Golden beet & goat cheese tarte tatin AND Roasted beets with french feta and hazelnuts

Beet tarte tatin

I’m going to be 43 this month, and yesterday I bought reading glasses for the first time. Apparently this is very predictable behavior, and exactly the age one’s eyes are supposed to stop working. Sigh. I bought the glasses so I could get on with a paperback copy of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, which has the most fiendishly small cramped letters I have every seen. I suppose I could have just bought another copy of the book, but it’s not just this paperback. It’s other books, too, anything with small print…particularly at the end of the day. It’s time I faced a fact that is right in front of my face – literally, because I have to hold it very close or I can’t see it.

I’m making slow progress with The Bros. Karamazov, but I’m enjoying it so much. I love to read novels in which the characters think so deeply and question everything – their lives, their souls their place in the world and society – to such an extent that this becomes a huge part of the drama. Levin’s musings at the end of Anna Karenina make me weepy! His story should be over, if you take it plot point by plot point, but there’s so much he doesn’t understand! When I was little I used to think about things in this way (at least that’s how I remember it). I used to try to figure it all out, and understand how I fit in with everything, and get all confused, and then have little flashes of clarity where certain things made sense. And then I’d heat up some frozen french fries and pore over a Tintin. I was a weird kid!! At some point I stopped thinking about it so much…everything goes so fast you get swept along, hour to hour, day to day. Maybe it’s better that way…there’s something to be said for just getting on with your day, getting things done. And we’ll always have Russian novels! And you just know they’re eating beets, because, um, borscht is Russian, right? We got some red beets from our CSA, and then I went to a market and saw some big beautiful golden beets, and I couldn’t resist! So we’ve got beets for weeks. I decided to make a beet tarte tatin. This is an upside-down tart, usually involving apples and caramel. I thought it would be nice to make a savory version with beets, because they’re so sweet that they seem to form their own caramel when you cook them. (I’ve tried it in the past with green tomatoes and that turned out well!) I added some balsamic, lemon zest, orange juice and goat cheese – a few tart, bright elements to offset the earthy sweetness of the beets. I think it came out really well! I cooked all the beets, and then I had too many to fit in one layer, so I made two layers. I think, if I had a do over, I’d make one layer of beets, and save the rest to toss with pasta or chop into a salad, because the two layers of beets was very beet-y. Delicious, though, if you like beets!! With a real tarte tatin, you use a skillet to caramelize the apples, then you put the dough right on that and put the whole thing in the oven. I wasn’t sure my skillet could handle it, so I transfered it to a cake pan. If you have a big, oven-proof skillet, though – you’re golden!!

And the other day, I made a nice salad-ish meal with roasted beets and potatoes, sliced thin, and sprinkled with french feta and hazelnuts. The whole assemblage being made upon a bed of arugula. I used a combination of red beets, golden beets, red bliss potatoes and yukon gold potatoes, and it was very pretty indeed!!

Here’s The Perfect Beet by Talib Kweli & KRS One. What? What? It’s beat? Ohhhh. These two men think a lot, and tell us all about it.
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Giant puffy rosemary flatbread

Giant puffy flatbread

We went creeking today, for the first time since last year. It feels like the real start to summer. My boys turn into little wild water creatures who won’t wear shoes or shirts for the rest of the summer. Malcolm bounds through the water and leaps off the rocks. Isaac picks his way gingerly across, bobbing through light and shadow, deep and shallow. They glow in the sunshine, as smooth and warm as river rocks. Today we saw a spider the size of a small mouse scamper across the water, carrying dozens of baby spiders on her back. And my boys hop after speckled toads – much smaller than the spiders, who blink their golden eyes at you from between my boys’ fingers.

With the start of summer comes the start of summer eating, and my ideal meal in the summer is a big mix of vegetables, prepared different ways, some cool, some warm. Salads, beans, potatoes, olives, cheeses, maybe a sauce or two. And something to eat everything with. Some bread or crepe to tuck everything inside. Like this giant rosemary flatbread! It’s quite chewy and crusty (from the milk, I think) which makes it idea to sop up tomato, basil and olive oil, or the sauce from nicely seasoned greens and beans. You could make smaller shapes, if you liked, but I got a kick out of making two big pieces, almost the size of my cookie sheets. Parts puffed, parts didn’t, but even the parts that didn’t could be pulled apart and stuffed with yummy things. I kneaded rosemary into mine, because it went nicely with everything else I was making, but you could easily add any other herb, or sesame seeds, or caraway seeds.

