The Ever-Versatile Roasted Vegetables

May 11, 2011 § 7 Comments

I don’t share Dainty with my real-world colleagues as a rule. Not sure most would approve of Dainty’s exploits. But my super-awesome colleague Chris T.—the designer of the Dainty Dot logo up at the top of the page—is definitely Dainty worthy.

So when Chris T. told me yesterday that I use a lot of—too many?—ingredients, I considered it. Do I really? Salt, pepper, oils and vinegars not withstanding, I’m mentally going over my recipes and counting up. The Steel-Cut Oatmeal I’m currently eating definitely doesn’t have that many ingredients—oats, raisins, slivered almonds, maple syrup. Okay, yeah, that’s a lot for a simple breakfast. Plus, it takes 20-plus minutes to prepare. But at least you can shower while it’s cooking—that’s something.

Chris T., to show that Dainty can prepare a flavorful dish with simple ingredients and instructions, I humbly present this for your consideration: Roasted Vegetables.

It doesn’t matter what it is—beets, leeks, broccoli, and old tennis shoe—you add EVOO, salt and pepper, put it on a baking sheet or cast-iron pan in a 42F oven and you’re going to end up with something tasty. You can skip the oil maybe, but why? If anything, it helps prevent the veggie from sticking to pan. The salt and pepper add flavor, yes, but the salt also helps to draw out the vegetable’s own juices. The high heat caramelizes those juices, so you end up with a tasty savory sweetness. Want to get your children in the habit of eating veggies? Don’t serve them bland boiled bleck—lightly roast some carrots or cauliflower and let them have at it. I don’t have children and I’ve never tested this theory so it might be bunk, but you never know. Give it a try.

Roasting vegetables is my go-to method when it seems there is absolutely nothing left to cook with in the house. There’s always something—a sweet potato, an onion or leek, a pepper, something—laying around that, with a little high heat, salt, pepper and EVOO, can be incorporated into a meal. If anything, they can be tossed with penne for a simple pasta supper.

Do you need instructions? Really? Okay, here they are.

Roasted Vegetables

-Firm vegetables work best. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, winter squashes, onions, leeks work really well. Summer squashes such as yellow and zucchini, are good, too. Tomatoes … I typically use cherry tomatoes and put them in a medium-sized cast iron. They’ll burst, beware. But the flavor is phenomenal. Be forewarned—the acid will mess up your cast iron’s patina a bit. Clean immediately.

-Set your oven to 425F. I never rely on the temp gauge—your 425 may be hotter than my 425. So keep an eye on the veggies the first time you roast them to get a good idea of how your oven works.

-Veggie prep: The secret is to cut the veggies into uniform pieces for even cooking. All the sweet potatoes should be about the same size. Easily enough to do. When chopping the onion, leave them in relatively big chunks. No dicing. Broccoli and cauliflower can be kinda tricky to get into even sizes. But if some get more crispy than others, hey, that’s ok—it’s all tasty.

-Put your veg in a medium to big bowl, depending on how much you have. Add olive oil—I tip the bottle down and go once around the bowl for a small amount of veg, two to three times for more veg. Add one to two large pinches of kosher salt and several turns of a pepper mill. Toss to coat. Your hands are fine, or a wooden spoon or tongs work too. I prefer hands. Spread out evenly into a single layer in a cast-iron pan or rimmed baking sheet. Single layer! You want each veg to get in contact with the hot metal. Put in the oven and close ‘er up.

Note: What’s a large pinch? It’s a pinch that uses your thumb and your index, middle and ring fingers. It’s one finger away from a small grab. Go ahead, try it.

-Roasting time: Well, now, that all depends on what you’re roasting. Broccoli—2o minutes. Cauliflower—20-25 minutes. Beets, same thing. Sweet potatoes—up to 40 minutes. Butternut squash—35-40 minutes. Onions, leeks—15 maybe? Same with summer squashes. Asparagus, maybe 10 minutes. The softer the vegetable, the less time it takes. For softies, I check them at 12 minutes and then gauge from there. The harder the veg—like sweet potatoes—the longer it takes. For broccoli and cauliflower, I check them at 10 and give them a shaky toss. If you’re roasting a two or more different veggies—like broccoli and onions—on the same pan, I separate them so it’s easier to remove one if it’s done ahead of the other.

-When’s it done? When they turn a nice golden color, especially around the edges. Broccoli’s florets will begin to get a bit dark. That’s ok. Are the stem parts firm yet edible? You don’t want them to be floppy, but you want to be able to chew them without an awful crunch as if they are raw. Squashes—you should be able to stick a toothpick or fork into it easily but it shouldn’t be mush. Get the idea?

This weekend we made a simple pasta meal with roasted broccoli and onions and sun-dried tomatoes. We took a small handful

Roasted broccoli and onions with sun-dried tomatoes over pasta

of the tomatoes and put them in a bowl of maybe 1.5 cups of boiling water. Let them sit there while the broccoli and onions roasted and the pasta water boiled. Just before the roasting was done, we took out the tomatoes and gave them a rough chop, then threw them in with the drained pasta, a 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and the roasted veggies. We served with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Delicious. Want some meat with that, you meat-eaters? We’ve had similar dishes where we’ve added a link or two of Al Fresco chicken apple sausage cut into bite-sized pieces.

Pasta, quinoa, bulgar, rice … whatever you have, as long as you have a veggie or two around and know how to roast it, you’ve got yourself a meal. And one with not that many ingredients.

