Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Carrots are one of those things that I don’t really LIKE… but they’re non-offensive enough (and convenient enough for a quick snack) that I force myself to eat them, because apparently they’re healthy and stuff. I’ve found that the most tolerable way to eat them is paired with something with a bit of spice – for instance, some raw carrots dipped in chipotle hummus (Dear Trader Joe’s, WHYYYY did you discontinue your amazing chipotle hummus?? You’re breakin’ my heart, guys…)

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Another tough part of the carrot equation is texture. Cooked carrots are… not delightful, in my opinion. Too often they’re mushy, and just plain overcooked. So, given all of the above information, you’re probably wondering why the hell I opted to make these carrots at all! I kind of wondered myself, actually. But, if any unappealing vegetable can be saved, there are two ways to do it: roasting it, or crusting it in a boatload of delicious spices. And I plan to employ the “crusting vegetables in spices” method a lot more from now on, because the results are FABULOUS.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce
serves 8-10 as a side
adapted from here

2lb small to medium carrots, with tops
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 T vegetable oil
1 cup greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
zest of one lemon
1 T harissa, sriracha, or other chili sauce

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

1.) Set a large pot of water to boil, and prepare an ice bath (fill a large bowl about 1/3 of the way with ice, then add water). As the water comes up to a boil, peel the carrots, and trim their tops to about 1-2″ long.

2.) When the water is boiling, add a small handful of kosher salt, then add the carrots. Allow the carrots to blanch for about 6 minutes – less if they’re particularly small, more if they’re large. After 6 minutes, remove them from the water and put them straight into the ice bath.

3.) While the carrots sit in the ice bath for a minute, mix up your spices. Combine the brown sugar, ground mustard, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.

4.) Once the carrots have cooled a bit (just 2-3 minutes), remove them from the ice bath and pat them dry. Place them into a large mixing bowl, and toss with one tablespoon of vegetable oil and the spice mixture, until all the carrots are well-coated in the spices.

5.) Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat, and add enough vegetable oil to very thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Once it’s good and hot, add a single layer of carrots, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they’re nicely golden brown, and then flip. Keep a close eye on them – if your pan is too hot or you didn’t use enough oil, the brown sugar in the spice mix will burn REALLY fast.

6.) Continue cooking batches in the same manner, until all the carrots are done. While the carrots cook, mix up your dipping sauce. Add the zest to the greek yogurt, and mix to thoroughly combine. Then, add the chili sauce, and swirl it into the greek yogurt (it looks prettier if you don’t fully mix the two together, but it’ll taste delicious either way).

7.) Serve the carrots hot, with the greek yogurt chili sauce spooned on top.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

This recipe might just make a carrot lover out of me, yet. The spice mix is SO GOOD – a lot of savory flavors, some spice, and just a touch of sweetness from the brown sugar. I’ve actually used the leftover spice mix on a few other vegetables this week, and they’ve all been totally delicious! The greek yogurt dip is nice and creamy and cool, but with a bit of brightness from the lemon and the chili sauce, which cuts the richness a little. All of the carrot-haters at our table loved these, and I can’t wait to make them again!

Who knew that boiling purple carrots would turn the water black??
Tina

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Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

I’ve always said: “Happiness is a warm, fluffy, buttermilk biscuit!”

Actually, that’s a lie – I’ve never said that before. But, I have felt that sentiment deep down in my heart for a very long time, and NOW I’m saying it… and I mean it! Seriously, a buttermilk biscuit is a beautiful, wonderful thing, especially when it’s fresh from the oven and slathered in butter. Part of the beauty of a buttermilk biscuit is that you can dress it up in millions of ways. Add cheese! Pop it on top of a chicken pot pie! Slice it in half and use it to sandwich a delicious piece of fried chicken!

(Stop drooling on your keyboard. It’s unsightly.)

ANYWAYS. When I was brainstorming some menu ideas for a wedding shower I was helping to throw, I knew I wanted to make a biscuit sandwich of some sort. A biscuit sandwich fulfills many of the requirements for food at a brunch: it’s dainty, it’s cute, it’s carb-y to soak up all the mimosas in your stomach. I wanted to add a couple other elements, too – something Italian (I met the bride while working in her dad’s Italian bakery nearly 20 years ago), something cheesy (please tell me I don’t need to explain the need for cheese?), and something to give it a real savory/spicy edge. Mission accomplished!

