beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ’em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ’em, slice ’em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”

10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

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I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.

 

ozette potatoes, queen spud of the northwest

IMG_4256Of the many cool vegetables grown by relatively new farm Turnip the Beet, the ‘Ozette Fingerling’ potato must top the list.  Rush over to the farm tomorrow at the Lane County Farmers Market to see if Farmers Lela and John have any of these big fat fingerlings left.  Locavores won’t regret it.  Last Saturday, Lela told me that they might have them for another week.

On that very day, when I was trying and failing to blow through the market just to get a few things, I was stopped by a very excited anthropologist who told me that the Ozette, grown by the Makah people of what is now the tippiest tip of northwest Washington for centuries, was available for sale.

The Ozette is a potato that came up the coast from the Andes, I was informed dramatically, bypassing Europe altogether!  Unlike most potatoes that were collected in Peru and environs by the Spanish and colonized back in the Old World, then returned to America, the Ozette had been left behind by Spanish colonists. They had decided the Makah area around Neah Bay wasn’t a good port, so they left their settlement behind.  The Makah people, who seem like a sensible lot, saved the potatoes from the garden, named them after a local island, and planted and cherished them for generations.

The potato looks like a long, fat oca, if you know that Andean root from your travels to Peru or New Zealand.  It’s bumpier and creamier and smoother than a standard fingerling.  When baked, the potato becomes dense but still floury, like a Russet on steroids.  And the flavor is nutty and rich.  It makes an absolutely delicious soup because of the starch content, and doesn’t need butter if you bake or mash it.  I still have a couple left I’d like to fry.  My guess is that they’ll be terrific latkes for Thanksgivukkah this year, if they last in the fridge or cellar that long.

If you’re interested in the history of this singular Pacific Northwesterner, check out Gary Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions.  You can also read about Slow Food’s presidium (scroll down) Ozette project and the details of the Ozette’s development and commercialization as a seed potato. There’s a great video featuring narration from a Makah woman about Native farming and naming the Ozette that was produced by the Seattle area restaurant/farm The HerbFarm, one of the first non-Makah Nation concerns to grow the potato.  The Ozette’s entry in the Slow Food Ark of Taste is here.

The Ozette made me a wonderful vegetarian soup this week with some leftover corncob broth I had from prepping my Bodacious corn for freezing for the year.  It’s fine to substitute water, but the corn added a snappy note to the potatoes and cauliflower.  I’d strongly recommend it.  Corn broth freezes beautifully. I love potato soup, and think it never needs added bacon or pancetta, but if you wanted to gild the lily…

Ozette Potato Cauliflower Soup with Corn Broth

Serves 4.

  • 6 cups corn cob stock
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 t. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 3 cups potatoes cut in 2-inch chunks, preferably Ozette but ok to substitute 1/2 Russet and 1/2 Yukon Gold
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • fresh thyme
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Make your corn cob stock by simmering six denuded cobs in heavily salted water for about 20 minutes, then remove cobs.  Or use chicken stock or water.  Saute onion until golden brown.  Add onion, cauliflower, potato, and carrot to the corn broth, and cook until soft. Taste and add salt and white pepper to your liking. Mash vegetables, then blend with a hand blender until smooth.  Alternatively, use chinois to mill soup smooth.  Add fresh thyme and buttermilk and simmer on the lowest heat for a couple of minutes to blend flavors, then serve.

digging your own gravlax

I’ve been trying lately to include food that is high in protein in my breakfasts.  I’m always trying to have delicious noshes in my refrigerator for cocktail hour.  It was inevitable that I should run smack into gravlax.

Gravlax is the most delicious, silken, salt-cured salmon served in Scandinavia.  It’s a less salty, less aggressive, dill-tinged, slightly sweet lox, which is cold-smoked, and much more subtle than the smoked salmon you find at your local bagelry.  And it’s wonderful with PNW salmon. Definitely don’t use Atlantic salmon, which is always farmed, and tastes muddy and yucky once you’ve dipped your toes in the sweet Pacific.  Save your Chinook/King salmon for the grill; gravlax is better with the stronger flavors and leaner meat of Sockeye or Coho.

Plan ahead — you’ll need to freeze fresh salmon for 3-7 days to ensure any parasites are killed, or use commercially frozen salmon.  All the recipes I’ve seen have called for skin-on fillets, but my fishmonger suggested she skin it, so I went with that.  It was just fine, and more convenient.  Look for a fillet that’s not too thick at the center, rather more even in thickness for most of the fillet.

