Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This concludes our vegetable chapter!

*phew* Getting there. Trying hard not to be distracted by NaNoWriMo plans.

Yes, I do know someone whose mother blew the door off a microwave with a squash. I also know two people who have blown up pies (including the glass pie plates). And I, myself, blew up a pizza stone. Cooking can be dangerous.

I feel a little odd writing about steamed vegetables, because I never ever steam veggies. Ugh. I guess I should add that to my to-test list. But still, ugh. Flavorless!

Steamed Vegetables

When food is steamed, it is cooked in a pot with a tight-fitting lid and with a small amount of water. The food is suspended above the water with a steamer basket (or with a plate stacked on a bowl, or other ad hoc device.) The water becomes steam, and the steam cooks the food.

Cooking vegetables in steam is useful if you need to remove all butter and oil from your diet. There are some disadvantages to cooking with steam, however. First, because no oil is used in the cooking, and because no browning of the food occurs, the results will not be as flavorful as sautéing, baking, or broiling. Second, it is easy to overcook foods, because you can’t watch the food to judge its doneness. Third, if all of your water boils away and you continue to heat the pot, you can permanently damage the pot.

With that said, you can treat steaming much like you would treat sautéing (#): use it to cook bite-sized pieces of almost any vegetable. Once cooked, you can season and eat the veggie as a side dish, or store in the refrigerator for a few days to then pop on top of salad (#), toss into a quick pasta (#) or curry (#) or soup (#) or omelette (#) or. . . The sky is the limit!

Baked Vegetables

When you have a half hour to get dinner on the table and want a hands-off way to cook some flavorful veggies, try this. Preheat the oven to 350. With just about any vegetable wash or peel, and cut it into slices about ½ inch thick. Roll these slices in some oil (preferably olive), lay them in a single layer in a casserole dish or a cookie sheet with edges, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 20 minutes.

If you want more veggies, make it two layers thick and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

Leafy greens and broccoli don’t cook well by this method, but squash, zucchini, root vegetables, and eggplant do.

Potatoes, of course, are known for being baked whole. You can bake just about any large root vegetable whole. Just be aware that it will take longer to bake a whole vegetable - up to an hour, or longer. Poke a few fork holes in your large vegetables before baking, to prevent it from exploding. (Potatoes don’t usually explode, but when they do, they can make quite a mess.) To bake larger vegetables, see Baked Winter Squash, #, below.

Baked Winter Squash

Cutting raw squash is difficult, so the best way to deal with it is to avoid cutting it as much as possible until it is cooked. With smaller squashes, this means cutting the squash in half, scooping out the seeds, and baking. Bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet until a fork easily pierces the squash through the rind. This will take at least 40 minutes. You can cook it cut-side up, or cut-side down. If the squash is to be eaten as a savory dish, sprinkle the cut side with a bit of salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil (preferably olive). Leave off these additions if you intend to use your baked squash for pie.

For larger squashes, such as pumpkins, you need only cut a dime-sized hole all the way into the hollow interior so that it does not explode while cooking. (And make no mistake: a squash will explode if you do not cut a hole in it before cooking. I have heard of a microwave door being blown off by an inexperienced cook messing around with squash.) Once the squash has had a hole cut into it, bake at 350 degrees until easily pierced by a fork. This may take an hour or more. Remove the seeds before serving.

Baked squash can be served as a plain vegetable, topped with brown sugar, salt, pepper, or maple syrup. It can also be served mashed. To mash, scoop the pulp into a pan, add a little water or milk, and mash with a potato masher

A large squash will generally contain more pulp than you will want to eat for dinner. Cooked squash freezes beautifully, however, so you can pop it in the freezer and reheat as needed.

Dishes such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin French toast require pumpkin puree. For this, you need a blender. Simply put pulp and a little water in a blender and blend until you have a paste. This paste can be frozen for later use.

Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are edible, but they are not as tasty as the smaller “sugar pumpkins” which were bred for cooking. Some squashes, such as hubbard squash, taste even better. In fact, if you read the ingredients on a can of “pumpkin”, often you will see that it isn’t actually pumpkin in the can at all, but another sort of squash!

Broiled Vegetables

Broiling is just like baking a single layer of vegetables (See #). The difference is that broiling imparts a grilled flavor.

With just about any vegetable, first wash or peel, and then cut it into slices about ½ inch thick. Roll these slices in some oil (preferably olive), lay them in a single layer in a casserole dish or a cookie sheet with edges, sprinkle with salt and pepper. (If this is your first time broiling, see #) Move the top oven wrack so that the food will be just three or four inches from the heat source. Set the oven to broil, and cook the food until it starts to develop small blackened spots. If necessary, flip the vegetable slices over and repeat.

This method works particularly well with red peppers. In this case, broil the peppers whole. Cook them, turning occasionally, until the outside of the peppers is entirely blackened. Then, in a bowl of water, peel off the burned skins. Discard the stems and seeds, douse the cooked pepper in olive oil, and delight in a tasty Italian treat!

Mashed Potatoes and Other Vegetables

Potatoes are not the only veggie that taste good mashed. Just about any root vegetable can work nicely. You can also mix vegetables. For instance, you can cook a beet along with potatoes to make hot pink mashed potatoes. Mashed yams or sweet potatoes are particularly good.

Scrub or peel your vegetables, and chop them into rough chunks. (The smaller the chunks, the faster they will cook.) Cover with water in a pot, and set them on high heat until the pot boils. (Caution: the starch in root vegetables will make the boiling water more bubbly than normal, and the pot can easily overflow.) Once boiling, turn down the heat just enough to maintain a gentle boil, and let the veggies cook for about 15 minutes. You will know the veggies are done when a fork will go through a piece with little resistance.

Then, drain the water. (You can use the pot lid to hold the veggies in the pot while you pour out the water, if you don’t want an extra dish to wash.) Add a splash of milk or a lump of butter to the pot, and mash with a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste. Other spices, such as dried garlic, are also nice to add.

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