Pickled Beets

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last year I had a Ziploc bag of small red beets sitting in the hydrator for … months. Months. I had intended to pickle them. Didn’t happen. They sat for ages – actually, I was quite impressed with just how long they lasted – until one day they were just gone. I think Jennifer may have realized the pickling wasn’t going to happen. Or I chucked them and don’t remember.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets, not quite how Grandma used to make.

The pickling didn’t happen because I couldn’t decide on exactly how to tackle it. What recipe to use? What about canning them? What if?

My god, I can’t live with the what ifs anymore. Just freakin’ pickle beets, Dainty.

That’s exactly what I did last week. And I’m happy to say I have a quart of beautiful pickled beets sitting in my fridge at this very moment.

Well, what recipe did I decide on, you ask? It’s a combo of a recipe found in the August Bon Appetit and a recipe for Vinegar Beets from my mother, which I just found out was her mother-in-law’s recipe; i.e., it’s old.

Mom’s recipe calls for boiling the beets until tender, slip off the skins, and combining  a cup cider vinegar, a half cup sugar, 1/4 tbs cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp allspice berries, 1/4 tbs mustard seed, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp whole cloves. She boils that for 3 minutes, then adds the beets to boil again. Then she adds the beets to a jar and strains the liquid. Boiling twice?? To infuse the beets with the spices, she said defensively.

On the other hand, Bon Appetit suggested 3/4 cup each of red wine vinegar and dry red wine, 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp salt and star anise.

Compromise, compromise.

Ingredients

  • About 2lbs. beets – I used a combo of red and golden, and don’t use any that are too very large
  • 1.5+ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp whole cloves

-Boil the beets until a sharp knife slips through your largest beet. Could be 20 minutes, could be more – it all depends on the size. Drain and let cool until cool enough to handle.

beets cooling

Beets cooling until they can be stripped naked

-When cool, the skins just slip right off. Pretty darn amazing how easily they come off. FYI, you’re gonna stain your hands.

removing skins from boiled beets

Skins slip off incredibly easily once beets are boiled.

Beets with skins removed

How beautiful are these??

-While those cooled, I cleaned/sterilized a 1-qt. jar. I added the cinnamon stick (which I crushed a bit), the mustard seed and the cloves.

-When the beets were cool, I left the small beets whole and put them into the. jar. The larger beets I cut into quarters, and some of them I sliced.

-Meanwhile, I combined 1.5 cups vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and boiled until the sugar and salt dissolved. Then I let it cool a bit. While it was still a tad warm, I added the liquid to the jar.

-Turns out 1.5 cups vinegar wasn’t quite enough to cover the beets in the jar. Hence the “1.5+ cups vinegar in the ingredient list. I warmed another 1/4-cup-ish of red wine vinegar added with a couple pinches sugar and a nip of salt. Dissolved that, then topped off the beets.

-And then I did something crazy: I added a half-shot of Southern Comfort. Bon Appetitit’s recipe called for dry red wine, so hey, why not a glug of SoCo? Barely perceptible, but there is a hint of a sweet smokiness. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Cover, let sit on the counter for a day to let the flavors develop, and then give ’em a try. They’re good! And they really do only get better with time.

What? No canning them? I decided not to, and opted for the “put them in the fridge for easy access” method. I still have beets in the garden – two sets of beets, actually – one that’s ready for harvest at any time and one that I just planted a few weeks ago for a late-November harvest. The latter will likely be headed for pickling, and this time for the canner, as well. And this time I mean it.

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Beets: From Seeds to Roasted

August 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love me some beets. Love love love.

I know beet love is not a universal thing. I don’t belittle that. There are reasons to not like them. Sometimes there’s a metallic dirt after-taste. They can stain your hands—and cutting boards and dish towels—like you just murdered someone and stored them in the freezer. Then there’s that whole … nah, I’m not gonna go there.

My first beet love was a dish an old roommate would make in summer. Fresh, julienned beets with minced garlic, evoo and balsamic. Had a real nice crunch. Tasty, but only if you’re not dating someone.

