Simple Sides: Thanksgiving Roasted Roots
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Here’s the perfect dish that the kids can help prepare for your Thanksgiving table, even in a hectic holiday kitchen that can get crowded with relatives wanting to be helpful. Roasted root vegetables glazed with a tangy cider mustard glaze features fresh fall harvest ingredients, is very simple to make and could even be partially cooked in advance! While the recipe here is presented as if it is being prepared in one sitting, it might be more practical to have your sous chefs make the glaze and cook the root veggies for the initial 45-minutes roasting, then refrigerate both separately overnight. On the day of the feast, warm up the glaze and have your helpers toss the roots in this delicious coating before popping the whole dish back into a pre-heated oven recently vacated by a roasted turkey for a quick ten minute heat-up just before serving! Plus prepping this recipe with your kitchen helpers a day in advance in a much quieter and less chaotic atmosphere, will also allow you to give your novice chefs the full culinary attention they require to learn the cooking lessons contained in this delicious recipe.
This is a very easy recipe to prepare using a short ingredient list that belies the tasty results! In fact, after cutting up the roots, the rest of the recipe is a simple two-step procedure: the roasting of the roots and making the glaze. The two components are combined and popped back in the oven for a bit. That’s it -- easy peasy! The dish provides a great opportunity for an older child to practice his or her knife skills in slicing up the root vegetables for roasting. The cuts required are very basic – bite-sized wedges of potatoes and turnips; one-inch pieces of carrots and turnips – neither requiring much precision, still, practice makes perfect! While the glaze does need a stovetop simmer that the supervising adult or an older child can do, the measuring and combining of the ingredients as well as carefully adding in the thyme sprigs and butter to the simmering pan could be tasked to a younger helper under close supervision since there is an open flame involved. In every child’s early culinary development there comes the moment when it is time for him or her to pull a chair next to the stove and step up! Only you can judge when your child is ready for that moment – maybe it’s this recipe?
Since there is a choice of roots that could be used for this dish, your young helpers should be made aware of the flavor role each root plays in this recipe. That is, both the carrots and parsnips provide a natural sweetness, the turnip adds a little peppery bite and the red potatoes absorb the flavors of the glaze most readily while also supplying a creamy texture to each bite as well as a warming, comfort food “feel” to the dish. BTW, every time I use parsnips in a recipe I resolve to use this ingredient more often. It’s probably not a common ingredient to your kids either, but learning to appreciate this cousin of the carrot will serve them well in their own kitchens for years to come.
Parsnips are a root vegetable, related closely to the carrot, with a nutty-sweet flavor. While available year round though this “cool weather crop” peaks in flavor from fall into spring. That is because a parsnip's unique sweetness develops as the root’s starches change to sugar. This happens after the first frost, when the vegetable is still in the ground. Interestingly, for centuries before sugar was widely available in Europe, parsnips were used to sweeten jams and cakes! Choose parsnips that are small to medium in size; larger parsnips can be woody. Parsnips should be prepped just like a regular carrot – slice off the ends and peel. While the root can be prepared and eaten raw, just like a carrot, it’s earthy sweetness increases greatly with cooking. Parsnips are a great source of fiber, calcium and vitamin C. Not only are parsnips packed with soluble fiber that can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and risk of diabetes, but this high-fiber food contributes to feeling full longer by preventing the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone!
Flavor alert: The Apple-Mustard Glaze is a real keeper! It’s a sure-fire flavor formula that your kids should learn as a separate component since it could easily be used in other dishes i.e. glazed baby sweet potatoes come to mind immediately. Because of this writer’s Pacific Northwest location I was able to use a friend’s homemade Honeycrisp apple cider as the base for the glaze, but any apple juice or cider will probably be just fine. Though I do think that the high sugar content of the Honeycrisp variety does contribute to the glaze have a slightly syrupy texture. The apple and mustard flavor combo sounds a little odd, it really works adding a subtle tangy rich flavor to the mix; the almost polished sheen of the glaze lends a special occasion quality to this dish – perfect for the holiday table! And if that table is filled with family and friends, please take the confidence-building opportunity to ask your sous chefs to take a bow as their dish gets passed around! Happy Turkey Day!
Glazed Roasted Root Vegetables
2 oz. olive oil
Baby Red potatoes, cut into bite-sized wedges
2 cups turnips, cut into bite-sized wedges
2 cups carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups parsnips, cut into bite-size chunks
Salt & pepper to taste
For the glaze:
½ cup apple cider or unfiltered juice
2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
¾ tsp. salt
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Tbsp. butter
What the kids can do:
Once the vegetables have been prepared, place them all together in a large bowl or plastic bag and toss with olive oil, salt & pepper until thoroughly coated. Then transfer the roots into a deep-sided baking pan and hand off to the supervising adult for roasting.
While the vegetables are roasting, whisk the apple cider with the mustard and salt in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the fresh thyme sprigs and butter. Continue to simmer and let the glaze reduce a bit. It should thicken slightly, to a thin syrup.
When the roots have cooked, pour the glaze over the vegetables and gently toss so they are evenly coated. Place back in the oven for about 10 more minutes, remove and toss again, then cook for a few more minutes or until the vegetables have absorbed most of the glaze.
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee closely the knife work needed to prepare each of the root vegetables. Once those veggies have been prepped, roast 375° for 45 minutes; supervising your assistants in turning them over about halfway through for even browning. Once cooked, remove hot baking dish from the oven and supervise the tossing of the glaze and final baking. Serve warm.