Monday, December 8, 2008

Spices of the Season

There are some flavors you feel comfortable eating all year. Vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, meat (meat's a flavor, right? That's what I thought) to name a few. Some flavors, however, have such a strong seasonal connotation that they're seemingly relegated to being consumed during only a limited few weeks every year. Pumpkin is one such flavor. Yes, obviously this has to do with the seasonality of the gourd and the fact that it's a symbol of the bounty of fall harvest. Pumpkin is so strongly tied to autumn and Thanksgiving that it seems just plain wrong when eaten any other time. Pumpkin in spring is so out of context that it just doesn't make sense. Pumpkin isn't even on my flavor radar (fladar?) in May.

It's sometimes hard to figure out why some flavors don't translate well among seasons. We've clearly reached a stage with technological advances in food that it's beyond possible to artificially create any flavor imaginable any time of year. And the flavor of pumpkin that we crave isn't really the pumpkin itself, but the spices with which it has become so inextricably linked with thanks to countless renditions of pumpkin pie year after year after year. This is not to say that I think we should be artificially re-creating pumpkin flavors and genetically altering the gourd family just so that we can enjoy pumpkin-flavored desserts year-round, I just find it odd that most people rarely crave pumpkin spice goods at other times of year.

It is this same air of seasonal-exclusivity of pumpkin-spice treats that make them that much more special. They're firmly tied to Thanksgiving, which is probably my favorite holiday of them all. The air around you at this time of year also seems spicier, though I can't really pinpoint why; I imagine it has to do with all the roasting nuts and the knowledge that somewhere, at that very moment, there is a roaring fire going, even if you're not the one seated in front of it. Were we to enjoy pumpkin spice all year round, it would not have this same association, and it would lose some of its charm and crave-ability. It's quite rare that a flavor has such a widely-held element of nostalgia, that so many people around the country have the same association and can have these same warm memories conjured up by a simple taste of pumpkin spice. Even those that don't like pumpkin pie are often hard-pressed to deny the allure of the spice.

That's why, when my parents' anniversary rolled around at the end of last month, a pumpkin spice cake seemed like a perfect choice to celebrate (that, and my mother loves spice cakes). A pumpkin spice cake in the middle of autumn is a sure-fire winner, and though the heyday of fall is behind us, I see no reason to not extend the pumpkin-spiceness of the season just a little bit. As long as the air is still more crisp than cold, and as long as the pumpkins and squash line the stalls of the farmers market, it's pumpkin spice season (and I figure as long as the pumpkin spice custard is on the menu at the Shake Shack, we're in the clear anyway). Pumpkin spice is just that much more special in November and December than it is in March, so heed my advice and make this cake -stat! - you will not regret it.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

from Bon Appetit, November 2008

This cake is truly fantastic. The cake itself is supremely moist and has a subtle but wholly recognizable spice to it. The addition of caramel tempers the cream cheese frosting, which might otherwise have overwhelmed the rather delicate spices of the cake. The caramel deepens the flavor of the frosting, making it less cloying and more subtle than your typical cream cheese frosting. I burned my caramel just a tad, but I took the chance and mixed it in anyway, and this actually added a nuttiness and complexity to the icing that I quite enjoyed. This recipe makes more than enough frosting, so don't worry about running out when icing the bottom layer.


For the Cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

For the Frosting:
1 1-pound box powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
Candied orange peel* (note: I used candied ginger; feel free to use either or neither according to your taste)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides, tapping out any excess flour. Whisk first 9 ingredients in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil in another large bowl. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to incorporate between additions. Mix in orange peel. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Divide batter between prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 33 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Invert onto rack, then turn top side up and cool completely.

For frosting:
Sprinkle 1/2 cup powdered sugar over bottom of small nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until sugar melts (do not stir). Continue cooking until sugar turns deep amber, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Carefully stir in 1/2 cup cream, vanilla, and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until any caramel bits dissolve. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Strain into small bowl. Cool caramel to room temperature.

Sift remaining powdered sugar into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat in cooled caramel. Cover and chill frosting until firm enough to spread, about 2 hours.

Using long serrated knife, trim rounded tops from cakes. Place 1 cake layer on cake plate, cut side up. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over. Place second cake layer, cut side down, atop frosting. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting, creating smooth surface. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome or large bowl and chill. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.

Arrange candied orange peel/ginger on cake as desired. Slice and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Undeservedly Underappreciated

I've never understood those who claim they never liked brussel sprouts. I have always had a soft spot for those little green nuggets. I suppose I was always a vegetable fan, though. My parents never had to trick me into eating them, and I never had to hide half-chewed greens in napkins or feed them to an ungrateful dog. (Milk, on the other hand, was an entirely different story - my grandmother soon realized that triggering my competitive side was the only way to get me to down a glass of that stuff...but enough about that.)

It's hard to really dislike something that comes to you bathing in giant pools of butter. And that's always how brussel sprouts were served when I was young. My impression is that most people have memories of overcooked, bland, soft, mushy little things. Such things never taste good, regardless of what they are. Soft, mushy, bland and overcooked anything is going to be a loser in any kid's eyes. Not to mention that when overcooked, brussel sprouts emit sulfur compounds, the smell of which would turn most people off. There may also be no other food on earth that looks so - I don't know - just so good for you, which to most kids equates with gross. It seems I have to take back my earlier statement - I do understand those who claim never to have liked them; I just feel a bit badly that they've lost so much time with such a delicious little vegetable.

My appreciation for the alienesque green sprouts has not died out, not in the least, but it has surely matured. I am no longer satisfied with the little packages of frozen sprouts emerging doused in "butter," piping hot from the microwave (though I do admit that such things are sometimes totally called-for). Nope, now I take 'em roasted, pan-fried, hashed, whatever; as long as they're slightly browned and crispy, and cooked perfectly to ensure that their nutty, complex flavor really shines through, they are truly without equal.

