Of geeky cooking and the Christmas spirit

20 December 2010

By virtue of the fact that I own and run this website, I am most likely a geek. But not, perhaps, as geeky as the best of them.  Them, I mean.  Those Boston Brahmin types (in a good way!) who know all about the science of cooking, test recipes they know won’t work so that they can discover still more about the science of cooking, and then reduce things down to simple preparations that anyone with access to any grocery store can make.  Fanciness be damned; Cook’s Illustrated will guide you to great home-cooked food, and they won’t ask where you did the shopping or require a purchase of fennel pollen.  And you can impress your guests with your extensive knowledge of the Maillard effect.  Who doesn’t want to do that?

I would love to do that, except for the fact that I don’t understand science.  So I don’t tend to read too much of Cook’s Illustrated, complacent in a slightly less intelligent approach to dinnertime.  But I do browse it in line at the grocery.  Perhaps in a gift-giving state of mind, a sales clerk gave me the thing, however, so I took it home and set it on the coffee table, where it promptly stayed until it got dusty.  This was in October.  Christmastime means Christmas guests, however, and those mean dusting, which in turn meant that this magazine got picked up again.  And eventually, it got read.  I realize I am probably the last person on earth to come to this realization, but Cook’s Illustrated is really very good!

One of the gems in October’s issue, for example, was a little piece on how to roast carrots so that they wind up sweet and lovely in lieu of becoming squenched up and crunchy, a fate that has befallen carrots in the MF oven at least once before. (And for a dinner party, no less.  It was awful.)  The article does not appear to be available on the interwebs, and Lord knows I cannot remember the explanation, but their method had something to do with allowing the carrots to cook in their own steam a bit before giving them a proper roast.  Apparently cooking in one’s own steam makes some things sweeter, which I think is funny.  Regardless, these carrots were great, requiring only a very small addition—tin foil for the first 15 minutes of cooking—to come out with much prettier and more reliably tasty results.  It was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten in October.

Chermoula-roasted carrots

Roasting method adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

I like to roast vegetables with the chermoula already on them, offering more of the non-cooked stuff at serving time.  But this is primarily because I always have too much.  Aside from the addition of a slight bit more smokiness, I’m not sure the method does much.  If running low, nix the double take and offer a small bowl of chermoula with the carrots (or whatever vegetable you like) at the table.  Highly recommended over couscous or with a simple lamb roast.

For the chermoula: 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems only  |  ½ bunch parsley, leaves and tender stems only  |  2 tsp cumin seeds  |  1 tsp paprika  |  2 cloves garlic  |  ½ cup olive oil  |  juice from ½ lemon  |  salt + pepper

For the carrots:  carrots, say 2 per person, more if they’re small  |  olive oil

Make the chermoula:  Toast cumin seeds in a small frying pan over medium low heat for a couple of minutes, until they are fragrant.  If you don’t have a mortar + pestle or coffee grinder for grinding them yourself, don’t worry, but do use whole seeds in lieu of the pre-ground stuff.  Buzz everything together in a food processor.  You may not need all the olive oil and/or lemon juice.  Just add until you are happy with the consistency and flavor.

For the carrots:  Heat oven to 425 F/220 C.  Peel and cut the carrots into pieces of more or less the same size.  Cutting them crosswise into thirds and then halving or even quartering the thicker pieces lengthwise is a nice approach.  Toss with some chermoula and a bit more olive oil.  Dump into a shallow roasting tin.  Cover the tin with foil and place in the oven.  After 15, uncover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice to flip the carrots.  After they are done, let cool briefly, and serve with additional chermoula at the table.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia December 21, 2010 at 08:17

Can’t wait to try these sweet and lovely carrots. I love carrots and have never been able to prepare them cooked in such a way that I could enjoy them hot. This recipe looks made for me. Thanks!


Mary Walker December 21, 2010 at 20:41

This is not a comment about the newest recipe. I just wanted to tell youu that I made three loaves of your date walnut bread for Christmas presents. It is wonderful. Thanks for the recipe. HAve a good holiday and a Merry Christmas.


me December 24, 2010 at 08:41

Why thank you, Mrs. Walker! I’m so glad you liked the recipe; I made some of the date walnut bread for Christmas presents, too! It’s very tasty and keeps for days. Merry Christmas!!

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