November has arrived. October flew by in a whirlwind of foliage, pumpkin spice, and chocolate eaten sneakily under my desk so as not to tip off the kids. And now is the month for gray skies, thankful hearts, and preparation for one of the most wonderful reasons to eat thinly disguised sticks of butter with your family and friends - Thanksgiving.
Today, I share with you a beloved recipe that was handed down to me by my mother-in-law, Anne, after Ethan and I had been dating for a couple of years. This recipe is a friend's of hers - Kathy Swanson - and the zesty carrots made an appearance at nearly every important family meal - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. After eating them a couple of times and savoring each bite, I realized that it would be unfair, selfish, not to bring these carrots to my own family dinners, and so asked Anne for the recipe. It has now become a staple at all major holidays for my side of the family, as well, and these carrots are my go-to when we are asked to bring a side dish anywhere because they are absolutely sure to please.
My cousins, Matt and Seth, came over for Sunday dinner at our apartment for the first time ever last week, and so I wanted to make something special. Regular boiled carrots just didn't have the wow! factor I was going for, so when Ethan suggested I bust out the Zesty Carrots, it didn't take much convincing at all.
Generally, I peel a 1 lb. bag of carrots and chop them into thin sticks for this recipe, but when I reached into the freezer for the last of this summer's garden carrots, I realized there were hardly enough to feed my husband and two cousins - two fully-grown men. Plus, I can eat my fair share of root veggies. So I improvised. I think that if there was one word to best describe what I do in the kitchen, it would be improvise.
Speaking of which, I lost the recipe for these carrots long ago. Now, I just cook them according to what I remember, which may vary from day to day.
Anyway, I fortunately had a huge bag of baby carrots sitting in the crisper which I had planned to snack on during the week (all part of my weekly Sunday night ra-ra about eating healthier this week). So, I sliced a pound of those into halves, instead. Because they were already peeled and took a fraction of the time to chop, it saved a lot of prep time. In the future, I will probably just reach for the baby carrots first. Desperation breeds discovery, I guess.
To get these babies oven-ready, I simply boiled them until they had begun to feel tender. It's important to not cook them all the way through, because they are going to continue cooking in the oven. After the carrots could be pierced with a fork, I drained the water, saved 1/4 cup of the liquid to be mixed back in, and added the chopped onion, mayo, garlic, ground mustard, pepper, and salt. Then, I mixed it all together and spooned it into a 9 X 9 pan.
Tender baby carrots mixed with creamy mayonnaise and crispy onions? I know, I know - you're thinking it can't get much better. Oh, but it can. Because we haven't even added the topping yet.
The topping is very simple. It is two sweet ingredients mixed together to make the most mind-blowing, chewy, taste-bud-pleasing creation your mouth could ever hope for: A stick of butter and a sleeve of Ritz crackers.
I'm not going to lie to you. Sometimes, when it is Thanksgiving Day and I am in the spirit of believing that heart attacks can't happen on holidays, I will melt a second stick of butter. And crush a second sleeve of Ritz. And add it to the carrots. Because, when we are all being honest with one another, the carrots are really just a delivery system for the topping. But for this meal, I stuck with just the one of each.
Once the carrots have been sufficiently topped, they are oven-ready. I will usually cook them at 425 degrees F for 35 - 40 minutes, covered with tinfoil. For the last 5 minutes, I take the foil off so the topping can get nice and crispy.
Right after he took this picture, Ethan told me that I will make a great grandmother someday because I cook with lots of butter and will be pleasantly plump. I'm not sure how to take this.
Be prepared for your kitchen to smell like Heaven. The scent of these carrots actually have healing properties, I think, because whenever their aroma wafts from the oven vents, I feel a sense of peace, like I'm all filled-up and there is nowhere else in the world in which it would be better to be. And isn't that how we want to make our guests feel?
Certain recipes are meant for special occasions because they are, in some way, inherently special. Zesty Carrots are one of those dishes. They belong alongside the birth of a new niece, a chunk of ear from the chocolate rabbit the Easter Bunny delivered, the Macy's Day parade, celebrating the birth and resurrection of our Savior, and family and friends laughing together, even amidst the hard stuff of life. There is a place for them beside every turkey, ham, and roasted lamb on the table. Give them a chance this Thanksgiving - they might just become a staple in your family, too.
Recipe for Zesty Carrots - a recipe by Kathy Swanson Ingredients
- 1 lb peeled carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch sticks
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 sleeve Ritz crackers
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Boil carrots for 5-6 minutes or until they become slightly tender, but not cooking all the way through. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.
- Add mayo, onion, garlic, mustard, and salt and pepper to pan with drained carrots and reserved liquid and mix.
- Spoon carrot mixture into a 9X9 baking dish.
- Now, make topping. Melt butter and crush Ritz. Combine. Spoon on top of carrots.
- Cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Remove foil, and cook for 5 more minutes or until topping is slightly browned.