Monday, April 25, 2016

Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars

Sometimes I am a little late to the party. Well, sort of. Almost a year ago I bought the "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins. It was one of several books I brought up to Pentwater (MI) during a short three day stay with my sister and her family during the week following the Fourth of July holiday. Only I never got around to reading it. Looking at the growing stack of books on and surrounding my nightstand, I decided this book had waited it's turn long enough. After reading just the first few pages I wondered how it was I waited so long. Serendipitously I learned the film version of the book was due for an early fall release as I was two-thirds of the way into it. For those of you who, like me, may have put off or started but stopped reading this well-written, intense, suspenseful, Hitchcockian-like psychological thriller, all I will say is "you have five months to finish it before the film opens in October."Because why let your heart race just once? 

More than likely you are going to need some chocolate or wine (or something stronger) to settle your mind and heart down during as well as after reading this book. Consider this my way of subtly influencing you to indulge yourself in a bit of chocolate. All in the spirit of your best interests, of course. However, not any chocolate or chocolate bar will do. This would be one of those times you don't want to settle for anything less than homemade. Because you need or rather you deserve a really, really good bar of chocolate. Like, for example, these Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars. Did I tell you yet they are lightly sprinkled with sea salt?

The bars can be made with either milk or dark chocolate. These were made using both milk and white chocolates. The quality of your chocolate matters so choose a really good one.

If there is one baking or candy bar making technique you should never ever skip, it is roasting your nuts. Beyond improving the intensity of their flavor, roasted nuts stay crispier whether they are coated in chocolate, mixed in with a batter, sprinkled on the sides of a cake, or used in a savory dish. And the best part? Their magical transformation takes place in less than 10 minutes in a 350 degree (F) preheated oven. As an added benefit, the aroma in your kitchen will be temporarily intoxicating. On a side note, I store my 'unroasted' nuts in the refrigerator to lengthen their lifespan as they can easily go rancid sitting in the cabinet.

There are a number of different methods for melting chocolate: In a double-boiler, in the microwave, or in a water bath. The key in any of the methods using water is to ensure it doesn't get into the chocolate as water will cause chocolate to seize. Resulting in ruined grainy mess. Chopping your chocolate aids with the melting process as you don't want the chocolate to spend any more time over the heat than necessary. Tempering chocolate is key to creating a smooth texture as well as ensuring the finished chocolate will have a kind of glossy look to them. To achieve this look, reserve about 1/4 of the chopped chocolate. Add it to the melted chocolate, stirring continuously (but gently) until it completely melts.

As soon as all of the chocolate is melted, stir in the coarsely chopped roasted almonds and spread into your prepared pan. Tempered chocolate begins to solidify quickly so it's important you aren't distracted by anyone during this phase of making the Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars.

The first time I tasted chocolate lightly sprinkled with sea salt I knew it would be hard to go back to eating chocolate without it. Sea salt and chocolate were meant to be together. Sort of like wine with cheese, garlic in a red sauce, dijon mustard in a vinaigrette. You get the picture.  

These Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars don't have to be bars. They can be cut into smaller squares or broken up into pieces of bark. Whatever final form these bars take really doesn't matter. It only matters that you make them, sooner rather than later. Your friends and heart will thank you. And it's quite possible you may never buy one of those an off the shelf begins with an "H" chocolate-almond candy bars again.

Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars

1 pound milk chocolate (or 1 pound of dark chocolate), chopped
2 ounces of white chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
Sea salt for sprinkling

1. Line a 9"x12" baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Melt 3/4 of the chopped chocolates (total weight of both chocolates) using your preferred melting method. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chopped chocolates, stirring until fully melted and smooth.
3. Immediately stir in chopped almonds.
4. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Allow to set for 5 minutes. Place pan the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, or until chocolate is set enough for you to cut into desire shapes. Note: If chocolate is still to 'wet' your cuts will not be clean. 
5. Return pan of cut chocolate to the refrigerator until chocolate is fully set. Approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and break into pieces.
6. Serve immediately. Store Roasted Almond Chocolate Bars in a sealed container in a cool location.

