Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

roasting

Roasted summer squash and tomatoes

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

Yellow squash, zucchini and grape tomatoes team up with herbs in this east side dish to sing the real song of summer. Nutritious and delicious, this simple side is surprisingly filling.

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Hear that? It's my stomach growling. Skip to the recipe, please.

If you could only ever have one side dish ever again, what would it be?

Honestly, I don't know if I could answer that myself. I'm kind of a side dish fiend. Sometimes I need to remind myself that you don't have to have 2-3 with every single meal. 

I like it all. Mac and cheese. Tabouli. Stuffing. Fruit salad. Sweet potato casserole. I love sides so much, sometimes I'll get a bunch of them as a meal if a restaurant has good ones. I do what I want. 

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Through it all, there's a soft spot in my heart for veggies. First, I just love the way they taste. Second, I love the way they make me feel. I know I'm doing something good for my body when I eat them, and it's a health solution that doesn't involve rocket science or too-good-to-be-true fixes.

As I get older... I can definitely feel if I'm not eating enough of them. 

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So if I really had to narrow down to my top five, roasted summer squash and tomatoes would for sure make the list. It's one of my most-made side dishes. It's such a favorite that a form of it was one of the four(!) side dishes at my wedding. It was also a frequent item on the menu when I was doing personal catering. 

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It takes a little prep to get it together, but what it comes down to is throwing a bunch of fresh foods on a sheet pan and roasting it until everything is nice and soft with some crispy spots. The zucchini and yellow squash are perfection when they start to get nice and roasty, especially with the garlic and shallots pitching in. The tomatoes add the perfect tangy twist, almost like a tomato sauce.

It's one of those dishes that tastes fresh and bright, but still comforting and satisfying. You're not going to regret only making one side dish if you choose wisely, and this is choosing wisely.

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Need a shortcut?

Mincing garlic and shallots will be the thing that turns a lot of people off of this recipe, I think. Both can seem daunting to beginners, and it might seem unnecessary to people who just want dinner on the table.

Here's the deal. If you're TRULY in a crunch, you can just cook the squash and tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and any herbs you have on hand. 

I get it, I really do. We’re all busy, and taking the time to make dinner can seem like such a killjoy when you’re on a roll with other tasks. I’ll be honest, I do this almost as much as I do it my preferred way if it's a weeknight.

BUT... and this is an important but. 

Here’s the thing. If you don’t do the work, you’ll never get better at cooking. Do you believe there will ever be a time when you’re less “busy”? Do you believe there will ever be a “right” time? 

There might be. Then again, if you’re one of those people who is constantly saying “yes” to the next challenge and who enjoys work, there might not be. 

A 2016 New York Times article about health habits to build in your 20s points out the decisions we make may be more long-term than we realize. That goes for heart health, how we look and feel, and potentially how much weight we carry.

Cooking is like anything else you do. It takes work.

It comes to some people a little easier than others, but ultimately what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you take a little time a couple of times a week and learn how to effectively do the basics—chop an onion, mince a shallot, crush and mince garlic, cut a tomato in a way that doesn’t leave you wondering if you’re doing it right… you will slowly but surely learn how to cook confidently and more quickly.

That’s the hard truth of cooking. Sometimes what makes it take so long is being in the beginning stages. Wavering over how long it’s going to take to cut an onion, rather than knowing it takes a minute or two with experience. Wobbling as you cut the potato, because how are you supposed to cut something round anyway? 

It takes practice. It takes being slow for a little while. But it's an investment with clear, guaranteed results. 

Listen, you have to eat. No matter what, you’ll have to spend some money, go someplace to get the food (cooked or not), and spend time waiting for and eating it. If you take just a few nights a week regularly to work on making it yourself, you WILL get better. 

You'll need to look some things up, maybe more than once. You may need to ask for help. You may burn a meal or two. But soon, you’ll figure things out well enough that the struggle won’t be how to get something cooked. Instead, it will be how much effort you feel like putting into it tonight.

To add a new ingredient or not? To leave out that hard-to-find, expensive ingredient you’re out of, or try a substitute? To bother plating it, or to let everyone serve themselves right from the stove?

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

Not only will you develop skills, but your brain will start to recognize which flavors go together. What things cook similarly enough that you can put them together in the oven and not burn them. How to throw together a meal with what you found on manager’s special at the supermarket, or what came in your CSA box. 

You’ll learn to cook on the fly, and how to plan to cook based on your resources. THAT is how you get reasonably healthy meals on the table most days.

The goal for most of us, after all, isn’t to become a chef. That’s what culinary school is for. It’s to be able to cook tasty food that fuels your body. It’s to enjoy one of the pillars of life: creating food to eat with your loved ones.

Decent results for making a delicious side dish a couple times a week, right?

So, what's your favorite side dish of all time? Let me know in the comments! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So let's get roasting!

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Before you go, I want to let you know about a resource I created. If you're still a little intimidated by anything outside of microwaving, I created it just for you!

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. You can use as much or as little of it as you like, but I think every beginning cook should at least get familiar with the concepts in this booklet. 

Just click below for a free download and let me know how you like it! 

