Archive for the ‘Roasting’ Category

Never underestimate the power of the sprinkle.

No.  I don’t mean the colored candy kind.  Although if they are chocolate, and called Jimmies, I can’t quite resist those either…  but that’s another post.

What I mean to say is, sprinkle, as in sprinkling seasoning.

Part of getting a kid to try different food is engaging them in preparation.  Something as simple as seasoning is enough to make a kid proud of cooking.

Sometimes in our kitchen, The Child is involved throughout the preparation, and those are substantial experiences.  But more often, she’s playing or reading somewhere and I call out, “Do you want to sprinkle the salt and pepper?”

She pops out of whatever she was doing, grabs a pinch of salt or a shaker of spice, and holds it up high.  Sometimes there is a quick dramatic flourish, and she’s gone in a flash.  Other times it is a focused and slow shower of flavor, watching carefully to see where the individual grains land.

Fresh cut chives sprinkled on breakfast eggs and tomatoes.

Credit, as for so many things in our kitchen, goes to Alton Brown.  Good Eats on the DVR was kid programming in our house.  No freakin’ Barney here.  And as a toddler she started learning from AB.  (Belching yeasty puppets!  Definitely children’s programming!)

In various episodes he points out why he holds his hand so high when seasoning.  Hold it low and all your salt lands in the same place.  Yuck!  Hold it high and you get a wide dispersal area.  Any kid who has played with glitter knows this.  The light went on, and since she was always strapped into her chair at the counter when we cooked anyway, we let her start seasoning things as a young toddler.

A good place to start is roasted fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes, simply cut in half on a tray and roasted skin side up, can take a little over-seasoning on their skins as the kid learns even application.

I do not know if this will help a kid venture to try something new, we make ours try everything.  But it always seemed to help her look forward to sitting down to a meal.  Watching someone else partake of what she made tapped into the pride as well.

Basic Roasted Potatoes

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was Jacques Pépin’s Cooking With Claudine, and the first recipe is for a steak with roasted potatoes and onions.  He roasted large potatoes, and my preparation has evolved over many years to use fingerling potatoes instead.  Roast just a few for a small dinner, or prep a whole bag for a party.  We have them alongside everything from salads to stews to steak, or even dipped into chili or salsa.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Slice potatoes in half, selecting those which are roughly the same size.  Prep a half-sheet pan by pouring some olive oil in the center of the pan.  Use a silicone baking sheet if you have one, but it is not necessary.  Having a quality half-sheet pan that heats evenly is far more important.

Plunk a potato, cut side down into the puddle of olive oil and slide it over toward a corner of the pan, leaving some space around it for air circulation.  In succession plunk and slide each potato.

This is an excellent job for kids, even very small ones.  As you slice potatoes in half, the kid puts them in the oil and slides them into place and patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are in neat little rows, sometimes abstract polka dots, and sometimes a giant smiley face on the tray.  *grin*

The tops of the potatoes will need some oil.  Using your fingers, or those of the child labor, transfer some oil from the pan onto the tops of the potatoes.  They do not need to be coated, but if you let your kid do it, trust me, there will be olive oil on every bit of surface area of both potato and hands.  Kids take this job very seriously.  Handing The Child a pastry brush also works well for this.   “Okay kid, paint the potato tops.”

Then comes the seasoning.  With kosher salt from a ramekin, The Child takes a pinch and holds it high to sprinkle.  The pepper grinder is so much fun The Child loves that too.  BUT, there is the necessary admonishment here…  you season it, you eat it.  There is no getting carried away with the pepper grinder and throwing food away.  That’s a mistake a kid makes only once.

Roast the potatoes for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on your oven, size of potatoes and preferred doneness.  Once you can easily stick a knife in them from the top, they are done.  Let cool enough to handle and serve hot.  Leftovers are easily nuked.


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Knowing in the back of my mind that there would be a Day 2 to follow Day 1, you’d think I would have put more advance planning into our meals today.  But it was another whirlwind day.  No tears over homework, fewer scrapes, and I even remember all the productive things I did today.  Today was a definite win over yesterday.  The house still looks like a tip, but no worries, it will have to be dealt with soon.  I have taken surefire measures to ensure it is tidied, inviting a pack of friends over Friday night.