Here’s Booker T and the MGs to cool you off with Summertime.
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Thin-sliced potatoes, 3 ways

Potatoes with rosemary, sage & smoked paprika

This is my 300th post! Considering I post a recipe almost every time, and sometimes more than one per post, that’s gotta be nearly 300 recipes. Phew. I’m simultaneously giving myself a little pat on the back and wondering why I spend so much time on this! For my 300th post, I’ll talk about something simple and enduringly good. Potatoes. I love potatoes. I don’t remember always loving them, but in the last few years, I feel like I want to eat them every night! They’re so comforting, and versatile, and they have a wonderful, subtle flavor all their own, but they’re so generously accommodating to other flavors. I like them roasted – any size. Cut into large chunks and tossed with rosemary; cut into nice thin roasted slices; cut into tinsy pieces, and then roasted till they’re little crispy nuggets. I love them mashed. Mashed potatoes are as fun to play with as they are to eat. You can make mountains and moats and volcanoes, with little pools and rivulets of melted butter. I’m something of a mashed potato purist, (butter, salt, pepper) but tarragon-roasted garlic mashed potatoes are very nice, too. I crave french fries, sometimes. I don’t drink beer, very often, but sometimes I like the idea of going to a bar in the afternoon and having a big plate of french fries and a pint of beer. David and I have a small tradition of going into New York and finding a place to have french fries, hummus, and a glass of red wine. There’s nothing better after a day of walking and looking. I don’t have a deep fryer, but I oven-roast french fries from time to time. I like them with a savory vanilla sauce. It’s my tribute to fries and a vanilla milkshake.

One of my favorite ways to eat potatoes is to slice them quite thin (1/4 inch-ish) parboil them, and then layer them in a dish with herbs, herb-infused milk, or butter, and bake them till they’re crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. In this scenario, the possibilities are endless. You can use any herbs or spices that you like. You can always add cheese, if you’re in the mood. One elaborate version is this with sofrito and fennel. I’m going to suggest a few versions here, but your imagination and your taste are the limit.

I’ve never heard this song before! Bob Marley sings Milkshake and Potato Chips!! How wonderful!
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Malcolm’s favorite soup

Tomato and white bean soup

We went away for a couple of days. Now we’re back, and I’ve got a rotten cold and mountains of laundry, so I’ll tell you about our trip another day, maybe. Although a random helpful stranger told me I should stop talking about my dead dog and get straight to the recipes, so maybe I’ll just get straight to the recipes, and stop with all this meandering chit chat. It’s funny because while we were away, we were at a little party, and I kept talking about my dog. Then we went swimming at dusk, with the Blue Ridge mountains all around us in gorgeous shades of dark green. It was an ecstatic moment! As I was helping Isaac change out of his swimsuit, I said, “I should probably stop talking about Steenbeck so much!” And he gave me a hug with his small, smooth, post-swimming-cool-self and said, “It’s okay, Mom, you miss her, we all do.” He’s six years old! Don’t look now but I’m doing it again!

So, this soup. We’re going to have a bean, grain and veg week, here at The Ordinary, to adjust for our reckless holiday spending and the fact that I missed a weekend of work. We’re keeping it on a low budget! We drove for more than six hours yesterday, and got home very late (on a school night!) We’d also eaten lots of junk food over the previous few days. (For the trip down we packed fritos and nutter butters, and we stopped at Dunkin Donuts!). So we wanted something quick and nourishing. I turned to an old standby – Malcolm’s favorite soup. I suppose this is actually a minestrone, because it’s a tomato-white bean soup, and the boys eat it with heaps of pasta. It’s flavored with rosemary, thyme, smoked paprika and cayenne. We’re growing lots of basil, I’m delighted to report, so we added a handful of that, too!! It’s a little bit creamy, though cream-free, because I puree a small amount. It’s very easy, very tasty, and even Isaac ate three bowls of it yesterday.

