Snowstorms and Squash

 

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Oy, 2016. There were many moments I (we? Most everyone?) would like to forget, although I am happy that this year brought me back to Western Mass. The last week of the year, for me, at least, was really lovely. My girls and I all had off from our schools so we spent the entire week together. When Beatrix wasn’t watching Frozen (“Elsa! Elsa!”) we squeezed in a few adventures.

We explored Great Barrington in the Berkshires (only about an hour from here) in search of the best grilled cheese in the Northeast. We had fun at Forbes Library, whose cookbook and media collection continues to impress me. (More on those in upcoming posts.) We made it to two children’s museums, including a New Year’s Eve Jr. celebration that allowed Bea endless rides on the carousel.

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One of Rich’s brothers gave us a gift card for Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Home Goods for Christmas, and Lilli was quite pleased to find both dinosaur pasta and a cookie and cupcake decorating kit in the “Home” section. The design kit came in very handy during last week’s snowstorms, again between Frozen screenings.

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That decorating kit also brings us to today’s recipe. Because one cannot decorate cupcakes without frosting, and the only frosting worth making involves cream cheese. Which means I had cream cheese in the house, and that was the one ingredient I was missing to make this twice-baked butternut squash.

I knew it was a keeper as soon as I saw it, and, given its cheesiness, it was a good addition to our Chanukah table. I served it next to potato latkes, a salad of butter lettuce, dates, slivered red onion (soaked in ice cold water to take the snap out), sprinkles of blue cheese and a balsamic brown sugar dressing. Now that I think about it, there was also a lentil stew with rutabaga and kale to start things off.

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Grandparents, don’t panic. She got a haircut soon after this photo was taken.

The recipe actually calls for the squash to first get a steam in the microwave, so it moves the process along a bit quicker than if you did everything in the oven. Ditto with the sweet potatoes, which I know you can do in a microwave, as my old co-worker reminded me every day. I don’t own a 9×13 microwavable dish, so I used a glass pie pan and the squash ends hung over the sides. It still worked. I then transferred the squash halves to a large baking sheet.

This is not an everyday recipe, although it’s not as rich as the stuffed pumpkin that makes me giddy. I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s actually very simple to make and tastes even better than you think it will.

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Learn from my mistakes. Don’t use parchment paper to bake and broil. It burns after a certain point.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash from “Real Simple” December 2016

Ingredients

1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) butternut squash

¼ cup water

2 (8- to 9-ounce) sweet potatoes

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons table salt

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional – I skipped it.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe 13- x 9-inch baking dish and add ¼ cup water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce 3 to 4 times with a knife. Microwave on HIGH 10 minutes. Carefully drain water out of dish. Turn squash halves over, and bake in preheated oven until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes. Scoop flesh from squash, leaving a ¼-inch-thick shell and transfer to a medium bowl; reserve shells and return to baking dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork several times then microwave them on HIGH until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel potatoes and add flesh to bowl with squash along with cream cheese, butter, salt, nutmeg, and pepper; mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Scoop squash mixture into reserved squash shells and top with cheddar and Parmesan. Broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.

 

Enjoy Every Bite

Despite my best efforts — and believe me, I have tried — Lilli basically lives on yogurt, cereal, plain starch (rice, rice cakes, barley, farro, pasta), grilled cheese, fish sticks and granola bars. As someone who prides themselves on serving whole foods made from scratch, meal times can be… well, is “despair” too dramatic a word?

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Sometimes, if I’m lucky, she’ll enjoy a few pieces of avocado and maybe a few blueberries. We’re a far cry from where she was before she turned two, when she would gobble up mushrooms, roasted broccoli, and all sorts of fruits.

On the other hand, there’s Beatrix, who is like old school Lilli taken to another level. She seriously enjoys food. Daycare has remarked on it. My mother would watch with wonder all summer long as Beatrix would dig into the fresh asparagus, enjoy every kernel on her corn cob, and delight in basically everything that was put in front of her. “It’s a pleasure to watch her eat,” Mom would say.

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Being a toddler, she’s also incredibly impatient. So if we weren’t fast enough, she would shriek and slam her little fists down on the table. My mother actually started calling her “Elizabeth,” as in Elizabeth Taylor, because she was a beautiful drama queen who couldn’t get the food in her face fast enough. “Calm down, Elizabeth, the {brisket, chicken, pasta, meatballs, fish, rice, eggs, fresh vegetables} has to cool down first.” (This was inspired by a particularly mean Joan Rivers joke in which she called Ms. Taylor the only woman in the world who would scream “faster!” at a microwave. Z”l, Joan.) Someone started calling her “the little piglet,” although I want to be very careful about this, because the last thing I want to do is give my daughter an eating complex. Enjoy every bite, little one, I say. Food is delicious.

