Roasty-Toasty

I love the foods of fall: warm, soothing soups; hearty stews, and satisfying, meaty roasts.  As much as I like summer’s salads, my heart is gladdest in the fall, when I’m inclined to stick-to-your ribs comfort foods.  Always, on the side, are roasted root vegetables: whatever you have lying around, it works.

Roasted root vegetables are a really simple thing to make (so much so that I almost hesitated to post this recipe) but the results are always satisfying. I think I get most of my vegetable consumption from September to March, when I regularly indulge in slow-roasted, caramelized goodness. You can too:

My pan of roasted vegetables always includes the following:

5-6 waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

5-6 carrots, peeled, quartered and sliced into 3-inch lengths

5-6  parsnips, peeled, quartered and sliced into 3-inch lengths

2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled, trimmed and cut into quarters.  For added crispness, toss the sweet potato wedges in a bit of corn starch and add them to the vegetable mix just before it goes into the oven

1/2  head of garlic, cloves separated and smashed

1 medium onion, sliced ( I like big pieces of onion; feel free to cut them smaller but keep in mind that they may burn before the rest of the veggies are cooked)

2-3 golden or candy cane beets, peeled and quartered.

These are suggested amounts and vegetables, but as long as all of your vegetables are cut to about the same size, feel free to substitute what you’ve got on hand (suddenly, I’m channeling the Urban Peasant, but it’s true: use what you’ve got!) and play around with the proportions.

To prepare, prep all of the vegetables as suggested above and throw them into a big mixing bowl. Coat them with at least 1/4 cup of good olive oil, with salt and pepper to taste. Add a couple of sprigs of rosemary if that’s your preference (it’s not mine). Roast in a 400 degree F (200 degree C) oven on baking sheets for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until your vegetables are fork tender and have taken on a nice browned, carmelized sheen.

The most important thing here is to not crowd your vegetables, otherwise they steam rather than roast and you won’t get those nice crispy bits that are so satisfying. You may need to split the vegetables between two baking sheets; if so, be sure to rotate them in the oven about half-way through the cooking time.

And that’s it. Not only do these make an excellent accompaniment to roast beef, roast chicken or a side of barbequed salmon, they’re also good topped with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and a slice of warm goat cheese (take one log of goat cheese, slice into coins, drizzle with flour (I use coconut as it’s gluten-free) and sear in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil).

They also make a lovely salad, cooled and tossed with some baby greens, toasted hazelnuts, sliced apples and a vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar, honey and just a pinch of grainy mustard. Or, add a side of lentils cooked in Carol’s vegetable broth for a vegetarian meal.

Add vegetable stock to the leftovers and puree into a roasted vegetable soup (add a pinch of curry to the puree and broth and heat through. Add a dollop of yogurt to serve). 

Not that we have any leftovers, of course.

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Zoning in on Happiness

Sitting on the beaches of Greece with my family this summer, I rarely had to make a conscious effort to reach calm, diaphragmatic breathing – the kind of breathing you reach at the end of a yoga class. Yes, yes, an easy task to achieve when you are smelling the calamari on the grill, feeling the white warm sand pressing against the heels of your feet and watching the Agean sea glitter under the sun.

Looking for your pulse is usually the goal when you are in this setting…Oh wait! Here we go, I just found my heart beat– easy to do when you see your eight year old boy tackling one of your five year old twin boys and screaming out at the top of his lungs….”I’m going to fart on your face!”

Tune them out, tune them out. Now, where was I? Oh yes… drinking sweet nectar amongst the Greek gods, feeling the state of complete Utopia. George Clooney comes out of nowhere and asks, “Do you want me to put some sun screen on your back?” I know! I know! What does Clooney have to do with Greece? But this is my day dream in my day dream it’s Clooney smothering the coconut oil on my shoulder blades…Okay!

In the faint distance I hear my husband’s voice overshadow Clooney’s…”Honey!, Honey! Where is my beach towel? I can’t find my beach towel anywhere? Did you pack it?”

Travelling with four boys this summer (my husband included) had its hairy moments, but overall I have come back home to Stouffville, Ontario calmer, and most importantly, healthier than ever. Being in Greece all summer, I dove into the Mediterranean diet and life stlye.

image: wikipedia.org

When I say life style, I mean the carefree attitude the Mediterraneans live by. There is a Greek Island called Ikaria.  This island is a “Blue Zone” spot: a part of the world where people live the longest. Time is relative on this Greek island. People show up to events and occasions whenever they feel like it. Living in this manner means you never increase your heart -harming stress hormones. You know those hormones all too well…The ones that take over your body and send you into a frantic state because you and your child are running ten minutes late for a play date.

