Dill Carrots / Candied Dill Carrots

Dill Carrots

I’ve said this before, but my mom’s candied carrots were one of the reasons my love affair with vegetables began at a young age. There were never leftovers: my siblings and I often had seconds, and if there were any left – thirds. I don’t recall there ever being leftovers (I make a little extra, so we will have leftovers, and they are great on round two).

Now when I make these for my family, my toddler will eat all the carrots on his plate before digging in to anything else. And I love that, because they are super easy to make. Peel & chop, throw it all in a pot, and turn it on. Since I’m usually serving these with a roast meat of some sort, I like to prepare it all while the roast is in the oven, and then turn the stove on when the meat comes out – that way I’m forced to let my roast rest the appropriate 10-15 minutes.

The molasses-free carrots are have a lighter and brighter flavor that I prefer in warm weather, while the candied version has a heartier flavor that is great in the cooler months. Carrots are a fairly sweet vegetable, so you don’t need much molasses if you are making the candied version, and overdoing it will make them heavy and less appealing.

Dill Carrots
Dill Carrots

Dill Carrots / Candied Dill Carrots

Adapted from my mom’s go-to carrot recipe.

Serves 4

I like these a little toothy, but they are also delicious on the soft side. You don’t need exact amounts of any of these ingredients, and I usually don’t measure, but have provided them here as guidelines.

Ingredients

  • 6 medium-large carrots
  • a splash (approximately 2 tbsp.) of water
  • a knob (approximately 1-2 tbsp.) of butter
  • a sprinkle (approximately ½ tsp.) of dill
  • optional (for candied carrots): a drizzle (approximately ½ tsp.) of molasses

Directions

  1. Peel the carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks, and place into a medium saucepan.  Add a splash of water, butter, dill, and molasses (if using).
  2. Cover and place over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until carrots reach desired tenderness.

Serving Suggestions

These carrots are great with just about any American meal, particularly with roast meats – chicken, tri-tip, and pork (like this Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Pan Sauce) are my favorites. I love them next to Pan Grilled Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Roast Japanese Sweet Potatoes and Mashed Caulitatoes. Oh, and these are a perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

Sweet Potato & Kale Hash

Sweet Potato & Kale Hash with Fried Egg

If I talk about corned beef hash around my husband, he imagines the canned stuff, but in my head I’m thinking about the way my Gma made it – with chunks of actual corned beef and diced vegetables. I’m clearly in the minority here – when I see Corned Beef Hash on the menu anywhere, I feel compelled to order it, hoping it will be hearty chunks of food. I even ask the servers if the hash is chunky, or if it’s like the canned paste. “Oh, it’s definitely chunky.” We must have different definitions of “chunky,” because those tiny bits of potato don’t qualify. Not that I don’t love the canned stuff – it may smell like dog food coming out of the can, and the meat may be more like paste than it is meat anymore, but it is pretty darn tasty. I always grab a scoop if it’s on the table.

Sweet Potato & Kale Hash
Sweet Potato & Kale Hash

Of course I had to start playing around with making my own hash. I have a good approximation of Gma’s Corned Beef Hash, but then I started experimenting with different hash recipes – changing or skipping the meat, changing up the vegetables. Sometimes I go with a Latin theme and include poblano peppers, zucchini or other summer squash, and corn, and my St. Patty’s style hash uses Russet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and onions. Often my breakfast hash is an experiment with the leftovers in the fridge. But it’s always good.

This version is one of my favorites. The sweet potato and kale play beautifully off one another, and even though it’s fairly simple, the flavor of this dish is really quite bold. This hash can be eaten plain, or topped with a fried egg or two – as the runny yolk adds another layer of deliciousness.

Sweet Potato & Kale Hash with Fried Egg
Sweet Potato & Kale Hash with Fried Egg

Sweet Potato & Kale Hash

Serves 2-3

The key to this (and any) hash is a cast iron pan – one that isn’t too crowded, and has the right amount of oil. You want the pan to be shiny – for there to be some fat between the pan and the vegetables, but not so oily that the vegetables are sitting in a pool of oil, or else your hash will leave you feeling heavy and greasy. If you can’t see the bottom of the pan through the vegetables, it’s overcrowded, and your vegetables will be limp and steamed, rather than crisping up against the cast iron.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil, or other fat
  • 1 medium-ish orange fleshed sweet potato (approximately 350 g or 12 oz.)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper
  • 2-3 stalks of kale (I used curly kale, but you could use others)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • optional: 1-2 fried eggs per person

Directions

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes, and dice both the sweet potato and bell pepper in large bite sized pieces.
  2. Cut the onion in long strips lengthwise- you should have strips the length of the onion, approximately 1/4″ wide.
  3. De-stem the kale, and chop roughly. Grab the kale in handfuls and squeeze it to soften.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp. of the olive oil in a wide cast iron skillet. When the pan is nice and hot, add all the veggies except the kale and a good sprinkle of salt, and cook over medium-high to high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to turn golden brown and the potatoes are soft through. Add additional fat if necessary to keep the pan shiny.
  5. Add the kale, and continue to cook a minute or two more, stirring occasionally, until the kale wilts.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve immediately, topped with a fried egg if desired.