The biggest threat to Bea’s appetite is her older sister’s influence. Every few days, when Lilli will do her evening ritual of completely rejecting a meal (and ask for a bowl of yogurt or cereal two hours later) Bea will catch on and abandon her plate as well. So when I saw this recipe for homemade fish sticks in Taste of Home’s 100 Family Meals I was sent, I crossed my fingers and went to the kitchen.

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The idea behind this cookbook is to get families to sit down together a few nights a week for dinner. If you do it twice a week, you’ll end up with 100 meals at the end of the year. This recipe was marked as “Eat Smart” and “Fast Fix”, looked super simple to make, and much healthier than the frozen fish sticks I’m loathe to serve the girls. I had everything in the kitchen, including some frozen tilapia from Costco, which I set to defrost in the fridge on a plate covered with Stretch-Tite the night before.

I actually skipped the two tablespoons of garlic herb seasoning blend the recipe called for, first because I had no such thing in the house, and second because I could almost hear Lilli’s stock protest (“It’s too spicy!”) in my head as I was reading the recipe. I don’t have cooking spray in the house, so I put my finger over the olive oil and drizzled that on top of the fish sticks.

And how were they? They were great! Rich and I enjoyed every bite, with homemade tartar sauce (at his insistence), and a side of red cabbage slaw with dried cranberries and fresh slices of mandarin oranges. But alas, Lilli flat out rejected them, and Bea took a bite, and then followed her big sister into the living room to join her in watching some Youtube garbage.

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Regardless, these are going into the rotation and will be served instead of the frozen ones from the store. I will not be deterred! They really are a great weeknight meal. I think if I serve these to Bea without her sister being there, she will devour them all, then slam her tiny hands into the table demanding more!

Parmesan Fish Sticks from Taste of Home’s 100 Family Meals: Bring the Family Back to the Dinner Table

Ingredients

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

1/8 to ¼ tsp. pepper

2 large eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. garlic-herb seasoning blend (Optional)

 1 lb. tilapia fillets

Cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 450F.

In a shallow bowl, mix flour, salt and pepper. In another bowl, whisk eggs. In a third bowl, toss bread crumbs with cheese and seasoning blend.

Cut filets into 1-inch-wide strips. Dip fish in flour mixture to coat both sides; shake off excess. Dip in eggs, then in crumb mixture, patting to help coating adhere.

Place on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Spritz tops with the spray until crumbs appear moistened; or, drizzle with olive oil for the same effect.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and fish begins to flake easily with a fork.

 

 

 

Making New Friends

Choosing what dish to bring to a potluck is tricky, especially when it’s a new community. So last week, when I narrowed down my choices to three for the Tot Shabbat vegetarian potluck (no nuts, please), I held a lunchtime poll topic on Facebook for my community’s input. (Rich is not the only pollster in this house.)

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The choices were thus: Vegan chocolate pudding, mushroom and farro salad, and brie and a nice baguette from one of the great bread bakeries in town. The clear winner was the chocolate pudding. You don’t win friends with salad.

This recipe is a good reminder that just because something is vegan does not automatically make it healthy. Case in point: my Cousin Mark eating a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips dipped in horseradish hummus for lunch. Sure, this pudding is made with silken tofu, so it has protein going for it. But it also calls for a ton of sugar.

A recent Facebook “memory” popped up in which I shared something I’d overheard Rich say to Lilli: “Finish up your dinner, because Mommy is cutting up some fruit for dessert. But that’s not real dessert. Real dessert is cake and cookies. Fruit is what Jewish people call dessert when they have a meat meal.”

But now, you can have this chocolate pudding, and it’s way simpler than cutting up a pineapple.

Ingredients

1 pound silken tofu

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Directions

In a blender, combine tofu, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides with flexible spatula as needed.

Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours before serving.

 

 

 

Trust In Me, Baby

You guys, I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve had one recipe for years, truly one of the most delicious things I’ve served, but I haven’t shared it here. Why? Firstly, because I lost the recipe years ago. Secondly, when I found it, I was reminded of how, well, icky, the ingredients are. To wit, when I called Sylvie to tell her I’d found the recipe for the broccoli kugel last year, her response was very telling: “Don’t tell me what’s in it.” When I talked to my mom about the recipe last week, she said it sounded “disgusting.” This despite the fact that I am convinced I got the recipe from her. She has no recollection of this, or the time I called her from Jerusalem and made her recite the entire recipe over the phone. (In 1999, when a long-distance call meant something.)

