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Beet Down – A New Way to do Beets

4 May

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I’ve moved a lot, both growing up and now in my adult years.  More than occasionally I get the, “How do you do that?” round of questioning, mostly from people that consider a significant move an over-filled pick-up truck unloading across town.  Now, don’t get me wrong, a move is a move.  But some are more uprooting then others.

We’ve been in Jacksonville for about 3 years now, and I’m starting to get a tad bit antsy about where we’ll go next.  At night, Rob and I lie in bed perusing Zillow, dreaming of a possible destination for our next Coast Guard-led adventure.  Port Angeles, Detroit, Boston, not much is out of the running except for land locked areas, most of which we wouldn’t want to live in anyway (sorry, Oklahoma.  Been there, done that).  Of course we look at houses that are waaaaay beyond our means – with kitchens that just might make me famous – but it’s just a fun torturous game we play.  Like window shopping at Gucci.

Everywhere we go we try to squeeze everything we can out of the location, and we have only a year left in north Florida.  We’ve done a lot here, but definitely have a lot more to go, do, and see.  Though altogether we’ve found things we love (paddle boarding, the bird life, dolphins, good shopping), and really don’t love (the bugs, the heat, the bugs, the heat, oh and snakes.  Well, I don’t mind the snakes, but Rob runs away like a little girl).

In terms of one of the more important things in life – food – we’ve also found our regional likes and dislikes.  Sorry, Southern folk, we haven’t taken to the oddly-hairy-yet-slimy-at-the-same-time-omg-who-created-this-thing called okra, nor have some traditions (potato salad at Thanksgiving?) found a settled place in our hearts.  BBQ, however, that’s a love story.  So are the sweet onions.  Also, honey.  And so are the beets.

I’ve never actually documented the epic argument Rob and I had over beets.  Maybe one day.  But, beets!  Really?  Aren’t there better things to argue about, like sponges or spoons?

Well, we’ve grown in our relationship since arguing about beets (thank goodness) and now we can’t go a week without them.  Luckily, farms in Florida grow beets almost year round, and the months they don’t, the red roots keep for a long while in a crisper – if they last that long.  Thankfully, our CSA provides us with bunches regularly.  We eat them straight from the oven, or cold with a bit of vinegar and honey.  I’ve chopped them up into fancy tapenades and relishes, used their juice to dye Easter eggs, and have even infused vodka to make a fancy beet cocktail.  Beet options are endless.

So then why are restaurants only serving beets with the standard goat cheese and arugula?  I mean, some have pecans, some do a balsamic reduction drizzle, but really they are all the same.  It’s so sad!  Culinary monotony at its best.

So let’s turn the tables, shall we, and shake up the beet world.

With these: Beet Tacos.

Vegetarians, unite!  Meat Eaters, indulge!  Paleo folk, take a shower from your last CrossFit workout and pick up one of these tacos (sans cheese and crema)!

These are simple enough for a weeknight, but impressive enough for easy entertaining.  Having spent enough time in Mesa, Arizona, I prefer the small corn tacos to flour, and I feel their earthy flavor compliments the sweet beets wonderfully.  Chipotle crema is nothing more than 1 c Mexican cream (found now at most grocery stores), 3 chopped up chipotle peppers, lime zest and 1 tsp of agave Every Mex dish needs some beans, which are super simple to prepare.  Heat some canned black beans (drained and rinsed) in a pot over medium heat with ½ c water, 1 glove of garlic, and a sprig of mint.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, discard the herb and garlic, season the beans with s&p, and smash them with a fork.  For the star of the show: In a foil-lined baking dish, roast 4 peeled beets at 400 degrees with a dash of s&p, a drizzle of canola oil, 1 tsp cumin, and a whole jalapeno (sliced down the middle) until beets are tender, about an hour and a halfThe fresh topping of crisp cilantro (tear off stem) and soft shredded romaine (roll 2-4 leaves like a cigar then chop into thin strips) top off the bite with herby freshness For an optional creamy, salty indulgence, crumbled Queso Fresco tops the taco with ease.  Oh, and don’t forget the squeeze of that lime you zested earlier (it’s not just a margarita garnish, you know).

