The root of things

I love roasted root vegetables. I have ever since I lived with my sister/best-friend in Providence and she would fortify us with enormous batches of that earthy, savory, caramelized winter delight. The kitchen chemistry behind roasting eludes me, however, and thus every batch I make is an experiment in faith.

Tonight I cut up most of the remainder of the past weeks’ boxes: roasting turnips, Nantes carrots, Rome Beauty apples, and some beets and garlic cloves that were not of box origin. I tossed them all with olive oil, salt, pepper, and an incredibly luxurious mountain of fresh rosemary and thyme from my last box. I lined a dish with parchment (this new-to-me miracle discovery for roasted roots turns cleaning up from a carpal-tunnel-inducing chore to just barely more than a rinse) and heated the oven to 425.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Apples and Thyme and Rosemary

I put the little fellows into the oven and checked in on them about 45 minutes later. And yes, of course, being small pieces of vegetable matter who had just spent a very long time in a very hot oven, they were cooked. Tender on my fork, and all that. But they weren’t delicious.

But they’re cooked! Take them out!, my suspicious brain cried, perhaps still mourning over the blackened husks of the Week 6 tomatillos I forgetfully abandoned in the oven for a good 3 hours. Have faith! These are merely steamed!, rejoined my stomach, remembering the almost crispy, sugary texture and flavor of those Providence roots.

So back in they went, for another 45 minutes at least – I lose track after a while and the time elapsed is at last labeled simply “a very long time in which I nervously check the oven every ten minutes lest everything burn and be horribly ruined.” In the end I simply took them out – I had lost all perspective. Were they roasted? Were they ruined?

Finally I put a forkful in my mouth. That bite had a piece of apple in it, and the apple was like sin. Like a caramel apple that’s been grilled and seared and melted and oiled and herbed until it has transcended apple, fallen from apple, into some place extraordinary. And from there, from extraordinary, into my waiting mouth.

Hot potatoes!

Two boxes’ worth of sweet potatoes and a houseguest to feed. Pascal was stopping off here on his way to India, but we saw no reason to save Indian flavors for the journey ahead.

Turning to my trusty simple-but-delicious cookbook, 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, we cooked up all those sweet potatoes with serrano chiles, mustard seeds, and ginger and made ourselves a tender, burningly spicy, smoky extravaganza of beta-caroteney goodness. A simple quinoa pilaf, beautifully combining red and white quinoa, a lettuce and arugula salad with my beloved lemon oil, and a nice soupy dal courtesy of our friends at Tasty Bite, and we were ready for the kind of well-balanced, stunningly lovely, almost revoltingly healthy kind of meal I like my houseguests to think I eat all the time.

Sweet Potatoes with Chiles, Ginger, and Mustard Seeds

Napa Cabbage in the Mist

I’ve simply given up on the lettuce, but now the abundance of napa cabbage means that it has basically become the new lettuce. (Hear that, trendsetters for ’08? Napa Cabbage is the New Lettuce!)

But then, just in time for the new year, when no napa cabbage should be left forlorn, Napa Cabbage with Shitake, Ginger, and Red Miso-Sake SauceI remembered an old recipe that I think will ensure that I’ll be eating as much of that long, tender, elegant cabbage as Eatwell can throw at me. Turning once again to my beloved Asian Vegetables cookbook, I dug out a recipe I haven’t made in years for halibut steamed in packets of napa cabbage. This was the kind of recipe that makes a lasting impression; four or five years later, my mouth can still recall perfectly the incredible taste of the dish. I don’t eat fish anymore, but the part of the dish that stands out so brightly in my memory wasn’t the halibut or even the cabbage, but rather the amazing sauce tucked in the packets alongside the fish. What I ended up with – sans halibut – was so good I went back for thirds. I have definitely found the Official Napa Cabbage Recipe of 2008. Cheers!

Napa Cabbage with Shitake Mushrooms,
Ginger Matchsticks, and Red Miso-Sake Sauce

Napa Cabbage with Shitake, Ginger, and Red Miso-Sake Sauce – 1 head napa cabbage
– 10-12 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes
– 2 inches ginger, cut into “matchstick” sized pieces
– 4 T. red miso
– 2 T. mirin (sweet rice cooking wine)
– 4 T. sake (or to taste)
– 2-3 T. sugar (or to taste)
– 1 T. water or broth (or to taste)

Slice napa cabbage across the head into pieces. Unfurl the pieces and place in a steamer basket. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms and slice into thin strips. Put mushrooms and ginger into basket with cabbage, tossing to mix. Steam for ten minutes.

To make the sauce: combine red miso, mirin, sake, sugar, and water, until you have a tasty, sweet, slightly boozy concoction that makes your mouth water with delight. Make sure it’s not too salty or strong from the miso – you can add a bit more water or broth, keeping in mind the sauce will get thinner and more unwieldy the more water you add.

And now for my exciting food-blog-geek news! For my holiday presents this year, Duck tricked me out with all kinds of treats that I’ve been yearning after as I put together In My Box. The gorgeous crackle-glaze bowl in the photos above is from a huge assortment of beautiful dishes he got for me to spice up my food plating, and the FREE-FLOATING PHOTOS (a first here and which you may notice I am A LITTLE EXCITED about) come courtesy of my incredible new D-Flector, a miraculous portable photo studio background thingamajiggy which allows me, at long last, to take pictures of my food floating in the pure mists of empty space. I’m still just barely learning how to use all my new toys (the pics above are a bit more pixelly than I’d like, for example) but I am terribly excited and predict much beautiful food to come, just so I can have the pleasure of taking pictures of it in the mist!