Photo by Bill Ives. Used with permission.
So much for posting regularly. Work, snow, various ailments, you know, the usual excuses. I have been cooking, though, enough to have something to talk about.
For one thing, I’ve been roasting vegetables. Between carrots and turnips, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and, my favorite, sweet potatoes, they’ve been really successful. Roasting brings out the sugars, crisps things up (if you get it right), and walks that full flavored line between the overcooked, watery taste of steamed vegetables and the crunch of salads. I like salads, but not all the time.
The technique I’ve worked out is pretty straightforward. The key is to use a pyrex or ceramic baking dish. You can roast on a sheet pan, especially Brussels sprouts, but to get that layer of crunch, you need a thick, heat retentive cooking vessel. Cast iron would probably work as well, but I haven’t tried it.
Wash, peel, and cut the vegs in large bite-sized pieces. Include the leaves that fall off the Brussels sprouts after you cut off the bottoms and slice them in half. They crisp up nicely. Wash everything and drain it well to keep the pieces from steaming.
Preheat the oven to 425. When my mother last moved, she gave me about 5 variously shaped Pyrex dishes, so I have plenty and can put each vegetable in a separate dish. They cook at different rates and this lets me pull things out that are going too fast. Like shish kabob skewers—I do each vegetable separately and then pull everything off the skewers into a big pile. But I digress.
Put the pieces in the dish(es) and sprinkle with some olive oil. I usually free pour (my cooking oil has a liquor bottle spout) to what works out to 2 or 3 tablespoons. Every time I measure, I end up adding a splash or two more.
The vegetables take between 30 and 45 minutes. Do not turn them for the first 20, at least, or until the bottom crust is well formed. Turn them too soon and the crust sticks to the dish. If you think of it, shake the pans every five minutes or so when you first start to keep the pieces from sticking. I usually forget. You can add some springs of rosemary or thyme, cracked pepper, or a splash of pomegranate molasses, as Susan Russo once suggested. However, Sarah likes simple tastes, and some sea salt and fresh black pepper at the end is enough.
Last weekend, our friends Bill and Bobbie came out and, in addition to the roasted vegetables, I braised some veal. The cut was a boned veal breast, rolled into a neat roast. My mother used to slice a pocket in the bone-in breast and stuff it (typically with a matzo farfel based stuffing). My braising bible, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens, has a couple of veal shoulder recipes, figs and sherry or almonds, raisins, and Marsala, as well as a simple veal breast. The shoulders take about an hour and a half, the breast—bone-in in her case—takes two and half. Sarah picked the fig and sherry and since Bill spent a lot of time in Spain, it fell together nicely. I did the recipe using the tied breast, cooking it the extra hour or so until it felt right. Except for cutting the figs smaller next time, I’d do the recipe again in a heartbeat. The meat was tender, the sauce was unctuous, and there were complements all around. I added an orange-avocado-red onion-arugula-olive salad from a Spanish cookbook I have.
The meat was delicious and since the meat was grass fed, it was pretty flavorful. The braising was definitely the way to go with it. In fact, I wondered what someone who bought it as a roast might think and whether it would have been too tough. The boned breast was pretty thin, and when you cut it, it fell apart into chunks.
That’s a longer story, I think, about local butchering. When farmers bring the animals to a slaughterhouse, like Adams in Athol, Mass, they fill out a cut sheet and get back the meat already cut. Typically, it is frozen since for sale since that’s the best way to store it. It makes getting a double-thick steak, or specific cut nearly impossible, unless you can arrange for it in advance. At the North Amherst Winter Market, Batcheller Hill Farm had some rib eyes that were so amazing, I am still regretting I didn’t get any. Big, Fred Flintstone cuts, they would be perfect and if I didn’t have 30 lbs of various meats already in the freezer, with some more venison on the way, I’d have jumped.
Anyway, now that we’re able to get local and grass-fed meat from a lot of different sources, I think the next fronteir is getting some control over the butchering. Whole Foods and River Valley Market has a good butcher selection, but I forgot to ask what they can do. In the mid-70’s, I was part of the Cambridge pre-order food co-ops and we went as far as buying big bags of nuts and grains and dividing them for pick-up. I don’t see that working for meat, but still, I’d love to find a way for my favorite meat suppliers to offer more cuts to order.