Gourmet Water

Back in the day, a bottle of Perrier was considered  très chic, being that it was sparkling and born in France.  Later bottled water in general became more and more popular and a parade of exotic waters were marketed to us—Evian also reigning from France, Fiji water in that rectangular bottle, San Pellegrino Italian sparkling water (my fave), Voss in a rounded tall glass bottle that could sub as a vase and costs about $5, and a multitude of flavored waters, vitamin waters, electrolyte waters and a slew of high tech waters.

I agree, we can’t all simply go to our kitchen sink and draw clean, chemical-free water from the tap these days.  I sure don’t want to drink chlorinated, fluoridated and who-knows-what-idated water.  Here in New Mexico our flavor happens to be arsenic.  Not too appetizing.

But if you want gourmet water, you’re going to pay a price and marked up individual bottles of special water is not something I’m willing to spend my money on except for an occasional treat. As it is, we purchase very large containers of spring water for home drinking and cooking.

Hotels and restaurants mostly use tap water for cooking and serving. I still ask for a bunch of lemon or lime wedges to put into restaurant water to cover up the bad taste of the H2O.

Over the last few years I began noticing the growing popularity of “infused” water.  You’ve probably seen these.  Water with cucumbers in it, citrus fruits or even berries. They are delightfully refreshing with their splash of color (pun intended) and ever so subtle flavors.

My hairdresser recently offered me a glass of water that looked the color of very light grape juice.  It was really pretty and it was made by adding ice and frozen berries to the pitcher of water.  So simple.

That got me thinking about what else would be pretty in water and whether there were other vegetables besides cucumbers that would look and taste good in water.  I came up with one new thought.

The new idea was beets! If you’ve seen my posts about trying my best to like these little red veggies you may now be laughing hysterically. For those not familiar with these posts, I do not like beets.

Love the color of beets, not so much loving the taste of them. How might I make an infused water with beets?  I decided to use both red and golden beets and to include fresh mint leaves.

I got my pretty color and the taste was very subtle.

I used about half the golden beet and half the red beet sliced very thin and put them in my pitcher with about a quart and a half of spring water and some big ice cubes—also made with spring water.

The result was the beautiful color I was expecting, a very subtle and not overwhelming hint of beets along with a touch of mint.  I liked it and called it a success.  If you are a true beet fan, then you may want to add more beets than I did.

This has got me thinking about other aromatic vegetables to infuse water with. Arugula with a hint of rosemary perhaps?

What are your favorite infused waters?

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Savory Chocolate Insouciance

Frankenfood for the Rich and Fabulous

It’s been “Beet Week” around here at My Cooking Life and it’s coming to a close. That’s because I bought exactly three beets and made a commitment to try them three different ways despite the fact that I have never ever liked beets before.

I invited the always entertaining Tom Hanks to come over and coach me, I’m sure I kept you spellbound with the harrowing beet enforcement incident of my childhood, and we tuned in the unforgetable comedy and musical talent of Weird Al and Michael Jackson. I even risked eating raw beet salad and ventured into creating my own gourmet roasted beet salad.

But now it’s time to get totally un-serious.

What is the one ingredient that makes everything else taste much better? The one that changes our outlook on life and gives us the spiritual boost we need? What is the one thing that can and does make eating nearly any food a sensual, delectible experience?

It’s chocolate of course! And after all, it makes total sense that I would come up with a chocolate-themed beet recipe, does it not?

I created this recipe the way I do most of mine—I thought it up and then went to the kitchen and made it. I felt quite “saucy” doing this and hence the name of the dish!

Steamed Beets with Savory Chocolate Insouciance for Two

  • One or two beets 
  • Vegetable steamer
  • 1/4 cup aged dark balsamic vinegar (I used expresso flavored balsamic but you could add a shot of strong espresso to well-aged dark balsamic.
  • 1Teaspoon barley malt
  • 2 Teaspoons 100% pure cocoa powder
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Scallion garnish

Wash the beets and remove any little roots. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Steam the beets until they are as tender as you want them. I steamed mine for 20 minutes in a bamboo steamer

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I'm taking a picture of the contents!

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I’m taking a picture of the contents!

In a small sauce pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, espresso, barley malt, cocoa powder and salt.  When the beets were done steaming I removed them and put my pan over the steam heat. I heated the sauce until it was well combined and heated but not boiling (chocolate does not taste good burned or over-cooked!) The sauce will thicken as you stir. Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper.

