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The Beets That Mother Gives You | Honey-Roasted Chioggia Beets on Mustard Greens with Goat Cheese, Crispy Shallots, & Walnut-Thyme Crunch

15 July 2011

Chiogga beets
When I hit a writing block, I narrow my eyes toward the world, try to crop out the big picture, and find a detail, a single specificity, on which to focus. It might be a person’s movement, like the way my acupuncturist widens her stance and grounds her feet before reading my pulses. I have found poems in the negative shapes made by steam on a shower curtain or in the knots of a wood-paneled wall—a lone buffalo, a face in agony, a trickster in a hat. Characters for stories emerge from the expressions on strangers’ foreheads.
Chioggia beets
As it turns out, cooking isn’t all that different. When I sliced into a Chioggia beet for the first time, the Wonka-esque swirl of pink and white inspired me to make a dish more focused on details than the simple seasonal dishes I turn out for a weeknight dinner typically would. With a psychedelic root sliced up on my cutting board, how could I resist a little experimentation? Which is not to say that I have gone psychotropic, molecular gastronomical, or even all that outside of any box. Instead, I improvised a recipe that layered details into a stack without taking up too much of my evening or requiring a trip to a store for anything I didn’t already have on hand. Oooh, trippy.

Honey-Roasted Chioggia Beets on Mustard Greens with Goat Cheese, Crispy Shallots, & Walnut-Thyme Crunch
Serves 2

3 medium sized Chioggia beets, peeled if desired, sliced into thick medallions
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper

1 bunch mustard greens, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil (use the leftover oil in which the shallots were crisped)
1 clove garlic

olive oil to thickly cover a small pot
2 medium shallots, sliced into rings, patted dry with a paper towel

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, finely chopped
2 tablespoons thyme, finely chopped

2 ounces soft goat cheese, sliced into medallions or crumbled

To roast the beets, heat oven to 400˚F. Line a baking dish with foil, and lay the beet slices in the bottom. Add the honey, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and use your hands to coat both sides of each beet medallion. Cover with foil, and roast in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, flipping the medallions halfway through.

To crisp the shallots, pour enough olive oil into a small saucepan to thickly coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the shallots, standing back as they splatter, and stir a few times until they are dark brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer from the oil with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve the leftover oil.

To make the walnut-thyme crunch, toast the walnuts in a 350˚F oven for 7–10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool. Chop the walnuts and thyme together until they are the consistency of granulated sugar, or use a food processor.

To prepare the mustard greens, heat about a tablespoon of the oil in which the shallots were crisped in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mustard greens, stirring with tongs as they wilt. Add salt and a tablespoon or two of water or stock, and braise the mustard greens until the stems are soft and the leaves are dark green, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and leave on the heat for another minute.

To assemble, lay a bed of the mustard greens on the bottom of a plate. Top with a few overlapping beet medallions. Place a slice or a few crumbles of goat cheese over the beets. Finish with the shallots and the walnut dust.


A Frenzied Fortnight | Mushroom & Basil Quinoa Patties

15 June 2011

quinoa patties
The past two weeks have been exhausting. I hosted a dinner party and a birthday party. I collected two bunches each of kale, collards, chard, radishes, and lettuce, along with strawberries, sweet potatoes, arugula, mustard greens, and broccoli from my CSA and attempted not to waste them, despite eating out a lot. I (mostly) kept up with my weekly bread baking and made all of Mike’s requested birthday treats: oolong ice cream, strawberry rhubarb pie, and chocolate chip cookie cake. I tasted beer, sat through a super-hero movie, saw a double-feature rock opera, and held Colin Meloy’s crowd-surfing hand. I got a sinus infection and did lots of yoga. Tomorrow, I take Inka to the vet for dental surgery. Tomorrow night, hopefully, I exhale.

I like being busy. The more energy I use, the more I tend to have. But while many fun times have been had so far this month, I’m looking forward to re-upping my energy stores for the rest of it. After much of what felt like “vacation eating,” wherein seemingly every meal featured bread and cocktails, for Mike’s 30th birthday party, I wanted to avoid party food that relied too heavily on carbs—a problem I often encounter when making vegetarian party menus. It was tempting to try to pawn off my glut of greens onto party guests, but I know better. Instead, I turned to a better-loved superfood: quinoa.

I had made a version of these quinoa patties a few weeks ago and wasn’t wowed by them but felt they had promise. This appetizer-sized version really benefits from the meatiness of the mushrooms, and the smaller bites improved the texture. Mike and I both agreed that the first version I tried would have benefited from some kind of sauce, so I topped the party patties with a bit of muhammara, but you might also try a pesto. A major selling point for me is that they keep well in the refrigerator (either before cooking or after) and are just as delicious reheated or even at room temperature. Grab a few for a little superfood boost if you find yourself in the midst of your own busy two weeks—or recovering from them.