These little guys I found in the Union Square Greenmarket. They just looked so dainty on their stalk, almost elegant. Such a far cry from the bad-smelling, shrunken cabbage heads that have given brussel sprouts their bad name. There was no question - they were coming home with me.

I was unsure how I was going to cook them, though I was pretty sure a simple roasting would pay them the homage they truly deserved. A quick saute in a pan to develop a crispy golden crust, a quick pop in a hot oven and that would be that.

Honestly, though, what is not better with a little bit of bacon?* Add the golden, rich, unctuous liquid of a runny egg yolk (a/k/a egg butter**) to the equation, and all the makings of a homey, rustic, delicious meal were in order.

Pan-Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Poached Eggs

There's really not much of a recipe to be shared here, but I will try my best to quantify it. The key, really, is to make sure that the brussel sprouts are browned sufficiently, because that's pure flavor.

Also, choose smaller brussel sprouts, with tight leaves. Larger brussel sprouts tend to have less flavor and be a bit tougher.

If you've purchased your brussel sprouts on the stalk, like I had, simply cut the sprout from the stalk just below the base of the sprout. I found, after realizing how long this was going to take me, that twisting the sprout until it pops off is another good option.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds brussel sprouts (I truly have no idea of the weight of the brussel sprouts I used, though I'd venture to guess it was around this amount)
3 rashers bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Salt and Pepper
Parmagianno-Regianno Cheese
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the stem off of the base of the brussel sprout and peel away any tough, outer leaves. Slice each sprout in half.

Cook bacon in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy.

With a slotted spoon, remove bacon from skillet and place on a plate covered in paper towel to drain. If desired, remove a bit of the rendered bacon fat from the skillet, but keep a good amount in the pan to cook the brussel sprouts. If your pan is a bit dry, melt the tablespoon of butter in the skillet.

Place the brussel sprouts, cut side down, in the skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until browned. Don't be tempted to move the brussel sprouts around, since they won't brown properly that way. If you're scared they're burning, check just one of them. Place the skillet in the hot oven for about 3-5 minutes. Remove, and return to medium heat, flipping the brussel sprouts with tongs to get a bit of browning on the other side. Return the bacon to the pan, season liberally with salt and pepper, toss around the brussel sprouts and divide among two plates. Grate to taste with cheese.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet of water to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to the water to help the whites to set. Remember, the fresher your eggs, the better they'll set. Add the eggs, two at a time, gently into the skillet. Cover and allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. With a slotted spoon, remove the poached eggs from the water and place atop a pile of sprouts. Repeat with the other two eggs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Make sure to serve with great, crusty bread to sop up all of that deliciousness.

* Answer: Very, very few things.
** That is a technical term, obviously.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Which I Come Late to the Shake Shack Party

The praises of the Shake Shack have been sung far and wide. I realize this, and I am going to add my voice to the chorus regardless, despite the fact that the Shack has received so much exposure that it's blossomed into a full-blown tourist attraction - a stop on almost every non-New Yorker's culinary expeditions, particularly when the weather is cooperative. This has had an unfortunate repercussion, however, since the Shake Shack is as notorious for its line snaking around Madison Square Park as it is for its burgers. This prompted the installation of the Shack Cam, a camera with a live feed on the Shake Shack website that allows any potential Shack-goers to track the line for the optimal Shack-going experience. And honestly, when it's 75 degrees out, standing in line for an hour and a half for a burger in the middle of a beautiful park with dogs running all over the place and children playing around you with your lovely friend Anne-Lise (who, by the way, took that picture of me digging in, as well as that of the wreckage down below) is pretty damn far from the worst thing in the world.

Formerly opened only during the summer months, the Shake Shack's popularity has led owner-operator Danny Meyer to keep cranking out burgers year-round, which works out spectacularly for me, since my apartment’s proximity to Madison Square Park means that I can take my burgers and custard to go when I please. Admittedly, though the Park is the place to eat at, since the enjoyment of burgers and the time allowed to sit around are clearly inversely correlated, and while the heat lamps that are brought out during the winter months help a bit, eating outside at that time of year is just not as enjoyable. For the custard, though, this could not be more ideal.

You see, I walk to and from work every day, and I often find myself craving some custard as I approach my apartment. The weather now is perfect for this too, since the B-line (from which only custard, drinks and concretes can be ordered) is always non-existent, I can walk right up to the window and order immediately, and the chill in the air allows me to slowly savor my purchase on my entire walk home (and often for a couple of days afterwards, since the custard is so rich I find it hard to eat a ton of it in a single go). I do this constantly in spite of my pitifully sub-par circulatory system and my Reynaud’s-addled fingers, which are always an admittedly unbecoming shade of, well, white, and which I can never quite feel as I make my way into my apartment building. I can see my fingers pressing the button in the elevator, but I can’t really feel my fingers make contact with the cool metal. But I hold onto that cup of custard anyway because it's just so damn delicious.

You see Shake Shack – you see what I do for you?

I think it's beyond argument that a well executed hamburger is one of life's simple pleasures. It's amazing how something so innocuous can elevate your mood (well, my mood at least - perhaps I'm being a bit presumptuous in assuming that everyone else can have their day turned around with a single bite). I am not a large person, and I don’t really share the appeal of ten-ounce monstrosities, since I can’t really eat the entire thing and the sheer amount of meat is overwhelming and makes it impossible to taste everything else at play.

A burger, after all, is a sandwich, and the key to a good sandwich is the interplay of its components. If all I wanted to eat was a giant hunk of meat, I would have meatloaf, and I would be happy about it. But when I eat a burger, that’s not what I’m after.

