Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets

There is no love sincerer than the love of food. -George Bernard Shaw

On the eve of Valentine’s Day I wanted to offer you up a romantic recipe. Last year I made a luscious beet soup that my husband John did not find delicious. However, his reaction was memorable and I still laugh thinking about it. Needless to say, I will not be making him soup this year. I am still deciding on an entree, but I know that I will definitely make a leafy green salad with pickled beets, feta cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and a homemade lemon dill dressing.

The summer of 2019 will go down in my memory bank as the year of broccoli and beets. While my tomatoes took their sweet time to ripen, our freezer quickly filled with broccoli and I celebrated in growing the most gorgeous and lavish beets that I have ever laid eyes on.

As they say, the third time’s the charm, and this statement definitely applies to my beets this year. Two summers ago I could not get my beets to germinate in the ground and last summer rabbits devoured them as soon as the greens started to show forth. Thankfully, I am a stubborn woman and I did not surrender. Thus, I had a bounty of this lovely root vegetable to pickle and roast. 

My beautiful beets.
Earthy Beets

Beets do grow wonderfully in the climate of the Upper Peninsula. They love cool weather, so you can plant them late and harvest them up until the first frost. My mom taught me to harvest them when they are no larger than a tennis ball. Since they are a late crop you should still be able to find some locally at the farmers market and most supermarkets carry them in the produce section.

While beets are an acquired taste, many people who do not enjoy beets as a side vegetables seem to like them pickled. Many people that I have talked to reminisce fondly about a grandmother who was known for her pickled beets.

Thriving in the garden.

This fall was my first time pickling beets and it was much easier than I imagined. Working with beets can be messy work and I was delighted to see how easily the skin slid off after boiling them and immersing in cold water. An added benefit is the fragrant aroma of spices that fills your house. Pickling beets is a perfect activity for a crisp autumn afternoon, or on a cold winter’s day. Most grocers carry bunches of beets in the produce section year round.

OLD FASHIONED PICKLED BEETS
(The brine recipe rendered 3 quarts and 4 pints)

*2 cups of water
*2 cups of apple cider vinegar
*2 ½ cups of sugar
*1 teaspoon whole cloves
*1 teaspoon whole allspice
*1 stick of cinnamon
*12 large beets
*Canning jars and lids

Remove the greens from the beets. Since they contain a lot of nutrients I wash the greens and freeze for green smoothies. The greens are also wonderful tossed into soup or sauteed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side.

Beet greens for smoothies.

Cut the ends off the beets and boil until tender. Do not under cook the beets. When they are finished cooking immerse in an ice bath and the skins will slide right off.

While your beets are cooking you can prepare the brine. Allow the brine to come to a boil and keep it hot.

Slice the beets and pack into your clean canning jars. Pour the hot brine over the beets and leave a ½ inch of head room. Add your canning lids and rings. Since the brine is hot, the jars should seal without the help of a water bath. 

You can also make pickled beets without canning them. Simply follow the above directions and do not seal the jars. You can put them in the refrigerator. Wait a couple weeks for the brine to infuse the beets and they will keep for a couple of months. While pickled beets are a fantastic ingredient in a leafy salad, they also make a wonderful appetizer for gatherings. My mom always puts together a lovely festive tray with dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, pickled cauliflower, and these lovely beets. They also are a great hostess gift. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this delectable pickled vegetable is on a piece of toasted baguette with a smear of goat cheese that is infused with rosemary and a few crunchy walnuts.

If you do not already grow your own, you will want to add a row of beets to your garden next summer. Spring is fast approaching and it is the perfect time to browse seed catalogs, plan, and dream. If it is not possible to grow your own, make sure you frequent the farmer’s market to enjoy some locally grown beets. These pickled beets will help you savor summer all year long.

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Hunger Moon — Glitter and Dog Hair

YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”
― Kate Morton

My ten-year-old stepson Lukas is the King of Questions. Not simple questions either. If you spend any time with young children you know exactly what I am talking about. Luke’s questions often border on the bizarre with a hint of gruesome thrown in. 

“So, Amy,” he inquires, “Would you rather swim with a shark or with an alligator?” “Would you rather be hunted by an invisible alien queen or a carnivorous dinosaur?” “Would you rather be trapped in a car without gas during a blizzard or in the path of tornado?” 

Therefore, I am always relieved when he asks me an easy question such as, “What vegetable would you choose if you could only eat one for the rest of your life?” Of course, when my response to him was that I would have a difficult time deciding between tomatoes and broccoli — he remembered our discussion last year that tomatoes were technically a fruit. So my answer had to undeniably be broccoli. 