How to roast peppers in an oven

Method, Fundamentals, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment
Roasted Peppers

It is absolutely incredible how much you can change the flavor of peppers just by roasting them instead of sautéing or sweating them. Let me count the ways: 

1. Roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin. The waxy skin of peppers burns up quickly in the oven, acting as a smoky shell for the flesh. 

2. It enhances the sweetness. Ripened bell peppers (red, orange, yellow) are already sweet when they're raw, but other peppers like poblanos, jalapeños and habaneros are decidedly not. Cooking breaks down cell walls, making the sugars much more noticeable. Cooking for a long period of time breaks things down even more, allowing them to react and intensify into more complex flavors. 

3. Both the flavor and the texture get richer, which is great for hearty dishes. Bringing out the oils and juices in the flesh of peppers makes it easier for your mouth to detect all the flavors.

4. The flavor intensifies, but the piquancy softens. Piquancy is the sharpness that leaves you fanning your mouth and reaching for crackers after you take a bite of a raw hot pepper. Roasted peppers are still spicy, but in a more palatable way. 

5. All of this goes double for green peppers, which are unripe. Imagine eating a green bell pepper. It's crunchy, a little astringent and you taste a lot of... green? That's gonna be our chlorophyll. Some enjoy it in raw peppers. Great for photosynthesis. Not so great for chili. 

I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but I think those five enhancements make a pretty strong case. 

Some people like to roast peppers over an open flame on a stovetop. Some people like to grill peppers until they're charred. Great methods. Probably quicker. But who has two thumbs, no grill and an electric range?

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So what's a cook to do? Turn to the broiler. Yes, that button on the oven that's mysterious to people who don't cook, scary to beginners and a God-send to people who cook regularly. Fun fact: broiling is actually a form of grilling. Both are forms of dry heat that work through radiation. 

So now that we've got the why's out of the way, let's move on to the how. 

This method works best for large peppers like poblano and bell peppers. I've also tried it with jalapeños and habaneros, but they’re a little different. You have to watch them more carefully. The flesh is thin and will burn up easily, so reduce the time and watch more closely (noted in recipe). 

Stick around after the recipe for some suggestions for using roasted peppers. 

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So what can you actually do with these peppers? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use them for chili. I swear by this. I tried it once as an experiment and I will never go back!

  • Blend them into a sauce or even a salad dressing. Red pepper vinaigrette is one of my favorites.

  • Throw roasted red bell peppers on a salad or over eggs. Or over a salad with eggs. 

  • Add to a pan with sautéed onions and garlic, then toss with pasta. Alternatively, use cooled roasted peppers to spice up a pasta salad. 

  • Stuff chicken with strips of roasted pepper and cheese. 

  • Mix with melted queso chihuahua (quesadilla cheese) for a smoky dip. 

Those are just a few things I've made and ideas off the top of my head. What are you going to make with roasted peppers? Tell me in the comments!

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How to roast garlic

Method, Make-ahead, Fundamentals, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment
how_to_roast_garlic_pinnable

Sautéing garlic is one of the best ways to build a savory foundation for a dish, but I would argue the best trick up garlic's sleeve takes a little more coaxing.

That's right—roasted garlic is where it's at.  

True story: when I was little, I thought all garlic was like roasted garlic by default. My Ya-ya (grandmother) kept a little repurposed pimento jar full of roasted garlic cloves in the fridge at all times. Fast forward to today, I have a tiny pimento jar of roasted garlic in my fridge too. 

Roasted garlic is more like a bear hug than a punch. Though roasting softens the sharper qualities of garlic, it somehow intensifies the flavor. It's heavy and insistent, but not jarring. 

Roasting brings out its sweetness in garlic by breaking down long chains of fructose, garlic's choice of energy storage. As the garlic browns, those sugars provide a caramel flavor. meanwhile, you're softening the sulfurous zing garlic is known for. 

What you're left with is a pod packed with soft, rich, nutty, caramelly, slightly meaty flavor that leaves a totally different impression than the minced, sautéed iteration. 

Another perk of roasted garlic is the texture itself. First—and not to be minimized—roasted garlic is sooo easy to peel. Second, the cloves can be easily smashed into a paste that lends sauces and other mixtures a savory-sweet kick, without compromising texture. You can even use whole cloves as a garnish, as they are soft, smooth and much less offensive then their raw counterparts. 

Okay, now hear me out. Garlic is SO easy to roast. Read this through and I think you'll realize that. This post is a little long, but only because I want everything to be clear as possible. 

So what can you use this magical ingredient for? Here are some of my faves:

  • Use it to add extra layers of flavor to chili.
  • Rub meats with it before (or after!) cooking.
  • Mix with softened butter to make the best garlic bread of your life.
  • Use roasted garlic paste in sauces.
  • Toss pasta with garlic paste and cream.
  • Spread some on toast (it's different!)
  • Work a little roasted garlic paste into your hamburger or meatball mix.
  • Use it as a condiment on a sandwich. 

There are a million and one ways to use this, I'm positive. I'm finding new ones all the time. What will you do with your roasted garlic? Let me know in the comments!

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