The Shake Shack burger is a thing of beauty. It’s smallish, and more reminiscent of the West Coast-style burgers that In-N-Out has popularized than anything you’re likely to find on the menu of a New York restaurant. The meat, which comes from Pat LaFrieda is of good quality and is ground across the street at Meyer's Eleven Madison Park. It’s cooked on a well-seasoned griddle and allowed to develop a char, which means a salty, flavorful, crispy, caramelized meat crust. Is there anything better? If you go with the plain hamburger or cheeseburger, you’ll receive your burger in a cutesy wax-paper envelope. It comes naked, so if you’re wanting some tomato, lettuce onion or pickle on your burger, you’d best speak up (the onion and pickle will be given to you in small plastic tubs as opposed to on the burger). The bun is of the squishy-soft variety, and is slathered with butter and thrown on the griddle with the burgers to achieve the requisite squishy-buttery-crunchy taste trifecta of a great bun. The namesake Shack Burger is a cheeseburger adorned with lettuce, tomato and some Shack Sauce, which is really a glorified-thousand-island-type-dressing-with-a-garlicky-tang-that-is-really-so-much-better-than-thousand-island-I-feel-almost-bad-drawing-that-comparison. Suffice it so say that it’s ketchup and mayo based, and it’s awesome. With or without the Shack Sauce, this is one of the best damn burgers in the city.

The fries at the Shack I could take or leave. I tried the fries for the first time last summer, and they didn’t really do much for me. Sure they’re salty, but they’re crinkle-cut fries (and apparently frozen), which don’t really do much for me in general. A few weeks, though I decided to give them another go, and went the extra mile with some cheese fries (Time Warner Cable had left me in such an awful, terrible place that an excessive amount of Shack-delivered comfort was required). The fries themselves were cooked much better, and actually had a lovely golden color and delicate crunch. The cheese sauce was surprisingly delicious – it tasted like cheese, and not like the cheese sauce that too frequently masquerades as actual cheese in a little plastic tub atop some stale nachos and three slices of pickled jalapenos thrown atop to establish the Mexicanness of the nachos you’re eating. The Shack’s cheese sauce is made from Cheddar and American cheeses and actually tastes like it, and is not glopped on in such ridiculous proportion that the fries lose all texture and turn into a soggy mess. Still, though, I think it’d be a rare occasion for me to choose the fries over the custard, and it usually is one or the other, since the fries-custard-burger combo would likely prove lethal.

And oh, the custard. Shake Shack features vanilla and chocolate custard daily, which are supplemented by the Flavor of the Day. The Shack prominently hangs their Custard Calendar on the façade of the shack, and every day of the week there is a different flavor of the day. The flavors change on a monthly basis. This month, for instance, features Pumpkin Spice Mondays, “Mulled” Chocolate Tuesdays, and Almond Quince Sundays. I am not a chocolate fan, and I can vouch for the awesomeness of the Mulled Chocolate custard with a rich, only faintly sweet chocolate flavor that is so perfectly complemented by a pleasantly muted spiciness - think something along the lines of a Mexican hot chocolate flavor. Shake Shack drew me back repeatedly last month for the Cinnamon and Roasted Fig custard, as well as the Shiraz Poached Pear and Pancake flavors, the latter of which just tasted unabashedly like batter and was so, so good (as things that taste like batter tend to be).

Last week, I waltzed over to the Shake Shack with an order of pumpkin spice custard firmly in mind. But the Shake Shack has a recurring special that shows up around the autumn holidays, a concrete (think DQ blizzard on crack) made with vanilla custard, blended with pieces of home-baked pumpkin pie and topped with an egregious amount of whipped cream. I was faced with a dilemma – do I go with the pumpkin spice custard, which tastes like fall in all the right ways, or do I go with the concrete, which blends actual pumpkin pie chunks with vanilla custard? And this is where Shake Shack blew my mind. They let me combine the two – I had the pumpkin pie concrete made with pumpkin spice custard. It was going to be pumpkin-overload, and it was going to be sweet. And then, then I was told that they were out of whipped cream and were going to have to whip up a new batch. So I waited patiently. But then I was told that they were out of heavy cream all together. Did I want something else to replace the whipped cream as a mix-in? Of course I did – I took a look at the menu and the marshmallow topping jumped right off the page. Marshmallows are often an unwilling accomplice in the unfortunate sweet-potato casseroles that make an appearance on almost everyone’s holiday table. This was my chance to repent for all of those misgivings – marshmallows would be proud to accompany the pumpkiny glories of that November night. And they did themselves proud.

I know what you’re thinking – that the merits of the Pumpkin Pie Oh My concrete lie in the ability to taste the actual pumpkin pie chunks amidst the vanilla custard, and blending the chunks in pumpkin spice custard was totally going to overwhelm the pie itself. But the flavors in pumpkin spice ice cream and pumpkin pie are the same, and so the flavor of the pie was the same as the ice cream, which was amped-up texture wise by the silky pumpkin pie swirled throughout. Rich, creamy custard plus rich, creamy pie equals pumpkin-induced euphoria.

The Shake Shack serves up comfort food in its purest, basest form. It’s nostalgic, it’s delicious, it’s down-right unhealthy, but it’s got so much damn personality that I don’t even feel the tiniest bit bad about eating it.

The Shake Shack
Southeast Corner of Madison Square Park (Near Madison Ave. and E. 23 St)
New York, NY

Second Location (Recently opened; I haven't tried it yet)
Upper West Side
366 Columbus Ave. (Northwest Corner of 77th and Columbus)

ALSO - There will reportedly be a Shake Shack at the new CitiField, which would combine two of my favorite things: the New York Mets and the Shack. Amazin'.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Only Soup Will Do

I'm not such a winter person. Should you look at my resume, then, you might think I was mad, having spent the last seven years in such tropical locales as Montreal and Chicago. Despite the severity of the winter months, Montreal remains among my favorite cities in the entire world, and Chicago is not far behind (though at least the sun shone in Montreal between January and March, while Chicago was perpetually blanketed by grey). The fall, however, is one of my favorite times of year. And it has been far too short these past few years - I can recall a solid four days of fall-like weather in Chicago last year, and that might even be stretching it.

