Monday, April 12, 2010

Giving My Oven Some Lovin

Ovens have always seemed a bit standoffish to me. There’s something about punching in a number, placing ingredients into a big black box, and taking them out later that leaves me cold. I like to play with my food, looking, tasting, and tweaking as I go. I love the rhythm of stovetop cooking. I can work all four burners and chop vegetables at the same time, no problem. But put it in the oven and I forget all about it. I’ve managed to burn toast in the oven. It’s not my weapon of choice.

Now that I'm trying to become kickass in the kitchen, I’ve started expanding my arsenal. First it was the food processor—the gateway drug of kitchen equipment. Next I became obsessed with using my freezer as a pantry for items like homemade curry paste and pot stickers. Now I’m finally unraveling the mysteries of my oven.

It turns out that the oven is one of the most effortless, forgiving ways to cook food. You can pop something in the oven, let it cook slowly at a relatively low temperature, and then work on some other dishes in the meantime. These two Indian-influenced recipes are perfect examples of using your oven to turn a basic stovetop meal into a full-fledged feast. Paired with some steamed rice, your favorite dal, and a simple raita, these two dishes add a lot of wow without a whole lot of effort.

Once you’ve had oven-roasted cauliflower, you will never want to eat it any other way. The oven brings out an unexpected smokiness in the cauliflower, caramelizing its natural sugars and adding wonderful depth and texture. The potatoes look a lot more impressive than they actually are, thanks to a clever trick from Sea Salt with Food. The method for both is really similar: toss the ingredients with spices and a slick of fat (olive oil in one case, melted butter in the other), and bake for about 35 minutes until they are meltingly tender on the inside and satisfyingly crisp on the outside.

Spicy Indian Fingerlings (adapted from Sea Salt with Food)
I went a bit spicier than the original, and adjusted the cooking time/temperature for my oven, but these were pretty much perfect as is.

About 10-12 fingerling potatoes, washed
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Sea salt to taste (I used two healthy pinches)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place a fingerling in the depression of a wooden spoon. With a knife, slice the potato into very thin slices, starting at one end and continuing to the other (like a loaf of bread). The edges of the spoon will prevent your knife from cutting all the way through the potato, creating the signature hasselback shape.
2. Preheat your oven to 430 degrees.

3. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Toss the potatoes well and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

4. Line a baking pan with tin foil, then arrange the potatoes, cut side up, in a single layer. Drizzle over the rest of the spiced oil, trying to get some into the nooks and crannies without breaking the potatoes. If you're cooking these together with the cauliflower, set the pan aside until both are ready to go in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Ovens vary greatly in temperature, and I’m fairly sure mine is cooler than most, so start checking every few minutes at the 25-minute mark.

Spiced, Caramelized Cauliflower (adapted from The Dinner Files)
In a completely uncharacteristic move, I left in some of the sugar in this recipe. A pinch of sugar helps the cauliflower to form the delectable charred surfaces that make this dish so incredibly addictive.

1 small head of cauliflower (or half of a large one)
2 tablespoons of butter, melted (I put mine in the microwave for 30 seconds)
½ teaspoon sugar
Sea salt to taste (a healthy pinch)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Turn the cauliflower upside down and remove the leaves and core. Then, working with the natural shape of the vegetable, cut into smallish florets.

2. Preheat your oven to 430 degrees. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Toss the cauliflower well so that all the pieces are coated with the spiced butter. Mmm. Spiced butter. This stuff would be excellent drizzled over some fresh-popped popcorn, or pretty much anything really.

3. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Then arrange the cauliflower in a single layer, cut-side down. If you're making this along with the potatoes, put both into the hot oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until cooked through, with crispy, browned edges. Ovens vary greatly in temperature, so start checking every few minutes at the 25-minute mark.


  1. I would be so happy sitting down to that meal. Very cute post, beautiful photos and great sounding food.

  2. I made the hasselback potatoes too and they were fabulous! Yours look super spicy delicious!

  3. gosh.. those fingerlings look sexy!!!! great job ... im drooling no joke

  4. This whole situation looks amazing. What a hearty and warming meal -- perfect for a rainy spring night. I've got to put this on this week's line-up!

  5. @ Chubby Chinese Girl - The fingerlings are shockingly easy, but yes, they are quite photogenic.

    @ The Nervous Cook - Hope it turns out well!


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