battle 9–round 2/day 1–beets

I was really conflicted about extending beets into two weeks. One the one hand, they were really fucking terrible, so I could just take my first loss and be done with it. I mean, it stands to reason there may be some vegetables in the world I wind up not liking, right? Ten weeks ago all I ate was fried okra and creamed corn and now all of a sudden I can’t get enough zucchini? But on the other hand, I do not accept defeat gladly. I like to win. I love to win. And even though I do like to win fairly, I’m also not above lying, cheating and stealing. Considering this intense, overwrought, irrational love of winning, it seemed an embarrassing shame to surrender to a beet. I mean, it’s pink.

So, onward to beet week—round two.

To beat beets I had to get serious, no more of this namby pamby shavings on a salad or ginger (which I don’t like anyway) on boiled beet mush. I was going to have to deploy one or all of my three best weapons again vegetables: meat, cheese or the frydaddy.

Meat Pusher Elwood sent another excellent sounding recipe for beets with bacon, but this one looked a lot harder, especially because it had the words “reduction” and “vinaigrette” in it. I considered reminding Elwood that I don’t know how to cook, thinking I could delay the inevitable one more night (beets! ugh!), but I’m going to have to give up that line eventually because I am actually starting to learn some shit, so I quit being baby and gave it a try.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself and cooking is that I really love being in the kitchen, reading and re-reading recipes, searching Google or my dictionary or the Joy of Cooking for the meanings of words, checking off mental lists, creating and cleaning. I move slowly and methodically, but I’m starting to create my own processes and I really relish my time with myself. Unfortunately for David, he can’t read my mind, he doesn’t know what’s next on the list in my head, he gets in my way, and half the time I run him out of the room with a spatula. But he wants to participate, and I appreciate that, so this week when he offered to help I gave him the grocery list, because one thing that would really help me a lot is not wasting my time wandering aisles of grocery stores looking for mythical vegetables and magical jams.

But of course, not long after I turned him loose he called me. From the grocery store. Lost. “I can’t find beets.” Motherfucker.

Fortunately I still had two from the previous week. I had no idea if they were still any good, but I had them, so I used them.  And then I got to work on Elwood’s recipe:

    • Haystack Mountain goat cheese (I used plain brand, it was great)
    • 4 garden beets; place beets in saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer in water for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Let cool and peel. Slice each beet into 4 rounds. Set aside. (I only had two, this was fine, I figured more bacon and fewer beets was probably a good ratio)
    • 12 slices bacon; cook until slightly crispy.
    • 2 cup balsamic; simmer in small pot, reduce by 1/3 and lightly coats the back of a spoon. Let cool.
    • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1 each garlic cloves – minced
    • 1 ea shallots – minced (Obviously I skipped the shallots)
    • 1 cup Dijon
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar (I forgot the brown sugar, oops)
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • Black pepper
    • Emulsify all ingredients in a blender, pouring oil in slowly to blend.

    Set oven to 350 degrees. Place slice of beet on sheet tray. Smear 1/4 tablespoon Haystack Mountain goat cheese. Dot of Black Pepper. One Slice of Bacon. (Repeat two times.) Add more goat cheese to top. Place in oven for about 6 minutes or until warm. Use spatula to set on plate. Drizzle balsamic and Dijon vinaigrette on plate and serve.

    I took my time with this one. I studied the recipe and strategized what to do first. I spent a few minutes cursing Elwood for sending me something so complicated looking with so many ingredients and moving parts, but then I remembered it had bacon in it and got excited again. So, curse Elwood, done. Get over it, done. Next up, simmer some beets and reduce some balsamic. I figure this is where knowing how to cook would probably have come in handy.

    simmering beets

    I popped the beets in a pot with water and poured balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan and put them both on the stove to “simmer,” even though I had no point of reference for what that instruction meant. I took a guess, turned the heat on just above low-ish and went to work on my vinaigrette. While I was doing that I noticed not much was happening with the balsamic. Then I thought, huh, maybe something’s not right, maybe I should do something.  But I don’t know shit about reducing. I’ve never “reduced” anything before, ever, in my life, and it would be fair to say I probably only learned that use of the word “reduction” in very recent weeks or months, so noticing not much was happening with my balsamic and suddenly thinking that meant I should do something about it was, like, the cooking gods shining their love down on me and saying, “You got this one, Julie.”

