Mar 6, 2012

February KTC Event: Root Vegetables with Joyce and Anne

Well, well, well...Winter is finally winding down, and February marked a chance to dig down deep into the root of a huge problem: What to do with root vegetables! Anne and Joyce organized a fabulous gathering at Chez J+J, where we would attack this (typically-more-grimy-than-thorny) issue.

In attendance: Rick, Anne, Joyce, Jessica, Meg, Damian, Frank, Shawn, Fernando, and Alane, Joyce's and Jessica's dear friend who was visiting from Oregon to ride 2,675 feet (that's over half a mile, y'all!) of hilly climbing in the Chilly Hilly with Jessica the following morning.
Jessica and Anne had done some pre-work. Namely, this beauty:
This was a chocolate cake, make more special (not to mention more healthy!) by the addition of a special guest: Beta vulgaris, or the lowly beet.

Even though dessert was already ready, we had plenty to do. First, Anne would introduce the cast of characters for the evening's festivities. First up: who else? With a cake like that, it could be none other than our old friend Beta vulgaris!
Slight aside: Can I mention that I just love Wikipedia? I mean, I already knew that beets came in different colors. I knew they are healthy, full of fancy antioxidants and fiber. I even knew that they stay red all the way through the digestive process (ahem)--at least they do in at least 10-15% of the population.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia just proved to me - in three seconds flat - that it is a treasure trove of beet-related information. Here are some interesting beet-related facts I learned just because I popped out to look for the fancy scientific name for beets...I bet you'll be just as impressed as I was!

Fun facts about beets:
  • It is common in Australia and New Zealand for pickled beetroot to be served on a hamburger.
  • Beet pulp is fed to horses that are in vigorous training or conditioning and to those that may be allergic to dust from hay.
  • Ancient Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, amongst other ailments.
  • When beet juice is used, it is most stable in foods with a low water activity, such as frozen novelties and fruit fillings.
This last one is important, because this is the secret to the glorious magenta hue of this lovely cake's frosting. Doesn't it look divine?
Moving on to our other rooty guests of honor...Look closely, that's not just another photo of Anne shaking her maracas! Here, she presents the duo of the decade, "The Parsnip Twins."
Fun facts about parsnips: Parsnips were made into wine and jam in 16th century Germany, as well as dried and ground into a type of flour for sweet cakes. 

In this next photo, Anne introduces rutabaga, AKA "Harold." Harold must be in the witness protection program, maybe from all the amazing stuff he does...Just one cup of rutabaga provides 53% of your daily vitamin C, reduces the risk of cataract formation, and increases milk production capacity, stamina and digestion (are you listening, Shawn?).
Fun facts about rutabagas: Rutabagas are also called "swedes" or "Swedish turnips," and are thought to be a cross between a turnip and a cabbage.

I didn't catch Anne hoisting our final root, celeriac, but I did get a good close-up of it, and it seems to have a face only a mother could love. Have a look for yourself:
Not sure how to say it? I wasn't either, so I looked it up. Think "Sell-AIR-Eee-Ack" - kinda rhymes with "hilarious!).

Fun facts about celeriac: Just like celery, it is actually a member of the carrot family! Also, celeriac is very good source of vitamin K, with 100g providing about 4% of recommended daily intake, and it also has established role in Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.

Onto something slightly more irreverent...This trivia tidbit alone made all my root vegetable-related research worthwhile: Here's the quote: The celeriac is a kind of celery, grown as a root vegetable for its large and bulbous hypocotyl rather than for its stem and leaves. Yes, Kissers, you read that says "large and bulbous hypocotyl." 

I can't WAIT to work that into a romantic opportunity in the near future...How about: "My, what an impressive hypocotyl you have there..." Or, "I always appreciate a partner with gigantic hypocotyls!" Or maybe, "Is that a hypocotyl in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" What do you think? 
Ahem. Now that we've introduced the day's cast of special characters (we also had the "commoners" turnips and carrots on hand), it was time for some tasty beverages. To help us think better, natch:
We'd need a few snacks, too - after all, cooking is hard work! Joyce had this cool wavy-scallop blade chopper thingie - perfect to make our roots look ravishing (not radishing!)! Here's how it did on carrots and jicama...cute, right? We all agreed: They taste better cut into Ore-Ida shapes.
Other root-related snacks were out, too. Of particular note was a crystallized ginger dip (see what they did there? another root!) that Joyce and Anne had put together. It was similar to this recipe found on Yummly, but our gals doubled the amount of ginger in their recipe. Served with sesame rice crackers (gluten-free, w00t!), this was a delicious snack.

We considered our palette of ingredients...
...and while we mulled over ideas...
...Fernando declared that he didn't yet have any photos of Shawn's rapidly-growing belly (@22 wks!). We remedied the situation, and Anne even provided a decorative flourish:
Next, the "real" work got started. Planned for the evening's root-veggie menu:

Rick trimmed up the celeriac...
We peeled a bunch of carrots...
We sliced some parsnips...
And, last but not least, Rosie supervised:
We began with the gratin...We tossed the thinly-sliced parsnips into a bowl with the sliced celeriac, added some sliced turnips, and added a sliced shallot for good measure. Then, we seasoned them with a little salt, pepper, and a healthy dose of smoked paprika (Jessica's intrepid suggestion, instead of the thyme called for in the recipe we were using as inspiration--it was a FABULOUS addition).
For the quinoa, we got some onions cooking, and rinsed the quinoa. I had never seen multi-colored quinoa before. Isn't it pretty?