Here’s Toots and the Maytals with Country Roads, because we drove along a lot of country roads the last few days.
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Black barley with baby kale (and roasted mushrooms, potatoes & pecans)

Barley & kale

I know I shouldn’t go on about it, but it’s on my mind. My dog died a couple of months ago. I still miss her everyday. I still look for her each morning, where her bed used to be. I dream about her incessantly. I’ve dreamt of her as a puppy, I’ve dreamt that she’s lost or not well, and I can’t save her, I’ve dreamt that she never died at all. The strangest dream was probably the most like actual life. She died, and I missed her, and it felt so unaccountable. Why do the most literal dreams feel so odd? I don’t want another dog, I really don’t. But I miss canine companionship. Our house feels so human, somehow, without her. The other day Isaac said, “Mom, you can’t just go up and pet every dog you see!” And he’s probably right, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and trying not to think that Steenbeck would have gone crazy if I’d gone home smelling like another dog. So yesterday, when I went to get the boys from school, and I saw a tiny, dark, bundle of puppyhood…I attacked it. I dropped everything (literally! it’s lucky no little children were standing below me because my umbrella is quite pointy). I grabbed it. Oh, the soft, round little belly. The hot little body, the racing heart. The little puppy eyes and ears! The puppy smell!!!! She didn’t really want to be held by me – she wanted to be running around, with the kids her own age. But I wasn’t taking the hint. I couldn’t let her go. My boys looked at me with sideways, skeptical looks. “Who is that?” they asked? The little kids who actually owned the dog danced around me, looking anxious. “When is she going to give it back?” they asked their nanny. Never! I cried. But I did. I put her down. The little dog was sort of blacky brown. She had that short, dark fur that looks almost purple or blue in certain lights. In other words, she looked like black barley. You see? There is a connection. Barley would be a good name for a dog, wouldn’t it?

This black barley dish is almost like a risotto, but like a risotto made by a very lazy person that didn’t want to make a broth or stir it every minute of the day. The barley is cooked till it’s tender but toothsome (if that means al dente). And it makes its own creamy sort of sauce, just like a risotto. I warmed some butter and white wine and herbs in a big frying pan, and added the barley with its creamy broth. Then I added some water and let that cook down a bit. I found baby kale at the grocery store, and I was quite excited about it. It does have a kale taste, but not as assertively. It has a little bite. I cooked it for much less time than I usually cook kale – I tossed it into the barley broth towards the end, and cooked till it was nicely wilted. (You could easily use regular kale, cooked first, or baby spinach, which wouldn’t need to be cooked at all.) I also made roasted mushrooms and tiny crispy roasted potatoes, to toss on the dish. And I toasted some pecans. I like all of these tastes together – and they all go so well with sage, rosemary and thyme, which I used to flavor pretty much every element involved. I topped mine with some crumbled bleu cheese, too, which added a lovely creamy/salty element, but nobody else in my family did, cause they’re not fans of the bleu cheese. The whole thing added up to a very savory, meaty meal – the smell of barley and roasted mushrooms lingered in my house all evening. It’s a nice smell!

Here’s Rebecca Sugar with Sleepy Puppies. I think it’s lovely!
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Chick(pea) patties and guacamole

Chick patties

This time I’m going to listen to my own advice, and just post the damn recipe. Except that it’s two recipes. Sigh, nothing’s simple. We ate them together, and they go very nicely together, but they’re good on their own, too!

The first is “chick patties.” Part of an ongoing series, here at The Ordinary, in which I attempt to make homemade meat substitutes. Fake meat from the store – fakin bacon, veggie burgers, soy sausage – although frequently very tasty, is also very expensive and full of questionable ingredients. (Questionable to me, anyway, because I don’t know what they are, and my old eyes are getting so bad I can’t read the small print!) So, here in the test kitchens of The Ordinary, we have a whole division devoted to coming up with simple, economical versions you can make at home. Our motto is, “It’s all in the seasonings!” So we’ve made flakin bacon, veggie burgers, “meatballs,” and sausages. Well, we thought it was time to tackle every child’s favorite – the chicken nugget. I love the texture and flavor of roasted chickpeas, so we started there. I’ve been obsessing lately over the combination of lemon, sage and rosemary, so we continued in that direction. And I have fond memories of making lemon pepper chicken when I was very very young, so we added a big dose of black pepper. (Might be the first meal I remember being proud to share with people!) We fried them lightly in olive oil, and then ate them with oven roasted french fries and guacamole. The youngsters dipped them in barbeque sauce.