1. For a chocolate presence on your cheese platters, use dark chocolate and cut into small squares or triangles.
2. Substitute roasted macadamia nuts or cashews for the pecans.
3. If using dark chocolate, consider using coarsely broken salted pretzels (using the small rings or pretzel shapes) when making the bars.
4. Use a high quality milk or dark chocolate (i.e., ones that can be used in candy making). Note: The chocolate sold at some of the craft stores is generally not high quality chocolate.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

One of life's universal truths: Shopping at the grocery store when you are hungry, borderline hangry, is tantamount to committing a crime in the presence of hundreds of eyewitnesses. To further advance a guilty verdict we avoid going through self-checkout to conceal our identity, instead choosing to wait in what seems like the longest, slowest moving line ever to pay for all of those things magically appearing in our cart. In an effort to avoid everyone's eye contact (or stares depending on one's level of guilt) we put on our sunglasses and immerse ourselves in the magazines lining the check-out aisle. Rather than choosing any of the tabloid magazines (another kind of crime), we pick up a food magazine. Subtly trying to convince everyone around us we are highly sophisticated 'foodies' gathering the ingredients for a really large dinner party. Yet more than likely our behavior is simply validating their unspoken first impressions. Our attempt at remaining incognito fails the moment several cans of Pringles (the person who shall remain nameless's guilty pleasure) are detected in the cart.

It was during one of those hangry shopping excursions when I picked up a copy of a special issue of Bake From Scratch: Cakes 2016. If there was one thing I really didn't need, it was another food magazine. Any restraint I had (which wasn't much to begin with) went out the window as soon as I saw the recipe for an Old-Fashioned Coconut Cake. Other than most things made with chocolate or caramel, coconut is another one of my guilty pleasures. The magazine went into the cart.

Instead of shredded, desiccated coconut, the cake's coconut flavor comes from both coconut extract and coconut milk. On a recent cooking show I had learned chilling a can of full-fat coconut milk overnight in the refrigerator helps to separate the flavorful coconut milk from the coconut water. As much as I don't like to take too many risks with making a recipe for the first time, I knew this was going to be the recipe to test out that culinary suggestion. Spoiler Alert: It worked!

The cake's tender, delicate crumb comes from both the use of cake flour and whipped egg whites. Like most cakes, this one begins with beating the butter and sugar until fluffy followed by adding the egg yolks (one at a time). Before alternating adding the dry ingredients and the solid cup of coconut milk, the vanilla and coconut extract are blended in. At this point the batter will be very thick. Folding in the stiff peaked egg whites will help to lighten it slightly.

If you are having a large informal gathering or need something to bring to a potluck, make this cake in a 9"x12" cake pan. But if there is an occasion you are celebrating or if you just happen to love the irresistible look of a layer cake, make it in two 9" cake pans. Note: To ensure even cake layers as well as an even baking time, weigh your batter filled cake pans. In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the 9" cake pans bake in 30-35 minutes. Baking time for a 9" x 12" pan is similar.

This time when making the cream cheese frosting I used one pound of room temperature cream cheese, one cup of room temperature unsalted butter, one and a half pounds of sifted confectionary sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and last but not least, a pinch of sea salt. Whipped until fluffy and creamy, there was more than enough frosting to generously frost a two layer naked cake. I had thought about adding some coconut extract and/or solid coconut milk to the frosting, but I wanted the coconut flavor of the cake to shine through. The creamy (un-coconut enhanced) cream cheese frosting was a perfect compliment to the moist coconut flavored cake. Make this cake and the coconut lovers in your life will fall deeply, hopelessly in love with you.

The finishing touch to this Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting is the topping of large toasted coconut chips. They bake to perfection after 8-10 minutes in a preheated 325 degree (F) oven.

If there was any cake to bring out your inner Southern Belle persona, it would be this one. While not necessarily the quintessential Southern cake smothered in shredded coconut, this one has all of the South's grandeur, drama, charm, and elegance.

As a long time fan and worshipper of all of Ina Garten's recipes, I am now secretly wishing for a Coconut Cake throw down with her. Compared to her incredibly delicious Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, I am betting even she would swoon over this Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. A throw down with Ina Garten is probably one of those wishes not likely to be granted, but I am one to not easily let go of a wish.

