Monday, November 24, 2008

Beet Salad

My husband probably would have been pleased had the middle schoolers mentioned in yesterday’s post would have consumed every last raw beet. They did not. So once again, I found myself flipping through cookbooks to find a way to help my husband enjoy beets. He thinks, "They taste like dirt.” He has a point. But I might call the same flavor “earthy.”

I’ve been re-reading Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte. And it was therein that yesterday I found the beet recipe. I’d already been to the store once in the day. I was not going to go again. So I improvised the beet recipe; a lot. The resulting salad contained bright lemon juice and ginger flavors that made one sit up and take notice. Sweet apple mellowed the earthiness. I added a handful of bitter celery leaves to add contrast. My husband took a whole heaping spoonful.

I served the beet salad to compliment our favorite Sunday night supper of cheese, whole grain bread and a lovely libation. I’m not sure if this supper tastes so delicious because it’s so simple or because it’s slightly indulgent because it offers an opportunity to savor several American artisanal cheeses on one plate. There are hundreds of hand- or artisanally-made American cheeses now. Our fridge always contains a few of these fine cheeses. And in fact, I overstocked a bit at the last farmer’s market of the season.

Last night’s supper was rich in aromas and flavors. On our plates were Sartori’s Bellavitan Reserve (rich, earthy, with a crumbly texture of Cheddar aged for a couple months), award-winning Marieke Gouda (very nutty and rich, sweet but not caramely) and because I must have third contrasting cheese BelGioioso’s Gorgonzola (very dry and crumbly, also earthy). The apple wine – HalloWine from Illinois River Winery – was yummy and perfect for the earthy beet salad and the earthy cheeses and because it was a sweet and quite spicy, delightful with the blue.

Beets, Apples and Ginger Salad
(Adapted from Amanda Hesser)
Makes 2-3 servings

I love the contrasts of flavor in this salad: earthy beets, bitter celery fronds, sour lemon juice, sugar, crunchy salt and smooth olive oil.

10 baby beets, washed (remove and reserve any micro-beet greens that may have sprouted out of the tops should your beets have been kept in the garage during the recent warm days)
2 large apples (I used Gala), cored and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon of finely diced ginger (next time I’ll use a little more)
Celery leaf fronds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons raw turbinado sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °. Wrap each slightly damp (from being washed) beet in a square of aluminum foil (about 6” X 6”). Roast beets for about 35-45 minutes or until tender. (While the beets are roasting, make the dressing so flavors can meld and sugar can mostly dissolve.) Remove beets from oven and unwrap – being careful not to get burned by the steam. Using a paper towel, rub each beet to remove the skin. Cut into 1/2 –inch dice.
2. Combine the beets, apples, ginger and celery fronds in a serving bowl.
3. To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, mustard, sea salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk the dressing while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Pour dressing over the beet mixture, cover and let set for as long as possible until dinner time, up to 2 hours.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weird Veggies

The 25 middle school kids were intently examining a small dark grayish-purple specimen being passed around the room.
“Can anyone tell me what this is?” I asked.
“Potato.” “No.”
“Radish.” “No.”
“Brussels sprouts.” “Um, no.”
I had been asked to teach a nutrition class to these kids who were very unaccustomed to vegetables that still had a little dirt on them.
“Zucchini.” “Not even close.”
“Is it a beet?” “Yup.”
Several of the boys raised their hands. I called on one.
“Can we taste it?” I was amazed.
“You mean raw? Well, I guess so.”

Middle school is a great time to introduce kids to new foods; especially if they’re a little weird. (I’m referring to the foods.) Case in point: By the time my 45 minutes of instruction on the vegetable group of MyPyramid was concluded, I had kids begging to eat raw beets, twisting raw Brussels sprouts off the stalk on which the sprouts grew in order to gnaw on them, cracking roasted chestnuts with their teeth and asking me where I bought the whole pomegranate they’d just devoured! And they were hungry for more. For all the produce – except the pomegranate – they were too late. I’d stocked up on the nuts, the tubers and the cruciferous veggies still on their stalk at the very last farmers market. Lucky for them, though, pomegranates are now in season and I just bought one on sale for $1.99 at Super Target. (And of course, frozen Brussels sprouts are just as good as those straight off the stalk.)

I ended the nutrition class with a challenge to help the veggie excitement hit home: Make dinner for your family at least once in the next 2 weeks. Their teacher chimed in that she would give an extra 25 points for photo proof that they’d made a family dinner. I dismissed them with a couple pizza recipes.

I saw one of the kids yesterday and asked him if he’d been cooking in his family’s kitchen lately. He said he had and that the Taco Pizza was “totally awesome!” I was just as excited as he was. But then, he told me that his mom said he wouldn’t be allowed to make dinner again until he was older because the kitchen was such a mess. I guess I should’ve sent a note home to the parents: “If you want your kids to learn to eat nutritious foods, you’re going to have to accept a little ‘weirdness’ from time to time.”

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Staymen Winesap and Winter Banana

“What are these Mommy?” “Dorion” “Oh!”

“What are these Mommy?” “Winter Banana” “Oh my!”

“What are these Mommy?” “Ida Reds, Tangy and tart. Good for baking.”

“What are these Mommy?” “Connie, sweet for eating.”

And so it went on down the line of crates of brightly colored apples. My daughter’s questions were the same. My answers were filled with exotic proper names that were somehow familiar and descriptors that filled us with sweet anticipation for a bite of each variety: “Winesap, the deep color of a rich burgundy wine.” “Gala, sweet, zesty with distinct coloring.” “Double Red Winesap, tart, spicy, firm with bright red color.” “Mutsu, mildly sweet with great crunch; juicy for eating.” “Staymen Winesap, crunchy, mild taste; good for cooking and eating; golden color with streaks of rose.” “Newtown Pippin, tart, hard; a good keeper.” “Braeburn, mildly sweet, tart, crisp, juicy, firm.” “Red Rome, juicy, firm, aromatic, mildly tart; good for baking.” “Fuji, exceptionally sweet, firm, crunchy, juicy.” “Swiss Gourmet, hard and sweet; next best to Honeycrisp for eating.”

Somehow, I managed to copy down the name of the varietal and the descriptors of each of the above apples on a little piece of sticky note and throw it into a different bag with the corresponding apple….while trying to keep my three-year-old away from the hornets circling the apple cider dispenser from which she continued to try to fill her paper sample cup. And then there was the baby to keep from crying. Needless to say, I was very frazzled by the end of the project. But, now as I reread the little sticky notes for each apple type and inhale the unique aromas of each varietal, it was all worth it. And a half bushel (a large bucket) was ONLY $20.00!!

The above descriptions were from Skibbe’s Farm, from whom I buy the Michigan apples at our local farmers market. The apple site has more colorful wording and some background on each variety. But not all the apple varieties I purchased were listed on the site. So I feel I’ve discovered some hidden gems. I’ll have to do a little more research on Staymen Winesap and Dorion and Connie. Aren’t those imaginative names? I wonder, where oh where did they originate?

Many of the recipes on the Michigan apple site are creative and sound delicious. We might try out the Apple Salsa tonight. Nachos for dinner would make and ordinary chilly Saturday something special. Plus, we have apples coming out of our ears.