Now that I am back in New York, I am basking in all of it's autumn-ness, which has extended for weeks. I can think of no more wonderful place to be in the fall. As I look with a birds-eye view out of the window of my airplane, I can say without reservation that the palette with which Mother Nature works her magic in New York is unparalleled. It's wonderful walking weather, blissfully warm in the sun, while in the shade a light jacket or sweater provide ample protection from the chill. It's not even out of the question to stop at the Shake Shack and pick up frozen custard every once in a while. In fact, there might be no better weather for ice cream, since there is no rush to devour it before it melts into a sticky, gloppy stream traversing down your wrists. The list of things I love about fall is, well, it's unwritten, but if it were it would fill volumes - and it's not close to complete.

Autumn is really such a gently creature. She takes her time, settles in and makes sure we're comfortable with the idea of cold weather before winter comes crashing in. Fall introduces us to the crisp air, to its smells and its ability to just penetrate every fiber of our being.

Winter is far less considerate; if winter had its way, we'd have to deal with snow and sleet and harsh, biting winds without any sort of transitional period. That's where fall comes in. She gets us settled in to the post-summer way of life, and allows us ample time to embrace the coming winter. Full of such wonders as Thanksgiving, Halloween, apples, pumpkins, gem-colored leaves, and hell, my birthday, we're almost too distracted to notice that summer has left us behind.

That's not to say that fall doesn't affect us at all. That introduction of cold, crisp winds penetrates your body, ensuring our peace with it by the time the weather really turns.

I don't know about you, but the first few days of cold air leave me craving soup. Only soup will do to counter fall's chilly embrace. Once fall has done her job and my body has adjusted to the chilly air, my cravings become more well-rounded and varied. Sure, there'll be the odd soup here and there, but it's nothing like fall. At the first signs of cold, I need to be heated from the inside out, and the warm liquid traveling from mouth to tummy does just that. It allows me to make peace with the cold, since I have fooled my body into believing it's surrounded by warmth. Then before I (and my excessively fragile circulatory system) know it, winter has settled in, and I am totally alright with that.

And so the past two Sundays I've settled into my sweatpants and cooked up a giant pot of soup, meant to last me the week. After I return home from my walk back form work, I head to the stove and reheat away.

There is no comparison between soup made from scratch and the stuff from a can, and spending the little extra time (no more than a couple of hours, really) on the weekend means that I can enjoy the good stuff during the week in exactly the same amount of time it would take me to pop open a can and heat it up on the stove. So should you need some warming, throw some stuff in a pot, get cozy with some DVRed It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, stir every once in a while, and enjoy.

White-Bean Escarole Soup
Adapted from Martha Stewart

This soup is oddly nostalgic for me. When I was younger, my family and I would trek out to Staten Island for lobsters at a Spanish restaurant that featured a "Daily Double" lobster special. This soup was always an option to begin, and I remember always being unsure as to what escarole was, but I think I always ordered it, and I am pretty sure I really liked it. I'm not really sure what else would lead to such pointed cravings for white-bean escarole soup than a little nostalgia.

Regardless, this soup is hearty, filling, and best of all, really healthy. The pancetta imparts a bit of smokiness to the soup, and while it's not necessary, this smoky note adds a great deal of depth.

1 pound navy beans or other white beans (I used small cannelini beans, but would have preferred something larger)
6 cups beef stock
1 large onion, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/4 pound pancetta (Italian raw bacon), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large head escarole, washed and separated into leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the beans overnight, or boil for 3 minutes and soak for 1 hour.
Simmer the beans in the soaking water and stock with the onion, garlic, carrot and bay leaves until the beans are tender (about 1 hour). Blanch the pancetta in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the soup halfway through cooking.
When beans are thoroughly cooked, add the escaole leaves. Simmer for 2 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mushroom Barley Soup
Adapted from Zingerman's Deli's recipe in Jewish Cooking in America via

Among my absolute favorite things in the world, mushroom barley soup is a deli classic. On offer in every institution from
Carnegie to Manny's, it's a standby, a never-fail dish that has a place in many people's memories. This version is fantastic, adapted from a recipe from Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan it is thick, substantial, and again, healthy. The parsley perks up the other ingredients, both visually and taste-wise, and is a really great addition to this soup. I also added a parsnip, because I like them, but feel free to leave it out if that's not your thing.

This recipe produces a ton of soup, so I'd suggest either halving the recipe or planning on having a lot of friends over to share it with you. However, it's tastiness may lead you to eating a bit more than you had planned.

2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms (about 1/2 a one-ounce package)
2 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for margarine, but if keeping kosher is not a concern for you, butter is a better bet)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
1/4 cup parsley
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound cremini mushrooms (or other mixed mushrooms, preferably not button)
1 tablespoon flour
7 cups beef broth or water
1 cup whole barley
2 teaspoons salt

Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water to cover for a half hour. Strain through a coffee filter or cheese cloth, reserving the water.
Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms.
Melt the butter in a stockpot and sauté the onion, celery, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, carrot, garlic, and fresh mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and add the flour, stirring every 30 seconds for about 5 minutes or until thick.
Add the beef broth and the cup of reserved mushroom water to the pot, and turn the heat up to high. When the soup has come to a simmer, add the barley. Stir well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer, covered, for about an hour or until the barley is tender and the soup is thickened, stirring often.
Add additional chopped parsley, mix thoroughly, and adjust seasonings.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shanghai Dumpling Bonanza

If I was looking forward to one food item more than any other during my trip to China, it was the dumpling. To be specific, the soup dumpling, but really I was on the lookout for any dumpling.

Two and a half weeks into my trip, it was looking pretty dire. I knew that Shanghai was where I was bound to find the best dumpling, but I was rather shocked with how few I came across throughout the rest of the country.

Sure, there was the odd pork and chive filled variety, but it wasn't anything special. They were good, sure, but I just knew there were better dumplings to be had. And then, there was Shanghai.

On our first day in Shanghai, we made sure to stop off at Nan Xiang, a restaurant in the middle of the exceedingly touristy Yuyuan Gardens. There is also a window, on the first floor of the restaurant (the restaurant proper starts on the 2nd floor) selling nothing but the soup dumplings. Just follow the ever-present line snaking across the bazaar to the source of the deliciousness in the form of xiao long bao.

