A Big Vegetable Roast

 

 

roasted peeling beets

 

I think we first came up with this idea last fall.  Instead of roasting various winter foods as we need them, why not save oven power and kitchen time by roasting a whole bunch of things at once?  I love this idea, and it can save me a bunch of time later in the week.

I set the oven to bake at 400° F, and start prepping things.  I like to do garlic first, since it seems to take at least as long as anything else.  Slice just the tops from a head or two, and put in a small oven-proof container.  Pour in water to come about halfway up the sides of the garlic.  Drizzle olive oil right on top of the cloves.  Cover with foil or ideally, a lid.  I use the foil as many times as I can, but I’d love to have a container with a lid for roasting garlic, and beets.  It’s on my list but I haven’t found it yet.

Place the garlic container in a corner of the oven somewhere where it can roast along while you take other things in and out.

 

roasting garlic before

 

Ok, let’s talking about peeling veggies for a second.  Peeling a raw beet or squash is such a pain that I almost never do it.  But the roasted ones peel like magic.

In my oven, beets get a similar treatment to the garlic, except without the olive oil (probably no harm in adding it too …).  Cut off the tops and any long tails, then place them in a pan, add water, and cover.

Put the beets in the oven too.  No need to check on them for at least 20 minutes, big ones can take up to an hour or so.

 

roasting beets before

Believe it or not, this is the exact set of beets I got in a bag at our CSA store.  Who knew they would fit so precisely?

 

One of my favorite things to eat all winter long is butternut squash.  It’s good in so many things: soups, winter tacos, quiches, seasoned slices.  Search some of your favorite cookbooks or sites and you’ll get many more ideas.  It’s also much easier to peel when cooked!

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Said seeds are delicious roasted with a little salt and any other spices you wish.  I usually put them in after the squash is done.

You can either cut the squash into slices, or roast the halves as they are, depending on your later squash plans.  I did some of each.  In either case, rub a little olive oil on the cut faces.

 

roasting butternut befoe

 

If you are roasting slices/seeds/small things, be sure to check on them after about 10 minutes, and then every 5 minutes or so.  It’s easy to lose track and burn them while the bigger things are still happily roasting.

I flip the slices over when they get brown on the bottom, so that both sides get nice and toasted.

 

roasted butternut slices

These slices are done, but the bigger chunks need to cook for a while yet.

 

Not pictured, but also great to roast are:

Sweet potatoes and/or regular potatoes in their skins, or as slices.

Nuts.  Sometimes it’s a lot cheaper/easier to find quality raw nuts and roast them yourself.  These are another thing that’s done quite quickly, so set a timer.

 

roasted butternut with potatoes

 

By the time the second round of slices (potato) are done, the big pieces of squash are too—easily pierced with a fork.

Beets are also done when fork-tender, and when the peel slides off with just a push from your thumb!

 

one peeling beet

 

And finally the garlic.  I’ve never overcooked it, but if it’s been in the oven for quite a while, check to see if the water has all evaporated.  If so, it’s probably done, and if not, add water so it doesn’t dry out.  To me, done roasted garlic = squishy and a little caramelized on top.  Yum!

 

roasted garlic

 

So there you have it, all the roasted veggies you need for the next week or so.

What are some of your favorite winter foods?

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Washing Fruit and Veggies on the Road

 

washed fruit in cooler

 

So, you’re driving along on a late-summer road trip, the farmers’ markets and road-side fruit stands are overflowing with beautiful produce, but you hesitate to buy a bunch of berries or tomatoes if you can’t figure out a way to wash them, right?  Here’s our solution.  All you need is a container (a tub that yogurt came in is perfect) and some water.  A cooler is optional. I’m not really sure why it took us so long to figure this out.  It works a lot better, and uses a lot less of our drinking water, than trying to pour water with one hand while somehow holding and scrubbing fruit with the other hand by the side of the road.  Even if you are on your way to a house or hotel where you could wash fruit, this has the advantage of letting you eat it right NOW, while you cruise along with the windows rolled down, or at your favorite picnic spot.

Put your produce in your little tub, and pour in enough water to cover it.  Swirl everything around with your fingers for a minute or so, and then hold the fruit back and pour the water off. If a lot of dirt comes off in the first round, or you just want to make sure it’s really clean, repeat.

 

tomatoes in tub of water

 

Then you can put the clean tub of fruit in your cooler, or on top of the parking brake between the seats for easy access.  If you’ve washed something like tomatoes that does better dry and room-temp than cold and wet, you can dump them out onto a towel, or use one of those little green plastic baskets to store them. If you knew how many picnic style meals we’ve eaten, consisting mainly or entirely of various versions of caprese sandwiches, you’d laugh out loud.

