Beets: Adventure roots!

The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.
The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.

Beets are pretty much the best ever. Fact.

I had to go to Granville Island on Sunday, because Grace bought me a ticket to Rosé Revival and I asked Nick to put it in his pocket so I wouldn’t forget it and then Grace fed us red wine slurpees and then we had regular wine and then she brought out the whiskey and it was late-late-late when we left her apartment and staggered home, and somewhere between sitting on her couch and flopping into bed, the ticket escaped. So I went to Granville Island to go to Liberty to buy a new ticket. Long story short? They said, “we have lots of tickets. See if you can find yours, and if you still can’t, come back tomorrow. You’re awesome.” So I bought a bottle of Pink Elephant, because I’m on a sparkling wine kick at the moment, and wandered the market getting all love-bubbly about produce and cheeses and Oyama Sausage and the dreamy fishmonger who talked me into buying his fresh-fresh-fresh halibut.

But we’re not into shortening long stories around here. No. In the immortal words of my grandmother, “to make a dull story long:” Beets.

Beets are largely misunderstood. I believe it’s because they come in cans and $1.09 tins of beets are kind of gross and when you’re a kid and your parents are poor and don’t notice that there’s a whole section in grocery stores with fresh vegetables, you get shit in cans, or in bags that you keep in the freezer. I kind of wonder if grocery stores didn’t have produce sections in the 1980s. I’ll bet they didn’t. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a grandmother who pickled beets in magic. I have been a beet fan since my first magenta pickle.

It’s important to me that beet biggots be shown the light. There is no vegetable that cannot be made holy: it’s all in the preparation. And for beets, that means roasting.

To roast a beet, treat it like you would a potato you intend to bake. Give it a rinse, scrub off any crud, but don’t peel it. Put it on a piece of tin foil big enough to cover the beet. Salt. Pepper. A drizzle of olive oil. Wrap it up, and then throw it right on the rack of your oven, which should be a balmy 425°F. Depending on the size of your beet, the thing will roast for 60 to 90 minutes before it’s done. My beets were a bit bigger than my fist (I have adorable little paws), and took just under an hour and a half to become tender.

Prepare an ice bath. Once the beets are good and tender (stick a fork in one), pull them out of the oven and unwrap them immediately, dropping them directly into the ice bath. Let them cool there until you can handle them comfortably. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to rub the skins right off.

What do you do now? Well, that depends. If you’ve just spent the day being enticed by fish mongers and all the ways to fritter away the last of that paycheque you just got, you may want to make a salad out of them. You have all that halibut, after all.

Beets have mad sex appeal.
Beets have mad sex appeal.

I made that picture humongous because I wanted you to see all the beautiful colours. You can’t see them though. They’re there. Maybe there’s too much cheese.

So what do you need to make this happen? Two large beets. Or a bunch of smaller ones. Golden AND regular if you can find both. I also had a candy cane beet that was supposed to really make this lovely, but it was diseased. Don’t eat diseased beets.

A handful of very small tomatoes. I found these little orange heirloom cherry tomatoes and immediately felt that deep spiritual connection that one does when all atwitter at the sight of little tiny vine fruits and the joy of an impending feast.

Bocconcini. The amount you need will vary depending on the size. Mine were about the size of purple summer plums, so I used two.

Basil. Fresh. Chopped.

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Pairs excellently with halibut (pan-fried in butter with a capers and garlic, and seasoned sprinkling of salt, pepper, and lime zest), asparagus wrapped in bacon, and minty potatoes (roast new potatoes or chopped white, red, or purple potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes in a bit of olive oil, and toss with a tablespoon or two of fresh mint).

Do you hate my table cloth too?
Do you hate my table cloth too?
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.

Anyway, for a great meal, start with beets. Also, maybe stick a Post-It to your bathroom mirror with a reminder that you ate beets the night before so that the next morning you don’t freak out a little and think you’re hemorrhaging or dying or something. That’s no way to start your day. Beets: Exciting!

New Jersey Crumb Buns. Or, “Be Nice to your Wife, Jerkface.”

Until recently, I had no idea what a crumb bun was. They don’t exist on the west coast, and especially not in Canada. Apparently they only exist in New Jersey, which isn’t terribly helpful, and unfortunately, they are a thing that Nick is not content to live without.