Guacamole

I’m very proud of my guacamole! It’s simple, yet flavorful. I add cilantro, lime, cumin, cayenne, tomatoes and a bit of honey. A lovely balance of sweet, hot, tart and creamy. Just in time for cinco de mayo!!

Here’s Organized Konfusion with Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken. I love this song so much. And the video, too. Food and memory. Beautiful!!

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Pear, spinach, rosemary, bleu cheese galettes

Bleu cheese, rosemary, pear and spinach galettes

Maybe spring is to blame, but I feel as though I’m bursting with recipes I want to share, and recipes I want to make. I have about five things I’ve recently made that I want to tell you about. I’d save them up and tell you about one each day, but I also have about five things buzzing around in my head that I can’t wait to cook! It’s gotten really bad, I tell you! So I apologize in advance for posting more than once a day. As ever, feel free to ignore it all!!

I live in a sleepy little city on the Delaware. I’m no town historian, but our house is from 1850, and it feels as though most of the rest of the town was built up at that time. Lots of brick row houses. Narrow streets and small yards. More antique stores and art galleries than we know what to do with. (Delightfully so!)

One weekend of the year our quiet little town becomes crazy crowded – we have a street festival! Roads are blocked off, booths are erected. Hundreds of people walk by each day. We can watch it all from our store – just on the edge of the action. Our store is small and has a huge window in front, so we feel like we’re in a fishbowl, watching the crowds go by. It’s oddly quiet, despite the sudden population increase. Maybe from the lack of cars. Maybe with the hush that crowds sometimes have, when everybody seems to adjust the volume of their voices to form, all together, a low, incoherent rumble. It’s mesmerizing to watch everybody passing by, at a stately, regular pace. FIrst one way, then crossing back, in tempo, returning the other.

I always find crowds of people strangely moving. I don’t always love humanity in the abstract, but masses of people make me feel oddly affectionate towards us as a species. Small moments of human drama in the sea of people feel so poignant. A child who is over-stimulated and over-tired, with a crumpled, crying face that just happens to be painted like a happy tiger. Eccentric looking couples that seem so happy together, and make you happy that they met each other, even though you don’t know them at all. Straggling groups of teenagers wearing giant 70s sunglasses, who can’t suppress how excited they feel to be wandering without parents at the festival.

Anyway. We had some food in our store, for anybody that was brave enough to come in off the street. I made three kinds of savory pastries. And I’m going to tell you about all of them!! One at a time!! They all turned out really good!! Or so I think!! The nice thing about savory pastries (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) is that although they’re probably best hot out of the oven, they’re also very tasty at room temperature. So they’re nice for parties, or picnics, or art openings, or to offer at street festivals. They’re easy to pick up and carry around, and they combine lots of good flavors in a manageable package.

The first I’ll tell you about is this little galette. It’s got a toasted oatmeal black pepper crust. It’s got fresh baby spinach, ripe pears, bleu cheese and rosemary. It’s very tasty!

I’ve got the Tom Waits song 9th and Hennepin stuck in my head, so I’ll post that here. Not because it describes my town, thank heavens, but because he’s watching people through windows, just like we were, and he’s rambling on to anyone who will listen. Just like I do!

