Chatelaine Kitchen

Ask Claire: How to peel squash and cook with tofu, miso paste and olive oil

In this monthly feature, Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey, answers all your cooking and entertaining questions
By Claire Tansey

butternut squash Getty Images

In this monthly feature, Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey, answers all your cooking and entertaining questions.

Hi Claire, Do you have any tips for cutting squash? I want to make squash soup but cutting it into pieces and trying to peel off the skin is such a process...and not easy on the arms either!

A: Agreed! You have a few options. You can use your microwave to get things started. Cut a large slit through the skin with a knife, then microwave the squash on high to soften skin a little, from 5 to 7 min. Now just peel, chop and make soup! This works really well on a squash like butternut.

Squash with scalloped edges (like acorn) are nearly impossible to peel without making yourself crazy. So we tend to serve them with the skin on. Just scrub the squash well before cooking it – and the skin is safe to eat, delicious and a fantastic source of fibre.

We are also big fans of buying a package of pre-peeled, pre-cut butternut squash – a perfect way to cut prep time for easy weeknight meals.

Dear Claire, I've never made tofu before, but I'd really like to start adding it to my recipes. What are some things I need to know? What's the difference between hard and soft?

A: There are a ton of tofu haters out there, which has always perplexed me. It’s amazing! Tofu is a chameleon in the kitchen – it can be silky and creamy or crisp and chewy, and it matches well with a huge array of flavours. I suspect that the haters have just never had tofu prepared properly.

Tofu comes in a variety of textures. Silken is like a firm pudding, so it's best used delicately, for miso soups or served chilled, drizzled with soy and sprinkled with green onions. Silken and soft tofu also puree perfectly into smoothies and sauces.

Medium tofu has a soft texture, but still holds it shape when you cut it. I love it drizzled with a sesame dressing (pictured below).

Extra firm tofu is great in a stir-fry because you can stir and toss it a lot and it won’t break up. For a great weeknight meal, match it with good old peanut butter. But I also love it crumbled and shaped into little patties. These sesame cakes are so good; I serve them at dinner or as snacks at a party.

Sesame dressing on tofu and soba noodles

Dear Claire, Is it true I shouldn’t cook with olive oil? I really want to. Also, is it true canola oil is healthier?

A: Well, it’s not really true. But many chefs and books discourage using olive oil in cooking because its delicate, fruity flavours are easily overwhelmed or lost in the cooking process. Also, olive oil has a low smoke point: if you cook with it at a high temperature, it will burn more quickly than say canola, grapeseed or peanut oil. That said, we love it for sautéing onions when getting a sauce started for pasta. But you should never use olive oil for something like a stir-fry (pictured below). That’s the time to use a neutral vegetable oil.

Basil chicken and vegetable stir-fry

Every kitchen definitely needs a decent bottle of olive oil, preferably extra virgin, for salad dressings and drizzling over cooked soups or vegetables. Think of it like a condiment. But keep a bottle of vegetable oil handy too.

Both olive oil and canola oil have their health benefits. Both are “good” fats that the body needs in moderation. Canola has almost no flavour, though, so skip it if you’re making a salad dressing. But anytime a recipe calls for vegetable oil, choose canola! At my house, just like in the Chatelaine Kitchen, we keep olive oil, extra virgin olive oil and canola oil within arm’s reach.

Dear Claire, I'd like to cook more with miso paste, can you give me any tips?

A: There’s something about miso’s rich, salty-nutty flavour that I can’t get enough of! It’s a staple at home and in the Chatelaine Kitchen.

Miso is very strong, and needs to be mixed with other ingredients or diluted a bit. A few of my favourite ways to use it are in soups, as a glaze for meat (pictured below) and fish, or even as a dipping sauce or salad dressing. Considering it’s a Japanese ingredient, it mixes incredible well with our own maple syrup.

Miso-glazed pork kebabs


If you’re new to miso, there are lots of different types, and you can experiment to see which one you like the best. Some are stronger in flavour, and most recipes will recommend which type to use, but they can be fairly interchangeable. Look for it in the grocery store near the Japanese products, or check the fridge at the health food store. It looks a bit like peanut butter and is packaged in tubs of plastic pouches. Miso keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at:


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