Jennifer has an awesome beet soup – that’s my second beet love. It has the kitchen sink in it, too. I don’t want to hold out on you, but when the next beet harvest comes along, it’ll go up on Dainty. That okay?

My daily beet love goes out to the roasted variety. Simple. Delicious. And really quite beautiful.

New to Dainty!

Yeah for new! I’m including growing instructions. Yup, that’s what I said. This urban farmer is going to show that you—yes, you, city kid!— can take some seeds, grow them, and put them on your tasty table.

Growing Beets

What you’ll need: Beet seeds. A patch of soil/dirt, or a big, wide, deep container. Some way to water them.

Step 1: Beets can take cool weather. And hot weather, too. Another reason to love them. Get out in the garden early in spring—Aprilish for New England peeps—to sow your seeds. OR, start some seeds in early- to mid-August (ahem, NOW!).

Step 2: Beets’ big bulbousness develops underground, in case you didn’t know. It helps if your soil (I never called it dirt, but you know what I mean) isn’t rock hard. Is your soil like cement? Then go to the DIY store and buy a bag of “garden soil,” spread it on top of your “dirt,” and dig it in with a shovel or hoe. Sounds like work … it is! Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long.

Step 3: Beet seeds. Never beet “seedlings” because root vegetables (like beets and carrots) don’t like to be moved once they begin to grow. So, get yourself some. There’s all different types. Choose whichever tickles your tastebuds.

Step 4: Sow the seeds according to the seed packet instructions. Here’s a tip: Plant them in several rows maybe 6 in. apart and in a chess board-type pattern. You can squeeze more in the space that way.

Step 5: Water the seeds in … gently. And keep the soil moist as they germinate.

Step 6: Now, you’re going to wait weeks and weeks … watering and even fertilizing with an all-purpose fertilizer (go to the store and ask for it – you’ll get something good). Your seedlings may be too close together. And when that happens, the beets under the ground kind of grow into each other. It’s ok to sacrifice some of the smaller seedlings. If one seedling is too close to another, just pull it up and discard.

Just a warning: If you spot something on your beet leaves that look like random squiggly lines, you’ve got a pest called Leafminer. These little guys tunnel between the top and bottom of the leaf surface. Crazy! They are the bane of my spring garden—because they also love spinach and chard. If you spot a leaf with these markings, remove it … from the entire garden! Put it in the trash. Do not compost. You want these suckers dead and gone far away. You’ll eat those beet tops later … or the chard or the spinach. You don’t want these guys getting to it first, do you? If you are so inclined, look along the squiggly line and you just might be able to spot the white-ish larva. It’s really gross. Okay, on second thought, don’t look.

Step 7: As your beets get bigger—yay, how awesome is that?!—they may push themselves a bit above ground. Just lightly cover with some surrounding soil to keep the beet covered. Don’t want it to get sunburned, right?

Step 8: Harvest! Pull those beets up whenever you want. You can get a good idea of the size by taking your finger and going around the top of the beet under the soil. After a few months you’ll have small beets that will be good for pickling. Three months, and you’ll get a decent beet—the size you’ll see at a market. Don’t go for massive. No one needs massive beets.

Beets and chard

Beets! and chard, too.

Step 9: Time to roast!

Roasted Beets

  • beets, 3-4
  • olive oil
  • course salt, pepper

-Set oven to 425F. Cut off a 1 ft. length of aluminum foil, place in a cast iron pan.

-Wash beets. Cut off tops just above beet. Reserve beet tops for … well, you can saute them for pasta or as a side dish …

-Arrange beets on the foil. Glug olive oil on top of each beet – don’t need a whole lot. Sprinkle with salt and a turn of pepper. Fold foil around the beets so they are snug in the packet. You’ll want the moisture to stay inside.

beets

Beets oiled and seasoned

-Slide into the oven. Cook 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When are they done? When you can just insert a paring knife deep into its heart.