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (adaptation of the Old-Fashioned Coconut Sheet Cake recipe shared in Bake From Scratch: Cakes 2016, Special Issue)

1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (278 grams) sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature, separated
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups (384 grams) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup canned coconut milk (see Important Takeaway note below)

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds confectionary sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 cups coconut flakes, toasted (325 degrees (F) for 8-10 minutes spread out evenly on a baking sheet)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare either two 9" cake pans or a 9"x12" cake pan with spray and parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy (3-4 minutes).
3. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add vanilla and coconut extract, beating to combine.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, and kosher salt.
6. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, alternating with the solid, chilled coconut milk (begin and end with the flour mixutre) beating until combined after each addition.
7. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites at high speed just until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the batter.
8. Pour batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the cneter of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

1. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.
2. Beat in vanilla and sea salt.
3. Initially on low speed but gradually adding to medium speed, beat in sifted confectionary sugar.

1. Slice domed tops of the cake layers to create two even flat layers.
2. Place one layer on a cake stand of platter. Spread icing over of the bottom layer.
3. Top with second layer. Spread icing over top and sides of the cake. Note: If creating a naked cake, scrape icing along sides of cake to desired look.
4. Top with toasted coconut. 
5. Store cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Important Takeaway: Chill a can of full fat coconut milk (not cream of coconut) overnight in the refrigerator. Place can in a bowl using a can opener to open both ends. Allow coconut water to drain out. Use only the coconut milk solid. I used a can of the Organic Coconut Milk from Whole Foods.

Monet-like images from the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Rosemary Cheddar Crackers

Lately I have been struggling between listening to my body and trying to keep pace with my running peers some twenty years plus my junior. Needless to say I spent part of the weekend beating myself up for going out too fast for a group long run (something one of my friends keeps reminding not to do). As a result I ended up running only seven of the planned eight miles. No matter what anyone said to me, I wouldn't allow myself to take much joy in running the seven miles. In my world it was a 'run falling short of the goal' or in other words, a glass half-empty run. Whether or not it is realistic to think my running pace can someday get back to the one from fifteen years ago or not, it continues to be one of my goals. No one ever said I set the bar too low for myself. But therein lies one of my conundrums. Being able to celebrate small victories along the way without getting distracted by relatively minor setbacks in order to remain focused on the larger goals of increasing both my running endurance and pace. Of all of the lessons I had learned during the first 'latent adult athlete' phase of my life was that 'running is just as much of a head game as it is a test of one's physical stamina'. While I haven't exhausted every strategy to permanently embed that mantra into my head, I can't help but wonder if there is some symbol I could get tattooed on my body to remind me of it. However, for the moment, it's probably best I keep that thought in the 'needs further consideration' category. I will keep you posted.

What needed absolutely no reflection time was making the decision to bake up a batch of these Rosemary Cheddar Crackers. The recipe (originally appearing in The Cheesemongers Kitchen cookbook) had been adapted by a contributing chef at Marcel's, one of my favorite local culinary stores. Ironically, I only just recently wondered what I was going to do with a half pound block of five year old aged sharp white cheddar cheese (it's expiration date was looming) sitting in the refrigerator. As it turned out, baking some rosemary and aleppo spiced cheddar crackers seemed to be in this cheese's destiny.

If there is one thing able to send a cheese plate/platter over the top it would be homemade crackers. And these Rosemary Cheddar Crackers elevate the simplest of cheese platters to the highest level possible. When you think of those memorable cheese plates you have had a wine bar, well now you can think of the ones you will be creating with these crackers. I have made homemade crackers before, but none of them came anywhere near to the taste of these.

One of the keys to their incredible depth of flavor is the type of cheddar cheese used. The more aged white sharp cheddar, the deeper, nuttier, peppier flavor of the cracker. Fortunately I had a 5 year aged sharp white cheddar to use in my first (but absolutely not last) attempt at making these Rosemary Cheddar Crackers. However, if you can find a high quality aged cheddar (at least 18 months old) use it (Note: The chef who shared the recipe recommended Montgomery's Farmhouse English Cheddar, an eighteen month old cheese, said it contributed to the cracker's rave reviews). So there is no need to spend time hunting down aged cheddars old enough to enter kindergarten. Unless, of course, you want to.