Mushroom and Basil Quinoa Patties
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day
Yield: about two dozen appetizer-sized patties

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or stock
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
half a medium-sized red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup shredded gruyere
1/4 cup chiffonaded basil
1/2 cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs
olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and water, as needed

Instructions
To cook the quinoa, rinse it under running water through a fine sieve. Add the quinoa, water or stock , and a large pinch of salt (unless your stock is heavily salted) to a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cover with the lid slightly ajar. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is toothsome. If the quinoa cooks before absorbing all the liquid, drain off any excess. Set aside to cool.

Heat about a tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until tender and all moisture has cooked off, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and sauté for another minute or two. Stir in the red wine vinegar, and keep on the heat for another 30 seconds. Set aside to cool.

Stir together the cooled quinoa and cooled mushroom mixture. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the eggs, gruyere, basil, and breadcrumbs. Adjust the moisture level by adding additional breadcrumbs or water. You should be able to form about a tablespoon and a half of the quinoa into tight balls that hold their shape, are not too sticky, and can be pressed into patties without falling apart. If you find them difficult to flip after cooking on one side, add more breadcrumbs to the rest of the mixture.

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Press the quinoa balls into patties, and press down lightly as you place them in the skillet. Cover, and cook for 6–8 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown. Flip, pressing down slightly again, and cook covered for another 6–8 minutes to brown the other side. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

Keep patties warm in a 200˚ oven on a wire rack for up to an hour, or serve at room temperature after cooling on a wire rack. Top patties with a dollop of muhammara, pesto, or other sauce of your choice.


Cinco de Mayo

5 May 2011
by Rachel

tofu tostada
To be completely honest with you, I don’t really need a reason to drink tequila and eat tacos. The fifth of May is as good a day as any as far as I’m concerned. But I’m pretty sure that every year I find myself googling why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Gosh, though, I can’t imagine why that information might not stick with me following a night of slamming margaritas and picking salt out of my hair.

As it turns out, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day, which is celebrated in September. According to reliable scholarly research Wikipedia, Mexicans in the state of Puebla celebrate this day to commemorate their victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Americans use the day to celebrate (and arguably mock) Mexican heritage, which I’m pretty sure translates into seizing upon this opportunity to get drunk and don sombreros.

I say, take it as an opportunity to make Cilantro-Lime-Marinated Tofu Tostadas with Salsa Verde Cruda. After all, they say tofu absorbs liquids like a sponge, so with any luck that’ll hold true for a belly full of tequila.


Going Homemade | Spiced Olive-Oil Granola

25 April 2011

granola

Notice any trends in my current to-do list?

  • learn how to compost

  • make ice cream
  • make granola
  • make sandwich bread
  • make cheese
  • make yogurt
  • make beer
  • make cardiologist appointment for Inka

With the exception of addressing my poor kitty’s heart murmur, this list belies my drive toward the homemade. I realize I’m a little late to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle party, but it has quickly become a favorite. It can be a challenge for me to really get into a non-fiction book, particularly during leisurely bedtime reading. But with this one, it’s been more of a challenge lately to resist interrupting whatever Mike is reading on his Kindle to share with him descriptions of a mature asparagus plant, how roosters mate, and the evils of Monsanto. Judging by the well-worn paperback copy I borrowed from the library, I’m not the only urbanite dreaming about life on the farm.

Also on my to-do list: convince Mike we should move to the country. Until then, I’m anticipating when the farm will come to me. Before CSA season starts in a few weeks, I’m determined to figure out how I can compost all of its inevitable scraps. Maybe at some point I’ll even be able to grow something in the clay and rocks masquerading as soil in my postage-stamp backyard. Meanwhile, I’m content to produce in my kitchen all matter of homemade, if not yet homegrown, comestibles.

I’ve started off simply. Although it’s only April, 80-degree days are already turning me off from my regular morning oatmeal. In summer, cold cereal or smoothies are more my thing. I threw this granola together with leftover bits I had on hand in my pantry, and you could certainly replace the pepitas or walnuts with whatever seeds or nuts are lingering in the jars on your shelves. The egg white keeps some of the granola in clusters, so you could omit it if you prefer yours looser. You might also up the maple syrup or add a bit of brown sugar if your tooth is sweeter than mine. Granola like this is infinitely adaptable. I find that this particular mixture goes well with plain yogurt and sliced pear; dried cranberries are also a nice addition.

Spiced Olive-Oil Granola
Adapted from A Good Appetite

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pepitas
1/2 cup walnuts, broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 ounces maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg white

Instructions
Combine the oats, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom; stir well. Add the maple syrup, olive oil, and egg white; stir well. Spread the granola onto a large, parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 300˚ for 40–55 minutes, turning twice. (I used a large spatula to help keep the clusters together when turning.) Granola is done when it is browned to your liking; it will firm up upon cooling.