-When the knife slides in, remove the pan. Let cool until the beets can be handled. Actually, just wait until they are room temp. The skins of beet will be soooo much easier to remove when they are completely cool. And then just rub off the skins! For a cool visual, you can keep the short tops on the beet and rub the rest of the skin away if you want.

Beets, cooling.

Beets, cooling.

What to do next? Store in sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Cube or slice and eat with salads. Goat cheese is in love with beets, too, so be sure to pair them whenever you can.

Peeled beets

Naked beets, ready to be sliced or cubed. How beautiful!

Beets on a salad

Roasted beets are fabulous on a salad.

Salad from a City Garden

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Remember yesterday?

Remember that haul of produce I brought home from my city community garden plot? All of it—the lettuce, the chard, the beets, the tomatoes and whatever else I gathered—is washed/bagged/roasted/drying/sitting in a hydrator.

Are you interested in how I saved the lettuce/chard/etc? There’s a way to do it. I can tell you about that later if you want …

But for now, let me tell you about my lunch.

-Lettuce from the garden.

-A half of a beet from the garden, roasted.

-Cherry tomatoes from the garden.

-A half of a zucchini from the garden, roasted.

Greek Salad Dressing, made with oregano from the garden.

-Boiled eggs, from our backyard hens (Oh, please. Who do I think I am? Jayme Jenkins?).

Pickled red onions, pickled myself!

-Green lentils and bulgur – okay, I didn’t grow them but at least I boiled them myself.

-A slice of bread I made using my wild yeast sourdough starter.

I’m full. I need a nap.

First Big Harvest from Community Garden Plot

July 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

This …

harvest from Dainty's community garden plot

harvest from Dainty's community garden plot

This is what it’s all about. The seeds planted in April. And replanted in May. The battles with bugs. The constant fretting over the weather. The worry while on vacation. This haul is worth the wait, worth the time, for sure.

Red and golden beets. The last of the lettuce. Most of the red and yellow chard. A big ol’ yellow squash. The first—the very first!—cherry tomatoes. Thyme and dill. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention this is all in a 15′ x 30′ urban community garden plot. Call me a city farmer.

It’s not like we haven’t harvested anything at all up until now. Not true. We’ve snipped plenty of herbs. Fresh dill sprigs went into some homemade pickles a few weeks ago, for instance. We’ve pulled up a beet here and there. Just this Monday we took home three larger-than-intended zucchini and a couple of yellow squash. And, we’ve had lettuce for months.

But now, the last week in July, is when everything comes together.

Look for a whole lotta zucchini recipes coming your way.

The Ever-Versatile Roasted Vegetables

May 11, 2011 § 7 Comments

I don’t share Dainty with my real-world colleagues as a rule. Not sure most would approve of Dainty’s exploits. But my super-awesome colleague Chris T.—the designer of the Dainty Dot logo up at the top of the page—is definitely Dainty worthy.

So when Chris T. told me yesterday that I use a lot of—too many?—ingredients, I considered it. Do I really? Salt, pepper, oils and vinegars not withstanding, I’m mentally going over my recipes and counting up. The Steel-Cut Oatmeal I’m currently eating definitely doesn’t have that many ingredients—oats, raisins, slivered almonds, maple syrup. Okay, yeah, that’s a lot for a simple breakfast. Plus, it takes 20-plus minutes to prepare. But at least you can shower while it’s cooking—that’s something.

Chris T., to show that Dainty can prepare a flavorful dish with simple ingredients and instructions, I humbly present this for your consideration: Roasted Vegetables.

It doesn’t matter what it is—beets, leeks, broccoli, and old tennis shoe—you add EVOO, salt and pepper, put it on a baking sheet or cast-iron pan in a 42F oven and you’re going to end up with something tasty. You can skip the oil maybe, but why? If anything, it helps prevent the veggie from sticking to pan. The salt and pepper add flavor, yes, but the salt also helps to draw out the vegetable’s own juices. The high heat caramelizes those juices, so you end up with a tasty savory sweetness. Want to get your children in the habit of eating veggies? Don’t serve them bland boiled bleck—lightly roast some carrots or cauliflower and let them have at it. I don’t have children and I’ve never tested this theory so it might be bunk, but you never know. Give it a try.

