Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mini festive roast - The Scientist's roast potatoes

The festive season is absolutely The Scientist's favourite time of year. He's not religious at all, but he loves the food, the family time, the cheer and goodwill, the winding down after lots of hard work, and a glorious two-week period when the universities close and we just potter about together seeing our friends and family. It's been interesting finding out how different families celebrate the festive period since we've been together. Chanukah was always the main festive time for our immediate family, and that meant lighting candles, singing Chanukah songs, eating latkes and doughnuts, receiving chocolate pennies and other little treats I will no doubt write about in the next few weeks. For Christmas itself, however, we always went to Brighton to be with Munchkin Gramps' parents and that meant noise and games, lots of people, a seemingly effortlessly-produced roast dinner, stockings that had a tuppence, a satsuma and a walnut at the bottom, and lots of good cheer. Sometimes Chanukah coincided with Christmas and then there would be a menorah and a Christmas tree sitting happily side by side.

In The Scientist's family things are a little quieter because there are fewer of them, but they have lots of traditions too: a mini cooked breakfast with buck's fizz, which The Scientist's dad brings everyone in bed; some board games after dinner, a nice quiet lunch and some chilling out. In years gone by I think that the afternoon was generally taken up with watching new videos, but that was in a teenage-Scientist era, and he's prepared to wait until we get home again before ripping the plastic off his new dvds nowadays! Dinner at his parents' house features the weirdity that is pigs in blankets - I had never even heard of these before I met him and still regard them with some horror (mini pork sausages wrapped in bacon - wrong on so many levels). At our house roast parsnips are a must. Chez elder Scientists a trifle (also made by Scientist Dad) is traditional on Boxing Day - for us it was Granny T's meringues which were always kept in a round tin on top of the kitchen cupboards.

My mini-Christmas dinner: bulgar-stuffed peppers, roast potatoes, peas and some stuffing lurking at the back

In our years of being together we have amicably alternated Christmas Day between our families, each of us willing to forego our pigsinblanketshorror or parsnips for the other. We have even hosted the meal ourselves a couple of times, and in doing so, The Scientist has become something of an expert in making roast potatoes. He started by quizzing Grandma S, who produces crispy yet soft delights after a Delia recipe. A few efforts on and he was starting to apply science to the effort, considering the heat of the oil and the effects of evaporation on the potatoes. His epiphany, however, was seeing a Jamie Oliver programme last year, where his opinions on flavouring the oil were set. So when I suggested that we should have a little mini festive roast dinner for the two of us in order to set the season going well he was certainly up for reprising his best roasties. Here's how he does it, Scientist-style:


First, chop the potatoes into cubes (don't you like the precision with which he's lined them up? His moniker is well-earned). He just uses baking potatoes - I think he aims to be precise in his method but fairly easy going in the exact raw materials.


Pre-heat the oven to about 180C (this can be flexible according to whatever else needs to be cooked alongside). Par-boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes until just soft. Drain them, and then shake them about roughly in the pan. This fluffs up the edges which makes them absorb the oil more easily and helps give that lovely crispy outer layer. Now allow them to sit for another 15 minutes or so so that the excess water can evaporate off. This leaves less water for the fat to interact with, apparently.

Pour some oil into the base of a roasting dish. The Scientist used a couple of glugs to make enough potatoes for the two of us - enough to give the bottom of the pan a coating but we're certainly not talking about making the potatoes swim in it or anything. Add some seasonings to give the oil a nice flavour. The Scientist favours several smushed cloves of garlic and a scattering of rosemary and some salt and pepper but the possibilities are almost literally endless. At Christmas when there are often more fresh herbs lying about for various other projects he uses fresh but dried ones do fine. Sit the whole pan over a large gas ring and heat it until the oil is hot - the garlic will be sizzling.

Coating and roasting

Now add the potatoes and stir carefully to coat them all in oil without breaking them up. Put in the pre-heated oven and roast for about 45 minutes, checking and shaking about every so often. I should note here that in contrast to my usual last-second rearrangements of the hot oven shelves before sticking dinner in, he considers where everything will go in advance and moves the shelves accordingly. This is possibly why my hands are much more tolerant to heat than his, but also why roast dinners are generally cooked in a much calmer atmosphere than my efforts at entertaining :) Forty five minutes later, and voila - crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, thoroughly flavoured roasties with some nice bonus cloves of soft smushed roast garlic to bite into as well.

Ta-da! Mountain of successful roasties accompanied by roast pepper, stuffing, a couple of peas (more hiding under the rest!) and, appearing only under sufferance on a vegetarian blog, roast chicken

The Scientist is pretty traditional in what else he serves in a roast dinner, but also happy to be flexible over veggies and more than happy with gravy and stuffing out of a packet. He is actually wonderfully easy to please - as long as there's lots of it! Tonight he had some roast chicken, some roast peppers because that's what I was cooking for my bit, some peas, gravy and stuffing. I had a roast pepper half stuffed with bulgar wheat, sundried tomato, capers, peas and a sprinkling of goats cheese which suited me very well - I don't really like huge dinners (especially after an afternoon of baking bread which had involved nibbling lots of bits on the way!).

The microwave Christmas pudding resting after cooking

Christmas dinner is, however, not complete without dessert: Christmas pudding is The Scientist's favourite dessert (perhaps alongside apple pie and lemon meringue pie). I was quite surprised to realise that he'd been so preoccupied with making sure he had all his savoury ingredients that he'd forgotten to buy a mini pudding for tonight's dinner. Thankfully I know my way around a good food blog search, and turned up a recipe for microwave Christmas puddings. We would normally serve our pudding with cream but we only buy that when there's an occasion and so The Scientist settled for an acceptable second of custard. The pudding was pretty nice - I didn't think that I'd be competing with Mssrs M&S any time soon but The Scientist pronounced himself satisfied and said that while it had a lighter taste than the long-matured ones that that was quite nice.

So here we are, on the eve of December, and with our first festive roast under our (loosened) belts already. I'm sending this mini Christmas dinner to Johanna at The Passionate Cook for this month's Waiter, there's something in my.... which is featuring roasts.


Johanna said...

I like your description of the differences in the way you cook - I think I am a bit more haphazard than the Scientist but love doing roast potatoes - they really make any meal taste fantastic!

Sounds like you are already into the festive season with lots of traditions to uphold - re pigs in a blanket - the best thing that can be said about them is the name!

thepassionatecook said...

thanks for passing on your tricks to achieve the perfect roast potatoes - following heston blumenthal's lead, i tried a similar method myself last year - the roughing up of the edges is new to me and i will definitely try this!
i also made my very first xmas pudding this year, in a (borrowed) steam oven, though. your version seems much more manageable now that the oven is gone... so provided i like the taste of my first attempt, i might just go for your technique next year! thanks for participating in WTSIM!

Eco Sis said...

i can't believe you had a mini xmas dinner! were the microwave puds really from scratch?

interesting that scientist likes to leave skins on potatoes, to my taste they must be gone :)

i feel like we're approaching a whole 3 and a half weeks of not seeing each other!