Plus, I wasn’t as concerned about dinner tonight.  I had a rough plan in mind this time.  The Child was looking forward to polenta leftovers from the weekend, we had two leftover bockwurst, and I just needed to pull together a vegetable.  The weekly delivery from spud! came  this afternoon so there must be some fresh veg in there to whip up.  I wasn’t quite sure what was coming as I had spazzed customizing my order before the deadline.

I cracked open the Rubbermaid tub of veg from spud!

Oooooo-kay.  That’s a whole lot of lettuce. We’re looking for comfort food here.  Salad seemed like work.  It all looked good but I came away with “blah” for ideas.

Spying the lowly zucchinis I decided to roast them with some onion to top the polenta.  Totally last minute.  Complete freestyle.  Stabbing the pre-cooked sausages with a fork, they took a minute zapped on high in the microwave.  The polenta followed suit.  Scooping the roasted zucchini, onions, and paprika’s olive oil from the pan gave the other bland components of the plate some color and flavor.

Roasted Zucchini & Onions

2 small zucchinis, sliced into thick rounds
1 medium onion, roughly frenched
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Chop veggies.  Toss with olive oil, and spread out on Silpat lined half-sheet pan.
Season liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika
Roast for ~20 minutes

Rejected…  Sorta.

The Child made clear that the zucchini was not her favorite, and that frankly zucchini is never her favorite.  She was quite adamant about it.  But she ate it all.  She was hungry.  Had I not cooked it gorgeously I would have let her get away with leaving it, but this was really good.  Besides, the polenta, onions, and bockwurst were excellent pairings.  Sometimes it’s a spoonful of polenta that makes the zucchini go down!  She tried every combination of bites on the plate.  In the end she was making jokes about how pairing zucchini with another zucchini was her favorite while cramming two giant rounds in her mouth at one time.  She ate it all and asked for seconds on the onions.

Life is good, and Day 2 of fending for ourselves while Daddy travels was not a disaster.  So…  tired…  Zzzz…

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We received a subscription to Cooking Light as a wedding present.  That was, um…  nearly nine years ago.  (Yes, that’s right.  There are women who forget these things too.)  It was regular monthly reading for quite a while, but somewhere along the way they lost my interest.  I think as I learned more about cooking, nutrition, and food science I saw their premise of substituting ingredients with more diet-like ones either misinformed or misleading.  Foundational ingredients often were vilified and replaced with imposters.  Cooking at our house became more about variety, controlling portion size, and total calorie count.  As we reverted back to basic ingredients, our Cooking Light subscription became increasingly less relevant.  Most months I would flip through it, find a smattering of nifty ideas, and question why I had renewed yet again.

Hopefully the April issue has heralded a change.  I picked it up over the weekend and read it cover to cover.  It was full of content mirroring our approach to food:  Eat everything and anything in moderation, with an array of ingredients and portion being the measure of how healthy a meal is.  It was remarkable to find the magazine now has a refreshingly new outlook:  healthy frying encouraged, meat and eggs and dairy no longer condemned, and using fats and proteins to make vegetables more satisfying.

The cover story debunking Nutrition Myths (p.134) was refreshingly full of real information rather than pandering to what editors think dieting readers expect to see.  A little real sugar can go a long way in the kitchen.  Consuming eggs will not increase your blood cholesterol.  Some saturated fats are actually good for us.  Moderate intake of any type of alcohol (1-2 drinks per day) reduces the risk of heart disease, as those benefits are no longer limited to red wine.  Stop wasting money on fiber-fortified foods, and leave the skin on your chicken while you are at it because it is actually good for you.  Enjoy frying food at home, since with the right method it isn’t all that fattening.  The list goes on…

The piece on Rethinking Protein (p.52) refutes the misconception that protein should ideally be from particular sources.  It rejects that by defining some proteins as good the others by default are designated as bad.  There is an unique nutrition profile attached to each protein source, be it plant or animal.  The article suggests selecting appropriate portions from a larger pool of protein choices, including those which have become healthy-diet taboo.  In our house we have the conventional beef, pork and chicken.  But we also eat lamb, pasture-raised veal, fish, turkey, rabbit, duck, goose, goat, and lots of eggs.  Since joining a meat CSA (community supported agriculture) in January, we’ve tried water buffalo, guineafowl, and duck eggs.  We sprinkle nuts on yogurt and cereal, mix beans or edamame into pasta salad, add tofu to Adulterated Ramen, and drink lots and lots of milk.  It’s certainly not boring.  According to Cooking Light we humans need 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and it doesn’t take much to hit that target.  Which means most of us can stop worrying and supplementing because we are getting enough.

