Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Be(et) My Valentine

Be(et) mine.
Lucky for you, the magazines I write for were kind of less than wildly enthusiastic about this idea, and so it is mine, still, to post here. It’s so cute, they said, we’re just not sure it’s really very festive or romantic for the holiday. Also: Pretty, but maybe too strange for our readers? What are they, crazy? Nothing says I Love You like beets! For one thing, the pinkness. For another, nutrients. And the sweetness. And also, the very faint dirt flavor does not as much say it, but still. Are you just picturing poor Ben and Birdy, opening their Valentine’s Day lunchboxes to a Cupid’s buffet of pickled root vegetables, while your kids bite into their frosted pink cupcakes and heart-shaped taffy kabobs? I know. Me too. But you could use the beet idea as an excuse to get this little set of aspic cutters. I have gotten so much use out of mine, it's crazy--and we don't even eat a lot of aspic! Or actually any aspic. We mostly use them to shape Fimo clay beads. And for very tiny tea sandwiches for doll parties.

In case I forget to say more about this later, this is the whole idea: cut a pickled beet slice with a tiny aspic-cutter, then add both the cut-out hearts and the outlines to a salad.
You can also use the cut-out hearts to stamp tortillas:

If I weren't such a pain in the ass about whole-grain this and that, the hearts would show up even better! Happy Wheat Germ Valentine's Day.
 And, as Birdy discovered, the beet juice makes fantastic nail polish!

(or not)
I always have beets pickled in the fridge these days, given that winter is the season of the root vegetable farm share, aka Night of the Living Turnips. You go every other week with your yawning bag of emptiness, and the cheering signs invites you to Help Yourself! 15 Pounds! Mix and Match! Whatever You Want! Which is thrilling when it’s glass beads, say, or cocktail shrimp. And less thrilling when it’s turnips, rutabagas, broken storage carrots, grubby potatoes, and daikon that dwarfs a whale’s dildo. But so far so good, thanks in part to the book An Everlasting Meal. The thing that has most significantly changed (rather than simply confirmed) the way I live and eat is her advice to cook a lot (or all) of your veggies at once, whether or not you’re planning to use them just then. Boil, roast, or pickle all of it when you get home, then it’s ready to eat plain or add to salad or a plate of bread and cheese—or to turn into soup, pasta dishes, and casseroles. I am really doing this: pickling all the beets and radishes, braising all the turnips with butter and soy sauce, roasting cubed sweet potatoes and rutabagas, marinating shredded carrots. I am more lazy than I am determined to consume junk: if there are cooked veggies, I will eat them, because there they are. And I will cook with them, because I don’t have to confront a bag of filthy or rotting tubers along. (Try it and report back, okay?)

Baked Beets
Heat the oven to 400. Place however many scrubbed but untrimmed beets you like into a lidded casserole dish that they will fit into in a nice, snug way. Add a half an inch of water, cover, and bake until the beets feel tender when you pierce them with the tip of a sharp knife. Depending on the size of your beets, this will take anywhere from 30 minutes (very small beets) to an hour and a half (enormous storage behemoths). Let the beets cool (if you cheated them, and they could use a hair extra cooking, let them cool in their lidded casserole, where they'll continue to steam a bit), then slice off their tops and rub the skins off under cold running water. Slice or cube them.

Pickled Beets
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
Active time: 15 minutes; total time: 1 hour 30 minutes

6 medium beets, baked as above
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pickling spice (or a bit of allspice, cloves, bay leaf, and cinnamon)

Trim and skin the cooled beets, then slice them a quarter inch thick and put them in a large glass jar or bowl. Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil in a pot, simmer for 10 minutes, and pour through a strainer (if you used powdered spice you can skip the strainer) over the beets. Cool and store in the fridge.

Bonus Recipe: Delicious Creamy Beets
To some amount of sliced or cubed pickled beets, add a big bloop of sour cream and a large spoonful of prepared horseradish. Stir well and taste for salt and overall excitement: if it needs more oomph, a little Coleman’s mustard seems to marry well with the other flavors.

To recap: roast them.

Peel them.

Slice them.

Pickle them.

Cut them with a wee cutter.


  1. OMG, did I really just read, "daikon that dwarfs a whale's dildo"??? I simply HAVE to find a way to work that little gem into my next conversation! You never fail to delight, Catherine.

  2. My kids LOVE pickled beets. Since they were little tiny wee ones they have called them raspberry chips and just eaten the hell out of them. I will now be making them because I know they will love to join in. Thanks for the recipe!!