Each tightly wrapped bundle is an adventure. There is an art to eating these, such that you don't burn the shit out of your tongue while making sure not to let a drop of thIe unbelievably delicious soup escape your mouth. First, you must bite the dumpling and suck out the soup, making sure to blow on it a bit so that you can actually taste what you're about to eat. Then just cram the dumpling into your mouth, and enjoy the unbelievable combination of fresh dumpling skin and fatty, fatty pork. Eating these with a spoon is undoubtedly easier, since you don't have to worry about the little suckers slipping out from between your chopsticks as you attempt to savor these little treats.

They come 16 to an order, for 12 yuan, or about $1.75. Half of this was enough to make a meal for me, since the inside is full of rich pork and unctuous soup.

The next dumplings I sampled came from - me! I attended a couple of cooking classes while I was in Shanghai: a wet market tour and wok class and a dim sum class. I'll report back later on the wok class, but for now I'm all about dumplings. We made xiao long bao from scratch (well, almost, the "pork jelly" was already prepared, and is essentially a mixture made of pork skin that melts down as the dumplings steam and provides the soup for the soup dumplings), mixing, kneading, filling, twisting and steaming our way to dumpling perfection (I wish).

Watching the dumplings being made at Nan Xiang, I was impressed with how quickly they were folded. Pleats and crimps made effortlessly, without even looking. Once I tried making these little buggers on my own, though, my level of admiration for the dumpling-makers of the world skyrocketed. We spent a solid 45 minutes just making practice dumplings, with the instructor walking around, telling us we were doing it incorrectly, and graciously repeating her instructions and leading our hands in order to familiarize us with the excessively tedious process of crimping.

At first, I was terrible. I mean really, how pathetic is that dumpling? I appeared to have no chance whatsoever to be an expert dumpling maker. And I'm not exaggerating, I was awful. Once I got the hang of it, though, after many, many, maaaaany failed attempts, I was on a roll. In fact, the instructor said that I made the nicest dumplings of the group at the end (and she didn't even say it to me! so it had to be true! Right? Right!)

But seriously, look at these beauties. They were the result of my persistence, determination and extreme stubbornness. And they were delicious.

I have the recipe stashed away somewhere, but my room is still in the transitional period (read: there's a lot of shit I still have to unpack), and will get that down here as soon as it's unearthed, but what I can tell you is that the dough was made with nothing more than flour and water, while the inside is a mixture of pork, pork jelly, ginger, garlic, green onion, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and a bit of water. At least I think that's what's in it. In any event, when you're working with a base of pork and something called "pork jelly," can you really ever go wrong?*

*Hint: the answer is no.

The final dumpling I'm going to share is perhaps the ultimate, the daddy of all dumplings: the shengjian bao. It is a force to be reckoned with, and it is one of the (surprisingly many) foods from my trip that I find myself really and truly craving.

Behold the fried soup dumpling:

This gem came to me from Yang's Fry Dumpling. They're larger than xiao long bao, and a totally different monster. The skin is thicker, the inside fuller, and they soup tastier and more plentiful than their little cousins. And - they're fried, which is really the kicker. Instead of getting the steam treatment like the xiao long bao, the shengjian bao are fried in a giant cast iron pan so that the bottoms get a crunchy, crackly, unbelievably delicious texture. The pan is closed so that the dumpling steams while it fries, allowing the meal to cook and creating a contrast in the texture between the top of the bun and the bottom. A light coating of sesame seeds, some green onions for good measure, a quick dip in some vinegar and you have yourself a pocket of pure perfection, ready to burst at the seams with pure tastiness.

There is so much soup in these things that you really must be careful when biting into them, for the soup is not too shy to burst out and greet your adorable yellow shirt with its greasy embrace.* With a well-placed bite, the golden shell will part just enough to allow you to slurp all of the soup out, and then unashamedly devour the rest, perhaps even without taking a breath. These things are incredible and ridiculously cheap at 4 yuan for 4 crazy good dumplings (less than 60 cents). And I would like one now...

* RIP adorable yellow shirt. Rest assured that you were sacrificed for an exceedingly worthy cause.

Nanxiang Mantou Dian

85 Yuyuan Lu
Shanghai, China

Yang's Fry Dumpling
54 Wujiang Lu
Shanghai, China

Chinese Cooking Workshop
No 35, Lane 865 Yu Yuan Road
Shanghai, China

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Farmer's Feast

In the three and a half weeks I spent in the vast country of China, I was in cities as large as 30 million people, and towns so small they had only a single nursery school. We made it to Yangshuo, in Guanxi province toward the end of our trip, and it was a lovely break from the fast pace the trip had been following up to that point. We sat around, went swimming in the gorgeous Li river amidst water buffalo and fishermen, and enjoyed the stunning scene cast by limestone cliffs.

On the last of our three days in Yangshuo, we were lucky enough to be treated to a meal prepared by a farmer in his home. It was one of the high points of the trip; the food was wonderful, the house was charming, and the farmer was constantly coming back and forth, checking in and making sure we were satisfied, and that we left full (oh, did we leave full). He was gracious and kind, answering all of our questions without abandon through our tour guide, who served as translator.

The food was not the most creative in the world, nor was it the most aggressively spiced, but it had no reason to be. The ingredients were extremely fresh, and the quick cooking methods and subtle flavorings allowed their flavors to really shine through; it was absolutely wonderful. And it was served with none of the pretense of the "eat local" craze that is tearing across North America right now. This is not to say that I am opposed to said movement, in fact I think it is wonderful, and I think every one of us should take steps to eat more sustainably. There is no need for such a movement on the farms of Yangshuo. These farmers eat from the land, and understand the give and take between man and nature. This understanding has never waned, and there has never been any way to eat besides locally, which is why the food has never lost its soul. It was real, honest food. And it was delicious.

We sat down to three dishes: omelette with ground pork, sauteed potatoes and a sauteed pumpkin (or other like mystery squash). Everything tasted just like the sum of its parts, allowing the freshness of the ingredients to shine through. The squash was my favorite of the three, it was delicately spiced and had a hint of sweetness, and it was absolutely fantastic.

