I really love to make desserts. I never had much of a sweet tooth growing up (I was the kid who gladly handed over most of my Hallowe’en candy to my mum, or else left it rotting in a plastic bag inside my pumpkin basket until discovering it in time for the next years trick-or-treating.), but I’ve definitely developed one in the years since. One of the candies I have become attached to is the Reese’s peanut butter cup. I don’t know if they have them over here in the UK, but my experiences with local peanut butter so far have not been completely positive. In fact, peanut butter seems to be on the top of the lists of foods Americans bring back from their first return visit to the States. You’ll be happy to know, though, that UK peanut butter does just fine in these little guys; even the Americans give their thumbs up.
To prove that I am from the South (you know, the one with the capital ‘S’), I’m offering up one of my favourite guilty pleasures. It’s been a few years since I’ve actually eaten any fried pickles, but my taste buds still go a little tingly just thinking about them. The first time I tried them, we were having dinner with my father’s brother and his family at Country’s Barbeque in Columbus, GA. When my cousin requested an order of fried pickles for the table, I was actually fairly disgusted at the very idea. I have always enjoyed good dill pickles, but why would anyone deep-fry them? The answer is likely the same as why novelties like fried twinkies and fried pizza exist: boredom, or the “hey guys, watch this” attitude. The combination of flavours in just one bite of fried pickles is immense, and, like any good Southern meal, ranch dressing is an integral part. So, enjoy some good home-cooking. Just don’t tell anyone where you got the recipe.
This recipe is one that I get requests for very often. It was always between this dip and my cucumber sandwiches for my honours society events. (I learned I like cucumbers when it was requested that I make hundreds of the little finger sandwiches. I spent about 7 hours preparing them, which is utterly ridiculous, but, as I’ve said before, I’m not so quick at the chopping.) The spinach and artichoke dip was also my main contribution to each years’ Thanksgiving dinner; I’m not sure how they got on without it. It’s not a difficult recipe, but the ingredients can run a bit expensive, so it’s certainly a special occasion type of dish. Of course, you can decide what a special occasion is to you. I have typically served the dip with water crackers, but it is also delicious on sliced French bread. I also use a food processor for the artichoke hearts and the onion because I prefer smaller pieces to integrate into the dip. I’m not a fan of finding big, incongruous chunks, but some people like it.
Blueberries, to me, represent the ultimate comfort. I’m not entirely sure why, as the process of collecting the berries before the birds get to them isn’t so pleasant. The house where I lived while finishing my undergraduate degree had mature fruit growing in the backyard; a pear tree loomed over the neighbourhood, allowing two broad fig trees to grow in its shade, but my favourite of all was hidden behind the toolshed. I’m not sure whether it was an accident that the blueberry bush was planted between the chain-link fence and the shed, or whether either was added without much thought after the fact. All I know is that I would squeeze myself between the two structures to get to the plump fruit, ducking under branches, avoiding the bees that guarded the area, and referring to my great producer as a “blueberry tree”. It’s very hard to find blueberries here in Northern Ireland. I fully expect to return with my arms full of blueberry syrup after my next trip back to the States. The blueberry soda is light and refreshing enough that I don’t even remember the mosquito whelps and sun blisters I encountered while slaving away in such a tight space. What reality?
As strange as it may sound, I had never heard the term “root vegetable” used in any sort of dish until I moved to the UK. I knew certain foods were root vegetables, but I’d always heard them referred to by their individual names when it came to things I actually ate. Recently, I’ve fallen for root vegetables, especially in dishes where I can mix them together. This dish is a relatively simple one, once you take the time to prepare each of the veggies. I’m particularly slow at chopping and peeling (call it “careful” and “meticulous”), which is the main reason I never truly thought about becoming a chef. I’d have to move directly to the point in my career where I would have someone to do my chopping for me and presented as a mise en place; I never want to be the person responsible for someone else’s.
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C. Spray to grease the roasting pan.
Add potatoes, rutabega, carrots, onions, celery, parsnips, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil to the pan and stir together. Place into the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the vegetables from the oven. Pour the vegetable broth over the vegetables and stir to coat. Return to the oven and roast for an additional 20 minutes (or until the vegetables are all fork-tender).