Saturday, February 17, 2007

the teen movie nerd-turned-hottie of vegetables

When you fall into the rut of weeknight cooking -- coming home hungry, realizing it's 7 pm and your fridge has tofu, a sweet potato and leftover rice pudding -- you look forward to a lazy weekend where you have time to kick back and make a meal worth eating. Or at least I do. And I don't know if it's the winter blahs or what, but I feel like lately I make the same stuff all the time, so I dug out some new recipes and tried some new stuff. On the menu tonight: swiss chard with beets, goat cheese and raisins; corn cakes with pepper jelly; and Mexican chocolate mousse with burnt rum and spicy candied pumpkin seeds. We had a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand with it that we really liked (Spy Valley '05, found at World Market, if anybody cares).

It struck me that I've never really cooked with beets before. I have bad childhood memories of slimy canned beets. Mark says the same. But in recent years, they've gotten an image boost. I've had them in restaurants, all dressed up in fresh, interesting preparations. Beets are the '80s teen movie nerd-turned-hot-chick of vegetables. They are Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. Wait, no. That's not quite right. I always thought she looked weird at the end after Molly Ringwald gives her a makeover. I liked her better when she was scowling and eating her potato-chip sandwich. Anyway, I digress.

Anyway, I will now be roasting beets at home all the time. Such dramatic color, so much flavor! And such easy prep: you can just wrap them in foil, roast for a hour at 400 degrees, let them cool a bit, and their skins peel right off. So anyway, the dish -- it's chard, beets, goat cheese, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and tomatoes -- I thought tomatoes and beets in the same dish wouldn't work, but I'm glad I gave it a try. I think the acid in the tomatoes balanced the sweetness from the beets. Anyway, delicious, healthy and beautiful on the plate. And, oddly, it was better at room temperature than it was when it was hot. When the flavors had had a chance to blend, it really came together.

The corn cakes were the one dish that wasn't new in my repertoire. We like them with goat cheese and pepper jelly:

On to dessert. The mousse uses Ibarra, a cinnamon-spiked, sort of gritty-textured Mexican chocolate used mostly for hot chocolate. The really fun part: after melting your chocolate, you get to flambe the rum! You can't see the flames in this photo, really, but you can sort of see my trepidation:

I used a recipe for the mousse (and what a luscious mousse!), but the pumpkin seeds were my addition. See, I love spicy chocolate things, and I was tempted to put cayenne in the mousse (see my post on Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate), but thought better of it, deciding that chili-infused chocolate is the sort of thing that loses its whimsy when you do it all the time. So I practiced restraint -- that is, until I realized that what the mousse needed was something crunchy to go with it. (The recipe had called for topping the mousse with whipped cream, which sounded redundant to me.) And I liked the idea of said crunchy thing also being sweet, spicy and just a little salty (taking a cue from the genius of salt caramel). So I toasted pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet, glazed them with a mixture of sugar, water and cayenne (just poured it over the toasted seeds in the skillet and let it turn syrupy, then spread the mixture out on foil to dry), and sprinkled a little kosher salt over them. Perfect -- the mousse got its spicy counterpoint after all! This would be the perfect dinner-party dessert, as you can do it all ahead of time.


Anonymous Tara's mom said...

what bad childhood memories do you have of canned slimy beets? I remember we grew them in the garden at the could you forget farm fresh red beets

6:44 PM  
Blogger tara said...

Really? When did we grow beets? I remember sugar snap peas, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, even parsnips, but beets? I remember the sliced things in the can!

Huh. Go figure. :)

7:58 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Gorgeous salad--and I love the idea of how you prepared the pumpkin seeds!

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have it on good authority that Tara's mother's recollection of the beet situation is faulty. True, they grew them in the garden, but did they ever eat them? Be honest.

8:23 PM  

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