Famous Last Words

Remember last week when I said I was forcing the season by cooking spring-like dinners? Scratch that. My plan didn’t work. A late spring sleet/snow/freezing rain storm is what greeted me one morning when I awoke late last week. Continuous temperatures in the mid-40s and 50s is not my idea of warm weather. While the purple and yellow crocuses have popped, the daffodils are sadly looking up for some warmth and sun. A visit to the garden tonight proved the chives are hardy and tall enough that I may be able to snip some soon. Perhaps I will have summertime recipes in time for May.

So in the meantime, instead of searching for a grill to buy for warmer weather, I’ve turned on the oven again. As I’ve said before, roasted chicken is my number one comfort food, and it was a perfect way to recuperate after a long weekend away from home with friends talking about books and literature. And those roasted root veggies I said were going to wait until next year? I found some beets in the vegetable bin and decided to make a much-lauded side dish from the eater of the house. This is also a really easy dish to make if you have company like we did; very little prep work, so you can spend time with your guests instead of being in the kitchen.

I worked in a family-run Italian restaurant for several years and along with the restaurant, we also would serve big parties. Chicken and mostaccioli was the standard for these, and I loved the smell of the chicken when it was roasting. So their spices and herbs are my go-to seasonings whenever I roast chicken, with a few tweaks here and there. And you can use this whether it’s chicken breasts, thighs, or a whole chicken like I made for this evening.

DSCN0177After rinsing and patting the chicken dry with a paper towel, rub it with some olive oil. Add freshly ground pepper, salt, cinnamon, and herbes de provence.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, cook for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Cook  until the thermometer reads 165 degrees. That’s it! Some chopped fresh garlic or garlic powder also is a great addition. The cinnamon is the secret spice, and I love that first roast chicken in the fall served with homemade applesauce. It’s perfection.

The beets are equally easy. I prefer to roast my beets instead of steaming them, but you can do either. For me, roasting the beets in the oven with the chicken means I’m doing two things at once. I cut off the tops and bottoms, scrub, and place in a pie pan with a little bit of water. Cover with foil and roast for about an hour or so. You’ll know they are done when you poke the middle of the beet with a paring knife; it should be soft, yet have some resistance. When cooled, I peel off the skin and dice into chunks. Add a few dashes of a light vinegar (I like white wine), a couple of tablespoons of sour cream, and a few dashes of dried dill weed (fresh would be wonderful if you have it), and salt and pepper. Now mind you, the color of this resembles Pepto-Bismol, I’m not going to lie. It is gorgeous, a big bowl with deep fuchsia beets, but it does look a bit odd. (Hence, why no picture; they all turned out horrible and no one would want to make it!)

Served with last week’s radish salad and some shaved brussels sprouts cooked in a little bit of bacon grease, this was a lovely and comforting dinner for some weary yet very happy travelers!

Author’s note: You may find me disappear for one week in the very near future, but have no fear, I’ll be back! Instead of taking a week off for holidays, I like to take my birthday week off as a present to myself. But since that time has come and gone, I have written myself an IOU. 

A Perfect Fall Side Dish: Roasted Beets with Sherry Vinegar and Goat Cheese

Even though the foliage has been a bit off this year, the sunrises and sunsets have been incredible!

As I mentioned last week, I’ve reluctantly given myself up to the season and am fully back into my cooler weather cooking routine. I make a point of getting home late afternoon on Sunday so I can spend time cooking food for the week while warming the house with delicious aroma of roasted chicken or other dishes. Although I’m not happy it’s getting colder out, the change of seasons does bring some of my favorite vegetables that I haven’t seen in seven or eight months.

I think most people have a love/hate relationship with beets, in that they either love them or hate them. I am in the former category; when fall arrives, I know these ruby gems will be on my grocery list every week. I roast and then dice them for salads, and now make my new favorite side dish: thinly roasted beets with a little bit of sherry vinegar and small pieces of goat cheese.

I’ll sometimes spend a little extra to buy the golden beets from my favorite farm, Golden Russet in Shoreham. Although I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market as much as I would have liked this past season, they sell their wonderful veggies at the coop year-round, so I’m never out of luck. But this recipe is good with any color variation of beets.

The way I always roast beets is to scrub them until they are clean, then place in a shallow dish with a bit of water. Cover with foil and roast at 350 degrees until they are still firm, yet soft. When they are cool to the touch, I’ll peel off the skin and cut into thin slices. Fanned on a plate, sprinkle with sherry vinegar and dot with goat cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

Sherry vinegar is an indulgence of mine; I love all vinegars, but there is something about sherry that I just adore. Unfortunately, it is only sold in smallish bottles and for close to $4 a pop, it’s not inexpensive, so I try to make it last as long as I can. It has just the right amount of tang and flavor and it adds a little something special to any dish or salad. If you don’t have sherry vinegar on hand, I’d substitute with cider vinegar.

Roasted Beets with Sherry Vinegar and Goat Cheese

• 4-5 small beets, ends cut off and scrubbed
• Sherry vinegar (or substitute cider vinegar)
• Goat cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a shallow dish (a pie pan works just great), add the cleaned, scrubbed beets and a little bit of water, about a quarter of the way up the beets. Cover tightly with foil and roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes or until the beets are soft yet firm. When cool, peel off the skins and slice thinly, about 1/4 inch thick. Fan on a plate, sprinkle with the vinegar and dot with the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.