    I asked David how high the heat should be for simmering. Whereas I like everything hot and fast, David thinks everything in the world can be cooked low and slow. So of course he said, “Low.” Since the heat was already just above low and nothing was happening, I found this answer suspect and decided to consult with Google instead. Google said simmering is just below boiling; some bubbles should form on the bottom and rise to the surface but not enough to boil or thoroughly cook. I turned the heat up on that shit and my balsamic started reducing immediately. I’m telling you, there’s something to cooking hot and fast. Don’t knock it, yo.

    reducing balsamic

    But, what the cooking gods giveth, the cooking gods can taketh away. While I was being distracted by learning, I forgot to add the brown sugar to the vinaigrette. I later thought really complex recipes should come with check boxes so I can mark off when I’ve completed certain parts, like a to-do list, but then I might get pissed about having an incomplete list at the end because I didn’t check “add shallots,” and I really hate leaving lists undone, so maybe the check boxes aren’t the best idea for recipes. I’ll keep thinking about this. In any case, a fourth cup of brown sugar is nothing to sneeze at so I imagine it would have changed the taste in no small way, but the vinaigrette turned out super awesome anyway, so I wasn’t too upset about it.

    bacon and beets

    Then I cleaned up and sliced the beets, laid them out, smeared on a ton of goat cheese, added strips of bacon, then more goat cheese, warmed them in the oven for a bit, and then added the prettiest parts of all: my very first ever vinaigrette and my very first ever reduction of something. I poured them on top all fancy like, the way they do in restaurants and admired my handiwork. Sexy. That was the prettiest fucking meal I’ve ever made.

    And I loved it. I mean, it was covered in bacon and goat cheese and a balsamic reduction, of course I loved it. And David was so beside himself he was speechless (I feel sure anyone who knows David will find this unbelievable, but it’s true, he actually couldn’t talk), so even though he was pretty useless at the grocery store and in the kitchen, he redeemed himself at dinner because he loved my beets.

    bacon beets

    So I beat beets, obviously. Then when I was telling Seriously Rude Naysayer John yesterday about my huge victory, he asked (rhetorically, not interrogatively, John), “That kind of makes the beets more of an ingredient though, doesn’t it?” I can’t repeat what I said to him on this clean, family friendly blog, but it prompted him to follow up with, “….not to downplay the culinary success of the endeavor.”

    And he’s right about that. Beating beets was the overall goal of these two weeks, and thank the cooking gods I did that, but I’m proudest of the “culinary success.” I made a vinaigrette, yo.


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    battle 9–day 2–beets

    This morning I woke up considering doing a major first in the history of this august project…extending a vegetable battle to two weeks. This was my thought process, see if you agree: This was originally supposed to be kohlrabi week. When kohlrabi hit the skids, I scrambled to move up beets, so then I wasn’t really mentally prepared for what is likely the very worst vegetable in the history of the world. My first pass at it was relatively successful, but not enough to call it won, yum yum beets, and my second attempt was a miserable failure. And then all of a sudden this week was over (how did I only have two nights with beets? That’s weird…oh, there was that one night I told beets to suck it and went out for sushi instead, and that other night I…OK, it’s all coming back to me now)… so I’m just a little pissed about ending this week undone. So I thought, well next week was supposed to be beet week anyway, and I still haven’t found kohlrabi, why not just keep going until I beat beets? Don’t you agree?

    Stupid fucking kohlrabi. I hate you.

    So this morning, I got an e-mail from the East Lake Farmers’ Market that their growers will have kohlrabi at the market this weekend. Seriously. No shit. I am serious as a heart attack about that. I looked back through all my e-mails from them and this is the first time they’ve had it. I don’t know how to feel about these stars aligning in kohlrabi’s favor. Obviously I have to do kohlrabi week now. But can I still continue beet week like I wanted to? I’m considering this. I make up the rules, of course, so I can do whatever the fuck I want.

    In the meantime, the reason I’m so anxious to keep at it with beets is that last night I bombed my only real pass at eating them. And by ‘eating’ I mean swallowing and digesting. Steph over at PROJECT 29 to 30 has also never eaten beets, so we decided to tackle this one together and made a date for girls’ night out at Watershed. Not only is Watershed my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, they have gingered beets as a side item. Score.

    I ordered the vegetable plate with all my favorite veggies, which some of my dinner companions poo poo’d because they’re all fried or cooked in animal fat (so delicious), and then asked Mister Server Guy about the beets. He said, and I quote, “They’re great. I don’t even like beets and I love them.” Steph—who had earlier in the day choked down some salad bar beets and found them to be most mud-like and unappetizing—and I hung on every word of this ringing endorsement. Let us eat beets.

    Or maybe let us heave a little and then spit up beets.

    Watershed’s ginger beets looked a lot like cranberry-from-a-can you only ever eat at Thanksgiving, so their appearance was misleading from the get go. Not that I really like cranberry-from-a-can, but that blobbly purplish stuff conjured an image in my head that the taste in my mouth failed to match. As I chewed and settled in with this disappointment, I started to actually taste the beets. Wow. Awful. Think of gross meets terrible meets worse meets dirt. That’s beets.

    I spat it out. On my plate. Then I was so grossed out looking at it that I moved the spat-out-bit back to the beet side dish. Then I gave the beets to one of my unsuspecting dinner companions. I do feel a little bad about recycling beets I spat in. A little.