This dough is destined to make you feel like a dough-making goddess. Next to Amy's Shortbread Cookies, never have I worked with an easier dough. But before I talk about the dough, let me digress just a bit and talk about the herbs and spices in these crackers. If there was ever yet another reason to put fresh rosemary plants on your spring planting list, these crackers would be one of them. The cost of the small packages of herbs in the grocery store are enough to (almost) send me over the edge. But whether or not you have a garden, please, please buy a package of fresh rosemary leaves (as the taste of the crackers will send you over the edge in the best of ways) and not use dried rosemary leaves. Promise me, okay? 

The original and inspiration recipes recommended using crushed red chillies. However I used crushed Aleppo pepper instead. More than likely I was still distracted from my seven mile run when I was making these crackers so I used a full teaspoon of kosher salt instead of the recommend 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I realized this apparent 'mistake' after I put the flour, chopped rosemary, crushed Aleppo pepper, and kosher salt into the food processor. Only it turned out not to be a mistake at all. Would I reduce the amount of kosher salt next time? Probably not, unless I am using a sharp white cheddar 18-24 months old. 

Once the dry ingredients are quickly pulsed in the food processor, the grated cheese and cubes of butter are added and processed until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Ice cold water, one tablespoon at a time (3-4 T total), is added until the dough comes together in a ball. In almost a blink of an eye you have your cracker dough! The dough ball is flattened into a disk, wrapped in plastic wrap, and chilled for at least an hour in the refrigerator (I can attest to the hour wait time as being enough). The dough easily rolls out (to about an 1/8 inch thickness) on a lightly floured surface. After cutting them into whatever shape strikes your fancy, place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. If you don't have any small cookie cutters, not to worry. Use a fluted edge pastry knife or knife to cut into your shape of choice. Because these Rosemary Cheddar Crackers have such an intensely delicious cheesy-spicy flavor I wouldn't recommend making these crackers any larger than 1/2 to 5/8 inches in diameter. However, if bigger is better in your world, your baking time will need to be adjusted upward.

The dough cut-outs are baked in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. This size of cracker baked somewhere between 15-20 minutes. Allowing them to cool on the baking sheet ensured they turned even crispier. 

I don't like putting more than one baking sheet in the oven at a time so I baked them in batches (without incident). While the crackers don't spread when baking, they raise up slightly and take on a beautiful golden brown color. They are pure cracker perfection! If not serving them immediately, store in a tightly sealed container or cellophane bag tied tightly with a ribbon or string. They are supposed to last up to a week if stored properly, but if you are serving them at a cocktail party or small gathering of 8-10 people you will be lucky to have a couple of leftover crackers. Their cheesiness and spiciness make them incredibly addictive. Consider this a warning to yourself when you are making them (I think I inhaled four of them between baking batches).

So here's the thing. If you cut them into 1/2 inch sized shapes you should get a yield of about 180 crackers. And because they are small this yields about 1 1/2 cups of crackers. I know it doesn't sound like a lot of crackers (for the time and effort). But trust me when I say they are more than worth time and effort. If served as part of a cheese/fruit platter for a small gathering, you will have more than enough. Unless of course, you have a couple of friends who eat everything by the handfuls. 

I feel this blog posting should come with a warning: These homemade Rosemary Cheddar Crackers will permanently spoil you. You will never want to buy store bought crackers again. Or at least any other rosemary cheddar ones. 

Rosemary Cheddar Crackers (an adaption of the Red Chili and Cheddar Diamonds recipe in The Cheesemongers Kitchen cookbook and inspired by Susan Argiris blogpost on Marche, a sister store to Marcel's)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (could reduce to 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or crushed red chilies (Notes: If possible, crush Aleppo pepper flakes using a mortar and pestle.)
2 generous teaspoons finely chopped rosemary leaves
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
8 ounces aged sharp white cheddar, grated (used a 5 year aged cheddar and would recommend not using any cheddar less than 2 years old)
3-4 Tablespoons ice cold water

