Roasted Golden Beet Soup

I thought I never liked beets. The only beets I knew from childhood were pickled beets (I honestly didn’t know they came any other way). Or maybe I was traumatized by beets.

Here’s how it happened. We had a metal food storage cabinet in our kitchen where we kept canned goods and most other foods. One afternoon my sister Jackie opened the cabinet to look for a snack, hanging on the handles, and the whole cabinet pitched slightly forward. Jars of pickled beets smashed to the floor, and there stood Jackie, arms outstretched, screaming, covered with red fluid. It was like the movie “Carrie.” I jumped out of my skin, too, but she was little and had thought all the broken glass meant she was covered with blood. She wasn’t even cut; the beet juice had splashed all over her.

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Jackie and I: notice who has the longer hair (hey, it was the 70s!) We were on vacation here–far away from the vicious pickled beets at home.

So as an adult when I was at a party, I took an appetizer off of a tray, thinking how clever it was that they had roasted chunks of purple potatoes. It was delicious. I commented on it and someone said, “That’s not a potato, that’s a beet.”

Cautiously I began to eat beets–only roasted, mind you, not the evil pickled kind. Once I moved to Chicago, I found “golden beets” in the grocery store. I read about them on my phone right there at the store and found they were “milder” than red beets. They do have a different taste, even when roasted, and are sometimes even almost orange in color.

Golden beets are one of my go-to side dishes for entertaining, since they only need to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper and still taste like something that has a secret recipe.

This long winter of 2013-2014 I gave up on northern Illinois having a single nice day. So while it snowed, then dipped below zero, then snowed again, rinse and repeat ad nauseum, I experimented in the kitchen and came up with this hearty, thick, delicious soup that reminds me in texture of vichyssoise.

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Roasted Golden Beet Soup

3-4 medium golden beets, scrubbed
3-4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 rutabaga, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup whole milk
½ cup half-and-half
optional: ½ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Chop beets, potatoes and rutabaga into bite-sized chunks. In a large bowl, mix vegetables, olive oil, and Herbes de Provence. Stir thoroughly. Spread onto a large rimmed baking sheet, in a single layer, and bake on middle rack of oven for 45 min. Check about halfway through cooking time and flip the vegetables as best as possible.

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Don’t be concerned if the roasted vegetables have a few flecks of burnt on them–it adds to the flavor!

Remove from oven when finished and let cool for at 10 min. Put chicken broth and milk in a blender and add the vegetables. Process until smooth. Add half-and-half and blend till mixed. Pour the mixture into a saucepan or soup pan and return to stove on medium heat till hot. Serve topped with sliced almonds, if desired.

Serves 4.

Soft Pumpkin Cookies

“To plow is to pray–to plant is to prophesy, and the harvest answers and fulfills.” – Robert G. Ingersoll

I might not agree with Ingersoll’s beliefs, but I like his quote about this harvest time of year. Whether you farm or simply have a garden with a few tomatoes, what is expressed is faith when that seed or plant goes into the ground. Having gardened this summer for the first time in years I felt like the backyard was a large, generous canvas. No more relegated to what herbs I could cram into pots in a small downtown Chicago balcony, I quickly planned for far more than even tightly-packed garden rows could hold. Even with good planning, it was a yard, after all. There was no room for sprawling vines.

Melons, squash and pumpkins were unfortunately relegated to the “get it at the farmer’s market” list. Yet I store squash in the basement and just like in a root cellar, it is a bounty for later. I like the taste of pumpkin, but hate cooking it. No matter what kind or size you buy, a pumpkin ends up being a difficult mess. I don’t even like carving them for Halloween.

I cheated with pumpkin recipes by using canned pumpkin after a simple discovery. I was reading the list of ingredients on a can of pumpkin and noticed it was a single word: pumpkin! What? No carrageenan? No BHT or BHA? No red or yellow number 5 or whatever number it is?

Imagine my shock when the Thanksgiving 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine made this shocking statement: “The cooked fresh pumpkin still couldn’t hold a candle to the smooth, dense puree from the can.” This is breaking news to us foodies. I’m not sure the mighty Martha Stewart–or her test kitchen minions–have ever admitted any kind of canned food is better.

But it’s true. If nothing else, the consistency of canned pumpkin is always reliable. With the real thing, unfortunately, it’s not. And you don’t have to deal with the pumpkin guts that have all the appeal of a slaughterhouse floor.

Other than pumpkin pie, many pumpkin recipes seem to immediately disappear the day after Halloween. Pumpkin is still a holiday treat, but not everyone likes pumpkin pie.

So for a Thanksgiving treat, I tried pumpkin cookies. Many of the existing recipes have a bit of pumpkin and then a lot of other fattening cookie ingredients. I wanted more pumpkin. After different attempts, I was able to create a cookie that used half the butter and double the pumpkin. The trade-off is that since the cookie batter is somewhat like thick pancake dough, you can “drop” it onto the baking sheet like a drop cookie, but must press it down to a certain height because it will not settle on its own. This is a slightly sweet, satisfying cookie. You can frost these if you want sweet cookies.

The Great Pumpkin Patch, Boone County, IL

The Great Pumpkin Patch, Boone County, IL

Soft Pumpkin Cookies
Makes approximately 1 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Optional: Sanding or coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine sugars and butter. Beat until well-mixed. Add pumpkin, vanilla and egg. Blend fully. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Mix thoroughly. Add flour mixture to wet mixture. Combine fully, add walnuts, and stir.

Spray a cookie sheet with baking spray. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonsful (about the size of a walnut, or ping-pong ball) on the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Press each of them down until they are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Optional: sprinkle each cookie with sanding or coarse sugar. Bake at 350 F for 12-14 min. Immediately remove from cookie sheets and place on cooling racks. Cookies will be soft.