Grilled Cauliflower / Grilled Brussels Sprouts

grilled cauliflower

I adore vegetables. My favorites growing up were my mom’s candied carrots and her green beans, and I would easily eat two or three servings. “Eat your vegetables” wasn’t a phrase often directed at me, and the more I learn to cook for myself, the more vegetable varieties I experiment with and add into my repertoire. And when I get to know vegetable-avoiding people, I occasionally take it as a personal challenge to make vegetables for them in a way that will make them go for seconds (and thirds).

These days my go-to starter veggies for new initiates are cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. I know, I know, cauliflower sounds boring, but trust me – it’s so much more than the part of the raw vegetable tray that gets left behind. Cauliflower is an incredibly versatile vegetable, and pairs well with almost anything. But what I really love about cauliflower is how simply and quickly it becomes a dish that converts vegetable-avoiders to vegetable-lovers.

Pan grilled cauliflower on a plate
Pan grilled cauliflower

Oh, and Brussels Sprouts! When I was young, Brussels sprouts seemed to be the vegetable people loved to hate on, but I’ve always liked them – they were like baby cabbages, and my mom seemed to always prepare them that way. But then one day I discovered them grilled, and I don’t know if I’ve prepared them any other way since. Brussels sprouts seem to be very popular lately, and I’m seeing them on menus with exotic preparations involving soy glazes and chili-lime dressings, and while those can be delicious too, you don’t need to go through all that to make them delicious. All you need are olive oil and salt. I once grilled a giant batch for a party we were having, and I think my normally-picky-eating step-daughter ate half the plate by herself. Soon she wanted to (and did) learn to make them herself, and now we eat them at least every other week. She and my husband love the extra charred sprouts, while I relish the slightly crunchy ones. I’m not complaining – I love it!

Pan Grilled Brussels Sprouts
Pan Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Leftovers

Brussels sprouts aren’t very good if they’re even slightly over-cooked, so you probably don’t want to keep any leftovers unless you like them cold. But there is something you can do with leftover grilled cauliflower: Mashed Caulitatoes. But that’s another post (coming soon!).

Mashed Caulitatoes
Mashed Caulitatoes (recipe coming soon)

Grilled Cauliflower / Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Serves 3-4, or more, depending on the size of the head

These can be prepared on the stove top or the grill, and are equally delicious either way. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts compliment each other well, so if you are looking for additional variety, they can easily be prepared and served together. If you are grilling, prep the vegetables in larger pieces so they don’t fall through the grates; if you are pan grilling, make sure not to overcrowd the pan – prepare in batches if necessary.

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets OR 3-4 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved (leave smaller sprouts whole)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt

Grill Directions

  1. Prepare your grill for direct grilling over medium to medium-high heat (higher heat – more char).
  2. Drizzle the vegetables with enough olive oil to lightly coat, and toss with a pinch of salt.
  3. Spread the vegetables directly on the grill in an even layer and cook to desired tenderness (approximately 5-10 minutes).
  4. Transfer vegetables to a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil, season to taste, and serve immediately.

Pan Grilling Directions

  1. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add 2-3 tbsp. olive oil and cauliflower or Brussels Sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and crisp edges begin developing. Add additional olive oil, ½ tbsp. at a time, as needed to keep skillet and cauliflower moistened.
  3. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt, transfer to a serving dish, and pour remaining olive oil from the pan (there should only be a tbsp. or so) over the finished vegetables. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestions

These pair well with just about everything – roast or grilled meats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc. I’m particularly fond of Brussels sprouts with grilled cheddar-Swiss sammies or albacore-Swiss tuna melts.

Spicy Beans / Spicy Citrus Beans

Spicy Beans

I remember sitting at my Gma’s dining table once, when I was living with her during college, reading M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating (one of her autobiographical books). Fisher’s husband had recently died, and she describes floating through life in a state of numbness. Normally a woman who relishes and treasures her food, she can hardly stand to eat. She goes on a cruise to Mexico, alone, and the crew seems to see the pain she’s in, and pays special attention to her.

She’s in the dining room one evening, and all the food seems drab and pretentious, and the waiter leans over to her and says, “There is an American kitchen and there is a country kitchen, side by side out there…”

He disappears, and then returns with a bowl of what the staff is eating, “light-tan beans cooked with some tomato and onion and many herbs.” She devours three or four servings, and relishes every bite, describing the “feeling of that hot strong food going down into [her] stomach [as] one of the finest [she] has ever known.”

