It's been a bit of a transition these last few weeks. We've been trying to adjust to the new season, the rain has begun, the leaves are falling at an exceptional rate, and I have realized that I am the one that needs to rake them. Last weekend we finished up the last bit of work on the deck (for this year), packed up the patio chairs, and stored the garden tools. We are mentally preparing for the long months of rain ahead, which is never an easy task. I re-planted a hella load of grass seed in the backyard last week, and it is loving this rain, which is making my hatred for it far less severe.
Unfortunately, I feel myself slipping into hibernation mode, and I am pretty upset with this idea. This morning I laid in bed until 8:30 am, under the duvet, under the quilt, because it was so cold in our room, and so warm under those blankets, and I just didn't want to leave. I'm feeling tired and run down. I think I need a vacation from fall, and it's just barely begun. We've been dealing with some pretty heavy stuff around here. Things that I'm just not quite ready to talk about, even though it's all I really want to talk about (I warn you, there may be a pretty heavy post scheduled for the future). I'm trying to find comfort in the small things: spending time with Brent curled up on the couch watching trashy tv. Attempting some recipes that I've been saving for a while. It's honestly pretty great to know that I can come around here and share some goofy stories with you, the good and the bad, and know that you guys are awesome and amazing, and it's all just very real and honest.
In the midst of all of this heavy shit that is happening, I am spending some major time in the kitchen filling the fridge with soups, muffins, and casseroles. I am going insane over all the squashes that have made their way into the store. I bought a handful this week, and I have no idea how I am going to prepare them, but that is what excites me the most.
After some consideration, toying with the ideas of sharing either a pumpkin-inspired or roasted fig and cauliflower risotto (inspired by this recipe), I made a decision and settled on sharing this beautifully tangy quick pickled beet salad recipe, something that I've sadly tried to attempt many times in the past, but let the arduous process of steaming, canning, preventing botulism etc. overwhelm me with fear. I then realized that I could make a quick version of my grandma's pickled beets in an hour or so, no canning required, and now the process seems so much more appealing and approachable.
Although it's a shame that these quick pickled beets can only be stored in the fridge for a week, I am completely ok with making up a batch when I have the craving, instead of following in my grandmas footsteps and canning the shit out of everything late August. I do however have to give credit to my grandmother for spending those long hours in the kitchen, hands stained red, peeling pounds and pounds of beets. Sterilizing those jars and lids so meticulously. I could never put forward that level of commitment to canning. My shear paranoia of any and all food related bacteria is enough to keep me away from canning for life. But my grandmother exuded this confidence in the kitchen that assured you that everything was always going to be all right. Even that time when she dug up some frozen venison from the freezer and thought it was ground beef and served it to us in a spaghetti bolognese. We all knew that something tasted funny, but she was so darn confident that it was beef, we believed her.
Honestly, I'd love to say that I made this recipe through trial and error. That I had been slaving over the stove, testing and re-testing beets forever, but the truth is, I bought some beets, boiled, removed the peels, cut into wedges, added a few ingredients to a pot: vinegar, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. The whole thing just seemed to work out. The only comparison I have to anything better than good is my grandmothers pickled beets, and I wouldn't want to say that they are better, but they do come pretty close.
The red wine vinegar imparts a wonderfully tangy flavor, a little more appealing to me than white vinegar. The spices I added seemed powerful at first, but the intensity settled with time, and what resulted was a perfectly tangy, sweet, fragrant beet. I wanted to create some sort of dish that I could incorporate these beets into. I am sure that there are no tricks to pickling beets. To me, they all taste only slightly different in a subtle way, but always delicious. In my family, we usually serve pickled beets at Christmas in a little dish on the side, or we will bring them out on fancy occasions, but what can you incorporate pickled beets into, I thought? I wanted to pair the tanginess from the beets with a few flavors that were much more mild and creamy. I picked up a few things from the store, strawberries, avocado, a few variety of nuts, and them I started with a few bites of each ingredient, and then a little beet. I continued in this manner until I would reach some sort of epiphany. In the end, the goat cheese, walnuts, and fennel was such a strong flavor combination I knew that I had a winner. I think my grandma would have been proud.
TANGY BEETS WITH FENNEL, WALNUTS, AND CHEVRE
serves 6 as a side
1 1/2 lb (12 small) beets, stems and leaves removed
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 fennel bulbs, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 oz chèvre
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Place the beets into the water and boil until tender, 15 minutes.
Remove the beets from the boiling water and place directly into a bowl of cold water. Let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the peels by either rubbing with your hands, or with a pairing knife.
Slice the beats into quarters and set to the side.
In a medium saucepan, bring the red wine vinegar, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and salt to a low boil. Continue stirring with a wire whisk until the sugar dissolves, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the liquid over the beets. Let them sit for 30 minutes.
Cut away the fennel stems. Save the fronds for garnish. Cut the fennel in half, cut away the tough core, and thinly slice the fennel with a mandoline.
In a large bowl, toss the beets and fennel, with a few tbsp of the beet vinegar juice.
Add the walnut, goat cheese, and garnish with fennel fronds. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve cold.
The leftover beets can be stored in the fridge for a week.