Confession: I haven't been very inspired lately when it comes to cooking. I go to the market - something I normally love to do - and I just wander around the produce aisles, mentally shrugging my shoulders and seeing nothing that excites me. Being stuck in a rut is no fun, and I realize I've let several things drag me down into the doldrums:
1. Culinary school. It's not that I don't love it, it's just that all that baking and kitchen time and reading and constantly thinking about emulsifiers, solidifiers, tenderizers, flours, yeast, starters, sponges, and things like how too much or too little mixing is going to affect the batter ... well, lately my poor brain hasn't had a lot of energy to travel in its usual circles of savory ingredients and cuisines, and after a day of making peanut butter cookies, madeleines, and biscotti (future post!), I don't even want to think about making any more sweets.
2. I've started a new part time job assisting a chef. Among other things, she runs corporate team building events - kind of like Iron Chef challenges - and I answer questions (when I can) and help the contestants and do some prep and get to taste and help judge the dishes and then, when it's all over, I clean ... and I clean. And clean, and clean, and clean. It's fun (okay, not the cleaning part) but boy oh boy is it exhausting. The last thing I feel like doing when I get home is making dinner.
3. I'm starting yet another part time job as an assistant baker in April. I'm excited because I think I'll learn a ton, but I'm also a little nervous and freaked out that I'll be getting up at the unthinkable hour of 4:30. That's A.M. people. Is there enough coffee in the world to wake me up that early? We'll see.
I'm not complaining! I feel incredibly lucky to have the work and to be going to school and still getting to write, but sometimes it all gets a bit overwhelming and the creative side of my brain just shuts down and wants a nap.
But I think my slump is finally broken, and I have beets to thank for it. Well, beets and my impending trip. You see, Mother-in-Law Trix is Austrian, and she has graciously allowed Poppa Trix and I the use of her apartment in Vienna while she's in New York. If the thought of two weeks in Vienna with a side trip to Budapest doesn't get your culinary creative juices flowing, I don't know what will! (More on the trip in my next post - wait until you see the banner Poppa Trix has come up with for my Vienna dispatches!)
So, to back up to these beets. After a loooong shift at an Iron Chef challenge the other day I decided to check out a new (well, new to me) produce market and see if inspiration would finally strike. Right away these babies caught my eye:
I know, I know - this is not produce, nor is it homemade food! I don't normally go for frozen pre-made things, but in my defense I was exhausted and these were just too cute to resist. Plus, can you see how short the ingredient list is? It's just flour, eggs, farmer cheese, water, sugar, and salt. It's practically a whole food. But clearly these pierogis alone do not a healthy dinner make. I needed a vegetable.
I let the Budapest portion of my upcoming holiday influence the dish and I took it in a vaguely Eastern European-ish direction. This salad is simple, yet it's got a great balance and layers of flavors that play off of one another - earthy, tangy, sweet, and hot.
Eureka Beet Salad
4 medium beets
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 T raspberry vinegar
1 T raw honey
5 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 tsp hot paprika
1 T chopped flat leaf parsley, fresh or dried
salt & pepper, to taste
Individually wrap the beets in foil and roast them in a 400 degree oven until tender, about an hour. Meanwhile, whisk all of the other ingredients together, except for the parsley. When the beets are cool, remove the skins, cube, and toss with the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with parsley. Simple, flavorful, and satisfying.
Now, I hear what you're saying: "Trix! I don't want to eat raw garlic! Isn't it going to be overpowering?" But trust me on this one. The sweetness of the honey and raspberry vinegar mitigates the bite of the garlic so that you just get this nice little pop! of flavor, and the heat of the paprika balances the whole thing out. This went perfectly with the pierogis (which I will make from scratch next time, I promise), which I served with browned onions and Middle Eastern style yogurt: