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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

May I Call Myself "Cook" Yet?

THIS past week, I found myself (unintentionally) eating foods that were--nearly all--different shades of the same color

It's beet season;
I look forward to them all year

Now perhaps we can have an open discussion here, because I always thought of beet season as beginning in early fall (that's usually when I begin noticing them at farmers' markets). But the New York Times says you can judiciously purchase beets as early as June. I don't know if I'd really want to eat beets in the summer. Whatever the case may be, I recently picked up a few at the supermarket in hopes of cooking up some good grub with them!

Making up a recipe for beet soup as I go along...

The last time I'd purchased beets for cooking was two years ago, from my local farmers' market. I decided to mimic the beet dish we were serving at the then restaurant at which I was working--simply: beet and goat cheese salad. I Googled tips for boiling beets since I didn't quite remember the process from the last time... but this time around, I wasn't as pleased with (the flavor of) the beets as I previously was. Perhaps it was because I'd sliced the beets before boiling, in an attempt to shorten the boiling time, or perhaps it was because the beets simply were not as good as the ones from the farmers' market. However, I did think ahead to save the water used for boiling the beets. It sat in a two-quart container in my fridge for a couple of days before I finally decided to take a stab at concocting my own recipe for beet soup.

making homemade crème fraîche

I knew that I would purée the beets, add the beet water along with some heavy cream... and taste to figure out the rest as I went along. At the same time I prepped a homemade batch of crème fraîche, for which I'd found the recipe in my copy of The Way to Cook. While the crème fraîche sat "at room temperature for several hours," I added to the beet soup: dried fresh parsley (both Italian and curly, chopped), salt, pepper, garlic powder, a spoonful of horseradish, two generous spoonfuls of sour cream and a scant spoonful of extra virgin olive oil--constantly tasting as I went along. Once the taste and consistency was just right, I stopped.

Had I the time, I would have let the crème fraîche sit longer...

yet, its consistency seemed alright by me

I also knew that I wanted to add a dollop of crème fraîche to the finished soup, but that I also wanted to add something more... I decided to make a fresh batch of garlicky croutons.

whipping up a handful of fresh croutons

Reaching into one of several sackfuls of stale bread, brought home from work, I selected a few thick slices from which I cut the most uniform cubes possible. I then brushed all sides of the pieces with olive oil and quickly chopped two medium-sized cloves of garlic. I threw it all into a pan, over medium-high heat then finished the croutons in the toaster oven, until crispy, at about 225°.

Are you jealous of this soup?

you should be

This beet soup--with its crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside croutons--was so good, I could have died (from knowing that I made it). The dried parsley added dimension and texture and the crème fraîche was a pleasing touch (although probably not a necessary addition). I had the soup for both lunch and dinner.

"sii floating island"

As I'd previously mentioned, my next attempt with sii (Swiss mountain peasant dessert dish) was going to be my own variation of a floating island. Earlier that afternoon, I'd scooped up the remaining sii and reduced it on the stovetop. I then scooped the reduced sii into a small glass jar and after cooling, placed it in the fridge to firm up. By dinnertime, the sii was chilled enough for what I'd hoped would be a successful and intact extraction from jar to bowl. Unfortunately, I had to use a metal spear to separate the edges of the sii from the sides of the jar... marring its surface a bit.

the surface a bit marred from its extraction... but nothing
that a little cinnamon won't help to distract!

As stated previously, this dish makes such a good cold-weather treat with its dense and rich, dark flavors. And I do recommend letting the bread and raisins soak for at least an additional day or so (after combining) before cooking and serving; five days later, just look at how plump those raisins get--they're nearly reconstituted grapes!

Crème fraîche à la Julia Child 
(from her cookbook, The Way to Cook)

To make 2 cups of crème fraîche:
Whisk 1 cup (½ pint) of chilled heavy cream and 1 cup of chilled sour cream in a bowl until lightly thickened. If you wish, let it sit out at room temperature for several hours to thicken and sour a little more. Refrigerate in a covered container, where it will keep a week or so--or until it takes on a bitter taste.

The Way to Cook is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
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