Withdrawal | Avocado & Egg on Toast

16 March 2011

egg & avocado toast
I don’t know what I was thinking. Giving up coffee the day after losing an hour to the daylight savings time switch doesn’t exactly sound like a plan for success. Especially when you consider how enamored I am with the stuff. I fully embraced it as an essential part of my identity as a poet in high school, where for 35 cents I would purchase a French vanilla cappuccino from a vending machine at least once a day. Often, my beverage of choice was accompanied by a bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, in which case I called it breakfast. I gave up both instant coffee and sugary breakfasts a long time ago (as in back when you could still purchase something for 35 cents…how old am I?). But the coffee—that became ritual.

I have gone most of my adult life relatively unaffected by caffeine, although faithfully addicted to coffee. I was that person who could get coffee from the diner at two a.m. and fall right asleep an hour later. But skip a cup or several in the morning, and I couldn’t deal. So, a few weeks ago, when I started to suspect that some of the physiological problems I’ve been dealing with lately might be related to the coffee, I got nervous. A late trip to the diner with a typical two cups that was followed by a sleepless night confirmed it. I had to at least try to give up coffee.

But why, oh why, did I have to do it this week? For better or worse, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. I figured if I was already going to feel miserable from the time change, I would rather add coffee withdrawal on top of it than suffer the two separately. Likewise, I went cold turkey.

I’m off to a rough start, so I’m going to take the advice of replacing one addiction with another, redirecting my longings toward a new paramour. If anything can fill a void, it’s avocado. At least, that’s the kind of truism I can get on board with. This simple breakfast has that good balance of whole grain, protein, and healthy fat that tastes so good with coffee makes me almost not miss the coffee. It’s also super simple to make, a plus for the morning’s bleary-eyed.

Avocado & Egg on Toast
Original Recipe (such that it is)

Ingredients
1 teaspoon butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon water
salt & pepper to taste
1 slice whole grain bread, toasted
half an avocado, flesh scooped from the skin, lightly mashed

Instructions
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, crack the egg into the skillet, keeping the yolk intact. When the egg white just begins to turn from clear to white, sprinkle the egg with salt and pepper, and add the water to the skillet. Cover immediately, preferably with a glass lid, so you can watch for when it is done. My perfect egg is done as soon as the whites are set and the yolk remains runny. Shake the skillet a bit to check when the egg white has firmed up.

Spread the mashed avocado onto the toasted bread. Top with the fried egg.

Serve with coffee, or not.


Winter Weary | Cardamom Ice Cream

15 February 2011

cardamom ice cream
Something about this winter has really gotten me down. Perhaps it was the way major snowstorms repeatedly veered just to the north of Baltimore, leaving us with enough weather to make leaving the house difficult but falling far short of last year’s week-long snow day. The end of CSA season also hit me hard, and now that I make an effort to take photos of dinner, so did the early sunsets. Add to that such mysteries as why my basement sometimes smells like chimney smoke even though I don’t use my fireplace, why Snuggie manufacturers chose the most staticky fabric for a product intended for use during the most staticky season, and why my right big toe goes numb when I’m cold. Most vexing of all, however, is not that I was gifted an ice-cream maker for my December birthday, but that just looking at the thing has made my teeth chatter.

Over the past few days, grey skies have given way to sunshine. Yesterday reached almost 70 degrees, and I went outside without a scarf for the first time in far too long. While I know that the cries of “Spring is here!” are likely premature, I’m already having visions of eating meals on outdoor patios, trading stouts for margaritas, getting the feeling back in my right big toe, and, most importantly, making ice cream.

Lest I find myself in the middle of June without a few recipes under my belt, I took a deep breath, put on an extra sweater, and broke out the ice-cream maker. This recipe makes a boldly flavored ice cream, with notes of wood smoke that come not from a neighbor’s errant chimney but from the black cardamom pods, which I picked up on impulse at Wegman’s a few weeks ago. Maybe if we all start making ice cream now, summer will come to us sooner.

Cardamom Ice Cream
Original Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups milk
half a vanilla bean
3 black cardamom pods, crushed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup sugar
6 egg yolks

Instructions
Pour the milk into a medium heavy pot. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and scrape out the caviar. Add both the caviar and the empty bean to the milk. Crush the black cardamom pods with the side of a chef’s knife (as you would to peel garlic), and add the pieces to the milk, along with the extract, ground cardamom, and half the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium–medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks with the rest of the sugar until pale and creamy.

When the milk has come to a boil, remove it from the heat to cool for just a few minutes (it should still be hot). Using a fine sieve, strain out the pods and bean, and discard. Very slowly pour a thin stream of the strained milk into the yolks, whisking constantly to temper the eggs without scrambling them. Be very patient with this step, as you want to raise the temperature of the eggs gradually.

When all the milk has been added, return the mixture to the pot over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat, and let cool at room temperature before refrigerating for about three hours or more. When the mixture is cold, churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.