Easy Roasted Vegetables

It’s still winter here.  Honest.

Comfort food time.

Roasted vegetables are a good way to get in your food groups in a way that will keep you interested in maintaining your quotas.  I don’t eat roasted vegetables as often as I should, but they’re a nice way to jazz up a regular plate of meat, side, side, and they’re as easy as Pie (he’s really easy, trust me).  Plus stuff that has been sitting in your refrigerator for a little too long roasts just as well as the stuff you just bought.

Vegetables that roast well are things such as squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic.

I am also experimenting here with parsnips and turnip.  You should also experiment.  Try tomatoes, pears, greens … Just give ’em all a good scrub first.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cut up your vegetables (in this case, carrots, parsnips, rootabega, squash, onion, red pepper, and eggplant) into pieces of a good size – the kind of size you’d want looking at you on a plate.

Toss them in a roasting pan with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and the dried herb of your choice (optional, but rosemary works well).  Here I used whole black peppercorns.

Roast, tossing once or twice, for about an hour, until everything is shriveled, crispy, and tender.  Serve hot with your meal. We had it with pork tenderloin.  Turnips/rootabegas, by the way, need parboiling before roasting.  They just cook so much slower than everything else.  The vegetables are also good cold the next day.  I plan to make a soup from the leftovers.  Stay tuned for that recipe.

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Easy peasy pudding and pie, this recipe is.  Roasted vegetables are one of life’s greatest pleasures, and the Pie and I take advantage of the ease of this particular dish and make it wayyy too often.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Take yourself some fingerling potatoes.  We prefer the red ones, but the yellow ones are also good.  You can also use new potatoes or mini potatoes or even regular potatoes if you cut them small enough.  Fingerlings are best, however.  I used a whole bag (about 3lbs) for this dish and it serves about 9 people.

Scrub your little potatoes until they shine and cut up the larger ones.  I like to slice some in half lengthwise, and some width-wise, because they all roast differently that way and I like the variety.

Plop the potatoes in a baking or roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a few pinches of sea salt and about 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary (or frozen, but dried rosemary won’t do this justice).  Toss with your hands until everything is coated with everything else.

Pop the potatoes in the oven and let roast 30 to 40 minutes, tossing/flipping them once, until the potatoes are crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.  Serve them up.  Also good cold the next day, if you’re into that kind of thing.

White Bean Dip with Roasted Red Pepper

I got this baby from the Ontario White Bean Producers website.  And then of course I modified it.

First you take your beans.  The recipe called for 2 cups of white beans (white navy beans).  I thought this meant 2 cups of RAW beans, but no, it meant 2 cups of COOKED beans.  As a result, I have SO VERY MUCH bean dip.

Anyway, take your beans, in any form.  If they’re raw, give ’em a good cook.  Simmer them in a pot of water for about an hour.  Make sure that your water doesn’t totally evaporate, and add more water if you have to — burnt beans is a smell no one needs to have in the kitchen.

While your beans are cooking (or sitting politely in their can, waiting on your convenience), take a pan and sauté yourself a finely chopped onion with some fresh sage (or frozen sage if you’ve got it).  Once the onions are translucent, remove pan from heat and plop in 6 or 7 cloves roasted garlic (about one head) just to get them warm and toasty.

In a large bowl (with the aid of an immersion blender) or food processor, combine your cooked beans, your onion/garlic/sage mixture, one or two roasted red peppers, cut in strips (from a jar or make ’em yourself), a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch or so of sea salt.  Blend that thing silly until it’s smooth and creamy.

Pile 'em on and blend 'em silly.

Serve as a dip with pita chips or crackers, or use as a bean base in quesadillas, wraps, and sandwiches.

Because I have so very much dip, I managed to foist some off on D and J, and I’m going to try to freeze the rest.  I will let you know how that goes.

Pita chips are yummy.

Easter (Eater) Dinner

On Sunday the Pie and I had KK, Il Principe, and D, J, and S over for an Easter feast.

I have a lot on my plate this week (and I’m not talking about food here) so I’m going to draw the recounting of this tale out as long as I possibly can.  I’ll try to give you a post a day about all the fun and fantastic things we ate.

I love to have dinner parties.  I think it’s my parents’ influence again.  I’m not really happy unless I can stuff someone else with food until he or she feels the need to lie down.  It really makes my day.

That said, entertaining, on a small or large scale, takes a lot of work and a lot of planning.  Timing is pretty much everything, and it takes practice to get it all to happen at the same time.  The Pie and I have it down to an exact science at this point.  We take a gander at what time things are supposed to be done, chuck them in the oven or on the stove at the various points in time we think they need to go in, then we shut our eyes tight and cross our fingers that everything will turn out properly.  Most of the time we’re right but it took years to get us to this stage.