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Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to share the recipe here, but then #kugelgate happened, and I saw my opening. First, I want to be clear that there are many different types of kugels – roughly translates as “baked puddings” – out there. You’re probably most familiar with dairy lokshen kugel. Lokshen means noodle, and it’s usually sweet and creamy. But that can’t be served at a meat meal. For those meals, you might see a potato kugel as a side, or a yerushalmi kugel, full of black pepper and caramelized sugar (it’s really a magnificent dish). Or you might see a broccoli kugel similar to this one.

The recipe has a few more ingredients than Ivanka’s – er, I mean Jamie Geller’s, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say mine is far tastier. One of the secret, and essential, ingredients in this dish is… drumroll…French onion soup mix. In my defense, back in the day when I was working on a master’s in Gastronomy and Food Studies, I happened upon a book about Jewish American Cuisine. I can’t remember what project I was working on, but I do remember the authors clearly stating that French Onion Soup mix is essential to American Jewish cuisine. Still don’t believe me? Go ask your mom or your grandmother what’s in their brisket.

Because this is a parve kugel, there’s mayo to make the kugel fluffy, and non-dairy creamer and margarine to finish it off. Like my mom said, disgusting. I actually made this recipe last year with heavy cream and butter, and while that might be “better”, I found both versions equally delicious. When I served it to a Shabbat dinner guest, she and I spent a good chunk of the evening cutting sliver after sliver of it, in that way you do to just “straighten the edges” in the pan.

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Opposite Twins

The crust is made with Corn Flakes. Please use Kellogg’s if you can; it’s time to speak with our wallets. While you’re at it, please consider making a donation to publications like The Forward because it looks like there will be some First Amendment issues coming to a head in the next couple of years. They need all the help they can get.

Update: I’ve checked online and perused my Jewish cookbooks, and this recipe looks like it’s the creamy broccoli kugel in The Spice and Spirit Cookbook, a truly outstanding cookbook I wholeheartedly recommend.

And now, the broccoli kugel:

Ingredients

1 large bunch broccoli, or one frozen bag of florets

1 cube vegetable bouillon

1 1/2 Tbps. margarine

1 1/2 Tbps. flour

1/2 cup nondairy creamer

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. onion soup mix

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup corn flake crumbs

Thoroughly wash broccoli and trim off tough ends.

Cook broccoli in 3-quart saucepan with water to cover until tender but not too soft.  Add vegetable bouillon to water and continue to cook.  Drain water and mash broccoli.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine margarine, flour, and nondairy creamer in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan.  Simmer over a low flame until thickened. Remove from flame and allow to cool 5 minutes.

Add mayonnaise, onion soup mix, and eggs and mix well. Add cooled mixture to broccoli and mix until well combined.

Grease 8-inch square pan.  Pour 1/4 cup crumbs on the bottom of the pan and pour broccoli mixture on top.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup corn flake crumbs.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Man, out of all the food “diets” that have come and gone, I think Paleo rubbed me the wrong way the most. I could post a few dozen articles explaining why it’s a bad idea to not eat whole grains and beans, and how a diet based on meat is, frankly, elitist. But I won’t. I will, however, take this opportunity to mention a former colleague who microwaved herself a sweet potato for lunch every fricking day, hogging the one machine on the entire floor. She sucked.

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If there is one good thing to come out of Paleo, it is that it brought coconut oil to my attention.  I have some Paleo cousins who swear by the stuff, so I bought a jar, and then forgot about it. The truth is, I prefer cooking my food in butter or olive oil, and I saw no need for its purpose.

But I am here to share with you the one recipe I use coconut oil for. It’s basically the opposite of what Paleo folks had in mind, and the irony only makes it more delicious. I’m talking about Magic Shell.

Yes, Magic Shell. You remember that hardened chocolate shell that covered the ice cream scoops of your childhood? One moment it’s liquid, but after it touches the ice cream (or after you tuck the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two) it forms a hardened shell, a thick varnish you have to whack away at with your spoon. Perhaps not as satisfying to crack as the crust on a crème brulee, but it’s loads simpler to make.