 

tomatoes in green basket 1

 

A couple more notes: basil does well in the cooler with the stems in the water, or in a sealed plastic bag with a little moisture inside (kind of like the cooler version of this method), but not if the leaves touch the ice (they’ll frost and turn black).  Thanks to Bryan for hand modeling, and for being as enthusiastic about fresh local edibles as I am.

 

tomatoes in green basket 2

 

Recipe Sketch: About a Million Ways to Make Orange Marmalade

 

thick marmalade chopping

 

Remember when I posted about how to make French toast, and the “failed” orange sauce I had tried making to go with it?  Well, it wasn’t that bad in the end.   In fact, at least a few of my friends really liked it.  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about different approaches to marmalade, and how that sauce, which seemed like it was going to be a total waste of time and effort, did actually come together, and with a little more time and effort, become something good.  Here I send out a silent (yet public—interesting) prayer to the universe that I will one day say the same about all the things which that sauce represented to me on the first of this year.

 

Anyway, orange marmalade:

It’s really just a combination of orange peels, juice, and sugar (and usually pectin to thicken it for canning).  My New Year’s orange spread had all of the pith inside the peel, and all of the membrane around the orange slices, still in it too.  I just washed & sliced the oranges (discarding the ends), pulled out the center strings of pithy stuff, chopped the slices to get out the seeds, and put them in the food processor.   I added the juice of a couple more oranges, and some sugar to the pot, and started boiling it on the stove.  For a while, it seemed like a kind of bitter, barely cooked orange goo … and eventually I realized that I was going to have to add a lot more liquid, and a lot more cooking time, and some more sugar.  All the pithy parts of the orange needed to absorb a LOT of liquid in order to cook down, more than I wanted to juice oranges for, so I started adding water.  After that, all it needed was time—a couple of hours of simmering on the stove.  Check on it periodically, adding more water and sugar to taste as necessary, until all the parts of the orange are tender enough to eat on toast, and the sauce tastes as sweet as you want.  The result has a full, whole-orange flavor—some of the bitterness remains, but you get lots of other flavor elements as well.  At the time, I didn’t feel like taking a picture of the finished whole-orange sauce, but it comes out mostly opaque and pale orange, with darker bits of peel mixed in.

I’ve made a quick kumquat marmalade using a similar method.  Kumquats have a lot of seeds, so be sure to chop them in quarters and check each one for seeds before putting them in the food processor.  They don’t have very much pith or membrane at all though, so you can cook them fairly quickly into some tasty preserves.  Just add juice and sugar and boil them on the stove until you get the consistency you want.

On the other end of the cooked-orange-peel-and-juice spectrum from the whole orange spread is a quick thin sauce we made quite a lot a couple of years ago, because it’s awesome on crêpe.  It’s mostly orange juice, with just the thin outer peel grated into it.  Save a little fresh juice, and put the rest in a small saucepan with the peel.  Add sugar to taste as you go, and boil until it thickens somewhat.  Add the reserved juice back in when the sauce is done, it brings the brightness of fresh orange to blend with the more mellow cooked flavors.

 

thin marmalade finished

 

And of course, you could use other citrus.  You could blend them.  You could add honey, or a different juice, or another sweetener you like.  You could cook it thick or thin, add pectin, can it, freeze it … At first I was going to wait to post this until I had tried a few more variations, maybe one somewhere in between these in terms of how much pith is in it.  But the more I thought about it, the more ideas for different marmalade I thought of, and it seemed pretty silly not to just put this idea out there and let you all do whatever you want with it.  It might be a fun way to wait for spring.

 

An Efficient Way to Chop Fruit

 

 

chopping fruit 1

 

I’d like this blog to be, at least in part, a primer for those didn’t have a mom or grandpa who could show them the basics of a handmade life.  A lot of the tricks that really help are about efficiency.  This post is pretty much an extension of the one about chopping vegetables, and most of my thoughts about efficiency and hobbies are there.  But I wanted to add a bit about fruit.

I cut up fruit, using exactly this method, every single morning that I can, and have it for breakfast.  I’ve found that if I don’t cut it up and put it in a bowl, I won’t eat it, it just seems too messy or something, but I really like eating it out of a bowl with yogurt, raisins, and nuts.  In the summer, I’ll use ripe melons, berries, whatever is fresh, but in the winter, it’s all about pears and apples.  I love this breakfast any time!

It’s also true that guests will devour fruit that is cut up and ready to eat, but tend to leave whole fruit in a bowl alone.