  3. Mmm, beets. Pickles, mmm. I love that Everlasting cookbook. It's so right.

  4. Janet Lee2:57 PM

    Because I am wildly co-dependent, or something, I feel the need to say that you shouldn't ever use the same tools you use for Fimo with food. Unless you have a separate set of cutters for that? I also bake Fimo in an old brownie pan with a foil cover so it doesn't off-gas or whatever it does into my oven.

    OK, done now, off to pickle some beets!

  5. Angela3:06 PM

    Well, I think that salad looks lovely. Love-ly. But then I am very partial to pickled beets. Alas, I doubt my husband would actually make me a salad like that, or want to eat one if I made it. Would it be sad to make a Valentine's salad for myself???

  6. People are funny about beets, have you noticed? Sort of suspicious it seems, when really? Could there be a sweeter vegetable?

    We made and devoured the squash fries last night, which may be my all time fave recipe of yours (besides the zucchini dip, roasted tomato sauce, and birthday cake...)

  7. Lucky us, we get beans and flour (!) in our winter CSA. Stupidly, I stored the giant bag of beautiful red potatoes we got in our last delivery in my canner, high up on a shelf, thinking that way they can't silently rot our other produce like so many times before. Then I take down the canner to actually can something, and the potatoes are there, sprouting and leaking, and smelling of the wet earth they are caked in. So sadly, they ended up in the trash. I just can't deal with all those potatoes and their starchiness, which my daughter loves, but which I loathe because they are part of the dreaded nightshade family, and therefore might give me *inflamation*!! No more storing veggies in the canner. I would love some suggestions about how to deal with potatoes in such a manner. I am thiking if I roast them right away they will just get soggy if I store them in the fridge after. Pickled potatoes?

  8. Anonymous7:33 PM

    I just lost it when I got to the daikon description. It's been a rough night with my little one having an allergic reaction from Ben & Jerry's, so I totally needed that laugh to release all this pent up worry (you know the kind of worry that you're afraid to stop because if you stop for a second than the whole world will fall apart?) So yeah, the daikon dildo comment made me drop my worry for a good 30 seconds & it seems we're all still here- so, thanks :)

  9. Anonymous7:35 PM

    and now I just realized I used than instead of then and I can't go back and edit....

  10. I've made a tradition of entering the Scharffenberger Chocolate Adventure contest every year - and although I've never won, we've ended up with a new family favorite recipe each year. Last year, beets were one of the "adventure ingredients" and since I share your dirty love of them, I played with them a lot. (yes, puns) I ended up making a Hazelnut-Orange Red Velvet Cupcake, with shredded beets instead of food coloring, a Hazelnut-Goat Cheese filling, and an Orange Blossom Buttercream Frosting. We get lots of requests - including a coworker who will babysit my toddlers in exchange for cupcakes.

    Anyways, you have to make Hazelnut-Orange Roasted Beets, which would add another level of dessert-y beetness to your pretty V-Day hearts. Scrub 1# of trimmed beets; put them in a small casserole or pyrex with 2 TBLE of sugar, the zest of 1 orange, and 1/2 a vanilla bean pod (it doesn't even need the seeds - just the leftover pod that you salvaged from another recipe). Add 2 TBLE of hazelnut oil and 1 TBLE of water. Cover with foil and slow roast at 300 degrees for about an hour. Let them cool and peel them.

    You will not believe how amazing your house will smell. And you will find yourself eating even more beets.

  11. I hope the Beet Council is looking for a good spokesperson, because you would WIN! I love your pickled beets recipe very much - why oh why does my CSA share not seem to have many this year?

    Question on the pre-cooking all your veggies thing: how do you store all of those things and do they not get soggy and weird quickly being pre-cooked? Maybe I'm a skeptic, but I tend to dislike eating "leftovers" more than I am intimidated by a fridge full of veggies. Am I missing the attraction?

  12. AnnRKey12:10 AM

    I'm all about cooking all the veg at once. Then at lunchtime when I decide I'd like some squash fries or roasted beets, I don't have to wait an hour to eat. Or if I'm making scrambled eggs and want to add some potatoes, they're already cooked and I can add them at the end.

    Catherine, I'd love a recipe for the braised turnips with butter and soy sauce. I've got two CSA turnips the size of whale breast implants that I don't know what to do with.

  13. Beat my Valentine- not bad advice on dealing with a moody ass husband...and so timely! Oh wait. That was BEET my Valentine. Also good. Where can I get one of those enormous storage behemoths you speak of?