The magic in Magic Shell is the coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, but melts when heated, and then solidifies as it cools down, like when it hits ice cream. To make it, all you have to do is melt chocolate – in chip form or otherwise – with the coconut oil. That can be done in a double boiler on the stove, or in the microwave. Just zap on high for 30 seconds, check, stir and repeat until it’s melted enough to be stirred smooth with a spatula or spoon.

So, thank you, Paleo diet. Because of you I was able to recreate a beloved treat from my childhood in mere seconds. I guess you were good for something after all.

Magic Shell

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s done by ratios, so you can scale up or scale down depending on your needs.

Ingredients

1 cup of chocolate, chopped

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

Directions

Place coconut oil and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave, in 30 second intervals, stirring intermittently, until both are completely melted.

Pour or spoon the chocolate sauce over ice cream. Place your bowl of ice cream in the freezer for a minute or two to aid in the magic.

All Of Us Under Its Spell

Ever catch one of those Tasty videos in your Facebook feed? Mesmerizing, right? Lilli caught one over my shoulder a few months back, and ever since she’s been hooked on watching recipes on the Internet. It wasn’t long before she and I discovered that you can basically watch a recipe of anything on YouTube. Her favorites are the intricate cake recipes, of which she, and now I, have watched have watched far more times than I would like to admit.

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There are teen bakers, baking bloggers who do all sorts of incredible things with food coloring and pastry bags, an Australian baker who leans heavily on using chocolate bars on his cakes. Lilli likes this last one a lot, and so I promised her we would make our own cake using her leftover Halloween candy. This turned out to be a lie, because certain adults in the house have been nibbling away at it over the past three weeks. Ahem.

But we finally made our cake this weekend, and it went off without a hitch, just like we saw on the Internet. I didn’t use person’s recipe per se, but created one out of what I learned watching countless hours of online videos.

What I have prepared for you are directions on how to make a rainbow cake. I promise you it’s easy; it just takes a little bit of patience and time. (Ours took about two hours from start to finish.)

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First thing’s first: Find yourself a vanilla cake recipe. Make sure it’s a vanilla cake, not a yellow cake, because that will mess up the colorings. This is the recipe we used.

Next, secure your frosting recipe. I always vote for cream cheese frosting, and this is my go-to, but if you have a vanilla frosting recipe – remember, it has to be white – then use that one instead.  Take out the ingredients for your frosting to come to room temperature when you start preparing your cake batter.

Now, I had never used food coloring until this cake. I’ve always been a little skittish about such things, so I went to the nice kitchen store in town and bought them there. The ones they had on their shelf were the same ones that the online bakers all use. But if you have a favorite brand you use, then please, do what you feel.

We used Kit Kats around the outside of the cake and M&Ms to decorate the top. The Halloween sized ones would have been the right height for the cake, but fortunately the large bars we used also fit when cut in half. Skittles will work as well for the décor, but I’m the only one in the house that likes fruity candies, so I would be the only one who’d eat the cake. I’m actually not a fan of M&Ms, so this was a guarantee that I wouldn’t sit and eat the entire cake myself.

Now that you’ve assembled the ingredients, assemble the cookware and utensils you’ll need. Grab as many 9-inch cake pans as you have. I had three so I ended up using each one twice for my six separate colors. I had Lilli butter them, but then I sprayed a layer of Baker’s Joy on top of that.

If you are using six separate colors, then get out six separate bowls and six separate spoons. An ice cream scoop, if you have one, is very useful.

Now, it’s time to start making your cake. As you can see from my photos, it was six very thin layers. If you want a cake that will have your friends and family oohing and ahhing, I mean, even more than this, then double the recipe to make thicker layers.

Now that your batter is prepared, evenly divide it into the six bowls. This is where the ice cream scoop comes in handy. Next, add your food coloring. We had to mix colors to make the orange and the purple, and it was a fun way to practice our colors. I hope you’re wearing an apron!

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Now it’s time to bake. Carefully scrape the first bowl of colored batter into your first cake pan. It’s probably very thin, so gently push the batter to the sides of the pan with the spoon.

I baked my cake layers three at a time in the oven. Please keep an eye on them; mine were done in about 13 minutes. When they are baked through, remove the pans from the oven and set them on cooling racks to cool, which they will do very quickly. Turn the cakes out, let the pans cool, wash them, then repeat baking the remaining colors of batter.

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While this is going on, have a small child practice their sorting skills by separating the Skittles or M&Ms into small bowls. This is also when you can make your frosting.

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Lilli, auditioning to be a roadie for Van Halen.