So, let’s get started.  Just like for veggies, one of the keys is having a big knife, so you can cut whole sections at once.  Using a small knife makes it take forever, and at least for me, anything that takes forever is not going to be a daily occurrence.

It’s pretty much all about the photos from here on down.

Cut the fruit into quarters.  Then cut out the cores.

 

chopping fruit 2

In the pear crisp recipe, I mentioned that I love it when pears are ripe enough to cut the core out in one smooth stroke.  This is what I mean, this one barely is ripe enough, you can feel where to slide the knife along the edge of the hard core, from the top to the bottom.

Then slice the fruit quarters.  Cut the slices thick or thin, depending on if you’re going to chop the slices or leave them as is, if they’re for presentation or for a pie, etc.

 

chopping fruit 3

 

If you want chunks of fruit, hold the slices together and chop them again.

 

chopping fruit 4

 

So, that’s pretty much it …  There’s only one difference for apples, you can’t slide the knife around the core, so cut it out from each side on the diagonal.  Once you cut one side, you can give the apple quarter a little flick and it will spin on its round base to the other side.

 

chopping fruit 5

 

chopping fruit 8

 

chopping fruit 6

 

There you go, three minutes later, breakfast.  Did I mention I love breakfast?

 

chopping fruit 7

 

How to Make French Toast—and Happy New Year

With variations, tips and tricks to customize your own perfect French toast recipe.

 

french toast in skillet

 

It took me long enough, right?  (Can you believe it’s been almost two years?  Yeah, me neither.)  For a blog with this name, which features recipes, the lack of actual directions for making French toast was getting a little ridiculous.  Here’s the thing, I didn’t want to post just a recipe for French toast, that seemed silly, everyone already knows how to make French toast, right?  Instead I would put together some marvelous, unheard-of combination of toppings and put that in a post, with the actual French toast just included almost as a by-the-way, here’s how I make it.

I started off yesterday morning with just such a plan, to make a seasonal orange-based sauce.  I wasn’t going to tell you this next part, but it now seems important: it did not go well.  In fact, it reminded me specifically of the part of the year just passed that I would very much NOT like to repeat in the year to come: me trying very hard for a goal which I (perhaps) have somehow misjudged in one or more ways, expending a lot of time and energy but not quite getting where I’d like to go.

I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at first, this seemed like the most inauspicious possible sign for January 1.  Then, as it rolled around in my brain a little more, I started to think that maybe the failed orange sauce (it came out ok after all) was a cautionary tale, and if I took it the right way, I could use it to steer away from the process I don’t want, and towards the one I do.

 

french toast on plate

 

I started thinking; maybe just French toast is enough.  Of course not everyone already knows how to make it.  Especially since I have some tips and ideas to get you started with your own never-before-seen, awesome variations.  After all, this space is supposed to be about empowering you to make things, and not about me showing off, even though I love sharing the things I make here.

In 2014, I’d like to be more grounded, less hectic.  I still have a million dreams of every kind, so many things that I’d love to do.  But my journey towards them might not be about reaching as far as I possibly can in one grasp, or frantically trying to fit as much as I possibly can into every single day.  Maybe it will be more about doing one little bit at a time, and even about recognizing and sharing the good bits I already have right in front of me.

Happy New Year, friends!  May it be a good one for all.

 

How to Make French Toast

 

First, and most importantly, you need bread.  You can use any kind, and it’s not just a metaphor, or part of the 6 words I chose to describe my life, it really is the best possible use for bread that’s staler than you’d like to eat it.  Brioche, or banana bread, or any other thing that’s called a “bread” and maybe borders on dessert, will make amazing, Ann-Sather-worthy French toast.  I’ve used my homemade bread for our most recent versions.  As always, a quality bread (or any ingredient) will lend even more layers of subtle delicious flavor to the toast (or any finished dish), but it also may be a tastier use for a less-than-stellar bread than eating it alone.  How much batter the bread will soak up varies wildly depending on the type of bread and how dry it is, etc.

