When I was growing up I absolutely loved carrots, and could plow through a bag of baby carrots (with a tub of ranch dip) in under an hour.
There’s just something so refreshing and satisfying about the fresh sweet crunch of a fresh carrot. Cooked carrots though, were another story.
I hated them so much I can’t tell you. I think it was probably a textural thing as soft and mushy were the exact opposite of everything I thought a carrot was supposed to be. I also think I may have been traumatized by an abundance of rubbery flavorless frozen ripple cut carrot disks.
Either way, it all began to change a few years ago when a roommate made me some baby carrots in an orange juice glaze with tons of butter. Despite my hatred I ate a few of them to be polite, but after one bite my whole world changed. They were sweet and buttery and slightly salty and tender and delicate and wonderful in a way I’d never experienced. A love of cooked carrots blossomed from that moment on.
While we’re on the subject of food likes and dislikes, let’s talk about my husband for a moment shall we?
When we were first dating he confidently announced one night that he was “allergic” a laundry list of foods including eggs and mushrooms, two of my favorite things in the world. I also learned that beyond his “allergies” he was also a picky eater in general, never used condiments on sandwiches or burgers, and especially hated all forms of mustard, another one of my favorite things.
To someone who used culinary prowess as a way to bring all the boys to the yard, a beau with food allergies and picky eating habits was completely devastating.
Eventually I built up the courage to sneak some of these alleged “allergens” into a meal to witness his reaction, or lack thereof, first hand. Now, before you recoil in horror and call me a monster, rest assured that I had spoken with him in great depth about his “symptoms” and knew with 110% certainty that his “allergies” were not life threatening or even harmful in any way other than a vague irritation. I realize still that this was an irresponsible and potentially dangerous way of calling him on his bull, but I was young and my judgement was clouded by the emotional rollercoaster of having my love of food and my growing love for my future husband pitted against one another.
So anyway, one night I mixed a few finely diced mushrooms into a pasta dish just to see how he’d react, and just as I suspected, he didn’t react at all. After we’d finished our meal and had another glass of wine or two, I explained what I had done and had a long and boozey conversation with him about his food issues. The conversation finally culminated in a tearful realization and admission that he just didn’t like these foods and that his “allergies” were all in his head.
To this day he still won’t even come into the kitchen when I’m making myself an egg for breakfast, but mushrooms have actually become one of his absolute favorite foods. Armed with the knowledge that he can be swayed, I’ve also made it my mission to get him to like, or at least not hate, my beloved mustard.
I don’t ever expect that he’ll reach for a knife and slather some brown deli mustard on his sandwich, but I really really REALLY want to be able to at least cook with mustard again. Dijon has always been one of my secret weapons in the kitchen. A tablespoon or two added to a sauce adds just enough sharp tangy acidity to brighten up any dish. I especially miss being able to cook with mustard in the fall, when I could and would be pairing it with apples and pork, maple syrup, brussels sprouts, salad dressings, and the like, but haven’t been able to for years.
Being a truly devious man on a mission, a while back I started sneaking small amounts of mustard into sauces and dressings just to see if he’d notice or complain. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say, and I’m finally reaching a point where he can actually taste the mustard in certain dishes and doesn’t seem to mind anymore.
The flavor still needs to be subtle for him to be okay with it, but we’re getting there.
This beautiful dish from our Fakesgiving dinner is the perfect balance of bright vinegary dijon mustard, sweet caramely maple syrup, rich salty butter, fresh woodsy green thyme and parsley, and tender earthy sweet carrots. Since the carrots are roasted not boiled, they are packed with flavor and wonderfully tender with a subtle crispness on the ends and edges. The sauce seems loose initially, but in the oven the butter, maple, and mustard caramelize and thicken and coat the carrots perfectly and give them an elegant autumnal flavor that’s perfect for Thanksgiving.
I recommend using multiple colors of carrots if you can find them. Not only do they make for a more beautiful, dramatic presentation, but they also offer slight variations in flavor and sweetness. My local grocery store carries mixed bags of yellow, orange, and purple carrots and these days I don’t believe they’re difficult to find in most parts of the country. Standard orange carrots would work just fine though in a pinch.
I like to think that this is one of those gateway dishes that will convert even the most avid cooked carrot, or mustard, hater and guide them on the path toward food love.
Maple Dijon Roasted Carrots
4 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup dark amber (real) maple syrup
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard (optional)
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400F.
Wash, dry, and peel carrots and place in a shallow dish long and wide enough to fit them all.
Add butter and thyme to a small saucepan and heat over a medium flame to melt butter. Continue to warm the butter for 1 to 2 minutes. The butter should take on a green-ish tint from the thyme leaves. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes. In a small bowl combine maple syrup, mustards, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Whisk in butter until smooth and well combined.
Pour the butter/syrup mixture over the carrots and toss to coat. Arrange the carrots on a parchment lined baking sheet, and use a spatula to scrape any remaining butter/syrup mixture over them. You may want to use two sheets of parchment to make sure the whole pan is completely covered. Roast until tender and brown, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, using tongs to turn each carrot about 30 minutes in. Watching carefully that the sugar in the maple syrup doesn’t burn onto the parchment. Top with chopped parsley before serving.