  14. ABanks12:00 PM

    When I read, "daikon that dwarfs a whale’s dildo," I literally snorted Diet Pepsi through my nose and all over my computer monitor. Thank you! I needed that! :)

  15. Beets! I love them, but sadly I think I'm the only one in my family who does. Ah well, I have three sitting in the fridge and will promptly bake them up. My husband floated that idea of cooking up all the veggies straight away and, I'll admit, I laughed it off. Now that you suggest, though, maybe I'll give it a try!

    Oh, and the whale's dildo bit ... hilarious!

  16. I am seven weeks pregnant, and the delight of morning (and all the rest of the day) sickness is in full swing. I keep thinking of when you were pregnant with Birdy, and your comment about your neighbors having set an entire cow on fire, hehehe. Pickled beets sound oddly wonderful right now, though. And that salad is quite lovely.

  17. Every Year! I don't even like beets, really, but they are so gorgeous and pink and luscious in your photos and YOU love them so much that I think this year it will be different. One year I made a huge pot of borscht and ate it myself for at least a week because no one else cared how Valentiney it was, and I have never had borscht since. Now, I think I have to try beets again. I can't help it.

  18. Adriana8:06 AM

    Beet! (That´s actually the word for "remolacha", thaks a lot for posting pictures). This is such an every day vegetable here in Uruguay (look south in South America, ok, a little more, there you are!). But we only boil them, I will surely try all these. Even though I´ve used them to turn plain cornmeal into: "princess cornmeal" (clap, clap)Just use a fine grater to grate the boiled beet and mixe it with the cornmeal, ja, ja. So much for this blogg, ja.


    1. Anonymous8:47 PM

      Okay, Catherine, why do I love, for you, that you have a reader in Uruguay?!! It never ceases to amaze me, oh, right, people from NOT just in USA can read blogs, hullo! Hooray for fans of wonderful Catherine all around the globe! xoxo (from 2kidslife)

  19. I seriously laughed so hard at "daikon that dwarfs a whale’s dildo" that people came to see if I was okay.

    Thank you, i totally needed that today.

  20. dale in denver8:56 PM

    been making (and loving) your pickled beets since you originally posted that recipe. but with sour cream and horseradish? You, madame, are a GENIUS!

  21. Erin, yes, potatoes are an exception. I don't love leftover potatoes, unless they're mashed. I will look into this.

    1. Try blanching or steaming the potatoes just until they are cooked through, but not soft. They will weep some water if you don't let them air dry before putting them in the refrigerator, but they will still be fine when you finish cooking them. (A good way to get them nice and dry is to leave them in the strainer and then put it back into the hot, dry pan that they were cooked in.)

      You can toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them at a really high temperature and get a decent crust on them (if they're dry enough to start with). You can also reheat or resteam them with butter, s/p, and herbs; or toss them into stews and soups; or resteam them and smash them. I use this trick all the time. It works for all of your root vegetabls and carrots. The trick is not cooking them too far in the beginning.

    2. Thanks Cheryl! I am thinking you are a chef, no?

    3. Spent years cooking professionally, but there's a certain intensity to a restaurant kitchen that brings out an unnecessarily angry side of my personality. And I really prefer to be a nicer person. So now I just cook for friends and loved ones. There's something about the kind of cooking/eating/recipes that Catherine posts that is really inspiring - fresh, healthy, delicious, lots of love. It's what cooking should always be.

  22. Cheryl, that recipe sounds INSANE! Thank you. I will make it and report back.

  23. Elizabeth, you maybe are missing the attraction, yes. Because they are kind of leftovery, so you have to get in a loving-leftovers frame of mind. But also, it's lovely to warm pre-roasted veggies and drizzle them with a vinaigrette, sprinkle some herbs. That always feels very Italian to me!

  24. AnnRKey (love your name): whale breast-implant turnips! I hear you. I dice the turnips, saute them in butter, then add a splash of water, soy, and seasoned rice vinegar and cook them with a lid until they're tender, adding more water if I need to. Ultimately you should have turnips that are cooked through and kind of glazed. Report back!

  25. Adriana: I loved this "turn plain cornmeal into: "princess cornmeal" (clap, clap)"

  26. Haveda7:03 AM

    I "rediscovered" beets this year, and rediscovered you, too (thru Whole Living) after you disappeared from BabyCenter (I know, I know...)
    My beet board might (p)interest you