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When Rob and I were dating, tacos were our go-to dinner date.  Here in Jacksonville, we haven’t been able to find quite the same ole(!) experience as I we had in the South West.  Remembering those fresh flavors, I decided to create my own using one of Jacksonville’s finest produce, the bodacious beet.  Yes, bodacious.

With Cinco De Mayo coming up, enjoy these tacos with friends and maybe a marg or two.  You’ll get the best of two worlds, or at least the best of two regions of the U.S. (speaking from lots of moving – and eating – experience here, folks).

CinEnjoy!

Beet Tacos
(serves 4)
*ingredients and instructions above. 

To assemble:
Put the corn tortilla on a plate.  Spread some of the smashed black beans on the tortilla.  Top the beans with some roughly chopped beets.  Then Top the beets with the lettuce, cilantro, queso fresco, and a drizzle or two of the crema.  Squeeze the juice of a lime slice over the top, and you’ve got seriously one of the best tacos you’ll ever eat.

Enjoy!

An Aftertaste
If you like beets, check out these and these.  

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Turkey Day Trials 2014

16 Nov

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While October seemed to have sluggishly ambled by, November has been no joke – it’s already half-way through the month and only a week and a half away from the biggest foodie day of the year. Already, Christmas decorations, songs, sales, and Santas have inundated the stores, almost like Thanksgiving is that afterthought of a day firmly arriving to devote its purpose solely to the day after, when all the crazy shopping happens.

Really, people?

Let’s slow down for a moment and savor this season. It’s fall. Beautiful leaves, filling foods, and get-togethers lending perfect excuses to have just that one more glass of wine. For me, aside from the food, Rob has safely made it back from a deployment, creating another reason to celebrate. But this year, I’ve taken a different approach.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by small gatherings, simple entertaining, and outrageously good tastes. So, I’ve been creating small bites that are perfect for giant, festive entertaining, or just a special holiday dinner for two. My mom will attest that since I was old enough to chew, my favorite foods were the traditional turkey, stuffing, and cranberry dinner tastes. So for me to step out of the traditional American turkey day box is a little uncouth.

But go with it. Try it. You’ll be surprised – I was!

Try my Pumpkin Seed and Pomegranate Guacamole. Guac? On Thanksgiving? Oh come on, the avocado needs some holiday love, too. Especially with so many meatless options these days, this is a perfect stand-alone dip, elegant atop a crostini, or the silent hero in a leftover cranberry, lettuce and guac sandwhich. It’s creamy, with a roasted bite from the pumpkin seed oil, plus a surprising tang of sweetness only known by the pomegranate.

This guac is great and extremely versatile. Dress it up with a pairing of champagne, or make it comfort food extraordinaire while enjoying on the couch watching football. It is fancy enough to be a holiday-party-go-to, comforting enough to be a pot-luck favorite, and simple enough to whip up for a festive fall evening for two. No, it’s not a turkey, and no, it’s not stuffing. But in our house, this is definitely going to be a new Thanksgiving tradition.

Enjoy!

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Pumpkin Seed & Pomegranate Guacamole
(this recipe serves 4, but alter ingredients to make as much as you need!)

  • 2 ripe Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • Juice ½ lime
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp roasted pumpkin seed oil
  • ½ tsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
  • s&p

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine all ingredients except for the pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Season to taste with s&p (I always find that I need a bit more pepper than expected when working with avocados). When well combined, top with the pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Serve as is with chips, or shmear on crostini, or slather on a sandwich for a perfect holiday-inspired meal! Enjoy!

Clean Up in the Garden Center

14 Dec

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Don’t “they” say that most horrible emotional crises happen during the holidays?  Like, if there was ever a time to yell, stomp, scream, cry, and down-right pout, now would be the time?  Of course these tantrums happen to sneak up at inopportune times, taking only one, very small piece of straw to break the camel’s back.  It seems quite paradoxical, actually, a grown-up having a fit among a-bit-too-loud cheery Christmas songs and smiling cut-out advertisements exemplifying holiday spirit.

Well, I’m glad to say that I did not yell, nor stomp.  I did not scream.  And while the I-really-am-trying-to-have-a-good-time-but-my-face-says-otherwise pouting did inevitably lead to leaving tear stains on Rob’s flight suit, the wonderful workers at the Home Depot Garden Center would probably classify me as one of “those” people.