In case you are unfamiliar with the gluten-free, protein powerhouse that is quinoa, here's Joyce demonstrating how it is pronounced:

Fernando and Frank discuss a finer point of something snack-related...
Rick and Meg slice and peel...
A tray full of diced root vegetables (a mélange of carrots, turnips, and celeriac, but you can almost always mix and match to substitute any root vegetable in a recipe!) was ready to go into the oven...
The kitchen was abuzz with activity:
Finally, the lull... 

The quinoa was a-cooking, the veggies were a-roasting, and the soup was a-warming...It was time to relax and fool around a bit. Shawn entertained the Kissers by creating Mrs. Rutabaga, a happy (and rather coquettish!) gal from the North End...
Fernando let Shawn talk him into placing a fake dog-bone mustache above his lip...Kind of makes him look a little like Sam Elliott, doesn't it?
Meg lifted a glass to all our health...
We enjoyed some wine and some good conversation...
...and watched the sunny-ish day fade into evening...
And then it was time to do a bit more work before dinner. We added our freshly-roasted veggies to our quinoa...
And then, Damian dressed the quinoa and vegetable mixture with the lemon-tahini dressing and a bit of olive oil. He declared, "This is some good sh*t right here."
(Disclaimer: Well, OK, he didn't *really* say that, but doesn't that look like what he is saying in the photo? Look at that finger!)

And, so it was. Good, that is...
Meg asked Shawn for a hand cleaning out the last bits of quinoa from the pan in which it cooked, and--cooperative as ever--Shawn cheerfully complied...
The soup was reheated and ready to go...
The gratin continued in the oven a bit longer...Next, Anne sauteed the beet greens in some garlic. And then added a little more garlic. Pretty!
The table was set and ready...
It even had a fancy centerpiece!

It was time to assemble for dinner. We took a seat, and settled in for a delicious and--all things considered--fairly nutritious meal.

The soup was up first. It was visually stunning - a warm, deep, rich color, nearly bronze. It contained toasted cumin seeds, which added a fun crunch to the dish. We garnished the soup with a goat cheese crema, which we had in turn drizzled with a cumin-infused olive oil of Anne's invention (Anne? What was the trick?). This soup was SO delicious that it even made Meg--a staunch, anti-carrot soup person--a convert.
Next was our main course: the Root Vegetable Triumverate. First, the gratin. A preparation sans bechamel, the cream-only version of this dish made it feel surprisingly light, and the flavor was outstanding.
Here's what it looked like up close:
Next, was the sauteed beet greens. Again, the green leaves popped against the wine-colored stems. Gorgeous. And garlicky!
Finally, the quinoa and roasted root veggie dice with lemon-tahini dressing. Soooooo satisfying, yet again, it felt really light.
In short order, our plates went from this:
 To this:
We all congratulated ourselves for having followed our intention of "K.I.S.S." ("Keep It Simple, Stupid") and prepared exactly the right quantity of food.

Does this give you a hint as to how tasty the gratin was? Total hit!
And you can see the sauteed greens held up their end of the bargain, too:
Rosie looked sad that the fun was over, but she needn't have fretted - a little bird told me she would get first dibs at that empty gratin dish before bedtime!
The best part about having served the perfect amount of food was this: We all had room for dessert! Look at this beauty!
The cake was surprisingly spectacular. The beets were totally undercover, and provided a residual moist texture that was addictively delicious.

Even Shawn, not usually a sweets gal, sneaked a second piece. Naturally, she hid the second plate underneath the first plate in an attempt to camouflage her sudden onset of chocolate beet cake lust. Did it work? You be the judge:
Dinner had been a complete and utter success. All felt this had been one of those magical, "everything worked" cooking group sessions in which each dish was truly special. We leisurely cleaned up, and even had a visit from Bugs Bunny himself:
But wait, that's not Bugs!
Fooled you!

Our glee quietly turned to sorrow, however, when we realized that--in all the excitement and planning--we had forgotten all about a key root vegetable player. Remember our old pal Ms. Rutabaga? We weren't the only ones with sad faces!
That's right! We hadn't used the rutabaga - the one vegetable that one Kisser had been unable to identify in the grocery store (hence, indicating a need to experiment and try cooking it!). Our profound apologies, Ms. Rutabaga!

Nonetheless, it was a lovely and successful evening. Joyce packed up goodie bags for the few leftovers that were on hand, and we called it a night. Next up are Shawn and Rick on March 17th - Details coming soon! See you soon, all!

P.S. Frank pointed out that, although we did not prepare it in our group, one of the "inspiration" recipes that Joyce and Anne had picked out is an absolute winner. He says that the Cumin-Scented Quinoa and Black Rice from Epicurious is NOT to be missed, and recommends adapting the recipe to add cashews and mushrooms. Try it! If you send me a pic, I'll post it here.

P.P.S. Shawn and Fernando ended up taking Ms. Rutabaga home with them (They figured Shawn was past the point of getting into any MORE lady-trouble, and said what the heck--the more, the merrier!). You'll be pleased to hear that Ms. Rutabaga was put to very tasty use as a thinly-sliced bed of rutabaga coins which crisped up in some butter at the bottom of an iron skillet to serve as the base for a kale-and-kitchen-sink frittata (leftovers shown below!). Yum!
Ciao, Kissers!

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