For years broccoli has been a favorite. One of my college memories is of a Chinese take-out restaurant near the campus of Marquette University that my roommate Kat and I were known to frequent. Being frugal college students, and since the portions were large, we would share an entree. She would choose either Beef and Broccoli or Chicken and Broccoli. She would eat the meat and I would eat the broccoli. It was a perfect system and part of the reason that we lived together during all four years of our undergraduate studies. 

When I met my husband John, I was happy to discover that he shared my affinity for broccoli. Frozen broccoli became a staple in our grocery cart and it was one of the first vegetables that we planned for our garden. Since we have a hoop house, we are lucky enough to grow enough broccoli in the summer to last the entire year. We start our seeds in March, plant them mid-April, and for the past couple of years are able to start harvesting by the 4th of July. 

I can usually cut several heads of broccoli off of a plant before it starts going to seed. At that point I pull the plant and another takes it place. Therefore, once the seedlings go in the ground, I make sure to start another tray of seeds for backup. Most summers we are able to grow at least three individual crops of broccoli. 

I love when the seeds start to sprout!

To preserve I blanch the broccoli for three to four minutes (until bright green) in boiling water and immerse instantly into ice water. I then squeeze out any excess moisture and lay the broccoli out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for approximately 10 minutes. I then vacuum seal the broccoli in plastic bags which keeps it fresh all year long in the freezer. I find that freezing the broccoli, as well as squeezing out the moisture, makes sure that the vacuum bags seal properly without pulling the moisture into the sealing machine. 

I eagerly await the 2020 growing season.

Once we started growing our own broccoli, it would be hard to go back to store bought. The flavor of fresh out of the garden, or even garden fresh out of the freezer, is dramatically different. We use broccoli in pressure cooked meals, in green salads, as a simple side dressed with real butter and a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, or even as a late night snack (our favorite especially in the summer). Truth be told, I am known to sneak out to the hoop house in my nightclothes to cut fresh broccoli, a few beans, and peas (if they are still growing) and whip up a batch with the seasoning mix I am sharing with you today. 

I think that meals and snacks should be fresh and simple, especially in the summer when our chore list is a mile long and we do not want to heat up the kitchen. Though this winter we’ve been turning to vegetables often as snacks to balance out winter’s comfort foods. After all, spring break is around the corner and we have a special bucket list trip planned.

LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

*1 head of fresh broccoli or one large frozen package (cut fresh into florets)

*Juice and zest of a lemon (you can use concentrate if in a pinch, fresh is always best)

*1 Tablespoon of soy sauce

*2 teaspoons of chili paste or to taste (found in the Asian food section. It can be spicy, so use an amount to suit your taste)

*teaspoon of olive oil or butter

*Optional – teaspoon of minced garlic. (Some chili paste already comes with garlic. However, you can always add some for good measure.)

Prepare the broccoli with your favorite method. When I use fresh I use the blanching method and with frozen I cook in the microwave for 3-5 minutes (depending on the amount I use). In a bowl add the lemon juice and zest, soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, and butter (the hot broccoli will melt the butter) or olive oil. Toss and serve warm. 

This sauce perks up other vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, green beans, or cauliflower. It makes a nice dressing for a cold salad and works well drizzle on vegetables before roasting. While most people may imagine a late night snack in the summer to be a creamy bowl of ice cream. Trust me on the broccoli. It if you also want something sweet then finish it up with a cool piece of watermelon, or in the winter, a juicy tangerine. It is a summer treat that you can enjoy year round. It is pleasing for the taste buds and the waist-line alike.

February is the perfect time to start planning your garden. I know that the seed catalogs have started to arrive at our house and the stores are starting to get the garden centers ready. Homegrown broccoli is a life-changing taste – you will be thankful all year long that you took the extra effort to grow your own.

Broccoli = Summer Year Round

LOW CARB CREAMY CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE

Winter Wonderland

If you have been paying attention, some of the most popular buzz-words right now are wellness, self-care, and low-carb. Though, I admit, as I age I realize how important paying attention to all three are. While I have not jumped 100% on the “carbs are evil” bandwagon. One of my intentions for 2020 was to be mindful of creating a meal plan for myself that was lower in carbs.

A couple of years ago, like many people I have encountered, I was diagnosed with thyroid issues. To be specific, Hashimotos Disease, where my antibodies are attacking my thyroid. As if the fatigue and mood swings that come with thyroid issues were not enough, my body has also experienced stubborn weight gain that does not seem to want to leave.

Thus, I’ve tried many different techniques to give my metabolism a boost. Exercise definitely helps and I have found that eating lower carb, helps me feel better. While the scale still moves at a snail’s pace, I feel less bloated and have more energy. So I am going to continue to reduce and do my best to eliminate my intake of sugar, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread.

