Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roasted Root Vegetables

We have a very large tupperware at our house. It holds about 26 cups of stuff (in the past it has stored chex mix, pasta salad, and fruit salad). It currently sits in our refrigerator, taking up way too much space, with a big heap of roasted root vegetables in it.

To say that I like roasted root vegetables would be an understatement. To say that I like to make a lot of roasted root vegetables would also be an understatement. More than stuffing, carrot ring, and cranberry sauce, I look forward to these roasted vegetables on the Thanksgiving table. Forget about mashed potatoes; at our house, roasted root vegetables are king.

(I wonder how many times the phrase "roasted root vegetables" has been used in the span of seven sentences. My apologies for the lack of phrase variation.)
Mass quantities of roasted root vegetables = heaven.

Anyway, one of my favorite things about this recipe is that it's really more of a method than precise instructions. Once you learn the technique, you can craft dozens of different variations with all kinds of vegetables. This year, our mix included carrots, parsnips (my favorite of the bunch), sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, butternut squash, pearl onions, and cremini mushrooms. However, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, beets, and even celery, which takes on a wonderful savory flavor when roasted, would also be delicious.
I chop furiously. It's kinda fun.

The real wild card in the dish is the roasted garlic and herb mixture that gets mixed in at the very end. Smashed roasted garlic gets tossed with a heap of fresh parsley and rosemary (other woody herbs like sage and thyme also taste great) and added to the melange right before serving. The sweetness of the roasted garlic, along with the fresh herb flavor, really elevates the more humble vegetables and takes them from delicious to absolutely fabulous. Without a doubt this is my favorite thing to eat during the holidays (and a good thing because I made enough to last until Christmas).
Roasted Root Vegetables

You can prepare this dish early in the day if you like. Just cover the roasted vegetables. When you are ready to serve them, warm them in an oven and top them with the garlic-herb mixture. If you prefer, you can peel the root vegetables, but I love the texture (and nutrition) that the peels provide. As I said before, you can substitute or add in other root vegetables if you like. Just be sure to cut them into similarly-sized pieces. If you choose to add beets, rutabagas, or celery, cook them along with the root vegetables. If you choose to add Brussels sprouts, halve or quarter them and cook alongside the mushrooms and onions. We use a large disposable aluminum roasting pan (the kind you'd use to roast a turkey) for the root vegetables. It's very important both to season the vegetables liberally and to toss them every 15 or so minutes so that they cook evenly (this is a lot of vegetables we're talking about here). We cook the vegetables using our oven's "convection roast" setting. If your oven doesn't have this setting, roast at the same temperature, keeping in mind that it may take longer for the vegetables to cook through. To ensure even cooking, just toss every 15 minutes until they are tender.

Yield: an insanely large amount; at least 20 servings

2 pounds carrots
2 pounds parsnips
2 large sweet potatoes
2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms
2 (10-ounce) bags of pearl onions
10-12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Large handful of fresh parsley
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Adjust two oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, and butternut squash into 3/4-inch to 1-inch pieces. It's important that the root vegetables be close to the same size so that they cook at the same rate. Place in a large roasting pan and set aside.

Halve or quarter the mushrooms and place on a foil-lined half-sheet pan. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. When it has reached a bowl, drop in one of the bags of pearl onions. Cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the onions to cool them down. Using a paring knife, peel the outer layer off the pearl onions and add to the half-sheet pan with the mushrooms. Repeat with the second bag of pearl onions. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves to the half-sheet pan, too.

Lightly drizzle the root vegetables with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. (You can also spray them with nonstick cooking spray and achieve the same result.) Toss the vegetables with your hands to ensure they are sufficiently and evenly seasoned. Repeat with the mushrooms and onions.

Place the roasting pan of root vegetables on the lower middle rack of the oven and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes have passed, carefully and quickly toss the vegetables with a large spoon. Roast for another 15 minutes and toss again.

After the root vegetables have been roasting for 30 minutes (they will have been tossed twice), place the mushrooms and onions in the oven on the upper middle rack. Roast for 15 minutes and again toss both the root vegetables and mushroom-onion mix.

Roast for a final 15 minutes, or until the root vegetables are browned and fork tender. The mushrooms will be browned (and shrunken) and the onions will also have taken on some color. Remove all the vegetables from the oven and let cool while you prepare the garlic-herb mixture.

Finely chop both the parsley and rosemary and place into a small dish. Peel and mash the roasted garlic and add to the herb mixture. Mix the herbs and garlic together.

Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter, add the garlic-herb mixture, and toss to incorporate everything together. Serve hot.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Rogovin Family Stuffing

Let's talk about stuffing. Or, rather, dressing. I think some people take the difference between the two terms very seriously, but in our house, even though the only thing it stuffs is our bellies, it's always been stuffing.

For the past two years, I've been dying to make a homemade stuffing. I dreamed of toasted cubes of artisanal breads, sauteed wild mushrooms, buttered leeks, and woodsy rosemary and sage. Despite the deliciousness of the stuffing that we have made every year since I can remember, I was fully willing to cast it aside for a "foodier" (a word I just made up meant to signify more "foodie"-like; reminds me of "truthiness," but I digress...) recipe. You see, we use the Pepperidge Farms stuffing cubes in our recipe. Unfortunately, my food snob mentality had me believing that the entire product was pre-made (like that jiggly cranberry mold that comes from the can) and therefore unacceptable on our Thanksgiving table.

And then, a revelation.

Like so many things on this great earth of ours, the revelation came from Ina Garten. I was watching a Thanksgiving episode of hers, and she made stuffing with the same Pepperidge Farm stuffing cubes that we do! If it's good enough for Ina, it's certainly good enough for me. (I did not, however, approve of her serving cupcakes for Thanksgiving dessert. Really, Ina? I know it wasn't her actual Thanksgiving dinner, but the thought is unsettling enough.) Gosh, I am such a food snob.

Anyway, this recipe is so delicious that I've convinced my mom that we need to make two pans to keep up with people's demands for it. The recipe below makes only one pan and that will certainly be enough if you don't have ravenous stuffing-philes in your home.

Unlike many stuffing recipes, this one contains no meat and no butter. It does contain savory mushrooms and celery, which are moistened with chicken stock and baked with those bread cubes into a tried and true stuffing that is just as delicious covered in gravy, on a turkey sandwich, or completely unadorned (my preference). You would never guess that ingredients this simple could make something so incredibly scrumptious.
Rogovin Family Stuffing

You can assemble the stuffing early in the day (or the night before) and refrigerate it, covered in aluminum foil, until you are ready to bake it. The oven temperature and baking time are pretty flexible. We bake the stuffing at 325 because it cooks along with the more delicate carrot ring. However, you could increase the baking temperature and decrease the time accordingly to suit your baking schedule. Just look for visual cues that the stuffing is done: a moist interior and crunchy top layer.

Yield: 10-12 servings

8 ounced cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
5 stalks of celery, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 bag of Pepperidge Farm herbed stuffing cubes

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix mushrooms and celery with chicken stock. Add stuffing cubes and toss to coat. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is golden and toasty. Serve hot.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Thanksgiving

Less than 48 hours from now, I will be baking up a storm, most likely covered in flour, cinnamon, and thick cheesecake batter. Our (smallish) kitchen will be in disarray, and I'll be telling my mom, "Don't worry, I'm going to clean it up later." The (incredibly annoying) whir of the ice cream maker will tune out the Food Network playing in the background. It will smell like fresh apples and nutmeg.

That's a nice picture, isn't it? My love for Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday, is pretty much summed up in that the above scenario is not only completely enticing for me but also incredibly relaxing. There is no place that I'd rather be on the fourth Thursday of November than in the kitchen with my mom, cooking the many dishes that will grace our table. (Another way to gauge my love for Thanksgiving: it's the only non-school day of the year that I voluntarily wake up before 8 o'clock. So many things to make and so little time means you have to start early!)

For the most part, our main menu remains pretty similar from year to year, but it's always comforting to actually go through the process of detailing everything we'll make. This year we are having six for dinner (my mom, dad, and I, plus my Chinese roommate Chen and my grandparents). Since normally it's only four for dinner (my mom, dad, sister, and I), having an extra two is somewhat of a justification for making so much delicious food.

I'm fully committed to documenting the whole process of putting together our meal this year, but in the meantime, here's a preview of what's on the main menu....

