Just Married

It’s not every day your friends elope. Well, ours did. On Friday.

We should have known something was up when Suzie and JoJo sent us a printed invitation for a Shabbat potluck in the park. Technically, there was no way it could have been a wedding invitation, because observant Jews can’t marry on the Sabbath. (And since Suzie is in rabbinical school, she definitely knows the rules.) Well, they surprised us all and got married at Cambridge City Hall on Friday morning. Our Facebook news feeds announced the good news, and we were all able to enjoy the photos from our desks at work.

For our contribution to the wedding feast, I made beet tzatziki, using a recipe of Ana Sortun’s (of Oleanna and Sofra Bakery). There’s something about beets that makes me think romance: the deep pink color, their sweet earthy flavor. I used an entire bunch for the recipe, and their prep couldn’t be easier. Trim the stems if it’s a whole beet, wrap each individually in foil, place them on a baking sheet (this protects your oven from beet drippings) and toss them into a preheated 450 degree oven for about an hour. I say an hour because there’s no hard and fast rule for a beet; you’ll know they’re done when a sharp knife slides easily into the root. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel if you’re not scared about staining one. (I personally am.) Grate the beets using the large holes of a box grater.

And don’t toss those stems and leaves! They are a fantastic dish unto themselves; think of them like a leafy green, like a Swiss chard. Sauté them up in some olive oil and chopped garlic for another tasty dish.

Beet Tzatziki from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun

Ingredients

1 cup cooked, shredded beets

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (about 1 clove)

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about ¼ lemon)

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups whole-milk plain yogurt (I actually used a low-fat Greek yogurt and no one knew the difference)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Black pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Directions

  1. Place the garlic into a medium mixing bowl with the lemon juice and salt. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. This takes some of the heat out of the raw garlic.
  2. Stir in the yogurt, olive oil and black pepper.
  3. Fold in the shredded beets and dill, and re-season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve the beets cold or at room temperature.
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Jitterbug Risotto

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

I’ll admit it, the first thing that attracted me to Rich was his library. And soon enough, his Nabakov, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon were mixed in with my Tom Robbins, Philip Roth and cookbooks. And there our books sat, pretty much untouched by the other, for years. Every so often I would pick up a Foster Wallace tome, but so many words, so many footnotes. And every so often, Rich would stand in front of the bookshelf, and ask for a recommendation. And every time, whether he wanted something funny, clever, or serious, I would suggest the Tom Robbins’ epic Jitterbug Perfume. It took about six years, but a few weeks ago, Rich picked up Jitterbug, and he couldn’t put it down. Last Friday night, I turned to him and said “babe, it’s 1:30AM, it’s time for bed.” He had been captured by the best kind of hostage taker: a great book.

I had been gearing up for a beet-tinged Valentine’s Day post. Well, we don’t exactly celebrate Valentine’s Day. As it happens, we met on February 11, so we celebrate that day instead. It also makes it  easier to get a table for our romantic date. This year we went to a French restaurant which will remain nameless. It was a decent meal, but the chocolate souffle was so bad that they comped both it and Rich’s Chimay. That, plus our coupon, made for a very reasonable meal.

As I was saying, for my Valentine’s Day post, I had been thinking about the beet, with its juice that stains everything the color of love. And when I said to Rich, I’m thinking of doing a beet post this year for Valentine’s Day, he looked up from his book and said, “If you’re talking about beets, make sure to mention Jitterbug Perfume.” And he specifically mentioned this dish, which comes out a very Valentine’s Day color. He couldn’t have been more romantic if he tried.

Beet Risotto

1 large beet, or 2 small ones

Goat cheese

Arborio rice

Onion

Stock

Helpful tool: Food processor

This recipe is incredibly easy because it employs my favorite kitchen tool, the pressure cooker. Simply peel the beet and cut off its roots. Shred it in the food processor. Cook the risotto according to your pressure cooker’s instructions. After you add the rice, but before you add the stock, add the shredded beets, and continue with the recipe. When your risotto has cooked under pressure (mine takes about 7 minutes) replace the called for parmesan cheese with the same amount of goat cheese. It’s just that easy.

Food-drunk at Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen

I have a problem. I don’t know if it’s treatable, or if it’s just one of those lifelong maladies. When I am at a function — bar mitzvah, wedding, food blogger’s cocktail hour — I lose all sense of control and eat until I’m food-drunk. Literally, intoxicated. We once went to the Phantom Gourmet block party, and a few hours in, Rich found me stumbling around Landsdowne Street,  Zeppy’s bagel in my left hand, and a chunk of chocolate in my right. I still don’t remember how we got home.

This is all by way of explaining why I have no pictures to show you from Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen on Sunday night. Oh, I brought my camera, and even the tripod. But how can I take photos of food AND eat it at the same time?

Words will have to suffice. First, there was moist brisket, crowned with onion confit and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds,  cooked by Julio de Haro of Estragon. But I had to hustle, because rumor was Erwin Ramos from Ole! was about to run out of chocolate tamales! (Not to worry, they brought strawberry tamales as a back-up — vanilla custard sauce, people!) I may have had more than one bowlful of Tony Maws’ from Craigie on Main’s kasha varnishkes with homemade pasta and duck confit. Have I mentioned Michael Leviton of Lumiere‘s sweet, yet savory, Purim-inspired poppy seed “Oreo” cookies with poppy seed filling, which were served with a Bourbon-spiked milkshake? No? Oops, because I had three.