I have always been a self-confessed late bloomer. Therefore, while people have been enjoying cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, and other low-carb versions of their favorite sides – I was not. Years ago I tried mashed cauliflower and enjoyed it – but sometimes it is difficult when you cook for a family to have to prepare two separate meals. So this year I decided I would try my best to adapt the recipes I make my family to low carb ones for myself (then it would not feel like I am making two separate meals). For example, recently while preparing lasagna I made  a couple of individual servings for myself using all the same ingredients except I swapped out the pasta for a thin layer of zucchini in mine.

The recipe I am sharing today is one that I made for my weekday lunches. My stepson and husband both thought it smelled amazing and after taking a taste they both agreed that it was soup that they both would eat. The cauliflower gives it body and does give it the consistency that rice would. 

LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE

*1 roasted chicken. I used 1 cup of chicken for the soup and used the rest for another recipe  (I roast the chicken, remove the meat, and make bone broth from the carcass)
*4 cups of bone broth or stock
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*½ cup of finely chopped onion
*3 ribs of finely chopped celery
*Tablespoon finely minced garlic
*2 eight ounce containers of mushrooms
*12 ounce bag of cauliflower rice (you can find fresh in the produce section of most grocery stores or in the frozen foods. You can also make your own in a food processor)
*1 cup of heavy whipping cream (you can substitute with milk but I recommend the cream for the richness it imparts)
*Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, celery, garlic, and mushrooms in the olive oil until the mushrooms cook down (approximately 5-10 minutes). Add the broth, chicken, and cauliflower and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cream and cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

While this is not a super thick soup, the flavor is rich and hearty. I did not feel like it needed to be thickened. It would also be wonderful with kale or spinach added at the end with the cream.

If you made any new year’s resolutions for your health, I hope that you are still giving yourself the attention you deserve. Remember, we cannot always be perfect – but we can make small strides that lead to big results. We are worth it!

SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP 

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

If someone had told me a few years ago that I would look forward to winter, I would have adamantly denied the assertion. However, I must admit that this year I could not wait to buckle up my snowshoes and blaze trails in my backyard. Yet, I admit that this year during my first thirty minutes of heading out, I may have whimpered a bit. What a workout! Thankfully I have a spirited German Shepherd named Apollo who enjoys bounding through the snow with me. Since he spends a lot of time cooped up inside while we are at work, he depends on me to help him burn energy at night and on weekends. Apollo is the best personal trainer and nature is our gym!

One thing is for sure, I never regret a snowshoeing session. Especially at night when the moon is out and it is peaceful. I put one foot in front of the other – a primal rhythm – a magical blend of inertia and determination. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop.
It is easy to get lethargic in the winter and I need to move. Snowshoeing gets my heart pumping, but it’s probably more important for my head. It clears my thoughts and gets rid of stress. After all, self-care is supremely important for our health.

Yet, as much as I love snowshoeing I still love to curl up and be cozy in the winter. There is nothing better than a hot sauna before bed, a fire in the wood stove, and crawling under our electric blanket and flannel duvet.

Speaking of cozy, what is better for a cold winter day than a bowl of piping hot soup? Though, I am a soup girl (regardless of the weather) this recipe is one of my favorite winter warm ups. It is healthy, full of vegetables, and can be tweaked to fit your personal tastes.

My original recipe is plant-based, but you can use chicken stock and even add sliced chicken or pork if you want to. While I use thinly sliced cabbage to bulk it up, it is also wonderful when filled with rice noodles.


HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP

  • 4-8 cups of vegetable stock (depending on how much broth you want)
  • Two 8 ounce packages of chopped fresh mushrooms 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips (½ cup)
  • 3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or one bunch of green onions)
  • 1 can of bamboo shoots
  • 1 cup of cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil (you could also use coconut oil or your cooking oil of choice)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger root, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari (soy sauce would work as a substitution)
  • Chili garlic sauce (to taste. I used two Tablespoons because I like my soup extra spicy. I find this sauce in the Asian section of the supermarket)
  • 1/4 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

Saute the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots in oil until soft. Add the mushrooms and lightly saute for approximately ten minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for thirty minutes. Before serving add a dash of rice vinegar, sesame oil (I highly recommend sesame oil since it imparts so much flavor), tamari, and chopped cilantro.

My advice to you is to make a pot of this delicious soup and head outside in the sparkling and beckoning snow. Whether your outdoor session includes snowshoeing, shoveling the driveway for a neighbor, or making snow angels — warmth will greet you when you come inside. While food may not be the answer to life’s problems, trust me, this soup comes close.

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