I remember finishing that chapter… and then immediately making myself a pot of beans, and eating them with a warm flour tortilla and diced avocado while I dug in to the next chapter.

spicy beans and mexican rice on a plate

I have lived in Southern California all my life, which means that even though I’m a white girl, I have some decent experience with Mexican food. My mother makes great Mexican and Mexican inspired foods: tacos, enchilada casseroles… we even made big batches of (delicious) tamales together on occasion.

I’m comfortable with the onion-garlic-chilies trinity, and can usually whip up some Mexican-style foods without a recipe. Sometimes I just need a little inspiration, in the form of a meal at someone’s home or in a restaurant, and I’ll be off on a mission to replicate, simplify or build upon a recipe. (Do you ever obsess about food like this?)

This recipe developed over time, watching both my mother and mother-in-law make their beans, and seeking out the flavors I loved. I tend to used canned chilies for Spicy Beans, and fresh chilies for Spicy Citrus Beans, but either will work.

Leftovers

These are great wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla with some diced avocado, or mixed with some Mexican-Style Rice, leftover taco meat, and Mexican-Style Vegetables.
chicken taco leftovers medley

Spicy Beans / Spicy Citrus Beans

While I like black beans and pinto beans on their own, the addition of the onion-garlic-chilies trinity really makes them pop. The addition of the optional citrus changes the flavor profile significantly, so try them both. Using rendered chicken fat instead of oil really ups that richly satisfying quality of the beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. rendered chicken fat or pork fat ( alternate: Canola oil or vegetable oil)
  • ½ poblano or whole Anaheim chili, diced OR ½ (4 oz.) can diced green chilies
  • ⅓ medium yellow or brown onion, diced
  • kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pinto (or black) beans, including liquid
  • optional: juice of ½ a large orange

Directions

  1. Heat the fat in a medium pot over medium heat, and once the fat begins to shimmer, add the onions, chilies, and a pinch of salt.
  2. Sweat the chili and onion until softened, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.
  4. Add the beans and their liquid as well as the orange juice (if using).
  5. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes until beans are the desired tenderness.
  6. Season with salt to taste.

Serving Suggestions

The standard variation pairs incredibly well with Mexican-Style Rice and Mexican-Style Vegetables (drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave until tender and hot – 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, 2 minutes) as perfect sides for Chicken Tacos.

The citrus variation pairs delightfully with The Smitten Kitchen’s Huevos Rancheros (which are delicious, although entirely unlike any Huevos Rancheros I’ve ever seen).

Guacamole Salad with Mango

guacamole_salad

I don’t usually have chips in the house – I find it’s a good way to keep myself from eating them. But occasionally we have guests, or are guests, and I inadvertently find myself camped out near the snack table. I’m a sucker for crudité platters, particularly the carrots, cucumber, and olives, and especially if the dressing is hummus or a mixture of homemade ranch and blue cheese. But my great love on the snack table is guacamole.

Guacamole is not, for me, a dip for my chip – the chip is a vehicle to transport the most obscene scoop of guacamole I can manage. I still wind up eating way too many chips, and since much of my family is the same way with guacamole, the entire bowl usually disappears within 5-10 minutes.

When I saw this recipe on Barefoot Contessa, it was too good to pass up. I tried it her way, and it’s good, but the avocado looked a little sparse, drowning in the other elements. I was immediately inclined to double the avocado – make it more guacamole-like. The salad was a huge hit. Some ate it like salad, while others ate it like a chunky dip, but everyone raved.

This became my default contribution at house parties. Then one day, someone mentioned it would be lovely with mangoes… and I’ve made it with mangoes ever since. They provide a brightness that accompanies the avocado beautifully.

Leftovers

Sadly, this doesn’t keep that well for too long. You can certainly eat it the next day or so, but the avocados are going to lose their color and will instead be a drab brownish green. So eat up!

Guacamole Salad with Mango

Serves 8-10
Inspired by Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad
Allowing the red onion, jalapeño, and minced garlic to sit in the lime juice a few minutes allows them to soften a little in texture and flavor, and impart their flavor to the dressing. If you prefer them to have a strong bite, just mix everything together at once. But definitely keep your avos whole until right before serving, else the salad may start browning by the time your guests see it.

Ingredients

  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup small diced red onion
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded & minced
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and ½-inch diced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • 4-5 ripe Hass avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½-inch diced

Directions

  1. Whisk together the lime zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
  2. Mix red onion, jalapeño, and minced garlic into the lime-spice mixture and let marinade at least 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add grape tomatoes, bell pepper, black beans and mango and pour olive oil over top, and mix vegetables to incorporate well.
  4. When ready to serve, dice and add avocado, mix gently, and season with salt to taste.

Serving Suggestions

This makes an excellent side for carnitas, all Mexican food, and  just about anything grilled (oh, it’s glorious over grilled fish), and doubles as a chunky dip.