Turkey and Gravy: This year we - actually, my dad - are roasting the whole bird. The turkey and gravy has been his domain for as long as I can remember. I see no reason to mess with what works.
Stuffing: We doctor up Pepperidge Farms stuffing cubes and always make sure to make a double batch. Even though we make two pans, the stuffing is always the first thing to go.
Green Beans with Toasted Walnuts and Dried Cherry Vinaigrette: For as long as I could remember, we had tender-crisp French string beans with buttered slivered almonds. Last year we broke out of that routine with a delicious green bean dish with walnuts and a lemon vinaigrette. I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and thought, Why not? It's already received rave reviews on a blog that I read.
Roasted Root Vegetables: The ho-hum name of this dish does not even come close to measuring its awesomeness or how much I love it. I would be perfectly content with a big bowl of roasted root vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I take my roasted vegetables seriously, and after a few years of tweaking with ingredients, I finally have the recipe down. Stay tuned on this front.
Carrot Ring: A family favorite. I cannot wait to eat this. It only comes around once a year, so I do my best to savor every bite.
Three Types of Cranberries: Yes, we love cranberries in our household. I love having a variety because it allows you to experience different textures and flavors so that nothing gets boring. The first type is a cranberry relish that is completely raw. My mom has been making it for years and it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. The second is a cranberry conserve from Ina Garten that we've also been making for years now. It's a more traditional style of cranberry sauce, but it's better than anything you can get out of a can. The third rendition pays homage to cranberry jelly, or the stuff that plops out of a can with ridges still intact. My dad loves the canned stuff, but he was the only one who ate it. Last year I made a homemade version and it was absolutely wonderful (and beautiful!).
Applesauce: I prefer my applesauce very simple and not too sweet, which, with the cranberries, complements the more savory side dishes incredibly well.
Rolls and Butter: Alas, not homemade this year. One day....

But enough about the main meal, let's get to the good stuff. If you know me (or have been reading this blog for a while), you know that I think very long and hard about desserts. I'm notoriously fickle when it comes to choosing what sweets to make. But I can't help it, and when the stakes are raised as high as they are on Thanksgiving (a holiday revolving around food), the pressure is really on to make the best possible desserts. (Note that we'll be having eight for dessert, hence the large spread.)

Pecan Pie: It's my grandpa's favorite. I'm also totally psyched (not psyched out) for making homemade pie crust this year.
Pumpkin Cheesecake: My favorite homemade cheesecake. It's another thing that I only eat once a year, if that often, so it's really special when I do.
Apple Bread Pudding with Rum Raisins: I really wanted to make a bread pudding recipe and somehow incorporate sauteed apples into it. I searched for weeks for a recipe and had a few hopefuls. Like so many things, the answer was right under my nose. Deb at Smitten Kitchen, a blog that I adore and have read for years, has a recipe that was just what I had in mind. (The rum raisins are our idea, though. Gotta love rum raisins.)
Pear Crisp: At first I suggested a spice cake with caramelized pears, but my mom was worried it would be too much bread. Fair enough. She had a fruit crisp in mind, and since apples were already utilized in the bread pudding, my thoughts naturally went to pears. We're going to use an America's Test Kitchen recipe, so I'm confident it will be delicious (and foolproof).
Autumn Spiced Ice Cream: The minute I saw this recipe (back in September), I knew we would make it for Thanksgiving. Katie tried it out a few weeks ago and gave positive feedback. The only downside to making homemade ice cream at Thanksgiving is how intensely irritating the noise is that the ice cream machine makes.

Because Georgia Tech has classes all the way until Wednesday, I won't be home until late Wednesday afternoon (at the earliest). Thankfully, most of these desserts are best when made ahead. The cheesecake needs to chill overnight, and the bread pudding will be just fine left to soak overnight, as well. The pecan pie takes all of 10 minutes to make, so that's no issue. The ice cream is also not too labor-intensive.

(You may be wondering why I don't just make fewer desserts, but where's the fun in that?)

I can't convey how much I am looking forward to this Thanksgiving. After four months of college food, a homey, comforting meal is just what I need.

What are your plans this year for Thanksgiving? What are you cooking? How much are you looking forward to leftovers (the best part!)?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cinnamon Sugar Love

Today is my mom's birthday.
This is her favorite cookie (the snickerdoodle, in case you were wondering; on a polka dot napkin, in case you were curious).

Although I can't bake for her truly, I am sending her virtual treats, covered in cinnamon sugar love.
We made these the other day on our hall. It must have been fate that two days before my mom's birthday we just happened to make her all-time favorite cookie.
Happy birthday, mom. I love you. Much more baking will follow in the coming weeks, and I can't wait.

xxoo, Sara

P.S. Have you ever wondered why your favorite cookie is one that is predetermined to have shortening in it? Just sayin'....