    Steph, meanwhile had a much better attitude about gingered beets than I did, and she actually ate hers. Even after Mister Server Guy took our plates she kept her beets and continued eating them, considering them carefully. Whatever, Steph. Showoff.
    I am going to do beets again next week. I will not be defeated. GRRRRRRRRR.


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    battle 9–day 1–beets

    Kohlrabi-turned-beet week. Beets. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeets.

    OK, truthfully, who likes beets? For real, for real? (I feel compelled to say again that Lauren doesn’t count. She’s not normal.) I say beets draw such ire from the world for a reason: they’re fucking awful. Then again, it probably goes without saying that my childhood of canned peas and fish sticks didn’t include a lot of beets, so I am making this general judgment of beets based on rumor and hearsay, but you have to admit they do have a reputation and it’s probably not baseless.

    In any case, the sum total of my experiences with beets before beet week happened pretty recently and it was not good. Back in the spring, I was at a hippie dippy green festival on the Decatur square with my dog and some friends (the kind who hate me), checking out dual-flush toilets, overpriced rain barrels and local restaurants’ local food. Decatur has this pretty little gazebo right in the middle of the square where all the restaurant vendors had set up shop, so like a minute into the festival when the sky opened up, said, screw you environment, and rained like hell, all 15 of us toilet-flushing greenies made a mad dash for the gazebo to wait out the storm. It was very Sound of Music, minus the singing, dancing and Nazis.

    While we were in the gazebo getting chummy, the restaurants cleaned up. Everyone tried everything, took every card, signed up for every newsletter, and agreed to participate in every event forever until the end of time. Lauren, Maggie and I made our way around to each vendor and eventually came to a caterer’s table where the owner was artfully decorating crackers with pinkish purplish fluffy ugliness. What happened next was kind of a blur: Lauren talked to the caterer lady, I ate pizza and brownies from the next table over, Maggie was suffering over the amount of food in the gazebo she was not allowed to eat, Lauren ate some pink fluffy ugliness, then picked up another sample and before I could stop that runaway train she said, definitely in slow motion, “Heeeeere, eeeeeeat thiiiiiiis, youuuuuu’ll liiiiiiiiiiiike iiiiiiiiit,” and shoved that shit in my mouth. “It’s beet mousse.” UGH. GAG. UGH. AWFUL. UGH. I looked all around for somewhere to spit, but I was crammed in too tightly with what now looked like 400 of my closest friends; where did all these goddamn people come from?? The only way out was by the beet mousse lady’s table. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Gag, gag, gag.

    Strike one, beets. Strike a jillion, Lauren.

    So I was really, really, really dreading this week and was super pissed it snuck up on me early when kohlrabi took a hike, but — aside from the beet mousse debacle — Lauren had worked pretty hard to convince me that beets really are edible. I was both freaked out about having to eat that gag-inducing nastiness again and trying to limit my anxiety about starving since they seemed to think it was possible I could like them.

    beets

    Even though I’d been hearing from people all over the place that beet salad is the way to ease into beets, I was in kind of an experimental mood Tuesday and wanted to see if I could come up with something on my own. I very quickly realized the flaw in this plan, of course—not knowing a lick about beets or what to do with them—so I adjusted my plan slightly to include Google. I would tell Google what we had to work with and Google would tell me what to make: beets, obviously; um, what else…arugula (I was sort of craving my arugula sandwich again); and…chicken. Mmm, chicken would be good. OK, Google, go.

    Google told me to make a salad. Obviously.

    Ingredients:

    • 7 oz package arugula
    • ½ cup Marie’s Red Wine Vinaigrette Dressing (I don’t know who Marie is, I used balsamic vinaigrette)
    • 4 oz packaged baby beets, diced (I used fresh beets and I peeled and grated them)
    • 2 oz crumbled goat cheese
    • 6 oz fully-cooked diced chicken breast
    • Pepper to taste (don’t you think this should be in the directions list? like, maybe they could put “pepper” in the ingredient list and then “pepper to taste” in the directions list because this is clearly a direction, I’m just saying, recipes are stupid)

    Directions: In large bowl, toss arugula with Marie’s Red Wine Vinaigrette Dressing.  Add beets, goat cheese and chicken (hot or cold).   (I didn’t toss, I just made our plates so they would look pretty)

    beet salad

    This was a pretty good salad! I tried to pay really, really close attention to the beets, but I think I used too much goat cheese and probably a little too much balsamic because that’s really all I could taste, but David loved it and said he could taste the beets and they really added something. He licked his plate clean, and when I was full he ate the rest of mine. I’m not sure I would call beets on this because, you know, it was a salad, but I didn’t hate it and I didn’t spit it out, so that’s an improvement.


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