Monday, May 19, 2008

Roasting Veggies Without Fire

I have the world's crappiest kitchen. Okay, it's not as crappy as some that I have had in the past. But it is bad. At least the worst kitchen in my past didn't have carpet in the kitchen. Who the hell thought putting carpet in a kitchen was a good idea?!

Why do kitchens in studio apartments always categorically suck? If you find this post and have a studio apartment with a great kitchen, please let me know. And let me know when your lease is up.

Crappy Kitchen

Given my limited kitchen resources, I have to juggle and improvise. I have approximately three square feet of usable counter space I have one of those crappy apartment-sized ranges. Whoever thought this up needs death by bunga-bunga. The oven temperature varies wildly; sometimes a setting of 350° results in 275° or 425° in the oven without any consistency. It does not fit two pans side-by-side. As much as I love cooking, this stove drives me batshit most of the time. I suppose it is just one of the costs of engaging in one's joys.

Nothing fits

So I don't have a gas stove. I have a small electric stove. And a small oven. So small it does not even fit normal baking pans. I think having a small oven must be worse than having no oven. It's a culinary cock-tease, a gastronomic siren. But yet I persist with this silly delusion that I should be able to cook decent meals.

One of the key reagents in many good meals is Roasted Vegetables (cue *heavenly choirs*). Baba ghanouj and squash soup are just two recipes that realize massive increases in flavor complexity by putting a little char on the veggies before proceeding with the Creation. When carbonization is involved, there are even greater gains in simple, yet delicious combinations such as vegetable wraps, fajitas (which truly require fire), and just about anything non-dessert that comes from the kitchen. Every savory meal benefits from caramelized onions.

Corollary to a proper range is an exhaust fan that vents outside, rather than projectile-vomiting the smoke back into one's domocile. Guess which one I have. Seldom is the entree that fails to set off my smoke alarm. Why do so few residences have externally vented exahust fans?! The bathrooms vent outside (toilet lines require vents). How hard is it to also vent the kitchen, too?

Putting a char on vegetables with this stove is tantamount to using a Yugo in an F1 race. But somehow I still manage to place in that race.

I go through a rigamarole to roast vegetables. Depending on the vegetable and the dish, I roast either in cast iron, directly on the burner, or under the broiler. Sometimes, the greatest works are accomplished within te confines of the greatest limitations. Okay, I am not enough arrogant to think that anything that comes out of this kitchen as the greatest works. Or even my greatest works. But it is still better than anything from most restaurants.

In general, most vegetables get a two-stage roasting. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions, for example, get a sear on top under the broiler in a cast iron pan. Then I put them on top of the stove (still in the pan) on the highest heat until the fire department is kicking in my door. By this time, the veggies should be properly caramelized and done.

For bell peppers and eggplant, I turn the largest burner on high, putting the item directly on the burner. As the skin burns, I keep turning the piece with tongs until it is burned all around. Then I wrap it up in aluminum foil and pop it in the oven at 350° for an hour. Peel off the burned skin, save the juices, and you have a great roasted veggie.

If you have any other tips for dealing with lesser kitchens, leave it in the comments.

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