I have also learned the art of making things ahead of time.  This saves a lot of panic in the kitchen when you’re trying to get everything finished at the same time.  If there are some dishes on your menu that can be popped in the microwave or in the oven for reheating at the last minute then all the better.  Another important thing to remember, and something that I only recently learned, is that you don’t have to make absolutely everything from scratch.  There is nothing wrong with adding store-bought chips to your dips, or purchasing bread as a side.  The more stuff you make the more complications you are going to have.  Besides, sometimes the store versions of things are actually better.  You don’t have to have absolute control over everything that goes on your menu, and so that is why, finally, it is also important to let other people give you a hand if they want to.  Kª wanted to bring a salad, and you know what?  I thought that was a great idea.  And it was a great salad.

Items to be posted this week:

Menu

Appetizers

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip (made the day before)

Pita Chips (store-bought — really, you don’t have to be a domestic maven all the time – I get the In Snax sea salt versions from In Foods Inc.  They are totally tasty.)

Mains

Ham with Cloves (pre-cooked for simplicity)

Red Curry Quinoa (made the day before)

Sides

Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Feta Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (made by Kª – I don’t have a link because I didn’t make it)

Carrot and Parsnip Butter Mash (made the day before)

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Quick Drop Biscuits

Dessert

Strawberry Glazed Angel Food Cake (strawberry component prepared the day before)

Waiting for the feast.

Basic Burgers

Today is the first day after the Pie and I finished our month-long vegetarian experiment.  Accordingly, we’re going to MEAT IT UP and have ourselves some burgers tonight.  So much for easing back into omnivorism.

There are two very important things to remember when making burgers by hand.  The first is to buy no leaner than a medium ground chuck.  You may think you’ve made a healthy choice with a leaner ground but your burger will not stick together and will crumble as it cooks.  The second is to touch the meat as little as possible, which is quite a feat considering you need to hand-form the patties.  But it is doable, and making your own burgers really isn’t that hard.

There is a third thing you should know about burgers: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Remember that you are frying or grilling up some ground meat, which, as it cooks, will secrete slippery oil and will shrink into individual particles.  This means that cohesiveness is an issue when making burgers, which is why you don’t touch them too much or get too rough with them.  The more stuff you add to the chuck before forming it into the patty, the more you risk a crumbling burger.  If you’re going to add things to the meat, make sure they’re small things so they don’t mess with the burger’s internal structure.

Gonna get gooey.

So you take your meat.  We made some of these patties out of medium ground beef and others from ground chicken.  I like to leave it out of the fridge for a while because you are going to be working it in your hands and manipulating cold ground meat feels like sticking your hands in the northern Pacific in the winter (which I have done and don’t recommend).  The amount of meat you use depends on the number of burgers you want, obviously.  We find a kilo of ground makes about 9 3-inch patties.

Put your meat in a large bowl that you can easily get your hands into.  Remove your rings and roll up your sleeves.  This is going to get gooey.

Finely (and I’m talking FINE) dice a medium onion and chuck that in with the meat.  Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and a few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil (or any herb of your choice) and a pinch or two of sea salt and ground pepper.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and/or Tabasco sauce.  Don’t go too crazy with your ingredients, because you need the meat to be able to stick to itself as it cooks.

If you have no confidence in your patty cohesiveness, or if you have ignored me and purchased lean ground beef, you can add an egg or two, but I think that’s cheating.  Eggs are useful in meatloaf, but they don’t really belong in burgers.  ON burgers, but not IN burgers.

Working quickly, mix the meat with your hands until all your ingredients are just combined.

Grab a handful of the mixture and pat it gently into a patty about the size of your palm.  Make a thumbprint indentation in the centre of the patty and set it aside.  The indentation will keep the patty from contracting too much as it cooks.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.

You can freeze your patties for use at a later date.  Simply separate the patties with wax paper and place them in a freezer bag, tightly sealed, with the air removed.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of olive oil (or a grill, or even a broiler) and get those patties on there.  Once the patties are on the hot surface, you leave them the hell alone.  You may flip the burgers, but you can only do it ONCE, usually about five to ten minutes into the cooking, depending on how well done you like your meat.  Safety-wise, your burger should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

If you like cheese on your burger, put a few slices on after you have flipped the patty and they will melt into the meat.

Serve on a bun of your choice with the toppings you like.  Very much a crowd-pleaser, and it covers four food groups.