Above: Easy, 4 Ingredient Maple-Cardamom Roasted Nuts (recipe below)
One of the first things I learned as a young university student was how to roast. No, not the way a comedian might roast a publicly elected official or celebrity; the way Ina Garten or Julia Child might roast the perfect rack of lamb. After a long day of work and classes, I found solace in the kitchen. The facts are these: roasting is simple; roasting makings everything taste better; roasting is no-fail if one knows the basic principles; and, there isn’t much a person can’t roast. If you have a doubt about how to prepare a meat, type of fish or almost any vegetable, fruit or nut – it can probably be roasted. Thank goodness we live in the age of google – use a search engine if there are any doubts. For example, you probably shouldn’t roast a brick of cheddar or can of tuna. Though it has probably been done!
When roasting, it is important to note that some oils burn at a lower temperature than others. For example, when roasting in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a vegetable or protein may burn when cooking at as low as 400 degrees F. A good EVOO is better served as a finishing oil that highlights its vibrant flavors and color in such instances. Alternatively, canola oil, safflower or light olive oil are safer and comparably healthy alternatives. They will not burn at 400 degrees F. As a matter of fact, roasting quartered, small red potatoes in canola oil can easily be done at 450 degrees F and yields golden brown, crispy and French fry (oops, I meant freedom fry!) like results in about twenty to thirty minutes. Other ways to avoid burning disasters: lower the heat for sweets. Lemon or orange juice, honey, maple syrup, yams, squash – anything with naturally occurring sugars – can burn in an instant. Keep your eyes on the oven and the heat at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on dishes that include sugars.
This whole, 4 pound rotisserie-style chicken was rubbed with one tablespoon light olive oil and then sprinkled with one teaspoon each of: dried turmeric, fennel, garlic, pepper and parsley and 1/2 teaspoon fine salt. The inside cavity was liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper and then stuffed with: one quartered lemon, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme and six smashed, peeled garlic cloves. Then, the fowl was placed (in all its glory) in a roasting pan.
Four medium, evenly diced sweet potatoes were scattered around the hen. A drizzle of oil (about two tablespoons) and a good bit of salt (1/4 teaspoon) and pepper (1/2 teaspoon) were sprinkled over the yams. Then, into the oven it went. The bird roasted in a 425 degree oven for 50 – 60 minutes, until the juices ran clear between the thigh and the breast when sliced. The internal temperature of cooked chicken should be 165 degrees F. The chicken will continue to cook, and the internal temperature will usually rise (about five degrees), after the bird is removed from the oven. This is called carry-over cooking.
The lemons, garlic and onion from the chicken cavity (above) are completely edible and delicious after the bird is cooked. They are infused with the flavor of herbs, garlic and (of course) chicken. A delicious chef snack. The onion and lemon caramelize and are the candy of the Chicken Gods. Yes, really.
The sweet potatoes are delicious on salad with kale, sliced baby portabella mushrooms, Roquefort cheese, apples or garden-fresh tomatoes, roasted nuts, dried cherries and your favorite homemade or store-bought white wine vinaigrette (herbs! garlic! Dijon! olive oil! Yes, please).
Since the bird was roasting for the oven for an hour, it made sense to utilize the heat and energy being expended by roasting some vegetables, as well. One medium squash, zucchini and eggplant from the garden were diced into even sized pieces. (Note: if you have a bitter eggplant, remove the bitterness by chopping and sprinkling the eggplant with salt, then allowing it to release water in a colander for one hour). So, onto a cookie sheet the garden goodies went. There, the vegetables were tossed in one tablespoon of light olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Then, the vegetables baked at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. I always toss any vegetable half-way through the cooking process. Out the hot vegetables came; they were immediately tossed in a serving bowl with the juice and zest of one fresh lemon, two finely minced garlic cloves and one tablespoon chopped, fresh rosemary (any herb will do!). Had these aromatics cooked with the vegetables, they would have burned. No one likes the taste of carbon! Instead, they infuse dish when sprinkled on the hot vegetables, just out of the oven.
When you roast vegetables, they taste like candy. Baby carrots become sweet beyond belief; so do grape tomatoes for that matter. Vegetables haters the world over will fall in love with them when roasted.
Speaking of candy(ing), let us not forget about roasting nuts. When the temperature is kept low and the nuts are closely monitored, roasting is a fool-proof, delicious method. Roast your nuts dry in an 375 degree oven for 8-12 minutes, remove from oven and then dust with salt immediately. If you smell burning during the cooking process, an irremediable sin has occurred. The nuts have been sacrificed, salvation is impossible and there is no undoing the damage. Remove nuts from the oven when they are the slightest bit darker than the raw color and fragrant. They will continue to cook after removed from heat; candied nuts will continue to harden while cooling. Use the recipe below for a new spin on the old nut.
Maple Cardamom Roasted Nuts
Tip: read about basic principles of roasting nuts, above
1 pound (16 ounces) nuts of your choice, mixed or uniform in variety (pecans, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, etc.)
1/4 cup grade A, pure, 100% Maple Syrup (Costco has the best variety and price for this expensive ingredient)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cardamom (or your spice of choice, such as ground red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc.)
1.) Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F and place rack in the center of oven. On a cookie sheet lined with a *Silpat or parchment paper, toss the nuts, maple syrup, spice(s) and salt together until the nuts are well-coated. Evenly press the nuts into the cookie sheet, so each nut makes contact with the parchment paper or Silpat lining.
*If you do not have Silpat or parchment (not used, below), simply toss nuts on an un-lined cookie sheet for similar results.
2.) Do not leave the room. Pour yourself a beverage, take a seat and stay put. Trust me, I have burnt a few trays of nuts in my day. From experience, I attest that there is nothing quite as disheartening as turning beautiful, expensive pecans in black death rocks of bitterness. Place the tray on the center rack of oven and allow the nuts to roast for ten to thirteen minutes (depending on the accuracy of your oven’s temperature).
3.) Stir once, halfway through the cooking process, if desired. This step may prevent sticking but is optional.* When the nuts smell fragrant and their color is slightly deepened, they are done. Really, they are done. Take those babies out!
4.) Allow the nuts to cool on the cookie sheet for about a minute. If the nuts are left too long, they will stick to the parchment paper (or the cookie sheet itself, if parchment is not used). Then, using a metal spatula (or as my Southern husband insists it be called, a “frying turner”), remove the nuts and place them in medium-sized serving bowl. They will continue to cool and harden for the next thirty minutes (will simultaneously being eaten).
5.) Store the nuts in large zip-lock bag or any air-tight container; they will last for months in terms of freshness. Though a batch of these has never remained in our pantry for more than a few days. Enjoy!
*Attempt to refrain from unnecessary opening of the oven. Utilize your oven’s light, instead. Opening the door for about ten seconds yields a twenty-five degree loss in heat and may lead to inconsistent cooking. It’s really hard not peak, though…
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