Whip Smart Kitchen

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

sides

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! 

Roasted lemon & Parmesan green beans

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier5 Comments
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Everyone needs a few side dishes they can make in minutes from memory without a second thought. On the other hand, that can get boring real fast. Luckily it's so easy to spice things up in the kitchen. 

This is one of my favorite twists on classic roasted green beans. It's just enough of a change to keep things exciting, and it barely takes any extra effort. Besides that, I always have a wedge of Parmesan and some lemons on hand, and I highly recommend anyone who cooks to do the same. So no extra shopping if you decide to do it on a whim!

Savory and crunchy with just a twist of tang, this dish goes fantastically with fish and poultry. Don't let that limit you though, as this side is so versatile. I've served it with everything from steak to creamy pastas. 

One of the great things about fresh green beans is that they cook incredibly quickly, and fairly evenly. If you like them a little more crunchy (or you're just really hungry), try cooking them for just 10 minutes.

On the other hand, green beans get this wonderful, soft, crisp-edged texture and get more savory as you brown them. So if you're looking for comfort food, roast 20-25 minutes until they have brown spots. 

Now, let's get cooking.

If you try out this recipe let me know in the comments! If you post on social media, hashtag #whipsmartkitchen. I'd love to see your take!

Easy make-ahead recipes for Memorial Day: slow-cooker Italian roast beef and dill pickles

Slowcooker, Italian, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment
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This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

Just found out you have company coming for Memorial Day? Scrambling to find something to make?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

I have one of the easiest roast recipes in the world, with a flavor that skips no corners: Slow-cooker Italian Roast Beef. Tender, tangy, slow-cooked perfection.

There’s a kick other than the flavor though: this recipe is far more American than it is Italian. It follows the classic Italian-American formula of using tenderizing agents and strong flavors to cover up the fact that a cut of meat isn’t exactly prime rib. 

To be fair, a bottom round roast isn’t a terrible cut, but it is pretty lean, which can make it a little tough depending on how you cook it.

This simple method is going to make it melt like cotton candy in a rainstorm.

I got this recipe from my Mom and Ya-ya, who have taught me a lot about the principles of food and cooking. If you know the basics, you can change just about any recipe to suit your needs without royally screwing it up. I’m pretty sure that’s what they did here.

I’ve seen similar versions elsewhere, but they generally rely on seasoning packets and other similar ingredients I’m not a fan of using. The giardiniera (Italian-style pickled vegetables) is about as “fake” a food as I want to use. My family turned this into a four-ingredient crockpot of tender heaven that can easily feed a small party or me and my husband for half a week.

What more could you want? Oh, you do want more? Good, because I have it:

PICKLES. Impressive ones, ‘cause you made them yo’self!

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown’s fermented dill pickle recipe.  I was watching the “Dill-icious” episode of “Good Eats” the other day (definitely not for the fifth time since it’s been on Netflix, that would be crazy…) and noticed he said you could skip the fermentation process and make refrigerator pickles.  

I saw that as a challenge, so an experiment I started.

I am posting the recipe instead of just linking it because I made a few adjustments and elaborated on it for those who have trouble cooking without following a recipe exactly (p.s., we’re gonna work on that later, you and me!).

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First, I pared it down a little. This was a late-night experiment, after all. Second, whether or not you reduce the ratios, you need less salt when you’re not fermenting. Third I actually upped the garlic because I love it. Fourth, I added some vinegar just in case the other flavoring agents weren’t enough. Looking back, I don’t think the vinegar was necessary, but I will continue using it because I like the little zesty something it adds. Finally, I replaced dill seed with dried dill weed because either the Morristown, Tennessee area has no use for dill seed, or there is a vast conspiracy among the local grocers. I’ll let you choose your own adventure there.

Back to Monday. Pair these recipes with staples like grilled corn and fruit salad and tell your guests they’re welcome to bring a covered dish. You seem like you’ve got it all together, friend.

So are you really going to make burgers and hot dogs again this year?

Slow-Cooker Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches

(Serves 8-10)

Prep: 5-10 minutes

Passive cooking: 10 hours

Shredding: 5 minutes

Total active cook time: 10-15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs bottom round (rump) roast
  • 16-oz jar of Italian giardiniera, packed in vinegar
  • 16-oz jar of mild pepper rings
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Bread of choice for serving (I recommend toledo rolls)

Instructions:

  1. Place beef roast in the center of your slow-cooker.
  2. Pour jar of Italian giardiniera over the roast.
  3. Drain off half of the juice from the pepper rings and discard. Pour the rest of the jar’s contents over the roast.
  4. Add garlic cloves to the mixture.
  5. Put the lid on, set the slow-cooker to low and cook for 10 hours. 
  6. Remove from heat, shred with two forks.  Drain off excess juice—and save it!
  7. Serve warm on toledo rolls or Italian sub rolls. To take it to the next level of comforting deliciousness, serve it with little cups of the juice for dipping. 

Refrigerator Dill Pickle Spears

Prep: 10 minutes

Refrigerate: 3-4 days (2 minimum)

Total active cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup pickling salt
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4-5 pickling cucumbers (4-6 inches), quartered lengthwise*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ large bunch fresh dill
  • Several cups filtered water

Instructions:

  1. Combine pickling salt, dried dill weed, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, white vinegar and one cup of filtered water in a quart-sized mason jar.** Stir until salt dissolves.
  2. Place as many cucumber spears as you can fit into the mixture.
  3. Place fresh dill and garlic cloves in between and around the cucumbers, using a butter knife to help you push them down if necessary.
  4. Top off with filtered water, making sure to cover all of the pickles. Seal tightly and give it a shake to combine.
  5. Leave the jar in the refrigerator for at least two days, preferably 3-4. Eat within 10-14 days.

*If you like your pickles thinner, you can always halve any large quarters.

**I actually used a deli container this time that I had from buying grape leaves. You can really use just about any air-tight container that holds about a quart. Just don’t use anything that’s going to hold the smell of the vinegar or pass on smells from other foods.