14. October 2013 · Comments Off on A Few Words About the End of Summmer · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Various types of potatoes for sale, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.So, it’s officially autumn. Once again, the calendar cycles ’round to the waning part of the year. Everything leapt into life at spring time, got busy with getting busy in the summer, and now starts to settle in, slows its pace, and prepares to hunker down for its winter slumber. I like fall because it’s the metaphorical sleepy-eyed yawn before burrowing under the covers.

With the change in seasons comes a change in food. Soft, vulnerable, fleshy fruits give way to the durable. At least if you’re eating properly for our clime. I honestly prefer canned and preserved summer produce to the stuff that’s shipped in from elsewhere, chosen more for its ability to withstand a container voyage than anything approaching flavor.

I even find winter vegetables and the shift to roots, brassicas, hard squashes and cold-frame greens comforting. They’re the beginnings of roasted, braised, stewed and deeply flavored comfort foods that make the grey days of November and the long winter night bearable.

Roasting hard winter veggies is easy. Peel and cut any combination of turnips, parsnips, carrots, waxy potatoes, yams, pumpkin, or butternut/acorn squash into 1″ cubes. Chop up enough to fill a standard 9×13″ baking dish. Throw everything in a bowl and toss with olive oil, a few healthy pinches of kosher salt, and either fresh ground black pepper or – my favorite – freshly grated nutmeg. Roast in a 450°F oven until veggies are tender and slightly caramelized, about 35-45 minutes. Yes, they will stick to the dish. When you take them out of the oven, cover the baking dish with a bit of foil and let stand for about 10 minutes. The steam will both re-moisten any dried out bits and help release everything from the bottom. You will wonder why you ever boiled root vegetables. More »

04. September 2013 · Comments Off on On Mashing Things to Make Them Tasty · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Roasting EggplantSo, we got a couple of big eggplants in our co-op basket this past week. Now, I’m not a big eggplant person. Every once in a while, I’ll chop up the skinny Asian varieties and use them in a stir-fry, but that’s about it. As a vegetable, it’s pretty much there to soak up the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Eggplant, on its own, is not a taste treat.

Which is why you see most non-stir-fry recipes drenching the things in tomato sauce, cheese, or both. Eggplant parmesan, mousaka, eggplant-noodle lasagna, stuffed eggplant, ratatouille, and so on.

What has eggplant got going for it? A bitter astringency when raw… that’s gotta go. Complex sugars that don’t really taste sweet to the human palate – something needs to happen there, as well. A surprising amount of oil/fat is bound up in there. Well, fat’s flavor so maybe we can work with that a bit. Even cooked, it can be a little stringy, so we’ve got to alter the texture as well.

So – how do we make stringy/tough veggies tender, give up their flavor, and get sweeter without adding sugar? To answer that, we’ll look at stuff like cauliflower, potatoes, and yams. Simple – roast ’em and mash the hell out of ’em! And what do you do with roasted, mashed eggplant? Babaganoush!

Great for dipping pita chips and fresh baked naan, or as a chunky sauce alongside grilled meats, babaganoush isn’t really that hard to make and only requires one specialty ingredient. So, hie yourself to the nearest Asian grocery (or even perhaps the international foods aisle of your megamart) and grab a jar of tahini. This paste of ground, roasted sesame seeds gives a nutty, toasty hit to both this recipe and hummus. You can also thin it with some citrus juice, add a pinch of ground cayenne pepper, and use it as a sandwich/salad dressing.

You’ll be whompin’ the bejeesus out of two separate things here, so lay hands on a food processor and a mortar & pestle. A sturdy coffee cup and a bar “muddler” works, if you don’t have a mortar & pestle. If you have neither, use a garlic press and just mix the pressed cloves and salt together – not optimal, but it works.

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (minus pulp & seeds, please)
1/4 c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Set oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Wash eggplant. Remove the green “cap” from the eggplant with a paring knife. Poke it about a dozen times all over with a fork to allow steam to escape.

Place eggplant on baking sheet and place in oven uncovered. Roast until tender all the way through, about 15-20 minutes if you started from room temperature, or about 30 minutes if you pulled your eggplant from the fridge. When tender, remove from oven and let cool until comfortable to handle.

Mince garlic cloves and combine with the 1/2 tsp kosher salt in a mortar & pestle. Grind/mash into a smooth paste.

Slice eggplant in half lengthwise, and with a spoon scoop out the interior into the bowl of your food processor. Get as much of the flesh off the skin as possible. Pulse until smooth in texture, about 6-8 pulses.

In a bowl, combine eggplant puree, garlic paste, lemon juice, and tahini. Mix in parsley, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for use as a dip. Serve at room temperature as an accompaniment to roast chicken or lamb.

21. August 2013 · Comments Off on On Roasting the Perfect Chicken · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , ,

Roast Chicken with Tossed Green SaladOver the years, I’ve made many an attempt to roast a chicken dependably and consistently. I’ve tried low-heat, starting with a super-hot oven to crisp the skin and then reducing the temperature to finish cooking.

Basting.

Not Basting.

Stuffing the cavity with aromatics, inserting compound butter under the breast skin.

Brining, oiling, etc., etc.

And over and over again, I’d end up with breast meat that was done and dark meat that wasn’t quite to proper temperature. So, I’d extend cooking times until all the juices ran clear, and end up with a mostly over-done bird. Then out came the foil, covering the breast and leaving the dark meat exposed to full heat. Eventually, the whole thing became such a pain that I gave up. Chicken became something only made in parts – legs and thighs under the broiler where with judicious turning everything ended up uniformly cooked and crisp.

This past week, the food co-op we joined tossed a whole free-range hen into the bag. It was either part that sucker out, or puzzle out how to cook the thing with a minimum of fuss.

Enter the sage advice of Thomas Keller – keep it simple. Don’t screw around with it. Prep simply, put it in the oven, and leave it the hell alone. No basting. No turning. No tenting. Just one moderately high temperature and go do something else for a little less than an hour. Don’t add anything to the chicken that adds moisture to the cooking – “steaming” the bird is a cardinal sin.

So, following this rather basic guideline, here’s a damn-near foolproof roast chicken.

More »