Remember that wonderful Christmas tree farm in Oregon where we got to cut our own tree?  It was always cold, festive, pine-y, and everything you would imagine out of a Courier and Ives picture-scape.  Rob did NOT cut the tree the first year (leading to much teasing on my end), and the second year Rob so acutely DID cut the tree, thus having it land perfectly on me.  Payback is, well, what I was when I teased him endlessly I guess.

This year, Rob and I lovingly walked, hand in hand, to pick out the most perfect Christmas tree for our new home in Northern Florida.  We met right after work, making a bit of a romantic date out of the occasion.  Except the Christmas-tree-picking ambiance we’ve become so accustomed to was tainted somewhat by 1) the hardware store, 2) the 80 degree weather, and 3) the fact that when we walked up to the trees, they were all wrapped perfectly in twine for take-home ease.  So, as both of our shoulders hunched over just a bit at the loss of rustic sentiment, I turned, and without restraint, nor dignity, let some tears slip out.  My adoring husband held me and let me cry into his shoulder, and with similar sentiment to my breakdown in the grocery store a few Thanksgivings ago, his deep voice called, “Clean up in the Garden Center!”

In all efforts to make the Christmas tree shopping situation feel more festive, Rob reached into one of his many, many pockets, found his flight knife, and started tearing into those trees like Paul Bunyan.  One by one, he vehemently sliced through twine, letting each tree open, boughs falling with ballet grace and exuberance.  The free-ing of the trees almost let out audible sighs and I could swear a couple started whispering, back to the dirt or bust!

I watched as the lady at the checkout eyed us with a suspicious who-are-these-hippie-freeing-tree people look on her face.  A couple of customers walked up for their own tree, but saw the rally and turned the other way.  Rob, at this point, was hidden among the full figured pines, and I stopped him from cutting another.

“Oh, just one more – this one in the back looks good!” Swipe went the knife. “AND it has some fallen Oak leaves on it!”

He knew that would sell me as my last name means “Grove of Oaks.”  It worked.

Sap and pine-needle dusted, and a bit sweaty, Rob and I purchased our Home Depot tree and tied it to the roof of his car.  At home, just like we would do in Oregon, we made some nibblies, had a cocktail, and put up our tree.  It is a gorgeous tree.  In fact, I think it could give the big ol’ pines in Oregon a run for their money.

Today, our tree is decorated, fragrant, sparkly, and beautiful.  We even positioned it in front of the outlet connected to the wall switch.  So rather than crawl under the tree and risk blindness and choice words from pine branch poking, we simply have to flip the living room switch for twinkle light galore.

To celebrate, I created a cocktail perfect for the holidays.  It is festive, fun, tasty, and perfect for this time of year.  The best part of this cocktail is the simple syrup: sugar, fresh cranberries, water, basil, and fresh ginger.  It simmers until all the cranberries pop, pop, pop, and the syrup gets thick and rich.  But that’s not the best part!  After straining the mixture, the syrup leaves behind a beautiful blend of thick, sweet, stewed cranberries, better than most chutney I’ve ever had.  In fact, we dolloped it atop some super sharp cheddar cheese and an apple slice, and had a perfect hor’dourve to match our drink.

Like every other Christmas that Rob and I have shared together, this one started off in its standard way: a funny story to tell, and a libation with which to retell it.  Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy the chutney and cocktail!

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Cranberry Ginger Martini (with Cranberry Ginger Chutney as a bonus) 

For the simple syrup:

  • 1 c water
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1 c fresh cranberries
  • 1-in nob of ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • a handful of basil

Heat over medium-high heat, and give the mixture a stir, until all the sugar has dissolved.  Let it sit and bubble, until all the cranberries have popped, and the mixture has thickened (this will only take about 5-7 minutes). 

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain out the syrup, and keep the solids – discarding the basil leaves – as a wonderful chutney. 

For the cocktail:
Combine 2 tbsp of the cranberry syrup, 3 oz vodka, juice of ½ a lime, and some ice into a shaker.  Shake until cold and mixed, and strain into a martini glass.  Serve with a garnish of lime and a basil leaf. 

ENJOY! 

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