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)
makes about 16 petite sandwiches, with jam left over

For the jam:
1 pound strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
1 cup brown sugar
2 T water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (white, if you have it)
a healthy pinch of kosher salt

For the biscuits:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
generous 1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 t coarsely ground black pepper
8 T butter, super cold, and cut into cubes
2 oz gruyere cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk

For the sandwiches:
16 thin slices of prosciutto
arugula

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

1.) Start by getting your jam going on the stovetop. Add all the jam ingredients to a small sauce pan, stir well to combine, and set over medium heat. Let the mixture come up to a boil; turn the heat back just a bit (you don’t want it to be a hard boil, but you want more action than a simmer), and let the mixture cook down until it’s nice and thick. Keep an eye on it, and stir often, and it should take about 45 minutes.

2.) While the jam cooks, make your biscuit dough (and preheat your oven to 425°). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and black pepper. Using a pastry blender (or two knives, or your hands), cut the butter into the flour mixture, until there are still some bits of butter the size of small peas. (More thorough biscuit-dough-making directions are here.)

3.) Add the grated cheese to your flour/butter mixture, and use a fork to toss it all together until the cheese is evenly distributed. Then, drizzle the buttermilk around the bowl, and use the fork to lightly mix everything, until a shaggy dough starts to form.

4.) Lightly flour your countertop, and dump the dough out on to it. Working quickly, press the dough together into a lump, and then shape it into a square that’s about 3/4″ thick. Remember, the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible, so it doesn’t get overworked and it stays COLD!

5.) Cut the dough into 16 neat squares. (You can also cut traditional round biscuits out of the dough – I just find the rolling of scraps to be cumbersome, and the constant handling of those extra pieces can result in a tough biscuit. So, I go with squares.) Place the biscuits on to a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2″ apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the biscuits have risen nicely, and are a light golden brown on top.

6.) While your biscuits bake, finish up your jam. Dependent on what kind of texture you want, you can do a few things: leave it as is (for a super-chunky jam); mash up the strawberries with a potato masher (for a finer, but still chunky, jam); or blend the jam with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender, for a much smoother jam). Let the jam cool completely.

7.) When your biscuits are done baking, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

8.) Time to assemble the sandwiches! Gently slices the biscuits in half, and then spread jam on both sides of the biscuit. Layer on a piece of prosciutto, a small bunch of arugula, and then the top half of the biscuit. Serve at room temperature.

These sandwiches really have a lot of flavor going on – but it all ends up working really nicely together. The biscuits are nice and savory from the gruyere, and a little spicy, from the pepper. The prosciutto is smoky and salty, and pepperiness of the arugula complements the biscuit, and the strawberry balsamic jam adds just enough sweetness to round it all out. They’re rich and delicious, but small enough not to be too filling and heavy.

A couple items of note:

1.) You’ll have lots of jam left over. Use it on EVERYTHING – your morning toast, a slice of toasted baguette slathered in goat cheese, drizzled into your yogurt, eaten directly off a spoon. It will last for several weeks in the fridge.

2.) If you’re making these sandwiches for a party, make the biscuits ahead and freeze them. Once the biscuits are cut, lay them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop the baking sheet into the freezer. After 3 or 4 hours, when the outsides are completely firm, toss them all into a ziploc freezer bag, and keep them frozen until you’re ready to use them. Bake from frozen, but allow about 25 minutes for them to bake. (This is also a good idea if you just want to keep biscuits on hand for quick breakfasts or snacks – you can bake as many or as few at a time as you like.)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

If you’re still feeling apprehensive about attempting homemade biscuits, just DO IT. It takes a little practice and finesse, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be so glad you tried it. You can do it!

A world of buttery, flaky, deliciousness awaits you,
Tina

Chimichurri

Have you ever had chimichurri? You may have had it and not known what it is… but it’s essentially an Argentinian pesto, that is typically parsley-based. As with an Italian pesto, you’ll often see slight variations – some are thicker in consistency, some are thinner, some are more finely minced, others are chunkier – but they’re all bright and herbacious and delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to any kind of protein you prefer.

Chimichurri

This summer, I’ve made chimichurri a handful of times, and it’s been great because it is a one-sauce solution to multiple different main courses. You guys know I’m not much of a steak person, but my husband IS – so, I can make up a batch of chimichurri, and we can grill his steak, and my shrimp (or chicken, or pork, or fish), and top both with the same sauce. It’s also great spooned over some roasted potatoes, and any traces left on your plate are best sopped up with a big chunk of bread.