Once your cakes are completely cool, it’s time to assemble. I find the easiest way to frost a cake is by placing it on a plate covered in wax paper, and place that on a Lazy Susan, if you have one.

Layer of cake, little bit of frosting on top, spread with an offset spatula, then next layer of cake, and so on.

 

It’s honestly up to you to choose a design. Rich pointed out that I’d actually stacked my cake layer colors in reverse. Make sure you save enough frosting to cover the outside and sides of the cake; your frosting acts like a glue.

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Once it’s assembled, put it in the fridge for about an hour to set and firm up.

And how was it? Very tasty, although Lilli simply picked off the M&Ms and Kit Kats, ate those, and left the cake.

PS – This was Lilli’s theme song all summer long.

Teach Your Children Well

My mother’s family is German-Jewish. They lived in a small village in Germany for hundreds of years. They were successful and a part of the fabric of the community. Some owned shops; one served as the headmaster for the entire town. My grandfather was a scholar, earning his PhD in Classics and Archaeology before he was 27. One of his brothers was a chemist; the other, a doctor.

One day in the early 1930s, my grandfather woke up to find he was no longer allowed to sit on park benches. So they left. During World War II my grandparents hid in Provence, France, taking on the roles of French peasants and ran a silk worm farm. That’s where my uncle and mother were both born. Thankfully, they survived, but the Vichy turned in my Great Uncle Freidl.

After World War II they were blessed with the opportunity to come to America in the late 1940s. My grandfather, who had two PhDs at this point, spent his days working in a factory. At night he taught Classics at Yeshiva University. Eventually, he secured a job as head of a language department at a small college in Springfield, Mass.

When I was a little girl, my sister and I would spend Shabbat with my grandmother, my Oma. I will never forget hearing her screams in the middle of the night. We’d run into her room, and she would say that she had a nightmare that the Nazis found her. “You’re safe, Oma. You’re in America.”

It’s been just about a week since Donald Trump was awarded the electoral votes he needed to become the President-Elect of the United States. Yesterday he appointed Steve Bannon, an avowed anti-Semite and white nationalist, as his Chief Policy Advisor.

And I am terrified.

I keep on thinking about my grandparents, my grandmother’s screams, and my own children’s safety. I worry about my sister, a gay Jew, and the status of her marriage and the status of her wife’s adoption of their son. I worry about my fellow Jews, Muslims, people of color, and especially women of color.

There are petitions going round, people encouraging others to take a stand and sign. But I won’t sign anything. I’m too scared to have my name on a list.

The recipe I have for today was chosen for a few reasons. The first is because it’s from Yotam Ottolenghi, a gay Israeli who is married with two sons and has a Palestinian business partner. I would worry about him if he lived in the United States right now, but he’s currently based in the United Kingdom, a country that is also going through a hard right turn.

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The second reason I am sharing this recipe is because it features sweet potatoes. When my family hid in France, they ate what they grew and had access to. Apparently sweet potatoes were a daily part of their diet. After they made it to America, my Uncle Marcel vowed to never eat another sweet potato. As far as I know, he has kept his vow for nearly 70 years.

I can only assure him that this dish is very delicious and the roasting of the fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs fills the house with a warm, lovely scent – very comforting after a terrible week.

Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 parsnips (1 ½ lbs. total – I just used the entire bag)

4 medium red onions

2/3 cup olive oil

4 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

1head garlic, halved horizontally

Salt and black pepper

2 medium sweet potatoes (1 ¼ lbs. total)

30 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Tbsp lemon juice

4 Tbsp small capers (roughly chopped if large)

½ Tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel the parsnips and cut into two or three segments, depending on their lengths. Then cut each piece lengthways into two or four. You want the pieces roughly two inches long and ½-inch wide. Peel the onions and cut each into six wedges.

Place the parsnips and onions in a large mixing bowl and add ½ cup of the olive oil, the thyme, rosemary, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Mix well and spread out in a large roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the parsnips are cooking, trim both ends of the sweet potatoes. Cut them (with their skins) widthways in half, then each half into six wedges. Add the potatoes to the pan with the parsnips and onion and stir well. Return to the oven to roast for further 40 to 50 minutes.

When all the vegetables are cooked through and have taken on a golden color, stir in the halved tomatoes. Roast for 10 minutes more. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, capers, maple syrup, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon salt.

Pour the dressing over the roasted vegetables as soon as you take them out of the oven. Stir well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Scatter the sesame seeds over the vegetables if using and serve at the table in the roasting pan.