Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Spammy comments, and Roasted Roots

I don't often view my own blog (I think merely having one is more than enough navel-gazing for one person), so I was surprised to see so many comments on my last entry. "GREAT!" I thought. "Someone aside from my family actually found this place!"

Well, I'm pretty sure it was a bot of some kind, because he/she/it left 6 nearly identical comments. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. However, I must admit that it's sort of flattering to get an invitation to submit material, even if it comes from automated software masquerading as a real person. It's certainly preferable to being sold something.

As for the roasted roots:

Mollie Katzen has built a reputation as a go-to vegetarian cookbook writer. From using her books, I can say that her successful recipe rate is about 50% (some are great, some are great ideas that need substantial tweaking, and some are frightening or simply boring).

I can also say that she often includes little tricks and tips (hardly actual recipes) that are awfully helpful, such as a list of lunchbox ideas, plenty of menu suggestions, or a guide to fritatta ingredient ratios. In her book Vegetable Heaven (which I've borrowed from the library so many times that the copy's pages bear the imprint of my messy cooking; I really should just get my own copy), she includes a true treasure: roasting instructions for almost any common or slightly uncommon vegetable.

Now, I can't say that I really grew up with roasted vegetables. Whether fresh or frozen, the green beans I ate as a child were always steamed and then coated with a small lump of butter substitute and some salt. I could criticize my parents for the butter substitute, but really, I AM grateful that I was rarely subjected to the mushy sorrow of canned vegetables. So I have to give them that.

However, I can only imagine how much MORE I would have been excited by vegetables if my parents had known about ROASTING.

Since roasting my first asparagus (I'm still working on this technique; the timing of roasted asparagus is tricky, as it must be modified in accordance with stalk thickness), I've learned that there is no vegetable (except perhaps the leafy greens family) that cannot be enjoyed through roasting. The technique has so much going for it:

1. it's non-fussy. You start heating the oven, clean and trim the vegetables, cut them into chunks if necessary/desired, put them on an oiled baking sheet, and pop them in the oven. And LEAVE THEM until they are done.
2. it's fantastically tasty. Almost everyone likes the taste of carmelized sugars and general browning. The edges crisp up; small bits stick to the pan; flavors are concentrated as the vegetables shrink and shrivel slightly.
3. it's versatile. You can add spices to the vegetables at the beginning, or not. You can add fresh herbs to the vegetables near the end of cooking, or not. You can serve roasted vegetables with any vinaigrette or dressing that appeals to you. They are even good with a simple sprinkling of salt.

The only drawback is that the oven is required, making roasting a bit uncomfortable in the summer time. But you have your grill for carmelized flavors in summer. And the oven heating the kitchen is a welcome event in the dark of winter.

This past Monday, I made a panful of lowly roasted onions and carrots. These are boring kitchen staples, usually a part of some other larger production. I cut them into large chunks (quartered the onions, 2 in. carrot chunks), rolled them around on an oiled baking sheet, and stuck them in a 375 oven for 30. min, during which time I made the rest of dinner. A delicious smell soon filled the room; I sprinkled a few tsp. of fresh thyme on the vegetables in their last 5 min. of cooking.

The carrots were quite good (a little woody; it's sad to go back to supermarket carrots after tasting your own fresh grown ones), but the onions - the ONIONS. I could have made a meal solely of the onions. They were sweet like candy, with textures ranging from soft and melting to crisp and slightly burnt-tasting. Heavenly. And cheap. I will be making this a staple of my winter dinners.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Oh blog, how I neglect thee.

No recipes today, but I hope to have some new ones soon. Failing new recipe content, I thought I would provide a short update on my current food endeavors.

Mainly my reason for not posting much is that I've been more focused on not wasting food than on exploring new recipes. My eyes have been healthier than my stomach for a long time, and as a result, a lot of good produce has gone to waste, rotting away in my crisper drawer. I am working on streamlining and using what I have. I think it's working. I'm improving, anyhow. Fewer leftovers thrown away every week.

However, it hasn't made for great new recipes fit for sharing lately. I'm hoping to get there, and perhaps create some recipes of my own soon rather than simply proselytizing others' work. Not that I don't love Mark Bittman, but you should probably just go buy his books yourself. I think he's got a new one.