Next, you need some egg and stuff to soak the toast in.  I like it to be mainly egg, because I do not like the inside of the bread to be soggy when it’s done.  I like to whisk up the egg etc. in a glass dish with a flat bottom rather than in a bowl, so I can put a few pieces of bread in to soak at a time, and not be left with a little well of liquid at the bottom that the bread can’t reach.  For about 6 pieces of bread (again, this varies a LOT depending on your bread, but you can always add a little more to the pan) I use:

3 eggs, whisked up well with:

1/4 cup milk (it’s Ok to substitute non-dairy milk here)

A pinch of salt

A larger pinch of sugar

Next, add some flavorings to the egg mixture—whatever your heart desires.  A generous sprinkle of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger and a pinch of cloves is a good way to start, especially in winter.  A splash of liqueur is good—for an especially luxurious version, substitute a generous splash of cream for the milk, and add the lost liquid back in by way of brandy or rum etc.  Vanilla extract is good (but probably choose it or liqueur), or try another extract, maybe paired with a spice or two, for a unique flavor.  I especially like to compliment whatever I’m planning to put on top with a bit of something in the batter, but keep it fairly subtle.

french toast soakingSoak the toast in the batter for a few minutes, then flip the slices over, and let them soak for another couple minutes.

To cook the toast, heat up a heavy skillet over medium heat and melt some butter in it, maybe 1/2 Tablespoon butter for four slices (in my little skillet I used less).  The toast should sizzle when it hits the pan, and the egg batter should start to set up right away.  It only takes a few minutes to get lovely brown spots on the bottom side, at which point flip the toast over.  You may need to add a little more butter between batches.

If not all of the toast is done at once, you can keep it warm on plates in the oven at 200° F, until you’re ready to serve it.

For toppings, really, the sky is the limit.  It’s—ahem—delicious with just real maple syrup and homemade crème fraîche.  A little orange zest (or even iffy orange sauce) is really good with this basic setup.  Practically any fresh seasonal fruit is amazing on French toast, strawberries in spring are particularly wonderful.  Any jam you have is good.  Coarsely chopped toasted nuts are great (bread with nuts in it would also be great as base).  Melted butter, fruit syrup, whipped cream . . .

Some of my favorite flavor combinations may yet appear as time goes on.  Please share yours as well!

 

A Simple and Delicious Way to Cook Artichokes

 

artichokes on plate

 

Phew—who’s ready for a break and some easy cooking?  I know I am.  As I mentioned in this post about broiled asparagus, spring came along just in time for me this year.  I’ve been busting my booty over my recently launched beginning sewing e-book for the last couple of months, so anything that tasted delicious and and fresh without a whole lot of time and effort in the kitchen was a major bonus.  We’ve eaten a lot of artichokes this spring.

I love artichokes.  That time of spring when they appear at our CSA farm store, tiny and fresh and beautiful in their variations, would get me excited whether or not I needed some easy food options.  So we’ve eaten a lot of them, practically one every day for a while there.  I also wasn’t running to the store unless absolutely necessary, so I did some experimenting with what I added and how I cooked them.  Considering how cool this spring has been in many parts of the country, I’m hoping their are still some artichokes available near you!

 

 

artichokes with lid

 

Simply Delicious Artichokes

  • Rinse the your artichokes and trim the stems flush with the bottoms.  I don’t trim any of the leaves.  Especially when they are small and fresh, I like to leave on each possible delicious morsel.  My mom cooks the stems along with the rest, but I find they are often somewhat bitter.
  • Put the artichokes in a pot in a single layer.  Use a pressure cooker if you have one (more about that below).  Either put the artichokes stem side down in the pan and add about 1/2″ of water around them, or put them in a steamer basket with either the top or the stem up and add water below.  I haven’t found any difference in how they come out with any of those methods.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil on top.  It doesn’t change the flavor very much, but it does the usual jobs of added oil: making sure that the artichokes don’t dry out and adding a little smoothness to the taste.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of lemon juice.  This doesn’t change the flavor much either, but without it the water left in the pot turns an amazing dark green color which could stain your cookware.  However, I cooked a bunch without any lemon and they came out fine.
  • Put the lid on the pot and cook until the leaves are tender.  Pull one out from somewhere in the middle, and pull the base of the leaf off with your teeth to see if it’s tender.  It’s hard to overcook them.  I knew they were taking a while to cook on my stove, but I didn’t realize how long until I started keeping track for this post.  It was anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So then I did what should have been obvious, at least at high altitude, got out the pressure cooker.  15 minutes later (12 minutes at high pressure plus warm-up and cool-down) I had cooked artichokes!

 

Ok, you knew I was going to say this, right?  But it’s no joke, artichokes are totally delicious with crème frâiche!  And possibly even more delicious with just a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar on top, so that each leaf you dip gets some of each.  If you’ve never eaten one before, there are illustrated directions here, among other places.  I may have to try a clove garlic in the water next time I make them.  But I bet the flavor of the artichokes themselves will still be my favorite part.  (By the way, they contain a chemical that can change your perception of other flavors, so beware of eating them with your best wine.)  Enjoy!

 

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .