I love cooking without a recipe. There’s such a thrill in making something wonderful with a jumble of ingredients you happen to have on hand. I love peering into the crisper drawer and poking around spice cabinet, playing around with flavors in my head until it feels right. It’s like being a mathematician with food: compute a formula and then find the correct answer to the equation (adding, tasting and adjusting as you go). My only problem is that I’m terrible at showing my work, just like in school. I never understood why the teacher needed to see how I obtained my answer; as long as it was correct, who cares how I got there? Well, I sure learned that lesson a little late. What with all my poking around and throwing ingredients together, I hardly ever write it down. I can’t tell you how many dishes I have made that were terrific (or awful!) but unable to be replicated (or avoided). An off the cuff dash of this or a quick pinch of that can make or break a meal, and are also the toughest things to remember once you’ve plated, eaten, and cleaned up. In the kitchen, it really does pay to show your work.
I recently started keeping a kitchen notebook, and it has been indispensable to me. It migrates from the shelf with all the cookbooks to the junk drawer in my kitchen island (everybody has one of those, right?) It is cheap and sturdy, and has really helped me keep track of both things I have made and recipes I want to try. (For notes on cookbook recipes, I jot them on a Post-It note and paste it right on the recipe in the book. I do this especially if the recipe didn’t turn out well.) With the notebook open on your work-space, there’s no excuse for not writing things down as you go.
I originally made the recipe I have for you today with green beans. But alas, when I went to grab them from the freezer last night, I found we were out. Dismayed but not deterred, I thought: carrots! Ginger and carrots are old pals, though the ginger is usually powdered, and honey and butter are involved. Also, instead of steaming or boiling the carrots, I sort of braised them in the skillet with beef broth. The diced ginger and shallots are sautéed in a separate pan, and then added to the carrots later. The result is a pungent, slightly sweet side dish. I like my carrots soft but not mushy, and that texture paired with the crunch of the shallots and ginger is awesome. There’s no added oil or butter (other than the teaspoon or so used to sauté), but the whole thing seems to be glazed with a creamy sheen. A splash of soy sauce adds a subtle complexity and salty undertones.
The clincher for this recipe is that it comes together in a flash. Aside from the braising of the carrots (during which you can be cooking other parts of your meal), it takes maybe fifteen minutes. And that includes the minute or so I took to write it all down. J
Carrots with Ginger and Shallots
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a guide. To be honest, I didn’t really measure how many carrots I used; I simply kept chopping them up until they seemed in good balance with the ginger. That’s the fun of it though- follow your senses instead of what someone else tells you.
Carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds (I used 5 or 6 medium)
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced (I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
3 or 4 shallots, sliced thin
Beef or chicken broth
Extra virgin olive oil, or the fat of your choice (Butter or walnut oil would also be good here)
Add a glug or so of oil to a large skillet and set over medium heat. Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add enough beef broth to come about halfway up your carrots. Cover and let simmer until desired tenderness. You made need to add additional broth if the pan starts getting dry.
Meanwhile, add another glug of oil to a second skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and shallots, stirring regularly to avoid scorching. Cook until the shallots are crispy and lightly brown, remove from heat and set aside.
Once the carrots are done, remove the cover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add the ginger and shallots to the pan and cook another few minutes to meld the flavors. I like to add another splash of broth at this point.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.