Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brownies To Beet The Band

There's nothing quite like coming home to a house full of good baking smells--especially after a day as dreary and raw as the ones we've been having this week. While lately I've come to expect the warm deliciousness of homemade bread, today I walked into something different.

Really different.

Yes, it's a brownie. But not just any old brownie.

That there is a beet brownie.

We're no strangers to the mingling of chocolate and beets. It's a surprisingly good favor combination, as the beets add a complexity and texture to the chocolate that is really interesting.

Kirk got this idea from his favorite gardening cook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The original Chocolate and Beetroot Brownie recipe is from River Cottage, but Kirk ended up modifying it to make the beet more prominent.

Because Kirk loves beets, and we've got about a zillion giant ones to use up.

Here's Kirk's version of beet brownies. You should make some, because we won't have any left to share.

Beet Brownies

2 sticks of butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. dark chocolate, also cut into pieces (Kirk used Ghirardelli, and it was awesome)
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
a pinch of salt
8 ounces of prepped beets: roasted, peeled, cooled, and grated (this was about 1 1/2 big beets)

1. Get ready: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put butter and chocolate in an ovenproof bowl and place in oven to melt while oven heats up. Stir together once when half melted and again when completely melted. While keeping an eye on all the melting, grease and flour a 9x9 brownie pan.

2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together, then add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Gently fold dry ingredients into chocolate, then fold in the grated beets.

4. Pour batter into the pan and bake 20-25 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a rack before attempting to cut it, or you will have a mess.

These brownies are fluffy and tender, and the flavor is excellent. If you didn't know the secret ingredient was beets, you might have a hard time guessing what the extra flavor dimension was. Our kids really like them, so you can believe that it's not an overtly vegetal taste. The grated beet doesn't quite break down all the way, so the texture is also a bit like carrot cake. But you know, with beets.

And chocolate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Sugary Drinks

This should be a no-brainer, but up to this point we haven't displayed the willpower to

Eliminate the sugary drinks from our grocery budget (and our diet).

I'll admit, this idea came about purely from a fit of jealousy on my part. You see, I like a glass of delicious chocolate milk every now and then. Once in a while, it can serve as a quick dessert when there's nothing else around, and I eagerly open the fridge…

…only to find that, once again, my children have used up the entire bottle of Hershey's syrup in just five days.

I never get ANY.

Well, joke's on you, greedy ones. If I can't have it, no one can.

Mwah hah hah.

Though I never seem to get any chocolate milk, I do always get more the my fair share of Mexican Coke.

It is our only fizzy vice, and it is such a delicious one. It's so good with homemade pizza or nachos or tacos. And it definitely tastes better that regular Coke what with its real cane sugar and glass bottle.

But, clearly, it's not exactly a healthful drink. And if we're going to impose a budget cut in the name of healthy teeth and the avoidance of diabetes, then the adults should also walk the walk.

(Note: this walk I'm walking is around the grocery budget block only. We're more than happy to order our favorite sugary drinks in a restaurant when it's covered by the entertainment budget. We're not zealots.)

We don't buy these things weekly, but we do buy them at least once a month. Doing my best estimates on the math, I would say that we buy maybe six bottles of Mexican Coke per month, and perhaps one bottle of Hershey's syrup every two months.

At $.99 apiece for the Coke, that's $5.94 per month on refrescos. As for the chocolate syrup, the 24 oz. bottle is $2.39, but since we usually only have that every two months, it only represents $1.20 of spending per month. That's not a ton of money, but it's an easy cut to make on something that's absolutely not a necessity.

Savings per month: $7

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Killer Kale

This has been an all-around excellent growing season, especially for our cool-weather crops. Despite their slow start, we had cabbages all summer long, and we still have a couple left in the garden that weren't krauted. I am also still snipping side shoots of broccoli (just had some for dinner!), which means that we've been harvesting broccoli for three and a half months now. That's definitely a new record for us. 

But most glorious of all has been our kale crop this fall:

We planted the kale back in August, and it has done very well this season, thanks to our relatively wet and cool summer. The kale above is a Russian variety, although there is also some Swiss chard behind it. This was a bonus round of kale that Kirk put in by transplanting some of the thinnings from the main bed. They totally took off, and now we have almost twice as much kale as we had originally planned.

Our main kale bed (above) is a four by eight foot box of 32 plants. The half on the right are Russian, and the half on the left is a curly dwarf variety. Last year we struggled to get these crops past the seedling stage in the fall because we planted them too late (and during dry spell), but this year we are overrun. 

Although this looks like too much right now, kale serves as our primary leafy green during the winter months. It will survive without protection (and even under the snow!) long after our other greens have given up the ghost. It won't keep growing in the low light and cold temperatures of winter, but it will stay fresh during its dormancy. This amount of kale should be enough to last us through the worst of winter, until spinach puts on new growth in March and lettuce seedlings can get set out in April. 

So we will work our way through it over the next several months. In the meantime, I don't plan on eating much of it at all. It's not at its best yet, and won't be until a frost or two sweetens it. If you don't like kale, be sure to try it from a farm stand after the frost--it's sweet and tender then, because the plants produce more sugar to lower their freezing points. Kale survives so well in part because it produces a lot of sugar in its leaves. I'm not sure why anyone eats it in the summer, actually. Kale is for the winter, just as sure as tomatoes are for the summer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Garden Fresh Bloody Marys

A couple weekends ago we had brunch with a good friend in Boston. This friend is an excellent cook and hostess, so it is sometimes hard to know what to bring to the table. The solution? Our kit for home-grown Bloody Marys:

Turns out that this is the time of year that the ingredients for Bloody Marys are perfectly in season. Well, vodka is always in season, but tomatoes, celery, and horseradish are ready for harvest at the end of summer and into the fall.

To make our kit, we used a box from a set of mason jars, which still had its handy dividers intact. I suppose a more market-minded farmer would make nice wooden divided boxes, but we were mostly concerned with portability.

Anyway, the compartments are stuffed with a bottle of vodka, four quarts of fresh tomato juice (made by running newly-picked tomatoes through the food mill), a whole bunch of celery, some lemons, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce (from the store, but I have designs on making our own some day), a small jar of freshly prepared horseradish, and an even smaller jar of our homemade sriracha.

Here's how I mix up a Bloody Mary. Be warned that I like them flavorful, so you might want to dial back the spice. Or maybe not--if you substitute store-bought horseradish and tabasco, it might not be as spicy as all that anyway.

1. Start with an Old-fashioned glass. Add ice (I like cubes, because they melt more slowly than crushed ice), a tablespoon of horseradish, and about 1/4 teaspoon of sriracha:

I wouldn't recommend store-bought sriracha for this drink because it has a really distinctive flavor. Our homemade version is very spicy, so it's a good substitute for Tabasco, which is the traditional spice. If we didn't have the sriracha, I'd probably just toss in a little slice of raw jalapeño.

2. Add a shot of vodka, top off with fresh tomato juice, and stir well. Then two dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a squeeze of lemon wedge, a dash of ground pepper, and a pinch of salt:

If you have store-bought tomato juice, you can probably skip the salt. 

3. Give it another stir and garnish with a celery stalk:

I like to keep the leaves on, because they add a lot of aroma to your drinking experience. 

As I've mentioned before, if you're having a hankering for a Bloody Mary in the spring but don't have mature celery yet, you can make a Bloody Mary Magdalene by substituting lovage for the celery.

Bottoms up!