1. Place flour, salt, Aleppo pepper and rosemary in food processor. Pulse to combine.
2. Add butter and cheese, processing until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add ice cold water 1 Tablespoon at a time. Pulsing until mixture comes together in a ball.
4. Flatten ball into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Lightly flour the surface used for rolling out the dough. Roll out to approximately 1/8" thickness. 7. 7. Cut dough into desired 1/2" shapes (using cookie cutters, fluted pasta cutter, knife, etc.)
8. Place pieces on parchment paper lined baking sheets, ensuring pieces of cut dough are not touching.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Allow to cool on baking sheets. (Note: Baking time may vary based on the size of crackers. Larger crackers will take longer to bake.)
10. Transfer to a bowl and serve. Or store in a sealed container for up to 1 week.

April sunrise at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Grilled Carrots with Dill Yogurt Sauce

The last time I was in Charleston, South Carolina it was a gray, rainy, chilly day. In the weeks prior to a return trip back, rain was again in the weather forecast. As I have learned or at least try to remind myself, weather can be rather unpredictable and not necessarily influenced by wishful thinking, fingers/toes crossed, or even a rain dance. But there are times when one has to put rationality aside. This was one of them. Yet, even as I got on the plane, rain remained in the forecast. I had been second guessing this group running trip ever since I had committed to it months ago. Maybe the rain forecast was as omen. Steady inclines/hills and heat/humidity are things frequently causing me to whine. Having to give up control of my time/space on a trip is enough to cause some minor hyperventilation. So, if you have asked me a year ago if I would travel more than 900 miles to run a 10K race (one having a significant incline) on a hot/humid day with 40,000+ runners and stay in house with 9 other people I had never traveled with before, more than likely I would have said without hesitation 'no thank you'. However, funny things happen when you give yourself permission to leave your comfort zone, when you stop looking for (bad) omens, and when you allow yourself to take a leap of faith. Literally and figuratively the sun comes out. After a night of tornado warnings and hurricane-like pounding rain, blue skies miraculously appeared shortly before the start of our 10K race. A validating omen on many different levels.

While my whining days over heat, humidity, and hills are (unfortunately) far from over, my perceptions of what traveling with an eclectic group of fellow runners could be like has been forever altered. From having 'family' meals together, to exploring parts of Charleston, to a night of karaoke, to a morning run along the ocean, to unexpected kindnesses, to great meals in some incredible restaurants, to being open to possibility, to waking every morning with the view of the ocean, everything about this trip was positively memorable. One changing me in some unexpected ways. So if you asked me again if I would make another group road trip again, I would only hope the next running venue would be a little cooler, a little flatter. Although I would probably still obsess about the weather.

When friends suggested we order a plate of radishes with soft creamy butter and sea salt as an appetizer at the The Publican restaurant in Chicago, I probably made one of those 'really, are you serious?' faces. Up until that point, I had probably consumed less than two radishes over the course of my lifetime. I can't remember the other appetizer we ordered that day, but I do remember the radishes. In just one bite of a radish half slathered in some soft, creamy butter and topped with a hint of sea salt I instantly knew my lifetime consumption of radishes was about to change. So when I saw a recipe for The Publican's Barbecued Carrots with Yogurt and Pecans, I knew my love for carrots was about to be deepened. And let's just say, if I had radishes and carrots served The Publican way growing up, chances are I might be a vegetarian or at least, have strong vegetarian tendencies.

Prior to making these Grilled Carrots with Dill Yogurt Sauce I thought nothing could top the flavor of oven roasted carrots. Apparently my vision for the possibilities of carrots was a bit narrow. Now having tasted carrots marinated in a myriad of spices, grilled until slightly charred, drizzled with yogurt dill sauce, topped with toasted pecans, and served with a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice, it might be awhile before an oven roasted carrot passes my lips.

The Publican's recipe calls for one pound of small carrots. But since I couldn't find them I went with several bunches (somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds) of slightly larger carrots, but ones still having their beautiful green tops. Whether you find the smaller ones or the slightly larger (but not too large) ones or not may not really matter. However, look for the carrots that haven't had their tops cut off. After peeling and cutting them in half lengthwise, they are parboiled in boiling salted water for approximately 4 minutes (or until crisp tender). This size carrot took only 4 minutes to get to that point.