Serve the steamed beets with this lovely sauce over it.

Yes! When in doubt, add chocolate! Even beets taste okay with Savory Chocolate Insoucience! I finished the beets on my plate and then ate all the sauce from the plate and the sauce pan.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

And for those of you who truly like beets even if they don’t have chocolate all over them, here’s a great blog about beets Italian style that I’m adding here: Jovina Cooks Italian

Just Beet It

Who doesn’t remember Weird Al’s song, “Eat It?” It’s a spoof on Michael Jackson’s song “Beat It.”

Eat It

Eat It (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or was that, “Beet It?”

Let me tell you about the time my mother could have been the exact inspiration for both the Michael Jackson song and the Weird Al version.

Mom didn’t usually resort to extreme measures of punishment in our house but once in a while she’d come up with something I didn’t expect. I think she probably read about such ideas in Ladies Home Maternal or someplace. Mom was a sucker for whatever was the latest in “pop psychology” and I, being a very observant and astute kid, was always aware when she was attempting a new strategy.

So one day she served us canned pickled beets—the most dreaded side dish I could ever imagine. I would go to any length to avoid eating beets including throwing up at the mere smell of them. (Or at least gagging disgustingly in an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance.)

This particular day she served me dinner with the beets already on the plate and the juices were seeping into all the other food. She poisoned my mashed potatoes with beet juice! And I could taste it in my meatloaf too. This, I decided, was completely unacceptable and I announced that I was not going to eat dinner that night.

So Mom tried out her latest parenting technique and told me I could not leave the table until I ate all my dinner including the beets. There I sat: 5:30, 6:30, all the way to 7:45 which was only 15 minutes until bedtime. I finally got up from the table and went off to bed wondering if I could have gotten away with leaving the table any earlier than that. Looking back, I think, “Yes.” My mother was certainly not a harsh disciplinarian.

I’m not into pop psychology or any other kind of psychology. So don’t bother to analyze this or guess that this is the reason I have hated beets all my life. It’s not. They really do make me gag and I don’t care why.

But I sure did get a big kick out of that Weird Al song when it came out! And now that I’ve been trying beet recipes to see if maybe I could find and enjoy the right preparation of them, I just keep singing a hybrid of that song and moonwalking across the kitchen floor!

Beet It! Eat It! . . .

And being very rebellious and self-determined when it comes to beets, I’m not even going to look up any recipe. I’m going to concoct it myself and I’ll have only myself to blame if I have to sit at the table for hours because they are inedible. But at least I’ll taste them and take a picture so I have a blog post for today.

Warm Roasted Beet Salad on a Bed of Kale

  • A beet, a carrot and a fennel bulb walked into a bar, Oh gosh, no! You wash them and cut them into chunks
  • several whole garlic bulbs
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • cinnamon

Mustard Lime Dressing

  • 2 teaspoons hot mustard (I used horseradish mustard)
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • salt
  • kale

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the beets, carrots and whole garlic cloves in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss the fennel bulb pieces in another bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the beet, carrots and garlic in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and put it in the oven. After about 15-20 minutes, take a spatula and turn the pieces so they get roasted on another side and add the fennel. In another 10 minutes turn the fennel. The veggies are done when they are browned and tender but not mushy. About 30-40 minutes altogether. When the roasted veggies are done, put them into a bowl and mix a little cinnamon in them.

While the veggies are roasting, wash the kale and separate the stems from the leaves. I save the stems and do eat them but I’m not including them in this salad. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil with a pinch of salt and cook the leaves for about 2 minutes. They should be tender enough to eat but still bright green. (Remember this is supposed to be a salady dish.) When you take the kale out of the water, put the leaves on a big plate or some other flat dish in a single layer so they can quickly cool. If you put them all bunched up in a bowl the heat will cause them to continue cooking and they won’t be bright and beautiful anymore. Stack the leaves on top of each other, loosely roll them and gently squeeze any excess water out of them.

Mix up the dressing: olive oil, mustard, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper. Shake it up so it emulsifies. [stays mixed together and suspended rather than separate] Adjust the ingredients and seasonings to taste.

It’s your choice on the serving technique. You can make a bed of whole kale leaves and put the warm veggie salad on top or you can cut the leaves up which will make them easier to eat and use them as a bed in individual salads. Arrange the veggies over the kale and drizzle on the dressing..

Now Eat It! Just Eat It!