The farmer came out next with a dish of carrots and chicken with spring onions. The carrots tasted, well, just like incredibly carroty carrots, so crisp and fresh and oh so orange, perfectly accented with just the touch of soy sauce in which it was sauteed.

Bamboo shoots with pork was next. The sauces that graced each of these plates was rather similar, and I think it was just a sautee in some soy sauce, with a touch of garlic and ginger that brought every dish together, and allowed the ingredients of each to really speak for themselves. Bamboo shoots were one of the things I got (probably undeservedly) excited about every time they arrived at the table, since they are pretty much the best things ever and highly underrepresented in the American diet for obvious bamboo-related reasons.

These fried eggplant slices were battered and also had some pork stuffed in there. I wasn't a huge fan just because it tasted too fried for me, but everyone else at the table absolutely gobbled them up.

Sauteed bean sprouts in soy sauce was the last dish to make ti to the table. I didn't expect much from this dish, but it really surprised me. When I thought about it, I realized that I hadn't often eaten cooked bean sprouts, since they're usually tossed in at the end of the recipe to make sure they don't get sadly droopy. These bean sprouts were cooked just enough to warm them, but they still kept all their delightfully snappy integrity, and the light sauce allowed the very delicate flavor of the bean sprouts to come out without overpowering it.

The farmer dashed off after he realized we were full beyond belief and returned a few minutes later on his motorbike with a large bag in his basket. We all watched, confused, as he set up a ladder and strung what appeared to be 92854 firecrackers along that and the wall. Apparently it is tradition for those in the town to set off firecrackers whenever they have honored guests (though we were far from distinguished, so I'm not sure if I buy this...) to draw attention to and honor their presence. Let me tell you, those firecrackers were loud as hell, and seemingly went off for 17 minutes, though I'm sure it was more like five. To my eardrums, it was an eternity. But it was amazing.

It was wonderful to take a break from the chili flake and MSG-addled dishes we'd been (gladly, mind you) eating through that point on the trip and enjoy some food that didn't need any of that pageantry. Just Real. Good. Food.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Long-Overdue Nibbles - and Zai Jian!

Guess what?!? I'm going to China! Tomorrow! For almost a month! I'm going to eat my body weight in xiaolongbao, and I'm going to love every minute of it. I promise to return with many pictures and much to share, but before I leave, I want to share with you some photos (of varying levels of quality - ranging of course from poor to shamefully awful) of some great meals I had in Chicago before I left. I've been sitting on most of these for a ridiculous amount of time, so my descriptions will clearly suffer, but I enjoyed all three of these meals, and would recommend a visit to any of these establishments in a heartbeat.

The first was a celebratory dinner at May St. Market.

We began with a few appetizers - the Maytag Bleu Cheesecake, which I knew I was ordering before I stepped into the restaurant (and which I dug my fork into so quickly that no picture could be taken) and a special soft shell crab spring roll, which was good, but quite overpriced for what it was, especially compared to the rest of the menu, which is all pretty reasonably priced.

Then came the entrees:

I had the duck breast with couscous and dried fruit (mostly figs as I recall, though this was literally almost three months ago so please bear with me).

The duck was cooked expertly - I am not a duck person, so every other person at the table was completely taken aback when I ordered it, and even more so when I declared that I loved it. It was juicy, meaty, and not overly fatty - the couscous was delicious and the jus pulled it all together beautifully. The bitterness and saltiness of the arugula and pecorino cheese, draped over the rest of the plate, helped tie everything together and bring some lightness to an otherwise rather heavy dish.

My brother and mother ordered the horseradish crusted Alaskan halibut, which was accompanied by a radish and celery leaf salad, horseradish cream, parsnip puree and a celery leaf emulsion (the menu currently says that it is celery leaf emulsion, but I am not completely sure that was the case three months ago, but I'm going to run with it).

I managed to sneak a little taste of this before it was devoured, and it was quite delicious, tender and expertly cooked, with the perfect amount of bite added from the horseradish. They split that and a cioppino, which was filled with great looking seafood, and accompanied by some delicious-looking crusty bread for the-dunkin'. I didn't get a chance to taste this one, but judging from the fact that nothing was left, I feel safe saying that it went over well.

My father and Andrew ordered the steak (can't remember what cut it was), which was accompanied by a sweet glaze, peaches, arugula, a basked of french fries and some homemade ketchup:

The steak was good, I wasn't wowed, but there was certainly nothing wrong with the dish. The ketchup was great, though, fresh and faintly spicy, it put Heinz to shame.

Throughout the meal, we munched on bread with two types of butter, one plain and one a red wine truffle butter.

I found the latter to be strangely delicious, slightly sweet and slightly earthy, and totally awesome.

As far as service went, the waitress was incredibly helpful and made recommendations for each of us. My dad's steak came out cold, and no fuss was made when he sent it back. When reheated, it came back rubbery and dry (as reheated steaks tend to do), so it was sent back once again, and the manager came out and was incredibly gracious and saw to it that everything else was lovely. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I suggest you pay a visit. They have an early evening prix fixe menu, which I believe is offered until 7:30 or 8 every day, and is $32 for three courses, a/k/a a great deal.

May Street Market
1132 W. Grand St. (at May St.)
(312) 421-5547

The next meal I'd like to share was at San Soo Gab San, and was more of an experience than any of the others. I had never had Korean BBQ before (having shunned red meat for a while there was really no draw there for me - am I ever glad those days are behind me).

For those of you who don't know, Korean BBQ is about as interactive a meal as they get. First what seems like 942 tiny plates filled with little bites are brought for the table (called Panchan), which are to be eaten either on their own, or piled into lettuce wraps with the meat, or really, however you desire. That hole you see in the middle of the table becomes the grill once you've placed your order, and you are then handed a giant plate of raw meat, which the designated griller at the table places on the grill and cooks up for the rest of the grateful diners. What this means is that you leave Korean BBQ and smell like the inside of a barbeque. It's just the price you have to pay, and it's worth it.