About six months ago I acquired a recipe that purported to be authentic – hours of following the recipe EXACTLY and letting the bread rise to the precise specifications and topping the whole thing with a crunchy streusel topping, also from the recipe. The result?

“These aren’t them.”

“The topping’s too crunchy.”

“Yeah, I don’t really like these. Good try, though.”

That he is not smothered in his sleep is a testament to my enduring patience.

And so crumb buns were largely forgotten. By me. Nick speaks of them often enough that they never fully disappear, and fails to understand that, “crumb buns – you know, like, I don’t know. They’re kind of like cake, but not, and the topping is, you know, crumbly and stuff” is not a description I can work from.

And then, recently, as luck would have it, Nick’s parents went to New Jersey. They brought some home, and I set out to copy the recipe.

This is a crumb bun. Tasty!
This is a crumb bun. Tasty!

These have a yeasty, subtly sweet, almost eggy taste. And while Nick swears that the most important part of these is the streuselly crumb topping, I’m inclined to believe that he has no idea what he’s talking about – the base is the part that’s the riddle. I made two batches of dough before I got to a recipe I felt would work. The final dough smelled a lot like the crumb bun sitting on the arm of my couch, so I figured that’d be a start.

I figured out the problem early on: Lemonade. How am I supposed to be creative if I’m all inhibited and crap? Right? Of course! So I popped open a bottle of prosecco and set to work. Result? The right stuff.

So with the dough rising in it’s buttery pot of incubation, it was time to microanalyse the crumb part of the crumb bun. It’s not completely soft, but it’s not crunchy either. It’s buttery and cinnamony and slightly nutty, and the recipe I used for these those many months ago was right on with the taste, even if it was way off on the texture. Solution? Add more butter. (Fact: “More butter” is almost always the correct answer.)

Here’s the recipe.

New Jersey Crumb Buns

Bun part:

  • 2 tbsp. yeast
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for kneading

Crumb part:

  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 cups flour

Heat the milk until just warm, about 105°F. Forty seconds in the microwave should do it. Sprinkle your yeast over top and let sit until foamy, about five minutes.

Meanwhile, cream together the sugar, salt, and butter – beat these until the sugar dissolves and the butter becomes fluffy and lighter in colour. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla. Pour in the yeast-milk mixture and continue to beat. At this point the batter will separate and you’ll probably think that you’ve ruined everything. I promise, you haven’t. Add in the flour gradually while continuing to beat the mixture.

The dough that’s produced will end up quite a bit softer than a regular bread dough. Flour your work surface, and knead the dough – eight minutes should do. It should be soft and elastic and have a slight sheen. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Throw a kitchen towel over top, and let rise in warmth and comfort until doubled in bulk, about an hour and a half.

Make your streusel. Cream together almond butter, regular butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Gradually add in your flour, the same way you did with the bread part. Don’t over-beat this – you’ll see it form loose, crumbly chunks. Break apart any overly large crumbs with your fingers – crumbs should be about the size of peas. Refrigerate these until ready to use.

Cover a baking sheet (make sure it has sides) in buttered parchment paper. Once your dough has grown to the appropriate size, give it a quick knead, and stretch it out so that it’s about 10 x 16 inches. Cut into rectangles approximately two inches wide by four inches long, and lay them out on the pan so that they’re close but not touching. Brush the tops with milk, and sprinkle about half the streusel over the tops, pressing lightly to make sure it sticks. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled (again). One-and-a-half or two hours.

When the buns have risen, sprinkle the rest of the crumb over the tops.

Heat your oven to 375°F. When the little red “the oven is not ready” light shuts off, put in the buns and bake for about thirty minutes. Cool on a rack, and then, when cooled, sprinkle these with confectioner’s sugar. Inhale. Delightful smell.

Crumb buns cooling on rack.

When Nick finally ate one of these, the reviews were mixed. The bread part is spot-on. Tremendous news, as that was the part I was most concerned about. The streusel?

“It’s better from the store my mom buys them at.”

He gets nothing. Ever. And I’m pouring out the rest of his beer.

The crumb wasn’t as soft as he’d wanted – it turned out a bit softer than an apple crisp kind of topping. Still good though. In the end, he ate but half of one of these. I have more than two people can eat left over, and they’re going stale waiting for validation. They are, or I am – either way, it’s not good. I’ve never liked Nick.

A blurry photo of a crumb bun in action.
A blurry photo of a crumb bun in action.