Chimichurri
makes about 1.5 cups

about one cup of fresh parsley, lightly packed
juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
4 cloves of garlic
1 generous tablespoon red wine vinegar
1-2 T honey or agave
large pinch each of kosher salt and pepper
olive oil

Chimichurri

If you want to make the chimichurri in your food processor, throw everything but the olive oil into the work bowl, and pulse until everything is chopped well. Stream the olive oil in while the machine runs, adding as much as you like to create your preferred consistency (I used about 1/3 cup, give or take).

If you don’t have (or don’t want to dirty) a food processor, you can absolutely make chimichurri by hand. Finely mince your parsley, and grate your garlic on a microplane grater; then add everything to a bowl and mix.

Taste the sauce for seasoning and acidity; if you had some really sour lemons, you might want to add a touch more honey or agave. On the other hand, if your lemons were on the sweeter side, or the agave you have on hand is extra sweet, you can add a splash more red wine vinegar. Resist the urge to add more garlic right off the bat, as it intensifies as it sits.

Chimichurri

You can make the chimichurri ahead of time – just throw it in a jar or other airtight container, and keep it in the fridge. The olive oil might solidify once it gets cold, so just remember to take it out of the fridge an hour or so before serving, so it has time to soften up. The sauce will keep, flavor-wise, for 3 or 4 days, but parsley does brown over time, so it looks less pretty. It’s great for parties or barbecues – as a main course OR an appetizer. Season your protein of choice with salt and pepper, grill or saute it (on or off a skewer), and serve with a bowl of chimichurri for dipping and spooning. Congratulations, you have officially won the potluck competition that only exists in your head!

Chimichurri

Chimichurri has been known to save even the most brutally overcooked of steaks,
Tina

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

In the last year or so, I have become moderately obsessed with Thai food. The tiny little Thai restaurant near our house sees my face a lot… and if I go too long without some pad Thai or curry, I start to panic a little. Despite my love for the cuisine, Thai food is complicated, and involves a lot of ingredients that are not terribly common or easy to find, so I’ve not really had the urge to try my hand at making anything (especially when, for $8 and a 1.5 mile roundtrip drive, I can have a nice, steaming order of massaman curry on the table in less than 15 minutes). I’m sure this salad is FAR from authentic, but it incorporates a lot of the tastes and textures that I love in Thai food – crunchy cabbage, salty peanuts, sour lime juice – and is nearly as satisfying as the real deal!

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing
serves 2 generously

one head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
one large heart of romaine, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
half a red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
8oz boneless, skinless chicken breast
kosher salt
garlic powder
one batch of Peanut Lime Dressing

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

for the dressing:
1 T fresh lime juice (about half a lime)
1 T mirin (you can use sugar instead, if necessary)
1 T soy sauce
1 t sesame oil
large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 T honey (optional)
up to 2 T water

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

1.) Let’s start with the chicken. Season the chicken well with kosher salt and garlic powder, add a few teaspoons of oil to a skillet, and cook over medium heat until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

2.) While the chicken cooks, chop and prep all your vegetables. I like to shred my cabbage and romaine into roughly 1/2″ wide pieces.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

3.) For the dressing, whisk together all ingredients except the honey and water. It will take a minute for everything to fully incorporate, but just keep whisking and it’ll eventually smooth out into a nice, creamy dressing. Once you have everything well-combined, whisk is as much water as you need to get a nice, drizzle-able consistency (I used about 2 tablespoons). Taste test your dressing; I found mine to be a LITTLE too sour/acidic, so I added a tablespoon of honey. If you’re happy with it the way it is, carry on!

4.) Once your dressing is made and your vegetables are prepped, shred your chicken (or cut it into bite-size pieces).

5.) Toss the cabbage, romaine, carrots, and bell peppers together. Pile this mixture on to each plate, and then top with shredded chicken, chopped peanuts, and cilantro. Drizzle the dressing over the top, and serve.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

I don’t think I’ve ever attacked a salad with such intensity in my life! The flavor and texture combinations in this salad are fantastic – and the light, crunchy vegetables keep it from feeling too heavy. It would be absolutely perfect on a hot summer evening (not that it will ever be HOT in Michigan again… I’ve given up hope), or for a summer barbecue. I can’t wait to make it again!

I won’t tell anyone if you accidentally eat a spoonful of peanut butter straight from the jar,
Tina