Q: Is there a trick to peeling butternut and spaghetti squashes? Theyíre so hard, I donít know how to use them.

A: After hiding flavor and nutrients inside, nature didnít make hard-shell squashes easy to open. You could keep a pumpkin-carving kit around. The saw-tooth blade can help open a winter squash.

But an easier way to tackle hard but smooth-skinned winter squashes is to start with the microwave. Use a metal skewer, a strong fork or the tip of a small paring knife to poke several holes through the skin. Then put the squash in the microwave for about 3 minutes.

That will soften the skin a little, so it will be easier to cut it in half for roasting, or to use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin and dice the squash.

A spaghetti squash can be poked and microwaved the same way. Instead of peeling it, though, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and either bake or steam the halves until it is soft enough to use a fork to release the long strands.