Somehow, I managed to stay lucid enough to meet Jewish cookbook writer extraordinaire Joan Nathan. But a funny thing happens to me when I am around certain cookbook authors. They are my version of rock stars, so I get really nervous, a bit giddy, and start talking really fast. Honestly, put me in a room with any of this year’s Oscar nominees, I’d be as cool as a bourbon-spiked milk shake, but put me near a cookbook author who has a section in my cookbook collection, and I’m a puddle. God help me if I’m ever near Mollie Katzen or Deborah Madison. This fall I met Mark Bittman, and I’m still not 100% sure what I babbled at him.

The recipes I have here, homemade ricotta and pickled beet salad, are from Jeremy Sewall of the Eastern Standard — sort of. His recipes were a bit sparse — Hemingwayesque, really — so I’ve added more detailed directions.  Also, I couldn’t help but modify the beets for my favorite kitchen companion, the pressure cooker.

Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients

1 gallon whole milk

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon salt

Hardware

A large pot

Thermometer (not necessary, but helpful)

Wooden spoon

Cheesecloth — The regular grocery store on the corner sells this, I promise. If you can’t find it, just ask.

Colander

Twine

Directions

Place milk and salt in the large pot, and bring to a slow simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil or scald. It should take about 45 minutes. Every so often, stir the milk, from the bottom, with the wooden spoon, to ensure the milk doesn’t brown and get stuck to the pot. (I speak from experience.)

While the milk is heating, line the colander, which should be sitting in your sink, with a double layer of cheesecloth.

When the milk reaches 175 degrees ( a gentle simmer) add the fresh lemon juice, and stir gently with your wooden spoon. Then, the most magical thing happens: curds and whey begin to separate in the pot. This should take no more than 10 minutes.

Next, take your pot over to your colander and spoon the curds and whey into the awaiting cheesecloth. Do not pour it, as that will destroy the delicate curds. Gently fold up the corners of the cheesecloth, and tie them up with the twine. DO NOT SQUEEZE. If possible, hang the cheesecloth above the pot as the whey drains.

In two hours, cut the twine, open up the cheesecloth, and gaze at your homemade, pillowy clouds of fresh ricotta.

Quick Pickled Beets

1 large beet, peeled, washed, stem and root removed.

(I had two small beets in my fridge, just hanging out — it is Cheap Beets — so I used those.)

Equal parts sherry vinegar and water, to one-half part sugar.

(Again, I wandered away from the directions. I used about a cup of water, 3/4 cups red wine vinegar, and a half-cup sugar.)

Preheat oven to 375

Place all ingredients in a small pan that is large enough to hold the whole beet. Cover with foil and braise in oven until you can pierce through the beet with a paring knife; it should take between 60 – 80 minutes.

(I used my pressure cooker, placing all ingredients in the pot and cooking for about 20 minutes. It was perfect.)

Sewall serves his salad with segments of a blood orange. I did not have any on hand, but if you do, I am sure it would taste delicious.

Dinner for Two Becomes Dinner for Five

Shabbos dinner somehow grew from just me and Rich to three guests at our table Friday night. In my fridge I had three beets, a head of cabbage, five mushrooms, and a block of feta. We feasted.

I was very silly and didn’t take photos of our food before we supped, so what I have here are leftovers — hooray for leftovers! I have no shots of the cabbage and mushrooms, which turned out to be the hit of the night. I didn’t do anything special to them — just sauteed up an onion for  a good long time until it began to caramelize, tossed in some garlic, then the mushrooms, then the cabbage.  Right before I took it off the flame I added two sage leaves. All I did was cook the cabbage down until it was too exhausted to put up a fight anymore. Limp, molted green and muddy brown, it probably wouldn’t have made very pretty picture, but it tasted great.

The beets took 25 minutes in the pressure cooker.A very simple dish: I cubed the beets, and half a block of feta, then drizzled balsamic vinegar and sprinkled fresh mint (from my container plants outside) on top.

I used the other half of feta for the quinoa, chickpea, and farmers’ market tomato salad. I cooked the chickpeas in the pressure cooker for 11 minutes with some bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled. While that was going on, I cooked the quinoa in my rice cooker — no muss, no fuss. Quinoa is a great pantry staple: protein, carbs, fat, calcium, you can get a pound of it for less than $4 in bulk at Harvest Co-op.

As for feta, here’s a tip: If you go the Market Basket in Somerville — which, by the way, has FANTASTIC produce at the some of the best prices in town — head over to the deli counter. On the right hand side up against the wall is a counter fridge. Inside you’ll likely find huge blocks of really decent feta for about $4.

To dress the quinoa salad, I combined:

6 TBS olive oil

3 TBS red wine vinegar (I like my lips to pucker, so I always go 2 to1 with my dressings, while I think most recipes will say 3 to 1)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon mustard (I’m actually pretty anti-mustard, but it can’t be beat for emulsifying salad dressings)

a pinch of salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

2 teaspoons agave nectar (you can do honey, too, but I like the sweetness of agave, and it’s good to have on hand for vegan salad dressings)

2 TBS chopped fresh mint

I put all these together in a glass jar, and shook. That’s all. This is basically the blue print for all my dressings.

Make sure to let the quinoa cool down before you dress it. Otherwise it will soak up everything and you’ll be wondering where all your flavor went. I speak from experience!

Quinoa salad on one of my new plates... thanks Freecycle!