An Unnatural Excitement

During the bi-weekly Costco hunt-and-gather, I came across that innocuous little plastic clamshell box up there. And giddily, I grabbed it from the refrigerated case it was sitting in, and plunked it down in my cart with the meat and fish I’d grabbed already.

Yes, beets. Pre-cooked, vacuum packed, pre-portioned beets. And I typically hate pre-packaged foods because I can do the prep better, cheaper, and more to my liking. But these were just cooked beets. Nothing special about that, right?

Beets are a vegetable that most people seem to hate, along with brussles sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, and spinach. The reason they’re hated always seems to go with how they were prepared, but in these heady days of creative home cooking and wonderful recipes available online, cooks are coming back to these vegetables that once had a bad name. I mean, have you just tried pan-roasted brussles sprouts with bacon? I throw in some thinly sliced shallots, and I think I can just make a meal out of that.

But of course, I’ve always liked most vegetables. Even beets, which I don’t ever remember seeing raw at a store when I was a kid. Mom would typically buy canned beets, and those would get heated up for dinner sometimes. My sister avoided most foods with color, but I was the oddball who loved restaurants with salad bars, so I’d happily snarf down a couple of beets. I wasn’t, though, a huge fan of borscht…I don’t know why, but something about it is just…off.

Anyway, so lately, I’ve been buying beets at the grocery store, or, if possible, at the farmers’ market, where they’re substantially cheaper and better than the small bunches the store offers. But I’d avoid cooking them on a weeknight, because I’m the only one in the house that would eat them, and to cook up some, I’d have to peel, cut, and cook them (typically roasted in a foil packet on the grill). That’s 30-40 minutes right there.


Then came this little gem: a box with 4-8 ounce packages of cooked beets. Just nuke and serve! There are 3-5 beets in each little pouch, and the whole package ran right around $9. I’m hoping these little guys are at Costco every week I’m there…

In four days, I’ve already gone through two of the packs: one was used for lunch on Saturday, and the other was heated up last night for my vegetable with my salmon.

Yep. I’m far too excited about a vegetable…


The Occasional Recipe Review

I’m starting a new thing up on the blog here: a review of new recipes–or at least recipes that are new to me and my family.

Let me explain. You see, I’m easily bored of the same old routine, so I spend some time every week on a few cooking sites clipping recipes with the fabulous Evernote Web Clipper plug-in. Once the recipes are in Evernote, I’ll massage and edit them a bit, sort them into the proper category and tags, and hopefully not forget them.

But for the last several months, I’ve tried to make my cooking life easier and more varied by planning out the menu in two-week blocks. This serves two purposes: with everyone going different directions on different nights (Patrick working some nights of the week and not others, and Jenni and I having evening activities on a regular basis) this planning helps me make sure I can cook what people might like, and it makes the bi-weekly hunt-and-gather at Costco and Cub more efficient. But after doing this for a while and digging into the same pile of 20 or 30 standard recipes, I get bored and feel uninspired. And then I hate cooking.

And I don’t like hating to cook.

So I figured I could review these new recipes and give you all the links to find them out there on the world-wide interwebs.

First up (though not first up in the list of new recipes I’ve tried…I’ll have to come back to some of those later) is a two-fer: Honey garlic chicken and mini twice-baked potatoes.

I love bone-in chicken thighs. They’re rich, flavorful, much more properly sized than a chicken breast, and the bonus is that they can make the basis of a killer roasted chicken soup in the colder months. So part of the appeal of the honey garlic chicken recipe is that it’s really designed for chicken thighs and drumsticks, but the rest of the appeal is its simplicity.

I followed the recipe exactly, with two drumsticks and six thighs, but instead of cooking in the oven, I cooked them on a charcoal grill.

While initially, you might think that only 3 tablespoons of honey and one tablespoon of brown sugar won’t possibly overcome 4 mashed cloves of garlic and some mashed onion, I found that it’s just about the right amount, though I might make slightly more the next time for a better toss after pulling them off the grill–by the time they were done, there wasn’t much more than a thin film left in the bowl, though I did coat them twice while they were on the grill.

The sauce is pleasant–surprisingly not overly sweet, with only a minimal hint of the garlic–though I’d add just an extra pinch of salt over everything at the end, depending on how well you salted the meat before cooking. If you did a good job prior to cooking and let the salt soak in a bit, then you should be fine. But it’s tasty and different enough to not be mistaken for just salt and pepper seasoned roasted chicken.

I’ll be adding this to the rotation and trying it again sometime.

The second recipe is a slam dunk around here, where potatoes are strongly favored, and twice-baked potatoes are perhaps the pinnacle of the potato hierarchy. I do twice-baked potatoes on a regular basis here, and when I do them, it’s in quantity, so that there are leftovers that could be frozen, but they frequently don’t make it past a few days in the fridge before being devoured.

But these mini twice-baked potatoes appealed to me partially because they’re kind of cute and elegant, simply because of their size. And frankly, “cute” and “tiny” seemed to be the prevailing squeal of delight when the family saw them at dinner.

I loosely followed this recipe, replacing half of the sour cream with cream cheese, adding an egg, removing the herbs, and using a blend of cheddar and parmesan cheese in the mixture. And instead of mashing, I used my potato ricer, which I’ve found makes for a much better, fluffier, and lighter filling for twice-baked potatoes than a filling that has been mashed or mixed with a hand mixer.

The reviews were what I expected from a twice-baked potato: Zoe ate 4 of them plus the small cup of extra filling that didn’t fit into the potato shells (normally, she’ll have 2 full-sized twice-baked potatoes at a sitting), so that is quite the endorsement. The nice addition here over standard russets is the use of the yukon gold potatoes, which makes the filling that much richer and less starchy.

Obviously, I’ll also be using this recipe again.

In the picture above, you can see a honey garlic chicken thigh, one mini twice-baked potato, and some purple and golden beets that were cooked in a foil packet on the grill with salt, pepper and olive oil.