just beet it

I’m ashamed to say that I once shied away from beets.  Their strange texture, earthy smell, and vibrant color used to totally freak me out.  I’m very glad to say I got over that and realized how wonderful they are and now grate them raw into salads and juice them on a regular basis.  A coworker of mine makes the most excellent pickled beets that someday I plan to learn how to replicate.  But today we roast them.

A friend of mine teases me because I like everything roasted.  Almonds, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, garlic.  The list goes on.  So when I found a recipe for roasted beet and potato borscht I was totally intrigued.  Borscht is a beet-based soup and it has been something I have always been curious about but never wanted to try because I wasn’t sure I could eat a whole bowl of soup dedicated to the boldly-colored, earthy-smelling vegetable.  If the beet were first roasted, however, I think it could be a thing of beauty.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: you peel and chop up some beets and potatoes and throw them in with chopped shallots (I didn’t have any on hand so used a yellow onion which worked out just fine) into a roasting pan, toss with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and then add a couple of twigs of thyme and roast them all in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Once the roasting is done, discard the thyme, and add the vegetables to a large pot with 5 cups of chicken broth or water and bring to a simmer.  Then you mash the vegetables with the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher or use an immersion blender and voila.  Add a splash of red wine vinegar and top with sour cream and scallions or parsley if you so desire.  I skipped the toppings and it was delicious.  Roasting is the way forward.

Roasted Beet and Potato Borscht (from Everyday Food magazine, also found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 pounds red beets, scrubbed, peeled, and diced medium
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced medium
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 to 5 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • Sour cream, (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • Thinly sliced scallion greens (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, toss together beets, potatoes, shallots, thyme, and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer and roast until beets and potatoes are cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Discard thyme. Add vegetables to a medium pot, along with broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. With a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, mash some vegetables until soup is thick and chunky. (I made quick work of it by using my immersion blender.)  Stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top with sour cream, parsley, and scallion greens, if desired.

rainy days and mondays always get me down (and hungry for soup)

Last weekend I picked up some lovely crimini mushrooms at the farmer’s market.  I’m not gonna lie– mushrooms are not always my favorite, but crimini mushrooms I get really excited about.  I first used them years ago in a roasted vegetable/smoked mozzarella/pasta dish I saw on Everyday Italian and instantly fell in love.  They are woodsy and meaty and just generally awesome so when I saw them at the market I bought them without knowing what I was going to use them for.  Some of the best meals start this way!

The last few days have been quite chilly and grey and rainy in these parts… it is spring after all.  And with the chill and the grey and the rain I wanted one thing: hot and hardy soup.  Combine the idea of soup and my farmer’s market find with a little Googling and you have Turkey Chowder with Wild Rice, Crimini and Pancetta… unless you’re me and want to use up ingredients you have on hand and then you have Chicken Chowder with Wild Rice, Crimini and Bacon.  Don’t be afraid to improvise on recipes.  I used to but with cooking, that is the beauty.  Improvisation in baking is not always as successful, but that is another story for another time.  Now we eat soup!


Chicken Chowder with Wild Rice, Crimini and Bacon (adapted from a recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ¾ cup wild rice (about 5 ounces), rinsed, drained
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 slices of bacon, diced
  • 8 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped shallots
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken meat
  • ½ cups frozen corn kernels
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream

Bring 2 ½ cups water, rice, and ¼ teaspoon salt to boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is tender but still firm to bite, 45 to 60 minutes (time will vary depending on variety of rice). Drain; set aside.

Heat heavy large pot over medium heat and add bacon and cook until browned, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add mushrooms to pot and cook until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Add butter to same pot. Add carrots and celery. Cover; cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add shallots; stir until soft, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and stir 1 minute. Return mushrooms to pot. Mix in chicken stock and rosemary; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer 15 minutes.

Add rice, bacon, chicken meat, and corn to soup. Simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cool. Cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.

taking stock

I’d heard that making your own chicken stock was simple and that it tastes infinitely better than the stuff you buy in the stuff you buy in the grocery store but I just thought, who has the time?  Turns out I do.  On Saturday night (don’t get jealous now!) I stayed in and cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and made chicken stock at the same time.

It’s as simple as chopping up a few vegetables and throwing them into a pot with a few herbs, a whole bunch of chicken, and some water.  (I did some recipe research and it seems like most recommend using chicken bones, backs, or thighs so that you are not wasting meat.)  You bring all of that to a boil and then let it simmer for a couple of hours.

My apartment smelled wonderful as I cleaned and the stock was done before I knew it.  Straining was simple and Martha’s suggestion of putting the strained stock into the fridge overnight so that the fat rises to the top and can then be easily scooped off is a great one.  The next morning I skimmed off the fat and froze the stock in 4-cup batches.  It will be great to have on hand for soups and of course for Thanksgiving.  Sayonara to the over-salted boxed kind from the grocery store!   Our relationship was convenient while it lasted, but I’m afraid I won’t be needing your services any longer…

Chicken Stock (adapted slightly from recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

Yield: Makes 1 1/2 quarts

  • 4 pounds chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion peeled and quartered
  • 5 shallots, peeled
  • 1 large carrot cut into thirds
  • 2 celery stalks cut into thirds
  • 2 large or 4 small leeks cut in half lengthwise and well washed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 whole black peppercorns

Place all the ingredients into an 8-quart stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

As the stock approaches a boil, remove any impurities that rise to the top by skimming with a ladle. Reduce the heat and simmer the stock for 3 to 4 hours, continuing to skim impurities from time to time while the stock cooks. Taste after 3 hours for the strength of stock you want.

Remove from the heat and let the stock sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then ladle through a fine strainer. Once strained, remove the fat from the stock by skimming with a ladle (see Helpful Hint). Cool by placing the container of strained stock in an ice water bath, then refrigerate. The stock will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator, or freeze in 1-cup batches.

Cook’s Note: Another way to defat the stock is to place the cooled stock in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will set on the top and can be easily spooned off.

Variation: Use a large (5- to 6-pound) roasting chicken in place of the bones.  Use the meat for chicken salad or croquettes.