For us, 1-1/2 lbs. is plenty, so really think about how much you’ll be eating.  It’s better to make less more frequently, since storage alters the flavor and it’s not something that keeps for a very long time.  You can freeze it, which dries it out, or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

My recipe is based on several sources, including the base recipe and comments in this long, comprehensive post from Cooking for Engineers.  It’s very much worth the read for debates about how long to freeze and store, whether or not to weigh down the fillet, add-ons, etymology, and parasitology.

Mark Bittman published a collection of recipes that alter the ratio of salt to sugar and feature different spices, including citrus and a Moroccan-inspired rub.  He prefers a 2:1 ratio of sugar:salt, but I like 1:1 with my limited desire for sugar.  Next time, I’ll surely opt for a traditional splash of Aquavit (or most likely Herbsaint, which I have on hand right now) with the cure.

Simple Gravlax with Dill

Serves 4-6, or more.

  • 1.5 lb. fillet of wild Pacific salmon, a less fatty variety like Sockeye or Coho, skinned
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel fronds

Prepare the salmon by feeling the fillet for small pin bones; remove with tweezers.  Freeze salmon for at least 3 days to kill any parasites.

Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Chop dill.

On a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the salmon, sprinkle half of the salt/sugar mixture.  Place the salmon, dark-fleshed (skin) side down, atop the mixture. Add the rest of the salt and sugar to cover the fish, and sprinkle the dill on top evenly.

Wrap the fish well in the plastic or foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil.  Place fish in gallon-sized Ziploc bag to reduce smells, and lay out the package on a baking sheet that fits the fillet without bending it.

Refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping over the package every 12 hours or so.

Unwrap the salmon and cut a piece off to make sure it is cured through the middle (it should be an even color).  Taste some. If it is too strong for your preparation, rinse off the cure, but you may opt to leave it on. Dry, then slice as thinly as possible on the bias.  Serve with brown bread and cream cheese, or in scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions, as I did above.  Breakfast of champions.

pnw cookbook reviews 2009

I had the great pleasure of reviewing new Pacific Northwest cookbooks for the Eugene Weekly‘s annual Procrastinators’ Gift Guide, out on the stands today.  Check out the latest in home cookin’ ’round these here parts:

  • The Paley’s Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley;
  • Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest by Tami Parr;
  • The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson;
  • Rustic Fruit Desserts by Corey Schreiber and Julie Richardson; and
  • The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table and The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally by Ivy Manning.

Vitaly Paley commented that he found Oregon similar to France, respecting and sustaining local products and traditional methods.  I couldn’t agree more, especially after reading these beautiful books.  I’ll admit that I’m a cookbook junkie, and will read them cover to cover like novels.  In fact, I probably read cookbooks more than any other book.  But it’s been many years since I’ve seriously considered American cookery.  I’m drawn more to ethnic cookbooks, just because I need more help with the ingredients and methods.  These cookbooks made me change my mind.  Ouch, I was seriously bitten by the cookbook bug.  I’d love to do more reviewing in the future — publishers, authors, readers, got anything in mind that MUST be reviewed for 2010?  I can’t make any promises, of course, but I’m interested in hearing from you.

Check out Tami Parr’s cheese blog or Ivy Manning’s cooking blog if you like the style and theme of their books.  I’m new to Ivy’s blog, but have been reading Tami’s for quite some time for PNW cheese events and reviews. Right now, she’s featuring a compelling selection of cheeses for holiday giving.

I’m sad that my copies of the fabulous The Joy of Pickling (rev. ed.) and The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves arrived too late to be included in the EW review, but I plan to make amends.  :)  In the meantime, check out author Linda Ziedrich’s preservation blog and browse these lovely cookbooks at your nearest bookstore.  They’re a wonderful addition to the Ball Blue Book preservation repertoire, which is great but rather old-fashioned.  Ziedrich stresses food safety (with some exceptions) much more than the French preservation cookbooks with unusual recipes, and she also includes many international recipes from the Middle East and Asia, so you’ll find many unique recipes.  And her PNW cred is impeccable — it was so nice to see a recipe for home-grown medlar jam, for example, and a meditation on particular fruit varieties that are cultivated in Oregon.

Technically, The Paley’s Place Cookbook came out in late 2008, and The Farm to Table Cookbook came out a bit earlier, but who’s counting?  Each of these cookbooks had its inspirations, and testing recipes even provided me with a chance to play with my new KitchenAid mixer.

Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got my own procrastinating to address…cookies, cards and presents, oh my!