The arsenal of Panchan:

We had a couple of appetizers, the first of which was a seafood pancake, called, I believe a Pajun, and filled with squid and beef and accompanied by a soy dipping sauce:*

* I could be totally making this up - please inform me if I am wrong.

We also had some Chapche, which are cellophane noodles stir-fried with vegetables and beef:

Both appetizers were alright -nothing really to write home (or you) about, I found the Pajun far too oily - but that's not why you're there anyway - you're there for piles upon piles of meat.

We went for the Kalbi (marinated short ribs) and the Bulgogi (marinated ribeye), both of which are sliced thin to make for quick cooking on the grill. They're brought to the table with lettuce leaves and rice, used to make wraps for easy handling of the meat. The meat was pretty damn good, nothing too crazy or high-quality, but tasty, salty, amazing nonetheless.

Some of us chose to use tidy proportions of rice, meat and panchan to make an easily manageable wrap:

While some went totally crazy and filled their lettuce leaves with reckless disregard of such proportions:

My first experience with Korean BBQ was messy and delicious, and the lingering smell of meat that permeated my body ensured that I was not soon to forget it.

San Soo Gab San
5247 N Western Ave (between Berwyn Ave & Farragut Ave)
(773) 334-1589

The final meal was at Bonsoiree, which I have written about here before. This time, we went for the Special Saturday Underground dinner, the menu for which is sent out to those on the restaurant's mailing list (sign up is at their website, link here and below) usually on Tuesday, disclosing the set meal for the coming Saturday. Having really enjoyed the restaurant the first time I went, I was really looking forward to returning for one of these underground events.

Summer is really a wonderful time to eat at Bonsoiree, since they have an outdoor patio out back that is charmingly reminiscent of a cozy backyard. It was, however, ridiculously dark back there, at times making it impossible for me to see my food, forget snap a photo of it. The BYOB aspect really makes the restaurant an attractive choice for a nice meal as well.

The meal began with an amuse bouche of shrimp in red curry. It appears to have been the same curry that the mussels came in on my first visit, and it was no less delicious this time.

We then were served an heirloom tomato and salsify salad with haricots vert and creamy champagne vinaigrette. The salad was delicious, the tomatoes bursting with flavor, with the vinagrette bringing out the subtleties of flavor, rather than overwhelming it.

The second course was French Onion Soup with Gruyere Baked Bread and Shaved Black Truffle:

It seemed an odd thing to serve in early August, but it was actually delicious. The Baked Bread was a flatbread rolled up with Gruyere inside, and it made a great vessel to dip into the soup. The soup was delicate, not overly cheesy or heavy, which (I guess), made it a bit more appropriate for a warm summer night. Maybe.

Up next was Pork Belly, Lump Crab, Pineapple-Shiso Ham and Star Anise:

The pork belly was cooked fantastically, allowing for a contrast between crispy and lusciously fatty to arise. The pineapple jam went effortlessly with the pork, the sweetness and the texture both serving to heighten the flavors of the pork. The lump crab was fresh and light. The dish seemed a bit disconnected, and though the pineapple jam worked well with both the crab and the pork, it seemed better suited to the pork, and the crab seemed to have less of a role in the overall dish. Not that I'm really complaining, though, it was definitely good.

The main was a Japanese Barbequed Ribeye, with Chestnut Whipped Potato, Peppers in Ponzu, Crispy Parsnip, Mustard Jus and a Special Barbeque Sauce:

The ribeye was cooked to a fantastic medium-rare, and the potatoes were hearty and tasty. The mustard sauce received mixed reviews, but the barbeque sauce was a the clear winner. What couldn't be disputed, though was that the portions were pretty generous, and I couldn't come close to tackling the amount of steak that had been handed to me. Once again, this dish seemed a bit seasonally inappropriate - a shockingly heavy dish to serve on the first Saturday of August.

Oh well, onto dessert - Lotus root custard, cinnamon sorbet and gooseberry coulis:

The custard was awesome - I really liked the hunks of lotus root that were dotted within the creamy mass on the plate. The cinnamon sorbet was amazing, and I found myself craving it for weeks afterwards. Cinnamon ice cream I have had many times before, but I don't think I had ever had cinnamon sorbet before, and it was quite interesting how the force of the cinnamon was able to more clearly come through, not being softened at all by cream. Each bite tasted of cinnamon sugar, and each bite was delicious.

The meal was lovely, and ridiculously filling, and surprisingly autumnal. The course selection and flavorings of many of the courses were a bit odd for a summer evening. In fact many of the flavors, cinnamon, parsnip, chestnut, remind me more of fall than of the dead of summer. It was a delicious meal nonetheless, though not as exciting as the first visit, since I knew what was coming, it reaffirmed that Bonsoiree is indeed a delicious Chicago destination.

Bonsoiree Café and Delicacies
2728 W Armitage (between Fairfield and Washtenaw Aves)
(773) 486-7511

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deliciously Out-of-Season

Yea, so this recipe is pretty much seasonally inappropriate right now. But with all the stuff I've had to take care of in the past couple of months (i.e. the bar exam, moving, finding an apartment, booking a trip!), I just haven't had a chance to share it until now. I do hope you'll forgive me.

Rhubarb holds a special place in my heart. I had never tried it before I lived in Austria for six months in high school. My host mother made a wonderful rhubarb tart often, and it was always delicious. Faintly sweet, with the slightest pucker that makes the taste buds stand at attention - I could tell that rhubarb was good stuff.

Rhubarb is a truly fascinating thing - somewhat mystical in its taste, texture and flavor. It really is like nothing else - it's essentially inedible raw, it's leaves are poisonous, it really is like nothing else, and it technically is a vegetable after all. However, once cooked, it becomes something great, it practically melts into something delicate and complex, and it's combination with strawberry creates one of the most classic of food duos. The two complement each other so effortlessly, as the mellow tartness of the rhubarb plays off of the universally-adored sweetness of the strawberry.