The parboiled carrots are then marinated in a spice and olive oil mixture for 1 to 3 hours. One look at this sweet and savory array (sweet smoked paprika, celery salt, onion powder, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, Aleppo pepper, and dark brown sugar), you might think 'I don't stock all of those spices in my cupboard. Or 'not sure I would like this combination of spices'. Next! But don't let preconceived notions keep you from these carrots and definitely don't throw in the towel just yet. As this is an obstacle you can easily overcome without spending a fortune on jars of spices you might not use regularly. Nowadays many grocery and spice stores allow you to buy many different spices in whatever quantity you need (Whole Foods was my source for some of them).

The fragrance of this spice mixture is intoxicating. It is a prelude of what is to come.

Is is easier to rub the olive oil spice mixture into the carrots if done on a large baking sheet (rather than a bowl). Additionally, you don't risk breaking any of them. The longer you allow the carrots to marinate the more they take on the flavor of the spices (my marinating time was 90 minutes).

While the carrots marinate you can make the Dill Yogurt Sauce. After mixing the full fat yogurt, buttermilk, freshly squeezed lemon juice, fresh dill, some sea salt and black pepper, cover and refrigerate. This is one of those sauces greatly benefitting from having some 'resting' time. There was more than enough of the spice mixture to coat almost 2 pounds of carrots, however, I increased the proportions of the ingredients in the sauce as I wanted to have some to serve on the side.

Having a gas grill means we can grill year round here in the midwest. But these grilled carrots can also be made on an indoor grill pan (if you don't have a gas grill). Placing the carrots cut side down, they grill until they begin to char and the sugars caramelize (about 3-4 minutes).

Transfer the grilled carrots to a large platter, drizzle with some of the Yogurt Dill Sauce, sprinkle with the toasted pecans, and finish with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. The sweet spicy taste of the grilled carrots are balanced with the cool, creamy Yogurt Dill Sauce and splash of lemon juice. Together with the crunch of the roasted pecans, this is an incredibly satisfying, almost over-the-top, unexpected delicious side or appetizer dish made with carrots.

If there was one recipe to take your summer barbecue from good to great, it would be these Grilled Carrots with Dill Yogurt Sauce. They would be a great prelude to a meal as well as pair well with grilled chicken, steak, or lamb. However, I could have made a meal out of these incredibly sweet and savory carrots. I really like carrots, but until now, never knew they could taste this good.

Because most of the preparation can be done ahead of time, they may one of the easiest appetizer or side dishes you make. Sit back and watch how their expectations around the taste of carrots is changed forever.  I wouldn't be surprised if your consumption of carrots increases significantly. Or if you give some thought to becoming a vegetarian (at least for a day).

Grilled Carrots with Dill Yogurt Sauce (an ever so slight adaptation to The Publican restaurant's Barbecue Carrots with Yogurt and Pecans recipe)

3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or cayenne pepper)
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2-2 pounds fresh carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted, roughly chopped

Dill Yogurt Sauce
3/4 cup (7 ounce container) of full-fat yogurt (recommend Fage Total)
3 Tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt and pinch of black pepper
1 whole lemon, cut into quarters for serving

Dill Yogurt Sauce
1. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, buttermilk, dill, and lemon juice. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate. (Note: Sauce can be made 1-2 days in advance.)

1. Combine dark brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, celery salt. granulated garlic, onion powder, Aleppo pepper, kosher salt and black pepper together in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Bring a medium-large of salted water saucepan to a boil. Add carrots and cook for approximately 4 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain and transfer carrots to a large sheet pan.
3. Add extra-virgin olive to the spice mixture and rub on carrots to coat. Allow carrots to marinate in spice-olive oil mixture for 1-3 hours.
4. Heat grill to medium-high heat (or can use a stove top grill pan). Grill carrots, cut side down until lightly charred and slightly caramelized (approximately 3 minutes). 
5. Transfer carrots to a platter. Drizzle with Dill Yogurt Sauce and roughly chopped pecans. Lightly squeeze a lemon half over the carrots. Serve immediately with additional Dill Yogurt Sauce and lemon quarters. 

Images from Charleston, South Carolina.