(I did and it wasn’t half bad. I didn’t even gag! Truthfully roasting did a lot for these beets and the mustard dressing really complemented this salad. I’d even go so far as to say I would try this again. Someday.)

The mustard dressing turned out to be a great choice for the roasted beets.

The mustard dressing turned out to be a great choice for the roasted beets.

There Is No Crying in Food Blogging

STILL LIFE WITH BEETS

One of my favorite movie lines is from A League of Their Own. Tom Hanks plays the besotted coach for an all-female softball team. He yells at one of his players and she breaks into tears. Hanks is superbly irate—shaking while trying to suppress his anger—and shouting in her face, “There is no crying in baseball!”

But what if the game you are playing is “Food Blogging?” What if you are on a constant search for interesting topics and colorful foods that would be enticing and inspiring to write about and photograph?  And what if you’re main activity is to create recipes for these wonderful foods to pass along to readers who will surely find them delicious?

Food Blogger: “But coach, one of your favorite colors is red? Beets are so very red! What if I truly can’t stand beets!!”

There is no crying in food blogging either!

There is no crying in food blogging!

Coach Hanks: “Can’t stand beets!!? Can’t stand beets!!? Well honey, you just buck up, that’s all! You want colorful food to show off on your blog and beets would be just the right color? Then you better march yourself down to that store and muster up the courage to pick out those nice red roots and get busy! Because you . . are . . . going . . . to make beets! And they will be spectacular!”

Food Blogger: “Oh Coach Hanks, it’s so terrible. I can’t even stand the smell of them. And you want me to (sniff) cook with them? (sniff, sniff)

Coach Hanks: [Shaking, sweating, eyes bulging] “Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. So stop your sniveling! Here’s a tissue. Please, for-the-love-of-god, shut off those waterworks and get back to blogging. You go out there and hit that beet recipe out of the park!”

Grated Raw Beet Salad

We beet-haters are not alone. All you have to do is google “beet recipes for people who hate beets” and you get pages of suggestions. I personalized this recipe from one I found online in the New York Times by Martha Rose Shulman. She says, “People who swear they hate beets love this salad. It’s a North African-inspired mixture of grated, uncooked beets dressed with orange and lemon juices and a small amount of olive oil.”

Food Blogger: [Thinks to self] “I don’t swear I hate beets, Rosey, I CURSE them! And I don’t see how a little juice and olive oil is going to change that. I’m not going to waste my time. I’ll make just one serving.”

  • One small beet, washed and peeled. I picked Chiogga Beets. They seemed easier to confront than those really dark red ones. Turns out these were red and white inside.
  • Freshly squeezed orange juice
  • A squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A little chopped parsley
  • A little thinly sliced scallions
  • A lettuce leaf
  • One emergency clothespin to hold your nose while you attempt to eat this black widow of a vegetable.

1. Decide that if you’re going to make beet salad, you might as well at least try to make a good one. Do it for coach Hanks. Do it for the team. You might even score a single.

2. Batter up. Wash and peel that beet and shred it on a grater or toss it into a food processer. If you end up pulverizing the beet into mush, no worries. At least you tried. Toss the mush into your cat’s food and call it feline borscht.

3. Looks like you might be thrown a curve ball. Be ready with the juices mixed up with your salt and olive oil.

4. Call time out! Take a moment to chop up the parsley and scallions. The colors will look great on the beets and who knows? They may even distract from the beet taste.

5. This is it. Get ready for the first pitch. Toss the shredded beets with the parsley and scallions and drizzle on that dressing. Put the salad onto the lettuce leaf and stare down that nasty beet.

6. Swing batter, batter! (That’s my husband baiting me because he wants to see my face when I eat these beets.)

I didn't grimace when I ate these beets! It's a miracle!

I didn’t grimace when I ate these beets! It’s a miracle!

7. Step up to the plate. Taste. Don’t forget the clothespin.

Umpire:  “You’re safe!”

Food Blogger: “Coach! Coach! Did you see that? I hit a little looper and got to first base! A little juice and olive oil did make a difference.”

Coach Hanks: “I’m proud of you! Let’s keep working on that swing and we’ll have you hitting grand slams in no time!”

(Shhh! I added a little walnuts candied with barley malt just in case I couldn't get my clothespin on fast enough. But the beet salad wasn't half bad and didn't need the walnuts!)

(Shhh! I added a little walnuts candied with barley malt just in case I couldn’t get my clothespin on fast enough. But the beet salad wasn’t half bad and didn’t need the walnuts!)