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Cast Iron Pans Can Save Your Life …

January 20, 2011 § 5 Comments

… and other reasons why you must have them in your kitchen.

It’s a bold statement, but a true one. Cast iron pans can save your life.

My 10-in. cast iron skillet sits on my stove top nearly at all times. Contractor turned into creep? Burglar breaking in? I know where to reach and how to swing that 5.25-pound flat-sided piece of smackdown. Advantage: Dainty Dot.

Self-defense is, of course, not their only use. Properly seasoned (I’ll get to that later), they are “the original non-stick pans” that don’t make you wonder about your health if you take a gouge out of the bottom. And, cleaning is a breeze. Really. Their heft, non-stick surface and easy cleaning make them must-have tools in the kitchen. Here’s a sampling of how we use them in our kitchen:

  • pan-sear fish without it sticking to the pan
  • sauteeing, gentle steaming, frying etc on the stove top
  • roasting veggies in the oven
  • baking cornbread and croutons in the oven
  • toasting nuts
  • weighing down things, e.g. putting one or two cast irons on top of a pile of salted eggplant to coax out water
  • turn it upside down over a flame to create a griddle surface! (admittedly, I’ve never done that – yet)

One friend used her cast iron skillet to create a rodent crime scene, but let’s not go there …

Maintaining Cast Iron: Get Over It, It’s Not That Difficult Dude

So, we know cast iron pans are the Clydesdales of the kitchen. What, you don’t want to “go to all that work” of maintaining them? Let’s say for a minute that you have taken the wuss’s way out and have purchased a “pre-seasoned” cast iron pan. You’ve cooked with it for the first time. Now it’s time for clean-up. Here’s what you do:

  1. With a bit of water, use a detergent-free scrubby or brush to clean off any debris in the pan. NO DETERGENT. The cast iron’s essentially non-stick surface allows all the excess oils and bits to dislodge easily.
  2. Put the cast iron pan on a burner. Turn it to high. And watch the pan. The water left in the pan will evaporate. When all the water is gone – every last drop – turn the burner off.
  3. Now, add a couple of drops of vegetable oil to the pan. Using a paper towel, spread that oil over the inner surface of the pan nice and good.
  4. You’re done.

A couple of things. No detergent: That’s because the detergent will begin to break down the oils that are used to season the pan. You’ll wreck your non-stick surface that you (or the factory) have worked so hard to create. Let all water in the pan evaporate: Otherwise, your cast iron pan will rust. Bleck. Use vegetable oil, as opposed to olive oil, which might be tempting if you keep a bottle of it ready by your stove. I believe veg oil has a higher smoke point. Whatever it is, the olive oil will smoke way more easily on this VERY HOT pan. And it’ll smell god-awful.

Think of the pan as your pet. You’re not going to NOT feed Fluffy because you didn’t feel like it, right? Because Fluffy is NOT going to let you get away with that. Neither is your pan. If you don’t care for it properly, it’s not going to work for you properly. It won’t poop on your pillow like Fluffy would, but your cast iron will revolt and leave rust spots either in itself or on the bottom of your sink. So, take the two minutes it asks for to make the pan clean and happy.

Starting With a Virgin Pan

If you buy a regular-old non-seasoned cast iron pan, you’ll need to give it a seasoning treatment before you start cooking with it. But it’s simple, and usually the instructions come with the cast iron. Rub a thin coat of vegetable oil over the pan’s entire surface – inside and out. Put it on a rack in a 325F-350F oven. Put a baking sheet on a rack under it to catch any drips. Leave it in there an hour or so. Take it out. Let it cool. Bingo.

Rust. Crap.

IF an intruder has come into your home and used your handy cast iron skillet to cook a meal and then washed it out with detergent or left it to rust in the sink (because I know you would never do that), the pan’s life isn’t over. You can rescue it with some steel wool, some elbow grease, and a few cuss words. If the pan is in HORRIBLE shape, you may want to rub it down with oil and pop it in the oven to bake on its own for an hour. Otherwise, a good rust-scrubbing and routine seasoning should do the trick.

Our Own Cast Iron

What I love about cast iron is that brand doesn’t really matter. Lodge is the It brand for cast iron. And I’m sure it’s awesome. But my set of three cast iron pans (10-in, 8-in, 6-in) were purchased as a gift for me by my mother back in 1991 from Caldor for $17. Not $170. Just $17. And I’ve used them pretty much every day since. Caldor doesn’t even exist today, dude! But the pans live on.

We also “found” a set of cast iron in an old rented apartment a few years back—those were OLD and very well-seasoned. And an old girlfriend bought me an 8-in. Lodge. I never use it. The handle – at just 4.5 inches long – is too short to get good leverage on holding the pan easily. My Caldor 8-incher has a 5.5-in. handle. Much better.

All told, we have two 10-inchers that are in constant use, four 8-inchers (anyone want that Lodge pan?) and one 6-incher that is ideal for toasting nuts on the stove top. And a 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven.

What NOT to Cook In Cast Iron

Eggs. Definitely. Your pan will smell like eggs for days. Not sure why the smell – and taste, even – lingers. It just oozes into the pan’s pours. Plus, scrambled eggs are the only things I’ve seen stick to cast iron. Stay. Away.

Tomato sauces or soups. The acids in the sauce will begin to eat away at the pan’s seasoned surface. It’s not horrible, it can be fixed. But save yourself the trouble and use another implement.

That’s why you keep those way-more-expensive All-Clads around, after all.

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