Roast guineafowl and pork sausage stuffing

Reading this gave me hope that the protein bar craze will soon go the way of the bottled-water-is-better-for-you dodo.  And with any luck all the snake-oil protein powder and shakes out there too.  Desperate parents are spending a lot of money offering this stuff to kids out of fear and concern rather than knowledge.  “As long as you’re eating a variety of protein-filled foods throughout the day, your body will get all the amino-acids it needs to run at full capacity.”  The article provides information on sources, amounts, and suggestions which should reassure picky eaters, vegetarians, and meat lovers alike.  If you are still concerned, check with your pediatrician and trust their guidance.

Obviously some people are going to have specific dietary restrictions from their doctors, but for the vast majority of us, portion size and variety ought be the focus of our cooking and eating decisions.  Rethinking all the limitations we have been taught to place around ‘healthy eating’ opens up a wide range of ingredients to keep fit while eating for taste and satisfaction too.  The article served as a reminder for our family to work more fish and seafood into our repertoire.  We used to go out for sushi quite regularly, but lifestyle changes have limited that, and we were not compensating by buying more fish to eat at home.  So my personal takeaway has been added emphasis reintroducing a diversity of fish and seafood back into our diets.

Much of the content in Cooking Light is available for a limited time on their website – but I hesitate to direct anyone there as it is poorly designed and a pain to slog through their format.  So go pick up a copy of the April 2010 issue before it is gone from newsstands.  This magazine doesn’t take itself too seriously (there is a regular Beauty segment for Pete’s sake!), but every recipe includes detailed nutritional information, and often includes suggestions on gluten-free adaptations.  Even for a serious foodie who knows much of this content already, I venture to say everyone will be inspired by some aspect of this issue.  The subscription was an excellent wedding gift, and much like The Spouse as it turns out, worth sticking with for a while yet.

What follows is a basic recipe for guineafowl out of a classic book on English cooking.  I’ve transcribed it here because it’s just so nifty to read.  Our preparation left out the port, watercress, parsley, and garlic.  And instead of the few breadcrumbs used a whole lot of torn up leftover Garlic Bread from the Grace Baking Co.  We have a standing order on fresh bread from spud! and were behind on our bread consumption.  We adapted for a single bird without giblets and used fresh pork sausage from our CSA.  The overflow stuffing was baked in a casserole dish alongside the bird but was finished cooking well before the bird was done, so keep an eye on it.

Roast Guineafowl
From Jane Grigson’s English Food

2 fine guineafowl, 750g-1kilo (1½ -2 lb) each
6 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon, or 6 strips of pork back fat
Seasoned flour
1 glass port
300 ml (½ pt) stock made from the giblets, or from chicken giblets
1 bunch watercress

125 g (4 oz) good sausages
1 heaped tablespoon breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon port
1 heaped tablespoon chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper to taste

First make the stuffing.  Remove the skins from the sausages and discard them (it is important to use a high-quality, meaty sausage, for instance genuine Cumberland sausages).  Mix with the remaining stuffing ingredients and divide between the two birds – if the birds are sold complete with their livers, chop them up and add them to the mixture, but be sure to remove any bitter greenish parts first.

Put the bacon or pork fat across the breasts of the birds – or, better still, lard them with fat strips of pork and protect them with butter papers.  Place them on the rack of a roasting pan and put them into a hot oven, at mark 7, 220°C (425°F).  After 15 minutes, lower the heat to mark 6, 200°C (400°F), and leave them for 30 minutes.  Take the guineafowl from the oven, remove the bacon or paper and sprinkle them with seasoned flour.  Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until cooked and browned.  Place the birds on a serving dish and keep them warm.  Pour the port into the roasting pan juices, boil them up for a couple of minutes, scraping in all the nice brown bits that have stuck to the pan.  Add the stock and boil down until you have a small amount of strongly flavoured gravy.  Pour round the birds, and garnish the dish with watercress.

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