: First, you may want to consider the types of food items to be included in a gift box. If a package is to be shipped halfway across the country or around the world, choose items like hard candy, packaged snack and trail mixes, dried fruit, jerky, dehydrated soup or beverage mixes.
Foods sent through the mail should not be fragile. Brownies, bar or other "hard" cookies (such as gingersnaps, peppernuts and peanut butter cookies), or biscotti generally travel better than fragile-shaped or decorated cookies. Avoid high-moisture breads like quick breads, soft cookies like applesauce cookies or brownies with cream cheese, liquids and glass containers.
Wrap gift foods carefully. Use cookie tins, durable plastic food storage containers or a sturdy box that can be lined with food wrap. Layer cookies and separate layers with food wrap or waxed paper. If the food will be shared by a group, you may want to wrap in individual servings, such as two cookies or separate bags of trail mix.
If foods are wrapped, you can use bubble wrap or crushed wax paper within your cookie tin to cushion them. Pack the container tightly so that foods don't tumble and crumble. Place the container with treats inside a heavy box and surround it with crumpled newspaper or bubble wrap to cushion the container in transit.
As a courtesy to the recipient, include recipes or a list of ingredients. Food allergies can be a problem. In candies or cookies, nuts that may cause a severe allergic reaction may not always be obvious.
Remember, if you are planning to mail gifts, the deadlines have been set to get packages to their destination by Dec. 25. The U.S. Postal Service has released shipping deadlines to help out. These deadlines can be found at http://www. usps.com/holiday/mailing-holiday-deadlines.htm.