This cobbler is especially great at the end of an early summer BBQ, shared with friends all basking in the glow of law school graduation and a shared shirking of bar-review responsibilities (even when the BBQ turns into an indoor grill-fest because, ahem, my lovely friend Sara failed to check that the grill was operational; actually, cobbler is especially good in such a situation). Warm from the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream, it's comfort food in it's purest form.

Cobbler is the type of dessert that even those who don't care much for dessert enjoy. It must be because you don't have to love dessert to love fruit, and cobbler is among the most delicious of ways to showcase summer's bounty.

Though I can only attest to the deliciousness of the precise recipe shared below, I can only imagine that any type of fruit would result in an equally delicious cobbler, since the cornbread-biscuit topping is delicious and hearty and complements the sweetness of the fruit oh-so well. Next time I make this, it's going to be with peaches, since peach cobbler and cornbread are mainstays of any good southern square, why not compact the two into a glorious, sweet, savory, crumbly dish of summer? Just replace the strawberries and rhubarb with some sliced peaches (I'd imagine about two-or-so pounds would do just fine, a few tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch, bake the peaches a bit before topping with the biscuit mixture. Once topped, just bake as below for about 25 minutes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler With Cornmeal Biscuit Topping

OK, so this recipe should have been shared in late spring. For that I apologize, BUT - with the wide array of high-quality frozen fruits available, a good cobbler can be enjoyed any time of year.

When I baked this, I found the cornbread biscuit to overwhelm the fruit topping a bit in its volume. The proportions were just a bit out of whack, so in the recipe below I have adjusted the fruit filling a bit (such that it should fit a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, as opposed to a pie dish, which the original recipe called for), but I have left the topping unadjusted. If the proportions in the picture look good to you, I have put the adjusted amounts in parentheses.

Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 1996; recipe from

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 lbs strawberries, hulled, halved
2 cups 1/3 to 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup all purpose flour (1 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup sugar (4/9 cups, or about 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon baking powder (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon baking soda (1 1/3 teaspoons)
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced (4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (3/4 cup)

To Make Filling:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix sugar, flour and cloves in large bowl. Add strawberries and rhubarb and toss to coat with sugar mixture. Transfer filling to 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

To Make Topping:

Mix flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with fork until moist clumps form (do not overmix). Spoon topping evenly over filling.

Bake until topping is golden brown and filling is tender, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with ice cream, if you know what's good for you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beeting the Heat

Hello? Anyone there? The bar is (mercifully) over, I have moved out of Chicago, and I am back! For my first post back, I wanted to share with you a recipe that was a constant in my kitchen for a decent portion of the last two months.

There are some things that we eat just because they're good for us. There are things that we eat in spite of the fact that they're, um, not as good for us. Then there are things that fall graciously into both categories, allowing us to eat what we truly enjoy, while reducing the guilt factor by just so happening to be something good for you. For me, beets are one of those generous foods - they allow me to enjoy what I'm eating knowing that I'm doing both my palette and my body a great favor. Not-so-recently there was a post on the NY Times Health Blog of the 11 healthiest foods out there that they presumptuously concluded you and I are not eating, and beets were number one. However, the article noted that cooking them tempts out all the antioxidants and nutrients that make them oh-so-good for you.

I don't know about all of you, but not until recently did I even think of eating a beet uncooked. I love beets, more perhaps than most normal people do, but I had always eaten them cooked. It seemed to be such a rough, hulking root that trying to bite into it without cooking would greatly reduce the enjoyment gained from eating it. However, grating the beets provides an excellent solution to this problem. Fine shreds of beets have a wonderfully inviting crunch and pleasant texture, and just taste that much better knowing how much better it is for you.

The following recipe is not as much of a recipe as it is a jumble of delicious things that become only more delicious when thrown haphazardly together and eaten straight out of the mixing bowl, unless - I guess - you wish to share. I found it in Mark Bittman's list of 101 picnic ideas that was published in the Times dining section earlier this summer. Since everything could be made in under 20 minutes it seemed like the natural place for me to turn while studying for the bar. I unfortunately did not have a chance to get to any other ideas on the list*, but this salad is colorful, refreshing, fresh and healthy - everything a summer salad should be.

I should warn, however, that if you choose to eat this as your main course, there is a slight possibility it will make you pee magenta. This happened to me, and it scared the shit out of me, because, you know - who pees magenta? Really? Once I made the beet-magenta pee connection, I did some internet research and discovered that eating beets causes this same reaction in 14% of the population, and is purportedly a sign of an iron-deficient diet. I'm sticking with the fact that only 14% of the population is eating enough beets to have this reaction. I, for one, am proud to call myself a magenta-peeing beet-eater. I am curious as to whether this actually happens to other people, so if you try this salad leave a comment letting me know!

* Note: this salad is, in fact, number ONE on the list of 101 picnic ideas, so some might say that I didn't get anywhere on the list. Some.

Raw Beet Salad with Pistachios and Goat Cheese

These measurements are all approximate. I just added until i liked the way it tasted, which is easy to do when dealing with a salad. I've made this with both soft goat cheese and semi-soft, and both work equally well. I like to add a bit more cheese atop the bowl just so that there is something in there that is not dyed magenta.

This took me just about 20 minutes to make, but will take no more than 5 minutes if made with a food processor. If you're grating by hand, do yourself a favor and wear dark clothes; that garnet-toned juice, gorgeous as it may be, is not as gorgeous when forever stained on your favorite t-shirt.

2-3 medium-sized beets, peeled
Zest of one-half of an orange
Juice of one-half to one orange (depending on your taste and the size of your beets)
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2 ounces of goat cheese
1/4-1/2 cup of pistachios, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Grate beets either with a box grater or in the food processor, being sure to capture all the juice. Add the orange zest, orange juice and olive oil, adjusting to taste.

Add the chopped pistachios and parsley and mix to combine. Crumble the goat cheese over the beets and gently mix to distribute. Sprinkle with some sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste, dig in, and enjoy.