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen…
And I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all
Through the yellow windows of the evening train…

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Puffy roasted sweet potato and rosemary flatbread

Roasted sweet potato flatbread

The night we had these for dinner, Malcolm asked if he could have another. (I think he’d already had two!) I said, without thinking, “No, I’ve got to save them for a photograph.” Then I realized how crazy I’d gotten. Instead of being glad that my 9-year-old son liked sweet potato flatbreads enough to ask for another. Instead of being thankful that he was eating a healthy food, with vitamins and whatnot (sweet potatoes have vitamins, right?), I was going to save them to take a picture. Ridiculous. Well, I quickly saw the error in my ways, and let him eat one more. (Yes, I did save one!)
Here’s how it all came about…we had some leftover stew, and for some reason I was semi-obsessed with the idea of making flatbreads to go with it. But I wanted to do something different. I wanted to use some unusual ingredient. I thought about all the different kinds of flour in the cupboard. But I’ve already made toasted barley flatbreads, and semolina flatbread. Then I thought about the sweet potato I’d bought on a whim. Why not put that in? And I’d just bought a huge bunch of fresh rosemary, so we’ll have some of that, too. And we’ll roast them together, rather than just boil and purée the potatoes, for more intense roasty flavor. So that’s what I did! The dough was a pleasure to work with – soft and firm at the same time, just as dough should be. I wanted them to be sort of light and puffy, so I made them the way I’d made pita bread one time, on a preheated baking sheet. They puffed beautifully! I was so happy! I love a bread that you can tear apart and use as a spoon, and stuff with delicious foods. I finally let Malcolm eat the remaining flatbread the next day, and it was good reheated as well.

In the early days of this blog, I foolishly used up all my sweet potato songs at once in a small playlist. It’s been a while, and they’re all good songs, so I’m just going to repost it here. Something to listen to while you wait for your dough to rise!
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Mushroom white bean bisque

Mushroom white bean bisque

In art and music people speak of combinations that are almost magical. Certain musical pitches combine to make chords that profoundly affect the emotions. Certain colors, when combined, seem to hum in your vision. I believe there are flavors like that, too. Some flavors just seem to go together so perfectly that they become a more perfect whole. Sometimes it’s unexpected flavors, and I’m constantly hoping to discover some brand new-good-for-you combination that makes your taste buds do a little dance. Sometimes it’s a well-known mix of flavors that just makes sense. White beans, sage and rosemary, for instance. With olive oil and balsamic, garlic & shallots. Or mushrooms, sage and rosemary. So, I thought to myself, one long day at work, dreaming about what I’d make for dinner when I got home…why not white beans, mushrooms, sage and rosemary? I had quite a bit of couronne bread left, and I thought I’d make a soup to go with it. I like mushroom soup, but I don’t make it very often, because I use my mushrooms up so quickly in other ways. Plus, it’s hard to make it very pretty. So I decided to combine it with white beans. I know! They’re not very pretty in soup either! But…I added two handfuls of fresh baby spinach, and suddenly it was a lovely pale green color. A sage green color, appropriately! Not a hard soup to make, and very satisfying…light yet substantial, very savory and flavorful.

Here’s Hummin, by Cannonball Adderly, because that’s what the perfect combination of elements seems to do!
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Roasted red pepper & pecan sauce

Roasted red pepper pecan sauce

In some movies, the lead actors are good but not surprising or remarkable, but one of the supporting actors just knocks you off your feet. Take High Fidelity, for instance. John Cusack was good (isn’t he always?) but Jack Black was unforgettable – zesty, funny, feisty. Thus it was the other night with my dinner. I had about 2 cups of leek risotto left over from the night before. I added 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 egg, and I made little cakes that I fried in butter on a griddle. Quite tasty! Even my boys liked them. But (dot, dot, dot) I also threw together a few ingredients in great haste, thinking that a sauce would be nice with my risotto cakes. In my small food processor, I combined some roasted red peppers (from a jar) some pecans, and some chipotle purée. Holy smoke (geddit? chipotle is smoky? So are roasted peppers?) It was delicious! (Or so I thought) Smooth but not too smooth, bright, smoky, with that wonderful taste that pecans have that’s hard to describe. It’s like sweet and savory at the same time. This sauce is quick, this sauce is easy, and I can think of about a million ways to use it! With french fries, pasta, with croquettes, with enchiladas, with savory pies, I think I could actually make a very nice soup out of it as well, with a small amount of tweaking.

Here’s Nat King Cole with Frim Fram Sauce
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