Now I’m not by no means suggesting you commit social suicide and take off your watch and show up late to every meeting and get fired, but I am implying that as mothers we should all be a little more kind to ourselves if we are running a bit late.

Following a Mediterranean diet for two months has made me feel like an Olympian athlete ready for the games. Getting my three boys ready for school in the mornings is pretty much equal playing ground. By Mediterranean diet, I don’t mean eating on the Danforth and treating yourself to a big plate of souvlaki with Greek salad and tzatziki…No! No! Meat is a once  a week treat…you must focus on whole grains, fish, beans, veggies, olive oil, and plenty of healthy greens.

Greeks consume daily these wild greens that grow in fields and sides of the road. They are incredibly tasty and are full of nutrients and have more antioxidants than green tea or wine. The more popular healthy green is “Vlita” (otherwise known as amaranth), and it can be found in specialized fruit and vegetable markets here in Canada. Vlita is simple to make. Thoroughly clean them, boil until they are soft, pour some olive oil and lemon juice over them, sprinkle some salt and opa! Ready to serve.

Eating and living healthy is the best daily spa a mother can give to herself.

Whether you live in the city of Toronto, a small town in Ontario or the Greek island of Ikaria, living healthy and making smart choices when eating is the key ingredient to living a long and happy life.

Start by making a simple fish dish for the family.

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme

4 servings

ingredients

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces of boneless salmon fillets
two tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme
two cloves of garlic, crushed
juice of two lemons
salt and pepper
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350F. Place aluminum foil on baking sheet and brush it over with a tablespoon of oil. Place salmon fillets skin down. In a small bowl put a tablespoon of oil, garlic, lemon juice, and two tablespoons of thyme and mix. Spread the mixture equally over the salmon fillets. Sprinkle some salt and pepper. Marinade for 10 minutes. Then bake salmon for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the fish looks visibly cooked and flakes easily with a fork. Place the lemon wedges on top of the fillets and they’re ready to serve.

Surviving 6 p.m.

Dinner time.

These two words strike fear in the heart of working parents everywhere. I’m sure someone out there has mastered the art of getting a nutritious, inexpensive and quick dinner (that everyone in the family will eat!) on the table every night, but it sure isn’t us. Given our schedule and after-school activities, dinner needs to be more or less prepared by the time we get home; or at the very least, ready within 20 or 30 minutes. The more we can do in advance to prepare, the better.

Here are some of ways to maximize your time with a little bit of planning:

  • if you buy big club packs of meat for the freezer, package your chicken breasts or pork chops in meal-sized portions and add your favourite marinade to the bag (bottled will do)before you freeze it. The meat marinates as it defrosts;
  • whenever possible, cook extra, especially when cooking on the weekend. It takes as long to make two chickens as one, and then you’ve got chicken for the week.
  • use a menu-planning service. We’ve just started using Six O’Clock Scramble.  Having someone else do the shopping list is a lovely perk;
  • as Nathalie suggests, breakfast for dinner is your friend.  Peter makes a big batch of waffles every weekend and freezes them — a couple of those with some sausage and sliced fruit make a perfectly decent dinner.
I’m also always on the lookout for ways to maximize the nutritional punch of anything we cook. Here’s a recipe for a sauce that I made this weekend that does just that.  It’s nothing fancy — just a standard tomato sauce that you can rely on for any number of meals: pasta, chicken parm, or meatball subs.  I feel a bit guilty suggesting that you use canned tomatoes when the stores are full of bushels of beautiful Roma tomatoes just begging to be made into sauce, but such is life. Unlike those homemade tomato sauces, this one can be on the table in just over half an hour.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m guessing it can also be easily doubled or tripled; the proportions should be about right for everything except the oregano. No one needs that much oregano!

Sneaky tomato sauce

1 onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup dry red wine (Technically optional. Skip as your conscience dictates).

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2-3 Roma tomatoes (optional — when in season)

1 398 ml can low salt tomato sauce

1/2 can tomato paste

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped, or marjoram if you prefer. You could also use basil, but I despise dried basil, so I don’t)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are soft and start to take on colour — about 8-10 minutes. You want them on the verge of caramelization, not scorching, so turn down the heat if they go too fast. When the onions are browned and softened, add the wine (if using; if not, skip to next step) and stir until the wine is reduced by half.

Stir in carrots, celery and tomatoes if using.  Reduce heat and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the carrots are softened.  At this point, add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, sugar, and salt and pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until the carrots are completely softened.  Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes.

Here’s the sneaky part: at this point, carefully transfer the sauce to your blender, or use an immersion blender to process the sauce until smooth. Once blended, season to taste. The carrots and celery lend a nice sweetness and thicken the sauce so that you don’t have to cook it for hours.  Serve as you would any other tomato sauce.