Roasting vegetables is my go-to method when it seems there is absolutely nothing left to cook with in the house. There’s always something—a sweet potato, an onion or leek, a pepper, something—laying around that, with a little high heat, salt, pepper and EVOO, can be incorporated into a meal. If anything, they can be tossed with penne for a simple pasta supper.

Do you need instructions? Really? Okay, here they are.

Roasted Vegetables

-Firm vegetables work best. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, winter squashes, onions, leeks work really well. Summer squashes such as yellow and zucchini, are good, too. Tomatoes … I typically use cherry tomatoes and put them in a medium-sized cast iron. They’ll burst, beware. But the flavor is phenomenal. Be forewarned—the acid will mess up your cast iron’s patina a bit. Clean immediately.

-Set your oven to 425F. I never rely on the temp gauge—your 425 may be hotter than my 425. So keep an eye on the veggies the first time you roast them to get a good idea of how your oven works.

-Veggie prep: The secret is to cut the veggies into uniform pieces for even cooking. All the sweet potatoes should be about the same size. Easily enough to do. When chopping the onion, leave them in relatively big chunks. No dicing. Broccoli and cauliflower can be kinda tricky to get into even sizes. But if some get more crispy than others, hey, that’s ok—it’s all tasty.

-Put your veg in a medium to big bowl, depending on how much you have. Add olive oil—I tip the bottle down and go once around the bowl for a small amount of veg, two to three times for more veg. Add one to two large pinches of kosher salt and several turns of a pepper mill. Toss to coat. Your hands are fine, or a wooden spoon or tongs work too. I prefer hands. Spread out evenly into a single layer in a cast-iron pan or rimmed baking sheet. Single layer! You want each veg to get in contact with the hot metal. Put in the oven and close ‘er up.

Note: What’s a large pinch? It’s a pinch that uses your thumb and your index, middle and ring fingers. It’s one finger away from a small grab. Go ahead, try it.

-Roasting time: Well, now, that all depends on what you’re roasting. Broccoli—2o minutes. Cauliflower—20-25 minutes. Beets, same thing. Sweet potatoes—up to 40 minutes. Butternut squash—35-40 minutes. Onions, leeks—15 maybe? Same with summer squashes. Asparagus, maybe 10 minutes. The softer the vegetable, the less time it takes. For softies, I check them at 12 minutes and then gauge from there. The harder the veg—like sweet potatoes—the longer it takes. For broccoli and cauliflower, I check them at 10 and give them a shaky toss. If you’re roasting a two or more different veggies—like broccoli and onions—on the same pan, I separate them so it’s easier to remove one if it’s done ahead of the other.

-When’s it done? When they turn a nice golden color, especially around the edges. Broccoli’s florets will begin to get a bit dark. That’s ok. Are the stem parts firm yet edible? You don’t want them to be floppy, but you want to be able to chew them without an awful crunch as if they are raw. Squashes—you should be able to stick a toothpick or fork into it easily but it shouldn’t be mush. Get the idea?

This weekend we made a simple pasta meal with roasted broccoli and onions and sun-dried tomatoes. We took a small handful

Roasted broccoli and onions with sun-dried tomatoes over pasta

of the tomatoes and put them in a bowl of maybe 1.5 cups of boiling water. Let them sit there while the broccoli and onions roasted and the pasta water boiled. Just before the roasting was done, we took out the tomatoes and gave them a rough chop, then threw them in with the drained pasta, a 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and the roasted veggies. We served with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Delicious. Want some meat with that, you meat-eaters? We’ve had similar dishes where we’ve added a link or two of Al Fresco chicken apple sausage cut into bite-sized pieces.

Pasta, quinoa, bulgar, rice … whatever you have, as long as you have a veggie or two around and know how to roast it, you’ve got yourself a meal. And one with not that many ingredients.

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