I am not sure whether I am going to continue to play at this – I think if Nick wants soft streusel topping, he can find a recipe and make it himself. He has to learn sometime, and I figured out the bread – that was the hard part. I have an inkling as to what might make it work. I might even share my theory with him. But for now, he gets dishes. And a healthy amount of fear.

A day of many delights: Rapini, and then blackberry scones.

When I came home today, I found this:

NoteWhich is a shame, because I came home with a fabulous bottle of sparkly pink wine and a huge hunk of his favourite cheese, and for all he knows, I could have been amorous. And I was. But not for him: Whole Foods opened on the corner yesterday, and today I paid my first visit (and healthy chunk of my payday earnings).

I didn’t even cry at my wedding.

I enjoyed a good long wander through the store, making mental notes of all the things I’d buy someday when I have a lot more money than I do now. The stack of salts, all different colours and textures in their plastic containers labeled with their exorbitant prices were so mesmerizing I stood staring, slack-jawed like a brain-damaged mule, for a good ten minutes, my eye shifting slightly to the left to the stack of Le Creuset pots in every colour before shifting back. I died a little inside when I realized that to buy any desirable combination of these would render my financial situation unliveable for the next two weeks, so I walked away slowly, barely keeping back the tears.

And then I found the cheese section! Needless to say, I am the proud new owner of $40 worth of cheese. So, three different kinds.

The goal today was to write about scones – and I will, I promise, because I bought a hideously expensive container of frozen organic Abbotsford blackberries, and the scones happen to be revelatory. But I got all tripped up by this:

Rapini with lemonAnd I discovered that if you shriek in the grocery store, no one will ask you if you need help, but you’ll find yourself with all the space you like.

My favourite thing to do with fresh greens, such as this vibrant bunch of rapini, is to sauté them in a little butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and too many capers, then toss them with pasta and add a generous helping of parmesan cheese and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. You don’t need a recipe – it’s impossibly simple. Salt and pepper to taste, and a bottle of good wine for accompaniment, and you’re set. And then you end up with this:

Pasta with rapini and capersAnd the whole time I was eating it, I was all – “this cost under five dollars to make – why do I ever eat out?” Well, it might have cost more, but I amortized the cost of the cheese over several meals.  Which is what you do when you budget.

So I ate all this, and drank most of the wine, and was just about ready to ease into my favourite kind of stupor when I realized that I was going to make scones. And I started making the scones and realized that in my shrieking Whole Foods love fest, I didn’t buy milk. But whatever, right? You can make scones without milk. I made mine with yogurt and a bit of water in place of the milk. DELICIOUS.

Here’s the recipe (with milk, because that makes good sense).

Blackberry Lemon Scones

(makes about eight)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup butter (plus a bit of melted butter to brush over the tops)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used peach yogurt, because that’s what I had)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup frozen blackberries (I prefer to use frozen berries for these because they keep their shape better than fresh berries)
  • 1 tbsp. turbinado sugar (or regular, but I promise, it’s not the same)

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Combine your dry ingredients (including zest) in a mixing bowl, and mix well. Add the butter, working it in with your fingers until it’s fully integrated and the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Stir in the milk and the egg, and then the berries, and mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Form into a ball.

Lightly flour your work surface. Empty your bowl of dough, which by now is very pretty and marbled with purple juices. Knead lightly. Pat the dough into a circle about a half-inch thick, and paint with the melted butter. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top, and press lightly to make sure it sticks. Cut the round into eight pieces.

Place your scones about an inch or so apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Clearly I have no idea how much an inch is.
Clearly I have no idea how much an inch is.

No matter how big a mess your apartment (or life) is, baked goods always make everything okay.

These turned out mostly scone-shaped. Some of them are shaped like retard scones, but they are no less tasty. I am just really bad at geometry.
These turned out mostly scone-shaped. Some of them are shaped like retard scones, but they are no less tasty. I am just really bad at geometry.

You know what the weird thing is? I got a raise today, and the best part of my day involved rapini and blackberries. That’s not to say the raise – though small – isn’t good news: it’s enough to cover another two bottles per month, if I choose wisely. And more wine is always a thing to delight in.

Rehab, when I finally get forced into it, is really going to suck.

Scone. On plate.Serve the scones warm. They are great with butter, but if you’re all alone and no one’s watching, a drizzle of maple syrup makes these indulgent and fattening. Some days, there is nothing better.