Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Glorious Beet

Years ago, supporting Hippocrates exhortation that our medicine should be our food and our food our medicine, I read that many of the foods that supply our daily needs resemble the body part they are intended to support. Beets, the book said, are red and the nutrients provided are extremely good for our blood. Bravo. Yet beets, on the whole (or even sliced), have had a bad rap. As kids, many of us ate those nearly rock hard, deep maroon, bitter tasting lumps from a can, foisted on us by a well meaning parent who told us how good they were for us. A sure sign they must taste terrible. Remember, they said that about cod liver oil, too!

But of late, I've noticed in the trendy food magazines, that top chefs are using beets, both red and yellow with more frequency and with more imagination than just as a side dish served warm or pickled.

Dining at the Culinary Institute last Fall, I chose a roasted beet salad on mixed wild greens with a simple vinaigrette and dabs of goat cheese as a starter and was so delighted with the combination that when I had guests in for dinner in December, I tried my hand at reproducing those flavors. It was a big hit with the 30 to 40 year old crowd who were surprised to find that the beet was mild and sweet. The oven roasting had brought out a depth of flavor from the carmelization of the natural sugar in the beets giving the salad that je ne sais quois that puts a dish a little over the top.

I was treated to dinner this past Wednesday at the posh new eating place in College Park, Adair's. Once again, I found the lowly beet among the featured items on the salad menu, this time combined with the yellow beet, haricort verts and a bed of frizee with a luscious mayo based dressing, tangy and a bit salty, nicely off-setting the mild flavor of the beets. Such a tongue pleasing experience that I snatched up a lovely bunch of small beets with fresh greens still attached when I shopped on Thursday. I washed and cooked the greens immediately for my lunch and the beets are waiting to be roasted to star in a salad for Sunday dinner. Here's my rendition of roasted beet salad with goat cheese. Hope you'll try it and if you do, let me know how you like it.

Roasted Beet Salad
2 tsp finely chopped shallots
4 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 medium beets or 4 small ones
2 cups mixed wild greens
2 cups torn green leaf or romaine lettuce
1/4 cup goat cheese
Place vinaigrette ingredients in blender to combine. Taste for salt & pepper.
Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast in 350 oven until tender, about 1 hour.
When beets are cool enough to handle, peel and slice or cut into wedges then toss with half the dressing. In another bowl, toss the washed and dried greens with the remaining dressing. Arrange the greens on individual salad plates, divide the beets evenly on each serving then crumble the goat cheese over each salad. Serves 4

Saturday, March 18, 2006

If only I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't waste my youth chasing boys and drooling over new outfits (which I couldn't buy). I'd concentrate on learning a lot . And I'd spend my middle years learning even more. Here I am, in my final years, just wising up to all there is to learn in this world.

Perhaps this melancholy hindsight is brought on by the weight of the reality that with today's birthday, I'm fast approaching 70. Egads! Or perhaps, I'm berating myself for a misspent youth because I just returned from seeing the four finalist documentaries from this year's Academy Awards. Of the four that were screened today, the superb documentary on Norman Corwin moved me to tears. Listening to the program he wrote, directed and aired on May 8, 1945, the end of WWII, was so moving as were the excerpts from the program he wrote for CBS on the Bill of Rights. What a talent! Why haven't I read his work? Another great talent I missed while being amused by some frivolous pastime.

We are so fortunate to live in a country where our Bill of Rights allow us to speak our opinions without fear of reprisal. Our founding fathers had the foresight to assure our freedom from tyranny and it's our job now to not allow anyone, regardless of position, to infringe on those rights.

Loved listening to Studs Terkel's remark that we who say "This is America, if you don't like it, leave it" are wrong...we are free to speak our mind; free to criticize without being ostracized. Give thanks for the Bill of Rights and defend it.

On Thursday, I had the privilege of serving on the jury of a criminal case. Our justice system has insured that each citizen has representation and is innocent until proven guilty. Another vindication that living in America is a blessing that we often take for granted. And it's not a game of semantics when we differentiate between not guilty and innocent. It assures that, with a panel of peers, the accused cannot be unjustly convicted. Yet, I also witnessed how easily it is for 'gut instinct' to play havoc with 'reasonable doubt'. Scary.

We are living in difficult times, at best. High unemployment, escalating housing costs, rampant crime, outrageous National Debt, at war with no visible end in sight. And saddest of all, an apathetic general population with no more interest in current events beyond the latest reality TV show. Heaven only knows where we are heading.

No food with today's post, folks. Just a little food for thought.

Friday, March 10, 2006

TGIF to all my working friends. The forecast this weekend is for beautiful weather so get out and enjoy.

Orlando is bursting with things to do - check out the Sentinel Calendar section. If you're looking for some freebies - the Orange County Library has a full weekend of activities planned: Art After Hours tonight, Tracking the Case of Central Florida's Women Trailblazers tomorrow and on Sunday, Meet the Author with Bill Belleville discussing his new book: Losing It All to Sprawl.

Speaking of books, I've recently finished Stuart Woods, Iron Orchid, a fun fast read and I'm in the homestretch with Jodi Picoult's hot new one, The Tenth Circle. This morning, I found nestled on my doorstep, courtesy of PEP Express, The Poet of Tolstoy Park and A Thread of Grace. A quiet, shady spot is calling my name.

Cooking Tip: Cry No More
Do you tear up when slicing / dicing onions? I use so many onions and even with a good sharp chef's knife, my eyes tear up like crazy and my nose runs. But the solution is just a flame away - place a lighted votive candle on the cutting board or counter close to where you are dealing with the onions. Amazing solution! Worked beautifully as I whipped up a batch of stuffed cabbage rolls this morning. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Spring is fast approaching as the pollen dusts my car with its yellow hue. Itchy eyes, sneezing and wonderful fresh produce at the market to compensate.

Try this little trick with brussel sprouts:
Sauté over medium heat 3 or 4 thin slices of pancetta with a thinly sliced shallot in a little olive oil. While that gets started, wash and peel off any nasty outer leaves from 4 - 6 brussel sprouts. Slice the sprouts in half from top to stem end, and then with cut side down, slice it thinly. Toss the lot into the pan with the pancetta and shallots, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, shake or stir a bit...if it gets too dry, add a jigger of water. A generous pat of butter just before serving won't hurt a bit, either.
To make a complete one dish meal, last night I tossed in a half cup of cooked quinoa. Cooked brown rice would be nice too. The sprouts make an excellent side dish or a full course meal. Let me know how you like it.